The World in a Chip

If there’s one thing that I do without fail while coding, studying, or writing, it’s definitely snacking. As a proud snacker, one of the things I like to explore are international flavor versions of chips from big American brand companies. Today, I am going to take you, dear readers, through some stories about my adventures in consuming chips.

Where it all began: Japanese Doritos

Royal Garlic Shrimp

One of my all-time favorites is a Japanese version of Doritos chips that was flavored as garlic shrimp. I clearly remember when I encountered these chips. I had just passed my PhD qualifier exam. I was back home in LA for Aldo’s brother’s wedding. I was with my mom at a Japanese market (Marukai) to buy some arm warmers to keep me warm while at LCO to help drive MagAO. I saw these chips at the cashier line and bought 3 bags of them on a whim. When I sampled them, let me tell you: it tasted just like garlic shrimp. I’ve eaten a vast variety of shrimp chips throughout my life and these Doritos clearly tasted like them.

I was so impressed with these chips that I gave one bag to Aldo to help him sober up post-wedding (to which he shared with no one after tasting how great they were). I kept the third bag with me for Chile, except it never made it out of the US. I consumed the bag at DFW while waiting for my flight to Santiago. I greatly apologize, Jared, for denying you the opportunity to consume these chips in Chile. Even though you’re only finding out 3 years later.

More Exploration: Chinese Lays

My experience with eating Japanese Doritos chips has led me through sampling other international versions of chips. A year ago, at a neighborhood Asian market in LA, I saw by the cashier area a huge bin of Lays chips. Believe it or not, the pink bag was labeled, “Mexican Tomato Chicken Flavor” and the blue bag was labeled “Italian Red Meat Flavor”**.

**Note: I don’t believe that these labels are intentionally offensive. If anything, they’re a marketing ploy to convince people to buy them because of exotic sounding flavors. Logan once told me a story how she encountered “French cheese” chips during one of her deployments, yet the chips didn’t taste any exotic. However, I do believe the strange names are direct Chinese->English translations where the Chinese names are the best the marketing team came up with from localization.

Chinese Lays chips with “exotic” flavors

I bought them to try out, believing I may have a similar experience with the garlic shrimp Japanese Doritos. I brought them to the office and had some members of XWCL sample them with me. Unfortunately, it was very underwhelming. The tomato chicken flavor was akin to a weak ketchup. The red meat flavor tasted like BBQ sauce missing some key spice flavors. I firmly believe that we did not enjoy the chips because here in the US, we have magnitudes of experience with authentic (and unauthentic) versions of these foods. It’s entirely possible that it’s very popular in Asia and this interpretation was adjusted to adapt it to local flavor palates.

I also managed to find Hot Pot flavored and Grilled Squid Chinese Lays chips during a previous visit to this same market. I’ve included photographic proof of their existence. However, I was not quite smart enough to buy them when I bought the other two chips. I visited this same market later in the week and the inventory had run out. Maybe someday I will find these chips and find out how they taste. Will the Hot Pot flavor live up to its name of being “numb and spicy”? Will the grilled squid flavor have that umami taste mixed with smoky tones? These chips have become my unicorn.

Reuniting with Japanese Doritos

Recently, I was at a small neighborhood Japanese market and spotted this bag of Doritos on the shelf. There wasn’t any English on the bag to identify the flavor, so I asked the cashier aunty if she can translate the flavor to me. (The staff at this market are all fluent in Japanese) She couldn’t quite figure it out either, so she asked one of the other staff members. The best they could tell me was “little salty”. Nonetheless, I bought the chips. My experience with the garlic shrimp Japanese Doritos was I’m bound for greatness. My missed connection with the Chinese Lays chips reminded me to buy the chips as if it’ll never be available again.

Mysterious Japanese Doritos

When I got home, I messaged some of my friends about it and they couldn’t come up with a better translation either. Not consommé, not umami, not seaweed – just “salt”. With all avenues exhausted, the last option was for me to open the bag and sample it. Lovers of the blog, I regret to inform you all that these chips were literally slightly salted regular corn tortilla chips. The kind you would dip into salsa.

I’m flabbergasted, speechless! This is not what Doritos stands for! Doritos is about that corn chip coated with a flavor powder that brainwashes you to consume the whole bag and be too ashamed to admit it did not survive one sitting. I’m offended on so many levels. To add insult to injury, the salsa I had available just expired.

This is Doritos: love and devotion. Step aside Cool Ranch, Spicy Sweet Chili is the reigning Doritos of my heart. Also, rumor has it these chips are vegan.

Come on Japan, you were supposed to be the chosen one – for excellent, unusually flavored snacks! There’s over 300 flavors of KitKats sold exclusively in Japan! Those garlic shrimp Doritos of memories past were so good, full of promises. What happened that caused you to go for boring salted corn tortilla chips?

Japan, I trusted you

Although my feelings were definitely shattered by these experiences, this was not a show-stopper moment. I’m still going to keep trying international flavor chips as I can find them. The world is big enough for both big and small flavors. I’m going to snack my way through as many as possible, troubleshooting one line of code at a time. When I find these chips, I’ll make sure to share my experiences with you as well, dear readers.

Song of the Day

I mentioned unicorn and it reminded me of Robot Unicorn Attack. Does anyone remember it? I played it a ton back when I was in undergrad. Ah, the good ol’ days of Adobe Flash games. Therefore, today’s song will be the main soundtrack from the game:

Erasure – Always (2009 Mix)

Things My Cat Hates

Every cat is unique. Much like human individuals. And, much like human individuals, you don’t necessarily want to hear about the quirky behaviors of ones that you’re not taking care of. If that’s how you feel, you might want to skip this post. (Of course, if that’s really how you feel, you’ve probably already unsubscribed from this blog.)

Mr. Alexander the Great has his likes (regular mealtimes, burrowing under carpets, laser pointers, cuddling) and they mostly make sense.

His dislikes, however, are harder to explain.

My Cat Hates Linear Algebra

He may have been objecting specifically to the mathematical contents of Brand (2006) “Fast low-rank modifications of the thin singular value decomposition” but I have no way of knowing for sure.

My Cat Hates Café Bustelo

Can’t blame him, Tucson has much better options for coffee.

My Cat Hates Feet

Right there with you on that one buddy

My Cat Hates People Outside of Windows

Cat physics cannot explain how humans pass through solid walls, and prescribes but one acceptable reaction: a good hiss.

Let you think this is a fluke, he reliably hisses at anyone who approaches his window nook. Here’s another.

Most of all, My Cat Hates Cameras

Bad experiences with the paparazzi?

Of course I haven’t got the photo and video material to cover his dislike of:

  • any and all cleaning implements with handles
  • the Roomba™
  • crinkly bags (except when he crinkles them himself)
  • sudden noises
  • sudden silences, and
  • being asked to leave the bathtub so that I may use it.

You’ll just have to take my word for it on those.

Song of the Day

This cover of Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” seems appropriate. Somehow the horn part alone makes it more compelling than the original synthpop.

Make your own “Bad Guy” at home from simple household ingredients, courtesy YouTube Person Seth Everman:

(There’s always The Original, if you’ve somehow managed to avoid hearing it before. Here you go.)

Extreme Wavefront Cleanliness Lab

It’s back-to-school season, but it doesn’t look much like last year. It’s even hotter, for one thing. (Also, to be quite honest, I still feel like it’s March.)

The State of Arizona has decided to contain the COVID-19 pandemic by topping national headlines for “worst COVID-19 outbreak” until we all stay indoors (from shame, one assumes). Bizarrely enough, it appears to be… working?

Graph of Rt, the "reproduction number" for the virus, from https://rt.live/us/AZ, a live-updating model that attempts to estimate Rt from state health data.

Full disclosure: I’m technically an employee of the State of Arizona. Unless I’m a student. (I’m told “it depends”.) In any case, my views are my own and this post is being brought to you without use of University equipment in compliance with all applicable policies.

Out of an abundance of optimism, the University has decided to welcome students back for the fall (with some caveats). Of course, we were here all along. In addition to Vizzy tricks and text message measures, we have been regularly sanitizing all surfaces touched by lab workers and employing low-tech signage to keep the coronavirus out of our lab.

Picture of the door to the lab with four navy blue signs reiterating CDC guidelines for infection control and one sign saying "do not enter"
University-designed signage explaining CDC recommendations for people who have neither turned on a TV, opened a news website, nor been to a store in the last six months.

Of course, sterile (heh) line drawings are less compelling and eye-catching than putting a human face on the instructions. But whose?

Is there anyone whose mere appearance causes graduate student rule-compliance to skyrocket while simultaneously boosting mood and job satisfaction?

That’s right: Dr. Jared R. Males.

Inspiring!

Of course, photoshopping one’s advisor is not without precedent. Anyway, none of our lab equipment has caught the novel coronavirus yet, so it seems to be working.

Plus, I think he likes it.

Thanks to Lauren Schatz for her assistance in hanging signage and photographing mischief.

Your Song of the Day

Your song of the day is “Crawl Out Through The Fallout” by Sheldon Allman.

A Purrrfect Birthday

I know what you all are thinking. We have hit triple digits in the number of days since this all began and Lauren still hasn’t made a blog post just about her cat. Don’t worry it is time to right this wrong, and what better time do to so than for Katniss’s 5th birthday!

I’ve heard of a wise philosophy that you should take any excuse to party. This year I decided to throw my cat a birthday party.

The preperations for her birthday began about a week before the party. I decided that since it was her special day, she should have a special outfit to wear. I picked up some cotton fabric at JoAnn’s and made her a little birthday dress. This was a great excuse to try out a ruffler pressure foot for my sewing machine. It is a neat little device that automatically pleats your fabric at a stitch interval of your chosing.

The ruffler pressure foot
Skirt of the dress ruffled by the ruffler

Once that was done the next part of party planning was to send out the invitations. Under normal circumstances, I would have loved to invite you all, but due to social distancing I kept the gathering small. Sorry you all missed it.

The last step was decorations. I went minimalistic this year, and bought two balloons from the dollar store.

They were a big hit with the birthday girl.

Now that everything is set it was time to party! We did Korean bbq on some tabletop griddles…

… forced Katniss to wear her party dress …

She hated it…

… and then ended dinner with some birthday cupcakes. I had to help Katniss blow out the candles.

My friend made special rainbow cupcakes!

But what would a birthday party be without presents? Katniss really got spoiled this year, Logan made her an abosultely amazing cross stich, and she got some treats from mom.

Had to censor the cross stitch…

Happy birthday Katniss! Hope you all have an excuse to party before the end of summer 🙂

Bonus Content: Katniss’s Origin Story

Katniss and I go way back. So far back, that I knew her mom as a kitten! Katniss was born on July 27th 2015 to single mom Legalos. Legalos is the cat of my friend in my hometown. I remember when she was a little kitten, and when she grew up to be a beautiful cat. So beautiful that I said off handedly that if the cat ever had kittens I would want one. My friend remembered it, and when irresponsible teen Legalos snuck out of the house and came back pregnant, I was first in line for one of the kittens. Katniss was born in a litter of two, just her and her brother.

I think Katniss is the one on the right, but who knows?
Baby Katniss with her mama.

So we know who the mom is but who is her father? My friend and I like to think her father was a cat we called Mountain Cat. He was a brown Maine Coon mix that belonged to my friend’s neighbors. The neighbors for a while were landscaping their front yard, and almost everyday my friend and I would see Mountain Cat sitting on top of the mountain of dirt in the front yard. Hence the name Mountain Cat.

When I first met Katniss she was a little bit older than the photos shown here. About two months old. She wasn’t quite ready to be seperated from her mother, so we decided to wait until Thanksgiving for my mom to drive her across the desert to me when she was visiting for the holiday. Below is the first picture I ever took of Katniss on her first night at my place. She was already making herself at home!

And this is the first photo I ever took together with Katniss!

To end I will share some fun Katniss facts:

  • She looks cross eyed but it is only one eye that is derpy.
  • Her goal in life is to be as chonky as possible.
  • If you walk past her while she is eating she will sad meow at you, and put on a very concerned face as if you are going to take her food away. Despite the fact that never once in her life has food ever been taken away from her.
  • Her favorite thing in the world is her most beloved wet food treats.
  • Everyday when I come home she runs up to me, starts meowing, and will only stop when I pick her up and give her a hug.

Song of the day: Some relaxing vibes