“Taste the Rainbow”

Okay, so I’ll start by saying that I know that this is nothing like a typical post from me, but Spring Break starts tomorrow here at UofM so it seemed like an appropriate time to document my adventures in “distilling” a few weekends ago.

Any college student knows the first thing you need for a fun house party is, sadly, a lot of cheap liquor.  Our adventure began at the local Meijer, where much to our surprise and amazement, pretty much all of their alcohol was on sale.  It was a beautiful moment, and yet…

Somehow we still ended up with some cheap beverages that no one really wants to drink…

Luckily, we also purchased skittles.  Cue the making of Skittle Vodka! (I prefer the term “distilling”, it sounds classier but admittedly is not really accurate).  Basically you dissolve skittles into vodka to make skittles-flavored vodka, pretty simple concept.  And it’s a fun way of making decent tasting punch from even the cheapest of vodkas.  And it’s ridiculously easy, so if you are interested, here’s what you will need:

  • 1 handle (1.75L) of a vodka of your choice
  • 1 large bag (~20oz) of skittles
  • 5 clean, empty bottles
  • Coffee filters, cheesecloth, etc.
  • Strainer/Sieve/Colander 
  • Coffee grinder/Blender (optional)

And here’s the process:

1. Sort out the different skittles flavors into separate cups (you can also make awesome flavor mixes like strawberry-grape or lemon-lime)

2. *This step is totally optional, but expedites the process and is definitely the most fun part: grind the skittles into a delicious skittle powder.

— Stop here and quickly find something to coat with skittles sugar, I recommend ice cream or even yogurt. —

Next, add the remaining ground up skittles to an empty bottle, fill with vodka, seal, and repeat for each flavor.

It helps to shake them up every day or so too, to make sure the skittles fully dissolve.

Orange first…

Aaand lemon…

3. If you ground up the skittles, it only takes a couple of days for the skittles to fully dissolve into the vodka.  If you placed them in whole, it might take up to a week for them to fully dissolve.  Once they do, you can filter out the skittles sediment to get a clear and colorful drink.

I recommend using a filter placed in a colander, but there’s a lot of ways to do this.

To speed up the process, we devolved to simply wrapping a filter around a glass and letting it drip into a glass.  This is a bit slower, but you can have multiple flavoring processes going at once this way.

4. After the vodka has completely filtered, place into clean bottles (hopefully you can find some classier ones that we did), and serve!

There are a lot of options to go here, bold drinkers may enjoy a sour warhead version of this, or even vodka-infused gummy bears.  So have fun, enjoy, and remember Drink Responsibly!

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“Wonder that which one would not have been able to guess”

A defense of Anthropology and Archaeology as sciences, according to this blogger.

Being an anthropology and archaeology major nearing graduation and thus the real world, I from time to time (i.e. all the time) get asked why do I study what I do. Which is the polite way of people asking “why do these things matter in the real world?”. I’ve become very accustomed to answering why I study evolutionary anthropology, especially at family gatherings, and over time I feel like I have developed my answer to form an acceptable response that actually gives credit to my academic comrades in anthropology:

The biggest problem I have is when I explain how much I love science is that people ask that if that is the case, why I didn’t study a “real” science? A “hard” science like physics or chemistry? I love telling people its because they are too easy, just to see their reaction.

Not that I think physics and quantum mechanics and all those beautiful things are easy by any means, but honestly wheres the fun in knowing a ball is always going to fall to the ground due to gravity? Heat will always travel to the colder region due to conduction? Water will always flow downhill to gain kinetic energy? A molecule will always diffuse to the lowest concentration due to diffusion? It all gets so predictable and tedious after a while.

The so-called “hard” sciences are so calculable and certain. An object will always fall at 9.8 m/s^2, always.

Anthropology has none of that monotony. Instead, we must consider a complex interaction of environment, genetics, and culture to find our answer. And there is something thrilling in knowing that you will never truly know the answer to something, because the situation is always changing. It can never be predicted.  It can never be proven.  More often than not, it can never be repeated.  And so, to me, it always remains interesting.

Anthropology is seeking to answer that which you can never truly answer. Its a very bold quest in my opinion, a never ending quest and something that keeps my interest after these years of study and something that keeps me guessing and keeps me wondering about the world.

Mystery creates wonder, and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand
-Neil Armstrong

“History is written by the Victors”

Dear Ohio State Fans:

Yes, we know we just lost another football game to you. Gloat if you must. But perhaps what’s more annoying than repeatedly hearing about this loss is that you constantly berate the fact that we are Wolverines even though there are not wolverines in the state of Michigan. And yes, we also know we don’t have a “cool” cartoon-y mascot like whatever-your-mascot-is that dances around the field.

While both these facts are true, the reasons behind them make Michigan look all the cooler.

So to start with, the wolverine is not the state animal of Michigan. And there are very few, if any, actual wild wolverines in the state. Wolverines live in the northern regions of Europe, Asia, and North America. They are carnivorous and nocturnal, and sadly, endangered due to humans. But, in the absence of humans, they are more than capable of taking care of themselves. Adult males are 30-50 pounds but can take down prey much larger than themselves, and they have long, ridiculously sharp claws that helps them do this.

Our nickname comes from the Toledo War of 1835 – Michigan and Ohio decided to fight over the Toledo strip (in retrospect, that was a bit of a waste, why did we ever want the Toledo strip?). According to the myth, the Michiganders fought so viciously that the Ohioans claimed they “fought like Wolverines”. Ohio ended up with the Toledo strip and two years later, the University of Michigan officially adopted the wolverine as the school mascot. So in the end, we got a bad-ass nickname and Ohio got the land that would become Cleveland and some corn fields. I think its pretty clear who the real victor was…

And, contrary to belief, we did have mascots once. It started with a stuffed wolverine named Biff (who now resides in Yost Ice Arena in honor of Fielding Yost, the man who first set out to obtain a real live wolverine for the University).

Yost searched long and hard for a wolverine, and supposedly even wrote to fur traders up north asking for a wild one to be sent to Ann Arbor. But he was unable to obtain one.  This changed when the Detroit Zoo acquired 10 wild wolverines from Alaska in 1927. Yost immediately made a deal with them to have 2 wolverines transported to the Michigan Stadium every football Saturday.

The two wolverines that were lent to the University were nicknamed Biff and Bennie, and the initial plan was to have them walked around the stadium on leashes. I think its pretty clear that this plan couldn’t have ended well, and luckily was never put into effect. Instead, they were carried onto the field in a cage.

Photo Courtesy of Michigan Daily Newspaper

Bennie bit through a cage bar, it became increasingly clear that wolverines were more vicious than previously believed, and liability of confining a ferocious rip-your-face-off wild animal in a stadium with thousands of people meant that the practice ended pretty quickly. The wolverines only lasted one season (or a couple, different sources cite different time spans). They then went to live at the University Zoo and the Detroit Zoo, and the university hasn’t had an official mascot since.

So yes, it is true that we don’t have a mascot, but once you have real live wolverines it is pretty silly to go to a dancing cartoon character. There have been several attempts to reinstate a mascot, usually a cute wolverine drawn wearing a sweater with a giant “M” on it, but none lasted long – apparently, it’s either a live, vicious, foaming wild animal or nothing.

“You got no time to lose. You are young men, you must be living”

So I realize there hasn’t been anything new in a while.  This is mostly due to a killer finals week coupled with my motivation dropping oh so very low after finding out last week I got accepted to an Ecuador volunteer program with Pangea World Service Team.  Yesterday’s news that I was accepted to a study abroad program at St Peter’s College of Oxford University may well be the last blow to any chance I had of being able to focus and pay attention in the rest of this year’s classes.  Seriously, try sitting in an anthropology class that references the Ecuadorian Galapagos Island finches or some Oxford Research Journal and tell me that your mind doesnt wander past the point of learning.  But seeing as how I am sitting in my room, bored waiting for Spring Break to start, I thought this would be a good time to sit back and type something new.

A few weeks ago in my Ecological Issues class (which is taught by the most delightfully liberal British man you will ever meet), I had a term introduced to me that I had never really thought of before: Social Capital.  Wikipedia says it is a”sociological concept which refers to the value of social relations and the role of cooperation and confidence to get collective or economic results“.  Ignoring all that technical wording, I took it to basically mean it is the belief that it is more important to invest in the welfare of society as a whole than trying to acquire things just for yourself.  And my professor didn’t think that Americans do this enough.  We don’t watch out for each other like we should, at least in terms of finance and wealth.  I am sure most people are well aware of this notion by now, what with the whole “Occupy” movement that has spent the past months sweeping the country and even the world.

I thought it was an interesting idea, but didn’t think much more about it until today when I spent a solid 3 hours fighting with the “Federal Application for Financial Student Aid” (or something like that, everyone calls it the FAFSA because we hate it so much we don’t care if we call it by its proper name.)  It took me nearly half an hour just to convince them I was a real person.  Then at the end I find out that even though I live dangerously close to the poverty line and basically support myself by paying my own tuition and housing, I will be eligible for less aid this year because the government has redefined what it means to be living in poverty and in need of financial aid.  But the funny thing is – I don’t feel richer because I technically am now farther away from some arbitrary wealth status.  Things havent gotten cheaper and indeed to go along with less financial aid, tuition is going UP.  This made me start thinking about that whole social capital thing again…

At this point in my life, I feel like I can do whatever I want – I want to bust out into the world and make a difference and live a crazy awesome life and learn all I can about the world we live in.  But college costs money and I end up getting burdened with things like student loans as a result of ridiculous tuition rates (or even more ridiculous book prices!) that pretty much guarantee most of us will start our careers and adult lives in debt and struggling to get ahead.  I don’t get the most out of my college education if I am working two jobs to support it, and even international volunteering costs money I don’t have (yeah, i know, i said i was going to Oxford – like i said, two jobs bitches).

It’s not fair that as youth, when we feel we can do the most good in the world, we are burdened with ridiculous prices for college.
And yet people complain America is falling behind in educational standards – well, ever wonder why? It’s because most other countries don’t bankrupt their students with college costs and anyone of ability can attend a university.  I know this is going to sound crazy, but I for one wouldn’t mind paying higher taxes when I’m older if that means the government will help me a lot more as a student – it balences out doesn’t it?  Invest in us as youth and as future contributors to our nation, help us get through college with less debt and more sanity, and we will repay the government later.  Sounds good to me.  I know it wouldn’t be a perfect system – but nothing in the government is a perfect system.  Our current system sure isn’t perfect either – USA Today says 2/3 of our 20-something kids are in debt, mostly all of it due to student loans.  Just pay a little more attention to the social capital of America and maybe we can start doing better as a country.

Quoting the USA Today article Young People Struggle to Deal with the Kiss of Debt  “It’s the single greatest problem facing this generation

I’m the first to admit I’m not sure the best way to remedy this debt situation is, I don’t like or understand politics and economics.  I’m just sayin’ get your shit together America – stop cutting student aid, stop increasing tuition, and stop expecting so much [money] out of kids trying to get their lives going. *Or at least stop expecting us to settle down right out of college, that’s just when we get a chance to start living! (but that is a whole different issue I guess.)

“Experience is the teacher of all things”

So I recently read an article about academic fraud from the Global Post (Read it here for interested folks). It was concerned with cheating and forgery in higher education systems, especially for international students. The article suggested that up to 90% of recommendation letters are faked, 70% of admissions essays were written by someone other than the applicant, and 50% of transcripts are at least partly altered. Writing an essay for someone is so common in this situation, that it has its own term: ghost writing. What’s worse is that some colleges may be at least partly aware of such fraud, but the article suggests bribes and international student tuition fees may help to keep everything quiet. For just a moment, compare international student annual tuition of $50,000 to in-state tuition of $25,000 at the University of Michigan. Yeah … there is a slight incentive for Universities to ignore some fraud. And let us not forget that all of this undercover alteration of information is not exactly cheap for the students themselves.

Lying about credentials or recommendation letters is basically admitting that you do not believe you are good enough for the program you are applying to and you need to fake your way in. Furthermore, this implies that you feel you deserve a leg up on someone else who actually may be qualified. And if you cannot get into the school or job that you want without cheating, what makes you think that you can succeed in it?

To be clear, I am not writing this because I want to complain about a broken education system or preach about cheating and lying. What really concerns me is that students feel the need to take such drastic measures to access a higher education. Why must this sort of thing be necessary to achieve college entry?

Everyone knows that gaining college admittance or prestigious internships boils down to that perfect GPA or standardized test score. To be competitive, students must market themselves in such a way as to exemplify how good of a worker, student, and person they are. But GPA isn’t exactly a good show of this at all now is it? As a student at a Big 10 School with ridiculously competitive students who aspire to Michigan Medical School or Harvard Law School, I have seen lots of competition among students, to the point where students purposely sabotage each other to lower class averages or pull all-nighters with the aid of Red Bull and Adderall.

Competition defeats the whole purpose of large schools with diverse populations- collaboration and mixing ideas for the betterment of student understanding and experience. GPA matters, but not as much as some people think. Experience, attitude, willpower, and confidence are far more important. In all honesty, I believe real-life ability to do things and the knowledge of how things really work will get you farther in life than memorizing a bunch of facts out of a book. What is the point of being able to recite the whole freakin microbiology book in lecture class, but then setting yourself on fire in every single laboratory class? (Yes, this happened.) Experience is a far better teacher anyway, and this is what should matter more in determining our abilities and intelligence than an arbitrary number that each college or professor interprets differently.

But, sadly, students have to be competitive and try to show their intelligence and ability in anyway possible to get ahead. And the easiest, most quantifiable way is scores, grades, and such tedious things. So students become competitive and focus too narrowly on getting ahead of the crowd. And in doing so, they forget a few things along the way. Like why they wanted an education. And no the answer is not simply “to get a high-paying job”. Yes, the perks of not working in a fast food restaurant the rest of your life are definitely an incentive … but, you should be in college for the experience and opportunities, the chance to do something you never thought you could, and to try new things.

And so what if along the way your GPA isn’t the greatest … I feel much better about my abilities and experience than how smart the University has deemed me based on grading done by dozens of different instructors working with different scales and expectations. It matters much more than it should. Nevertheless, I, like most everyone else in any higher education institute, still wish my GPA were higher. And I hope to do exceptionally well on the GRE. Because in the end, that is what will help me successfully get into Graduate School more than any real world experience. And the system is ridiculous, and we all have to play along.