29 August 2011

A Nerd's Dream Vacation

Well, we finally managed to squeeze some vacation in. (This was the first time Steve and I have traveled together on an airplane since the first month of construction -- nearly two years ago! -- so it was definitely time.)

Some highlights?

Of the kind of nerdy variety?

We saw the third supercomputer ever made. Not the third model, or the third brand...the THIRD. The third Cray supercomputer to ever roll off the assembly line. (It was the first ever sold, but the third one made. I guess Cray kept the first two for itself.)

Where's the computer, you ask? That's it right there. That whole red-and-black monstrosity. With a seat all around it. 'Cause supercomputing is tiring, and you might want to sit down.

Steve, being an engineer, was uber-excited to see it. And be photographed with it. (As I took the picture, someone walked by and offered to take a picture of both of us. I told him it was okay, there's only one nerd in our family. Not entirely true, of course, but I'm not the kind of nerd who needs my picture taken with a Cray.)

Here are some of its innards.

Want to know more about the Cray? Here's the info that was posted on it (or, you know, there's Wikipedia).

Moving on...we also ate liquid nitrogen ice cream, which we learned about a couple of years ago in Popular Science magazine. (Yeah, we're both nerds....) Instead of using ice to freeze ice cream, this ice cream is made with suuuuper-cold liquid nitrogen (like, 321 degrees below zero). Liquid nitrogen is poured into the ice cream mixture -- including my chosen add-ins of lemon, blueberry, and cheesecake bits -- where the nitrogen immediately warms up and vaporizes. At that point, the mixture, which was being prepared in a KitchenAid mixer, started to look like the Thriller video.

I don't know what that Thermos thing is that they use to pour the liquid nitrogen into the mixer, but it must be really well insulated, 'cause it's still a liquid when it comes out. It immediately turns to a gas, though, so it doesn't water down the ice cream. It's supposed to make creamier ice cream because it freezes up so quickly (a minute or two, versus half an hour or longer for regular ice cream), so there's less time for ice crystals to form.

This is how they store their supply of nitrogen:

And here's our ice cream artist in action:

How did the ice cream taste? Pretty much like regular ice cream. (In my ice cream-making career, I've found that the best thing to make ice cream creamier is...cream.) But the novelty of it was definitely worth it.

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