austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

Why, they could percolate the ocean in Brazil.

So now there's a fresh discovery on how to make fuel out of coffee, thanks to Dr Mano Misra and colleages at the University of Nevada, Reno, which doesn't get as much attention as the university at Las Vegas but has fewer letters in its name. It got started, Misra said, with an accident, the way all sorts of great discoveries like Canada or diodes or purple were. One night it turns out he made coffee but didn't drink it.

That's the part that makes me realize I could have made this discovery too. I don't mean to brag but I've got decades of experience in not drinking coffee. The only times I have had coffee were when I didn't hear the question or when it felt too awkward to say no. But I do have the problem of not making coffee before I don't drink it, which I suppose would have kept me away from the real breakthrough.

The next morning he noticed there was a layer of oil floating on the coffee, which I didn't realize coffee could do. I figured it just sat there needing sugar. I did know you could get a layer of oil on top of peanut butter, back in the old days when even things like smooth peanut butter were complicated, and you had to stir your peanut butter until you realized you weren't all that hungry and besides the peanut butter and jelly sandwich wouldn't be invented until World War II anyway. (I suppose you'd get hungry in waiting until World War II to eat, though.) But he found the oil on top of the coffee, and he didn't stir it or make a sandwich. So once again it's not enough to have a lucky accident but to know what to do with it.

Putting it into the car, though, that's the remarkable thing. I had always assumed people only poured mysterious fluids into their cars if they were starring in every live-action movie Disney ever made between 1960 and 1975, where all sorts of potions allow antique cars to drive through walls or reach supersonic speeds or putter around in the sky. It turns out this happens in reality too, which explains the migrating flocks of Chalmers 30 Roadsters blotting out the sun over a territory several states wide (and not those puny northeastern states, either, but the broad-shouldered states you find around the Missouri River).

It turns out you get diesel out of coffee grounds, but that's all right, when you compare it to what you get out of the dust left over outside the plastic bag but inside the cereal box, namely transmission fluid but never the right type for your car, or what you get out of the goo that clogs up the dishwasher's drain, which is a sense of discomfort that lasts even after you wash your hands. At least deisel you can trade to people who have some need for it, like truckers or Europeans. If you're trading for fresh coffee don't tell them where the oil comes from, or they may figure they don't actually need your participation.

One of the things that I'm wondering about is if you can get oil out of coffee grounds that means there must have been oil in there to start with. Either that or someone put the oil in. But that doesn't make sense: who would go around injecting oil into coffee beans, or coffee grounds, or coffee landscaping? Maybe that would happen once or twice as a prank, sure, but it's not the sort of thing that stays funny forever like following up every on-line mention of something being left-handed by calling it ``sinister''. No, the oil must have started out there, because it'd be too big a coincidence to end up in the coffee cup all that often. Unless it's the coffee cups that actually contain the oil, and the coffee is just a red herring? No, of course not; you don't make coffee out of herring, so far as I know. Of course, I don't drink coffee or herring so I have to speculate on what other people do.

Trivia: In 1662 London a pound of coffee cost four to seven shillings. Source: Tastes of Paradise, Wolfgang Schivelbusch.

Currently Reading: János Bolyai, Non-Euclidean Geometry, and the Nature of Space, Jeremy J Gray. It's 139 pages of commentary prefixing 52 pages of reprinting of János Bolyai's groundbreaking paper on non-Euclidean geometry. But the subject does kind of need it.


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