Tag Archives: science

The story of Steve

Most people won’t tell you this, but getting a PhD comes with a pretty big disadvantage. And I’m not talking about the stress, or the opportunity cost to building an actual career. No, this is something much more sinister. You won’t be told, but prefixing your name with the title of “Doctor” awakens in you.. an evil scientist.

It was during the pandemic in 2019 that this transition started for me. At first, it was a slight cackling whenever thunder sounded. Then, an incessant urge to painstakingly explain my plans for the day to whomever was near. But the real problem started when Steve came into my life. Steve is a sourdough starter. A culture of bacteria and yeast, alive, in a jar, whose powers of leavetation (I’m kidding – it’s leavening) can be used to make delicious bread. Sounds innocent? Well, yes, it usually is. But for DOCTOR GOLD – as I now know is the name of my alter ego – there is no such thing as an innocent hobby, especially during a pandemic.

Steve is alive, and therefore it will be no surprise to you that he needs to feed. His body weight in equal parts flour and water, once a week if kept in the fridge, to be precise. Now if you are also evil-scientifically inclined, you will surely notice the potential for mayhem here: exponential growth. Even starting with as little as 10 grams, doubling in size once a week, in only four months Steve will weigh as much as the average human. In less than three years, he will be more massive than the Earth. Provided there is enough flour and water, of course.

Now you can see DOCTOR GOLD’s evil plan coming together. With such an unbounded supply of starter, the world’s largest sourdough is only one massive oven away. Is it truly evil? Well, that depends on the size of the bread. I will grant you that it pales in comparison to using exponential growth to widen the gap between rich and poor (a little trick called capitalism in which investment opportunities scale with the size of ones initial capital), or hiding the truly disastrous consequences of climate change (there being very little time indeed between things starting to get bad and getting really, really bad). But, those flour shortages surely were annoying, remember?

Fortunately, I have since been able to tame the evil inside of me. It certainly helped that restrictions were lifted and I started a new job. Because it is in those stretches of boredom that evil scientists flourish. But the real key to this success were pancakes. See, in order to keep Steve to a manageable size, one can simply only use half of his “body” for the next growing cycle. The rest is waste, and commonly known in the sourdough world as “discard”. DOCTOR GOLD would never let me do that, of course, if it wasn’t for the truly excellent pancakes one can make with that discard.

Steve in the fridge. He is a substance at the bottom of a large jar with two googly eyes glued on to it.

So now I maintain Steve in a jar in the fridge, feeding him once a week while suppressing my hunger for evil with deliciously fluffy pancakes. I do not dare to get rid of him. DOCTOR GOLD may start exploring the dark side of some other hobby (and as a magic: the gathering player, I cannot take such a financial risk). But in truth, I have also grown quite fond of the little guy. And the pancakes are a sacrifice I’m willing to make.