Saturday, August 22, 2009

Burglar alarm system

The idea is that in the dark of night the burglar will not see the black dog. I have chosen a retired greyhound because this breed has an uncanny ability to stretch out and completely block the entrance in question.

It goes like this:
1. burglar enters the home
2. burglar trips over dog
3. burglar curses or shouts in pain. Homeowner neutralizes the threat.
4. dog remains in position, unmoved, waiting to trip any accomplices

You can see from this picture exactly how hyper these animals are.

If you would like a high performance alarm system like this you can consult either Greyhound Adoption League of Texas or Greyhounds Unlimited.

Smile for the day: an actual transformer

This kind of fabrication is pretty danged cool. Well done.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Storytime: It's falling from the sky!

I was in basic training in OK with a fellow who had never been outside Hawaii. We were in formation when it started to snow. He broke formation and started running around yelling "OMG it's snowing! Is this snow? It's snow! It's just FALLING FROM THE SKY!" He was gobsmacked by both the concept and the reality of it.

We thought the drills were going to hammer him but they thought it was funny and let him run around for a while before ordering him back into formation.

more rain than I thought

I heard the thunder all night, but didn't think there was much rain associated with it. Found 2" in the rain gauge this AM. Cool.

Monday, August 17, 2009

District 9

Just got back from the Galaxy drive-in; Dear Wife and I went to see District 9.

Good stuff, Maynard. I don't recommend many movies for fullprice viewing but this one qualifies.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

batch36: recipe

BeerSmith Recipe Printout -
Recipe: batch[36] bighouse farmhouse
Style: Saison
TYPE: All Grain
Taste: (35.0)

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size: 24.60 L
Boil Size: 28.16 L
Estimated OG: 1.044 SG
Estimated Color: 3.4 SRM
Estimated IBU: 23.7 IBU
Brewhouse Efficiency: 75.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Amount Item Type % or IBU
9.10 lb Pale Malt (2 Row) US (2.0 SRM) Grain 84.85 %
1.30 lb Wheat, Flaked (1.6 SRM) Grain 12.12 %
0.32 lb Acid Malt (3.0 SRM) Grain 3.03 %
38.30 gm Glacier [6.00 %] (60 min) Hops 23.7 IBU
1 Pkgs farmhouse limited edition (wyeast #3726) Yeast-Ale

Mash Schedule: mouse mash
Total Grain Weight: 10.72 lb
mouse mash
Step Time Name Description Step Temp
40 min mash in Add 12.87 L of water at 162.3 F 152.0 F

The target temp for primary with this yeast, according to Wyeast, is 90F (!)
135g of sucrose for priming.

Resized to 24.6L , hence the "bighouse" name.


batch36: brew day!

I brewed yesterday. I wasn't completely organized so it took 6hrs instead of my target 5 hours. It's not like you're completely tied to the process for 6hrs; there are two 1-hour stretches where you set a timer and walk away. For the rest of the time it's basically cleaning whenever your direct attention is not required.

There is a saying: "If you like washing dishes you're going to love homebrewing". :-) It becomes second nature.

I took crappy pics with my two-generations-back smartphone. Hopefully you can get the gist.

Ok, so brewday begins. Most people buy their yeast instead of ranching it so many people will begin here. This will be an "all grain" brew which means there are no extracts or sugars added to the batch. It's made from 100% whole grains the way God intended. I'll give you a heads up on where extract brewers would start the process.

Preparing for the Mash
batch36 mash water up to speed
The first step will be the mash.[0] This is a process of soaking malted grains (generally barley) in water at a given temp[s] for a given time[s]. It activates enzymes in the grains themselves that convert their grain starches into sugars. Literally, nothing is added but water. The grain wants to be beer and the brewers job is to facilitate that process.

batch36 grains
Here's what we are going to need for the mash: hot water (pic above of water heating on a turkey frier), milled grains, and a place to hold the mash at the proper temp. The pic to the right is about 9# of two-row[1] malted barley and about 1# of flaked wheat. See the recipe in the next post for details.

The mash
batch36 open mash
This recipe calls for the mash to be held at 153F for 60mins. During this period the mash looks like a thick, cloudy grain soup. If you taste it in the beginning it will be starchy, maybe biscuity tasting. As the enzymes start breaking down long starch changes into shorter sugar chains the converted liquid (now called wort) tastes sweet. Like malt.[2]

batch36 mashing
Once the temp is stabilized at the target temp the lid goes on and the 60min timer is set. Note the digital temp probe snaking out of the cooler. That way you can monitor temps without having to open it up. The coolers are so well insulated that it is common to lose only about .5F during the hour-long mash.

During the mash another pot of water has been heating up for the next step.

The sparge
batch36 spent grains
After the mash is done you've got a truckload of wet grains soaking in sweet liquid (wort, remember). How to get it out? I'll be using a batch sparge technique.

The "first runnnings" are drained off into the brewkettle using the spigot you see in the pic above. Then the spigot is closed and some hot water is added. Stir, wait, drain. Repeat.

At the end of the three drainings most (like 95%) of the sugars have been rinsed off and you are left with husks, or spent grains. It's just husk material because the white starchy insides have been converted to sugars then rinsed away. The husks are great for making dog biscuits or added fiber for bread or other foods. I usually add 1/3rd cup of the grains to the bread machine when it makes the "additions" beep. The rest goes in the compost pile.

Just brew it!
batch36 brewing
Brewing = boiling. We loosely call the overall procedure brewing but this is brewing proper.

BN: this is where extract brewing would start. You add water and malt extract to the pot instead of converting it from grains like we did. On this brewday we did it from scratch (grains). Why would be take the extra couple of hours to do it from scratch? It offers much more control and drops the cost considerably. Plus it's rewarding to do it the way people have done it for millenia. Most new brewers start with extract, and many stick with extract and make fine beers with it.

"What the... ", you might say, "that kettle looks just like a keg". And you would be right. This is called a keggle[3], a keg converted to a kettle by dissassembling the tap fitting and cutting a 12" hole in the top (with a plasma cutter, in this case). Why? Because brewing takes a big pot. A keg is about 15gal which is generous. A commerical 15gal stainless pot is north of $300. A keg (also stainless) is about $50 off craigslist. They can be dented and ugly and generally unfit for selling beer but work great as keggles.

batch36 IC chilling
After a 60min boil the wort is force cooled to pitching temperature, the temperature at which you want to toss in your yeasties. Normally this is around 60-65F. This particular yeast likes it unusually hot, so we will pitch around 80F.

In this pic you can see a copper coil lowered into the still-boiling wort; the tubes connect to a garden hose. (You can also see a clothespin that is anchoring a hop bag. The hops are in the bag so you don't have to strain/fish them out later). Tap water flows through the coil, wicking heat out of the hot liquid. When groundwater is 80F like it is now this will get the wort down to about 100F fairly quickly. The heated water comes out the other end of the clear hose and is used in the washing machine, or cooled and used to fill up the birdbath or water trees.[4]

Let's stop for a bit of meta-information. Up until now the brewer can play it fairly fast-and-loose since everything will be boiled. But after the wort cools below 140F sanitation becomes the overwhelming priority. Everything from here on out is sanitized with no-rinse sanitizers derived from commercial breweries and/or dairies. Cross-contamination is the enemy. Although no human pathogens live in beer (ie, they can't make you sick) certain bugs can destroy the beer. There will be bugs in the beer (as with commercial beer) unless you brew in a NASA white room. The trick is to have your yeast so happy, so vigorous, and so numerous that they out-compete any non-yeast bugs. Microbial arms race.

batch36 carboy filled
I tell you that in order to explain why there are no more pictures until the wort was in the sealed carboy fermenter with the yeast pitched in. It was just me on the porch so I did the work instead of taking pics.

For the next couple of weeks the yeast will eat the sugars in the wort, converting it to beer. It will have an airlock on it to release the CO2 that the yeast create while converting sugars to alcohol.

After fermentation is complete the beer will be kegged or bottled. It should be ready to sample about three weeks after that.

Thanks for following along. I know it's like watching somebody else's baby slobber while the parent fawns.

If you'd like a more organized look at brewing, see Palmer's How To Brew website.

[0] Remember the term "sour mash whiskey"? Same concept only their mash is soured like sourdough in a controlled way. Bourbon makers take the resulting fermented corn-beer and distill it.

[1] Remember the Two-Rows brewpub? Now you know why it's named that.

[2] Now you know where malt flavoring comes from, like Malt-o-Meal, Malted Milk balls, or a chocolate malt. That's what the wort tastes like, only it's not concentrated the way the flavorings are.

[3] no direct relation to the popular pelvic exercise.

[4] The last bit of heat down to the final pitching temp is removed by a recirculating icewater system that uses the same coil. Didn't take pics of it and it and it's a little weird to explain.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A month without skype

You may remember from last month that I did not renew my SkypeOut account, which is $3/month for (practically) unlimited calls to the US.

I went with a company that uses the open/standard VOIP platform called SIP for PC-to-phone connections. Using SIP instead of some proprietary protocol means you can choose your own client (the softphone) and do all kinds of complex multi-service configurations if you want. The client I used was Ekiga.

So here's my take after 1 month. I have switched to Twinkle, a simpler client than Ekiga. The SIP-based VOIP works and sounds great.

Cost analysis
I spent $0.15 on my diamondcard SIP account in the last month. That same cost on Skype would have been $3.00, a factor of 20x.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Batch36: 250ml --> 1000ml

Nice colorshift in the yeast starter by this AM so I will decant into the larger 1000ml flask for the final step. The combined volume will be about 800ml of starter, or about 125 billion yeast cells. They're small.

In this pic I have shown the 1000cc flask of sterile wort next to the current 250cc flask of happy yeast. There is a substantial difference in color and opacity.

This should be ready to pitch starting tomorrow morning. All the stars are in alignment, just have to figure out when to brew. The brew session will take about 5hrs so a bit of planning is required.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

First light: Dietz #2 D-Lite streamliner

This is the lantern I picked up on our daytrip to Gladewater. It was grimey and full of dirt dauber nests but not rusted. Used a nylon brush on most of it and replaced the wick. Ran the globe through the dishwasher with the last batch of dishes.

The lantern is 18" tall with the bail up, 13" with the bail down. It uses a 7/8" wick and yields about 10 candlepower according to a contemporary ad. This stepped-fount "streamline" variant was made from 1938 to 1956 and there is no way to date it more closely than that.

I was going to repaint it but Dear Wife likes it in the current incarnation.

Batch 36: yeast starter 50ml --> 250ml

Next morning. Compare the color of the starter liquid (not the foam) in this 50ml flask to yesterday. The microscopic cream-colored yeast are multiplying and their increasing numbers makes the starter look lighter.

There are technical ways of judging when to step up the starter volume but I usually go by that color change.

So I decanted the 20ml of starter from that 50ml flask into about 110ml of fresh, sterile starter in a 230ml flask. Total volume is now 130ml or so and it looks darker again because the current numbers of yeast can't cloud that volume of starter. By tomorrow we should be able to step up again. I can feel your anticipation.

"not oppressively hot"

Dear Wife and I were standing on the back porch shortly before 6am. "Hey," she said, "it's not oppressively hot."

And it wasn't. The wall thermomenter read 73F. It was a brief moment of grace before the sun came up.

I am eagerly awaiting October.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Batch 36: bighouse farmhouse

I'm going to start a running discussion that will illustrate the process of making a batch of homebrew from beginning to end. It will be deadly boring, but I will take lots of pics to make it more bearable. This batch, although it is a style that matures fairly early, will not be drinkable until mid-to-late October.

To give you an idea of the timelines, the bitter some of you tasted at Destiny's place was brewed on January 3rd. The apple cider was started on July 22, 2008. Brewing/fermenting is a game of patience and planning. The yeast are in control -- we just give them the food and time they need to do their work.

Ok, so the new batch. It's a farmhouse ale, which is a type of rual Belgian beer. It's part of a family of beers that are made with heat-loving yeast. Most yeast like it around 60-65F; farmhouse starts to work around 80F and really comes online around 90F. The resulting beer is a bit "wild" tasting, with a tangy, horsey, or leathery notes. The yeast lives there in Belgium and is harvested by American yeast culturers for propagation and sale to homebrewers. This batch is called "bighouse" because I am increasing the batch volume 30% for reasons that will become clearer on brewday.

I bought a pure culture of the farmhouse and propagated it in sterile agar slants like you probably saw in high school biology. This is where our story starts.

Preparing for brewday
The brewing (boiling) will occur approximately this upcoming weekend. There is no way to know for sure, because the yeast has to be ready.

I took the yeast culture out of the 40F refrigerator and sat it out to let it come up to room temp. While this happened I sterilized the yeast starter materials. Inside the pressure cooker: three different sizes of Erlenmeyer flasks with starter wort (unfermented pre-beer liquid) for the yeast to feed on. If you've ever proofed yeast before it's kinda like that, only working from much smaller, purer yeast samples and growing to much more yeast than you would ever use in bread. Takes days instead of minutes.

Sterilized the glassware, utensils, and liquids in the pressure cooker for 15mins @ 15 pounds. Did it outside on an old early-60s coleman camp stove I got for $10 on craigslist, as the 22qt Mirro doesn't fit well on the stove. And putting out that much heat wouldn't do any favors for my aged AC.

Let everything cool and laid out the sterile implements. The steel rod is an inoculating loop, which is flamed/quenched between each step to avoid cross contamination. The water in the mason jar was canned previously so it was already sterile. Since I lack an extra $5000 for a venthood, I make do with the poor man's version: bottom oven on low, vent-a-hood running. The object is to keep beastie-laden dirt particles flowing upward instead of settling on your working materials.
Not pictured: propane torch for flaming the 'noc loop.

Scraped the yeast out of the tube and deposited in a 50ml flask with a tiny magnetic stirbar. Re-covered with foil; this looks odd but is standard laboratory practice. The flask will sit on a stirplate for a day or so before the yeast solution will be "stepped up" into a larger volume of food in a larger flask. The stirplate has a spinning magnet in it that induces the magnetic stirbar to spin in the flask although there is no physical contact. The spinning aerates and agitates the yeast; you'll want to take my word that this is a Good Thing, as the reasoning behind it is arcane and of no use to normal people. :-) The styrofoam bit between the flask and the stirplate is for insulation. This old lab stirplate runs hotter than my other homebuilt one, and I want to control how much heat makes it to the yeast starter.

The starter is now 20cc in volume. By brew time it needs to be 500-1000cc.

That's it for now. I'll tag this series with batch36 label so folks can string the entries together after the whole thing is done.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Ron and Rand

Would I like to meet Drs. Rand and Ron Paul at a reception? Sure thing.

Do I have an extra $200+ for the buy-in? Not so much.

Hyundai Genesis abuse at TMS

Last month I got a piece of snailmail from Hyundai explaining the event ("hey, come drive the snot out of our new sports car") and giving a website for registration. I registered and marked it on the calendar.

The event was structured like autocross, and a majority of the attendees appeared to be autocross drivers. In events like this a tight, technically-challenging course is laid out on a large slab of concrete (usually an airstrip or large parking lot). The path is marked with paint and/or cones; the object is to get the fastest time with fewest errors.

My time was 10:30am. The festivities had started earlier in the morning and I could hear the tires screaming and engines howling before pulling into TMS from the access road. This should be fun, and a bit scary for people like me who do not race on the weekends.

As I was signing in there was a particularly long, lurid tire scream and I looked up to see a fellow spinning one of the cars across the course. Oopsy Daisy. The Hyundai rep smiled and said "you don't necessarily have to do it like that." We'll see how it goes.

There were six Genesis coupes running, a mixture of manuals, autos, and one beta paddle shift car. I drove the 6spd manual with a 3-point-something 304hp V6.

The tour was called the Adrenaline tour and I was a little amped up as I was pointed to my car. Introduced myself to the Hyundai co-driver that was in each car and noticed that the AC was on and the car was quite comfortable. Neither AC nor passenger weight are conducive to a sporting experience, BTW.

The clutch had decent spring to it; it felt like a competition clutch that should be able to take some abuse. I launched off the starting line down a short straightaway and let off the gas about 3/4 the way down the strip to prepare for the upcoming hard left turn. The co-driver indicated I should keep my foot in the throttle. More. More. More. OMG. That turn is right... there.... ohhhhhh...

Terms like "opposite lock", "throttle induced oversteer" or "drift" are best for describing what happens on a course like this when you drive at your limits. There is a vid at the bottom that indicates what this looks, feels, and sounds like in the car. It's not an experience you get on a milk run to Kroger.

The whole run went that way. I kept trying to stay within sane, non-cerebellum-melting limits and the co-driver was on me to keep it floored long, long after my lizard brain wanted to brake. In a situation like that you trust the professional and remain open to the outcome. I will admit to no small amount of fear, but I followed the co-drivers guidance, made a respectable pass without hitting any cones or spinning out. :-)

The verdict: this is much more car than I expected going in. Serious grunt from the engine, serious grip from the tires, excellent suspension. The car never felt unsettled even in the most violent maneuvers. It's absolutely a better car than I am a driver. I believe this car would win over even the most vocal Hyundai doubters. If all cars in their line were like this then the Japanese makers would have to pay real respect to the dangers presented by their Korean competitor.

And what about the jaded weekend racers with their modified performance cars? They got in line again and again. It was like watching children at Six Flags riding the same ride over and over until they get sick. I didn't hear a single negative comment about the cars from those racers. That's saying something.

This is not my vid, but it is a vid from the same event before it came to Dallas. It will give you an idea how the track is laid out and what it is like to drive it. The camera work is very shakey -- it's violent inside the car when you are tossing it around like that:

It takes huevos for an underdog car company to flog their new model all day in front of their most critical audience. The cars worked perfectly, the event was well-handled, and the drivers (read: customers) were all happy. That's how an underdog kicks market leaders in the shins. And it will leave a mark.

Here is the official Hyundai Genesis promo site.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Daytrip: Gladewater, Tx

Dear Wife and I boarded the dog and took a day trip to Gladewater, Tx. It's a leisurely two-hour trip down Hwy 80.

The main reason for going to the town is they have an old city square that's full of antique shops. I got some old 1950s razors and a 1940s (?) Dietz #2 D-Lite kerosene lantern. Dear Wife, who does not drink coffee, got a groovey anodized 1960s coffee percolator and a few small things.

Drove back in light rain. Gotto the house and it was 86F in there. Weird. Turns out the power had been off for about 5 hrs and had just come back on 16mins before we got home. I knew this because of the uptime on my *nix boxen.

Terrible crush: VBH

Ok, confession time. I have a terrible crush on Vicki Butler-Henderson, British driver/racer/presenter. I picked a few clips from Fifth Gear to help explain the fixation.

Here she is teaching her mom to lap a track in a Lambo in the wet. Mom's a bit scared at first:

Here VBH track tests a Fiat Panda v. a Ferrari 360:

and VBH on a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14 (ie, Hayabusa-killer):

She's a joy to watch.

Nowadays I hear she is still on TV but doing some kind non-motorsports stuff. How much fun could that be?