Archive for August, 2008

All On One Grill: Cheeseburgers & Grilled Whole Potatoes

Sunday, August 24th, 2008
Cheeseburger with Roast Garlic and Grilled Potato

When grilling food, I like to try and prepare as much of the cooked foods for a meal on the grill, if possible. It is generally a matter of timing and layering.

At left is tonight’s meal. Cheeseburgers with roasted garlic and a side of grilled hole potatoes.

Easy enough to do on a kettle grill or BGE — simply wrap the potatoes in foil, drop them in the coals about 20 minutes before doing the burger. Garlic goes on about 5 to 10 minutes before, depending on how hot the fire is. Done.

In this case, the challenge was to do it on the Cobb — a rather tiny grill at only 10″ in diameter.

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The Cobb: Compact, Portable & Versatile Grill

Friday, August 22nd, 2008
The Cobb Roasting Corn

A little over a year ago, I wrote an entry describing a very simple means of producing extremely tasty grilled pork chops. About a month ago, Tom – Cobb Grill commented on the post. As with all posts that make it through the spam filter, I checked out the post and associated link.

Now, almost all spam is nullified by my spam filters. Some borderline stuff gets through. And the comment was borderline considered within the context of the link.

So, I visited the Art Fleederman and left a bit of feedback to see how serious/legitimate the company might be. I also offered to review the product, if they would send me a Cobb. I’m not above pimping my weblog for free stuff.

There is one simple rule: If said thing is a piece of crap, I’m going to say so in no uncertain terms.

Corn Tower

Tom at Art Fleederman took up my offer and sent me a Cobb.

The Cobb is definitely one well designed compact grill. I hesitate to even call it a grill. It is more like a small charcoal-fired convection oven.

I dropped some soaked in-husk corn on the Cobb, which was fueled by 8 or 10 charcoal briquettes and let it sit for about 45 minutes to an hour.

This style is my favorite way to cook corn. Done right, the resulting corn is tender, moist, and will have a bit of a caramelized sugar flavor to it.

It was significantly more moist than the many times I have done the same preparation on a larger grill. And the Cobb only consumed about 60% of the fuel during the cook.

As can be seen in the picture, the Cobb is not a large grill. It can barely fit 4 reasonably sized ears of corn with the lid on!

Lighting The Cobb for the First Time

Yet, it appears to be a very versatile grill. As can be seen in the picture at the left, the firebox is fairly small and sits at the center of the Cobb. What can’t be seen is the moat that surrounds it, into which you can place liquids for steaming and/or vegetables for roasting. It also appears to be possible to cook down sauces in this moat, using the renderings from the cooking meats to add additional flavors.

Roasted Corn, Ready to Eat

The grill is about 12″ in diameter and stands 14″ tall with the lid on. Their are a number of accessories; griddles, wok tops, etc…

It is also extremely portable and comes with an awesome carrying case. The design of the grill is such that the stainless steel mesh stays cool to the touch throughout the cook. I’m pretty sure I could cook with the Cobb on top of a tablecloth / wooden table without an issue.

In any case, it is a very impressive product and I’m looking forward to see how it fairs cooking meats and baking breads. It should prove ideal for cooking for my family, which is convenient given that my kitchen is currently destroyed in the process of a remodel.

Frankly, I knew nothing about The Cobb prior to tracing back the comment Tom made originally. I still know little about Art Fleederman other than that their online presence is both a bit campy and very interesting. The handful of communication I have had with Tom and with the company has been pleasant and responsive.

Art Fleederman carries what appears to be the complete line of Cobb grills and accessories. I’m very likely going to order the roasting rack soon.

Meet Cody (v2) — One Awesome Dog

Sunday, August 17th, 2008
Cody being Cody

Meet Cody.

The second Cody dog that my parents have had.

Cody is a yellow lab mix of something. She is also completely strange.

Of course, most of my family’s dogs are totally strange. We are such dog people, though, and we encourage our dogs to explore their dogginess, within appropriate boundaries, and this leads to dogs with uniquely strong personalities.

Cody, though, is one of the most interesting dog souls I have had the pleasure of spending time with.

My Mom picked her up at the humane society a few weeks ago. Our family always goes for strays or rescue dogs. Not only are these dogs in need of homes, but even the most basic of high school biology teaches you that what the AKC calls “pure bred” is a dog much more likely to have health problems than a mix-breed.

Cody Picking & Eating Blackberries

And, of course, a bit of genetic dice roll yields some interesting traits.

Cody loves fruits and vegetables. In this picture, Cody is nosing her way through the blackberry patch.

She sniffs out only the ripest of blackberries and gently picks and eats them with a certain bit of calm air that is rare to find in a 2.5 year old dog.

Cody has her side of the row of blackberry bushes and my mom picks from the other.

It is amusing to watch as my mom and Cody head down the blackberry row, one on each side, picking berries.

Cody also enjoys peaches, blueberries, and other fruits and vegetables.

As calm as Cody appears in these two pictures, she is also quite the action packed dog…

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SLR Lenses: Seeing Ghosts

Thursday, August 14th, 2008
Roger's 8th Birthday Candles

Roger recently turned 8 years old and, of course, I pulled out the camera to document the event and share it with the family.

This is a shot of Roger getting ready to blow out the candles on the awesome Super Mario birthday cake that his mom made.

But note the weird candle-ghosts hovering just in front of Roger’s face. This was one of about 8 shots in the sequence, and the only one where the candle-ghosts weren’t overwhelming.

It is almost a neat effect here, but not at all desirable.

The shot was taken with the 50mm f/1.4 lens, at f/1.8. This is a completely fantastic lens that I have raved about before.

I was chatting with Duncan— who has about umpteen bazillion times more photo skilz & knowledge than me– and showed him the picture.

His conclusion: classic flare. Bad flare. He shoulda seen the others!

In chatting some more, Duncan dropped a link to this Canon tech note on me.

As it turns out, digital camera sensors are more reflective than film.

Thus, it is quite possible that the relatively intense candle light was reflecting off the sensor, then bouncing about the lens and back to the sensor, thus generating ghosts.

Likely enough that Canon has specifically optimized lens design around minimizing the impact of such internal reflections unique to digital sensors.

Amongst other digital specific optimizations, Canon has been reshaping some of the elements to reduce internal reflections off of the sensor. The technote goes there in more detail.

Now, that might not actually be what is going on here. But it warrants further investigation and comparison. Instead of candles, some high intensity LEDs should do the trick.

Fraser Speirs — another photographer with a much bigger photog-clue-stick than me — suggested that it might be the filter. And, in fact, I do have a relatively cheap, totally flat, filter on the lens. I’ll definitely add ‘filter vs. no-filter’ to the testing criteria.

For lenses, I’ll probably just order another plastic fantastic (cheap, kick ass lens — it turns a rebel into a [large] pocket point and shoot) and I may have access to the 50mm f/1.2 lens.

Roger’s Geode Collection

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008
Roger's Geodes

This is Roger’s geode collection that he has amassed over the last couple of visits to Missouri.

Well, three geodes and one bit of pasta for scale.

Geodes are an interesting bit of geological product in that they are effectively little pockets — bubbles really — of gas and minerals that form

The geode fragment in the back was likely a part of a much much larger geode. Size of a basketball kind of large. It has an interesting crystalline structure not apparent in the photo.

The softball thing at the left is the most perfectly round geode I have ever seen. It has fossil inclusions in the surface, but is otherwise just perfectly round. Might be interesting to slice it open, but it is just so… perfectly round and magnificent as is.

The last geode is kinda small. Really really small. I had no idea geodes could be that small.

But, as Roger often teaches me, discovering small is often just a matter of paying attention.

It is actually quite a spectacular little bit of crystalline geological product.

Tiny Geode

The image at the right is a close-up of that really tiny geode.

Quite the surprisingly complex bit of crystalline structure in a very, very small package!

Not surprisingly, this image was shot with the Canon 65mm 1-5x macro lens.

To take this kind of picture with this lens requires a tripod, a stand for the subject and a really good light source.

All of which I happened to have, though some of which was a bit hacked. Click through for details.

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Paul Jackson and the iPhone’s Camera

Sunday, August 10th, 2008

Since the iPhone’s release, there has been much criticism of the built in 2.1MP camera. Certainly, there is room for improvement.

Personally, I don’t really understand most of the criticism. Cell phone cameras suck. If you want a real camera, get a real camera. Even a $150 pocket point and shoot will outperform any cell phone camera by a long shot.

So what happens when a professional artist with an unparalleled intimate knowledge of light gets a hold of an iPhone and decides to take some pictures?

What you see at the left is what happens.

The renowned watercolor artist Paul Jackson has an iPhone and he noticed some interesting characteristics of the iPhone’s camera’s implementation. Namely, it scans when it takes the photo and, thus, you can achieve interesting effects if you move the camera just right. Combined with his mastery of all that is light, he set out to see what he could do with the camera.

Some very cool images resulted. Paul says “I just love the shots I’ve been getting from my iphone camera. You can bet it will affect how I paint things!”

Paul’s paintings are simply stunning. It is hard to believe that an image like this is a watercolor. And Perfect Curves is a great example of Paul’s mastery of painting light.

Truly a great artist!

Paul was recently invited, as one of only three american artists, to exhibit at the First Invitational Exhibition of Contemporary International Watermedia Masters in China during the Olympics.

He is spending some time traveling through China and is documenting his experience on his weblog. It is a fun read and full of interesting observations & insights.

I look forward to seeing how Paul’s future work is influenced by the strong imagery of China!

From Piece of Pooh to Beautiful Butterfly…

Saturday, August 9th, 2008
Juvenile Swallowtail Caterpillar

Meet the juvenile black swallowtail larva (I’m pretty darned sure). This little guy looks like a piece of bird pooh for a reason.

Specifically, it is employing feces camouflage. By resembling a bit of bird poop, the caterpillar makes itself look singularly unappetizing during the vulnerable first part of its life.

And by “little guy”, I do mean little. This worm was exactly 3/16ths of an inch long — just about 5mm long.

No, really, about the size of a grain of rice.

That leaf? It is the end of a parsley leaf.

I was wrong. This is not a swallowtail larva. It is most likely of the Brush-footed butterfly family (Nymphalidae). Swallowtail caterpillars of this size look very similar — similarly bird poop like — but do not have spines.

Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar

It is amazing how quickly they grow. Within only a few days, that little pooh-pillar turns into a rather stunning green worm that will grow to up to 2″ in length.

Not so coincidentally, the caterpillar features a new defense mechanism. When harassed, it sticks two bright orange antenna out of its head that stink horribly.

Swallowtail Butterfly Worm Face Caterpillar

Even without the antenna, the caterpillar’s head is really quite striking.

I tried to get a shot with the antenna sticking up, but discovered that the caterpillar seems to fairly rapidly learn that any particular stimulus is not threatening and will stop wasting energy defending against harmless “attacks”.

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Super Duper Macro (Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5X Macro Lens)

Saturday, August 9th, 2008
MacBook Pro Power Button 1x (MP-E 65mm)

Anyone who has had a poke at my photography knows that I totally dig macro photography. I love taking photos of flowers and critters where the extremely small fills the frame.

The second lens I added to my tiny photo tool chest was the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens. I can’t say enough good things about this lens. Actually, I really need to write up a review of the lens because it is just a stunning piece of glass and is worthy well beyond just being a Macro lens.

However, there is a much more extreme, single purpose, Canon macro lens and I was just lent a copy today (by David Hill — of Medialets, of interest to iPhone app develoeprs — one incredibly generous soul!).

The Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5X Macro Lens. It is, flat out, ridiculous. Just very very different from normal lenses. The wikipedia article contains a decent explanation.

The picture at left is taken at a minimum magnification of 1x. It is of the power button on my MacBook Pro.

Since the lens is fixed focus, that is the maximum sized bit of reality that can be captured with the lens (the image is cropped just slightly — about 90% of the original size).

So what does 5x look like? Click through to find out….

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