Archive for December, 2008

Making Yeast Serve YOU!

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

This is one of those posts where I fully embrace my cluelessness and am looking to you to fill in the knowledge base….

Recently, I have taken up wine making. Mostly, I took up wine making vs. beer brewing simply because a couple of my friends had gone down the brewing path and are kicking ass at it. Might as well spread the net wide…

I cannot make any claim to expertise. Actually, I can only claim ignorance. But I can suggest a couple of publications that have been very helpful.

The Alaskan Bootlegger’s Bible is a collection of knowledge, recipes, and anecdotes written from the perspective of a supposed frontiersman type character.

I have no idea if the lore part of it is true, but it is amusing and, certainly, based upon reasonable historical situations.

However, the science is sound and the book is full of cheap hacks — real maker’s solutions — to producing alcohol in just about any situation.

Despite the “remote outback hack it up and ferment it” attitude, the book does focuses considerable energy on how and why investing a bit more time or modern technology into the alcohol — this book isn’t just wine and beer, but distillation, too — production process yields a less poisonous and more palatable product.

And it is fun to read.

The second book is Raymond Massaccesi’s Winemaker’s Recipe Handbook. My local fermentation arts shop had a copy, but it seems to be largely out of print or otherwise unavailable.

In any case, it contains a very straightforward handful of paragraphs regarding winemaking and is then followed by over a hundred recipes for making wine from just about every fruit, berry, and/or vegetable you can imagine.

Finally, it contains a bit of text on developing your own recipes. All in all, it provides an excellent foundation for developing wines out of whatever fruits you might have.

Sadly, it does not directly have a recipe for Mango wine, but I believe the book contains enough information to provide a foundation for creating such a wine. (And, yes, I’m terribly jealous of anyone who has such an abundance of mangoes as to explore potential recipes! I look forward to hearing of the results!)

IKEA Lighting Hack

Monday, December 29th, 2008
Dining Table Lit by CFL Pendants (Including IKEA Ordning Lamps)

When we lived in New York City, we had these awesome cable lights with hand blown glass pendants and, in the middle in the picture left, an awesome little beaded center piece lamp over our living room table.

One goal of the remodel was to make sure that we had a place for the pendants to finally hang again after being in boxes for the past decade.

The glass pendants are hung above the bar between kitchen and living room and the bead shade was hung over the kitchen table.

But the shade was too small to hang by itself. Thus, we needed additional fixtures.

At first, I soldered a couple of stiff copper wires to the bottom of some 12v MR16 compact fluorescent lamps. Plenty of light, but obviously not terribly pleasant to look at a couple of random bare bulbs hanging about.

I have always been enamored by the cheese grater light fixtures in That 70s Show.

As we were heading to IKEA for other reasons, we decided to poke about the kitchen accessories area to see if anything Light Fixture-esque struck our fancy.

Christine found some ORDNING stainless steel cutlery caddies that seemed pretty close to ideal.

Cheap, too.

IKEA Ordning Based Lamps

So we grabbed a couple and I picked up some silver lamp cord from the local hardware store.

Assembly was trivial:

  • Solder ends of lamp cord to ends of lamp
  • Tie not in lamp cord just above lamp
  • Feed lamp cord through center bottom hole of ORDNING
  • Solder stiff copper wire to other end of lamp cord at desired height
  • Bend copper wire in a hook to hook over suspended power cables

The end result is clean, simple, and provides great light. Better yet, the interior of the ORDNING has wonderful concentric rings from the machining process.

The blue light at the top of the cabinets is from blue LED rope lights that extend across the top of all cabinets.

Crumbling Cliffs

Saturday, December 27th, 2008
1 - Cliff Face Pulling Away From Shore
2 - Cliff Face Falling Into River
3 - Cliff Splashes into River

Yesterday, we took a road trip down to Santa Cruz to visit the monarch butterflies and to check out the beach.

Turned out to be a beautiful day at the beach.

With all the rains, the rivers were running high and, thus, nature’s awesome power was evident everywhere.

We happened to be on the far bank of a river that was steadily eating a way at the sandy cliffs along its shore.

I noticed cracks appearing across the land at the top of the cliff.

Grabbing the camera, I set it to a 1/1000th shutter speed to ensure that all the crumbly splashy goodness would be caught in sharp detail.

And then I waited.

It wasn’t long before my patience was rewarded.

An entire section of cliff pulled away from the shore and splashed into the raging rapids below.

Of course, the splash is best viewed really large.

Roger Crumbling Sandy "Cliffs"

These were taken on the beach at Natural Bridges State Park in Santa Cruz.

The relatively flat beach has a river that runs through it while the tidal action causes the river to enter the sea via a variety of ever changing paths.

On the day we visited, the river was running around the rocky outcropping at the west end of the beach. This created a nice curved bit of rapids that was eating away at the sandy shore.

The “cliff” was all of 15 inches tall and the water would undermine large sections at least once or twice every minute along about a 100 foot path.

The river itself, was a whopping four to eight feet wide, and was entirely mesmerizing to watch. Because the sandy bottom is ever changing, the river would ebb and flow in an almost tidal fashion.

One moment, it would be smooth and serene, and then it would suddenly turn into a bumpy course of white capped waves.

Next time, we’ll take a shovel and a bucket so we can go seriously artistic on the beach and river. No worries about damaging the shore as the tide effectively resets the canvas every high tide!

Mind Stimulating Books for Everyone (Especially Kids)

Thursday, December 25th, 2008

For Christmas and his birthday, I always try to find a couple of books that focus on stimulating the imagination and helping Roger to observe the world from a fresh perspective.

This year, I found two gems.

This book is a chock full of ideas that focus on looking at, cataloguing, and interacting with the world in new ways. Most of the ideas are presented in a single page with associated illustrations or examples.

About a third of the book has sample grid paper, tables for recording information or pages otherwise marked up to help gather information.

An example accompanied by a neat picture of plastic cups configured in an interesting structure:

Instant Sculpture

Consider that everything around you is a source for sculpture. Try making quick pieces using whater you have around you in the moment.

Simple. Well presented. And thought provoking.

The second book is actually a reprint of a relative handful of articles from the popular Instructables web site.

So why get the book?

The printed form really works in conjunction with the web site, not as a competitor or just simply a reprint.

First and foremost, the book can be flipped through to spark ideas. It has a certain solidity to it that just can’t be had from the web page.

Beyond that, the articles are well presented and seem more accessible than the web site. The photos seem clearer and everything is nicely indexed within.


Wednesday, December 24th, 2008
Kitchen Cabinets Roughed In

Simultaneous with the flooring going in, the construction crew installed cabinets. Actually, the cabinets were roughed in first to ensure that the floor tiles could be cut correctly.

The image at was taken from the top of the bar cabinets between living room and kitchen and shows the island, the refrigerator cabinet, and the big storage cabinet on the left.

Behind the island are cabinets all along the wall. Though not visible in this image, there are now cabinets hanging on the wall in the corner by the fridge cabinet.

(This is actually an HDR image again. Much better than the original images. Would have required massive lighting to expose this properly otherwise, I think.)

Large Cabinet Next To Atrium (with Stained Glass)

The cabinets are rocks solid and the hardware is really nice. Soft close doors/drawers and the slides are top notch. We picked out some curved hardware to go on the front of the cabinets, to tie with the curved handles on the appliances on the curve at the front of the island.

Our friend and professional artist, Trudy, is making custom glass panels for the cabinet doors and custom glass tiles that will be installed in a row along the backsplash over the kitchen counters.

Trudy also made the exquisite stained glass piece seen in this picture. Some detailed images can be found here and here.

Flooring Finished (and a bit of HDR Photography)…

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008
Living Room looking to Bedroom Wall

The past few weeks, the remodel has been in turbo mode.

Every day, coming home from work reveals yet another item checked off (or nearly so).

A couple of weeks ago, it was the floor tiles. At left is the living room with tiles completed, but not yet grouted in.

The tiles used are 24″x24″ slate tiles that are about 1/2″ thick. I.e. large. And heavy. Each tile ways around 35 lbs.

Thus, each palette of tiles weighed about 2200 lbs.

Read the rest of this entry »

Persimmon Wine Start

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

Started the persimmon wine.

This’ll be the record of the start so I can celebrate the success or rue the failure. Either way, learning shall be done.

Two buckets primary fermenters containing each:

  • 9 lbs of squished ripe persimmons
  • 5 lbs of white sugar
  • 2 lbs of brown sugar (what I had on hand!)
  • 21 pints of water
  • 7.5 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 2.0 grams of Sodium Metabisulfite (not Sodium Bisulfate, which releases hydrochloric acid)

After 24+ hours, added 1 packet of Red Star Pasteur Champagne yeast.

Initial specific gravities were 1.060 @ 55 degrees (F) for red topped bucket and 1.050 @ 54 degrees (F) for the clear top bucket.

This is slightly cold for the ideal temperature for this yeast (which wants 59 to 86 degrees). Thus, I’ll move the buckets of must into a warmer part of the house until they start bubbling away.

Update: Of course, that was about 2x too much sodium metabisulfite and, thus, my yeastie-beasties did not take. No big deal; I have new yeast, yeast starter food, and yeast nutrients.

Update: New yeast added on 12/27/2008. Yeast was first mixed in luke warm water with yeast starter and let sit for 15 minutes prior to being mixed into the must.

Update: Very slight signs of fermentation. Both primary fermenters had their locks pegged on the positive pressure side, but neither was off-gassing. Added Yeast Nutrient on 12/30/2008; 1 teaspoon per bucket. That seemed to be the magic bullet as both buckets are farting regularly as of 12/31/2008.

Apricot Wine

Monday, December 15th, 2008

Ben and I bottled my Apricot Wine last night. It has proven to be quite thoroughly delicious. The wine proved to be quite delicate.

The smell carries a distinct character of ripe apricots that have been sitting in the sun just long enough to gain that dried apricot tang. The flavor is surprisingly subtle with a definite fruity overtone while neither being too sweet or dry.

At left is the label that was created by the awesomely talented Ollie Wagner. The minimalism of the label matches the wine’s flavor.

Too bad I only made about 3 gallons!

Frankly, it was surprisingly delicious for my first wine outing. Now, if I can just get this damned persimmon wine to start fermenting!

Recipe (Ingredients, not instructions) for 3 gallons:

  • 7.5 lbs of washed & pitted very ripe apricots
  • 21 pints (10.5 quarts) of water
  • 6 lbs of sugar
  • 3.75 teaspoons acid blend
  • 3 teaspoons pectic enzyme
  • 1 bag of earl grey tea (I lacked Tannin, it was a hack)
  • 1.5 teaspoons of Energizer
  • 3 Campden Tablets
  • 1 pkg wine yeast

It sat in the primary fermenter for 4 or 5 days and then was moved to a secondary for a little over 7 months, being racked between carboys every six weeks or so. At about the 4 month mark, all signs of fermentation stopped, but the wine was still bitter even up until the 6th month. It was drinkable, but not entirely pleasant. Then the holidays hit and I let it sit in the carboy an extra 5 weeks. All bitterness disappeared and a delicious wine resulted.

So, if I have learned anything it is that patience is a virtue — if something is screwed up, let it sit (unless it is an obvious mold bloom or something like that) — and wine making is really damned easy.

Chronochrome: [Almost] Resistor Color Code Time.

Monday, December 15th, 2008

Pictured at left is the “Chronochrome“.

Cool idea; use colors to represent numbers, thus creating a neat colorful clock. Like binary clocks (of which I built one of these as one of my first kits ages ago), it is a pleasant bit of blinky art to the uninformed and those given the “secret” can tell the time, further baffling the uninformed.

At first, the pink band made me think the designers were dumb. That instead of going with the standard resistor color codes, they invented some random color mapping.

Not the case.

It is the standard set of colors, just with pink substituted for brown.

I would rather have the brown, but would imagine it is exceedingly difficult to create a “brown” light that doesn’t look black or otherwise odd.

Of course, I full expect to see an AVR based RGB LED implementation of this within about 3 days…

Awesome Battery Charger (with Total Crap UI)

Saturday, December 13th, 2008

We have an absolutely ridiculous number of devices in the house that eat AA batteries (and a handful of AAA batteries). LED flashlights. Wii Controllers. The Canon macro ring flash. Various remotes. Toys. Etc…

As a result, we use a lot of batteries. Thus, I decided that I would pick up a bulk pack of rechargeable AA batteries and find a decent charger to go with.

After a bunch of research, every sign indicated that the La Crosse Technology BC-700 Alpha Power Battery Charger

(pictured at left) was the best of the bunch (when this was originally written, it was the BC-900 or some such. Now it isn’t. But there is a 1000. I have the 700, too, and it seems to work identically to the 900 from years ago. Go figure. I still stand by the recommendation).

And it is. Which is sad, in a way.

The charger does a brilliant job of testing, refreshing and generally charging AA and AAA cells. It has multiple modes, including the ability to select the current level used to charge batteries (high current == fast charge, but lessens battery life) and does a great job of indicating the overall health of the cell.

The user interface, though, absolutely sucks. Horribly. It has four displays — one for each cell slot — and the contents are confusing at best. Definitely a device for which reading the manual at least twice and then looking up various online resources is required.

Hell, the damned display shows “null” for any slot without a battery in it. If that isn’t an indication of total lack of UI design, I don’t know what is!

But, the damned thing works. Really really well.

In fact, the first time I used it, I set it to refresh a set of batteries that I had been charging via some relatively cheap combo-pack charger. It basically returned them to about double the capacity that I was seeing.

Word of warning: Some really cheap battery chargers are, in fact, dangerous. If they are simply constant current charging sources, they can do damage to the cells unless you pull the cells right when they are done charging (too soon — incomplete charge, too late — bad for the cells). Seriously — at least invest in a “smart” charger that backs off when the cells are done!

Beyond the obvious green rah-rah-love-the-earth win of moving to rechargeable batteries, there are some additional benefits that I hadn’t entirely considered but am now happy to enjoy.

Most obviously, you don’t have to remember to buy batteries. Myself and everyone I know invariably has a remote or two that has no batteries in it. Why? Because the batteries were scavenged for use in a device that was higher in the pecking order whose cells have gone dead. With rechargeable batteries, though, the dead cells can be revived easily enough.

With ultra-low self discharge cells, you sacrifice a bit of overall capacity, but the cells hold their charge for much, much longer. Thus, the cells “stored” in the rarely used remote will still have a charge after many months.

Secondly — and this surprised me — rechargeable batteries seem to perform much better for longer in high current demand situations. For example, my ring flash recycles back to ready much faster across more cycles than it did with disposable AA batteries.

All in all, the move to rechargeables has been good in our house. Certainly, given the battery eating nature of the Canon flash and with several long trips where an iPod or iPhone needed power, the change has likely already paid for itself. Certainly close.