Archive for March, 2010

Bread Revisited!

Monday, March 29th, 2010
Dutch Oven Bread

A while ago, I took up bread making. The goal being to master turning out a consistently awesome loaf of your basic bread using a simple mix – knead – rise – knead – rise – bake recipe; standard fare directly from the first chapter in Rulhman’s Ratio.

From the first loaf, I was able to turn out a generally yummy hunk of bread, but the texture was just a bit dense.

At the moment, I bake all of my bread in a cast iron dutch oven; 30 minutes lid on, 40 or so minutes without the lid. This leads to a wonderful crisp crust and soft interior.

As it turns out, my bread was too dense simply because I wasn’t letting the dough rise long enough on the second rise! Extending the second rise not only fixed the density issue, but I’ve also now cut my ingredients by a third because my existing quantities would actually cause the bread to lift the lid on the cast iron dutch oven!

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Enphase Energy’s Envoy

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Our solar installation came with a neat little device that interfaces between the panels and the Enphase’s central web site.

Like just about every other device with a network connection, it offers a simple interface for monitoring power stats and seeing any recent power related events, including low/high voltage or out of phase events caused by the grid!

Interestingly, I can easily scrape the event log to grab a pretty decent estimate of when sunrise and sunset happened. The panels boot at sunrise, logging and event, and they emit a low voltage emit at sunset. (Obviously, the times will be slightly skewed by installation angle, etc… but, still, neat!).

And, of course, the interface has an “Administration” button. Password protected and the customer isn’t given the password. Hmm…. yup… it is entirely as dead obvious as you might imagine.

This allows for the network interface to be configured and gives access to slightly more raw bits of info. By clicking a link for the power meter monitoring feature that isn’t set up yet, it throws an error with stacktrace. Top frame is /opt/emu/httpd/rhtdocs/index.rb:28.

Looks like it is implemented in ruby! Neat.

There also appear to be some other URLs that lead to directory listings and the like.

Also not mentioned in the manual is that it has port 22 — ssh — open. The username/password on that appears to not be so obvious.


Thursday, March 18th, 2010

Because so many people asked for contact info, here you go:

Our installers were Horizon Energy Systems. Kurt Newick (408-761-2029) was our liaison with Horizon and he was wonderful to work with. Kurt seems entirely committed to the widespread deployment of Solar power generation more-so than grabbing commissions. Good dude. Do recommend.

Full disclosure: We did have some difficulty during the install. Horizon was extremely forthright in dealing with the situation and I would have zero hesitation in working with them again. Actually, we are already talking about upping our system’s generation capacity.

Solar Summary.png

As of the last couple of days, our household has gone from a consumer to a producer of electricity. Our 3.2kw, 16 panel, solar generation system is now online! With a peak generation of 2.7 kilowatts, we generated about 21.6kWh today alone.

You can see both current and historical data via this this site (iPhone app, please??!?!).

Beyond being good for the environment blahblahobviousblah, the solar system will pay for itself in something pretty close to a decade (the huge rebates help alot!). If PG&E actually starts paying for surplus electricity in the next couple of years as promised under AB 920, it may pay for itself sooner (and we might add panels to accelerate the payback — more below).

As well, it is just really satisfying to watch the little dial on the electric meter run backwards. This morning as the panels started to warm up and the meter was just starting to tick backwards, I had Roger watch the meter while I toggled the electric dryer on/off. “Holy cow! That makes the dial go the wrong way really fast!”. Yup, sure does– now think about how fast/slow various devices make that dial go!

No, I don’t entirely believe these numbers… but, better than being just a consumer!

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Make: Kegerator!

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010
Completed Kegerator

I have always wanted to brew beer and have a number of friends that do. The results are almost always delicious and always interesting.

Having helped with the bottling process, I decided long ago that if I were to ever brew beer, I would not use bottles. Instead, I would rack into a keg and dispense from there.

Obviously, I needed a kegerator!

To force the issue, I brewed my first batch of beer a few months ago knowing that i would have to figure out a means of serving said beer from a corny keg before I could enjoy the fruits of my brewing labors. A 5 gallon “corny keg” is the standard vessel used in soda fountains and it has two “ball locks” on the top, one for the gas line and one for the liquid out line.

I actually looked into simply purchasing a kegerator outright, but they were expensive, generally inefficient, and often designed very poorly.

Thus, I decided to build my own.
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Simple Stupid Gas Range Upgrade

Monday, March 15th, 2010

If you are lucky enough to have a gas range, you already know the joys of a dead even heat source that can range from medium-low to blowtorch. None of that cyclic all-on/all-off nonsense of the typical electric range, for example.

However, “low heat” is not something in the typical gas range’s vocabulary. On our Viking, the lowest setting on the smallest burner will keep a small pot of water at a rolling boil and will consistently cause a cup of rice to boil over. And it is a really low flame!

Enter the heat diffuser. A heat diffuser sits between burner and your pan or pot. It effectively acts as a heat buffer and, as the name implies, diffuser.

On a gas range like mine, it allows one to achieve the lowest simmer/heat you might want. On an electric range, a cast iron heat diffuser — you want thermal mass — will nicely even on the all-on/all-off behavior of most ranges.

At ~$20, it is a worthy tool to add to your cooking arsenal!

Make: Ceiling Mounted Drying Rack

Monday, March 15th, 2010
Drying Rack

Our laundry / utility room isn’t large, but we consider it to be a gem given that most bay area homes seem to have their laundry in the garage!

Thus, space is a premium and that makes dealing with the handful of items that need to be air dried on a flat surface a challenge. A drying rack that sits around on the floor unused 90% of the time is guaranteed to be in the way 90% of the time!

Thus, a solution that can easily get out of the way was sorely needed!

Having scored a cheap bicycle ceiling lift off of Amazon, I added a couple of metro-cart shelves ($20/each at most hardware stores) held together by four 12″ bolts. the bolts hold the bottom shelf tightly sandwiched between two washers and two nuts on each bolt. The bolts hang from the holes in the top shelf (more washers!) and the top shelf hangs from the bicycle hoist.

Conceptually, it works really really well. Perfectly, in fact. And the metro-cart shelves allow for stuff to be hung from below, too.

The only complaint is that the bicycle lift works exactly as you might expect for $10-$15. Expect to have to keep the shelf level as it goes up/down. No big deal, but I will be replacing the rope in the near future.

Geotagging Photos With Aperture & QStarz BT-1300S

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

With the release of Aperture 3, geotagging photos is now an integral part of the application’s workflow. Aperture grew the Faces & Places features like iPhotos!

In particular, the Places feature allows you to import GPS data from iPhone photos or from GPS data captured by pretty much any device that can spew a standard GPX format data file.


Tagging from the iPhone is straightforward. With the iPhone connected to your computer, go to Places in Aperture and then select Import from iPhone Photos…. Aperture will then display all the photos on your iPhone that have GPS metadata and you can pick the photos from which the GPS data is to be imported. Once picked, Aperture will apply the GPS data to photos taken near the same time as the imported data.

However, one issue with the iPhone is that it really isn’t a terribly good GPS logging device. Using it as one eats the battery and the data generated often has holes. And, because the iPhone uses A-GPS (GPS assisted by cellular signal), it doesn’t work at all when hiking in areas without cell signal. Apparently, I’m mistaken about A-GPS — it should fall back to regular GPS behavior. My experience, though, is that the iPhone just isn’t a terribly good GPS device when it doesn’t have a cell signal and has often been off by miles when in the hinterlands. It works great when on the road or near cities, though.

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Swingline Red Stapler Busted.

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

My red stapler — like the one pictured at left — has broken due to the classic industrial design mistake of using a plastic part as the connector between two mechanical parts in a leverage or geared based mechanical system.

Swingline has a customer feedback form and, thus, I sent the below feedback. We shall see if anything comes of it.


I could make a classic Office Space style joke about my Red Stapler and Burning Down the building, but I won’t. I’m sure you’ve heard ’em all before.

I have a classic red Swingline stapler. It is a work of art.

Unfortunately, it suffers from a classic industrial design mistake. The red metal halves are held together by a plastic clip. Said plastic clip broke and what should be a single mechanical unit is now two dysfunctional, yet attractive, pieces of red metal.

As much as I would like a replacement part (it is the u-shaped bit that holds the stapler halves together), I’m far more interested in seeing Swingline fix the faulty design.

Thank you,