Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Paddling bLog - Creekin' the Gorge

We went up to the SFA on Sunday with Melody to do the Gorge run.  There was no water (the release was cancelled due to issues at Camino PH), but that was cool cuz we wanted to beat the water anyway.  We were looking for some creeking practice (aka: hitting lots of rocks).

The flow was down at about 250cfs, which made getting through some of the class II section hard, having to scoot over gravel bars and whatnot.  Once we were in the Gorge it was a lot better.  Overall, I'd say most of the river is easier at low water, there isn't anything pushy and you're moving slower, so it's easier to make the moves.  The moves themselves tended to be somewhat more technical, since you're bouncing off rocks all the time and the river is in a much narrower channel.

The only spot that was any trouble at all was Satan's.  As with most of the rapids, the places that are normally big holes are reduced to the boulder typically underwater.  At Satan's, the underwater boulders are pretty close together and the river does an abrupt drop between them, at a 90 degree angle from the direction your boat is heading.  The easy way to deal would be squaring up to the drop, but that would smack you nose first into the wall at the bottom.  With a bit of steam built up, we all went sideways off the drop, it nearly ate Melody, but she got through.  Marion got rolled, rolled up, smacked into the wall anyway which flipped her back in, but she flushed from the hole and rolled up again beautifully. I got mostly eaten too, but by some black sorcery, managed to keep upright, smacking into the wall actually saved me from certain rolling practice.

All in all, very recommended for when you're tired of the Gorge at normal flows and want the river all to yourself (none of the rafters dare go at low flow).

Cider Update III

Update III, the ill-conceived, bastard child of update II.  Snicker...

We bottled the first 5 gallons of cider when my sister, Kim, came by to hang out.  It hasn't finished with the yeast settling yet, so they will probably take a month or more of bottle conditioning before they're ready to drink.  We used the new bottle capper that my coworker Matt gave/lent us (he just kegs anymore), and it worked great.

When we racked from the secondary carboy into the bottling bucket, the SG was 0.996, the same as it had been when we racked into the secondary carboy, so we are certain now that fermentation was complete and we've just been waiting for the yeasty-beasties to settle down.

The cider is pretty tasty, on its own, but we decided to up the ante a little bit by adding some malic acid when we bottled, I think somewhere on the order of 1 tsp, which added quite a bit of sour apple flavor to the juice.  We also used 3 cans of apple juice concentrate as the sugar source for carbonation.   The combination of sugar and some extra apple flavor was delicious.

After adding the malic acid and the concentrate, the SG was back up at 1.070.  This is higher than the starting gravity at the very beginning, so we may have just doubled the strength of the cider, or potentially made for explosive (or extremely foamy) bottled product.  As a precaution, we put all the bottles inside a rubbermaid tub to keep the carpet safe. 

Next up:  Bottling the Beast, Tasting the Beauty

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bread Recipes

Here are a few bread recipes that I use in the breadmaker all the time.  They go great with BBQ ribs.

French Bread

  • 1.5 cups water
  • 4 cups bread flour
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 2.5 tsp bread yeast
 Throw them into the bread maker in that order, set on white or french cycle.  If you don't have a bread maker, you'll mix them up in your mixer with the dough hook until it forms a nice cohesive ball, let it proof in a nice warm place for a few hours.  Punch it down and let rise again, then bake at 350 until it gets brown, maybe 30 min, but not sure.

Potato Bread

  • 1 cup water
  • 2 glugs olive oil
  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 1 potato, "baked" in microwave, peeled then mashed or grated
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 2.5 tsp bread yeast
Similarly, throw into bread machine in the order presented, run on white bread cycle.  Alternatively, mixer/dough hook, rise, punch, rise, bake.

No Knead Bread

This is from Mark Bittman.  It works good, and tastes amazing for how much work it takes.
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/4 tsp yeast
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1.5 cups water
Mix up dry ingredients with a quick hand fluff.  Toss in the water and mix it until it's just mixed together and forms a cohesive lump.  Let it sit for 12-24 hours.

After it's done sitting, flop it out on the counter, pat it a little until it's a fairly uniform thickness, somewhat circular shape.  Grab opposite edges, and fold in thirds into the middle, from two orthogonal directions.  Sprinkle some flour out and set the loaf on it, throw some more flour over the top.

Get your oven pre-heated to 500 F with your dutch oven inside of it.  When the dutch is blazingly hot, carefully pull out the oven rack and remove the dutch lid.  Toss the loaf into the dutch with the seam side up and replace the lid.  Shove it back into the oven.

Let it cook for 30 min with the dutch closed, then open it up for the last 15.  Turn it out of the dutch to cool, this allows the crust to form up on the bottom.  Viola!  Bread.

This is a picture of Marion's first No Knead Bread

Sunday, November 8, 2009

BWM Water Pump Replacement

I guess it was about 6 weeks ago now, we were driving home from dinner when the car starting making these awful noises.  We limped it home and opened up the hood to see the fan stuck up under the fan shroud, where it obviously was never meant to go.

After working myself up to the task for five weeks, I finally went and opened the hood up again to see what I could find.  I initially intended to pull the shroud out (since it was warped from the collision) and see if it would work without any major repairs.  To get said shroud removed requires taking the fan out too, since the tolerances are too tight to remove one without the other.

Removing the fan was only minorly painful, it nominally requires a 32mm open end wrench and a special tool for holding the fan pulley, but I was able to make it work using a large crescent wrench and a screwdriver.  Once I had some leverage on the fan, I noticed the shaft it mounts on was wiggly (which it definitely shouldn't be), which got me reading and I found out the fan mounts to the water pump.  I hate water pumps.  They suck and should be cause enough to switch over to electric engines.

The water pump in my BMW is a known suck-fest.  It is a recommended maintenance replace item every 60,000 miles, so it wasn't really surprising that it had failed.  To replace the part itself is pretty easy, it's almost like the engineers knew it was going to have to come out regularly so they made it easy to get to.

I have the 2.8L BMW Z3 coupe (engine M52 TU)
  1. Remove fan and cowling - 32 mm wrench and either a special tool or a large screwdriver to keep the pulley in place.  The fan is threaded onto the shaft CCW, so righty loosey.  Pop the two rivets on the cowling (one in each top corner).
  2. Get the belts off - for each belt, there is a hydraulic tensioner which keeps everything tight.  Pop the covers off these with a small, flathead screwdriver.  A T50 torq bit in a nice long socket wrench gives enough leverage to push the hydraulic tensioners down, letting you slip the belt off the pulleys.  The more forward belt runs the AC, the longer serpentine belt runs the water pump, alternator, and power steering/brakes.  You have to get both of them off, and should probably replace them while you're doing so.
  3. Remove the pulley off the water pump - 4 bolts, 10mm heads
  4. Drain the coolant system - There is a valve at the bottom of the radiator on the drivers side.  There is a valve at the bottom of the engine block, exhaust side, and cylinder 2
  5. Take the nuts off the water pump - 4 nuts, 10mm
  6. Use two M6 bolts in the threaded holes on the water pump to push it out of the engine block, try to move the bolts evenly
  7. Lube the gasket on the new water pump with clean antifreeze
  8. Reverse removal steps with the new pump
  9. Once it's all put back together, fill the coolant system and bleed the air out - turn heater to high, fan to low, and idle the engine, once the bubble stop coming out at the bleed screw, you're done.  Don't forget to check the level after the first time you drive the car.
All in all, it was a straight forward repair.  It only required buying 1 new tool (a T50 torq bit), new belts, new water pump, and anti-freeze for a total of <$200.  I would do it again instead of taking it in to a shop.

Don't forget that antifreeze is nasty bad for critters, so clean up after any spills, don't leave any AF out, and make sure not to kill your pets.  Apparently it gives them liver failure and they die a slow, horrible, painful death.

BBQ Ribs - A Cooking Adventure

I recently bought a rack of pork ribs and tried out a few methods for cooking them.  Here are the winners:

Weekend Ribs - BBQ slow cook

These ribs want some attention while they are cooking, so it's best to do on a day when you're nearby to tend them appropriately.  To start, fire up the grill to inferno and clean the grill as necessary with your wire brush.  Take the ribs and apply your favorite rub.  This can be as simple as garlic salt (like I used), or a nice fancy rub that has cayenne, salt, pepper, msg (for the daring).

Put the dry rubbed ribs on the inferno hot grill over burner A, and turn burner A off, leaving burner B at inferno.  After 10 minutes, flip the ribs over onto burner B, turn burner A on to low, and turn off burner B.  You now have nice grill lines and have seared both sides of the meat, hopefully sealing some of the juices in.  For the next several hours, only apply indirect, low heat; flip the ribs about once an hour.  5-6 hours is a good timeframe for eating these, but if you're short on time, they are edible at 4 hours.

Weeknight Ribs - Crock Pot, BBQ finish
These ribs are great for preparing ahead, letting them cook unattended for hours, then "preparing" in twenty minutes once you get home.  Cut up the rack of ribs so the sections will fit into the crock pot.  Get the grill hot (as above) and give these ribs some nice grill marks on each side.  Cut an onion into 1/2 inch slices and throw the onion and about 1 cup BBQ sauce into the bottom of the crock pot.  Put the crock pot on high while you're pre-grilling the meat to get the sauce up to temp.  Once the ribs have spent their time on the grill, throw them into the crock putting more sauce between the pieces as you stack them.  Turn the crock pot to low.

If you're lucky, you have an old crock pot that'll cook at a nice temperature (~180F) all day at the low setting.  If not, you have a newer unit that will boil anything you put in there.  With an older unit, you can pretty much cook the meat all day, since at 180F, the soft gelatinous connective tissue will stay put until you come home.  With the newer units, you want to limit the amount of time in the crock pot to about 4 hours, since too much time above 180F will cause the meat to come out dry, yck!  (see food science entry below).

Once you get home, and the meat has finished cooking in the crock pot, you'll want to fire up the grill once more.  Put the ribs on for 10 minutes a side at medium to high heat, until they get a little crispy and delicious.

Side Dish - Easy Coleslaw

Whichever version of ribs you make, you'll want to make the slaw a day ahead of time.  Cut a head of cabbage into wedges, remove the spine, and slice as close to paper thin as you're willing to do (a food processor can work too).  Toss the cabbage with a few pinches of salt and put in a collander (inside a bowl, of course) in the fridge for up to 6 hours.  Grate a few carrots and cut a red onion into tiny bits.
The sauce is easy:
  • 1 1/4 cups mayo
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp sugar (a little more if you like a sweeter slaw).  
Mix up the wilted cabbage, carrots, onions, and sauce.   You *could* eat it immediately, but it'll be much better tomorrow, when you cook the ribs!

Basic food science entry:  Meat is composed of muscle, fat, and connective tissue.  The muscle and fat lose water above 140F, tending to dry out.  The connective tissue begins to melt, losing tough/chewy characteristics, at 160F up to 180F, and turns gelatinous.  Above 180F the gelatinous connective tissue seeps out of the meat into the broth making the broth delicious, but the meat dry and chewy.  Thus, the goal is to cook it for several hours between 160F and 180F to get the most tender, succulent meat possible.  Here's where I learned about this:

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Cider uPdate

Now we have 10 gallons of cider. The first 5.5 gallons were pasteurized and pitched with commercial Wyeast cider yeast, we call this the "beauty" batch. The second 4.5 gallons were unpasteurized and are using wild yeast as the fermentor, we call this the "beast" batch.

Today we racked the beauty into the secondary fermentor to get rid of lots of the apple solids and yeast poop. The gravity reading was at 0.996, which, compared with the OG of 1.056 is looking like 7% ABV, or thereabouts. Whoa! We threw some pectinase in to clear up the cider because the initial ferment had slowed to a crawl, but the cider was still very cloudy, so hopefully the pectinase breaks down all those long polysaccharide chains and produces more alcohol while clearing it up.

The beast took about 1.5 weeks longer to really start fermenting, it's bubbling along nicely now, but we have a while yet before we rack that off.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Cider Update

We're drinking some of the fresh apple juice now, and I decided to take a gravity reading so we have some idea of how the hard cider ends up, alcohol wise. The OG is 1.056. Not sure how heavier sediments might be contributing to the density of the juice...

The cider is bubbling away, all happy like.

Kayaking (b)Log

9/27 - SFA - The Gorge - 1500cfs - Went w/ Marion - good trip, turns out Marion is only happy when she's in the big waves. Saw Dan McL at the takeout/shuttle.

9/26 - No. Feather - Lobin - 800cfs - One day trip, drove up w/ Gabrielle, met Bill, Brian, Luke @ river - Definitely a step up, pretty awesome section of river, would definitely do it again!

9/20 - SFA - Chili Bar - 1650cfs - Went with Melody, Bill, Rafael, Gabrielle - Handpaddled, awesome, and surfed it up at First Threat.

9/19 - SFA - The Gorge - 1650cfs - Went with Marion - Started early (before water), but rode the bump through the gorge. Awesome run, both of us felt really confident with all the rapids/lines.

9/13 - Pacific Ocean - Albion Cove - 100000000cfs - Paddled with Melody and Will, Marion and Rafael in attendance - Kayaked with Chris and Rafael while they were Abalone diving, then spent an hour surfing some nice waves with Melody and Will

9/5 - 9/7 - Lower T - 1200cfs - Marion, Melody, Will, Rafael, Libby, Bill, Brian G, Luke - Last T release of the season, was super nice run, I got to do Clavey IV sneak twice, pretty much nailed it the first time in Diesel 75, got to see most of the rapid upside down in the Java. Video

Apple Cider

We have approximately 300lbs of golden delicious apples on our back porch in 8 boxes, a 20 gallon trash can, and an old pot. They are starting to get wormy, but we're going to get a few batches of juice out before they're all rotten.

Last night we ground up enough apples to fill a 5 gallon pot, it worked out to just under one box... my b.o.t.e. calculation says we've got about 40 gallons of potential juice. At the most, I think we'll be making 10 gallons, so if anyone actually reads this and wants some apples, let me know!

The juice was pasteurized (brought up to 160 degreesF) then cooled to 75 and some Wyeast Cider yeast pitched in. It was bubbling this morning. Sweet!

Einished d Beerz

Well, the stout is now bottled. FG = 1.016, so about 4.5% ABV in the finished product. It tastes pretty good, the bitter hops are pretty bitter and there isn't much aromatic, so I think maybe next time I'm going to either throw the aromatic hops in then start cooling immediately, or try dry-hopping. I don't mind the bitterness, just think having another stand-out characteristic would be nice. I think also, as it carbonates in the bottles, it will get a bit of character from the bubbles and become more balanced, will report in ~1 week...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dry Stout Update

We racked the beer into secondary fermenter last night, probably two or three days behind schedule, but better than nothing. The SG was about 1.018, down from 1.050 when we put it in. The recipe sheet says that it should stop somewhere just below 1.020. It's starting to taste like a nice dry stout (think boddingtons maybe), but tastes like it has a little ways to go with the sugar yet.

We've come up with a highly developed refrigeration unit to keep it between 55 and 65 degrees for the next week while it finishes fermenting, basically just set the carboy into our largest enameled canning pot full of water, then threw a towel over the top which wicks water up over the top of the carboy. It kept the setup at 65 degrees last week while it was 100 outside. This week I'm running a fan on it to see if I can convince the setup to get down closer to 55, but I'm not sure it'll work.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Kayaking (b)Log

9/20 - SFA - Chili Bar - 1650cfs - Went with Melody, Bill, Rafael, Gabrielle - Handpaddled, awesome, and surfed it up at First Threat.

9/19 - SFA - The Gorge - 1650cfs - Went with Marion - Started early (before water), but rode the bump through the gorge. Awesome run, both of us felt really confident with all the rapids/lines.

9/13 - Pacific Ocean - Albion Cove - 100000000cfs - Paddled with Melody and Will, Marion and Rafael in attendance - Kayaked with Chris and Rafael while they were Abalone diving, then spent an hour surfing some nice waves with Melody and Will

9/5 - 9/7 - Lower T - 1200cfs - Marion, Melody, Will, Rafael, Libby, Bill, Brian G, Luke - Last T release of the season, was super nice run, I got to do Clavey IV sneak twice, pretty much nailed it the first time in Diesel 75, got to see most of the rapid upside down in the Java. Video

Thanksgiving Brew Kickoff

We spent the morning brewing up a batch of beer for Thanksgiving. The beer is a Dry Stout mix from the Beverage People, a beer and wine homebrew store in Santa Rosa. The yeast we used is Wyeast 1084, an Irish Ale yeast.

The first step is prepping the grains by bringing to a simmer, then letting steep for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, the main brew kettle is fired up with about 4 - 4 1/2 gallons of water and the malt extract powder mixed in. There was a little container of water conditioner which we threw in, it's probably a mix of salts and minerals for people with soft water, but we threw it in anyhow.

After the 45 minute steep on the grains, they were sieved out and throw in with the wort. The first round of bittering hops is added followed by a 15 minute boil. The second round of bittering hops is added, followed by a 45 minute boil. The final round of hops (aroma hops this time with a distinctly different smell from the bittering hops) is added with a final 5 minutes of boiling. It took about 30 minutes with the wort chiller to bring the temperature down from boiling to about 80 degrees.

The wort was measured for specific gravity and tasted for appropriate hoppyness. The OG is 1.050 and the beer is pretty dang bitter. We poured off the wort into a glass carboy and pitched the yeast. There were chunks left in the bottom of the pot, mostly the hops which had been added at various stages. I wasn't sure whether they should be added to the carboy or not, to impart more flavor as the beer ferments, but since it was pretty bitter already, I decided not to put the sludge in. We'll see...

That's it, the brew has started bubbling already, more once it's done and we get to taste it.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Neato! Haleakala in Photosynth

Though generally, I don't feel that Microsoft produces a very useful product (despite running their OS and productivity suite), this time they've made something really neat.

The product is called Photosynth, and is something like a fancy photo stitching program which serves high quality (resolution) images from their webserver and combines images from various viewpoints and magnification levels. The really cool stuff happens when you use your feet to zoom in on incredibly fine details of the scene (which I haven't managed to do yet, but the examples on their site do well).

They offer another cool piece of software, called DeepZoom, which is a similar idea, except without doing the photo stitching, just lots of high-res images which are shown at low resolution, but you can do GoogleMaps style panning and zooming to get in close for high-res details.

I think they're going in a good direction on these projects, what I want to see (and I will grant that it is asking alot), is for the smooth panning and zooming of DeepZoom to be combined with the stitching ability of Photosynth. Additionally, and this is where it would be SUPERCOOL, they need to be able to do it with more than just images. Imagine if you could create a website where the entire site is one big Photosynth, you can zoom in to arbitrary detail on images and text, and most importantly, the clickable links will take you between parts of the site, or open new browser tabs for external links. If you can't imagine it, trust me, it would be amazing!

Here's the fantasy: You go over to (not really there) and it brings you to the home page, you scroll out, mouse over the galleries section, scroll back in, mouse over the gallery you want, scroll in some more, see the photo you want, scroll in some more. Now you click, and BAM! (to quote Emeril), you see the next photo in the album, or better yet, you right click, and all the photos with common content are displayed as a photosynth. Bored of photos, you scroll out until you see the blog section, mouse over, scroll in, read the fascinating insights and want to know more, so you click the link and it pops up another tab with the external site. It's fast, intuitive, makes navigating super easy, and looks slicker than snot.

In the meantime, here are a few Photosynth things I've made with old photos.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Gard'nin' in July

Marionthedirtprincess and I went to the garden this evening and found out that the tomatoes are a-bloomin (or ripe, really, is what I mean to say). We picked a bushel and Marion made super tasty fresh-tomato-sauce pasta for dinner. MMMmmmmmm.

Here're a few photos I took of the sunflowers as the sun was going down, it's really cool to use the flash to light up the flowers because it allows all the color of the sunset to show up in the background. Normally, in no flash mode, the sunset colors are all washed out because the integration time to get the flowers to show is so long.

Here are some gratuitous photos of my new cat, Sprout, growing up.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Dang, I feel technologically adept.

I got an e-mail this morning about being invited to Google Voice, and now, a mere 5 hours later, calling one simple phone number will ring my cell, home phone, and computer VOIP program, all at once, so there is no way for me to avoid you! I put a widget on the sidebar ... Nyah --> so you can call me.

Talk soon. Brian

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Gopher Battle Update II

Gophers - 0 / Brian - 3

Ha Ha! I got the sucker! This guy wiped out an entire bed of lettuce and was making a bee-line towards the garlic. It took me days of hunting to finally get him, he outsmarted my trapping maneuvers on three separate occasions, but finally, FINALLY, I got him. So far, I'm going to say that the Old Reliable traps (the original macabee style) are better than the new ones.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Gopher Battle Update

Well, darned if I haven't killed a single gopher since I wrote the manifesto. Recently, I've been stuck in an intense battle with a very wily critter. He started out eating some heads of lettuce which were bolting, so it wasn't too bad, but he was very close to the garlic bed.

I dug up his surface holes and set traps in them, despite knowing that finding a deep mainline hole is the most important part. At first, I was foiled because he came through a third hole which I hadn't noticed and filled in the area I had dug out. I re-dug and set another trap, but somehow he manages to push dirt past the traps without springing them. It may be that I'm using an inferior version of the macabee style traps, since they are new ones with two wires that have to be tripped.

He moved on from the holes I was setting traps in after filling them in a second time and killed a few more heads of lettuce by chewing the roots off. He's getting closer to the garlic, so I decided to dig back along the surface hole until I found a deeper route. I did so and set a trap, but he dug a parallel hole next to the one I'd dug up and filled it in from the other end, then ate some more lettuce. GAH!! This critter is getting frustrating.

Today I followed his new, parallel hole back to where it dives deep underground and used the "big shovel" to dig down and set a trap, but I still think that I haven't found his main thoroughfare because there is only one hole, and it pretty much led to the surface tunnels I've been digging up.

If failure was an option, I'd write this off and call it Gophers - 1, Brian -2, but it isn't an option, so I'll keep setting traps and digging until the entire garden is dug up if I have to.

On a side note, I've installed PVC irrigation and spigots in each bed so that we don't have hoses running all over the garden. Today I installed the solenoid valves to run each of the four sections, now I just need to run the power supply over from the garden shed and install the controller, then it'll be ready to run.

Smurf Hats

UPDATE:  Posted a tutorial on making the Smurf Hats

Project #73 for when I should be doing something useful

I made some smurf hats. It started out innocently enough, I'm playing in a spring frisbee league in Sac and the theme for picking team names was "cartoons from your childhood". Of course everyone starts in with various and assundry cartoons, animaniacs, looney toons, eco-panet-rangers (whatever they were called)... I bit my tongue, hoping someone might mention the obvious choices: He-Man and the Smurfs.

How is it that in a group of fifteen people aged between twentyfive and thirtyfive, I'm the only one with a fixation on such nerdy classics? I can almost recall doing a mathematical proof that the odds of having two people with a fixation on Smurfs looks something like this:

#people %(2 smurf fans)
1_ _ _ _ _ _0
2 _ _ _ _ 100
3 _ _ _ _ 100

It was probably a proof I did in my sleep at college, while I was taking the prob/stat course that I don't remember much of and didn't like very well. And it may have been true in college, too. But, I begin to realize that going out into "normal" society introduces strange twists into the equation.

So after the discussion goes on for many, many minutes, including having the modern, PC ultra hypenated team name (something like loony-maniacal-power-saving-mutant-explorers, though not nearly that cool), I slipped in a casual "or we could be the smurfs," then scampered off to play another margarita point.

It took almost literally one ultimate point for the full swing. I staggered back to the sideline after we'd scored the point (cuz I wasn't walking straight by then) and there were already three people assigned names: papa smurf, smurfette, and gargamel. Those are the only ones that anyone can remember.

Fortunately, people who are into smurfs are nerdy, as a prerequisite, so the internet (also being the domain of the nerdy) is full of smurfy information. Mel took it upon herself to dig some of it up and the corruption began. First there was the list of all the characters in the mushroom village. There are 98. They came the e-mail list of who's who. My name is Brian, I choose Brainy smurf because that's how most people spell my name anyway, and he's annoying, self-righteous, and gets hit in the head with a mallet for his qualities. Marion is farmer smurf for obvious reasons. Jeffro - jokey smurf. Melody - harmony smurf. It's almost too easy.

So smurfs are distinctive for two things: blue bodies and goofy looking white hats. Blue shirts I have, but goofy looking white hats? I'll just have to make them. So I found out there are not really any patterns on the internet, but a picture of a hat from the interweb was good enough. I started with the outline of a beanie, and added a big top knobby bit. Six hats later (and at midnight), I gave up for the day. But I promise, and this is especially for the Smurf team, I will make a team set of these before the season is over!

Which brings me to the whole point of writing this post. I did a facebook status update saying "I just made a half dozen smurf hats" at the end of my fabrication last night. This morning, DChun, a good, nerdy college friend commented, saying "I'm proud, but scared. How many minions are you authorized to have?"

I don't know that I have any authorization, but by the looks of it, tonight I will have fifteen!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Gopher Battle Royale

Current Count -

Gophers - 0 / Brian - 2

Preamble -

This is my gopher killing log. This truth which ought to be self-evident; that gophers are the bane of the garden, bring limitless destruction, and as a result, should be exterminated with extreme prejudice at any and all opportunities, this truth is the justification for these seemingly genocidal activities. By posting the gory, graphic details of these battles, I lay myself completely helpless before the gnashing teeth of gopher law should they ever become the dominant specie on this rock we inhabit. Until such a time, I have faith that my actions will be justified by the improvement in garden production and reduction of a garden frustration.

Article I - History of gopher malfeasance and justification of extermination

Gardening in an organic community garden is a frustrating endeavor for many reasons. Some of the most remarkable frustrations are: bermuda grass, disease load in the soil, hippies, and vegetable theft. These irritations are all addressable through work, building and maintenance of soil, and liberal application of shotgun. The largest remaining problem in the organic community garden is the gopher.

The gopher inevitably strikes a garden from deep underground, burrowing toward the tender root of a vegetable mere hours from ripeness. There is some signal which plants release as their fruit become perfect for picking that draw the rodents in from miles around. The gophers have different strategies for ruining a vegetable garden. In many cases, a plant with a full load of some deliciousness will inexplicably wither and dry up, the result of having only the roots chewed off. Other times, a four foot tall plant will start disappearing into the earth and after just a few minutes, only an inch of vegetation is left.

A special favorite target of the malicious gopher community is the sulfuric root vegetables, most notably garlic and onions. Garlic and onion are particularly vexatious due to their long growing period and the strength of the signal they send out to the gophers. These plants must be sown in the fall and are tended throughout the winter, when the weather is particularly unpleasant, so that when the spring thaw arrives, they can fatten up and become the vegetables we know. As they become ripe, due to their particularly strong disposition, gophers can smell them and will burrow through hell and back to get at the roots.

After years of losing significant produce to the gopher population, it is necessary now to go beyond the typical methods of discouragement (such as flooding the holes, bringing in cats, and playing loud music), and set a course for liberation of the garden plot from these fiends. As there are no catch-and-release cages in the market for gophers, and due to the strong karma implications of releasing gophers into someone elses plot, the only reasonable alternative is gopher extermination.

Article II - Methodology

It is important to hit the gophers in their position of strength, and use their own defense mechanisms to effect their downfall. To this end, a collection of traps knows loosely as macabee style (henceforth referred to simply as macabees), are used.

Identification of gopher routes is very important, as the effectiveness of the macabees is highly dependent on placement. The mounds of dirt that we typically associate with gophers are usually poor places to set traps, as they represent the ends of a gopher tunnel, a location used only for deposition of dirt from deeper tunnels or as a point of attack on garden plants. That said, the mounds of dirt often can lead back to major thoroughfares or habitat locations, though significant excavation is required.

In general, upon seeing gopher mounds in the garden, the preferred method of attack is to use a regular spade shaped shovel and dig a hole centered on the mound, about 1 foot in diameter and 2-3 feet deep. It is important to dig the sides cleanly, i.e. cut into the side and move the dirt directly away from the side, to avoid compressing the tunnel openings and obscuring the gopher tracks. Digging such a large hole may seem overzealous, but it has two purposes. First, the goal of the hole is to find the major gopher route, and these are often 2-3 feet deep. Second, once you find the major route, having a large opening makes setting macabees straight forward and the open air will drive the gophers to investigate (more on this later).

Here is an image of a hole which was successful in uncovering a gopher lair and resulted in a gopher death. The hole is about 2.5 feet deep, there was a tunnel very near the bottom which lead into the lair, and a tunnel which led up to the surface (and some plants he'd eaten) on the other side. Once the hole was found, it was slightly enlarged by excavating the sides and top of it with a trowel. This allows the macabee to slide easily in and out of the hole and gets the gopher hoppin' mad in the process. To try and close up this newly enlarged hole, the gopher will attempt to push dirt out the opening and blockup the works. This of course, is the action the trap uses to trigger and get the sucker.

All gopher hunting methods require going from an obvious sign back to a major travel route. Often in hard soil, this can be accomplished with a hand trowel by simply lifting the roof off the tunnel and following several feet back to a cross tunnel. As the dirt gets softer and easier to dig, the gophers will move deeper and the hunt will require larger tools.

Often you will find a thoroughfare which leads off in two different directions. In this case, since you don't know where the gopher may attack from, it is advisable to place a macabee in each hole. It is IMPORTANT that you tie off the macabees with string or wire, as the gophers reaction to getting caught is back-pedaling, and the traps can disappear if you don't have them fixed to something solid.

Article III - Implements of Destruction

The tools used in gopher warfare are simple and direct. The most basic tool required is a shovel. More than a few gophers have been caught by simply inserting a shovel into the tunnel behind them as they chew on some delectable plant, then stomping or kicking them when they try to make a break for it.

For gophers not present, a trap is easier than waiting for the pesks return. The macabee trap is a simple wire device with a spring loaded set of jaws locked into the trigger paddle by a long wire. When the gopher hits the trigger paddle, the long wire is loosened and the jaws snap shut, usually crushing the gophers lungs and causing asphixiation.

The only other tools required are a long thin stick or piece of bamboo for probing tunnel locations, a trowel for preparing holes for macabees, and a pair of special gopher gloves. The gloves are important because some wily elder gophers are attuned to the scent of humans and will avoid traps. Get a pair of gloves, crush up some garlic cloves and wipe the garlic oil around on the gloves and on the macabees while you're at it. Try to keep those gloves separate from the everyday ones and only use them for the hunt.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Norf Carolina

This weekend is the wedding of my best friend from Willits, Malanyon, to his fiancee, Sarah, and I'm out here in North Carolina with them a few days early to help as I can. I'll be fulfilling best man duties for Malanyon, so I've got to come up with some witty things to say about him both during the ceremony and afterwards, at the dinner.

Since arriving on Tuesday, we've been running around like chickens with out heads trying to get things organized. First stop Wednesday morning was the folks with the meat. The plan was to get a bunch of pork loins for Michael, a friend from New Zealand who's a bit nutty and prone to fits of passion about Malanyon's lack of preparation. Michael is going to be cooking up the meat for the wedding dinner, which started off as a pulled pork sandwich line with Tam's homemade rolls. The wrench was thrown in when a bunch of the good ol' NC folks offered up some lambs to help feed everyone. Now Michael is in a constant fit of passion, cursing and swearing and tearing about as he attempts to figure out cooking up three lambs and a random assortment of pig meat. (I secretly think that Malanyon likes getting Michael riled up).

After the fairly fruitless meat-fact-finding trip, in which we got promised a bushel of lamb and a pile of pork, we met up with Sarah and with Tam and Kashaya, we all headed over to Sam's club for supplies. Since Tam's making the rolls for the sandwiches, and Kashaya is making desserts (Tira Misu and Lemon Bars), we bought about 120 pounds of cooking ingredients in addition to the necessities for the next several days leading up to the wedding. By the time we left, the cart was over-flowing and nearly impossible to move.

Today (being Thursday), I hung out with Malanyon, his soon-to-be sister-in-law Kate, and her children Alex and Chad. Alex is four years old and has more energy than the sun. She bounced off the walls like energy was going out of style for a full twenty four hours after arriving on Wednesday. Half a day was all I could handle of such energy abundance so I left to work on the photo slideshow I'm making for the rehearsal dinner tomorrow night. It's now 2am and I'm tired, so I'm going to sleep. Woo!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Easter Celebration Preparation Explanation

In preparation for our annual fiesta of going straight to heck (because Jebus doesn't like it too much when people take jello shots in his name), we spent all morning putting the goodies together for tomorrow. The two productions were the classic hard-boiled eggs and the noveau 43 kinds jello shot (actually only 3).


We like to use the hard-boiled eggs technique from cooks illustrated. Put the eggs in water, bring it to a boil, boil for 5 minutes, let sit in hot water for 10 minutes, then straight into cold water to stop the cooking. They always come out delicious, not overly dry nor goopy in the middle. And check out the color that this simple process makes them.
Just kidding, Marion dyed them using food color and vinegar, something on the order of 20 drops of your favorite color, 1 cup water, and a tablespoon of vinegar. Put the eggs into the colored mixture until they look like the right color, and viola! Easter eggs. In the past, we've drawn on the eggs before dying them with Crayons in neat patterns, the dye doesn't go where the wax from the crayons is, so you end up with multi color designs.


We made up four flavors of jello, three of them with alcohol and a virgin batch (not shown) for the kids. One of the flavors was a hold over from last year, the margarita, and the other two are new adventures, orange dreamsicle and raspberry coconut.
The general guideline for jello shots that I'm following is to mix the jello with the called for amount of boiling water (to get it dissolved) and then add a combination of liquor and water for the cold addition. The combination of liquor and water is based on the strength of the liquor. Basically, the amount of alcohol by volume can't exceed 20%, so if you're using straight vodka at 80 proof (where 80 proof = 40%), then you'd use 1/2 vodka, 1/2 water for the cold portion of the jello recipe. Note that this would taste awful and get you shnookered pretty quick, so you'd probably want to consider watering it down even more.

We use a package of lime jello, it calls for 2 cups boiling water and two cups cold water on the package. We dissolve the jello in two cups boiling water (stir for 2 min), then squeeze in the juice from two limes, add about 1/2 cup of triple sec, somewhere around a cup of tequila, and fill up to the four cup line with cold water.

Orange Dreamsicle:
Orange jello, dissolve the jello in two cups boiling water, add about 1/2 cup triple sec, somewhere around 3/4 of a cup of vanilla vodka, and fill up to the four cup line with cold water.

Raspberry Coconut:
We weren't sure how this would turn out, but we used the ol' saying "coconut rum tastes good with everything" to convince ourselves it would work. And it does.
Raspberry jello, dissolve jell in two cups boiling water, a splash of amaretto (which is entirely unnecessary if you don't have it around), and nearly two cups of coconut rum because it's only 20% abv. Fill up to the four cup line with cold water.

Virgin Black Cherry:
We decided to make some for the kids, so we made up black cherry jello, but put in club soda instead of cold water for the last two cups. It didn't taste very fizzy when we poured into the cups, but hopefully there will be a little sparkle once the jello is set, I'll report back.

The jello shots are destined to go inside of large plastic easter egg shells so the critters don't get in them while they're hidden. Last year, this worked so well that we found jello shots that looked edible months after the party (I couldn't quite bring myself to try them, however). If you ever wanted to know what it's like inside an easter egg, here's the view from a jello shot's perspective.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


The great M and I went to Tahoe this weekend to test our luck at snowbirding**. What's snowbirding? Well, let me tell you!!! The basic premise is to go to an area with lots of snow... what's that now, you live in India and you don't know what snow is? Listen punk, just fix the credit card so I can rent a frickin' snowboard, OK?

SO... it was very nice this weekend and we had two excellent days snowbirding, the first at Sugar Bowl and the second at Squaw Valley. Both days the mountain was pretty empty, undoubtedly the result of nice summer weather down the hill. The days started out pretty brisk, all the runs except the freshly groomed areas were very icy until the sun got them thawed out. Towards afternoon, it warmed up and both days got into the high 40's or low 50's which meant the snow got "corny" on top of the hills and slushy at the bottoms.

On Saturday at Sugar Bowl, we started by doing warm up runs on the Jerome Hill lift, then cruised over to Christmas Tree, Mt. Lincoln up to the tippy top, and long, leg-burning traverse to Mt. Disney lift, and a pretty rough ride (it was icy and super choppy) down to lunch. A bit of tasty burger in the belly and we were off again. I think in the afternoon, we started at the west side of the resort and worked our way back across all the lifts and many of the runs off each lift, ending up in the terrain park. I tried going off a jump, very successfully I might add, but forgot about landing it and ended up with a bruised bum.

Sunday we went to Squaw Valley, it's an immense place and has enough ski runs that you can get lost quite easily. Fortunately, Marion's uncle has been there a time or two and was able to guide us from trail to lift to trail. We went straight to the top, then skittered down a couple of steep icy faces. Moving over to the south facing slopes worked out pretty well, as the ice quickly turned into a light slush with the addition of sun. We took a half dozen runs before lunch (Marion got a delicious fish burrito, who knew, fish at 7800 feet), then spent the remainder of the day traversing the entire resort, much as we'd done Saturday at SB.

We gave up a little early, due to the drive home, and by 4pm (after waiting around for half an hour for Marion's brothers to pack up their crap), we were on the road. Back at home, a beer, two advil, and I'm ready for sleep.

Oh, and for those who don't know what a tree well is (and you know who you are), this is the basic idea, though obviously it's at the base of a lift pole instead of a tree. The idea is that the tree (or pole) has a deep ring around it that is really sucks to fall into. The mechanism for making the ring is probably well known by someone, but my guess is that the tree has a microclimate warm enough to melt some of the snow under it.

**This is basically the story that Marion tells about the time she tried to rent some gear and ended up trying to explain the concept of snowboarding to some customer service person from India.

Sugar Bowl


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Twittin' in the wind

I have to admit that I've gone and done a terrible, unthinkable thing. I joined up on the twitter bandwagon, possibly before everyone has, but certainly after most people have. I even heard that one of the random crappy radio stations that I flip through has a twitter stream, as I dialed past it on my drive this morning.

Having a twitter account is bad in and of itself, as I legitimately feel no one in their right mind would care what I'm doing on a day to day basis, much less hour to hour, or minute to minute, or (god forbid I should use my time so foolishly) on a second to second basis. The really bad part, and the reason I didn't jump on the bandwagon months ago, is that I don't have any way of reading the twits outside of the intarweb. I can't afford a data plan on a phone, much less one of those telephones with an 8"x10" color glossy screen. Yet here I am, riding along on the wagon just because I'd feel out of the loop. Who the heck knew about a ford fiesta before whitscott?

The even worse part is now I'm going to think about whether I need to get a phone and a data plan. I don't need to, obviously, but I'm still going to ponder the possibility. Most likely, I'll do a half-way compromise and get something like the ipod touch which can, mas 0 menos, act like an iphone when I'm around internet connections, which is nearly all the time. Oh wait, I have one of those, it's my computer. Crap. No toys for me.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Do You Dig it - Fence?

Our garden expands, constantly and forever. This spring, we've avoided the temptation to incorporate more space (so far), and we're just making better use of the space we have. To this end, we took out an old funky fence and rebuilt it, bigger, faster, and sexier than before. The project takes about four hours to complete and requires some manual labor.

The first part of the project was taking the old fence out. Luckily, all the hard effort and back-breaking that went into this portion was done by my charming bride, cuz I was too busy studying, doing research, and writing reports. Tearing out the fence can be the most difficult part, depending on how determined the fence builder was to keep out rodents.

Next up, digging. And by digging I mean a sweet trench the likes of which have never before graced this particular corner of garden. We're talking a full shovel width and depth for tens of feet in either direction (from the middle), squared up at the bottom, and cleaned out of all the big chunkers.

If you have stout fence posts in place already (because you're going off a previous fence or something), they are a great place to start and end your fence. If not, you need to make such a post. My favorite post setting method is quick and dirty: dig a hole with your post-hole digger (P.h.D) about 1/4 the length of the post (so for a six foot fence, you want a two foot hole and an eight foot post), then throw the post in, pour loose dirt in around the edges and wiggle the post so it gets down to the bottom. When the dirt has filled up the hole, you'll put extra dirt right next to the post and stomp it, hard, repeatedly, and with conviction. When you've added dirt and stomped each side of the post about three times, the thing will be pretty stout.

If you're going to have a corner in the fence, you can do one of two things, build a stout post with a smidge of outward lean on it, or build a freeny post with some bracing to keep it in place against the pull of the fence. I usually opt for the latter since I'm a broke grad student and because it works just fine. Here's a picture of the freeny post with bracing. The bracing comes off along the line of the fence in each direction. The post and bracing both need to be sunk a ways into the dirt so when you're wrenching on the fence to get it tight, it doesn't give.

Roll out the saved fence from the demolition of previous fences if it's in good shape, or find some other source of salvaged fencing. Ideally, it will sit right on the bottom of the nice, even, square trench you dug without scrunching or lifting above the dirt. A couple of horseshoe nails (the little ones, no use putting a 6 gauge nail in chicken wire) in the post at one end, then work along to each subsequent post, pulling the fence taut before nailing. I always like starting from the bottom to get the depth right, but Marion likes to start from the top to get the top straight and tight, the choice is yours.

Now the fence is all nailed, at the perfect height, and ready for anything. You'll probably want to fill the trench in now, but if you have particularly nasty gophers or bermuda grass, consider filling the trench with woodchips or bark mulch or something. Doing this makes it easier to pull out bermuda runners, harder for gophers to find their way into the garden, and saves all that dirt for something useful, like planting beds.

That's all there is to it: rip, dig, post, nail, fill...

Happy fencing

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Glory of Electricity

The solar panel project is complete. It took a bit of dangling precariously off a ladder, lifting a 50lb battery directly over my head while contorting myself to get around the shelves and studs/rafters, then the excitement (sort of) of plugging it all in and throwing the switch. Fortunately, it all went off without a hitch and the garden shed now has clean, green, power.

The mounting went much according to plan. I built a steel angle iron frame to hold the panel in place. In order to get everything aligned properly, I cut the steel to length with a hacksaw (that was work!) then taped it into place to drill the holes. After getting the holes started, I moved the panel, because I didn't want to slip and put the drill through the glass. I drilled out the holes to an appropriate size to get around the carriage bolts, then applied a liberal coat of rustoleum to preserve it for perpetuity.

The frame fit nicely around the panel, carriage bolts through the roof to keep ne'er-do-wells from, well, ne'er-doing, and a little bit of caulking around the bolt holes to maintain weatherproofiness (though I'm not sure how necessary that is, I didn't get the thing caulked and it survived a BIG storm last week just fine).

We had an old set of christmas lights with no greater purpose in life, so we brought them and wrapped the adjacent grape arbor. Now all we need to find is an old radio/boombox and we're ready for all night parties and disco dancing.

In summary, the PV power project was ridiculously straight-forward. The panel and charge controller are both manufactured by Sunsei and the cords are idiot proof, hooking up the deep cycle battery and the car inverter took about three zaps of a neuron to figure out. The hardest parts were the frame and mounting everything. Total cost was about $250, total effort about 4 hours, total awesomeness, awesome!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Alien vs. Protatoder

This was the most interesting of the entire bag of seed potatoes that we got for plantin' in the garden. Reminds me a bit of those scenes in the Alien movies where the little buggers are coming out of everyone's stomachs.

We decided to get rid of the aliens before they could take over the world, we cut this sucker up into little bits with two eyes per bit. We're drying the bits out to make sure they're dead, then we're going to bury them in the ground, probably on Sunday. After they're good and buried, we'll throw some mulch and water on top and call them dead for good.

We'll them pretend that everything is hunkey-dorey until they sprout in a few weeks and grow into full-fledged aliens. Mwuah-haha-ha-ha.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

mmm... flied dericious

We were shopping for our asian staples at the pacific east mall ranch 99 market when I happened to look up out of my buffet counter induced stupor to see this gem. It made me extremely happy, and try though I might, I couldn't find any other fantastic missperrings the rest of the time.

While I'm thinking about grocery adventures, I present to you the best broccoli in the world (from a nerdy, fractal point of view (which is a strange point of view if you think about it)). It's called romanesco broccoli and really does come in bright chartreuse. It stands out on the vegetable shelf for it's color and it's unique pattern. Only downside, it tastes just like broccoli.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

PV Fun

I got a solar panel, and you didn't, nana na na na naaaa!! It'll go on the garden shed and charge up my cordless drill batteries, run the margarita blender, and support all night techno dance parties. Now don't you want one? eh? I mean, look at how blissfully happy those people look on the box...

All I've got to figure out is the rest of the system. Presumably I'm going to need a 12V deep cycle battery as the backbone of the system, maybe a few of them linked up in parallel for longer dance parties, some sort of inverter that's not going to melt if I leave it running for months at a time, and the requisite wiring doodads to put it all together. Anything else? Maybe a few outlets through the wall of the shed, gonna need to figure out GFCI... Seems eminently doable, let's see how many times I can kill myself electrically (falling off the roof doesn't really qualify as a kill because it's too easy) before this things up and running. I'll post progress as it happens.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Now that's Taxing!

WooHoo! It's national taxing season, but that el presidente keeps increasing the tax refund we're supposed to get, so I don't want to file too early and miss out on the late breaking bonuses. Then again, it's a tricky business filing at the perfect time, because if you file too late, they're gonna be outta bucks and we'll end up with IOU's. It's somewhat like the stock market... looks like I missed the peak on that one too...

Wears your paddle?

So these two guys are kayaking in the desert.

The first guy says "wears your paddle?"

The second guy says "sure does!"