Warms my heart

Craftex Mill


I read an article on Bloomberg today that made me a bit happier about the human race.  It appears that Toyota is going back to the real roots, and training humans to be good at their jobs.  I think they nailed it in the first section saying that they need to refine their 'art and skill level'.

There has been a trend recently towards a throw away society.  When I lamented over this issue when I made the decision to go back to school.  The problem is that people would rather have something cheap, use it for a short duration, and throw it away.  This works perfectly if robots are making everything, and we aren't worried about where the raw products are coming from.  Generalized machines make generalized parts for a ready-for-average society.  The problem is that some people, and I'd like to think I am included in this category, want quality craftsmanship, want their purchases to last generation and are willing to pay for it.

How can you do it when a mindless machine is putting the parts on your gadgets.  A human will look at each bit, and if they care about the product will make sure it is something the customer would be happy with.  I really hope this new direction for Toyota works out well for them.  I'm going to do my part, and ensure our next vehicle is a Toyota.


Nearly Missed Not on My Mind


Today has been interesting so far. First off, today is the official due date of our incoming baby. The upcoming changes to life weighed heavily on my mind this morning as I prepped for my morning ride into work. I admired the new kitchen we placed in the home this summer, and thought about how wonderful it is to be done before our lives get all twisted upside down. After feeding and watering the body, a voyage to the garage had me on my bicycle.

I was making excellent time into town.  The re-opened river pathway ensured the ascent up the bluff on the way into town was no longer necessary.  I felt like the day was mine as I pulled in along the Bow from the Nose Creek pathway and I could feel a new personal best ride into town on the brisk Friday morning.  That was, until I got hit by a truck.

I stopped at the intersection between the offramp into bridgeland and the zoo pull off, I waited for a car to pull out of the spot and as a truck came up to the stop sign I started up across the intersection.  The driver did not see me crossing as they were much more interested in vehicles coming up the ramp from Memorial Drive and decided to pull out when they saw the opportunity.  Unfortunately I was in front of his Ford when he decided to mash the gas.  He was pulling away from a near stop, and he probably only went 10 feet before pushing on me and my conveyance.   The impact was decent, although after playing rugby, I have a pretty good idea when I've been hit hard, and this was not one of those times.

A spring up from the ground greeted me with a very worried man.  He didn't bother taking off his shades, and he was very obviously disturbed that he hit a cyclist at a stop sign.  I assured him that I was fine, and then other motorists that saw it happen all stopped to share in the scene.  I spent more time re-assuring people that I was fine than I did worrying if I was hurt.  I stretched out some joints and although I will have a sore arm for a few days, I was more angry that the guy cost me my personal best coming into the core.

Thoughts of how my motorcycle riding mantra of 'ride like you are invisible' would not have helped me in that particular situation swam about my mind as I crossed over the Peace Bridge and onto the bicycle lane down 7th street.  Stop and go traffic whizzed by as my fellow cyclists and I enjoyed the dedicated lane and lighting.  Strangely enough, as a parking garage approached on the left hand side, another motorist that was not paying attention decided to take a left across the two lanes of bicycles without taking too long of a look.  Straight onto the brakes and managed to pull off enough speed to only hit her car and not actually dislodge myself from my seat post.  The wide eyed deer of a driver panicked and tried to hand signal to me that I should go around here.

Screw you bitch, get the fuck out of my way.

I thought it odd that she though I should go out of my way to go out around her vehicle and into oncoming bicycles, when she was the one who nearly sent a cyclist to the hospital.  Obviously Alberta's reputation of being terrible drivers is well deserved.  Theoretical debates on 'would I have been so alert and stopped in time if I hadn't already been hit today' rowed through my mind as I pulled into work.  My personal best sat well out of grasp with five minutes spent arguing that I was fine eating into my time.   A quick shower and a coffee later I was sitting at my desk.  At this point, clarity returned and I once again was consumed with the fact that Sonja is due to give birth today and in very short order I will be a dad.


Remember When

A rug rat

She Smiles!

So, as usual, I found myself too busy to keep my online log going. In my defence it has been stupid busy around this household. I was reflecting on a post I made over a year ago just to see how much has changed since then.

I did finish my coursework which was a big relief, and I also married Sonja in June which was an amazingly good time. I never really got back into photography in the fall, but I did go whole hog on the beer brewing.

On the school front, I am literally defending my thesis tomorrow. This is probably why I am trying to find anything to take my mind off of it. At 2pm tomorrow I have to deliver a 20 minute presentation to three PhDs that know more about the subject than I do. If they think I'm competent, I get a bunch of signatures and the chapter of my life that is my Master's degree is firmly in my past. If not, I get to fork over more tuition, and do it again. Needless to say, I'm a bit nervous.

As for the wedding it was an amazing time. We have both the formal photos as well as the photobooth shots from Huge Photography up on the internet. The food, by Boreal Chef, was downright amazing; the DJ was a top notch crowd reader, and even the rain couldn't dampen the spirits of those in attendance. In the end, I ended up married to a wonderful woman, and have a treasure trove of memories to cherish.

I went into all grain after the the Yeast Wranglers hooked me up with an experienced partner and showed me how easy it was. I went through several iterations and improvements and probably have two dozen brews under my belt. I built a kegerator for the basement, and have a lagering chamber out in the garage. I think this is a hobby that is going to stick around for a while. I decided last fall that I didn't want to be brewing outside, and wanted to change from gas to electric so I could have my stand in the basement. I sold off the existing stand, and have a garage full of parts just waiting to become my next creation. I figure I have about 100 hours of work ahead of me building the wood stand, cutting out and polishing the keggles and then wiring up all the electrical. With the crazy crunch at work, and my thesis deadline, nothing has happened on that front.

As for the upcoming, I am obviously defending my thesis tomorrow. In other project fonts, we are renovating the upstairs at the end of May. We plan on moving a wall, removing a fireplace and completely replacing the kitchen. The crunch is on, because Sonja is pregnant and due at the end of July so if it doesn't happen now, it won't happen for a while.


Please….Stop Fighting


A showcase of how stupid the world has become

I am going to trample all over your religion, if you have one.

I'm disgusted with the happenings around the east side of the Mediterranean. I am sitting here, watching a video posted to YouTube where the only thought that crosses my mind is: Someone died there. Don't get me wrong, the ingenuity and effort that made it happen is impressive and I am sure that the people behind the action have justifiable reasons for making it happen. Regardless, the fact that it happened is appalling, maybe even disgusting.

I did wade into the religious debate when I worked in Egypt, and even 15 years ago this Canadian had a hard time understanding why THAT particular chunk of dirt was so damn important. I heard arguments of why THAT land what theirs and it was unfair that THEY took it. I was really confused because neither I, nor the person telling the story lived close to THAT land. Furthermore, we had more than enough space to be happy and were already making due with what we had. In all reality neither of us needed to go anywhere near THAT contested space. I hope I am not belittling the argument; I simply do not understand it. The best part of this particular argument, is that either side could argue that I am talking about them.

The history of that land is complicated by the fact that everyone thinks they own it. Now, it may be my atheism talking, but if your deity is calling for you to take another's life for trivial reasons, especially for a chunk of dirt, then that particular voice in your head is full of shit. By my best estimates the contested chunk of Mediterranean land is about one quarter the size of the country called Wales, and is approximately four-fifths the size of Rhode Island. As far as I can tell, Canada's Baffin Island is about 100x (86.33x for those of you that like to argue) the size of the space we are dealing with. The point, in case you missed it, is that this is a trivial tiny chunk of land with a large amount of drama.

Sure, Baffin island is covered in snow and darkness for half the year, and doesn't have an international airport. Although, in the summer it sports almost perpetual daylight and it has rail service to the main continent. Furthermore, the best part: nobody thinks they have the right to kill you because you are living on it.

I have traveled my share of the earth. Nowhere, did I find another person that meant me harm; in fact, most people were most hospitable. Probably how you would treat another, or hope to be treated, in a case of crisis. Only when we aggregate ourselves into some sort of group do we find that we need to separate ourselves from another group. In the end: We all love our families, we want the best for our children, and we would love to indulge in the finer things in life. Therefore, please stop fighting over this chunk of dirt.


I’ve been Caught

From Twin Falls Hike (Yoho Valley)

I love diving into something new.  Last fall, my in-laws were in town, and they were helping Sonja with some selection of her next wine kit.  While at the store, which fortunately had beer kits in stock, I browsed about while the proprietor discussed sweetness and finish with the ladies.  On one of the display walls I noticed a bunch of cans, some of them carrying prices as low as $15.  Curious, I asked the owner how large of a batch of beer could be made with this can.  He replied that with that can, which included some dry yeast, and a packet of hops you could make about 20 liters of beer.  Right then, he set the hook.

I didn't give in to the temptation immediately. I have been, as some say, a beer-snob for a few years.  Ever since I did the 'Around the World in 80 beers' adventure at Bottlescrew's I have had a palette for the finer favours of beer.   I went home and discussed it over with my fiancee at the time.  Eventually, we came to the conclusion that I should give it a shot. A few days later, I was back at the store picking up an all in one microbrewing kit. The total outlay for that first batch was a whopping $114 plus a little bit for the poor government.  The kit has everything you need, except the water, to make a batch of beer.  I even watched the included DVD, and like a good instruction follower went about making my very first batch of homebrew.  In a couple of days I had a bubbling bucket in the basement.  Following the instructions I waited until the first wave of fermentation was completed, then I sanitized all the bottles, primed the almost-beer for its next step and bottled it.  I only managed to fill 23 of the kit's 30 750ml bottles.

I had three weeks of 'bottle conditioning' to wait out, so I worked out the math.  I managed to keep 17.25 liters of beer which works out to $6.66 per liter.  Compare that to a generic beer ($31.49 + / 15 cans) which sells for $5.33 per liter and I figured I was doing alright considering I got all buckets, bottles and ingredients at the same time.  I impatiently waited as the yeast finished its work, and when the instructions said I could enjoy my beer I cracked one open, poured it into a frosty glass, and sampled the fruits of my labour.

It tasted like shit.  Not literally speaking, but it definitely slummed about with the dirtier beers in the back alley.   I did drink it all, naturally, but I also was determined to make better beer.   While drinking my batch of un-success I did some research on the internet, and picked up John Palmer's amazing book on homebrewing, which also exists as a free abridged online version.  I realized that I was doing a great deal wrong, and set out to fix it up.  Lesson number one: Humans make sugar water, yeast make beer so keep your yeast happy.

I made another couple of batches from other extract kits that I picked up from another homebrew store in Calgary.  Absorbing knowledge on how to make better beer became my hobby for a while.  Coming across anyone that knew anything about brewing, I would pick their brain until they were sick of talking to me.  Through these conversations I learned of the  Yeast Wranglers homebrewing club in Calgary.  I went to my first meeting at the start of the new year, which was an amazing twist of fate.  At that meeting, which had began with a presentation on mashing, they announced a 'Partner Brew' competition where pairs of rookies and seasoned veterans would be matched up and make a beer together which would then be entered into a competition against all the other pairs.  I was matched with Chris, and in mid-February we got together at his place to make an American Brown Ale.

Here is where I got reeled in.  I can honestly recommend to anyone that would like to make their own beer, that the number one thing you should do is watch someone else that knows that they are doing.  The books are nice, and the internet is full of information if you can sift through the noise, but watching the process done from beginning to end by someone that makes good beer is invaluable.  Up to this point, I was an extract brewer.  I would pick up a kit of concentrated malt, yeast and some hops.  Mix it all together and wait until the yeast made some booze.  Chris brewed from malted grain, which means he mashes the grains with hot water to extract the sugars, and then boils the wort with various combinations of hops to add bitterness and then adds a culture of live horny yeast to the sugary concoction to make beer.  Brewing from grain gives you the ultimate control over the flavour of your beer.

My first take home from the 6 hours brewing experience is that taking the step from where I was mixing extract and water to an all grain brew day was not a big one.  The majority of the brewing process is waiting.  Waiting for water to heat up, waiting while enzymes convert starch to sugar, waiting while wort boils and waiting while the wort cools down is where the majority of the time is spent.   In between there are short bursts of activity like dumping water from one vessel to another, or putting some ingredients into boiling wort.  During the waiting period, there were ample opportunities to sample Chris' other homebrews; all of which were very tasty.  Chris also had one huge hand up on me at the end of the process: He didn't bottle his beer.  Once the yeast was done doing its work, he would pour the entire batch into an old stainless steel keg, hook up some carbon dioxide and BANG! he had beer.  None of the hours spent cleaning bottles, priming beer for secondary fermentation or waiting for a bottle conditioning.  Everything about the whole experience seemed overly easy.  During the drive home, I kept rolling the thought over and over in my head:  I can do that.

At this point, I discovered the catch.  Like all great hobbies, the equipment can get very very expensive.  To make the switch to all-grain I would require some more equipment.  I picked up some old kegs and stainless connectors from Craftbrewing.com here in town and ordered a grain mill and other gadgets from HopDawgs and Canada Homebrew Supplies. With the help of a propane turkey fryer, previously used to create deep fried goodness, and a large stainless pot from a restaurant supply store I set about making my first all grain batch.

Again, it tasted terrible.  So bad in fact that I poured the whole thing out.  The reason, I found out later,  was that I mixed up my Nugget and Fuggle hops, and ended up with twice as much hop bitterness than required.  Considering I like my beers pretty hoppy, I was aiming for the high end of human tolerance and considering I put in a hop that was twice as bitter I blew past the realm of tolerable right into what-the-hell-did-I-just-drink.  My kit beers were comfortably in the area of 'drinkable' and were right on the cusp of being 'good'.  I thought back to my first kit beer, and thought of all the progress I've made since then, and knew that it was only a matter of time that I would be making tasty beers from malted grain.  With this knowledge in hand, I continued to crank out batches of beer.

Now I have made over a dozen batches of all grain beer.  Some were hatched from clone recipes and some were my own originals.  I've made four iterations of "Sonja's Castle" trying to make a beer that Sonja will enjoy.  I started off with an internet clone recipe of Newcastle and have been tailoring it to her tastes.   The last iteration was well outside of the 'alright' category, and was skipping about in 'tasty' territory.  Futhermore, now that I've learned out yeast wrangling, and have been purchasing ingredients in bulk, I have been keeping my brews in and around the $1 per liter range.

Now I've come to another step in my lifecycle of a brewer, and am looking to reduce the length of my brew day.  Right now a brew day will take me at least 8 hours.  Most often I will spend about 10.  I also want to remove a lot of the hard labour from the day; things like lifting over 20 liters of nearly boiling water in a stainless keg to waste level is not only hard to do, but a little dangerous.  Towards this end, I have been researching other people brewing setups.  Databases of brewing setups exist on the internet, of course, so there is a lot of reference material.  If money was a little more freely available one can just purchase an amazing gas fired or electric system complete with stand.  Although these options usually require the 'Money is no object' mentality.  I cringe at the mere thought of the shipping charges.

I have begun accumulating parts from around Calgary, eBay and other corners of the retail internet, and am very close to beginning my build.  My plan is to have a 1-tier electric heat exchange recirculated mash system in place by the end of the summer, so I do not need to burn propane outdoors to make beer during the winter.  I hope that with a little automation, and a good layout, that I can cut my brew day in half.  Thus, I can spend more time enjoying my beer, than making it.