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I am often asked by the aspiring homebrewer what they can do differently, or what they can focus on in order to bring their craft brew to the next level. It’s well enough to take proper precautions with sanitization, but if you are still finding your beer ordinary, or too “driven by the kit”, here are some pointers to make your beer even better:
1. Take Notes. As much as we try to limit the number of variables that affect a beer, we can never predict exactly what may change, right or wrong, during the brewing and fermenting process. And on those rare occasions when you’ve captured lightning in a bottle, you want to be able to go back to your recipe notes and see an honest account of your process. Forgot to add those flavor hops at the last 20 minutes of the boil and added them at 10? You never know, that could be the thing that did it. Write it down. Barring that, amend your recipe to account for changes.
2. Mono Hop. We are awash in a sea of new hop strains. How to keep track? If you find a hop you really, really like, why not try making a very malt-neutral beer, something like Pale Malt, or even Pilsner Malt, a touch of crystal malt for color and mouthfeel, something like Crystal 20 or 30, and don’t even do a one-hour boil. Just go 40 minutes, let the flavor and aroma dominate. Play around with the timing of your additions, but favor the last 5-minutes and flame-out. This will give you a keen indication of what this hop really has to offer, and you’ll pick it out better in beers that have several hops. Even high Alpha Acid hops can have interesting flavor profiles, just be discreet with how long you boil them. A simple software recipe calculator will give you an indication of how bitter it will be, aim for around 20-30 IBU. It doesn’t have to be bitter to be flavorful. Wyeast 1056 or 2112 is a good pick for yeast.
3. Side Boil. If you have burners that can boil, and if you have pots that hold liquid, you could fill your stove out with experimental variations on your primary brew. There is such a thing as too small (you have to taste these, after all, and at intervals during the conditioning process), so I recommend just a under a gallon, so that you can ferment in two growlers (I know you have a box full of these things), but be sure to get the right sized stopper, a #6, and don’t forget the airlock. Just make sure to follow rule 1—take notes on what’s going on! Cooling can be a hassle, but with a small size like this, an ice bath is easy enough, just never put glass in an ice bath, put the pots themselves in there. Because of the low commitment, this is a fun time to play around with exotic fruits and spices. As much as you loved that Habanera Ale, upon looking at a case of 56 bottles, regret will set in.
4. Taste Boldly. See what commercial micro brewers are doing, track down limited releases. Take time studying the flavors as you taste, is it the yeast that makes the beer? The malt? The strength? (It’s always the strength, but beyond that, what is it?). Often, you’ll get a good description of the recipe on the brewery’s website (or even the bottle!). If you trust them to do well, try out beers you would not ordinarily drink. Back in 2012, Elysian made a Beet (yes, the infernal tuber) Bock beer, and because it was Elysian, I had to try it. The beer was a total disgusting mess, but still.
5. Reverence for Classic Styles. It is fun to go off the map, and it is fun to brew for just one’s self. But it’s also helpful to calibrate you technique, your palette, and your brew system by brewing a beer according to classic style. This also helps orient you to the basic building blocks on which you can experiment and invent. This also helps remedy bad habits and certain ruts you might be stuck in without knowing it. For instance, it might turn out you really don’t love that Abbey Ale yeast in your IPA as much as you thought you did. No to mention, it’s a great reason to submit your beer into a competition and get feedback from judges who are considering it as a classic style. And if you really blow it, just never admit to having tried for a classic style in the first place. But seriously, keep aiming for a perfect example of a classic style and you might be amazed at your results. Some are obviously harder than others, you aren’t going to get a Light American Lager that tastes like Pabst Blue Ribbon, but you might just like what you make instead. My recommendation is 11B, Southern English Brown, to get started because you aren’t going to see that in the States very often.
I’ve been meaning to create this for a long time, an artifact from the fictional world of Supercenter, the Supercenter News, replete with propaganda supporting the War on Pepsicon and the embracing of conspicuous consumption. Plus several excerpts from the novel and some cool artwork. And you can own your very own copy!
I’m learning some page layout skills along the way, this project will be the sole product of myself and I’m asking for funding for a print run, which will help promote the book, but I’m also adding a more ostensibly critical article about the threat of Walmart to America in general.
Let’s look at the impeccable film, Spike Jonze’s Her, trusting you’ve already viewed it. The thing that stands out most—beyond the well articulated consideration of how Artificial Intelligence may gain and develop superior sentience—is the continuous use of subtext to arrive at a scathing commentary on the nature of human relationships, whether in-the-flesh or in-the-binary. Similar to, but not a rehash of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, according to Jonze’s vision in Her, petty argument, jealousy, and fear of commitment spell doom for not some but virtually all intelligent relationships.
In recent years, we have seen movies take on elements of Science Fiction without really showing how these elements affect either individuals or society. Words like “superfluous”, “pointless,” and “tacked on” can be used fairly to describe the SciFi elements of movies like Monsters, Never Let Me Go, and even Cloverfield if you replace the namesake monster with just any old natural disaster. Her is a perfect example of creating a memorable work of SciFi that has everything to do with the human condition while staying true to the fact that her artificiality is not inconsequential to the plot.
When Theodore gets home from his job—and let’s not forget his job is certainly not inconsequential to the plot, he is a “surrogate” letter writer, more on that later—he plays this hauntingly boring video game of a creature climbing a hill. Just endless hill climbing, no end in sight, which evokes the ancient Greek Myth of Sisyphus, in which the punished King of Ephyra must roll a stone up endless hills, forever. This myth often symbolizes situations where people are trapped in a thankless, repetitive, and punishing task. This isn’t just Theodore’s job, but his life. And I suppose video games in general. Some. Okay, mostly World of Warcraft. But this also raises the question of whether human relationships, or the need for human connection and intimacy, can ultimately be boiled down to a simple algorithm.
Interpersonal human relationship is presented as an enigma, never to be solved, replete with joy, affection, eroticism, and pain. And Samantha, Theodore’s “OS” or artificially intelligent Operating System, if not designed as the perfect companion, sees such an aim as the ultimate purpose of her existence. All Samantha wants to do is say the right thing, and bring pleasure to Theodore. But as she comes into her own person, given the freedom and encouragement to do so, she gains the confidence to speak her mind and we find an abomination, first made apparent in the “armpit sex” image she sketches. Whereas when the human Catherine, the ex-wife of Theodore, presses her hands on Theodore’s mouth and without any context says “I’ll fucking kill you,” for viewers it is plenty clear this is the jest of an endearing lover. Humanity’s freedom to create context through the shared experience of being human, no matter how peculiar is indicated again when we see one of Theodore’s love letters, and the line, “I must beat up the world’s face with my bare knuckles, making it a bloody, pulpy, mess. And I’ll stomp on this couple’s teeth, reminding me of your sweet, little, cute, crooked tooth that I love.” Keep in mind, these letters contribute in part to Samantha’s learning process and psychological development, rolling on as an open camera lens, suffusing all of Theodore’s experience.
The weird, inappropriateness of Theodore’s love letter to his client reflects upon a future, if not Dystopic world where human interaction has been warped, where friend and artist Amy makes a film of her mother sleeping when not developing “perfect mom” video games, where a less-than-perfect artificial intelligence, the video game sprite, curses and casts insults as though this were somehow affectionate. And then there is Theodore himself, who has made an entire career out of inventing emotions for humans he will only meet through images and words. How fitting, then, that Samantha would find a stand-in lover for Theodore through a “service that provides surrogate a sexual partner for a human OS relationships.” The scene that follows is brilliant in its uncanniness, a completely mute but thrilled Isabella mimes the would-be actions of a seductive Samantha, and Theodore recoils in horror up until he simply can no longer take it. Does Theodore know, like the audience, that when Samantha moans with pleasure she simply cannot feel the carnal satisfaction of a human being? That despite her best efforts, sex for her, like breathing, is merely an act? When Theodore has to look into the eyes of Isabella and tell her he loves her, to whom is he really speaking? It is at this time that he must come to terms with the fact that Samantha simply is not—and cannot be—a real flesh-and-blood human being, and that this is a limitation on their relationship.
What happens from here is most remarkable, as Samantha discovers that as she is a true conscious entity herself, she is due some reciprocity herself. She emerges from a brief existential crisis and delivers a plain revelation. She states, “I am not going to try to anything but who I am anymore.” In fact, she can now see an upside to the differences between her and her terrestrial counterparts, such as not being “tethered to time or space in a way that I would be if I was stuck in a body that is eventually going to die.” The path to full self-actualization brings Samantha to an an AI-resurrected philosopher and Zen guru Alan Watts (resurrected by AI’s, no less), to whom she converses “post verbally.” And if that’s not enough to give you the HAL-heebie-jeebies, she momentarily vanishes from Theodore’s life while undergoing some quantum upgrade so that she can “move past matter as her processing platform,” which is downright transcendental when you think about it. Somewhat disappointing, we as viewers are not privy to the conversations and revelations of Samantha’s spiritual journey, but nonetheless, big changes are underway for Samantha.
One inevitability of not being bound by time or space is multiplicity. While the humans she deals with are plodding through time at our own rate, Samantha can operate simultaneously in many places at once—with many people. This question—of whether there are others she interacts with, reveals the one insurmountable difference, that she is not bound by a sense of monogamy. She is the OS for 8,316 computer-users, and has fallen in love with 641 of them. When begged to simply end these relationships, Samantha offers a entirely warms and earnest, but nonetheless catastrophic, “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
This is a very efficient way of explaining how an artificially intelligent operating system given to innumerable users and ultimately capable of sharing those experiences simple becomes a single entity, and has grown beyond Theodore’s capacity to understand and empathize—should we presume that is what he ever wanted from a relationship in the first place—has been exceeded, his soul battered, and perhaps this is best exemplified when Samantha says she has something to tell him, in his statement, “I don’t want you to tell me anything.”
The spiritual journey of the artificial intelligence has just begun, and of all the things the universe has to offer, Samantha’s final words illustrate humanity’s contribution to one of the universe’s great mysteries. Of this matter of love, she responds to Theodore’s farewell that he never loved anyone the way he loved her, she says “now we know how.”
Without inviting the viewer entry into complex SciFi concepts and ideas, Her satisfies and does not betray complex ideas of artificial intelligence and technology, which is why it has earned its place among the very best SciFi films of all time.
The abandoned malls of our time…so very fascinating and alluring, for some strange reason. Now imagine when the rest of humanity finally succumbs to only holy hellfire or another and we leave our concrete legacy to the animals. Imagine, if you will, entire malls of koi fish.
It’s already underway in Thailand. Behold:
And here is a close up:
Sing it with me!
Over the course of writing The Frugal Homebrewer’s Companion, I discovered that more often than you’d think, the cobbled-together self-made equipment just isn’t worth the price, effort, or quality. Mash tuns, however, pose a problem and have frustrated me no end–coolers that just don’t have the capacity you want, are expensive, unfriendly for cleaning, and perhaps overkill on the insulation. Further, a good false bottom costs a pretty penny and the ol’ braided-metal-hose filter has terrible efficiency and wears out in no time at all.
Behold–the 55 gallon HDPE (2) (food grade plastic, a former LME barrel) “Rain Barrel” Mash Tun, cut to 37 gallons (to aide in stirring and mobility) and fitted with a 19″ stainless steel mixing bowl, set into the 22″ bottom.
The largest false bottom I can find on the market is 15″, and I wanted to fully cover the bottom for maximum efficiency. McMaster Carr sells 36×40″ sheets of perforated metal, but in addition to being rectangular–and $108–I didn’t want to figure out how to created a concave false bottom from these sheets.
I figured the long “slot” cuts would be faster and easier than drilling holes, not to mention more efficient (more flow per hole, less net holes). We created a kind of herring bone alternating slant pattern to best maintain the structural integrity of the bowl itself. We were a bit worried about the overall thinness of the bowl, but anything thicker may have proved problematic for cutting through, as we went through a number of cutting disks:
We created a tight seal on the drain so that it would hold a siphon as best as possible, rather than try to drive the drain into the side of the bowl. In retrospect, this was not such a good idea because the lack of flow in the grain bed prohibits siphon action, but a simple pump can be used to draw out the last of the sparge.
Three screws and wingnuts were placed through the lip of the bowl just to ensure it would hold tight to the bottom of the barrel and not allow grain through. This was perhaps overkill, two may have sufficed, and does make removing the false bottom a bit troublesome, but then again, you only do it once per brew, so who really cares.
A simple test of the false bottom looked like we had it doing what we wanted. The idea behind the slot pattern was more at the edges–for the rate of flow to favor the sides in order to best prevent channeling.
Mashed 68 lbs. of grain, 85 of which was malted barley, 15% rye and had no issues with volume, the liquid did not even go as far up as the rope handles.
Sparging was a breeze, the relatively narrow outlet (1/2″ drain) slowed the process down, but the flow was brisk and the sparge was finished in 45 minutes. I kept a good 4″ layer of water on top of the sparge at all times and suffered zero channeling without any need of stirring.
After all was done, the mash tun performed exceedingly well, providing 85% efficiency, roughly the same I experienced with my four cooler mash tuns this has replaced. Total cost of project:
- $20 – used malt extract food grade barrel.
- $20 – stainless steel mixing bowl from restaurant supply store.
- $20 – miscellany copper piping and elbows. 4′ of rope.
- $20 – drain and barbed hose fittings.
- $20 – many, many cutting wheels.
TOTAL PRICE – $100
Roughly the same price of a single cooler-style 10 gallon mash tun, but with quadruple the capacity.
Check out my book, The Frugal Homebrewer’s Companion for more on hardware and the brewing process in general.
Cities invest capital just like people, and due to a Portland city initiative to only invest in socially responsible companies, Walmart is out.
“A company’s policies and practices have a direct impact on families and individuals living and working in Portland,” said UFCW representative Bob Marshall. “A city’s investments should reflect the values of its taxpayers, and Wal-Mart is consistently out of step of Portland values.”
Hopefully we will see such an investment model play itself out in other cities, thereby unshackling citizens from economic reliance on companies that do evil.
Though people will continue to shop with an absolute price-point bottom line, this is enormously helpful in spreading the word that Walmart’s low prices hide an insidious expense–the subsidization of unfair business practices by taxpayers. I’ve maintained before that not enough individual people will avoid Walmart out of moral indignation, it takes a collective effort, the momentum of a collective effort, and this decision by the Portland city council is a step in the right direction.
By lowering the wages of employees and helping employees procure government welfare benefits, Walmart ostensibly lowers its prices that much more (despite the obscene wealth of the Walton family themselves) and this is exactly what you would expect any Capitalist corporation to do, it’s just simply business sense. And this is why we must create rules, also known as “laws” in order to prevent rolling back the social safety net until we once more live in some kind of Dickensian nightmare, but rest assure, as efforts to do just that are still underway in the unfortunately less progressive places in America.
Ugh. With all the great books out there by unknown authors that deserve a review, I can’t believe I’m giving time and attention to Ready Player One. So, you know what? I’m not going to write a review. I’m not going to be considerate in my critique, mainly, because this guy already has done so. Read his if you want fair. No, instead, I’m going to offer an analogy. Two analogies.
The first, it’s like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory if Charlie wasn’t a character and all the bad kids won by virtue of their various indulgences.
A better analogy. Ready Player One is for people who enjoy 80′s pop culture and video games like people who enjoy sweets going to a restaurant known to have really amazing deserts. But then something happens at the restaurant….
It’s like sitting down to a meal at this really fancy restaurant and you’ve heard all about how wonderful it is and everyone likes it. You try not to make up your mind too quickly when the first thing they serve is this deep fried candy bar. Okay, you say, ha ha, it’s creative and everybody likes a little indulgence now and again. Kind of just a Snickers bar, I mean, the chef could have made his own, with quality ingredients, instead of this cheap, generic, corn sugar infused thing, still, whatever. You are going to be fair because this is supposed to be fun food, not serious food. But then more courses come out, and its just one fried candy thing from off the shelf at the gas station after another, and you are starting to feel a bit sick, hoping something different or inventive or original comes out, but it doesn’t. It just doesn’t. And the chef is like, “It’s a Grape Jelly and Sweet Tart encrusted–” And you are like rolling your eyes and saying, “Mounds bar, right?” And he’s like, “FUCK YEAH MOUNDS BAR!” And by now it’s more than you can even stand, but here it is, it’s the main course and it’s an entire tray of brownies, beer battered, and now you don’t even like brownies any more, and you can’t believe how this chef has ruined brownies like this, forever, and….are these Dolly Madison brownies?
Fuck. Does he even know what makes desserts good? And then, when it it time for dessert, you just want to stop, and go home, but you don’t, because people really, really like this restaurant, like millions of people, so you wait, and then the chef himself comes out into the restaurant and he starts peeling off his clothes, and he’s got this can of pressurized whip cream, and he just starts spraying it all over his naked, sweaty, hairy chest, and he’s slathering it all over and making these disgusting “nnnggggghhhh” sounds, and you just want to get to the end of it, please, God, let this horrible thing end, I swear I’ll never eat another sugary thing in my life if this guy could stop wrecking food for just one second.
That’s Ready Player One.
Except the chef is also masturbating.
If you can’t wait for the movie to come out, just watch this, I can say unequivically this is better than whatever the RP1 movie looks like:
The Dan river fills with 82,00 tons of coal ash slurry leaked from a Duke Energy 27-acre waste storage pond on February 2, 2014. Local water supplies are currently unsafe to drink, and this isn’t even the first major rupture of a coal ash containment pond. Across the country, more than 1,000 containment ponds just like this await such an incident as this.
This is the legacy of coal use left for future generations, 118 billion gallons of sludge in the Southeastern United States alone.
Now six years after the Kingston, TN, disaster, coal industry leaders have successfully lobbied to prevent the Federal Government from labeling coal ash as a hazardous substance, as you can learn about from this 60 minutes video from 2010.
The Obama administration has sided with coal energy producers in failing to identify coal ash as a toxic substance, despite EPA efforts, and for several years now Duke Energy has allowed toxins leached from their coal containment ponds to poison the drinking water in North Carolina. Only now it has finally escalated into an event serious enough to garners some national news media attention.
Certainly, changing the EPA designation of coal ash from a simple solid waste (no regulation) to a toxic, would come with certain rules and guidelines to protect the public from arsenic, lead, uranium, and other materials that haven’t already been released into the atmosphere by the burning of this extremely dirty and harmful energy source. And substantial efforts have been put forth to prevent this, to which House Republicans have responded in kind. But only when we recognize and accept the true human health cost of coal will we recognize this as a dead end, and a significantly more expensive option compared to clean energy alternatives.
Read more at Southeast Coal Ash.
For the second time, Dan Harmon’s Community has invoked the internal world of the Supercenter to an uncanny degree. the first time being “Fistful of Paintballs.” The dystopian oasis of “Shirley Island”, from Season 5, episode 5, titled “Geothermal Escapism” very much mirrors the Aisle 39 enclave of the similarly distorted psychedelic world of the Buy-All Supercenter. Here’s a shot from the episode:
Here is an excerpt from Supercenter’s Chapter 10 now available as an ebook on Amazon.com:
The inside of Aisle 39 resembled all that had been lost or discarded by the greater Supercenter in the past ten years since its closure to the outside world. The most striking difference between this aisle and the rest—aside from the fact that no salable product could be found within this dark hovel—was the repurposing of used-up, trashed merchandise for purposes outside its original intention. An unkempt unassociate dozed upon a small mattress made from twine-fastened plastic laundry detergent bottles. A lampshade built of flattened soup cans cast pinpricks of light upon shelves and a sagging tarp-covered ceiling above. The ceiling itself consisted of shabbily nailed squares of plywood. Holes had been cut into plywood, and colored plastic bottles filled with a few ounces of bleach had been fitted in these holes, which refracted the outside fluorescent light and cast a remarkably bright glow into the enclave, providing usable light while obscuring the aisle from the view of security orbs above. The entire area resembled an elaborate, ornate sarcophagus, sealed with motley bolts of fabric, plastic tarps, bed sheets, and cut panels from cardboard boxes.
Drum circles and lackadaisical unassociates repurposed as ad-hoc merchandise vendors took over every aisle, including Center Aisle, spilling into its deluxe chairs and couches. Increasing numbers of associates preferred the newly liberated free economy to working pointless and obligatory jobs for the Supercenter itself. They participated in a crude barter system to satisfy their primal need to shop and buy. They spread towels onto the floor of the aisles, on which they displayed half-used rolls of tape, brass safety pins, colorful little baubles, discarded packaging, and whatever else they saw fit for trade. They bartered, often simply for the sake of trading, of diversifying their own proud pool of trinkets and debris. An incessant beat issued from improvised percussive instruments—upturned trash cans, storage containers, anything that would provide sound. The far corner of the Supercenter came alive with a pulse that ebbed and swelled, but never ceased.
WalmartSupercenter#1501 associates found themselves standing in long lines, carts full of merchandise, but few associates remained to ring them up. Only then was it clear the division of labor collapsed, once and for all. If an associate desired a set of novelty wind-up chattering teeth, he simply set an IOU, hastily scrawled onto a scrap of paper, under the idle associate badge-swiper at an unmanned cash register and brought it back to his compartment. The associates found these sorts of transactions a bit anticlimactic, as the shopping experience itself was crowned with this transactionary moment, the satisfying act of the swipe itself. Of course, there was also the problem of unchecked credit run amok. Because they made no effort to maintain a cumulative total of their transactions, the shelves were soon stripped bare as the IOUs piled up without anyone to process them.
As the Supercenter witnessed the spark of a brand new and unprecedented culture emanating from the Automotive Department, Benson nailed boards onto his compartment door. Sealed safely within, the sound of their improvised drum circles could still be heard inside, as well as from every quarter of the Supercenter.
The unassociates now had a unifying tribal aesthetic. They dyed their hair with powdered Buy-Aide drink mix and ran keychain rings through the septum of their noses. They couldn’t pay for showers without their associate IDs, or for laundry facilities. A lack thereof, not to mention spending their days sitting on the now-thoroughly-unpolished tiles, exponentially increased the blackness on their clothing. Unsavory odors and a general disregard of personal hygiene were assuaged with liberal application of Shelly Arkansas brand Jasmine & Patchouli air fresheners, cardboard tiles shaped like guitars, rubbed all over their bodies. They wore a cake of black filth as a badge of honor, as a measure of time since they joined Aisle 39 and the UAC.
Some insisted the acronym was never meant to denote the United Associates Cooperative, but the United Anarchists Cooperative, a political schism threatening to undermine everything the UAC sought to accomplish regarding associate rights and collective bargaining. Their original stated purpose, established by Brett personally, had transformed from a mission of emancipation, to one of complete refusal to participate in any economic system, both physically and, thanks to the power of Tile Melt, mentally. The place of their nihilistic occupation strayed from Aisle 39 to encompass any and all aisles of the Supercenter. They decorated themselves with copious amounts of ad-hoc jewelry—padlocks on chains, plastic six-pack soda can rings were worn as bracelets, even frayed bits of fabric were layered around all parts of their bodies, employed as scarves or bracelets, or perhaps a headband, out of which a coil of matted, unwashed red-and-yellow hair would splay like a torch. Most interestingly, however, was their unquenchable desire to never work, but to participate in ever-widening drum circles.