Wednesday, September 28, 2011

History will never be the same

I enjoy looking at old hand-drawn reproductions of cities and environments. Besides admiring the artistic talent required to create the pictures, viewing them is a method of traveling back in time to see what places may have looked like, letting you compare how human "progress" can affect the world around us. We can also gain insight into how people from those times viewed the events happening around them, evidenced by the number of recreations of disasters. These drawings remind us of the risks associated with carving a living from the planet, and can act as a warning that destruction can strike at any time, and sometimes from some unexpected sources.

Who could forget the Chicago Fire?
Or the trampling of Pittsburgh?
These images, and more, are available as prints from Mega Lazors. It's history, only geekier.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Adventures in all grain brewing

Apologies to my four regular readers, this is another post on homebrewing.

I have now brewed four batches of all-grain beer. It's definitely a lot more work that using the beer kits that I have used since I started in January of 2010, but there's a certain pride that comes with making a foodstuff from scratch, and being able to honestly state, "I made this."

I started with two pale ales, followed by a brown ale, then back to another pale ale. I chose these recipes because they're relatively simple, and I want to get the techniques of batch sparging and boiling wort down before I progress to more difficult beer styles.

How have things progressed? Well, my first pale ale, I'm afraid to say, had all the hallmarks of rookie production. My efficiency was barely above 50% (meaning I barely got half the sugar out of my malt that I should have. I'd like to aim for 70-75%.), and my mash temperatures were too low, which probably explains why my beer only fermented about halfway before stalling. I also wound up with a lot hoppier flavour than I was expecting. It's not a big deal, since I like hoppy beers, but I just wasn't expecting it to be that bitter.

For my second pale ale, I was able to fix some issues with my mash temperatures, and I hopped it a lot lighter, but my efficiency was still floating around 60%. It fermented out fullly, and after bottling it last week, it seems to have turned out nicely. A little drier than I was expecting, but still good and within style guidelines. I racked my first, partially fermented pale ale onto this beer's "good" yeast cake, but that didn't seem to help at all.

I thought I did everything perfectly for my brown ale (although my efficiency was still around 60%) but it's fermentation has stalled halfway through, exactly like my first pale ale. This is almost a tragedy, because flavor-wise, this beer is exactly what I was aiming for. I've done a bunch of searching on the 'net and found some recommendations to fix a stalled fermentation. Hopefully it turns out.

My last pale ale, I don't know what I did different, but my efficiency hit 80%. I was expecting a starting gravity of about 1.042 and wound up with 1.054 instead. This means I was aiming for a 4.5% ABV ale, but I could wind up with a 6% ABV beverage (not that I'm complaining). I used yeast nutrient with and oxygenated the hell out of the wort, but I used a different yeast, a WYeast 1098 that that I washed from an English bitters kit I brewed in the spring. I created a starter for it to wake the yeast up, but two days into the fermentation, it doesn't look like there's a lot of activity going on. I'll measure the gravity Wednesday to see if things are progressing.

What do I think of all grain brewing thus far? Well, I love the technicality of it - there are just so many options you can change to affect the flavour of the beer, but it's almost a little overwhelming, especially when you're a rookie trying to troubleshoot problems with your fermentation. Now that the weather is getting too cold to spend six hours outside mashing and boiling, it'll be back to brewing beer kits for the winter.

I'll appreciate the simplicity of kit brewing for a bit, but I'll wager I'll be chomping at the bit to get back to all-grain in the spring.

I will, however, take suggestions on beer styles for my last all-grain beer to be brewed in 13 days' time. Any recommendations?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Cross-border Raidin'

Yarr! Today be Talk Like A Pirate Day. It be apropos, too, since today, thanks to the landlubber Doc Dawg, I did find that the scurvy dog of a PriMin'ster o'Canada, Stephen "Blackheart" Harper, be happily makin' plans to be forcin' Canadian autonomy to walk the plank.

Seems th' Cons in power here been schemin' wit' the Prez o' them United States to allow the Queen's navy to cross the border soutwards, in return for allowin' the longish arm o' the Amerikin law to reach up in ta Canada, unner the guise o' chasin' down terrists an' protectin' the public from varyin' forms o'piracy. He s'posedly be doin' this inna hopes of convincin' that Republikin lap dog Obama to open up th' border to more trade. But the way the Yanks been tossin' their freedoms and due process overboard to the sharks be makin' me fear they be exportin' even more of the US-type prison system up northwards.

Seriously though, all pirate-talk aside, we all know precisely what is going to wind up happening if American police are allowed to chase criminals into Canada. American conservatives are freaking out about the thought of UN or Sharia law being implemented in the States, neither of which is even remotely possible at any point in the near (or distant) future. Ten days ago, Ed Brayton pointed out that the Patriot Act, which was supposed to allow National Security Letters and sneak & peek warrants to fight terrorism, has been used overwhelmingly in drug investigations. Seriously, it's not even close. They've been used 15 times to investigate terrorism, 122 times for fraud, and 1,618 for drugs. I expect the exact same thing to happen with allowing American police to come into Canada.

Love him or hate him, the whole Marc Emery extradition saga was a slap in the face of the authorities in the American drug war. Essentially, Marc Emery was arrested and extradited to the U.S. for sending marijuana seeds through the mail, something which is not a crime in Canada. Obviously, Canada has a slightly more relaxed attitude to drugs, especially marijuana, than the United States does. Hell, we briefly flirted with decriminalizing it in the early 2000's, until the United States flexed their muscle with the Liberal government of the time in a successful bid to kill the bill.

Stephen Harper has been working to introduce minimum sentencing rules and increase the penalties for drug offenses, especially targeting cannabis, and he's building more prisons, so one can expect that he's planning more legislation to fill those prisons. However, due to the general Canadian acceptance of cannabis use (a 2009 Angus Reid poll had 53% of Canadians agreeing with the statement, "The use of marijuana should be legalized"), it might cost him politically if he were to pursue a drug war with too much zeal.

If the Conservatives can't convince Canadians to embrace the war on drugs, the next best thing would be to almost literally import the American war on drugs into the Great White North. The ability of American drug enforcement to enter Canada while investigating drug crime is the simplest way to bring US drug law across the border.

I don't do drugs, but even the idea of that sends a chill up my spine. Most worrying: once American cops have their foot in the door, what's to stop them from expanding those powers? Once those powers are in place, what Canadian government could possibly stand up to the US government, the gatekeeper for our largest trade market who could decimate our economy in an instant by closing the border, and tell them their law enforcement is no longer welcome in Canada?

We are a hair's breadth away from becoming the 51st state in the American drug war.

Yar, even speakin' pirate-ese don't make me feel no better.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Black man hands out homemade alcohol

After almost four years of being only moderately better than a hypothetical third term of George W. Bush, and seemingly doing little to implement any seriously progressive policies, President Obama has finally given me at least one big reason to support his presidency:


Excerpt from the White House food blog:
President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama made culinary history when they served homebrewed White House Honey Ale, made with a pound of honey from the White House Beehive, to guests at [February's] Super Bowl Party.
I can't believe I'm just hearing about this six months late, but I have to say it's kind of neat to be able to claim I share a hobby with the President of the United States. Well okay, I technically share the hobby with the White House cooking staff, not the President himself, and for them it's actually a job, not a pastime, but at least we shared the same beer style for our first attempt at brewing!

(H/T to Balloon Juice)