the only way to win is not to play at all

ted | house | Monday, October 23rd, 2006

Back in the day, we were using SBC (previously IL Bell, then Ameritech, now AT&T) for phone service and DSL. We had a $80/month shared cell plan with the splat and were using cell phones for all our long distance needs. Even doing that, we had 400 minutes between us a month with rollover and we weren’t using our minutes fast enough.

So this is what we did: Dropped SBC like a hot horseshoe, got cable service, cable modamn, VOIP. More channels, better programs, way faster interweb, $25 for unlimited monthly local & long distance to the US & Canadia. Both our cells were unlocked GSM, so we went with T-Mobile prepaid with $100 top up cards (10 cents/minute). At first I was pretty nervous as to how long we’d make it on our prepaid minutes, but when you only use your cell phone sparingly and only when you’re out and about (oot & aboot for my Canadien readers) and use your home phone for 99% of all your calls, 1000 minutes lasts a long time. And that’s with no free mobile-to-mobile minutes, no free text messages. I even have to pay for the airtime when I check my voicemail.

359 days later, I just had to top mine up. Yes, I had five minutes left and they were about to expire. It took almost one calendar year to use up my thousand minutes. This plan has been an unqualified success as we’re saving money over the way we used to have service.


ted | junk | Monday, October 23rd, 2006

A productive weekend. Sort of.

My sister-in-law came over Friday and brought her two kids. And a friend. And this friend’s child. Yes, two adults brought over three kids. I have nothing against kids, I just don’t particularly like them being in my house. Mainly because I like having shelves full of heavy pointy things and plenty of power tools, razor blades and pornography. Plus children carry germs and now my wife and I are both sick, much like the War of the Worlds or that episode of the Simpsons.

They went to see some 3D retooling of some movie in darkest Indiana on Saturday. Originally, I wasn’t planning on going, but since it made the difference between getting to have breakfast with my lovely wife and not, I chose to go. While they were in the theater, I dropped by the nearby Harbor Freight and bought a bunch of cheap imported crap… hose grip pliers, 5W solar panel, Kill-A-Watt (just what I needed to start my offgrid project), metric tap & die set, mitivac, box o’ nitrile gloves. Spent a lot of time looking at the milling machines & lathes they had… all of them were utter garbage. When I get the room for a shop, I’m going with old refurbished machines, a 3′ lathe and a Bridgeport knee mill would do me just fine.

Anyway, my lady bought a flybook off fleabay for hell of cheap, so we spent some time having fun with it and installing linux. She’s got to be quite the linux poweruser, far far faster than I did. It’s probably because she’s much smarter than I am and less lazy. I kegged my beer and put the CO2 screws to it to force carbonate.

Sunday I got up early and drove all the way to Janesville, WI, for a TDIclub get together. Did some work to ye olde Golf, such as rotate the tires, wired up the unused rear fog positions as brake lights, bypassed the clutch interlock switch, recoded the instrument cluster to achieve a 24 hour clock. Good folks, very knowledgeable, hell of nice shop. It’s amazing what you can get done in a heated shop with two jackstands and a floor jack.

On a similar note, the Al Warren Oil Company‘s Summit B11 pumps are now officially labeled as ULSD. This is absolutely fantastic fuel and with the cool weather my MPG is headed skyward.

rule one point five of bicycle commuting

ted | bike | Thursday, October 19th, 2006

Dress for the weather, both for on the bike and off the bike.

I got up at quarter after five, rode 5.5 miles in just under half an hour in the 40 degree weather to take the train to work. My usual ride had a dentist appointment, so I went to Plan B.

One really nice thing about getting up and being on the bike before 0600 is that it’s truly King of the Road time. Very few cars. Almost no pedestrians, which means no jerkasses yellin shit. Only one bus, which I caught up to three times and finally passed – yeah, a big guy on a little bike passed your bus.

The problem with such a thing is that it’s really goddamn early. Too early. Stupid early. I don’t like early, especially if early comes immediately after late. On the plus side, my lady’s new 250G drive is up and running and there were some clean clothes for me to wear this morning. On the downside, I only got 4 hours of sleep. That turns out to be not enough sleep.

It’s also fairly chilly and completely dark out at 0600 in Chicago in mid-Octember. 40°F (4.4°C) this morning. The USNO says civil twilight was at 0639 and sunrise at 0709 today. I was standing on the platform waiting for my train at 0630.

So yeah, clothes. I was a bit chilly at first, mostly for want of an earwarmer and a windproof glove shell. I was wearing some stylish black work pants (Dickies double knee, thank you kindly), some generic long sleeve cotton shirt (I’m an engineer, I try to stick to plaid shirts, since that’s the standard engineer’s uniform) and a cheapassed cotton/poly light jacket. So yeah, some earwarmers and glove shells would’ve been nice. By the time I got to the station, I had worked up a light sweat and was feeling nice and warm. Yet while waiting 25 minutes for my train, it dawned on me that the very same 15 mph NW wind that I had enjoyed on the way over was very well chilling me rapidly. I should’ve put a wind shell in my bag for such an occasion, but I did not.

So remember, on the bike, you’re gonna start off cold and get warmer, but you’re also making your own wind chill. Also keep in mind you’re gonna work up a lil sweat. You need base layers that wick and outer layers that block wind in the front but can vent to the back. You definitely need windproof gloves and something for your head.

Most of all you need a decent night’s sleep.

rule one of bicycle commuting

ted | bike | Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

In military terms, they refer to it as “hardening” a vehicle, but you need to face the fact that if you’ve got one bicycle that is your commuter, you gotta take some preventive measures or you’re eventually gonna be stuck on the side of the road with a mechanical failure.

Yesterday, I got all suited up for the rain, ready to tackle my ride in, absolutely fuckin pumped to do a bit of pushing pedals in a cold morning’s rain. Got out to the garage and my folder had a flat rear tire – not as in “this tire still holds air but it is slightly low”, but more like “this tire is entirely devoid of internal pressure of any sort and could very well collapse in on itself to create a black hole”. No amount of pumping with Big Blue would persuade it to keep air inside. Damnit. I had to drive.

In retrospect, it was probably about damn time I got a flat. When you ride on the right shoulder of the road, you’re keenly aware of all the flotsam & jetsam that migrates its way into your path – broken glass of all sorts, beer bottles, lone shoes, bits of gravel, metal chips, bumpers from a rear-ended 1998 Taurus, self tapping sheet metal screws, more glass, sand, sharpened bolts, half-broken beer bottles, barbed wire, roadkill and that drunk guy from down the street lying in a pile of broken glass.

In other words, a whole bunch of shit that’s awful to ride on.

The first line of failure, IMHO, is your tires. Everything else can be dealt with, more or less, but you gotta protect your tires. I swung by Performance Bike, since my Local Bike Shop doesn’t stay open late enough for me to swing by after work, and picked up a set of tire liners, two new innertubes and innertube sealant.

Took off the old tire, patched the tire from the inside to act as a boot. Slid in the Slime-branded tire liners (they also had Kevlar™ tire liners at 4x the price), put in the new innertubes and reassambled, a quick ride around the back to make sure I didn’t have a pinch flat, then remove the valve cores, pour in the innertube sealant, reassemble, pump up to 70 psi and spin like crazy. I also went back and patched the old innertube to give me a spare, should I need it.

So by all accounts, I should be done with flats. I still avoid all the glass I can see – I like the knowing that I’ve got some extra levels of protection against all the nasty things I have to ride through on a daily basis. Like Hunter Thompson said, “Call on God, but row away from the rocks.”

Next recipe in the breech

ted | beer | Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

While in IRC this morning, Ed started pining away for a breakfast beer, one that would approximate his love for granola. Ed is a kindred spirit, a fully-functioning drunkard or self-medicating misanthrope, depending on your viewpoint. Of course, I started thinking about what makes it taste that way… oats, nutty flavors, a touch of sweetness. I immediately made the jump to thinking about beer ingredients. My buddy Chris (“hand me that 7/16ths spanner, will ya, Pal?”) is all over brewing, and has made some mighty fine beers, so I started to pick his brain to figure out what ingredients would make such a brew. Half an hour later, I think we’ve come up with a workable recipe. I gotta wait for the current Porter to get done before I can make another batch, but this one should be easy to do.

Roninspoon’s Granola Stout (Mk1)

  • 5 lbs amber malt extract (I prefer dry)
  • 12 oz Crushed Crystal Malt (60L)
  • 12 oz Crushed Chocolate Malt
  • 16 oz Roasted Barley
  • 16 oz Oats
  • 8 oz (1 cup) Honey (pref. orange blossom)
  • 1 oz Cluster Hops (bittering, 6.9 α acid)
  • 1 oz Willamette Hops (bittering, halfway thru boil, 4.2 α acid)
  • 1 oz Willamette Hops (flavoring, 4.2 α acid)
  • White Labs’ WLP004 Irish Ale Yeast, perhaps their WLP007 Dry English Ale Yeast

Recipe changes as I damn well see fit, instructions to follow when I get around to it, beer will get brewed up Real Soon Now.

Big props to Chris for his expertise in working up this recipe. In fact, he crunched some numbers and came up with this:
OG: 1.061
ABV: 6.1%
IBU: 30
Color: 43

Chicago Ted’s Outdoor Illinois Evil Dark Porter

ted | beer | Monday, October 16th, 2006

Yeah, this is pretty much exactly the Brewer’s Best Robust Porter beer kit, but the devil is in the details. I obtained mine from my Local Brew Store and you should as well. Support local businesses, roll your own beer. Let’s start out with the list of ingredients:

  • 6.6 lbs Munton’s Plain Amber Malt Extract
  • 8 oz Crushed Crystal Malt (60L)
  • 4 oz Crushed Chocolate Malt
  • 4 oz Crushed Black Patent Malt
  • 1 oz Cluster Bittering Hops (6.9 α acid)
  • 0.5 oz Willamette Finishing Hops (4.2 α acid)
  • 1 pack of generic yeast

Now that you’ve got all that shit, here’s what you do:

  1. Realize you dread trying to do another batch of beer on the stove, so drive out to Bridgeview for a propane cooker. Wander around Menards for a solid half hour before you find the one model they carry. Buy it.
  2. Assemble propane cooker. Curse the lazy Chinese bastard that played a joke on you by getting powdercoating all in the threads. Spend 10 minutes working the assembly screw in and out to clean up the threads. Consider buying a tap kit.
  3. Test fire cooker. Delight in the big burny flame. Wonder aloud why they powdercoated the pot support legs, since that shit smells nasty when burning.
  4. Re-clean & sanitize the cookpot, carboy, airlock stopper et al. that you cleaned and sanitized before you last used them 6 months ago. Consider airtight storage for everything.
  5. Break your hydrometer. Whoops.
  6. Boil up 2 gallons of water. Delight in the fact that it only takes 15 minutes instead of an hour on the stove.
  7. Toss in the grain bag when it reaches 160°F.
  8. Adjust the flame down to hold the temp between 160 & 170°F. Curse the design when the flame blows out twice, then remember that you’re making this outdoors.
  9. Freak out when you can’t keep it at 170°F, turn off burner and let steep for 20 minutes. Try to ignore the fact that it got up near 200°F before you turned it off.
  10. Remove grain bag, bring up to a boil. Add malt extract, boiling hops. Lick the malt spatula clean.
  11. Add finishing hops after only 40 minutes. Fuck it, I like hops.
  12. After 15 minutes, bring wort inside. Set cookpot in sink, run full of cold water. Change out water until it’s no higher than 85°F. Add small amounts of wort to the yeast that’s rehydrating in a mason jar.
  13. Pour wort into carboy that already contains 3 gallons of lukewarm water, pitch in yeast just before wort. Consider a different filter for the funnel since yours keeps clogging with hops trub. Fuck it, I like hops. Remove strainer, go nuts.
  14. Slap airlock on carboy, lug downstairs to basement closet where you can keep it at a happy 65°F with a thermostat-controlled space heater (oil-filled radiator kind).
  15. Clean up the huge mess you made outside and in the kitchen, you sloppy bastard.

The spec sheet says this recipe yields 5 gallons, SG 1.050 – 1.055, FG 1.012 – 1.015, 4.5 – 5% ABV, 25 – 40 hop IBU. Fortunately, I broke my hydrometer earlier, so I had to reserve a sample of the wort (before pitching the yeast) to have a SG reference.

Next installment in Sloppy Adventures in Zymurgy: Checking the Fermentation Progress.

you put that asphalt back where you found it

ted | bike | Monday, October 16th, 2006


Le sigh. Well it isn’t actually my street, you know, the street right out front of your house, but it is two streets that I use frequently. Marquette Road (aka 67th St) has been ripped up for a whole mile from Damen to California. California itself has been ripped up from 63rd to 67th and possibly even further!

Hey Chicago Dep’t of Transportation – you know those machines you use to rip up asphalt? Believe it or don’t they also make machines that go right behind them and lays down fresh asphalt. That’s right, just as quick as you rip it up, you can lay it down. Hell, throw in a couple steamrollers and a striping crew and you can probably do a couple miles a day! Seriously guys, y’all do a great job with bicycle paths and stuff – one of the main reasons why I use 67th – but goddamnit don’t leave roads ripped up like this!

I have since found a different way to/from work, but it’s not as fast or easy as my normal 67th all the way to the Dan Ryan route. I’m probably back up into the 20 minute range, which ain’t so bad considering all the cigarettes or beers consumed over the weekend or the craaaazy route I gotta take on side streets and whatnot.

Also let me explain that just because some dork with a meteorology degree from Life University says that the computer told him it might rain does not mean that it will. Also even though I trust the National Weather Service’s forecast moreso than any third-party reseller (this means you, Andy Avalos & Tom Skilling), a “90% probability of precipitation” does not mean “it’s gonna rain in the 20 minutes it takes you to get over to the Interstate to meet Kevin”. It’s the overall regional forecast, not the Chicago Ted Morning Bike Ride forecast. Open the door, see what it’s really like out there before making a decision. And when you do, don’t be a pussy about it. Just get on the damn bike and go.

wrong again

ted | chicago | Monday, October 16th, 2006

The weatherman said it was going to snow last week, which I thought was absolutely ridiculous. Snow in early Octember? HAH! SURELY YOU MUST BE A CRAZY PERSON TO THINK SUCH A THING!

Looks like snow to me.

In fact, not 5 minutes after I took this picture and went back inside, it was snowing so hard it was near-whiteout visibility. Half an hour later the sun came out and everything melted, but still. Snow. 12 October 2006. A new personal record for the earliest snow of the fall.

a watched pot never boils

ted | beer | Sunday, October 15th, 2006

…unless you’ve got the finest $40 propane cooker underneath it. Then it will go from 2 gallons of cold tap water to boiling water ready for making wort in 15 minutes flat.

My freshly assembled cooker has a batch of black, evil-looking outdoor Illinois porter happly bubbling away right now. Recipe to follow.

rule zero of bicycle commuting

ted | bike | Wednesday, October 11th, 2006


It rained last night so the streets were still pretty wet this morning. They’ve torn up an entire mile of my ride – California all the way to Damen – and there was more rain forecast for today. Hmmm, wet streets plus torn up street plus more rain on the way? Maybe I’m better off not riding.

Wrong. WRONG.

It didn’t rain any more today to speak of. My folder has full fenders, anway. So what did I do? I rode the bus. In theory I have no problem with the bus. In practice, well, it fucking sucks. They’re rarely on time and the one today smelled like somebody puked Wild Irish Rose all over it and the windows seemed to be covered in some sticky substance from the inside. The reality of the situation is that I hate the fuckin’ bus.

So much so that I walked the 4 miles home. Probably got at least one blister from my practical but steel toed shoes – fine for sitting at a desk, standing around the shop or crawling all about a railcar but not so good for walking.

Bought a lottery ticket on the way. If I win the 45 million this Friday the 13th, I’m putting in a roof full of solar panels, a wind turbine and a Listeroid generator setup fueled by B100, WVO and waste oil. Plus crafting a lifestyle where I don’t have to drive anywhere unless I want to. With no job, you ain’t got to commute, dig?

I can’t think of anything I’d rather do on a daily basis than ride my bicycle around.

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