Monday, April 30, 2007

Christmas is now officially over

Today is April 29th. I finally got rid of our Christmas tree.

I burned it.

Allow me to describe the history of this fine tree.

I love the smell of pine tree in December. In order to get the freshest smell possible, I decided we should go to a tree farm and cut our own. So, back in early December, I loaded the family into the mini-van and we went "tree hunting." I was armed with a "half trap" (i.e. a saw) and we cut down a beauty at a local tree farm. It was about 7 feet tall.

It served us well. The smell was great for several days. After Christmas, it was stripped of all its adornments and thrown out onto the deck. It sat there until March, when it ended up below the deck. Until today....

I must first preface today's event by telling you about my neighbor. My neighbor is great, but he has, almost covertly, burned my trees from the last two years. I never got a chance to burn them myself. He has sneaked over, grabbed my tree and put a match to it. I was determined to not let that happen this year.

So, to the burning of 2007!!!!

I put the tree where my garden will be (after tilling it up using my neighbor's tiller). The tree was brown and very dry. I put one match to a group of needles.

That tree burned like nothing I've seen before. The ENTIRE tree (minus the trunk) was consumed within one minute. It was hot. Flames shot 10 feet in the air. It was awesome.

Last summer my family and I witnessed a massive forest fire in Glacier National Park. We watched from several miles away as trees literally exploded. Granted, they were not as dry (and dead) as my tree was, but today I got a pretty good idea of why forest fires are so dangerous.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

I still hate bottling

I bottled my Boston Lager clone tonight. It never did ferment at the right temp, but it will still be fine beer. It tasted pretty good before bottling.

Every time I bottle, I remember a story I have been meaning to post. I call it "the infamous bottle exploding incident of 1996."

I was a grad student at the University of Nebraska. Turned on to the superb flavor of beer found at Lincoln's own Crane River brewery (now defunct, RIP), I decided to give home brewing a try. Kirk at Kirk's Homebrew on Cornhusker highway set me up. I did a number of batches and was very pleased. Eventually, I decided to try a pilsner.

I brewed it up and fermented it. Everything went fine. Then I bottled it. Still everything was normal... sort of. I had run out of bottles and still had about 2L of beer left. I had an empty 1.75 Jim Beam bottle nearby. "Hmmm" I thought to myself, "I wonder if I could put beer in that?" I never answered myself. I just went ahead and did it.

I filled the bottle up and twisted that cap on really tight and that was that. I was smart enough to think about what would happen if the thing did crack. I didn't want a mess, so I set the bottle in my empty bottling bucket just in case.

Five days later, things changed. The Jim Beam bottle suffered a catastrophic loss of structural integrity.

I was living in a house with three other guys. The basement, where I stored all of the beer, was unfinished, but one roommate had made a room in the basement with "walls" of blankets. My brother was another roommate and he lived in the master bedroom directly above where I stored my beer.

It happened in the middle of the night, of course. The bottle exploded. It blew!!! It was loud too. Needless to say, it scared the crap out of my brother and roommate.

In the aftermath, I was glad I put in the bucket. Shards of glass embedded in the plastic. I was amazing. I ended up ditching the bucket. Too make scratches.

But wait, that's not all. As it turns out, bottling beer in a whiskey bottle was not really the problem. Apparently, I either added to much priming sugar or I bottled too early.

During the next few days, at random times, bottles started exploding! It made the same sound as slapping two 2x4s together as hard as you can.

After about a half-case exploded, I and my roommates had had enough. Feeling like a bomb squad technician, I transported the remaining bottles to a utility sink full of water and submerged them. I opened the bottles underwater to prevent a huge mess and to absorb the force of any explosion. I dumped the beer :(

I learned a valuable lesson that week.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


I bottled my Pilsner Urquell clone tonight. I still hate bottling. I'm going to be storing a friends kegerator at my house soon. I plan on using it after purchasing a 5 gallon keg. The beauty is I get to skip the bottling process. I look forward to that day.

Tonight, I bottled. But, I also invented a beer drink. I'm sure you have heard of a black and tan (traditionally Harp and Guiness).

I invented a black and black. Yup, I combined a cream stout with an oatmeal stout. It was good. Of course, it was nowhere near as visually appealing as a black and tan. I took a picture, but there is no need to post it. Imagine a 24 ounce glass with what looks like a 24 ounces of a homogeneous stout mixture. To be honest, I'm pretty sure there was no layering as seen in a black and tan.

Bottom line, beer is good.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Give me the laser pointer, I'll do it myself!!!

This post has nothing to do with beer or chemistry, and it's long. Sorry.

Last December, I did something I have wanted to do for years. I had laser eye surgery. Yup, I went under the knife and the "knife" and ended up pretty darned happy.

While lasik is nothing like getting your gall bladder removed, it is still a bit intimidating.

Here is how it all went down:

The surgery itself was "routine." Not for me, but for people that have done thousands. For me, it was a bit surreal and interesting.

I met the surgeon just before the procedure and he was optimistic that I could do the LASIK, but he was also prepared to do PRK which is a related procedure (though one that requires a much longer recovery time). My corneas are a bit thin, but I also found out, for what it's worth, that I have large pupils. Anyways, he looked at me and my chart and said, "OK. You can do it." This is the first time I had actually met the surgeon, and even at this point I could have been turned away.

I went into a pre-surgery room and put on a hat and booties. Then I took off my glasses for the last time. The "nurse" put numbing drops in my eyes and swabbed my eyelids with something. I waited about 20 minutes for the guy ahead of me to go. There were about 5 of us total that were being herded through.

Finally it was my turn. The upside down nametag on my left shoulder made sure the doctor knew who I was and that the machine had my data in it. I laid on a reclining bed and they rolled me under the laser. Now the fun didn't begin.

The first step in this procedure was cutting a small flap off of my cornea. This was the worst part of the whole thing. It was hard to tell exactly what was happening, but this is what I observed. My eyelids are taped open, then a speculum is inserted to hold the eyelids open. No more blinking. That's very uncomfortable. Then they placed a "suction cup" onto my eyeball and seemingly sucked my eyeball out. More discomfort.

Using what I can only imagine as a horizontal guillotine (holy crap, I just spelled guillotine correct on the first try) a blade moved across my eye, shaving a flap off of the top of the cornea. For a few seconds I was blind, I assume from the blade being in the way (the other eye was taped shut). Then when they finally took off the suction torture device, I was more comfortable again. The doctor kept squirting liquid onto my eye to keep it wet and clean it out. I couldn't feel it, but he also brushed my cornea with some type of wipe. That didn't hurt at all. Once the suction cup quite trying to suck my eyeball out of my head, I was fairly comfortable, albeit, very vulnerable.

There was a bit of a delay while they double checked all of the data in the computer. I don't know how it all works, but they had a map of my cornea showing the areas that had to go. I think the machine also plots it's own map in real time to determine what it is hitting and what still needs to be hit.

Once the data was all set, it was blast time. I stared at a blurry red dot directly above me. The laser is invisible or at least imperceptible. I held as still as I could looking straight at the red dot. Then the laser came on for about 30 seconds. click click click click click.... I could tell something was happening. Especially, from the smell. The smell is similar to burning hair. It is distinct and obvious.

I found out that through this whole process that my right eye has a bit of a twitch to it. Meaning, it doesn't stay still very well (the left eye is rock solid). This could be a problem, but the laser is able to follow a moving target, as long as the movements are slight (which they were). As the laser was clicking away, I noticed the red dot getting clearer and clearer. This was weird, but exciting. After the 30 seconds, the doctor put my flap back over my eye. Put a few drops of something in and taped that eye shut and moved to the next one.

That was when I learned that for most people, the left eye is much more sensitive. The suction and cutting was much, much more uncomfortable. It may be psychological since I now knew what to expect, but regardless, it was very unfun. The suctioning and cutting was almost unbearable. The same process was repeated.

When I was done, the doctor looked at my corneas and sent me to another room when an optomologist put plugs in my tear drains to keep my eyes as wet as possible (the biggest problem for most is dry eyes).

At this point I could tell my eyes were better. I could see, but everything was cloudy and a bit blurry. I went to the waiting room and hoped my wife would see me (because I couldn't see her). She did and we headed home. I kept my eyes closed for most of the 90 minute trip and slept a little.

It was during the trip home that the numbing drops wore off and the pain began. By the time we almost got home, I was really uncomfortable and very light sensitive. But when we got home, I could see my girls at the top of the stairs. Things were still blurry but much different. I still had trouble keeping my eyes open. So, I took a few drops (I had antibacterial eyedrops, a steroid for healing and tear replacers). I took those and went to bed. I had to wear eye shields for the next week while I slept. The biggest danger was dislodging the flap before it had a chance to reattach. I slept a bit (despite my 18 month old's constant whining about something) and got up in time for my childrens' bedtime at 8PM, 6 hours after the procedure. By then things were getting better. I still couldn't read the clock or my computer, but things were progressing. I stayed up until 10:30 PM so I could do another round of eye drops and follow Sadaam's fate (and the Gopher's which were both similar). Then went to bed. I got up at 6AM and was pleased at how much I can see.

Today, four months later, things still aren't perfect, but they are very close. The only issue I have now results from dryness. As long as I keep using eye drops, I can see pretty well. This should get better over the next few months.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. However, if you had asked me within 6 hours of the procedure, I would have said "no." Right after the procedure I was in some serious discomfort.

Bottom line, I went from contacts being -5.75 (not sure what the units are here) to 20/20.

Friday, April 20, 2007

State of Hockey???

Well, my two favorite hockey teams are done. Both in less than desirable fashion.

The Wild was (or were?) eliminated last night by a team named after an animal that most likely hates ice (i.e. Ducks). It wasn't even a good series. Game 4 was great, but it was just not what I expected. Of course Anaheim had to cheat by taking out one of our more important players. I hope they can live with themselves.

The University of MN Gopher Hockey team, proved a #1 ranking isn't enough to get to the frozen four. They lost to the behated North Dakota Fighting Souix. Then had to sit at home and watch the MSU Spartans take it all.

All in all, it was a season of promise that resulted in below-expectations results.

Oh well, the Twins are roaring out of the gates.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Third time a charm?

I brewed a Fat Tire clone for the third time. I am hoping I get it right this time.

The first attempt was terrible. I blame that on lax attention to technique. When racking to a secondary (i.e. siphoning from the primary fermenter to a secondary fermenter) I ignored the fact that a lot of oxygen was getting sucked in through a loose tube connection. Result: crap!!!!

The second attempt was a little better, but still bad. Again, I am embarrassed to say, I had it coming. I believe a bacterial infection spoiled the batch. I'm not sure where it originated, but I believe it was from the spigot of my bottling bucket. That spigot has been given it's walking papers and co-mingled.

Third attempt: as Bullwinkle said, "this time for sure!!!" The fermentation is going crazy right now. The convection that results when the yeast gets a batch churning is a site to see.

I just cracked open my recent pale ale. OMG!!!! It is good. I love cascade hops. Maybe someday I'll write a poem about them. My pale ale is highly hopped with cascade and I love it.

Monday, April 16, 2007

A sad day......

I was going to write a post tonight about Lasik eye surgery and polyethylene glycol. With every sentence I wrote, my mind kept drifting to what happened at Virginia Tech today.

I am feeling some serious end-of-school-year stress right now, but nothing I have to deal with can compare to what those people have to endure.

I don't feel angry or upset. I feel sad. I think the fact that this happened at a school and I teach at a school makes it seem too real and too close to home. Most of our students come here to learn and make the transition to independence. In many ways, they are vulnerable: mentally and physically. That's not a criticism. It's part of life and a right of passage. Some students that get to college are well on their way, if not fully arrived, to independence. Some have a long way to go. It is our job to help them become independent young adults and, at times, protect them when they are not ready. I truly care for the well being of my students on many different levels. Seeing what happened at Virginia Tech today, makes it much more apparent than normal that we cannot protect our students from everything. A mad man hell bent on murder is the absolute extreme.

what the fuck is going on? I'm typically a jovial fella who likes to throw a bit of humor around, but right now it isn't right.

The blame is already happening. The VT administration and police are already under fire. That response is normal and understandable, but try to give them a break. Now is not the time to second guess and blame the people in charge. What do we expect? Marital law to be declared whenever a murder takes place? Someone will have to answer for what happened, but that can wait.

I'm sad.

Sorry for the downer.

Even the arrival of my ChemBark magnets couldn't keep me happy.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Busy, busy, busy....

I've got so many things going on, I haven't been able to post much. One month of school left. Then, while I won't have more free time, I will at least have fewer deadlines.

Until then, I am not going to post until I get my magnet from Paul!!!!

I'm so pitiful....

Monday, April 9, 2007

Garage lagering

Lagering is essentially the fermentation and conditioning of beer at temperatures around 40-50° F.[1] Most homebrewers lager in an old refrigerator or modified freezer[2]. I don't currently have that option. So, I attempted to do some lagering in the garage.

During this time of year in Minnesota, the average high is 58°F and the average low is 33°F. In a garage, the temperature should stay within a reasonable lagering range. Granted, this is NOT the best way to do this, but it is one way. In fact, one may argue it is a more traditional way. One that harks back to the pre-refrigeration days.

So, the time was right. Time to lager. The window was short. Do it now, or the garage will soon be at ale fermenting temperatures.

I brewed two batches, a pilsner and a Boston lager knock off of Sam Adams. I put them in the garage. The temp was a perfect 45° F. This was going to be perfect....

Then, the Minnesota climate kicked me in the groin.

The temperature plummeted and stayed plummeted for the last week. We spent a week without getting above freezing. The garage temperature dropped to fermentation-stopping temperatures. The warmest I observed was 38°. Usually, it was much worse than that. I had no choice but to bring the carboys inside. They have been on my concrete basement floor ever since. Fermenting at a nice cozy 60-64°F.

Is the beer ruined. Oh, absolutely not. I have no doubt, the result will be a very drinkable beer. However, it will be a far cry from what I was hoping to produce. The flavors will be different and the beer will not be as clear and crisp, but it will be good beer. I'm not worried about that.

The moral of the story: never, ever, ever, ever trust Minnesota weather. A few days before we dropped to our below freezing streak, it was 82°F. While the weather does annoy me, I revel in the fact that a 70° temperature difference during the course of a few days is not unusual for MN. Not many people have to regularly deal with this.

[1] There is of course a lot more to lagering than that, but I have a 2 inch stack of chemistry research papers to read. Most of my time right now is spent wondering why I assign assignments like this.

[2] Our deep freezer recently quit being a freezer due to a spent compressor. It gets cold, but doesn't freeze. It is in our garage right now. When it gets warm enough, I am going to try to convert it. [3]

[3] What a stupid sentence that was. It's like my freezer is a lager atheist and I want to convert it into a lager believer. "Do you believe in lagering as your personal savior?"[4]

[4] OK, now I'm just procrastinating (see note 1)

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Hop aroma research

I decided to make a quick post while grading General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry exams. It is times like this that I really regret not giving multiple choice exams.

The Gen Chem exam is on acid-bases, Ka and solubility product.
Organic is on electrophilic aromatic substitution and intro to reactions with carbonyl carbons. Good stuff.

Anyways, the real purpose of this post....

I'm reading an article titled Hop Aroma in American Beer. J. Agric. Food Chem. 1980, 28, 774-777 (pdf of first page).

OK, well, I'm not actually reading it, but I will. I couldn't get past the first line in the experimental section:

Eight liters of each beer was vacuum distilled (0.02 torr) at 20°C into a trap cooled in liquid nitrogen.

Eight liters of beer?!?!?!?! nay, of EACH beer.

This is why I can't do research of this type. I would have a very hard time dumping 8 liters of beer into anything other than my mouth (not in one sitting of course).

Maybe bad beer, but the analysis of bad beer would be pointless.

OK... back to the correcting.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Variety, delicious variety.

I've got a fully stocked beer cellar. I am very proud of my selection. I decided to take a picture of all of my beer. Here it is:

The beers in the pint glasses are mine. The beers in the large mugs were brewed by a friend of mine. The beers are, from left to right:
Bavarian Helles
Belgian white
Pilsner Urquell clone
American Pale Ale
Extra Special Bitter
Anchor Steam clone
Brown Ale
Fat Tire Clone
Oatmeal Stout
Irish Stout
My Experimental Ale (more porter than stout)

Not pictured: My cream stout and pale ale. Not enough room.

I took a lot of pictures trying to get the camera settings just right. I had the beers sitting on my wife's light box. I might try this again sometime. It can be photographed better. A couple of other pictures I took are shown below:

This one made me think of the type of poster one would find in a dorm room in the 80's. I'm nor sure why.

This on is now my new desktop picture. I left it big in case anyone wants to use it on their desk top. Just give me a plug if you do :)

This is the same as the other lineups, but with less glare.