the other side of the geek

What a geek does when he's not geeking

A Word About This Theme September 12, 2012

Filed under: Rants — geekyjim @ 9:12 am

I’ll be honest with you: this theme is not my favorite, and I really don’t like it all that much.

Why keep it? Well, there are several reasons, the biggest of which is that it is the only flexible width theme available to users of wordpress.com, the free, hosted form of the WordPress platform.

Why is this so important to me? It’s important because regardless of whatever device you are using, whatever your screen resolution or size of your browser window, my blog will always look the same. I don’t have to create a mobile version. You get the same experience and consistency. It’s a win-win situation.

There are lots of flexible width themes available to the wordpress.org users. The basic difference between the .com and .org is that the .org user has downloaded, installed and is hosting his/her blog away from wordpress.com. It is short-sighted to keep these types of themes only for paid bloggers, especially when this is the future of web development. With the ever-increasing use of smart phones & tablets, it just makes more sense to have a flexible width website. You really only need a native platform app (iOS, Android, etc.) if you have some special functionality that runs better on a platform. Otherwise, WordPress has many of the modules & plugins that can handle stuff like that pretty well. So, a flexible width theme will make your site work more consistently across devices and platforms.

Maybe one day I’ll be able to afford the move to a self-hosted solution. I have a machine at home that is more than capable of being a server — maybe even two machines — but for right now, it’s a theme I don’t like for a while.

 

Hops September 11, 2012

Filed under: Carpentry,Homebrewing — geekyjim @ 10:40 pm
Tags: , , ,

It’s time for harvesting many things – corn, hay, various squashes, tomatoes – and for harvesting & processing ingredients for home-brewed beer. As stated in a previous post, I grown my own Nugget hops (Humulus lupulus hybrid) for use in my beers. I don’t use these hops exclusively as each variety of hops has its own characteristics, but I do use them. They are a high Alpha-Acid hop, used primarily for bittering in beer production.

Knowing that it was time to harvest, and that it is best to dry my hops before freezing them, I set out to build an oast. Originally, an oast was a round brick building that brewers used to dry massive quantities of hops for massive quantities of beer. However, lacking masonry skills and the volume of hops to justify a dedicated, round brick building for this purpose, I looked around on some of the home brewers’ forums for ideas.

The neatest idea I saw was where someone had taken an old chest of drawers and converted it into a dehydrator by replacing the drawer bottoms with screens and mounting a fan to the bottom for air circulation. Another person had gone the extremely simple & cheap route of laying out their hops in between furnace filters, stacking as many as necessary. The filters were all taped together on the ends, and strapped to a box fan with bungee cords. My idea was a hybrid of these two methods.

Now, I’m no carpenter, but I can put something ugly together, and that’s just what I did. It’s hot-rodesque, being made from crap found in my shop, a fan from the attic and three sticks of wood from Lowe’s. And, it is ugly! I built the framework from some old 2x4s I had laying around and covered it in plywood from the same source. I built a channel out of 1x2s to hold the fan unit – it’s one of those 2-fan window deals with the extendible side – and fixed it so it is easy to replace. The fans themselves are pretty cheap, but I had a 1/2 functioning one and it does fine. I had to buy one 1×2 and 2 furring strips to build the screened trays that hold the hops. It’s pretty neat the way it all came together – the trays have slots they lock into at the back of the cabinet.

The front door is a piece I bought from Lowe’s as well, a trimmed-to fit 2×2 piece of 1/4″ plywood. I had hinges and a sliding lock already in the shop, so it all works as it should. The entire cabinet is completely unfinished; I didn’t even sand it! In fact, the 2x4s still have algae on them since they spent most of their past two years as fence posts for my chicken yard. I just chopped off the bad ends and used what was left.

So Sunday, I stood up on the seat of the lawn tractor (our ladder is kaput) and harvested about 3 oz. of hops. I only have the one plant, and this is its second year at my house, so I’m happy with that. I laid the hops out on a screen and put it at the top of the oast, shut the front door and flipped the switch for the fan. It worked flawlessly, drying the hops in about 2 days in my shop. Dry weight of the hops was right at an ounce, and I immediately put them in a vacuum-seal bag and tossed them into the chest freezer. The vacuum sealer I used is made by Ziploc and features a miniature hand-operated bicycle pump that sucks all the air out of the bag. This is important because oxygen in the bag can cause hops to lose their flavor characteristics rather quickly, and freezing them in a non-frost-free freezer slows down the chemical reactions even further.

So, that’s your lesson on good ol’ boy engineering for the day. I’ll let you know how the beers turn out later :)

‘Til next time….

 

Hogeye Brewing Company August 13, 2012

Filed under: General — geekyjim @ 1:34 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Hello Again,

I know, it’s been a long time since the last post, but in my defense, I’ve been working 2 jobs @ 63 hours/week or so.

Hogeye Brewing Company Label

In defense of the title, I must point out that the Hogeye Brewing Company only exists in my mind. I use the name quite regularly if I”m brewing to share, but if I ever get to the point where I am brewing to sell, I am laying claim to the name right now. I live in an area of Simpson County known as Hogeye, which is like many communities in America – little more than a wide spot in the road that may or may not have been home to a general store and a few residents nearby. Plus, it’s a great name for beer!

Since I last posted I’ve grown a very weedy garden, mostly because of the work schedule. It didn’t produce much due to the drought early this year, but since has come on pretty strong with zucchini, watermelons, onions, herbs, heatless jalapeno peppers, yellow squash and buttercup squash. I can’t figure out why the jalapenos don’t have any heat again this year. Maybe it’s from the addition of chicken poo at the beginning of the season.

I also did quite a bit of work to the Volkswagen this Summer. I painted the head & polished the valve cover, since I had to send the head out for a rebuild after the timing tensioner gave way. This is the result: Painted & Polished TDI

Quite a difference under the hood! Additionally, I have had to replace all the suspension rubber in the front end, from the subframe mounts to the control arm bushings. I also replaced the ball joints & tie rod assemblies, and gave the sway bar some new polyurethane bushings and end link bushings. While under the car, I found that the driver side axle’s inner CV joint boot was split, so I replaced that as well. In fact, I had to replace that axle twice as the first replacement was defective!

As for Lori’s van, it’s been pretty well trouble-free. All I’ve really had to do to it is change the oil. This year model of Chrysler Town & Country is prone to power steering pump noise after so many miles, but this is remedied by removing the power steering reservoir and back-flushing it with some solvent to clean out the non-removable internal filter (brilliant design, that </sarcasm>). You will also need to flush the power steering fluid from the lines and rack and pinion. Once you have done that, then you can re-assemble the power steering system and fill it with new fluid. Then, you will need to purge the air from the system by turning the steering wheel lock to lock a couple of times and fill the reservoir the rest of the way.

I also fitted some LED interior lights in the van, and you won’t believe the difference in lighting & atmosphere until you install them yourself! The light is much brighter, and the bulbs use much less electricity and run cooler. They are a great upgrade to any vehicle.

The second job, which I can finally talk about, is working for Peerascope.com. Peerascope is a home page for YOU. Basically, it’s all your favorites on a page as icons. You can categorize them as you like, but you will not have to sift through lists of links as your favorites and bookmarks are now. There are literally hundreds of websites in Peerascope now (I know, I’ve been creating the icons!), and I’m adding more and more every night. You can add or subtract icons according to your interests – music, art, news, weather, sports, shopping, whatever! You need to check it out!!

Anyway, that’s where my life has gone this Summer. The kids are back in school now, and loving every minute of it at the moment. Ben just won the Garden Spot 5K Run/Walk this last weekend, with a time of 17:05.60, a new Personal Record (PR) for him! I’m very proud of him!

I’ll be posting more as it comes.

‘Til next time…

 

Beer. Home-brewed Beer. January 5, 2012

Hello again!

I am an unabashed home brewer. I will give up four to six hours of my life to brew my own beer. Why? Several reasons.

One:  I. Made. This. Great. Beer! I went to college, I know what it's like to drink the cheapest, most watered down beer. It's the fuel of college kids. Well, that & Ramen noodles. I've also drank most of the American mass-produced beers — Budweiser products, Coors, Miller, etc. They're okay, but the prices have gone up quite a bit. I've drank the expensive stuff too, the Dos Equis, various micros, German & English imports. Most of them are pretty good, but after making a trip from Mexico or from a coast in the back of a semi truck (after a trip in a shipping container on a ship), they aren't as good as if they had just come from the tap or from a bar in-country.

Two:  I can make the equivalent of two cases of really good, flavorful beer in just about any style and flavor for about the price of two cases of Bud Light. Maybe a little more, but definitely less than $30 most of the time. I'm not stuck with Milwaukee's Best Light because it's among the cheapest. I'm not paying this much for inferior common beer. And, I'm not paying God knows how much for this much import beer!

Three:  I can grow some of my own ingredients, saving even more money! This year, as seen in a previous post, I grew my own Nugget hops. I was only able to harvest an ounce of usable hops, but now that I have more of a feel for growing them and when to harvest, I will have a much bigger crop next year. Plus, I can grow several varieties for even more flavors for my beers. I'm thinking Cascade is next to go in my garden.

Four:  It's a hobby that I thoroughly enjoy, both while brewing the beer and then drinking it in the months afterward. Yes, I said months! Each five gallon batch I make yields about 2 cases. Those 2 cases will usually last me almost three months. I'm not a heavy drinker & never have been. That's not saying I don't know how to tie one on, but if you don't believe me, just ask Lori! I think it's probably the main reason she lets me do it ;) All things in moderation…

It's also a hobby and tradition that I can pass on to the kids when they're old enough. Before you crucify me for even thinking that, you have to remember that many of the great figures of the Bible had ties to alcohol, specifically wine. Noah was the world's first documented vintner (winemaker), and there are many references to wine as the drink of choice. So it's been going on for millennia. I'm the one who will have to answer for my actions one day, and if I've interpreted the Bible wrong, it's on me. Besides, my kids will have to be at least 18 before I can even think about them helping me with Quality Assurance duties ;)

Five:  You meet, electronically or in person, some really interesting people who are home brewers. Case in point: If you're a Star Trek the Next Generation fan, you'll know that Wil Wheaton played Ensign Wesley Crusher in the series. He is a home brewer and blogs about it some. I also follow other home brewers from all over the country. I'm used to that sort of exposure through my work at the library, but to find such a vast pool of knowledge available for the asking just helps me make even better beer! If you brew, or know someone who does, tell them to give me a holler.

Right now, I have a clone of a clone of Avery Brewing Company's Old Jubilation Ale, taken from Brew Your Own Magazine's clone recipes special edition. My variations include my own Nugget hops from the garden and a special strain of yeast created by White Labs & my favorite home brew shop, Rebel Brewer. And since I goofed & forgot to order one more type of hops for this batch, I've had to double up on Northern Brewer's hops. Shouldn't matter a whole lot, though I know my flavor profile will be a little bit off. But since I've never had one of ABC's beers, I'll never know the difference unless I make it out to Colorado or find one in a store somewhere.

I've been working on this post over the course of a week or so, as I have time to sit down & type. It's hard to keep it in, but I am working on something really big professionally, and when I can I will be blogging about it. It's just THAT big and I have to keep it under wraps. So in most of my spare time I'm having to teach myself the PHP programming language in preparation. I've done programming in the past, but it's been a while & I'm rusty. Additionally, lots of things have changed in the languages since I last had to do any programming, so I'm learning some new stuff as I go.

This beer I have fermenting right now has been dubbed the Hogeye Jubilation Ale, part homage to Avery Brewing's Ale, part my geographical location, sometimes known as Hogeye. It should be ready for bottling this weekend, and in 2 weeks' time I will have one to see if it needs further aging. Hopefully it won't.

'Til next time…  

 

Car Stuff (Warning: LOTS of pictures!) September 6, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — geekyjim @ 9:52 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

With apologies to STAIND, “It’s been awhile…” June 28th was my last post, and it’s been a long, hot, dry summer. My corn crop was almost a total failure as most of the ears would have been stretching to make 4″ in length! I did save what I could, and fed most of it to the chickens.

We put away 40+ quarts of green beans, more than 10 quarts of dill pickles (no one but me will eat sweets!), froze more than 20 onions, and have eaten quite a lot of tomatoes! But enough about gardening for now.

I’m going to talk about another passion of mine — customizing cars. This Labor Day weekend saw Lori & I in Lexington, KY for the 2011 TDIFest. I belong to an online forum called Fred’s TDI Club, which is basically a bunch of (dare I say connoisseurs?) of the Volkswagen TDI Diesel Engine. People come to the forum to figure out how to fix, improve, drive and generally get more enjoyment out of their diesel-powered vehicle. Each year, the folks from TDI Club have a large get-together they call TDI Fest, and since I’m a Kentucky boy, I figured I’d better make it to this one!

First off, let me introduce you to The Black Hole:

This is my 2003 Volkswagen Golf GL TDI. I call it The Black Hole because obviously it’s black, and also because it tends to be the hole into which I throw a lot of money! It’s a fairly reliable car, only having stranded me once in town when the injection pump went out. It gets about 37 mpg driving back & forth to work, and over 40 mpg on the highway. I keep track of this online through http://www.fuelly.com, and intend to keep this going for as long as I own the car.

Fuelly

Anyway, I fill it up maybe once every 2 weeks when I’m not travelling, and I only have to change the oil every 10,000 miles. Even with diesel prices where they are, it usually costs about the same to fill up (~17 gal.) compared to my wife’s van (~20 gal.). If I’m on a road trip, we’ll get about 450 miles out of the van, and around 600 out of my Golf!

So about the show: it was my first Fest, and I had a great time even though it was over 100 degrees! Lori agreed to go as there was a “Super” Target and the Fayette Mall just around the corner. However, she realized that I’m more fun and stuck around to laugh at me and see all the awesomeness ;)! This year’s TDIFest was held at the Hilton Suites Lexington Green complex, a really nice venue for a conference or a car show! There were around 150 cars in total, ranging from New Beetles to Golfs to Jettas, and Don Jacobs VW sponsored a scenic drive throught some historic KY countryside that ended on their lot with a “Pig Roast” and a tour of several 2012 VW models afterwards!

Here’s some of what we saw:


This car is known as the

and makes an estimated 180 bhp via this:

and stops extremely quickly because it has Porsche Boxter brakes!

This next car is a classic, known as The Harlequin:

Its interior features a steering wheel & shifter in the same color scheme, as well as upholstry that matches in color!

This is a fine example of an R32 in Arrest Me Red:

And finally, the reason a lot of folks drive these cars is for their potential in fuel savings. The manual transmission-equipped cars get about 5 mpg better than the automatics, and figures like this are not uncommon:

‘Til next time….

 

More on My Garden June 28, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — geekyjim @ 7:11 am
Tags: , ,

Well, this is my garden. It’s 32′ wide and 64′ long and contains a pretty wide variety of stuff, including herbs like dill
, parsley
, basil and mint.

The area in the foreground where all the toys are is a 16′ square that the kids play in. It’s much better and cheaper than a sandbox, and when my wife gets a wild hair and feels like throwing away some old clothes, she’ll put the garden hose on it and let the kids play in mud. Then she turns the hose on the kids to pre-clean them.

Last night’s haul from the garden included zucchini, yellow squash, another onion and loads of new potatoes:
As you can see, the garden is quite muddy. We’ve had several inches of rain in the last week. While that’s great for vegetable production, it’s also quite good for weed production. At least it’s easier to pull them at the moment.

I’m also attempting a couple of experiments this year: luffa gourds and hops. The luffa is at the suggestion of my wife, whose friends grow them. Basically, you let the gourds form, dry them, then peel the skin away & empty the seeds. What you are left with is a fibrous scrubber that is biodegradable and 100% natural. Right now the luffa look like this:

I also brew my own beer. I’ve been doing it for several years now and thought I’d try to grow my own hops this year. Hops are an interesting plant in their own right, some growing up to a foot a day! But of course, the interest is actually in the flowers themselves, where the aromatic oils are produced that give beer some of its flavoring. Here’s my setup, along with a pic of the Nugget hops vine that I am growing on the trellis:

You may have noticed the fenced-in area in my garden. Inside of that fence are my tomatoes, squashes, jalapeño & bell peppers, melons, cucumbers and pumpkins (soon). They are fenced to keep my chickens from pecking the fruits & veggies into oblivion. Yes, I have chickens too, for both meat & eggs. They are Rhode Island Reds, an American ‘heirloom’ breed that was actually developed in Rhode Island in the 1800s. But enough about them — they’ll likely be another post :)

‘Til next time!

 

What I do in my spare time June 22, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — geekyjim @ 9:42 pm
Tags: , , ,

Well, since this is a blog about The Other Side of this Geek, I figure it’s about time to show what I do. I come from two lines of farmers, both on my mother’s & father’s sides. I can’t remember ever not having a garden, and this year is no exception. My family & I have already enjoyed fresh tomatoes & jalapeños (well, I enjoyed the jalapeños!), and now some of the other stuff is starting to come into season:

That is a an onion, a zucchini, a bell pepper and a head of garlic. The onion is obviously harvested early, as is the garlic, but I was anxious to see how big the onions are, and the garlic’s top had been broken off in a storm, so I did the greedy thing & dug it up! The onion is a little larger than a baseball, but not quite softball-sized, so its brothers & sisters ought to top out near that this year.

I will likely have more postings about and pictures of my garden throughout the Summer, as the corn is now about chest-high and the green beans are blooming. It’s been raining here for the last few days, so the garden is quite muddy and the weeds are starting to get bigger than I like. As soon as it dries I guess I’ll till and get rid of some of them. My wife & kids are waiting for the cucumbers & dill to come on, as they could easily eat their weight in pickles!

For those of you wondering, I am growing sweet corn, green beans, onions, garlic, shallots, potatoes, radishes, basil, dill, huckleberries, bell peppers, jalapeños, banana peppers, tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupes, cucumbers, luffa gourds and Nugget hops. I will, in very short order, be planting sunflowers and pumpkins to round out the season.

Some of the plants are an experiment this year. The huckleberries, because they were free from the seed supplier; the luffa, because my wife & her friends wanted to try them; and the hops, because I brew my own beer and wanted to try growing them here. It’s just one more way to supplement my habits with stuff that I’ve produced, with the side benefits of being fresher and more flavorful than anything I could buy in a store.

 

 
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