Thursday, December 19, 2013

Security Credit

Bottom line up front the way the generals like it.  I take on vulnerability, all the additional threat is against me, and I assume all the risk.  Just to have my job.
Executive summary because the bosses who wear stars on their camouflage at the office like those, too.  There's a bit of utter stupidity to being a government employee.  In my job I am required to hold a government travel card and government passport.  That's right, I am required to increase my attack footprint [pdf] to have my job. 

Extra Credit

The points against the credit card are simple and straightforward enough for even a Treasury Department employee to understand.  Even though this card is For Official Use Only [pdf], the government has no financial risk in this credit card.  Externalities, they call it.  It's open credit on my report, not theirs.
It isn't common, but if the government doesn't settle travel expenses in a timely manner, it hurts my credit.  Just having it as an open account hurts my credit.  And not just the temptation for me to use or misuse the account as that linked article is concerned about.  It is yet another valid account for an attacker to break into and use for fraud.  The card itself, that stupid chit of plastic, is an identity document which can be counterfeit.  Speaking of misuse, done by me or anyone, it hurts my credit not my employer.  If some waiter skims the card I have to dispute the fraud or it's my credit rating that gets destroyed.  And yes, cards can and are misused in that very way even though they are clearly marked, "For Official Government Travel Only."
The entire program is adds vulnerability to me and I am required to assume all of the risk.  I've voiced this to management as an employee and a security professional but the program and the requirement for employment remain unchanged.

Papers, Please

Whether I travel outside the United States or not, frequently or not, I am required to hold an official government passport.  An identity document which can be misplaced or stolen between trips or while traveling.  And, just like with the credit cards, having a valid passport means an attacker can counterfeit a valid identity document for an attack.

Bottom's Up

Bottom line at the bottom the way the generals like it.  The entire pile of externalities, forcing the employee to assume all this additional risk as a condition of employment, should be redirected back to the organization.  

Friday, December 13, 2013

Free Bird

My grocery store was having a sale just before Thanksgiving.  Spend over a hundred dollars and get a free turkey.  I didn't know about the sale when I went in for some routine stuff.  I already had plans for the holiday that didn't involve my own turkey but it was a dozen pounds of ice so I accepted.  Since the bird was frozen I put it into my freezer to keep for after the holiday.
After I got back from holiday travel I took the turkey out to thaw.  If you've ever hosted a Thanksgiving dinner of your own you know that thawing the turkey is a traditional and oft-neglected critical step for many families.  Anyway, after this chemical process of changing phase from ice to meat was completed, the turkey was ready to cook.  I decided not to do another garbage can turkey, though.  This gobbler got grilled.
Grilled Gobbler
Grilling is a simple chemical process to convert meat into delicious through the application of heat.  I use a pretty simple set up with indirect heat in a worthless generic kettle grill best grill ever made.  An indirect heat set-up has the meat in the center over a drip tray with the coals on either side.  I also wanted a mesquite smoked flavor because that's traditional so I made arrangements for that.  There's an accessory for my grill that holds wet wood chips.  The wood for smoking is wet so it smokes instead of burning, of course.  Then close the lid, leave the vents open, and enjoy responsible beverages for a few hours while the turkey cooks.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween 2013

Just like last year, I got dressed up for Halloween.  Actually, I got dressed up several times this year because there were more parties to attend than last year.  Of course, there was the traditional visit to Bisbee, AZ.  And my Boy Scouts will of course be having a costume party.  Unfortunately, the rest of the guild couldn't make it to Bisbee due to not having the money (thanks for the shutdown, Congress) but we'll be getting together to cash the rain check on All Saint's Day.
You can see the difference from last year's article; I chose a different science fiction franchise to base my costume on this year.  My girlfriend and I chose to be Leela and Fry, respectively, for this year.  We could switch it around for next year.  The big benefit is that this year's costume was much easier to assemble.  It's just orange hair spray, a red jacket, white shirt, denim jeans, and a pair of Chucks.  You can get it all on a single Amazon (no affiliate link here, sorry for the lack of spam) order.  Wow, this is going to be a short article.
Leela and Fry

The Hair

My girlfriend used a more permanent purple dye for her hair but I chose a temporary orange hair spray.  It washes right out with shampoo.  Before the orange went on, I styled my hair to stand up in the front with generic extra-hold gel.  
One tip, really do follow the directions regarding how far away to hold the spray can.  Too close and the spray doesn't turn into aerosol right.  It'll go straight through your hair and drip down the side of your head.  Six to eight inches away got the best coverage.  

The Clothes

White T-shirt, blue jeans, black Converse All-Stars and whatever red jacket isn't sold out.  I had seen an article that recommended a particular jacket but it was sold out in red in my size so I chose a different one.  
My girlfriend is in a white tank top and black yoga pants with big clonky boots.  Leela's eye is a mask bought online.  It's mesh like a window screen so she can see out of it and even covers the front of my girlfriend's glasses.  Nibbler was bought online as well.  We made Leela's gauntlet out of a foam sleeping pad and spray paint, with Velcro closure.  
The tattoos aren't canon. 

We had a great time this year and a lot of people recognized who we were supposed to be.  Which really is the mark of a well-made costume.  

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Critical Performance

I am highly critical of my supervisors, as supervisors often deserve.  In fact I think every supervisor should have a critical workforce.  They need underlings who demand communication and who turn down the short end of the stick.
It should be noted that I don't think anyone deserves or should be forced to work with a contrarian workforce.  Then you're just a Republican in a Democrat Congress.  
I've had a conversation with my supervisor recently.  And I found out that the communication problems I noted earlier start above his pay grade.  While that was a pleasant enough flight, no one has plans on how to get the words from that speech down to actions on the ground. 
As government employees, we are evaluated annually.   There are four major performance objectives; things like mission execution and organizational support.  What the heck is anybody supposed to put down for either of those?! Even my supervisor agrees that "mission execution" is pronounced "more of the same".  I've been on several projects which were dropped from the mission and there's no communication about how any of us are going to be added back in. 
But at least I can rest assured that we're still not trained for whatever tasks come out of that speech.  Training that isn't free isn't available.  Traveling for training is even less likely to happen.  It doesn't literally require an act of Congress, only a commanding general's signature.  But training is one of the four major performance objectives on our upcoming annual rating.  Which means, the top rated workers will describe their web surfing engagement of online self-study resources in the most pointy-haired words. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Supervisors Work for the Marketing Department

I have this impression at the office that training is not allowed.  The entire government is operating without a budget, bouncing from one continuing resolution to the next fighting for every penny.  The Army is ordered to cut back from its war-time budget and workforce numbers and many expenses, including the organization's training budget, have been cut.  That's the message from the top of the command.  But then there is this contradictory message from my supervisors that "mission essential training" is still in the budget.  
And I say to that, "Well, which is it?"  
Either there is training or there isn't.  Was the training budget used up with frivolous fluff in the past and now all training requests are heavily audited?  Or is there really not any training budget but maybe they can move some money from another line item to fill in a skill gap?  Neither situation does anything for me.  I mean, how do you train for a job you're already overqualified for?  
And it's not limited to any one industry but I see it most clearly where I'm standing.  It isn't even really about the training.  The problem, one of many I have right now, is that the leaders in the organization aren't communicating.  When anyone in the workforce has the impression that there are conflicting messages from the various levels in the organization, then someone has failed to communicate.  Anybody in marketing will tell you that no matter how many times you think you said something, if your audience didn't hear your message, the communications problem is on your end.  
Over the past several months, from the furloughs this summer to the latest government shutdown, the workforce has been brought together to hear numerous presentations about where the command is going from here.  We are told all about the budget reduction plans, workforce realignment, new missions as we transform to support various definitions of "internet-capable", etc.  These town hall meetings have one thing in common.  They are all 30,000-foot high level fly-over death by PowerPoint.  
All these grand schemes never get communicated down to my level as a, "Here's what you need to do to support the command going forward."  I've been on several projects that didn't make it into the Army's vision of a networked military, so someone saying, "Here's the project you should work for and we're actually keeping this one."  Or even, "We're not keeping this project but you've helped shut three down so do that here."  Or better yet, "We have the need for this set of skills going forward and here's how you apply for the training to support that."  So it really is all about the training.  

That Town Hall Might As Well Have Been An Airline Cabin

The US Army has a big problem communicating its goals from top to bottom.  I've just sat through a town hall meeting where the commanding general of Army Cyber Command, LTG Cardon, talked about his plans for his command and where the organization I work for, Network Enterprise Technology Command (NETCOM), fits in.
I don't have a problem with the lack of detail in this high level overview.  The man only talked for twenty minutes.  My gripe, really just one of many right now, is that the detail never resolves to any usable course of action at my level.  I will never find out what the general's vision will do for my task list.  I won't receive any direction from my supervisors on what training, not that there's a training budget, to request to keep my skills relevant to the command in the future.
Now, somebody knows what skill set they're looking for because the general said the organization's mission and workforce will be expanding.  So presumably there will be job announcements listing what skills they want to hire and discussions with colleges on what skills to build at school.  But I will not see anything about where I, stuck at the level cap in an IT job, should go to be able to contribute to the Army's mission.
[Edited to correct name and rank of Commanding General, ARCYBER.]

Letter to the Boss

I'm in trouble at work for absenteeism and my division chief has given me an opportunity to respond.  This is the letter I wrote.  

Bottom line up front, I might not want to defend this. I'm not sure it's worth it. Fighting to keep this job would just mean more of this.
This job is harmful to my health as evidenced by the increasing need for sick leave, high absenteeism, and recurring need for mental health services. This viewpoint comes from a perceived lack of opportunity to advance my career and a lack of parity with contemporaries outside of government jobs. There is no opportunity to advance from my level; all announced positions require a higher applicant grade than I have. Because of the lack of advancement opportunities within this job, compounded by the lack of training, I am not competitive in the modern workforce and am at a severe disadvantage being so far behind my contemporaries in the job market. Despite this deficit, my current task is far below my capabilities, which only makes the disparity more pronounced.
My task does not appear to be of interest to my employers. It is not on their list of major network services. For that matter, several of my previous projects failed to be incorporated into the Army's network which only shows declining relevance. This task is so marginal that I am the only person in the organization with this responsibility and yet it is a critical function when I am absent as apparently all support capability in the organization grinds to a halt. It is still a low-level administrative function where my skill set is wasted.
There is apparently, according to statements from my supervisor, higher-level work available. Work which is advertised as mentally stimulating and enables me to use my knowledge in an engaging and rewarding task. I am denied the opportunity to advance in this way; the reason given is that I do not perform at a higher level now. I counter that my low-level task does not require or offer the high level performance I am capable of. And that brings up a recurring concern of mine; that my leaders are unable to tell the difference between an employee incapable of higher level performance and one who doesn't offer it because it isn't required on a current task. It is clear I have been mistaken for the former.
In closing, I am tasked with work well below my capability and with training and advancement denied by policy.

It sounds like a resignation letter but it's a big relief.  

Friday, August 16, 2013

Furlough Fun

Today is the last day of furloughs for Department of the Army civilians.  We were going to suffer through 11 days of non-pay status but the Chief of Staff argued it down to only six days.  I've been essentially laid off every Friday for the last month and a half but now the torture is over.  Of course, since it was time spent out of the office, I had set my email to respond for me.  I'd like to share some of the Out of Office Auto Replies I used.
I'm currently out of office on furlough.  Since I'm not being paid, please contact someone who is.
Funny thing was we lost most of our contractor support during this time as well while their contracts were being renegotiated so there were a lot of employees not being paid to work.
Hello, I'm currently out of the office on furlough.  I would ask you to contact my supervisor but he is also out on furlough.
And he was, too.  We had the same furlough day.  The office was split so that half were furloughed on Mondays and the other half were furloughed on Fridays.  The idea was that we'd still be able to work always having at least half the office present.  The reality was that we effectively had a three day work week because, inevitably, the person you needed to speak with was on furlough.  By the time you spoke to that person, the person you needed to follow up with next was on furlough.
I am currently out of the office on furlough.  It is forced time off without pay.  Please contact the US Congress for assistance.  They are actually not working but still getting paid for it.
And its follow on,
I am currently out of the office on furlough.  Please contact your preferred 24-hour news channel.  They are standing by to spoon-feed you the answer which fits most comfortably into your worldview.  
Never missing a chance to take potshots at the easy targets.  I really don't like playing pin the blame on the donkey and a complex mechanism like finance isn't helped by soundbites but sometimes that's all the audience can handle. 

Actually, the Out of Office Auto Reply I used most was the chorus from "Sixteen Tons", first recorded in 1946 by American country musician Merle Travis.  Tennessee Ernie Ford's 1955 version, which topped the Billboard charts, is probably the most recognizable.
You load sixteen tons and what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter, don't you call me 'cause I can't go,
I owe my soul to the company store.

See Wikipedia's file page regarding the embedded audio clip for concerns on this sample's copyright status. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Why Sharks Circle Before Attacking

I was sent this joke in honor of Discovery Channel's Shark Week.  Some people think that Shark Week itself has jumped the shark and is the best shark joke now but I think this one's a contender.
Two great white sharks swimming in the ocean spied survivors of a sunken ship.
"Follow me, son," the father shark said to the son shark and they swam to the mass of people.
"First, we swim around them a few times with just the tip of our fins showing."  And they did.
"Well done, son!  Now we swim around them a few times with all of our fins showing."  And they did. 
"Now we eat everybody!"  And they did.
When they were both gorged, the son asked, "Dad, why didn't we just eat them all at first?  Why did we swim around and around them?"
His wise father replied, "Because they taste better if you scare the shit out of them first!"
No need to thank me.  I just try to learn something new every day.

Friday, June 7, 2013


As a Scout leader trained in Wilderness and Remote First Aid, I am well qualified to report on first aid incidents.  I've written before about my own injuries and here's another first aid article.  Fortunately, I'm not the one who got injured this time.
In stitches. Not funny. 

This is one of my scouts from Boy Scout Troop "Hardcore" 444, who sliced his hand deeply while using a knife in an unsafe manner.  The exact circumstances don't need to be reported but, needless to say, he received prompt and appropriate medical care, including a trip to the hospital for stitches.  This photo is from after the boy returned to camp that night. 
So there's this misconception that "two-deep leadership" means only two adults are needed on any activity.  This event proves that wrong.  Troop 444 operates with at least four adults for just this sort of situation.  If we didn't have enough adult leaders, everyone would have had to break camp and go to the hospital.   As it was, we were able to send the injured scout, two more scouts, and two adults to the hospital while the remainder of the troop stayed at the camp out and continued with the program.  We were able to play it by the book to take care of an emergency while continuing to deliver the Scouting program.
Proper medical care for a cut like this is direct pressure to stop the bleeding.  Use a shirt, neckerchief, or, as we had available, a large gauze pad from our well-stocked troop first aid kit.  The blood flow was doing a good job washing out the cut on its own and indicated that stitches would be needed.  If there isn't as much blood, wash the cut with clean soapy water, rinse with clean water, and bandage with gauze.  But in this case, it was gauze and more gauze then prep for travel.
Also, treat for shock by sitting the patient down and applying first aid quickly and professionally.  You can wrap the patient in a blanket and have them sip water, as well.
The injured scout was able to return to camp that night and participate in the closing campfire program.  During an after action report type activity we call "Roses, Buds, and Thorns", this scout complained about the lack of speedy response when he injured himself.  Not to be mean, but he was corrected and it was pointed out that he was treated and ready for travel in ten minutes and at the hospital within the golden hour.  Then the adult leaders discussed with the rest of the scouts about the proper treatment for this type of injury, simply grabbing cloth and applying direct pressure.  
By being prepared with training and equipment, this scout has made a full recovery and doesn't even have a scar to brag about. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Brew Fail

Well, that sucks.
You'll recall that I was brewing up an Irish Red beer last February; which turned out great, by the way.  I took a bit of a break to concentrate on mead for my friend's wedding reception and then I started a brown ale.  Which I ruined.  It was only a one gallon fermenter but still.  Down the drain.
It started off poorly when the wort boiled over.  Huge hoppy, malty mess all over the stove top.  Then I got it into the fermenter and the yeast took off for a day.  Just about blew the airlock off the stopper.  Lots of foam.  And then it just stopped, 24 hours of massive activity then nothing.  The yeast settled to the bottom and it never fermented.
I think I burned the sugar when I was brewing up the malt.  Or it could have blown all the sugar out one of those times it all overflowed.
Anyway, I did admit to not being an expert.  I've gotten a couple successful batches out and this time I didn't.  I'll obviously keep trying. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Boy Scouts of America passes membership resolution

The Boy Scouts of America have completed the review of their youth membership policy and released a statement.
"For 103 years, the Boy Scouts of America has been a part of the fabric of this nation, with a focus on working together to deliver the nation's foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training.
"Based on growing input from within the Scouting family, the BSA leadership chose to conduct an additional review of the organization's long-standing membership policy and its impact on Scouting's mission. This review created an outpouring of feedback from the Scouting family and the American public, from both those who agree with the current policy and those who support a change.
"Today, following this review, the most comprehensive listening exercise in Scouting's history the approximate 1,400 voting members of the Boy Scouts of America's National Council approved a resolution to remove the restriction denying membership to youth on the basis of sexual orientation alone. The resolution also reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting. A change to the current membership policy for adult leaders was not under consideration; thus, the policy for adults remains in place. The BSA thanks all the national voting members who participated in this process and vote.
"This policy change is effective Jan. 1, 2014, allowing the Boy Scouts of America the transition time needed to communicate and implement this policy to its approximately 116,000 Scouting units.
"The Boy Scouts of America will not sacrifice its mission, or the youth served by the movement, by allowing the organization to be consumed by a single, divisive, and unresolved societal issue. As the National Executive Committee just completed a lengthy review process, there are no plans for further review on this matter.
"While people have different opinions about this policy, we can all agree that kids are better off when they are in Scouting. Going forward, our Scouting family will continue to focus on reaching and serving youth in order to help them grow into good, strong citizens. America's youth need Scouting, and by focusing on the goals that unite us, we can continue to accomplish incredible things for young people and the communities we serve."

I campaigned in favor of this change and I am proud to see the Boy Scouts of America take this step forward to support our youth, our country, and our future.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Blogger Problems

I've reported this issue several times but it isn't getting fixed.  Well, there's several issues between Blogger and Firefox and but this one is about not being signed in when I view my blog in order to moderate it.  Blogger just refuses to keep me signed in.  I want to, need to, moderate comments because as much as I enjoy porn website link spam, I really enjoy being able to report spam and block it from this family-friendly blog.  So until I can do something about this, all comments are hidden. 
There's another problem where Blogger and Firefox don't work together and that's when I publish a post and Blogger is supposed to automatically share to Google+.  I just get a grayed-out screen and the browser fails to display the sharing window.  I may end up turning that off and relying on manual sharing even on Chrome.
Well, that's enough complaining for now.  I'll clean up the comments when I get home and continue to report problems when a Google feature doesn't work with a common browser. 

Dead duck

A woman brought a very limp duck into a veterinary surgeon.  As she laid her pet on the table, the vet pulled out his stethoscope and listened to the bird's chest.
After a moment or two, the vet shook his head and sadly said, "I'm sorry.  Your duck has passed away."
The distressed woman wailed, "Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure.  Your duck is dead," replied the vet.
"How can you be so sure?" she protested.  "I mean, you haven't done any tests on him or anything!  He might just be in a coma or something."
The vet rolled his eyes, turned around, and left the room.  He returned a few minutes later with a large black Labrador Retriever.  As the duck's owner looked on in amazement, the dog stood on his hind legs, placed his front paws on the examination table, and sniffed the duck from beak to tail.  He then looked up at the vet and shook his head.
The vet patted the dog on the head and took it out of the room.  A few minutes later, he returned with a cat.  The cat jumped up onto the table and also sniffed the bird from head to webbed toes.  The cat sat back on her haunches, shook her head, and strolled out of the room.
The vet looked at the woman and said, "I'm so sorry, but I can confirm that this is a deceased duck." 
As the woman walked out of the office through the reception room, the veterinarian's assistant handed her the bill. 
"Fifteen hundred dollars!" she cried, "$1500 just to tell me my duck is dead?!"
"Yes, ma'am," the veterinarian explained.  "Twenty dollars for the appointment, $990 for the cat scan, and $490 for the lab report."

Monday, April 22, 2013

Earth Day

Today is Earth Day.  This is an annual event to demonstrate support for environmental protection.  Started as several different events in 1969 and 1970, it eventually coalesced into a single event and in some places is even celebrated as an entire Earth Week. 
I was in the District (Washington, D.C., for those of you outside the Beltway) for Earth Day 2000.  That was fun, mostly for the concerts on the National Mall.  I saw classics like James Taylor and Carole King, along with then-new bands like Third Eye Blind.  Actor Leonardo Di Caprio was there early in the morning.  He seemed like a nice guy and still does a lot of work for the environment.  It was overcast and drizzly all day so I spent a lot of time under the exhibit tarps.  Lots of vendors demonstrating grid-tied and off-grid solar and wind power systems, environmentally friendly building materials, and energy efficient home design and construction.  Universities competed in a solar home building competition.  Efficient and comfortable off-grid living spaces made of environmentally friendly building materials. 
So what can a person do today to help the environment? 
I'd suggest recycling if it's available but no one wants to start a new city recycling program.  And it's simple economics, the margins are too low.  Recycling is so widespread now that there's very little profit for a business and cities trying to run it as a business end up putting in more money than they get out of it.  Expecting to make bank by selling off the products diverted from the landfill is bad budgeting.  City planners need to add a line item for the increased resilience in the waste management system.
You can plant native plants like trees or grasses.  Most developments during the recent housing boom were graded flat and all the existing plant life and even topsoil was scrapped away to make room for the buildings.  Then, to increase the selling price, landscaping was installed but was often only possible through large quantities of water and fertilizer, more than native plants would have needed. 
Enter systems like xeriscaping.  Often mistaken for replacing lawns with gravel like a desert, it is actually about smart application of water.  Place plants in zones with healthy water-holding soil and choose species adapted to the local climate.  A xeriscaped yard has a healthy micro-biome ranging from natural forest or desert at the periphery up to water filtering marshland in the wet zone.  Xeriscaping does not reduce the yard to zero water use, but uses relatively less water than the artificial environment of a lawn. 
Of course, native plants provide habitat for native animals.  Birds can nest in the trees and critters can forage in the undergrowth the way nature intended.  This is especially important when whole ecological systems are falling apart, like what's happening with colony collapse disorder.  There is growing implication that neonicotinoid pesticides are killing not only their target pest species but also native pollinators like bees.  Providing a safe habitat free from the indiscriminate application of pesticides can only help. 
Before any of that is available, you should start composting.  It can be done at any scale, from city-wide composting programs to individual backyard projects.  Start this year to have strong healthy compost to add to a raised bed garden or even small scale farming next year.  Just remember, don't put in any meat, only vegetable kitchen scraps and yard waste.  You'll lose the entire batch and have to start over.  The real achievement, beyond cooking up healthy compost is vermiculture, compost with worms.  You can add store-bought worms but healthy compost will attract native worms from the soil to move in.  Plus that guarantees you aren't introducing an invasive species. 
So get out there and start an Earth Day project today. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

St. Patrick's Day

In one of the closing posts of my Febrewary series, it's appropriate that it should fall on this day.  We've been from brewing to bottling, and now we're near the end.
St. Patrick was a 5th century Christian bishop in Ireland, where he is now the patron saint.  His life and death involve a lot of religion which I don't want to get into, including symbols of snakes and clovers.  Needless to say, Patrick is clearly identified with Irish religious history and national identity.
Currently, St. Patrick's Day, March 17, is celebrated as a day of drinking and merry-making, so I'll end with this.
Celebrate this and all holidays responsibly.  Slainte!

Friday, March 1, 2013

March Mead-ness

As part of my "Febrewary" series, I wanted to share a mead recipe I came across.  There's only a couple of ingredients, commonly available at any grocery store, and the yeast does all the work.
Almost mead
So the recipe is three pounds of honey, half a cylinder of raisins, one orange, one packet of bread yeast, and almost a gallon of water.  This fits in a one gallon fermenter.  You will also need three bottles of wine.

Sanitize all the things

The first step is, obviously, sanitize everything.  Making a lambic (yeast wrangled from the wild) mead could be a fun bucket list activity but that's not today's goal.  I use a no-rinse sanitizer available at any brewing supply house.  Do your fermenter, cap, and airlock.  Also do scissors, a knife and cutting board, the outside of the yeast packet, a funnel, and a beaker.  There's no brew stage so you won't be sanitizing your siphon, hose, or bottle filler here.
Like any fermentation, the choice of ingredients will strongly influence the outcome.  In this recipe, the water, honey, and yeast you use have the most pull.  I use tap water.  The municipal water supply here is heavy, but I like to think that particular blend of minerals and metals gives a unique character to my brew that can't be copied.  Mesquite, clover, and alfalfa are the most common honey varieties here, along with house blends from some of the local apiaries.  I specified generic bread yeast because this is supposed to be a simple recipe; most grocery stores don't stock brewer's yeast.

Rise and Shine

Next step is to wake up the yeast so it's ready to ferment.  Fill your sanitized beaker with a quarter cup of warm water and stir in the yeast.  This will activate the dormant yeast and get it ready for work.  

Cut and Run

Fill the fermenter about a third of the way with water.  Peel and cut up the orange and dump it and the raisins into the fermenter.  Pour in the honey; this is where the funnel comes in handy.  Now pour in the activated yeast and fill the fermenter the rest of the way with water.  Install the cap and airlock per the included instructions and place the fermenter somewhere warm and dark.  I leave mine on the kitchen counter with a dish towel over it.  
Now comes the hard part.  Sit back and let the yeast do all the work for two or three weeks.  Drink the wine you bought and keep the empty bottles.  When the airlock stops bubbling, the yeast has eaten all that sugar, turned it into alcohol, and gone back to sleep.  It is now bottling day. 

Sanitize all the things, again

Sanitize the two or three empty wine bottles you've accumulated along with stoppers.  Also, sanitize your auto siphonhose, and bottle filler.  Following the instructions for the siphon, hose, and filler, transfer the mead from the fermenter to the bottles.  Or, since the fermenter is small enough to pick up, just pour it into the bottles through a sanitized funnel.  Doing it that way, with a coffee filter in the funnel, can improve the clarity of the final product.  I kind of like the unfiltered style and the siphon won't transfer much goop anyway.

Enjoy the fruits of you labor

I like to let my bottled mead sit in the refrigerator for at least a week before decanting but it is ready to drink now.  So invite your fellow vikings to join you at your hall and tell epic poems over a couple flagons.  Enjoy!

Trademarks are property of their respective owners.   Products featured or linked here are used as examples only, without endorsement or commercial consideration.  

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Bottling Day

I've started a series of articles on homebrewing.  I'm calling it "Febrewary" because I'm clever like that.  In our previous episode, I shared a beer bread recipe to use up some extra supplies that came in the homebrewing kit.  In this episode, the yeast is done fermenting and it's time to bottle the beer.

Sanitize Everything

First things first, sanitize all of your equipment.  You'll need your dozen empty bottles, bottle caps, auto-siphon, hose, and bottle filler.  You'll also need the capper and conditioning sugar fizz drops.  This is why it's important to sanitize all the gear; we're reactivating the yeast with another dose of sugar.  The beer will get a little more alcohol content and it will get its carbonation in the bottle.

Flow Master

Connect the auto-siphon to the bottle filler as you did on brew day.  Remove the airlock and threaded stopper from the fermenter and insert the siphon.  Operate it per the instructions, filling each bottle in turn.  I like to fill to about a thumb's width below the mouth of the bottle.  That gets you a consistent volume for a more professional appearance.  
Go with the flow

Drop the beat

Now just plop in a fizz drop and cap the bottle.  Don't worry, the beer is still flat at this point so it won't go all Menthos and Coke when you put in the drops.  I usually get around 9 or 10 bottles from a gallon fermenter.  
At this point, you're pretty much done.  Set the bottles out of the way for another two weeks of conditioning.  Don't put the bottles in the refrigerator yet; remember, we need the yeast to work just a little bit more to condition the beer.  Remember to clean all your brewing equipment.  The residue has the perfect conditions for life.  It is the proverbial microbial soup.  
Company! Ah-ten-HUT!

Friends with benefits

It helps to have a friend stop by to lend a hand or two.  Operating the siphon and bottle filler takes two hands, especially when you add swapping bottles.  The bottle capper will also occupy at least both hands.  Then add in operating a camera for publishing this to Blogger and you can quickly run out of hands.  Set aside a couple bottles for the friend and you'll have a ready assistant for the next brew day.  See you in two weeks!

Trademarks are properties of their respective owners.  Products featured or linked here are used as examples only, without endorsement or commercial consideration.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Beer Bread

I've started a series of articles on homebrewing.  I'm calling it "Febrewary" because I'm clever like that.  In our previous episode, we had our brew day.  In this episode, I share a simple beer bread recipe to use up the other half of the yeast packet.

The dough

Three cups flour, three tablespoons sugar, three teaspoons salt, the rest of the brew day yeast, and enough water to turn it into dough.  While the wort is boiling for 45 minutes is a good time to start on this.  Mix the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and then start adding water until the dough is sticky.  Set it aside to rise.  Come back to the dough after you transfer the wort into the fermenter.  Lay this out on a pizza pan and put in the over at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour.  Go clean up from brew day and the bread should be done.

The bread

What? You never seen bread before?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Brew Day

I've started an article series on homebrewing your own beer. I called it "Febrewary" because I'm clever like that. In our last episode, I covered some of the basics of starting to brew your own beer at home.

The kit arrived, now what?

Okay, this is easy. Just follow the instructions. For brew day, you'll need your kettle, scissors, fermenter, threaded stopper, airlock, siphon, hose, beaker, a big spoon, the recipe kit, and sanitizer.

Sanitize all the things

The first step in any brewing operation is to sanitize everything. EVERYTHING! We're dealing with yeast here, a living organism. We spent good money on a particular species that is specially chosen to give us good results in our recipe. Don't screw it up by letting some other bacteria species get in there.
Use the no-rinse sanitizer that came in the kit; one tablespoon of sanitizer into one gallon of water. Don't drain this because you might need to sanitize something again later.

All clear

This next stage will vary based on your beer recipe.  For this demonstration, I've gone with the Northern Brewer's Irish Red. As per this recipe, bring one and a quarter gallons of water to a boil and steep the specialty grains in the included mesh bag.
Many breweries say that the water they use in their operation affects the flavor of their brew and they're right. You can use specially filtered water but I use plain old tap water. The local municipal water supply here is a bit heavy but I like to think that particular blend of minerals and metals give my brew a flavor that can't be copied. But the truth is that if it's okay to drink then it's okay to brew with.
If you do garden composting like I do, you can put the grains in the compost after they're done steeping. After this, stir in the malt extract and the hops. This is a beginner recipe kit so it uses extract, but as your skills improve you can switch to all-grain recipes if you'd like.

Wake up, ye beasties

In this Irish Red recipe, the extract and hops boil for 45 minutes without adding more ingredients.  Lets use this time to activate the yeast. For some reason, the recipe only uses half the yeast it comes with.  Obviously, it's the way it comes from the supplier so save half for beer bread and pour the rest into a quarter cup of warm water in your sanitized beaker.

Begin transferrence

Clowns to the left, jokers to the right
After the wort (that's unfermented beer) has boiled, we need to cool it down to add the yeast.  The yeast likes its water about 70 degrees Fahrenheit. We'll do this with an ice bath. One basin in your sink is still full of sanitizing water so fill the other side with water and ice and put the kettle in.
The general idea
After the wort has cooled, it's time to add the yeast and move it to the fermenter. Pour the yeast into the wort, either in the kettle before the transfer or into the fermenter afterwards. Drain the ice bath, lift the kettle onto the counter, and put the fermenter in the sink. That difference in altitude will help the siphon. Follow the instructions to assemble and operate the siphon.

Transfer complete

pop lock
Now install the threaded stopper and airlock onto the fermenter and put it in a quiet corner. The yeast will do their thing converting sugar to alcohol and the positive pressure in the airlock will release carbon dioxide while keeping other bacteria out of the mix. In roughly two weeks, the yeast will be done and CO2 release will slow or stop completely.

Kick up the jams

All that's left is to clean everything and put it away. Now kick back with the craft brew you bought when you were gathering supplies so you have empty bottles for bottling day. Drink responsibly and enjoy!

Trademarks are properties of their respective owners.  Products featured or linked here are used as examples only, without endorsement or commercial consideration.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Gathering Supplies

I've started an article series on homebrewing your own beer.  I've called it "Febrewary" because I'm clever like that.

Is it legal?

Yes, homebrewing is legal!  This wasn't always the case of course.  In 1920, one of the worst laws to ever be put on the books arrived in the form of the Eighteenth Amendment which, along with the Volstead Act, lead to the dark times known as Prohibition.  All production of alcohol was illegal, leading to massive job loss and the rise of organized crime.  The Twenty-first Amendment, in 1933, saved what was left of the American beer industry but the damage was already done.  
While Prohibition had ended, it still wasn't officially legal to brew your own beer yet.  Wine making was legal but through an omission, "and/or beer" never made it into law.  We had to wait until 1979 for the Federal Register to be corrected and allow beer production.  

Is it expensive?

No, not at all.  Many starter kits, with everything you need for a first batch of beer, are available at affordable prices.  You don't have to buy the kit I linked to but that's the one I have so that's what I'll be using for this demonstration.  In addition to the equipment in a starter kit like the fermenter and capper, you'll need to add your own kettle and a few common kitchen implements.  

Everything you see here

What do I need?

I started with that kit linked above.  It includes the fermenter, threaded stopper and three-piece airlock, sanitizer, auto-siphon, and hose.  Also included in the kit was a bottle filler, capper, and bottle caps.  Of course, this kit also includes your first recipe.  I went with the Irish Red.  I really only had to add my own kettle, scissors, and beaker.  

Is that all?

Not yet, just one more thing, but you'll like this.  You need to get a dozen empty beer bottles.  You can buy them from your brewing supply house but there's a better way.  Get a dozen-bottle variety case of your favorite craft beer.  You see where this is going.  Drink it responsibly between brewing day and bottling day. Soak the empties in warm water to remove the labels; brown glass bottles with non-twist-off caps are preferred.  Now you have everything you need for your first batch.  Enjoy!

Trademarks are property of their respective owners.  Products featured or linked here are used as examples only, without endorsement or commercial consideration.  

Sunday, February 10, 2013


I've been homebrewing my own beer and mead for a few batches now and I though "Febrewary" would make a good play on words for a new month-long series on homebrewing.  Yes, I am easily amused by my own cleverness.
So this article is just an introduction to the series and a way to increase my post count without really trying.  I'm an engineer, I'm all about getting a solution without really trying.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Supportive Letter to Boy Scouts of America

As many of my readers, and anyone who looks at my profile, already know, I am an Eagle Scout and currently a unit leader in Arizona. Boy Scouts of America is in the news lately for an upcoming policy change at the national level. This change would remove the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation and would leave membership policies up to the unit's chartering organization. There are many ways to register your support for this long-overdue policy change.

I wrote this letter to them in support:

Good afternoon, I am writing today to register my support in ending the ban on homosexual scouts and volunteers. The strength of this organization, and its ability to develop strong leaders, is the variety of viewpoints and activities to which scouts are exposed. These boys will succeed in the future, as everything from tradesmen to executives, by their ability to work with and lead diverse organizations. These early experiences of inclusion and support will prepare them well for the future. I urge you to follow through and support inclusion and diversity at all levels.

Yours in Scouting,

Michael K. Rainey
Venture Advisor, Crew 444
Assistant Scoutmaster, Troop 444
Catalina Council

Be Prepared