Saturday, December 27, 2014

With Fire and Sword

I love going to antique stores.  I always find something fascinating.  On a trip earlier this year to Bisbee, AZ, I found a bit of memorabilia that may be interesting to fans of the video game Mount & Blade.
Download the orchestra DLC now.
Yes, it's the cover to the sheet music for the orchestral piece inspired by the same novel that inspired Taleworld's downloadable content of the same name.  Say that three times fast.
Anyway, it needs a frame so I'll be putting my carpentry skills to use on that soon and then it might even appear on my YouTube channel if I start doing video game play-throughs with face-cam.  Look for it in the background amongst the Minecraft merch.  

As always, trademarks are property of their respective owners and used here without endorsement or commercial consideration.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Winter Stew

Here's another article in my cooking series.  This one covers a stew I like to make and like even more to eat.
Stew's on


For the stew in the photo above I used chicken stock, potatoes, carrots, peas, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, bacon, and Country Gravy mix.  The amounts needed depend on your inventory and number of guests.  I used about two cups of stock, one cup of peas, one pound of bacon, one good sized onion, several hefty carrots and potatoes, and one head of garlic.  
There are numerous places in this recipe to make substitutions or additions.  For example, any broth or stock you have on hand is the right kind to use here.  Swap out the meat stock with vegetable stock and leave out the bacon for a vegetarian stew.  Also, I used gravy mix from the grocery store but flour or corn starch will also thicken up the stew.  


Prepare your ingredients.  Cube the potatoes, slice the carrot and onion, mince the garlic. 
Put the potatoes on to boil in the chicken stock.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Mash the potatoes when they are soft.  
Brown the bacon in a skillet and set it aside.  Saute the onions and garlic in the skillet.  
Add peas and carrots to the potatoes in the stock.  Return to a boil then reduce heat, cover, and simmer until done.
Add onion, garlic, bacon, and stir in gravy mix.  Stew will thicken.  Serve with bread.

This warm hearty stew straight from the root cellar has everything a working Viking needs to raid on through the winter.  

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Stock Up

I don't buy cuts of chicken from the grocery store anymore.  I prefer whole birds because they are much more versatile.  A whole chicken can provide several more meals after the meat is consumed.  This applies to any bird; chicken, turkey, duck, or goose all work for this.  Don't settle for just the meat off the bones.
After dressing the bird, put the carcass in a stock pot, cover it with water, and put it on to a low boil.  Boil until everything falls apart then strain out the bones and other solids and reduce the stock.
Moments later, the camera fell in.

Reduction is a cooking term which just means to keep boiling off the water to concentrate a liquid and reduce its volume.  Since this recipe started with enough water to cover the bird in a stock pot we can get a reduction down to easily half the original volume.  For a fryer size chicken in a one gallon stock pot, I usually end up with about a quart of stock at the end.
Now this stock can be used as the base for any soup or stew recipe which calls for it.  If your three sisters harvest came up better than mine then corn, beans, and squash is a great vegetable combination to use for this.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Viking Conquest

Game publisher Taleworlds Entertainment, of Mount & Blade fame, has just released new downloadable content for that game, called Viking Conquest.  This follows earlier DLC expansions like With Fire and Steel and Warband itself to fill out the Mount & Blade franchise.  Viking Conquest is based on the Brytenwalda mod from the developer of the same name.
Viking Conquest is set in northern Europe during the 9th Century.  The largest new dimension for this expansion is ships and sea combat.  Players can fight on and between Scandinavia, Denmark, and the British Isles.  The game also includes a new personality aspect during character creation which unlocks different conversation options during game play.  In Mount & Blade Warband the continent of Calradia was divided between six factions, each with its own unique culture.  Mount & Blade Viking Conquest uses archeological information to flesh out twenty-one kingdoms across six cultures based on the real peoples of Middle Ages Europe.
Like Warband, Viking Conquest is available on Linux and other platforms, showing off Taleworlds' strategy for platform-agnostic gaming.  We can definitely expect upcoming Mount & Blade sequel Bannerlord to be released on all available platforms.
While Viking Conquest is expected to be the last new content released before the sequel, building up a well developed mod into official content could signal an interesting direction for Taleworlds.  Perhaps additional mods like Crusades era Anno Domini or, with licensing to J. R. R. Tolkien's estate, Last Days of the Third Age could find their way into official expansions.
Mount & Blade Viking Conquest is out now wherever you buy games and with a 10% launch discount until 18 December.

Trademarks are property of their respective owners and used here without endorsement or commercial consideration.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Science Blogger

I recently came across a request for information from Paige Brown Jarreau, a Ph.D candidate at Louisiana State University, doing research on science blogging.
I'm not an established journalist by any means but I do write about scientific topics fairly often, both here and on Google+.  I think I spend too much time reading about science to stop and write anything about it.  I also have many other interests than science to write about.
Anyway, like typical behavioral research this survey includes an informed consent release for participants.  I like that and thought it was a nice touch.  I've completed many surveys, like customer focus group types of things at the mall, and many of them don't actually include those statements and releases.
The survey opens with questions about the survey participant's science blog to get a reading on what type of science the author writes about and what sort of audience they have.  Speaking of audience, I'd like to thank you both for reading my blog.  Yeah, I like to have my jokes fall flat on their faces in my writing.  It's that kind of blog.
And then the survey continues, as they do, with questions about blogging with a psuedonym, blogging for pay, editorial constraints, sources for topics, and engaging with controversial topics. As much as has been written about these topics, there's far too little real data actually addressing them.  All in all a good survey and I'm eager to see the results.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Sun Tea

I like using old-fashioned tricks in the kitchen and occasionally coming up with a few of my own.  One of the old ones I rediscovered from my childhood is sun tea.  It's tea brewed using the heat of the sun so it's perfect here in Arizona.  The recipe is super simple, too.


For equipment, I use a translucent one gallon pitcher, but an opaque pitcher should still work if it's dark enough to absorb sunlight.  The only other piece of equipment is a patch of ground that stays sunny all day.  Moving the pitcher around to keep it in the sun through the day is also an option.  A spoon can help stir in sugar.


I use eight teabags and one cup of sugar for a one gallon pitcher.  Select an inexpensive generic black tea due to needing so many.  While I prefer eight teabags per gallon, the strength of the tea can easily be adjusted.  I also add one cup of sugar after the tea has brewed but that can also be adjusted for taste.
Oh yeah, making sun tea also needs a gallon of water.  Tap, filtered, or bottled is all fine.  Obviously, if your tap water is undrinkable you'll need a gallon of bottled water.


Fill the pitcher with water and hang the teabags in the water.  Place the filled pitcher in direct sunlight.  If needed, move the pitcher throughout the day to keep it in the sun.  
In strong sunlight like summer in Arizona, the tea can brew in an hour.  In weaker sunlight, the tea may need to brew all day.  
After the tea has brewed, stir in sugar and put the tea away in a refrigerator.  Take it out and enjoy at regular intervals.  

Please drink responsibly.

Monday, November 10, 2014

(Mis) Adventures in Backyard Farming

I may not have a green thumb but I'm not the garden's grim reaper, either.  Last spring, I planted corn, beans, and squash together using "three sisters gardening."  It's the classic set-up of companion planting, using each plant's strengths to make a better yield.  The corn provides support for the pole beans which fix nutrients in the soil for the gourds which in turn provide ground cover.
All the seed packages said to plant right after the last chance of frost.  I'm in Arizona.  We almost never get frost here.  The problem for that time of year is that there's no water.  Because I'm in Arizona, I waited until the monsoon started in an attempt to reduce the irrigation needs.
It basically didn't work.

Waiting, I thought, left too little time for the crops to mature.  The corn never developed and there were no gourds.  As it turns out the pole beans did come in so I'll have fresh beans through the holidays and seed for next year.
Most of them are already dried, too.  Saves me that step.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Halloween 2014

Well, all the Halloween parties are over and it's time for my annual costuming article.  This year I went simple and formal, pairing a hooded cape and mask with my tuxedo.  Because of course I already had a tuxedo.  Like you do, you know.
The photo is blurry, not because it's a bad camera, but because it's a drunk photographer.

However, this year was a standout for great costumes.  Like this group of Disney villains.
Yes, Elsa.  We know which side she's on.
There's also this great Game of Thrones group.
George's next book is titled A Night of Booze and Vomit.
Books and movies with a large supporting cast make great group costumes.  Hunger Games is still a popular franchise with the next movie due out soon.
Again, it's not the camera, it's the photographer. 
But dressing as the main character can work if you do a good job of it like this maverick.
Nailed it.
There's also these folks.  I can't place where I know their costumes from.  Some old science fiction movie or something, I think.
Come to the Dark Side.  No reason.  Just, you know, if you want to hang out.
One last picture that wasn't too blurry to use.  I think Marvel needs to call him up.
Yes, that's Doctor Strange and Cleo.  Consider that movie advertised. 
Well, that's it for this holiday.  Next year's costume will either require a morphsuit or gundam armor; haven't decided yet.  Stay tuned to find out.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Blow Off

I said I'd be back with new homebrewing definitions and this situation brings on some very colorful vocabulary.
Let me set the scene.  You've just poured a batch of must into a carboy to ferment and gone off to do something else, like write articles on Blogger.  When you return to your brewery some time later, you discover that the fermenting process has knocked the airlock off the top of the carboy and spilled a peach concoction all over the kitchen floor.  Yeah, that just happened to me.
Sometimes yeast gets very active and the wort or must can expand in the early hours of fermentation.  It's a desired effect in its own way but it works better for rising bread than brewing beer, wine, or mead.  It signals that fermentation is happening and the yeast are awake and getting down to work.
There are a few methods for dealing with blow off.  To start with, leave some head space in the carboy.  Don't fill it too full with wort or must.  That will leave the brew some room to expand into before reaching the airlock.  Experience will tell you where the fill line is for a particular recipe in your equipment.  Additionally, most carboys come with both an airlock and blow off tubing.  To use the tubing, sanitize it with the rest of your brewery gear and install one end in the stopper in place of the airlock and sink the other end under water.  A reserve of sanitizing solution can be held back for this purpose or plain tap water can be used.  You just need to ensure that the hose acts like the airlock and only allows CO2 out, keeping out air and foreign bacteria.
Within a few days, the yeast will settle down and won't be forcing any more material out through the hose.  You can replace the hose with the airlock assembly at this point.  Good luck!

Please drink responsibly. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Peach Puree

I made up a new batch of mead.  My first batch, which was a short mead meant to be consumed right after brewing, was a melomel style, honey with any fruit, in this case oranges.  It just misses qualifying as a pyment, which is honey with white or red grapes; I used California raisins with the oranges.   Second batch used almost the same recipe as the first, just in larger quantity.  Actually, it ended up being almost a bochet, which uses caramelized honey.  You see, I had let the honey crystallize and had to turn it back into liquid in a double boiler; that almost didn't go well.  Also, I swapped out the raisins in favor of blackberries, pushing the recipe towards a bochetomel.
This new batch is a complete departure from the citrus-fed bread yeast of the past.  I am using real champagne yeast, for one thing.  That is definitely going to change the flavor of the end product.  It's still a melomel mead, using peaches as the fruit.
Oh, this one has been an adventure.  It takes a while to ship twelve pounds of honey anyway, but when your order also includes a new recipe kit by famous actor and internet personality Wil Wheaton, well, things get delayed.  Parallel to that, I had ordered 25 pounds of peaches from a food coop and when the honey and yeast didn't arrive alongside the peaches, I had to scramble to slice and freeze the fruit.  Eventually, all the ingredients were present but then thawing the peaches made a mess due to cheap plastic bags.
Here's where the title comes from.  In the middle of laying up the must, I decided to run the thawed peach slices through the blender to make them easier to pour into the carboy.  For next time, I think I'm going to puree the fruit first before freezing.  I could also can the slices to preserve them that way, in case I don't get all the ingredients together at the same time again.
Anyway, this peach melomel will be a short mead and I'll write a follow-up on my impressions when it's done fermenting in a few months.  There's a few other varieties I want to try out in the future.  Being so close to Hatch, N.M., a capsicumel is a definite must try.  I'd also like to try fermenting a braggot, a morat, and maybe even an intentional bochet.  I have a few rose bushes in the yard so a rhodomel is also an option.  Keep brewing.  Salud!

Trademarks are properties of their respective owners and are used as examples only, without endorsement or commercial consideration.  Please drink responsibly.  

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Must You

I've been brewing again recently, laying up a melomel.  That's a type of mead made with honey and fruit.  If I reserve some for aging, the aged mead is a great or long mead as opposed to the short mead consumed immediately after brewing.  That aging could be years.
Knowing some of the terminology lets you follow conversations and recipes a lot easier.  I've seen many recipes where they just assume you know all their jargon and use that to weed out the people who aren't "serious" about joining them.  I worked in IT so I've seen that garbage my entire career.  Here's some definitions to get you on top of the curve.
Malt is the roasted and boiled grains used to make beer.  Extract kits turn the malt into a syrup to make things easy for beginners.  I use extract kits and may never start brewing with all-grain recipes.
Hops are flowers that add spice and flavor to beer.  They also preserve beer which is why so many craft recipes and IPA style beers are so hoppy.  IPA was a style brewed in England and shipped to their colonies in India, hence the name India Pale Ale.
Wort is unfermented beer.  It's the malt, hops, water, and maybe spices but no alcohol because yeast hadn't worked on it yet.  Must is unfermented wine or mead.  Water, fruit and or honey but again no alcohol.
Yeast normally comes in packets of emulsified live yeast bacteria.  It looks like granules.  The granules are broken down and release the yeast by soaking in warm water.  This is called proofing and gets the yeast ready to turn wort or must into beer or wine.
Brewers need to ensure that only the yeast they've bought get to participate in fermentation.  They use special chemicals to wash and sterilize their equipment.  The washing process may be abbreviated as CIP, or clean in place.  Alternatively, the brewer could let wild bacteria ferment the wort or must and call the resulting product lambic but using unknown varieties of bacteria like that makes it hard to be consistent from batch to batch.
Lees are the tired and dead yeast plus fruit, hops, grain, or whatever left in the bottom of the carboy after fermentation.  The carboy is the glass or plastic jug that the fermentation happens in.  Racking moves the fermented product into another carboy and leaves the lees behind to be washed away or composted.
That's most of the jargon which slowed me down when I didn't know the definitions.  I'll bring you more definitions as I learn them.  Good luck!

Please drink responsibly. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014


Big Linux gaming news this weekend.  I turned on Steam to see a welcome announcement, that Mount & Blade: Warband is not only on sale right now, but also has a new Linux client and Workshop support.
A native Linux client for this popular Medieval RPG is great for Linux players like me.  Keeping the entire workflow of playing, recording, and editing on the same operating system should make things more stable.  I might use this as a launch point to begin recording and posting gameplay videos instead of just watching everyone else's and playing on my own.
Also, with Steam Workshop support in addition to the Linux client, players don't need to sort out mods with Wine anymore.  Players can just install compatible mods from the workshop.  
As these things usually go, I think we can expect Bannerlord, the sequel to Warband, to come out on multiple platforms when it is released.  That fraptious day may be a little further off, though.  I've heard the developer Taleworlds needs a new publisher after Paradox Interactive decided not to print this one.  
Regardless, this is a fun game and I look forward to conquering Calradia on my Linux gaming PC.

Trademarks are property of their respective owners and are used here without endorsement or commercial consideration.

Bugged By Comments

I've just discovered an odd bug occurring on my computer.  I can't post comments on YouTube.  That may be the curse you wish on most YouTube commentators but I swear it was going to be a civil remark.
A bit about my computer's background.  It's the iBuyPower i-series 301 I was just talking about.  Running "Precise Pangolin", Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, but I've changed out the default browser for Chromium.  The biggest suspect culprit right now is Pipelight and or Chrome UA Spoofer.  These plug-ins enable such basic and necessary functions as Netflix viewing on Linux PCs.  Now, I've had issues with Pipelight  and YouTube before which is why I suspect it now.
The behavior is that clicking on the "Share your thoughts" comment box on any YouTube video flashes a pop-up window with a very long URL which immediately closes.  The comment box doesn't have focus after the window goes away so I can't start typing and the window doesn't stay long enough to copy the URL but it's a YouTube page.  This happens both while the video is still running and after it has ended.  Like and share works and I can make comments while sharing to Google+, just not on the video.
Well, that's something of a bug report, then.  Circumstances, behavior, and basic configuration.  More than what I used to get at work.  You cannot know how many customers called up with nothing more than "it broke".  That's so undefined there's no starting point for troubleshooting.  How many customers have cussed at me for trying to get enough information to even bother opening a ticket?  Too many.  I'm thankful I left that line of work so I can leave the bug reports in the hands of other people.  I'd better get back to gorging on videos or I'm going to be a mopey mess.

By the way, I was going to say "a wok" on this week's Still Untitled. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

I Bought Power

This is a quick review of a computer system I bought several months ago.  I bought the iBuyPower i-series 301 "gaming" desktop.  As it turns out, this system is no longer offered, unfortunately, because it's been such a great value to me.  It came with an AMD Radeon HD 6450 graphics card, bottom of the stack and next to be discontinued.  And also Windows 8, which we'll get to.  I'm actually quite happy with this system and give it a qualified endorsement.


The 301 came with an AMD FX 4200 quad-core processor and Radeon HD 6450 graphics card.  The cost effective option for the budget gamer, as they say.  With 4 GB memory to stretch out in, the performance is more than adequate for my gaming library.  I actually have to get into editing video or compiling software to tax the system resources.  Gigabit ethernet, 1 TB HDD for storage, USB 3.0 and enough ports to plug in all my controllers, headset, and webcam; I don't know what else to say about the hardware.  I did add a sound card, Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi if you must know, to move sound processing off the CPU and free up those resources.  It improved performance but the real boost came from software.


Windows 8 came pre-installed and was actually a drawback to me.  The typical complaints from a long time Windows user.  It isn't as familiar as Windows XP, it doesn't look like XP, it takes up more system resources than XP, and on and on.  I've been getting into and preferring open source software so I made the computer dual-boot with Linux.  I used GParted to carve up the hard drive and installed Ubuntu from a Live CD.  Linux takes up noticeably less system resources on a PC compared to Windows.  Even better, all of the programs I wanted to run, even and especially the games, are available on Linux.  
I'm using the 12.04 LTS version of Ubuntu, so-called Precise Pangolin.  I must be getting old; I prefer stability and don't need the drama of the nightly builds which is why I chose the long-term support (LTS) version.  Version 14.04 is the latest LTS and was released in April; I'll be upgrading to that when it hits the general repositories later this month.  
After I had the operating system itself sorted, I loaded up my applications.  The Ubuntu Software Center, aka "the respositories", is where you get most of your software from.  The software center has many game titles on its own.  First-person shooters, real-time strategy, and my favorite, dungeon crawlers.  
But everyone else wants to keep the game library they've already bought.  Gaming software Steam has a native Linux client, it's in the Software Center, and it has a growing library of games which run natively on Linux so, of course, it was one of the first to get installed. That gets me my games like Half-Life and Team Fortress 2 that are made for Linux.  Then I installed Wine, WineTricks, and PlayOnLinux, and through that installed the Windows version of the Steam client.  That gets me my other games like Doom and Mount & Blade which don't have Linux versions but play anyway through the Wine "emulator".  If you prefer GOG for your games, PlayOnLinux looks like the easiest way to install those.  Another favorite of mine, Minecraft, is written in Java so it runs on Linux easily.  Just download the "jar" file and set it to run as an executable.  
Anyway, I mention all this gaming software because the iBuyPower i-series 301 was billed as a budget gaming PC and it's doing a very fine job of being exactly that.  


I don't like the games that have a reputation for taxing system resources.  I prefer lighter weight titles.  Even with the "budget" components in this system I haven't bogged them down yet with my library of games.  It's a dirty little secret that PC customers buy more computer than they need.  This $500 gaming rig has been handily sufficient for my needs.  

Standard disclaimers apply: Trademarks are property of their respective owners and used without commercial consideration or any endorsement implied beyond what is stated.  

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


I was shopping for camping accessories today and noticed that it is Rayovac's 100 year anniversary.  They deserve some respect for staying in the flashlight and battery business for a century.  Anyway, I saw that they've re-released their classic metal tube flashlight as an LED torch.  Most kids of a certain age remember finding one of these in their grandparents' kitchen drawer and making it their lightsaber.  Now you recognize it.  Solid aluminum body, that multi-position switch.  Vrrrmmmm, whoo-kish, whoo-kish.  Yeah.

My first lightsaber
And because it is apparently retro flashlight day, Coleman has also released their classic lantern as a 4 D-cell powered LED photon generator.  This staple of campsite illumination is powered by 4 D-cell batteries or a rechargable cartridge.  I opted not to buy the cartridge, sold separately, not because I prefer batteries but their rechargable cartridge can only recharge off of a wall outlet.  I don't consider it camping if there's one of those nearby.  With its advertised run time, I'll be home again before I need to replace the batteries anyway.

Trademarks are property of their respective owners are used without endorsement or commercial consideration.  

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Hidden Toppings Pizza

I love cooking, almost as much as I love eating.  And very occasionally I will even come up with something new in the kitchen.  For example, this pizza.
Most pizzas are made in the exact same way.  Put down the dough, spread sauce on top of that, followed by cheese, then toppings.  This recipe came about because I got out of order when making a pizza and I put the toppings down right on top of the sauce before I put on the cheese.  And I decided that's not wrong.
Rolling in dough

Sanitize Everyth- no that's my other series

That's a joke from my Febrewary homebrewing series where the first step in homebrewing is to SANITIZE EVERYTHING!  We're just cooking here but you should at least wash your hands.
Getting sauced


Here I've used a commercially available premade crust and sauce but I add extra spices like crushed red pepper flakes to the sauce before I spread it around.  That distributes the flavor nicely across the pizza.  
Top of the pops

Top it off

Now I add the large solid toppings like the pepperoni slices, olives, onion, pineapple, etc.
All covered with cheese

Hide the pepperoni

Now I add my cheese on top of the toppings.  Two cups of pizza cheese mix does a good job covering everything up.


Follow the remainder of your recipe to cook the crust and melt the cheese.  The cheese itself forms a solid cap over the works like an Arctic ice floe.  And the best part is you can hide anything under the cheese.  Anchovies, sliced jalepenos, it's all fair game now.  

Friday, February 14, 2014

Hack Stack

Retail giant Target was hacked late last year in a blow to holiday shoppers across the country.  Security investigators found out that the intrusion started with an HVAC contractor.  A reasonable computer user, denied access to others' secure systems, could ask themselves what an outside company would be doing with access like this.  Let's talk a bit about how large corporate systems are set up and how an attack can cascade like this through a supply chain.

Inter, Intra, and Extra

Most large companies' computer networks are set up in multiple zones.  The Internet zone holds customer-facing systems like company webpages, online shopping, and contact information.  These systems should only deal with low security issues like presenting product information or mailing addresses.  The Intranet zone is for internal use by employees.  A company's trouble ticketing system or employee computer-based training terminals are connected to this zone.  Extranet is the most complicated zone to manage and secure.  This is where partner companies connect to your systems for more access than the internet zone can provide without having employee level access on an intranet user.

Extra, Extra, Extra

In Target's case, Fazio Mechanical Services had access credentials to Target's systems to support billing and work contracts when Fazio was hired to perform work on the HVAC systems at Target stores in the Mid-Atlantic region. 
And, no, as user of Target's extranet, Fazio's credentials should not have enabled them to upload to or in any way make contact with any part of Target's point of sale terminals. 
Payment Card Industry (PCI) standards now come into play.  Companies which submit credit card payments are not required to build a separate network for payment and non-payment activities.  But outside users like contractors and vendors are required to use two-factor authentication to access a company's network. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Day We Fight Back

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


So I was trolling my own blog, as every good blogger should, and I discovered a dead link. I'll give you a hint: the embedded video had been taken down by a copyright (copywrong) claim. Yes, some litigious asshole gave my blog a dead link. Fortunately, I found it and was able to get a valid link so the affected post was not affected. So, reader challenge because I secretly hate you, find the post that was edited to fix the broken link. And here's where I have to give grudging credit to Vevo. While they take down many linked videos they, at least, upload a legitimate video for bloggers to link to.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Rack 'em Up

Let's kick off this year's Febrewary with a quick post about a new technique you can add to your brewing process called racking.
The concept is pretty simple.  After fermentation has run for a couple weeks and the yeast has settled, you move the product into another sterilized fermenter for an additional couple of weeks before bottling.  The point is to separate out the lees, the tired yeast, the fruit bits, and whatever other solid waste is left in the primary fermenter.  This improves the clarity a lot so it's a good technique to learn if you make wines and meads. 

You will need

Since you've been brewing for a year you should already have most of the things you will need to take up racking.  If you bought a starter kit like the one I linked to in Gathering Supplies you should only need to buy another fermenter and another threaded stopper and airlock to go with it.  Keep an eye out for "buy this, get an extra fermenter" deals.  They come out every so often from most of the brewer supply houses.

Sanitize... yeah, you know this step

Run up a batch of sanitizing solution and wash and sanitize your new fermenter, threaded stopper, and airlock, along with your auto-siphon and transfer hose.  If you're using a smaller fermenter, you could just sanitize a funnel instead of all the transfer gear and just pick it up and pour from one container to the other.  Use a coffee filter inside the funnel to catch the lees.  

Rack 'em, Stack 'em, Rinse and Repeat

Presumably, since the previous brewing stage was successful enough to add a racking stage, the location you keep your fermenter is good for yeast biology.  After you've got the brewing product into the new fermenter, install the airlock according to its instructions and place the new one where the old one was.  Then let it do its thing.  
Be sure to wash out the old fermenter.  That muck in the bottom is still perfect growth medium for all sorts of microbial mischief.  But hang on to it; lees are great green for your compost.  
You can rack again back into the original fermenter to further improve the clarity of your product.  Wait at least a week for things in the brew to settle down and remember to sanitize all your equipment before you transfer.

Adding this new technique into your brewing stages will give your product better clarity and a smoother texture you and your friends will enjoy.  Slainte! 

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Friday, January 31, 2014


Everyone is well aware of retail runner up Target and their recent hacking.  And this event couldn't have come at a worse time for them.  Their systems were compromised over Thanksgiving weekend, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season, and stayed pwned for several weeks.  Fortunately, they've plugged the holes and were able to continue on with their holiday sales season.
Meanwhile, banks around the country are taking steps to protect their customers' banking details.  Apparently, in light of lessons learned from major breaches like Heartland Payment Systems, many found it less expensive to just reissue thousands to millions of new cards to any customers who may or even might not be affected.  A major credit union here in Arizona is issuing new cards and numbers for 877 potentially compromised accounts.
While the stolen credit card information has already been put up for sale, Target insists that at least the PINs associated with debit cards were securely encrypted, specifically with Triple DES, or more properly, the Triple Data Encryption Algorithm, TDEA.
Triple DES is a block cipher, which means it encrypts blocks of data, 64 bits at a time, and does so in three passes, each with a different key based on the keying option used.  Data Encryption Standard (DES), with only a 56 bit key, is too weak to protect data against brute force attacks by modern hardware and has been removed as a standard.  Triple DES itself, by stacking up on the encryption with multiple keys, is considered secure enough against any practical attacks.  It has, however, been replaced in most applications with Advanced Encryption Standard (AES).
Target wasn't specific as to which keying option of Triple DES was being used, though they made it clear that they never had any of the keys.  Knowing which keying option was being employed could direct an attacker to a method of exploit.  Since Triple DES encrypts with key one, decrypts with key two, and then encrypts again with key three, the most secure option is that all three keys are different.  That usually isn't the way it's done in practice; typically the first and third key are the same.  Obviously, if there's only a single key being used three times, the encryption simplifies to a single round of DES and that compatibility is, in fact, why Triple DES does encrypt-decrypt-encrypt instead of three rounds of encrypt.
So what attacks are available?  Essentially a rainbow table attack.  We can only hope that the payment processor who held the keys held more that one.  Single key Triple DES is only DES and that could be broken in less that a day ten years ago.  That's a trivial brute force attack today.  Option two is the most commonly used method of implementing Triple DES and it's the one that encrypts with the first key, decrypts with a second key, then encrypts once more with the first key again.  The issue is that the plaintext being encrypted, all those PINs, is such a small domain.  PINs for debit cards are typically only four digits long.  At best, 32 bits or half a block.  Even worse, the Feistel algorithm that underpins DES and thus Triple DES operates on only a half block at a time.  The fluff and random bits that fill out the block might be irrelevant when decrypting stolen debit card PINs.  With such a limited domain, chosen plaintext and known plaintext attacks become available.  Insanely resource intensive, but available.
As a shout-out, my cryptography professor at the University of Maryland, Lawrence C Washington, along with Wade Trappe, also a Maryland professor at the time, literally wrote the book on cryptography.  I have the first edition.  Maybe I should've gotten it signed by the authors; I hear signed first editions are valuable.  Anyway, it's good to be a terrapin.  Let's Go Maryland!  Rah!  Rah!  Ra-ra-rah!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

And We're Back

You know how when something goes wrong, you can't necessarily tell what happened or who to blame for it.  Like when a feature you think should be present isn't because a browser extension was blocking it?  Yeah, just like that.
There was a problem then there was another different problem but now everything looks like it's working fine.  So my blog has its shiny new Google+ badge right where it should be.  Useful little temporally arranged blog archive.  And a list of people who got suckered into thinking I have anything useful to say.

Just Broke Blogger

It was me.  Obviously.
I was trying to change something in the layout of this blog and the whole thing crapped the bed for me.  All I was doing was dropping the About Me section that had been so prominently featured at the top right and replacing it with a Google+ badge.  And it all went to pot, or maybe just flew to Denver, and now my blog has neither my About Me or my Google+ badge.
I'll keep trying to get it back so visitors know who this blog belongs to but until then, that's an empty lonely corner up there.