Thursday, April 30, 2009

iBrew prt 3

It may be odd that this is part three but just go with it.

Here's the next batch I put together. I'm thinking this is a chocolate porter.

1.5 lbs chocolate malt, steeped twenty five minutes

1 ounce UK Gold Hops, add, boil one hour.

3.3 lbs dark LME

2 lbs dark DME

Add the extract, boil fifteen minutes further.

Ice bath. Move to carboy. I developed a yeast culture for this one. Used Munton's gold yeast and gave it a quarter gallon starter. Three days later it was ready to pitch. If you do this beer, you'll need a run-off hose and bucket to deal with it. Trust me, the last time I did it I used an airlock and the next morning I had fermenting beer all over my ceiling.

I've made this recipe before. It's really good. I claim this isn't a stout because I'm not using roasted barley or coffee barley. This is actually pretty standard. It's pretty much the same as a recipe kit. The only thing I added was another pound of chocolate barley. I'm actually making this one for a friend's wedding. They already gave me the go-ahead on this style.

Monday, April 27, 2009

This is different.

How often do you see a virus spread map where it looks like the western world is the center. Swine flu has done a horrible thing. It's made me scared of bacon.

Friday, April 24, 2009

I got this plaque...

I got an award today: Award for distinguished service as a teaching assistant. They give one out a year in the department. I don't know why they don't just say, teaching assistant of the year. Probably cause it doesn't look as good on a plaque.

It's funny, I don't think I deserved it this year. Last year and the year before, yeah, my teaching work was the best. I mean absolutely stellar. I went all out - not for an award or anything but I always try to do a good job. This year, well, my heart just was never in it. I kind of half-assed it all the way. I was teaching the same things I always teach which means I often have the ability to phone it in but still, I just don't think I really deserved it this year.

Oh I imagine there were politics along the lines of, "well, we gave it to so-and-so last year because it was their last chance so we better give it to Jason this year." Still, I don't like receiving something because it was my turn. I mean, I want to deserve it. Don't get me wrong, I smiled and accepted the award when it was given. I took the plaque and immediately added the line to my resume and re-sent it out. I'm not stupid or anything.

I just wish it meant to me what it should mean. I wish it meant what it would have meant last year. I knocked it out of the park last year. Last school year, I had the absolute best reviews by students of any teaching assistant on the entire campus. I actually know that. I scored a perfect five-O in instruction satisfaction. That's a perfect score and is largely unheard of. I had a hundred and twenty students and that was the final result. Every last one of them scored me perfectly. Really. that's unheard of.

This year, I phoned it in. This year I BS'd it. I mean, I know exactly why they gave it to who they did last year. I don't begrudge that person. Trust me, I really like the person who got it. That person did a great job and it was that person's last year teaching. This was awarded to me this year to make sure it got spread around. It just feels a little wrong.

It's nice having a plaque though. I'd never had one before. All my friends growing up had been in sports teams and at some point or another, their team won some league championship or something. They all had trophies and plaques and what-not. Now I have an award for distinguished service as a teaching assistant.

What distinguishes service as a teaching assistant? Ok, if someone came in with a gun to the classroom and the TA wrestled the person to the ground and no-one was hurt, that would be distinguished service above and beyond. All I did was what any reasonable teacher does. I cared and I didn't let them know I cared. You see, you have to be tough. You have to take someone you absolutely adore and take them out to the hall and quietly but efficiently tear into them about their abuses. You have to scare them into thinking the most important thing in the world is not disappointing you. Generally, when it comes up, I try to make such a student hate me for it. The reason you do it is because afterwards, their grade goes from just failing to a bit above passing. At the end, they walk away angry and that is left with you the rest of your life. You carry it forever. You say to yourself, "but look what happened to their grade."

The problem is that I carry it with me. I have this plaque which says I was awarded for distinguished service as a teaching assistant. It's nice to have a plaque. Seeing it, well it makes me cry. Remembering my own cold, hard words, remembering the the uncaring looks I gave, that hurts. I have no idea what becomes of the students I teach. When I drink, I like to think that I pushed them a little farther and that helped in their lives. When I am sober (and believe it or not, that's the vast majority of the time), I do everything I can not to think about it.

The problem is, I have this plaque. I hate teaching...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


My boundary value problem is not well-posed! Argh!

I am a Code Monkey!

When I was in college, there were rare occasions in which some of the professors around campus would be gathered together to discuss some topic. At times it would be as mundane as figuring out ways to improve student advising methods and at other times it would be as esoteric as discussing the metaphysical implications of of non-determinism. Whether mundane or philosophical, there was one thing I found I loved. I loved hearing these incredibly intelligent people talk about issues and bring their considerable intellect to these conversations. I would hear comments and thoughts presented with such acuity, with such insight, with a keen sense of where the truth lay. For a young student, it was the best poetry I could ever find. It was soothing and invigorating. I remember one particular professor, Dr. Ed LaMonte. He could take any idea and find merit in it and then deliver the meritous parts with a distinct manner and eliminate the failings.

I would hear these conversations, these discussions and a deep desire would rise in me. I desired more than anything else to be able to speak with such eloquence. I wanted to posses for myself opinions of importance. I wanted there to be good reason to be heard. I wanted in the conversation. With this in mind I set about finding something I could possibly be an expert in. I searched through many fields. I landed in physics. Physics presented the only course-work which required me to really think about my work and I was relatively good at it. I won't say it was without challenges and if you need proof you can go talk to my adviser in college, Dr. Duane Pontius.

I often questioned why I was putting myself through these challenges. Why would I put so much effort into something so obviously hard to accomplish - and when I finished college I wasn't done. I applied for eight different graduate schools. None of them had anything in common except that they were all physics programs. At the time, I had no idea what I was doing. You see, the way you get to a good graduate school is you do some research as a college student and then you get in touch with all the professors in the field you did research in. I did no such thing. I had almost no research experience other than a Summer program in which I learned I didn't like computer code administration.

Luckily enough for me, some one at Wake Forest University took an interest in my back ground so off to graduate school I went. This brought on more and more diverse challenges to face. First, I went to Winston-Salem, NC entirely by myself not knowing anyone there. It was very lonely at first, trying to make a life for myself. Further, I had brought on more mathematical pain. The level of work had increased and I was putting more time than ever into understanding this material these professors were trying to teach me. I eventually signed on doing research on black holes. There's a difficulty with studying black holes - you can't see them. In fact, all evidence to date for the existence of black holes is secondary. This means one must study the theory of black holes and for the one field of study with even minute funding, this means programming a computer to calculate black hole conditions. This means lots of computer code.

Today I am about to graduate and there are post-doc options for me - more options where I will program a computer to compute something about black holes. I came searching for eloquence and understanding. I came searching to find something I can do that would give people reason to listen to me. I came searching for a sense of direction. What I have found is that I am a code monkey. I write codes to implement other people's ideas. I write codes to test little tiny aspects of those ideas. I write codes that often have very little to do with what I am actually interested in. I came to graduate school to try to learn to be a great thinker. I am afraid what I learned was a set of marketable skills that often involve little real, original thought.

Monday, April 6, 2009


Yet another of my mac themed blogs this one entitled to let you know, not only do I compute initial conditions for the binary black hole problem, not only is my user pic one of my own pieces of art, but I also brew beer on weekends. Yes, today I am the proud father (don't take that too seriously, I have real respect for true fathers) of my own double double. It's my forth batch of beer and let me tell you, I have learned a lot in the process.

I learned how to start and keep yeast. I learned to pitch the right ammount of yeast. I learned to boil the hops well before the malt. I leanred to take my time and make the best wort I ever could. Now I proudly watch as my beautiful yeast keep churnin' up CO2. Yes that makes me a contributor to global warming but believe me it's worth it for truly good beer.

I'll just let you know what a double double means. To start with, that means a lot of hops - which means a lot of bitter. But before that I started with a pure barley grain. I steeped one pound of roasted barley in hot water for twenty minutes. That will yield a slight coffeeish taste to the whole affair. I then applied my first ounce of Chinook hops which rates at 11.5 AAUs. That's a representation of bitterness. 11.5 is fairly high. That boiled for thirty minutes.

At that point I added one pound of Munton's light dried malt extract. That's malted from barley for those non-brewers out there. I also then added another ounce of my Chinook hops. With all my bittering hops now in, I set it to boil for another thirty minutes.

Ah, the smell of hops still fills my house.

At this point, it was time to set about the real business of adding the finishing hops. Two ounces of Cascade hops at 5.9 AAUs to finish. That got ten minutes. At the same time I added another three pounds of Munton's dried malt extract. Things were starting to get strong.

After ten minutes of boil it was time to finish the wort. I had six point six pounds of Munston's hopped dried liquid malt extract to add. That came in and was there for a whole other ten minutes to caramalize. This summed to a five gallon wort (that means five gallons of beer in the end) and I am now watching it bubble away.

You see, the yeast converts the sugars boiled out of the barley malt into alcohol. This process creates CO2. On a typical beer, your carboy can likely be topped with a simple air-lock. An air-lock is a nifty device which allows gas to leave the carboy but does not allow anything to enter. On this particular batch, however, a simple air-lock wouldn't do. You see, a typical batch of beer would be brewed with perhaps only five pounds of barley malt. Mine, on the other hand, was brewed with eleven point six pounds of barley malt, ten point six of which were light malt. What this means is more than twice as many sugars for the yeast to convert. Of course, all this meant I had to use more yeast than usual. My local brewpub, Foothills (if you're ever in Winston-Salem and you don't go to Foothills, you're an idiot) spared me a good bit of ale yeast - about an eighth of a gallon to be exact. That was precisely the ammount needed for such a strong undertaking. What this means however is a huge ammount of Kreusen. Kreusen is created in the early fermenting process. Kreusen is extra yeast and hops gathering at the top and forming into a thick foam.

Typically, this Kreusen isn't a problem, but when you're going over the end on strength of your beer, your carboy likely can't contain it. If you don't think of this ahead of time, this can often mean having your air-lock fire up like a missile and you have excess beer all over the place. So when you know this will be a problem, you set up a run-off hose. The run-off hose runs into a bucket of water and all the excess Kreusen flows into that.

Currently, I am happily watching my future beer blow CO2 into a bucket. Yes I am adding to global warming but I am doing so in the wonderful goal of making really good beer and no-one can complain at me for that.