Sunday, November 28, 2010
Another edition of Tasting Notes, a series of quick hits on a variety of topics that don't really warrant a full post [Previous Editions: part 1 | part 2]. So here's what I've been watching/playing/reading/drinking lately:
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Some fine links we should all be thankful for:
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Adventures in Brewing - Part 2: The Bottling
A couple of weeks ago, I started brewing an English Brown Ale. After two weeks in the fermenter, I went ahead and bottled the beer this weekend. Just another couple of weeks in the bottle to condition, and they should be ready to go (supposedly, the impatient can try it after a week, which I might have to do, just to see what it's like and how it ages).
The final gravity ended up at around 1.008, so if my calculations (and my hydrometer readings, which are probably more approximate than I'd like) are correct, this should yield something around 4.5% alcohol. Both my hydrometer readings were a bit low according to the worksheet/recipe I was using, but that ABV is right in the middle of the range. I suspect this means there won't be as much sugar in the beer and thus the taste will be a bit less powerful, but I guess we'll find out.
I ended up with a little more than a case and a half of bottled beer, which is probably a bit low. I was definitely overcautious about racking the beer to my bottling bucket. Not wanting to transfer any yeast and never having done it before, I was a little too conservative in stopping the siphoning process (which was a lot easier and faster than I was expecting - just add the priming sugar and get the siphon started and it only took a few minutes to transfer the grand majority of the beer to the bottling bucket). Next time I should be able to get around two full cases out of a 5 gallon batch.
Once in the bottling bucket, the process went pretty smoothly, and I actually found filling the bottles up and capping them to be pretty fun (the bottling wand seems like a life saver - I'd hate to do this with just a tube). Once I got towards the bottom of the bucket, it was a bit of a challenge to get as much out of there as possible without oxidizing the beer too much. I managed to get myself a quick cup of the beer and took a few sips. Of course, it was room temperature and not carbonated enough (carbonation happens in the bottle, thanks to the priming sugar), but it sure was beer. I didn't detect anything "off" about the taste, and it smelled pretty good too. Maybe I managed to not screw it up!
Siphoning the beer
(Cross posted at the Kaedrin Beer Blog, along with some other stuff posted today)
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
A few interesting links from the depths of teh interwebs:
Sunday, November 14, 2010
While not quite the accidental double feature I ran into a few weeks ago with Catfish and The Social Network, I saw a pair of movies this weekend that share an uncommon type of protagonist. Both are a bit off the beaten path and thus don't really have a ton of mainstream appeal, but they're both worth watching...
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is the third and (for the moment) final movie in Stieg Larsson's "Millenium Trilogy". It has the unfortunate reputation of being the worst of the three films, but while I can certainly see where that comes from, I think the problem lies more with the source material than the films. Which is not to say that the source material is bad or anything, just that this film and the second film are really part of a single whole. The first film made for a great introduction and featured a solid, self-contained story. The two sequels are intertwined. You can't watch one without needing to see the other.
The common complaint about this third film is that it basically represents a rehash of the entire series, and there is something to that complaint. However, I find that there's also something satisfying about how things play out, even if they do so in a mostly predictable fashion. For me, the thing that the first film had that the sequels don't is the relationship between Lisbeth Salandar and Mikael Blomkvist. That was what impressed me most about the first film, but in the sequels, the plot requires a physical separation of the characters and the interactions through intermediaries just aren't the same. And in this film, the majority of screen time belongs to Blomkvist, who isn't as interesting as Lisbeth (who spends most of her time in a hospital, jail cell, or courtroom, and her interactions are mostly speechless).
So perhaps it isn't quite as good as the first two films, but it's still a worthy effort that's better than most of its competition. To me, the first film is clearly the best. The two sequels, taken as a whole are quite good, but can't quite recapture the magic of the first. It's rumored that Larsson left behind plot outlines and half finished works for a number of additional sequels, and the original trilogy has been far too successful to let those sit unfinished. This could, of course, be a blessing or a curse. There are many pitfalls possible in potential sequels to these three films, but there is also the possibility of recapturing the magic. Also, while I'm not normally enthused about Hollywood remakes of foreign films (especially when they're made so close together in time), I have to admit that the talent being assembled for the remakes looks promising.
There are certain similarities between Lisbeth Salandar and the hero of Winter's Bone, yet they're very different characters. Ree Dolly is the primary focus of Winter's Bone, and she's a 17 year old who's faced with a sick mother and two kids to raise (not her kids - they're her brother and sister). She does not live for herself; everything she does is for the benefit of others. Early on in the movie we learn that she dreams of joining the army. Later, we find out that the only reason she would do so is because of the signing bonus, which would be a boon to her cash-strapped family. So aside from being strong and independent, she doesn't really share anything else in common with Lisbeth Salandar, but that's enough. Roger Ebert actually catches on to the most courageous thing about this character in his review:
Ree is played by Jennifer Lawrence, a 19-year-old newcomer who has already starred in Jodie Foster's next film. Lawrence embodies a fierce, still center that is the source of her heroism. She makes no boasts, issues no threats, depends on a dogged faith that people will do the right thing — even when no one we meet seems to deserve that faith. “Don't ask for what's not offered,” she tells her little brother, although the lives of her parents seem to be an exercise in asking and not offering. Did she raise herself?(emphasis mine) That she "depends on a dogged faith that people will do the right thing" is an interesting and rare thing in a thriller of this nature. Usually you can expect this sort of independent movie to be so steeped in misery that the only resulting feeling is despair. But this film is different. The "faith" espoused by Ree is something that makes her much more courageous than most film heros. It's not glamorous and it won't earn her any fanfare, but it gets the job done. This isn't to say that everything is fluffy bunnies and rainbows, but there is a very "real" feeling to the film.
The story is relatively straightforward. Ree's father, a meth cooker by trade, has disappeared after putting the family's house up as collateral on his bail bond. If he doesn't show up for the trial, the family will loose the house. When Ree is informed, she says "I'll find him," with the quiet determination and resolve that is uncommon for folks in her situation. The film does bog down a bit as Ree goes from person to person, many of whom are seemingly from the same family (though the relationships are rarely very clear), and eventually begins to piece together what happened to her father.
The film is perhaps a bit too long considering how simple the story is, and thus the pacing is a bit too slow, but it's still a striking movie. Filmed on location in the back woods of Missouri, the setting is atmospheric and evocative. In a time of economic downturn it seems appropriate, but I suspect the setting of this film was the same even when business was booming. Visually, the film is stark and while not showy, it's effective. The acting is great, especially the lead (as already mentioned, Ree is played by Jennifer Lawrence in an Oscar-worthy performance) and her uncle, played by John Hawkes. Given the nature of the story, there would be a real danger of falling back on caricature, but writer/director Debra Granik never lets that happen, which is quite impressive.
In the end, I really enjoyed both of these movies, even though both suffer from some flaws that many would find deal-breakers. I don't expect either to really broach the top 10 at the end of the year, but they're both quite interesting in their own ways and I'm glad I got to see them...
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Earlier in the year, I had noticed a pile of books building up on the shelf and have made a concerted effort to get through them. This has gone smoothly at times, and at other times it's ground to a halt. Then there's the fact that I can't seem to stop buying new books to read. Case in point, during the Six Weeks of Halloween, I thought it might be nice to read some horror, and realized that most of what I had on my shelf was science fiction, fantasy, detective fiction, or non-fiction (history, technology, biography, etc...) So I went out and picked up a collection of Richard Matheson short stories called Button, Button (the title story was the source material for a very loose film adaptation, The Box).
It was a very interesting collection of stories, many of which play on variations of the moral dilemma most famous in the title story, Button, Button:
"If you push the button," Mr Steward told him, "somewhere in the world, someone you don't know will die. In return for which you will receive fifty thousand dollars."In the film adaptation, the "reward" was raised to a million dollars, but then, they also added a ton of other stuff to what really amounts for a tight, 12 page story. Anyway, there are lots of other stories, most containing some sort of moral dilemma along those lines (or someone exploiting such a dilemma). In particular, I enjoyed A Flourish of Strumpets and No Such Thing as a Vampire, but I found myself most intrigued by one of the longer stories, titled Mute. I suppose mild spoilers ahead, if this is something you think you might want to read.
The story concerns a child named Paal. His parents were recent immigrants and he was homeschooled, but his parents died in a fire, leaving Paal to the care of the local Sheriff and his wife. Paal is a mute, and the community is quite upset by this. Paal ends up being sent to school, but his seeming lack of communication skills cause issues, and the adults continually attempt to get Paal to talk.
I will leave it at that for now, but if you're at all familiar with Matheson, you can kinda see where this was going. What struck me most was how much a sign of the times this story was. Of course, all art is a product of its cultural and historical context, but for horror stories, that must be doubly so. Most of the stories in this collection were written and published in the 1950s and early 1960s, which I find interesting. With respect to this story, it's primarily about the crushing pressure of conformity, something that was surely on Matheson's mind after having just finished of the uniformity of the 1950s. The cultural norms of the 50s were perhaps overly traditional, but after having witnessed the deadliest conflict in human history in the 1940s, you can hardly blame people for wanting some semblance of tradition and stability in their lives. Of course, that sort of uniformity isn't really natural evil, and like a pendulum, things swing from one extreme to the other, until eventually things settle down. Or not.
Anyway, writing in the early 60s (or maybe even the late 50s), Matheson was clearly disturbed by the impulse to force conformity, and Mute is a clear expression of this anxiety. Interestingly, the story is almost as horrific in today's context, but for different reasons. Matheson was writing in response to a society that had been emphasizing conformity and had no doubt witness such abuses himself. Interestingly, the end of the story is somewhat bittersweet. It's not entirely tragic, and it's almost an acknowledgement that conformity isn't necessarily evil.
It was not something easily judged, he was thinking. There was no right or wrong of it. Definitely, it was not a case of evil versus good. Mrs. Wheeler, the sheriff, the boy's teacher, the people of German Corners - they had, probably, all meant well. Understandably, they had been outraged at the idea of a seven-year-old boy not having been taught to speak by his parents. Their actions were, in light of that, justifiable and good.In today's world, we see the opposite of the 1950s in many ways. Emphasis is no longer placed on conformity (well, perhaps it still is in some places), but rather a rugged individuality. There are no one-size fits all pieces of culture anymore. We've got hundreds of varieties of spaghetti sauce, thousands of music choices that can fit on a device the size of a business card, movies that are designed to appeal to small demographics, and so on. We deal with problems like the paradox of choice, and the internet has given rise to the niche and concepts like the Long Tail. Of course, rigid non-conformity is, in itself, a form of conformity, but I can't imagine a story like Mute being written in this day and age. A comparable story would be about how lost someone becomes when they don't conform to societal norms...
Sunday, November 07, 2010
Adventures in Brewing - Part 1
As I mentioned the other day, I've been getting into beer in a big way of late (see my beer blog), and now I've made the leap into the realm of homebrewing. I've noticed lately that while I do participate in a number of creative activities, most of what I end up creating is virtual (i.e. it's all done on the computer). There isn't anything wrong with that, of course, but I've been itching to make something out here in meatspace, and brewing beer should help me scratch that itch.
I stopped by a local brewshop yesterday and picked up a brewing kit, complete with a Brewer's Best English Brown Ale ingredient kit (which should make something akin to a Newcastle Brown Ale). A Trappist brew master, I am not, but it seems like a good place to start (a step ahead of the venerable Mr. Beer, but far below the all-grain brewers). My first brewing attempt is tonight, so wish me luck. Beer nerd details are below, and I'll post an update after I've finished.
Brew #1: English Brown Ale
November 7, 2010
3.3 lb. Amber liquid malt extract
2 lb. Amber dried malt extract
8 oz. Caramel 60L malt grains
4 oz. Chocolate malt grains
6 oz. Crushed Carapils malt grains
1 oz. Willamette Bittering Hops
1 oz. Willamette Flavoring Hops
0.25 oz. Willamette Aroma Hops
Steeped grains in about 2.5 gallons filtered tap water at around 150°F for 20 minutes (some of the thinner grains filtered out of the bag before even putting it in the pot - is that bad? I just poured the debris into the pot too...). Removed grain bag slowly, letting whatever water was left in there drain out. Brought wort to a boil (mental note: allow more time to heat and boil water), removed from heat, added liquid and dried malt extracts, stirred vigorously, brought back up to a boil (again, I've underestimated how long it takes to bring even hot wort back to a boil and even had trouble keeping it at a good rolling boil - it was a very light boil). Once it was boiling again, added bittering hops. Kept at a small rolling boil for 45 minutes, added flavoring hops. Boiled 10 more minutes, added aroma hops. Boiled for 5 more minutes, then took off heat and placed pot in my sink (which was filled with some cold water and some ice) to quickly cool. This didn't work as well as I'd hoped, and I'll probably need more ice next time. Got the wort down to manageable temperature and poured it into my fermentation bucket (attempting to remove sediment with a controlled pour through a sanitized strainer, but wasn't super successful with that). Added some extra water to the bucket to bring up the 5 gallon mark, pouring from high up to aerate the wort. Pitched yeast, stirred a bit, threw the cap on, and installed the airlock. Done!
Original Gravity: 1.040 (this is a bit low, but the temperature of the wort was still a bit high at the time (around 80°, which can throw off the hydrometer because calibrated for 60° measurements). Correcting for temperature, I'm estimating something around 1.042-1.043. Still 0.002 or 0.003 off from the recommended O.G., but this will hopefully still work well enough. I'm guessing the ABV will be a bit lighter than predicted, but that should be ok.)
Well, it took a lot longer than I expected (between 3-4 hours). 2.5 gallons of water plus steeped grains/malt extract takes a while get back up and running on my setup (I have an electric stove, so temperature control is limited here, and honestly, it was even a bit difficult to keep it at a good boil without putting the lid on (but you're not supposed to do that really, so I tried to avoid that)). Part of it is also that it's my first time, so I was trying to be attentive and didn't really take any time away from the kitchen to do other stuff (next time I'll probably read a book or something, knocking out two birds with one stone). I'll need to check in tomorrow morning to (hopefully) report on the bubbling of the airlock (which would mean that fermentation is underway). In any case, it was an interesting session, and I think I've learned a lot, which is probably the best I should be hoping for at this point. Hopefully the next session will go a bit smoother (not to mention the wracking/bottling process for this batch).
Update 11/8/10: I was a little worried this morning when I didn't see any activity in the airlock, but when I got home from work, all appeared to be well. I have no idea how active it's supposed to be, but it's going at about one bubble per 20-25 seconds. Looking around the interwebs, this seems to be ok. There are too many variables to be sure, but at least there is some bubbling going on... So now we play the waiting game.
Update 11/9/10: Well, now this thing is bubbling up a storm. Intervals between bubbling have decreased to about 3-4 seconds. Once again, no idea how active it's supposed to be at this point, but this seems promising.
Update 11/20/10: Beer has been bottled. Read a recap here...
(Cross posted at the Kaedrin Beer Blog)
Wednesday, November 03, 2010
It's hard to believe, but it's been over two months since the last link dump, so here goes:
Where am I?
This page contains entries posted to the Kaedrin Weblog in November 2010.
Kaedrin Beer Blog
12 Days of Christmas
2006 Movie Awards
2007 Movie Awards
2008 Movie Awards
2009 Movie Awards
2010 Movie Awards
2011 Fantastic Fest
2011 Movie Awards
6 Weeks of Halloween
Arts & Letters
Computers & Internet
Disgruntled, Freakish Reflections
Philadelphia Film Festival 2006
Philadelphia Film Festival 2008
Philadelphia Film Festival 2009
Philadelphia Film Festival 2010
Science & Technology
Security & Intelligence
The Dark Tower
Weird Movie of the Week
Copyright © 1999 - 2012 by Mark Ciocco.