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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Upcoming Books
Because my book queue is not long enough*, it seems some of my favorite SF authors are releasing new novels in 2012. Yay**. Here are the most exciting ones, in order of anticipated publication:
  • The Wind Through the Keyhole: A Dark Tower Novel by Stephen King (4/24/12)- I just found out about this one... Apparently Stephen King is returning to his Dark Tower series and doing another quasi-prequel... actually ,it's a sorta sequel to the oddly placed yet strangely compelling Wizard and Glass, a novel I now consider one of my favorites in the series. That book sorta told the origin story of Roland the Gunslinger, and this one sorta continues his early adventures. Stephen King has never been one of my favorite authors, but I'm on board for this one...
  • The Mongoliad: Book One (The Foreworld Saga) by Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, and others (4/24/12) - I've written about this experiment before, and to be sure, most of this content is already available, as it was serialized via custom apps on various mobile devices, but they're now collecting the first completed story in a paperback... I played around with the iPhone app, but never purchased a "subscription" as the concept of serialized books does not really appeal to me (heck, I'm the guy that doesn't catch up with TV series until the season is over), but I'd like to check out a completed story.
  • Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi (6/5/12) - I have to admit that I find the title of this sorta kitschy, but I always find myself entertained by Scalzi, and it's not like this is an actual Star Trek novel or anything. I'm holding out hope that he'll be able to bring something unique to the tired old red-shirt cliche.
  • Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writing by Neal Stephenson (8/7/12) - I have no idea what these "Remarks" are going to be, but I'm guessing this will end up being a collection of previously published writing (like his awesome, long, rambling essays in Wired). I'm hoping that it will contain at least some new stuff though. Of course, I'd love another epic essay like In the Beginning...was the Command Line, but I'm not actually expecting that...
  • Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold (11/6/12) - I've only got one book left in Bujold's Vorkosigan saga and was prepping for withdrawal pains, so this book will be perfectly timed to keep me addicted... Still, I'm very much looking forward to this novel, a spin-off featuring Ivan Vorpatril, one of the long-running side-characters of the series. I'm actually pretty excited about this book and I'm hoping Bujold will continue to play in the SF space in the future...
And that covers the big books I'm most excited about this year. Of course, there's bound to be others that I'm missing, and the queue is constantly growing, but the above will probably keep me busy for a while.

* Sarcasm!

** Not sarcasm!
Posted by Mark on March 28, 2012 at 09:34 PM .: link :.



Sunday, March 25, 2012

Adventures in Brewing - Beer #8: Earl Grey Bitter Bottling
Charles, 2nd Earl Grey was prime minister of the UK for four years, backing significant reform of the British government (in particular, he architected a redistribution of seats in the House of Commons and an expansion of the right to vote). How he came to lend his name to the famous bergamot-flavored tea is mildly mysterious. Like a lot of historical beer origins, there appear to be a lot of apocryphal tales surrounding Earl Grey tea, usually involving a recipe made by a Chinese mandarin. In some accounts, the mandarin is grateful to Lord Grey because one of his men saved the mandarin's son from drowning. The story that seems more likely to me is that the recipe was specifically formulated to suit the water at Grey's estate. The bergamot apparently offset the lime present in the water there and when Lady Grey used it to entertain guests in London as a political hostess, it became popular enough that Twinings sought to make it a brand. Or something. But enough about stuffy British politicians, let's get to the beer!

Bottling of my Earl Grey bitter commenced after two weeks in the fermenter. From observation of the airlock, fermentation seemed to go well for the first two days, but then it dropped off considerably. Given the low original gravity, this was not too surprising, but I gave it the full two weeks anyway.
Post-Fermentation, Pre-Conditioning Earl Grey Bitter
The beer turned out to be a little lighter in color than I was expecting (which is not a big deal or anything), but the aroma was quite nice. A lot of citrus in the nose, which is exactly what I was going after. However, I'm not entirely sure how much of that came from the bergamot tea I used in the recipe. I had also used a small amount of orange peel, which certainly contributed something to the flavor, and it's also worth noting that Fuggle hops (even when used in bittering applications like I did) can contribute a soft, fruity aroma/flavor to the beer. I suppose one could call this more of a variant on Earl Grey than anything else - something more like Lady Grey tea, which also has orange (among a few other ingredients). Well, whatever the case, it seems like it will be quite an interesting beer.

Final Gravity came in at around 1.010, and according to my calculations, this works out to around 4% ABV (maybe a little more), which was pretty much the target (a little over 75% attenuation, which is pretty good). I had a bit of a worry when I first took my refractometer reading, as it came in at around 5.4°Bx, but it seems that Final Brix is a bit misleading because the alcohol distorts the readings a bit. With the help of the internets, I was able to correct for that distortion, and all seemed well. I also took a hydrometer reading, which came out a little lower than reported above, thus the beer might be slightly stronger than expected (but still around 4.5% ABV).

Another point of interest is that I primed the beer with around 2.5 oz. corn sugar, about half the normal dose. The style is typically not very highly carbonated, so I didn't want to overdo the priming sugar. Hopefully this will work out to create something with enough carbonation, but still smooth and quaffable. The beer actually tasted ok right now, even in its relatively flat form, so I think a minimum of carbonation would suit this nicely.

That about covers this beer. It's been an interesting exercise and I can't wait to taste the final product in a couple weeks. Next up will be a Belgian-style dubbel, though I'm not entirely sure when I'll get to that and we're starting to get to the warmer months of the year, where fermentation temperature will get more difficult to control...

(Cross posted on Kaedrin Beer Blog and Tempest in a Teacup)
Posted by Mark on March 25, 2012 at 01:14 PM .: link :.



Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Link Dump
Well, tonight was beer club, so I'm not quite in shape to do anything particularly detailed. Here are some interesting links I've run across of late:
  • Titles in search of a script - So apparently Stanley Kubrick used to keep a running list of potential ideas for movies called "Titles in Search of a Script". Some examples:
    PARTITION MAGIC
    (Five vehicles for Sharon Stone. Partition Magic was the name of a software package in the days of DOS that almost allowed you to run two programs concurrently.)

    ONLY MINISTERS OF THE THIRD REICH MAY USE GREEN INK
    (Stanley read somewhere that this was, in fact, true. He thought it would make a great art house double bill with Wim Wender's 1971 film, The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick.)

    COFFIN NOT INCLUDED
    (A 1940s noir thriller. When I was researching props for the morgue scene in Eyes Wide Shut I had a catalogue from a company that supplied funeral parlour equipment. One of the illustrations showed a bier with a coffin on it. The caption read: "The Excelsior Bier (coffin not included.)")

    SOME LIKE IT COLD
    JACK THE SNIFFER
    (An intriguing double-bill for forensic science buffs.)
    And lots of others. I would totally see all of these movies.
  • Martin Scorsese's Film School: The 85 Films You Need To See To Know Anything About Film - I've only seen about 20 of these movies, which I find represents about an average percentage of movies I've sen when it comes to lists like this. Still an interesting list.
  • Weyland Industries - Not a lot of stuff her just yet, but fans of Aliens will get a kick out of this website, which features, among other things, a spoof of a TED Talk given by Sir Peter Weyland.
  • Future Doorknobs or Lack Thereof - John Scalzi does this thing every year where he answers reader questions, and this guy asks him a hysterically funny question:
    It appears to be a near-universal assumption by science fiction writers, directors, and producers, that there exists a set of precipitating events leading to our complete abandonment of doorknob technology. Do you share this assumption? Would you be willing to speculate on the reason for this assumption, or on the nature of the developmental pathway? Do you foresee any significant downsides, should this eventuality come to pass?
    Awesome question and Scalzi comes up with a decent answer.
  • Filmmakers weren’t always gibbering idiots when it comes to ratings - An interesting counterpoint to the likes of documentaries like This Film Is Not Yet Rated, based on a DVD extra. Some interesting quotes from filmmakers, like this gem from David Cronenberg:
    Well, every picture that I’ve done has originally gotten an ‘X’ here in the States. But you have to understand that I live in Ontario, Canada, which used to be the most liberal province and now is the most restrictive. So I have to agree, or let me amplify what John [Carpenter] was saying. When I came down here to talk to the MPAA about ratings, it was still a relief compared with what happens in Ontario, which is where they take your picture. They take every print. And they cut it. And they hand it back to you and they say this is your new movie. They keep the pieces that they’ve taken out—and you go to jail for two years if they’re projected, if you put the pieces back. And that’s real censorship.
    Interesting stuff.
That's all for now!
Posted by Mark on March 21, 2012 at 09:19 PM .: link :.



Sunday, March 18, 2012

SF Book Review, Part 10: The One That Includes Fantasy
While I've done my fair share of Science Fiction reading over the past few years, Fantasy has been relatively absent... I don't really have much against Fantasy or anything, I just tend to prefer Science Fiction, which tends to be more grounded. That being said, I've recently mixed a few fantasy books into my schedule, including some longtime residents of the queue, and I think you can expect to see a little more fantasy appearing soon as well...
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury - Hard to believe this is the first Bradbury I've ever read. I actually picked this up a while ago, reading it during Halloween season last year (after being reminded/shamed into it while posting about NPR's top 100 SF/F books). For the most part, I enjoyed this book, and there are some really tense sequences (I particularly loved the chase scene in the library), but I ultimately found the book a bit lacking. I can see why it's beloved, and there are certainly some great characters (the Illustrated Man is a wonderful villain) and eery overtones - carnivals are naturally scare places - but it didn't quite connect with me the way other classics of science fiction or fantasy have in the past. This is partly due to Bradbury's style, which I found a bit stilted, but it's probably more due to the fantastical nature of the plot. I wonder if I'd have liked this better if I read it when I was younger. I'm glad to have read it, and I enjoyed it well enough, but I was never blown away by it.
  • Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville - Ah, finally. This book has been on my book queue (and indeed, even on my shelf) for several years (I first mentioned it on the blog in 2009, but I'd already had it for at least a year at that point). So what's the deal with this thing? Miéville is one of the primary examples of The New Weird, a literary subgenre harkening back to the Weird fiction of yore, exemplified by the likes of H.P. Lovecraft. The notion of "Weird" being distinct from horror or fantasy is mostly due to the fact that a lot of that stuff was written before genre fiction achieved such a strict taxonomy. The "new" weird probably fits into that line too. There are elements of fantasy, horror, and even a little science fiction here, though I will say that the SF elements are little more than window dressing. Our main character, Isaac, is ostensibly a "scientist", but Miéville's conception of what a scientist does is... not very vigorous. For instance, Isaac's main breakthrough in the world of science? Crisis energy... a vague form of power derived by... placing things in danger? It's unclear, and it's ridiculous. Fortunately, Miéville's got a lot more going for him than against him. He's created a wonderfully detailed setting (though I will say he tends to go overboard in his verbose descriptions of such) and some evocative, fun characters. I was a particularly big fan of the Weaver, a sorta multi-dimensional being that takes the form of a spider, regards the universe as a work of art, and speaks in an unending stream of consciousness and free verse poetry. The villains of the piece, called slake-moths (which are huge, monstrous beasts with hypnotic powers and an appetite for consciousness), are also compelling. Lots of other interesting ideas populate the world, like the Construct Council and countless other races of beings. Again, I think Miéville gets a little carried away in his description of the world, and this wankery can get a bit tiresome at times, but it's a dense setting and I'd hope that future installments would perhaps be a little less exposition-heavy. Also, the main character of Isaac is a bit of a sad-sack, and while Miéville sets the stakes very high and manages to come up with a solid solution, there is a bit of an (intentional) downer ending. I'd call this a very good book, though it doesn't quite strike all of my chords. There are things I love about it, and things I don't particularly care for. Miéville has written a number of books set in this universe, and it may be something I return to at some point, but I can't say as though I'm rushing to do so at this point.
  • The Quantum Thief, by Hannu Rajaniemi - This debut novel from Finnish author (and string theorist) Hannu Rajaniemi has garnered a lot of praise, and it is indeed crammed with a lot of interesting ideas. I'm not entirely sure they all coalesce into a great narrative, but then, this is also apparently the first in a trilogy (*groan*). Unlike every other book in this post, and indeed, most of my SF book posts, this book is the hardest of hard SF. Not quite Greg Egan hard SF, but close. Rajaniemi thrusts you into this unfamiliar world with no real hand-holding, forcing you to infer a lot of the concepts and ideas from minimal exposure. Most of the characters are of the post-human sort, digital beings stuck in human body shaped shells, sometimes more machine than biological. Complex interrelationships and privacy controls, augmented reality, brain-machine interfaces and the like. If you've read other stories along these lines, you may be comfortable, but the casual reader of SF might be a bit overwhelmed. I came down somewhere in the middle of that mixture. I was never totally lost, but I wasn't particularly comfortable with everything either. The story itself is a little obtuse. Our main character is Jean le Flambeur (John the Gambler?), an infamous thief playing the traditional role of a trickster. He's reasonably likeable, though he isn't given a ton of space to shine. As the book opens, his mind is imprisoned in a weird state where it is forced to play endless variations of the prisoner's dilemma against copies of itself and millions of others. One copy of himself is freed by a woman named Mieli, who seeks his criminal expertise. Her motivations are vague, as is her plan. There is a bit of a heist involved here, but it is again rather obtuse and difficult to piece together exactly what Mieli (or rather, the person pulling her strings) is after. There's also a detective named Isidore Beautrelet, who is trying to piece it all together, and then there's the tzaddik, a sorta vigilante group that is nevertheless tolerated by the authorities. The story takes place on Mars, where society has attempted to limit the endless copying of minds by instituting radical control over your personal technology stack, including even your appearance. It's all very complicated and very interesting. Again, much of this is inferred during the course of events, and things can get a little dicey as you figure them out. Like I said, it never fully coalesced for me, but I still found it interesting enough, and I'd be curious how the sequels will read now that I'm familiar with the various concepts...
  • The Witch Watch, by Shamus Young - I've already mentioned this a few times on the blog, and I suppose it's impossible for me to be unbiased as I've been... internet friends?... with Shamus for a while now, but I had a ton of fun with this book. Oddly, it doesn't seem like it would be my kinda book. It's a fantasy set in the Victorian era of England, with a little steampunk thrown in for good measure. The main character of Gilbert is a sorta zombie who doesn't really remember how he died (though he still retains his wits). Most of these elements are not really in my wheelhouse, and yet Shamus is able to ground everything in enough reality that it all works much better than I would have expected (I will say that I bought the book without knowing anything about the plot or characters or anything). Shamus is a programmer, and so even the fantastical elements of his story operate with a certain logic and internal consistency. For instance, I often find the way magic is portrayed in fantasy as a major problem. It's often used and abused, with little or no limitations, leading to an improbable escalation of powers that quickly grates on me. But in this novel, magic is limited by both social and natural forces. First, magic is feared and abhorred by nearly everyone. It is controlled by two main forces: the "Church" and the titular "Witch Watch" (a sorta magic-specific British detective agency). The Church is absurdly ignorant in its treatment of the problem, simply killing those it suspects of magic, with no due process. The Witch Watch take a more balanced approach, preferring to actually study what makes magic work. These social limitations on magic make for a nice buffer, and they allow Shamus to avoid getting into too many details with how magic actually works. But when he does, it's still interesting and well considered. There are physical limitations on magic as well. There are some spells that can be cast without much preparation, but they take a great deal of energy out of the person casting the spell. So you can conjure up a big fireball, but after you do so, you'll be pretty tired (and unable to continue). Of course, limitations are a great literary tool, as there are always ways to get around them, and that sort of contortion is always entertaining. Now, the book isn't perfect. In particular, I found the flashbacks and epistolary sections a little distracting. Some of them serve a good purpose, though I'm not sure they required quite as prominent a placement as they received... But that is a minor problem in an otherwise entertaining and tight story. The characters are quite likeable and have a nice chemistry together. Shamus' dry wit is in evidence here, especially when Gilbert and Alice get to trading barbs, and the book is quite easy to read. Give it a shot, if it sounds like your thing...
  • The Tale of the Wicked, by John Scalzi - Ok, so this is a bit of a cheat, as this is a short story I read in a single (short) sitting, but it was a fun space opera tale and a nice precursor to Scalzi's forthcoming Redshirts novel. The story has to do with an AI unit stretching beyond it's normal capabilities and is a little reminiscent of those great, paranoid old SF movies like Colossus: The Forbin Project or Demon Seed (though things never quite run as amok in Scalzi's tale). Still, it's a fun little story. Only available online in kindle format, it's still just 99 cents, and was one of those impulse purchases Amazon makes so easy...
So there you have it. Next up on the reviewing front will probably be finishing off the Vorkosigan saga... I'm trying to delay that as long as possible (only 1.5 books left!), so it may be a bit, but I'm sure I won't be able to resist (also, apparently a new one is coming in November)...
Posted by Mark on March 18, 2012 at 07:23 PM .: link :.



Wednesday, March 14, 2012

IV, V, I, II, III, VI
Have you figured out what this post title is about? Yes, folks, it's time for some epic Star Wars geekery. Fortunately for me, Rod Hilton has done all the legwork in a very long and well argued essay. The title of this post is known as the Ernest Rister sequence, and it represents the order in which the Star Wars films should be viewed.

There have traditionally been two main strategies for ordering the series. George Lucas would have us watch them in chronological order, which is obvious lunacy for numerous reasons (which Hilton studiously trots out), but most of us nerds have decided that the natural progression is actually in order of release (which is IV, V, VI, I, II, III). There are less flaws with that ordering. Hilton's reasoning here is a bit stilted, as it rests entirely on the "Special Edition" versions of Star Wars, but to my mind, the primary problem with the release order strategy is that the series then ends with a whimper. The prequels provide background and little else, and even that background is largely already known. Ending a six movie marathon with III would be quite a downer.

We could add a third strategy here for those bitterest of nerds, which is simply IV, V, VI without any acknowledgement that there were other Star Wars movies. Hilton, to his credit, acknowledges the charm of this option (and even links us to some Despecialized Editions of the movies), but he also sought out other orderings, just in case you actually do want to watch the other three movies. Enter the Ernest Rister sequence: IV, V, I, II, III, VI. The argument for this strategy is surprisingly compelling:
George Lucas believes that Star Wars is the story of Anakin Skywalker, but it is not. The prequels, which establish his character, are so poor at being character-driven that, if the series is about Anakin, the entire series is a failure. Anakin is not a relatable character, Luke is.

This alternative order (which a commenter has pointed out is called Ernst Rister order) inserts the prequel trilogy into the middle, allowing the series to end on the sensible ending point (the destruction of the Empire) while still beginning with Luke’s journey.

Effectively, this order keeps the story Luke's tale. Just when Luke is left with the burning question "how did my father become Darth Vader?" we take an ex­tended flashback to explain exactly how. Once we understand how his father turned to the dark side, we go back to the main storyline and see how Luke is able to rescue him from it and salvage the good in him.

The prequel backstory comes at the perfect time, because Empire Strikes Back ends on a huge cliffhanger. Han is in carbonite, Vader is Luke’s father, and the Empire has hit the rebellion hard. Delaying the resolution of this cliffhanger makes it all the more satisfying when Return of the Jedi is watched.
Hilton goes on to then suggest his own variant of the Enest Rister sequence, which he calls the Machete Order: IV, V, II, III, VI. Haha, I see what he did there.
Search your feelings, you know it to be true! Episode I doesn't matter at all. You can start the prequels with Episode II and miss absolutely nothing. The opening crawl of Episode II establishes everything you need to know about the prequels...
Hilton has a very detailed and, naturally, nerdy description of why this is the superior sequence. For my part, I find this an acceptable order. My biggest concern is Vader's shocking revelation in Episode V. As long as that surprise is maintained, I'm pretty happy with the ordering, and there are a lot of things to like about the Rister or Machete ordering. Unfortunately, my nieces have already be indoctrinated (using the traditional order of release sequence), so I can't test the theory out on them, but if another opportunity to introduce someone to the series ever comes up, I might give it a shot. One nice thing about the Rister/Machete order is that both start with the best movies in the series, and once you get past the reveal in part V, you can lay out the strategies to the person watching and see which way they'd like to go.

Ok, so I think that's enough nerdiness for now. (Thanks to JVL for the link)
Posted by Mark on March 14, 2012 at 09:26 PM .: link :.



Sunday, March 11, 2012

Adventures in Brewing - Beer #8: Earl Grey Bitter
So I've had this crazy idea for a while. I like beer. I like earl grey tea. Why not combine the two? The thing that makes Earl Grey tea distinctive is bergamot, which is a sorta orange-like citrus fruit. Very nice aroma and flavor, as evidenced by the famous earl grey tea. I love a little citrus in my beer, so my first thought was that I should just go out and buy some bergamot oil, and add a tsp or two to the wort towards the end of the boil. Unfortunately, food grade bergamot oil is not as common as I thought. Everything I found was for aromatherapy or skincare - for external use only. Now, I didn't exactly want to make tea beer, but it looks like that's what I'm going to end up doing. And in fact, I had some Stash Double Bergamot tea laying around, so I figured I could use that to impart some bergamotty character (with the tea hopefully being drowned out by all the malt and hops and whatnot).

The next question was what to use for the base beer. In looking around, I see that I'm not the first person to think of this idea, but other folks seemed to be doing this with something like a Belgian Wit beer. This would certainly highlight the bergamot and tea flavors in the finished product, but I didn't want a beer dominated by those flavors, so I looked around at some other options. Since I was making an Earl Grey beer, I thought I should try to use an English style as the base. This was also in keeping with my recent affinity for lower gravity beers (or, at least, non-face-melting beer), and I eventually settled on the English Bitter style. The name is a bit of a misnomer - these are not super-bitter beers, though perhaps there's more hop character than usual for low ABV styles. Still, it seems like a beer that would take on the nice flavors of the bergamot and tea without being overwhelmed either way. In searching around, I found this nice kit from Northern Brewer called The Innkeeper, which sounds rather awesome. I added in some of my tea and, for good measure, some Bitter Orange Peel that I had leftover from previous beers. Here's the final recipe:

Beer #8: Earl Grey Bitter
March 10, 2012

4 Bags Stash Double Bergamot Earl Grey Tea
0.25 lb. English Extra Dark Crystal (specialty grain)
0.25 lb. Belgian Biscuit Malt (specialty grain)
3.15 lb. Pilsen LME
1 lb. Pilsen DME
1 lb. Corn Sugar
1 oz. US Fuggle (Bittering @ 5.2% AA)
1 oz. UK Kent Goldings (Bittering/Flavor @ 5.8% AA)
1 oz. Styrian Goldings (Aroma)
1 tsp. Bitter Orange peel
Wyeast 1469 West Yorkshire Ale

It's a mildly unusual recipe to start with and I'm adding my own unusual elements too. Here's to hoping it turns out well. I started by bringing 2.5 gallons of water to around 150°F - 155°F, then I began steeping both the specialty grains and 3 of the tea bags (I was reserving one for the end of the boil). My hope was that adding the tea this early in the process would yield an interesting, but not overpowering flavor to the beer (after all, I imagine a lot of the character will be lost in the boil). I only steeped the tea for about 5 minutes, leaving the grains to steep for another 15 or so minutes.

Brought the mixture to a boil, added all of the malt extract and corn sugar, waited (again) for it to return to boiling, then added the Fuggle hops. The strangest thing about this recipe is that the second hop addition comes a mere 15 minutes later. This seems like it would provide more bittering than flavor, but I assume both will be present in the finished product (normally flavor hops are added no less than 30 minutes into the boil, as the flavor compounds are lost after long boils). Finally, with about 5 minutes left, I added the Styrian Goldings. About a minute later, I added the last teabag (though I didn't keep it in the whole time - in retrospect, I should have probably just made a cup of tea separately, then poured it into the boil). And while I was at it, I threw in some bitter orange peel, just to amp up the citrus a bit (in case the tea didn't provide it).

Off to the ice bath for cooling, which is something I think I've got a better handle on these days. I think some of the issues with my early beers were partially due to poor temperature control. And I'd guess that part of the reason my last few batches have come out so much better is that I've gotten much better about cooling the wort in an ice bath (I use much more ice now, basically, and it helps that I'm doing this during late winter, when I can open my windows and drop the room temperature quickly). Anyways, got this stuff down to about 80°F - 90°F, strained it into the bucket, and topped off with some room temperature and cold water, bringing final volume up to 50 gallons.

Apparently one of the things that makes this recipe distinctive is the yeast, which seems to have relatively low attenuation (certainly lower than the American and Belgian yeast strains I've been using of late), but given the relatively low gravity nature of the recipe, and the sizeable simple sugar addition, I think the result will still be dry enough. The yeast was packaged on 1/16/12, so it's relatively fresh.

Original Gravity: 1.042 (around 10°Bx). I got sick of using my hydrometer, so I invested in a fancy new refractometer. Unfortunately, I got the variety that only displays measurements in Brix, but the conversion is somewhat straighforward and I have an easier time reading this than my hydrometer. The gravity came in a little below the target, but it should be fine. If all goes well, this should produce a beer at around 4% ABV (maybe even less). Given the alcohol and simple sugar addition, I'm looking at a light (in body, not color), quaffable beer. Fingers crossed.

I plan to bottle in about two weeks time (could probably do so earlier because of the low gravity, but I'll keep it at two weeks). Since the style isn't supposed to be heavily carbonated, I'll probably end up using less priming sugar than usual, maybe 2-3 oz (as opposed to 5). Next up in the brewing adventures will be a Belgian style dubbel, though I need to do some work to figure out a good recipe for that one. After that, who knows?

(Cross posted on Kaedrin Beer Blog and Tempest in a Teacup)
Posted by Mark on March 11, 2012 at 01:15 PM .: link :.



Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Tasting Notes - Part 5
Yet another edition of Tasting Notes, a series of quick hits on a variety of topics that don't really warrant a full post. So here's what I've been watching/playing/reading/drinking lately:

Television
  • Fringe - I posted about the first couple seasons a while ago, but I've recently caught up with Season 3 and most of Season 4. To my mind, the show really came into its own in Season 3. What started out as unfocused and aimless has very slowly evolved into a tight, well-plotted series in season 3. I'm not sure I'd call it great, but Season 3 was a lot of fun. There are some ridiculous things about the series as a whole, and that's still there, but it all seemed to be worked out in the third season. Season 4, on the other hand, seems to have taken a few steps backward. It's actually very disorienting. Everything from the first three seasons is now unclear and less important. This was probably their intention, but I'm not entirely sure I like it. I mean, we've spent three seasons getting to know these characters, and now we're in yet another alternate universe with the same characters, but they're all slightly different. I'm not ready to give up on the show or anything, but it seems like the show is back on its unfocused track...
  • Netflix Watch Instantly Pick of the Week: Terriers - This is an interesting series. It was cancelled after the first season... and while I can see why (the film is almost incessantly anti-mainstream, often finishing off episodes on a down note), I did still enjoy watching the series.
Movies
  • The Secret World of Arrietty - Solid Studio Ghibli film. Not perfect, but well worth a watch and very different than typical American animated fare. Here's my question - what's with the title? It's so weird and unapproachable, whereas the source material, a book called The Borrowers, seems much more appropriate and marketable. This just makes no sense to me. (I suppose one could also quibble about the term "borrowers" since that implies that the goods will be returned, which doesn't happen either. There's actually an interesting discussion to be had here about what constitutes theft/stealing in the world set up in this book/movie.)
  • Act of Valor - A very... strange movie. I don't quite know what to make of this. It stars actual, active-duty Navy SEALs and... they are clearly not actors. Any scenes with dialogue are a little on the painful side, and it doesn't help that they keep talking about their families and how they can't wait to get back to their family and isn't being a father great? I'd give a spoiler warning for what happens here, but it's pretty damn obvious from, oh, the first 5 minutes in the movie what's going to happen at the end. All that being said, the action sequences are very well done and seemingly authentic, though there are a number of scenes shot to resemble a FPS video game. For the first time ever, I think it actually works in this movie, though it's still a little strange to see movies and video games blending together like that.
  • Netflix Watch Instantly Pick of the Week: Gambit - Classic heist film starring a very young Michael Caine as a burglar who hires Shirley MacLaine to help rob one of the richest men in the world. Caine's got a great plan, but of course, things rarely go as planned. Or does it? Tons of twists and turns in this one; very entertaining and satisfying. Highly recommended. (Update: Well, shit, Netflix apparently took it off Instant Streaming... and they don't even have a DVD for the thing. It is on Amazon Instant though...)
Video Games
  • Shadow of the Colossus - I finished Ico a while ago and I loved it. I've since moved on to the other Team Ico game, Shadow of the Colossus. I've actually played this before, but I never finished it. The HD remix that's available on the PS3 now is actually quite nice, though the game still seems a bit stunted to me. Don't get me wrong, it's got great production design and an interesting structure (basically 16 boss fights and that's it), but some of the puzzles (i.e. how to defeat each Colossus) are a bit too obtuse, and once you figure them out, it can still be a huge pain to actually defeat your opponent. It just seems like sometimes the game is giving you busy-work just for the sake of doing so... That being said, I'm determined to actually finish the game off, and I am kinda looking forward to the next Team Ico game, which should be coming out sometime this year.
  • Upcoming Video Gamery: Mass Effect 3 came in the mail this week, and I'm greatly looking forward to it. It took me a while to get into part 2, but once I got there, I enjoyed it quite a bit. I'm a little intrigued by the fact that my character/team from the second game can be transferred to this third game. Not sure how dynamic that makes things, but I guess we'll find out.
  • Other Video Gamery: I've played a little Soul Calibur V, and fighting games remain inscrutable for me. I can get some of the basics down, but once I get into the more advanced maneuvers/enemies, I fall apart pretty quickly, and the game doesn't seem to do a very good job teaching you the more advanced aspects of combat. At this point, I have more fun creating custom characters than actually fighting. I also got a copy of Resistance 3, which is just another FPS with aliens and guns and big explosions and stuff. What can I say, I'm a sucker for that sort of thing.
Books
  • Of the eleven books posted in my last Book Queue, I've read 5. I've only got two books left in Lois McMaster Bujold's excellent Vorkosigan Saga, and I've posted about some of the other books I've read.
  • I'm currently finishing off Shamus Young's Witch Watch, and I'm enjoying it quite a bit.
  • I may end up finishing off the Vorkosigan books next, but I'm also quite looking forward to famous security wonk Bruce Schneier's latest book, Liars & Outliers. It promises to be informative and level-headed look at "trust" from a security professional's standpoint.
The Finer Things
  • I've had lots of great beer recently, but I'll just link over to my beer blog rather than repeat myself here. I've been updating that blog much more often than I ever thought I would, and it's been a lot of fun. Check it out!
  • I think I'll be posting on Sunday about my next Homebrew. I had originally planned to make it an "Earl Grey" beer, but it turns out that food-grade Bergamot oil is somewhat hard to come by (most of what you can find is made for external use). I may still end up getting some flavor from a few teabags of Earl Grey, but it will probably be less prominent than originally planned. Again, more details to come.
And that's all for now...
Posted by Mark on March 07, 2012 at 08:03 PM .: link :.



Sunday, March 04, 2012

Again Link Dump
It hasn't been a while since I've done one of these (in fact, I just did one a few days ago), but I'm doing another one anyway. Because I feel like it and you're going to like it, that's why.
  • An Open Letter to Chris Dodd - Eric S. Raymond lays down why SOPA/PIPA/ACTA annoys the "technologists" in a concise and well articulated fashion.
    I can best introduce you to our concerns by quoting another of our philosopher/elders, John Gilmore. He said: "The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it."

    To understand that, you have to grasp that "the Internet" isn’t just a network of wires and switches, it’s also a sort of reactive social organism composed of the people who keep those wires humming and those switches clicking. John Gilmore is one of them. I’m another. And there are some things we will not stand having done to our network.
    I'm not sure I 100% agree with everything he says and I'm virtually certain that Chris Dodd won't read this (or understand it if he does), but I do think it's well written and insightful.
  • Loss by Elisha Cooper - Notably because she (apparently Elisha is a guy - my bad!) coins a new German word and it's fucking brilliant:
    Schtolenfünken is the German word that describes the feeling of letdown and disappointment that occurs when people we think are good (cyclists) do bad things (steal my wheel), and yes, I made the word up.
    Heh. (via Steven)
  • Pronunciation Manual - So there's this thing on YouTube where people post these videos that explain how to pronounce certain words or names, like famous German mathematician, Hilbert (That's for you Mike, if you're reading this). Then there's Pronunciation Manual, which does the same thing in the same format, but is completely wrong and completely hilarious. I have spent at least an hour listening and relistening to the videos on this channel, and it was glorious. Some favorites: Chipotle (this one now pops into my head all the time, for no reason), Haute Couture, Zach Galifianakis, Schadenfreude (we should get that guy to try and pronounce "Schtolenfünken"), Tag Heuer (which I wouldn't mind actually knowing the pronunciation of... and yes, that's also available.) and Bruschetta. Unfortunately, there are multiple folks contributing to the channel, and some are much more creative and funny than others. For example, this entry on Thesaurus strikes me as dumb and uncreative, and Panties is pronounced correctly, even if the guy saying it is being incredibly creepy. Actually, I'm pretty sure that most of my favorites are the same guy... Anyway, there's also Renunciation Book, which has the skinny on how to pronounce McDonald's Glyph.
  • And the Angely said unto thee - Stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself...
  • Shopping For Idiots - Two guys go shopping for non-existent items and have to explain these ridiculous items to people who work at the store. For the most part, the people who work at the various stores are unflappable. Some example items: fancy boy lip glitter, ankle grease, disposable slacks, non-alcoholic whisky, Mormon disco ball, and, of course, a toddler sized shark cage.
  • Reset Button: Megatextures - Shamus continues his sporadic video series explaining minutia of video game technology, and it's, as always, a really interesting take on something that could be really dry and boring.
That is all for now. You are excused.
Posted by Mark on March 04, 2012 at 05:56 PM .: link :.



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