Monday, May 13, 2019

Ramping up travel

Every few months, I go through our finances with a magnifying glass. Every transaction posted to our checking account and to our credit card gets categorized. There's some squishiness to the classification -- should the transaction at Target be Groceries or Household? But it gets us pretty reasonable insights into what we're doing.

A few years ago, I discovered that we had been paying $11/month to Amazon for Kindle Unlimited - a service we had never used. Armed with the data, I was able to get them to refund me 12 months of the service; so let it never be said that my penchant for data analysis is for naught.

This most recent trek through our data, Andrea asked me how much money we're putting into travel. Because our money is grouped by month, we can look at this either on the whole or as time series. As expected, our percentage of all expenditures tracked dedicated to travel has risen sharply in the last few years:


 NB, one of the intentional approaches we're taking here with how we're categorizing things is that basically everything we spend our money on when we're traveling (at least abroad) is considered Travel. The meals out aren't Meals Out; gifts, groceries, gas, and everything else is done wholly in service to traveling and as such falls into that category.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

I'm 37, I'm not old

 The latter half of February was pretty slow by our standards, though I did get two batches of beer brewed -- a hefeweizen and a dunkelweizen, which are now fully-recognized members of our family and have climate control rights. Seen here in the office before they moved to the garage.

And my birthday. My boys wanted to snuggle in with me and my delicious milk stout for a birthday selfie.

Reed has also been building some forts in our living room. After his first and most grand œuvre d'art had to be deconstructed, he decided to do another one so we could have a boys night in the fort. He started by making a scale model out of magnetiles. Also, silly face, as per usual.

Then we built in Friday morning together.

He, Jake, and I slept it in Friday. Mostly, they slept and I laid down very uncomfortably for eight hours or so.

The next day, we went to Blue Origin's facility not far from our place to do a tour. No pictures were allowed inside, unfortunately, but it was pretty awesome.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Early Februray pictures: beer, bread, and snow

My oatmeal stout turned out okay after two weeks fermentation then force carbonation.

Our first snow in maybe two years? Four inches or so has more or less shut everything down, and there are predictions for as much as another foot this weekend.

It looks fairly nice - even on the rain chain.

My first attempt at a boule loaf of bread, baked in my dutch oven. It will require more practice, though.

The boys are enjoying sledding over at the community rec center. Fortunately, we still have our sled from when we went out to Leavenworth, WA, last winter.

To avoid cabin fever, Andrea and I have taken a few walks around the neighborhood in the morning. I try to pick up as much garbage as I can, and this morning I got a fairly small bag of stuff.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

First microscope pictures

For Christmas, we bought Reed a new microscope and some goodies to go with it - including blank slides. This morning, after my normal breadmaking, I thought it would be fun to look at the dough and yeast under the microscope. So Reed and I spent a half hour being amateur scientists in our office.

First was a chunk of our bread dough -- flour, salt, water, and yeast, having risen overnight:

Then a bit of dry yeast, which wasn't particularly exciting:

I thought that if we dyed our samples with iodine, they might pop a bit more. The bread dough turned out to be pretty tough to do -- it didn't seem that the iodine really penetrated the mix terribly much. Around the periphery, though, we did get an interesting result -- we all thought it looked very much like a top-down view of a forest:

The yeast, though, was quite interesting:

His microscope isn't setup for taking pictures, so unfortunately the quality isn't great.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Pictures of beer, bread, and scouting things

Pinewood Derby 2019

...which featured a Battle Bus for the first time

My keg's thermostat stopped working, so I had to rebuild it. This time, it went significantly better than the first one, probably because this time I had soldering flux and because I made such a monstrosity last time that I've learned a little bit about what not to do.

I made a bike rack for in our garage, which should help protect Jake's new bike and my motorcycle.

Reed and I went to Monster Jam with our cub scout pack

And in the evening, I busted out some brewing equipment and started an oatmeal stout.

Reed was super excited for me to come home on Monday. We texted each other as I was on the bus home. When I got home, "Dad, I am ready to jump on you ♥"

My first attempt to use spent beer grains in bread. We'll see how it turns out in the morning.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Some end- and beginning-of-year pictures from the Shireys

Getting ready for our Christmas party with my French meetup, the boys wanted to get their own button-up shirts and ties. They learned how to tie a Windsor and are now pros.

One of the tables at the Microsoft Garage, which is a neat design I'm going to attempt to replicate at some point.

Speaking of the Garage, one of the guys I run into on a regular basis has this in his office/neighborhood at work.

Christmas Eve hike with the family to Central Peak. (We didn't actually go the whole way, which is okay.)

At the start of the new year, I was so close to having finished my French version of A Brief History of Time. Jake sent "Little Spot" with me to work so I could read with him on the bus. I don't know how much Little Spot understood.

Roasting a pound of coffee (which takes maybe an hour?)

Oh yeah, and buying another 14 pounds of coffee:

We bought Jake a new bike for Christmas, and bright and early the next day, he wanted to go out on a bike ride.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Kegerator v1.0

A local brewery, Four Generals, makes a fantastic milk stout called Buddahed that took gold in this year's Washington Beer Awards. Last year, as their supply was waning and I had the dry summer months looming, I mused that perhaps I should have gotten a keg to tide me over. Andrea, being awesome, told me to buy a kegerator and a keg to go with it this winter. As luck would have it, a friend of mine owns a good deal of homebrew equipment that he couldn't take abroad with him on a few year assignment. So I am now the steward for the next few years of two corney kegs and a CO2 tank. With that, I decided to try my hand at making a kegerator and setting it up.

The first was to refill the CO2 tank. A 5lb tank should last two kegs, according to the salesman, though no indication as to whether that's two full kegs, two half kegs, two sixth kegs, etc., but we'll find out. It cost $17 for a trade-in tank.

The missing piece -- the kegerator -- turns out to be a few hundred dollars and makes the financial aspect of a residential tap less palatable. But I found a wine fridge (which is bigger than a typical apartment- or dorm-style fridge/freezer combo) on craigslist for free that really just needed some TLC and some work on the thermostat.

I picked it up for the cost of gas to Redmond, brought it home, and started playing with it. The thermostat, even on full cold, didn't get the fridge less than like 55°.

I disconnected the wires from the thermostat (above, with the quick disconnect ends) and connected them, and within an hour, the fridge was well below freezing, so I knew it worked okay. According to some research I did, beer is "ideally" kept at 38° (though a discussion I had this morning with one of the guys at Brewhouse Provisions in Redmond said that stout is typically upper 40s or lower 50s). The problem, then, is how to replace the thermostat. I didn't really want to just get another plain old thermostat (even though that would have probably been the prudent thing to do) -- this is an opportunity to do something interesting.

Instead, I bought three Arduino Nanos for about $12, a pack of six relays for about $11, three thermistors for $9, a pack of LEDs and resistors, some protoboards and breadboards, and probably a few other things. Having never done much soldering or EE work to speak of, designing the extremely simple electronics was quite a bit of work for me. Both the kitchen table and my hands had some burns from the soldering iron:

In the end, I was able to wire up a thermostat that functions.

The software was a lot easier. (Code available here.) The basic idea is:
  1. Using a thermistor, read the temperature inside the fridge.
  2. Give a visual indication of the inside temperature: red for temperatures above the desirable range, blue for temperatures below, and green for the Goldilocks zone.
  3. When the temperature is in the red, kick on the relay for the fridge, starting the cooling process.
  4. When the temperature goes into the blue, turn the relay off.
  5. When the temperature is in the green, do nothing.
I got it all rigged up and tested in (and out of) a glass of ice water:

The visual output indicating the temperature is too warm (left), too cold (middle), and just right (center)
With a functioning thermostat, I started installing it in the fridge. As of now, I'm not drilling any holes in the walls, so I taped the thermistor to the inside wall:

Side note: My soldering and wiring was so terrible that every component except the blue LED failed at some point, and I had to re-solder everything. I consider this a lot like writing code: when you're a new programmer, you write terrible code. But the next project is marginally less terrible. Eventually, your code only kind of sucks, and you get to consider yourself a professional.

After the installation was more or less stable, I hooked up the laptop and started getting temperature readings. My software polls every five seconds (because more frequently isn't needed, and why not every five?). I opened the serial monitor and started collecting temperature measurements.

After about an hour -- when I was tired enough that I was ready to go to bed -- I copied the serial logs and plotted the temperature. At the time, my code was set to have a desirable range of 36-41°F. At the beginning of the readings, the temperature was roughly 60°. I grabbed the sensor to warm it up slightly, but it pretty quickly cooled down. After hitting the low end of the temperature range, the relay kicked off and the fridge slowly warmed up over the next half hour:

So the thermostat was successful, and next was a trip to Brewhouse Provisions to buy a D-type Sankey keg connector because, as I discovered, the Corney kegs I have are a different connection type. Then off to Four Generals with Reed to buy my keg. (This should have had a picture, but I neglected to do so.) About $92 for a 1/6 barrel (plus deposit, but that's refundable, so I won't count it). And finally, back home to put it all together.

Hooking up all the hoses and fittings was super easy and nothing particularly interesting to document.

My overall list of items and costs are as follows:

Half CO2 tank(?)$8
Arduino Nano$4
Temperature sensor$3
Miscellaneous electronics$1
D-type Sankey keg connector, hose, fittings$67.30
1/6 keg$92

With a little luck, all of the equipment will survive, leaving me with an average cost per pint of about $2.40. A bigger (1/2 barrel) keg will bring this cost down to roughly $1.50/pint.