Friday, December 12, 2008

Its xmas time again (and a new seasonal beer!)

Wow, apparently I've kept this blog up for more than three years now. Often times (like these last few months) its been very sparse in posts, but I think there is some good content over the years. In fact, I know there is some good content since I still get emails and comments from people for several of my posts over the years.

Anyway, I only have one bit of news I suppose. Last Friday I brewed the new seasonal beer at Alley Kat, which will be an English dark mild of about 3.5% abv. From the test batches, it should have lots of crystal & chocolate malt flavours with just enough hop bitterness to balance the sweetness. I love the mild style, and I think we should be drinking it more in North America. When I was in Scotland it was great to go to the pub and drink pints of real ale that was often below 4% abv. You could drink good tasting beer and not get trashed. Unless you drank a lot of it... but even then you were far less hungover in the morning.
In any case, I can't wait for the final product.

In other news... I've gone crazy buying safety equipment for my new car. I can't wait to get stuck in a remote wilderness location so I can use my fire-staring equipment and blankets. Or find a new car accident so I can use my first aid kit. Or pull up to someone on the side of the road who just happens to need a 1/16" nut driver... anyway, yeah I went a little crazy at Canadinan Tire. I love going there.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Yep, a whole month.

So its been an entire month since I've posted a blog entry. But that's the way it goes I suppose...

Being a head brewer has been a learning experience so far. I'm good at brewing and working on my own, I just have to get good at getting other people to do what I want them to. Also, going from sitting on my fattening ass being a student to going back directly to hard physical work for 8+ hours a day is very tiring.

Anyway, some cool beers coming up in the next few months, more notes on that later. The nice thing about being the head brewer is that I pretty much brew all the "interesting" stuff. The normal day-to-day stuff the other guys can do.

So thats the quick and boring update.


Sunday, September 28, 2008

One more thing I love about Canada... the CBC.

Frankly, I love the CBC. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Well, the radio at least. I was just thinking that I seem to listen to CBC radio almost all weekend (commercial free of course). Quirks & Quarks, Vinyl Cafe, Rex Murphy, Wiretap, Michael Enright, DNTO, C'est la vie, Dispatches, Search Engine... and more.

I love that we as Canadians can get this excellent content, and even more that most of it is available for free whenever you want to listen to it as a podcast. The CBC is part of my cultural identity... part of our cultural identity.

When I was (much) younger I used to think of the CBC as some annoying thing that my parents listened to; except for the Vinyl Cafe, I always loved that. And Quirks & Quarks. Oh, and several other shows... I'm not really sure what turned me off CBC when I was young. Maybe it was just that I wouldn't be caught dead listening to it in front of my friends. But I know I would listen to it when nobody else would be able to judge me. So maybe I've really always loved the CBC. Especially the Vinyl Cafe with Stuart McLean. I've always loved the Dave & Morly stories.

In any case, I now officially proclaim my love for the CBC. I think that we, as Canadians, should listen more. I think that we, as Canadians, should be proud that we have such privilege to have access to such content.

That is all.


Friday, August 22, 2008


Well, I've submitted my dissertation. "Effects of dark specialty malts on the growth of common brewing bacteria". I'm tired... a couple of beers, then I think I'll go to sleep early. I'm drinking a Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted and eating Ritz crackers... the combination of the two leaves the taste of chineese food in my mouth. Weird!

Anyway, some good beer-drinking tomorrow night then on Monday morning bright and early I begin the trip back to Canada. As much as I like Scotland, I think being away makes me know why I love Canada.

See (some of you) soon!


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What happened to my iTunes -> amarok script?

Hm, I've got a couple of comments on a post about a script I made a couple of years ago that converts all of your iTunes data into the Linux amarok db format. Unfortunately I have no idea where it went. I must have accidentally deleted it at some point.

Oh well. I got several emails back in the day telling me people found it useful, but doing a quick google suggests that somebody else has made a much better solution than my quickly hacked together perl script did. Plus I'm sure both have changed their data formats slightly enough to break my script.

Ah, to be breifly fameous to 10 people.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Half Cycle Off

I woke up at 8:00 today. Unfortunately it was the wrong 8:00 and the sun is just heading down. My sleep schedule has been so messed up lately. I lasted until noon today before I had to go to bed, maybe tomorrow I'll last until 2 or 3 pm and wake up even later. Its easy to mess up your sleep schedule when you don't have any place to be at any time.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Hatin' on 0844

So, last month the university residence people here (Heriot-Watt) upgraded the phone system to a VOIP carrier with much cheaper rates. However, they neglected one thing: they didn't check to see if international incoming calls worked. I can't receive calls from Canada. Apparently, according to the tech support guy, and some information held on the second page of a googling, not all service providers in all countries allow calls to 0844 numbers in the UK. Carriers of particular to note: ones in Canada and Australia. Hm. Crap.

Now this may seem surprising at first, but this is more common that it seems. No UK service provider I have have had access to seems to allow me to call 1-800/866/etc numbers in North America. Presumably, this is because they can't collect their money for the collect calls. Apparently if I call the international operator I can do the 1-800 calls but at great expense to the receiver. If they accept the call. But what chance is there of that on the computer automated system on my bank. So I make due by paying the cost out of my own pocket the few times I've needed to call.

But back to the 0844 issue... what possible reason is there not to allow a call to such a number? And who's problem is it? Is it my new UK service provider (Freewire)? Or is it my girlfriend's calling-card company and my parents provider (Telus)? Or is it all Canadian carriers? Or is it the UK phone system? Or is it my university's residence manager who decided to change to the cheaper system without proper due diligence? From my perspective, even though my call rate is cheaper, the service provided to me is technically worse.

Every provider I've emailed has either not got back to me, or just said that the problem is with the provider in the other country. Can this seriously be a problem that hasn't been widely considered int he telephone-o-sphere?? Seriously?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


My floor these days

So this is what my floor looks like these days. I've started in again on writing my MSc dissertation again. Its going alright... we finally received a notice from the faculty about what they are expecting, and its not as much as I thought. Its important to be straightforward and concise about the research done and literature review. So the length isn't as important as the fact that you say what you did, give the results, and back it up with prior literature. I had written a lot of the literature review a few months back, and I think I was trying to write too much. Like I don't need to go over all the basics as they are... well, basic. I can assume, for example, that my audience actually knows what barley is; I don't need to tell them!

Anyway, in writing this I am actually procrastinating from writing again. But thats ok. I'm staying up alllll night long tonight and all day tomorrow as I'm trying to break my recent sleep schedule of going to bed at 5 am and waking up at 2 pm.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Slave to bacteria

My MSc project deals with Lactobacilus brevis, a common beer spoilage bacteria. For some tests I'm doing, I need to sample every 6 hours (or less...) in order to get some decent results.

This doesn't bode well for my sleep... I've already done two (6pm and 12am) and I pretty much stayed awake all night to do the 6 am sampling... not that I intended to, but I think I drank too much strong coffee before going in for the 12 am sampling so I wasn't able to sleep.

Anyway... I'm not looking forward to this time tomorrow (5 am) as I may be going out of my skull by then. Unless I can force myself to sleep in the middle of the day for a couple of hours.

Damn bacteria.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Scheduling Software for a Small Brewery

In the past few months I've been contemplating and working on a wee software solution to a problem that I've seen at many small craft breweries that I've visited:

A lot of breweries I've been to have scheduling methods that work for them just fine... but usually involve a pencil and some paper. Maybe and excel spreadsheet if they're lucky. Existing production management software can be too expensive for a small business, and there is no guarantee that the investment will pay itself off. These software packages are bloated with more features than are needed for a brewery, since they are for "any" production environment. As well, they often require the software be installed on a Windows computer... ONE Windows computer per license.

What I'm working on is a schedule
helper for the small brewery. The schedule is to run off a webserver, with a database back end. This has the advantage in that no additional software needs to be installed by the client, and it doesn't matter weather the client is on Mac, Windows, Linux, etc. In theory, the software could be accessed from anywhere in the world (of course, significant security measures would have to be employed!)
This also means that schedule information can be viewed and modified on, say, an iPhone :).

I have broken it down into several separate modules:
1. Scheduler - Books batches of beer on resources (fermenters, conditioning tanks, humans, etc). Displays output in a graphical format, so that the schedule can be visualized for any conflicts or problems. An example schedule ought to look something like this (click for larger view):

The basic scheduler has no data for recipe, volumes, etc etc. I'd also like to have it possible to enter a matrix of dependencies, and provide an "auto schedule" algorithm. But thats way off in the future.

2. Recipe data - As a separate module that can be added in if needed. Basically, this module can handle what goes into each batch of beer, as well as record volumes throughout the process. I've designed it is such a way that the client can add almost an infinite number of ingredients.

3. Consumables management - of course, if you have ingredients, you ought to be able to manage them. This should be able to keep track of ingredients and help plan when to order more supply. This isn't limited to ingredients, this can include bottles... cleaning supplies... boxes... etc.

4. Quality control - This is very important to the brewer. This module can handle data from quality control checks, as defined by the client.

5. Sales & Customer Database - I've not programmed or planned anything around this section. However, it would definitely be useful if this software is ever to be a complete solution for the small brewer (for now its just a helper!).

Timeline: when do I see this being produced? Since I'm working a full time job, I'll be doing it on my own time, don't expect anything public for quite some time! In theory, I'll using it to help with my job at a small craft brewery (more on that news later)... it could be years before I feel comfortable releasing it.

Of course, for now I should be finishing my MSc thesis...


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Leave your bag at the front counter, please.


On the surface, such a request seems innocent enough. But it also implies that I might be a criminal. I don't like being made to feel like a suspected criminal while I intend to buy something at your store. Besides, what if somebody steals my bag? Or the punk behind the counter rifles through it?

As such, I refuse to shop at any store that requires me to remove my bag.

Society these days seems willing to put up with an awful lot of little inconveniences for other people's security and peace of mind. Are we ok with being treated as guilty until proven innocent? I think most people would say no. But we allow it every day.

We put up with it at a much larger scale too. Apparently now there is over a million names on the US terror watch list. One million names. Added with secret criteria, and impossible to remove. If you are unlucky enough to have a similar name as somebody who may have possibly had a connection to something that might have maybe been a possible terrorist action, your flying days will become very difficult. You can't defend yourself against the accusations (since you don't know what they are) and you can't fight the label (unless you have a lot of money for some lawyers). Guilty until proven innocent... but you can't prove innocence.

Being a shoplifting suspect and being a terror suspect are certainly several orders of magnitude different. But they follow the same principle: give up your rights for the peace of mind of somebody else.

Are you willing to be treated like a shoplifting suspect for the peace of mind of the shop owner?
Are you willing to be treated like a terrorist suspect for the peace of mind of a country?


Monday, July 07, 2008

Back from Belgium

Yes, I went to Belgium last week. Just 5 days for a quick vacation... and "research".

I managed to do some very good "research" mostly on the under-appreciated lambic (sour) beer style, as well as some of my old favorite Belgian Trappist and Abby beers. As well as an excellent visit to the Affligem brewery. I'll write more in due course, as I've just got back and have a heck of a lot of work to do in the next day or two.

Best part: Sitting in an off-the-tourist-path cafe terrace under trees in Graanmarkt in Burssels, sipping on beer, people watching, and reading all afternoon on Sunday.

Worst part: Spending too damn much... everything else was pretty good, really.

I love Belgium!

Cheers for now