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