Category Archives: Behind the sofa

Ethanol fuel = bad, pt. 2

Ah, look at this: the New York Times has a story about a major study supporting my previous assertations. Note: I’m not claiming to be any kind of thought leader; clearly, that’s not the case. It’s just fun to be ahead of the mainstream bubble for a teeny bit. Note two: Thanks to Dad for the link to the story.

Here’s the gist of the story:

Almost all biofuels used today cause more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels if the full emissions costs of producing these “green” fuels are taken into account, two studies being published Thursday have concluded.

I’m glad to see this thinking make it to the mainstream media, but we all know what’ll happen next: someone will find the next great “cure” for our energy needs while trumpeting environmental benefits that don’t really exist under close inspection. I’m pretty certain that in the final analysis, we’ll find that as a species, most of our problems stem from one of two basic problems: too many people, too little education. I’d add “too much greed” to that list, but I think a decent argument can be made for greed descending from scarcity and under-education.

At any rate, there’s no cause for undue alarm: while it won’t be pretty, the above combination is inherently self-limiting.

Beer Here

Hooray! Hooray! There’s Beer in the house again.

Sure, there’s the normal micro/regional brews in the beer drawer in the bottom of the fridge (yet another benefit of living with a vegetarian: a used-to-be-empty cold-storage for brew), but as of my birthday, there’s also made-it-myself Beer in situ.

In the middle of the day on my birthday last week, while I was washing some dishes, I turned to The Wife and exclaimed, “I know what I want for my birthday: a homebrew kit!”

“That’s funny,” she replied with a grin, “that’s what I was thinking of getting you.”

A couple days later, we went over to the scummy, nasty little BPC* store that just happens to have an expansive selection of homebrew equipment, and I picked out a box full of equipment and a red ale kit.

Now for those of you who don’t know, I started brewing when I was 17, after a visit to UC-Boulder, during which I spent the night at a friend’s house and helped him and his roomie bottle a batch of brew. I also had one to drink, and I think it pretty much kicked my ass. Anyway, the next morning, I announced to my parents that I was going to start brewing, too. Like all good parents, they made appreciative noises, nodded their heads, and probably hoped I’d forget about it somewhere in the middle of Nebraska on the drive home.

No such luck. The first week back from that trip, I went to the closest brew store (a 45-minute drive away), dropped about $120 on equipment and a kit, came home and proceeded to make stout. Which tasted a lot like warm, flat soy sauce before it got bottle conditioned. A couple weeks later, it tasted like cold, barely-carbonated soy sauce. But I drank all 52 bottles. I mean, really, I had to; it was a matter of saving face.

I don’t remember making beer between then and when I left for college, but I certainly remember hauling all my brewing paraphernalia to school, and I made a “kitchen sink” batch in which I used up all my bits and bobs of ingrediants, plus a little crystal malt and a bunch of Cascades hops. I did my boil in the kitchen of another dorm so I’d stink up that rez hall, and I fermented the brew under my desk in my dorm room. After I bottled, I made a batch of root beer and cream soda so I had a good reason to get the RA to help me haul a bunch of cases of full beer bottles into the storage room. That was the best batch of beer I’ve made to-date, and of course, I have no records of what I did. *sigh*

After brewing a few more times in college, I figured that hauling around my brewing stuff was too much work, so I gave it all to a friend who put it to good use. That was 12 years ago.

Now I’m back! And oddly enough, the batch that I just racked into secondary fermentation seemed a whole lot easier to make than I remember. It was easier to do, easier to clean up from, and hopefully, it’ll be nice and easy to drink. So far, so good, but I’ll report back on it when it comes out of the bottle for the first time in about three or four weeks.

*Beer, Porn, and Chips

Busy boy

Wow. The winter holidays have come and gone, and I feel like my feet are finally starting to touch the (frozen, icy, and *very* slippery) ground again. It was really nice to have my folks come up for a brief-but-fun visit for Christmas eve and Christmas day. The Boy implemented a play-with-it-after-you-open-it policy for all his gifts, so he didn’t finish off his monster-stack of presents until the evening of the 26th. (It doesn’t help that I made a tactical error by using Hot Wheels as stocking-stuffers.)

And in the past couple of weeks, I’ve had a bunch of potential side jobs start stacking up. Of course, none of them (except a free site rebuild I’m doing for some friends) has actually come to fruition yet. Everyone’s talking pretty big, but with most side projects, I ask for half (usually) the money up front, and I won’t start work until I have a check. Most folks don’t have a problem with that, but I have yet to have anyone in this group actually hand me a check. Oh, there are rumors of money, even, with one group, assurances that “the check is in the mail. Really.”

And while I’m not working on any of these projects yet, I’m still thinking about them all of the time, and I feel pressure from them all in the back of my head like I *should* be working on them, but have chosen to slack. But I’m standing firm. I’m telling these folks what Cuba Gooding, Jr., told Tom Cruise in “Jerry Maguire.” Show me the money. We’ll see how that works out.

What the Google?

Or, It’s All in a Name

Just on a whim, I decided to see how easy it is to find me on Google without using any variation of “aj” in the search. Shockingly enough, my first hit is #34 and the second one is #39 for the search phrase “van beest.” Apparently, I need to do some SEO for my name. And dang that Van Beest hardware company, anyway! (And yes, I know I’m hurting my SEO efforts here, but the things I’ll do in the name of a mildly interesting post…)

Rocket Man

I got home a couple nights ago, hopped out of the car, and as always, looked up to see what the night sky had in store. And there, right in front of me, was a thing.

It was a pretty bright-ish thing with a well-defined point on one side and a wispy cone-shaped tail on the other side. Naturally, I assumed this was the comet that everyone (he said, with his tongue in his cheek) is talking about. I went inside, got The Boy and The Wife out of the house into the cold dark and pointed out the thing, and we all made appropriate noises of excited awe.

Then, later that evening, when we got home from an emergency chocolate run, we looked up again, and the thing was gone. Huh, we said, that’s weird. You wouldn’t think a comet would just go away over the course of an hour. Perhaps there is haze.

But then The Wife, ever curious and Google-rific, did a little digging. “Uh, honey,” she said after a bit, “that wasn’t the comet. That was a rocket.” Apparently the comet-like thing we saw was the booster jettisoning extra propellant after its spy satellite payload reached orbit.

You see the damnedest things when you look up.

Something, but not an environmentalist, necessarily

Thinking about the world and my place in it, I’ve come to realize something: I’m not necessarily an environmentalist.

This may not come as a great shock to the folks who regularly spend time with me these days, but it was eye-opening for me. For the longest time, I’ve assumed I was an environmentalist, but I’m not sure I fit the bill anymore.

I’m all for clean air and clean water. I’m against corporate usury and greed. I think everyone should have a shot at the good life, provided they don’t trample other people in the process. I like to consider the downstream effects of my actions.


People who drive 30 miles to work but think leaving their computer in “sleep” mode overnight is “wasteful” drive me nuts. People who preach about native vs. invasive species don’t see the forest for the trees. And folks who drive hybrid cars because they’re “saving oil” need to refresh their knowledge of physics, ecology, and economics.

Lately, “environmentalism” seems to have become just another way to sell stuff. You’ve got your “green” this and “organic” that, all significantly marked up because if it’s not expensive, it couldn’t possibly be good for the planet. What used to be people taking independent, thoughtful action has been co-opted by the suits at the corner of Wall Street and Madison Avenue.

No matter what label I use for myself (and why, really, do I feel the need to label myself?), there are a few things that I hold sacred. Critical thinking (especially when combined with common sense) is chief among those. Next comes justice, compassion, and personal responsibility. Only after that is a pristine environment any good to me, and really, shouldn’t that flow from the whole “critical thinking” bit?

A little hash treat

For a while now, I haven’t been remembering my dreams, which is unusual. But things are back in sync now; to wit:

I went to a rock concert; I don’t remember the name. I had a backstage pass, and the lead guitarist looked like a cross of Michael McKean and Alan Rickman, but in a red velour jacket. With gold trim.

These guys took the stage and did something like heavy rock mixed with classical music, complete with guys dressed in nothing but boxers and flack jackets in the mosh pit. And speaking of dress, there were lots of naked people around, especially women (for some reason, they seemed more comfortable with being naked at the concert; don’t ask me, I was just there, right?)

Before the concert, as I and a thousand of my closest friends were sitting at the cafeteria tables in the school the concert was at, the lead singer came out and asked everyone to take one of the styrofoam “to-go” containers that were in a big pile at the side.

“I’ve given you cookies,” he announced into the mike with a big grin, “some potato salad, and a little hash treat.” I looked in my white box, and sure enough, there was a small, sticky, green cube. And potato salad. “Some of you might balk at taking drugs from a stranger,” the guy continued, “and that’s probably a good thing. After all, if you eat this little hash treat you might just…” he drifted off, staring at the clock in the silence. A few heartbeats later, people started to get his joke, and laughter rippled through the cafeteria.

“And now…” The singer paused for dramatic effect. “Photographs! You all know the drill.”

And they did, indeed all know the drill. It was $200 a crack to pose with the band, bring your own camera, maximum of three shots. And while the band was in costume, that in no way affected the state of dress of any of the concert goers posing with them.

PS: If you feel like I wussed out on the hash treat link, please keep two things in mind:

  • The Internet is (mostly) forever
  • It’s way funnier to us geeks this way

See what happens?

I spend seven hours in the car (not all at once, thank god) yesterday, ace my general exam, then spend all night dreaming of the collapse of society due to compromised computer networks and panicky people.

And now I’m cuckoo for coax, trying to figure out all the little details of my first couple homebrew antennas. I think there’s going to be a copper J-pole and a smallish variety of wire antennas (say, one end-fed longwire, a couple inverted-Vs, and maybe a dipole or two for the higher HF bands.