Archive for February 2011

Chest Freezer First Steps

Now that I’m brewing beer again and kegging it (1 · 2 · 3 · 4), the approach of warm weather means that I have to find a way to keep the kegs cool so that I may serve them. To do this I purchased a chest freezer and am in the process of adapting it to use a more precise temperature control system so that I may try and keep the kegs at a consistant 40°F.

After receiving a Johnson Controls A419ABC-1C temperature control I opened up the 7.0 ft3 Holiday-brand chest freezer acquired from Lowes (item number 0073849) and set to understanding it’s temperature control system. It turns out that this chest freezer just has a basic on/off control that switches mains on and off for the compressor based on a temperature probe fed into the wall of the freezer. This should make it very easy to replace the controller with the A419.

Part of converting a chest freezer to beer keg holding requires one to drill holes for both CO2 and the temperature control, which is a very risky task because hitting the refrigerant lines will vent the freezer’s cooling system rendering it useless. To try and understand where the coils are I started the freezer, let it run for a bit, then placed 1L of boiling water in it with the lid closed. The result was this, a nicely frosted freezer showing that almost all of the bottom part contains coils. Knowing this I’m going to attempt to drill the gas/probe holes by first carefully removing some of the lining metal then picking away at the foam to be sure that I’m not going to hit a line when widening the hole. I will start in the corner in the upper right of this picture, as this will allow for both easy gas and temperature probe access once everything is assembled. Hopefully that’ll go well.

If you’re interested, my first photos from this project can be found here.

Amish Country Popcorn

Apparently Amish Country Popcorn abuses takes full advantage of USPS Priority Mail for their Bargain Shipping deals, as all three of these bags were stuffed into a somewhat distended and unexpectedly heavy Medium Flat Rate box when it arrived at my house.

After Erik and Kristi gave Danielle and I some of this popcorn and we compared it side by side with standard store-brand yellow popcorn I couldn’t help but order some. While I normally like plain yellow popcorn, in comparison to this it tasted noticeably dull and starchy whereas the purple version of this popcorn had a solid corn taste to it. I now understand what kurtm was on about when he explained to me how much better proper quality popcorn can be. I imagine this eighteen pounds will keep us in popcorn for quite a while, but it was only 2x the shipped cost of 6 pounds and ensures that there will be plenty to share.

Sour Short’s The Magician?

The eloquent, swift and skillful master who makes things happen.

Despite the lack of serial comma Short’s Brewing Company’s The Magician is a tasty beer. However, I think I may have an off pack that is tasty but in the wrong way; something nice caused by the beer going bad. Short’s describes the beer is described as…

A lustrous dark red London ale with a rich malt combination that lends complex notes of toasted caramel, raisins, chocolate, and roasted toffee. Very light hop additions let the true malt characters promenade throughout the duration of this pleasurable experience.

…yet what I have here in my glass is quite sour, almost like Rodenbach. It’s not bad, but it definitely doesn’t taste like the description reads.

I think I’ll drop Short’s a note and ask them if I have a bad pack.

Short’s Black Licorice Lager

Breweries like Short’s Brewing Company are the reason why I feel that the US has the best overall beer in the world. While there are countless breweries world wide that make excellent beer, there seems to be a strong interest in this country on eschewing the standard beer styles and experimenting with the different ways that a fermented beverage can be made to taste good.

This beer here, Short’s Black Licorice Lager is a perfect example of this. While this would likely fall into the catchall Specialty Beer style, it cannot be discounted as just another odd beer. While the description of how it is a dark lager aged on anise seed, vanilla beans, and chocolate mint lime leaves may be a bit off putting at first, it makes for an extremely good, pleasant beer.

Y Fitting

Thanks to this shiny piece of metal, some more thick wall gas tubing, and another ball lock connector I now have the ability to dispense beer from (or carbonate) two kegs at once. Not only is this more convenient, this will be important when it comes to wedding stuff as the place where we are having our reception requires us to bring our own beer and thus our own dispensing equipment.

Now I just need to acquire a small chest freezer and some temperature control equipment to have a constant 40°F facility for storing such things. The garage worked great in the winter, but as it’s warming up I’ll be needing somewhere else soon.

Area 51 is Drinkable!

It might possible be a bit cloudy, but the Area 51 American IPA (previously), which is really more of an American Pale Ale, is ready to drink. Comparing it to other beer photos of mine I think it’s pretty spot-on style-wise, and taste-wise it’s really quite nice. This is the first beer that I’ve made which I’d easily think came from a proper brewery had I not known that I made it.

This, plus the ease of kegs, is a good thing. If I can keep up quality like this I’ll be quite happy and likely brewing a lot of my own beer in the future.

Thrasher Non-Dairy Creamer

This container of non-dairy creamer found at one of my workplaces as one of the least applicable fonts for a food product, Banco, complete with a dark blue outline. You may recognize this font from the Thrasher Magazine logo (warning, NSFW content on site) and all manner of “edgy” text. Things which are exactly the opposite of non-dairy creamer.

(Thanks to the helpful folks over at AskMefi for putting a name to the image.)

Blue Cheese and Bacon, etc

Friends Don’t Let Friends Buy eMachines

Danielle’s dad’s computer has been having a bunch of problems, and as some of them seem malware-related I am planning on wiping the computer and reinstalling Windows XP. Unfortunately when attempting to back up data it keeps rebooting unexpectedly, so I’ll have to pull the disk to recover data. I suspect the power supply may be going, which may cost a non-trivial amount if it’s even worth replacing.

Worse than that, when dusting out the machine I decided to pull the CPU heatsink / fan assembly as it was pretty well caked with dust. When I did this the CPU popped out along with the heatsink because the CPU was not latched in place. The downward pressure of the heatsink retention mechanism must have been allowing it to make enough contact to work. (For those that don’t know, CPUs normally sit in sockets with large latching levers which actuate contacts to ensure that all pins make contact. This wasn’t set in the socket, just on it. Here is a diagram.)

I hate working on eMachines. The cost saved up front bites you in frustration and parts later.

The Energy Detective TED 5000-G Teardown

Back when I owned a TED 5000-G, before realizing that it has a critical software design flaw which makes it unusable on my network, I decided to open up the enclosures and see what’s inside. Since it’s a power monitoring system which uses PLC (power line communication, one type of which is the familiar X10) to communicate to a data logger and an embedded webserver I figured it would be fairly interesting.

Here’s the teardown photos, with the more interesting chips called out. Links to full-res photos are in the top right corner of each page:

MTU:
    · Unopened
    · Enclosure Opened
    · PCB Top
    · PCB Bottom
        – Microchip PIC24FJ64GA004: Microcontroller.
        – NXP TD5051AT: Home automation modem. Used for PLC.
        – Cirrus Logic CS5461: Power measurement device; does the monitoring itself. EOL’d on 15-Dec-2006, Data Sheet Mirror (PDF).

Gateway:
    · Unopened
    · Enclosure Opened: ZigBee Daughter Board plugged into mainboard.
    · Mains Connection: Ground / earth pin is not connected.
    ZigBee Daughter Board:
        · PCB Top
        · PCB Bottom: Note printed antenna near bottom of photo.
            – Microchip PIC24FHJ64GA106: Microcontroller.
            – Microchip MRF24J40: IEEE 802.15.4 radio, used for ZigBee communications.
    Mainboard
        · PCB Top
            – Microchip ENC28J60: Ethernet Controller.
            – Microchip PIC24FHJ256xxnnn: Microcontroller. Can’t read entire part number.
            – Macronix MS25L3205D (PDF): 32Mbit Serial Flash
        · PCB Bottom
            – Vossel VS1307Z (PDF): Real-time clock, keeps time with main power off by automatically switching to backup source (CR2032).
            – NXP TD5051AT: Home automation modem used for PLC; same as in the MTU.
CTs:
    · CTs: Sealed, not easy to disassemble. Likely nothing interesting inside.

I was really looking forward to getting a TED, and save for the PLC quirks and the webserver bug that made it unusable, I really liked the device. The PCBs themselves also appear to be very well made, and I particularly appreciated that they were closed with simple Philips and Torx fasteners and thus easy to look inside of. If Energy, Inc. releases an updated version with the firmware fixed I’ll consider buying another one, particularly if they stop using PLC and move to all-ZigBee (or some other PAN) for communications from the MTU(s) to the Gateway.