Saturday, December 10, 2005

Christmas Tree!

Christmas Tree 2005

Those who have visited me over the holidays (and you are few; I don't entertain often) know that since becoming single I haven't yet put up a Christmas tree.

This has been rectified. Click if you want to see a larger version.


Thursday, December 08, 2005

Belated Thanksgiving Post

I took several photos of the festivities this Thanksgiving, and wanted to post the non-incriminating ones here for all to enjoy.

Mincemeat PieMincemeat Pie
I just had to share Mom's artistry with everyone. Is it even necessary to mention it tasted as good as it looks?

The TreeThe Tree
Matt and I agreed to help Mom take the first steps in decorating the Christmas tree this year in exchange for room, board and, of course, pie.

Mom will have added three times as many ornaments to the tree as seen here by the time it's finished.

The SpreadThe Spread
This is a (sadly after the fact) picture of the table Mom set for the dinner proper. Mom never does anything by halves.

Turkey Centerpiece with MumsTurkey Centerpiece with Mums
Mom was especially proud of the new centerpiece she received from a friend this year. Matt and I procured chrysanthemums with which to fill it.

Previous CenterpiecePrevious Centerpiece
This is another centerpiece Mom received from a friend. It's about four feet tall, so in order to facilitate conversation over dinner, Mom moved this to another room.

Christmas Tree AngelChristmas Tree Angel
It just seemed like a good idea to snap a close-up of the tree's topping angel.


Thursday, December 01, 2005

Well, an End, of Sorts. And, of Course, a Beginning

Final NaNoWriMo word count: 28,534. Far short of the goal, but I'm pleased anyway.

I've updated the excerpt on my NaNoWriMo profile page with the end I settled for, in order to have one. It's clunky, and a bit more of a summation than a narrative, but I love how it came out, and the thematic stuff I figured out to do with everything, moving forward.

There's lots I need to do to finish this story. But I will do it. I haven't been so excited about writing in... Well, ever.

Gonna get me a novel wrote. :-D


PS. Changed the working name of the thing to Braintape Dreaming.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Reflections on Undertaking Massive Projects in November

Ah well, the hard realities of time show themselves. 26,169 words as of this evening.

I was all prepared to berate myself for lack of progress while traveling, but then it occurred to me that failing to shut myself away for an obscure project--after going to great lengths traveling to see family and friends--might not be such a bad thing.

Anyway, my goal for the project has been revised down. I'll be very happy if I can make 35,000 words for the month, and settling for 30,000 won't be so awful. If I could bring myself to call in sick for the next few days and make a much higher number, I would, but I can't, really, and they can't spare me at work at all this week (especially after sparing me all last week).

This month has taught me a number of wonderful things, not least that I'm capable of generating verbiage en masse and at a much higher quality than I expected.

I'm halfway considering setting myself a New Year's Resolution goal of a thousand words a day. After some of the 2,500-word days I've pulled this month a single thousand nightly ought to be no trouble at all.


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Party On, Garth

Well, after my weekend hiatus, I have pulled off two straight days of word counts higher than 2500. Go me!

Poor Sarah (my main human character). I've really set things up for maximum pain once things go to Hell for her.

Tomorrow I start the parallel narrative of her brother Brian, who's participating in the Singularity and has gone posthuman. I'm kind of intimidated to write from his point of view: after all, he's supposed to be dozens of times more intelligent than I am, and getting moreso all the time.

(That's part of the concept of a technological Singularity: self-perfecting superintelligence. Imagine the headlong pace of advancement we've seen in computer tech over the past thirty years or so, only applied to human health, longevity, intelligence and discernment.)

Anyway, I plan to have another, similarly productive day tomorrow, after which is Harry Potter, the midnight showing on Thursday, and the trip to Atlanta on Friday, so those will be two evenings lost. Perhaps I can use my lunch breaks at work.


Monday, November 14, 2005

Oh, Dear, Where Did the Weekend Go?

I had such plans for my word count this weekend. :-(

I ran into a plot problem, which froze me up, and then I neglected to correct for the fact that I had a more social weekend than usual planned: dates Friday and Sunday, and a visit from friends Saturday evening. I did much thrashing about in notes to myself (wish I could count those words!), and seem to have got around the plot problem, but the all-important Big Number hasn't moved since Thursday. There I said it. Sigh.

The wonderful thing about stll having a goodly portion of the month left is that I can still get through if I average 2,350 words a day. Obviously getting some big-word-count days over the course of this week (2,500 or even 3,000) would build in some padding, so I intend to do some of that tonight and tomorrow.

Of course, when you're trying to get something accomplished is when Life decides it wants a bigger piece of you. Watch this space for the comedy!


Thursday, November 10, 2005

Whew, this Writing Stuff is Hard Work

Whoof. 11,127 words--officially past the NaNoWriMo one-fifth mark. Still about 4,000 words behind my target, but on the fifth of the month I started over 6,600 words in the hole, so I'm making progress.

I'm going to call tonight's work the Agony Aunt chapter--our murderess returns home the Prodigal Daughter, after having had the error of her ways shown to her, replete with a deep conversation with her victim's coexistent backup personality. Anyway, she comes home to the vineyard that her parents started and makes a tearful confession to her mother while her father is seeing the doctor for his might-be-operable-now-that-the-posthumans-are-in-town bone cancer.

I feel the need to write a gunfight with lots of smoking, drinking and wench-pinching in it. Yeesh.


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Progress Report

Whew. Up to 7,443 words. Yes, way behind, but I've bumped my target to around 2,000 words a day, which over time ought to get me there.

I jumped into the middle of the story tonight, and had one of the main characters commit a very important murder, get caught, and begin the process of paying (and paying, and paying) her dues for it.

Grueling, but rewarding. I also may change her outcome. Suddenly redemption seems plausible. But maybe not.

Philosophical question: how does one justify fighting an almost entirely benevolent, nearly omnipotent, ethically superior, yet in all ways dominant society?

All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
-Reg, Life of Brian


Saturday, November 05, 2005

First Post in Forever, and a New Project

Well, as usual life has been full, and I haven't really been in a "bloggy" mood, but as usual things go in circles, and I've discovered (or had recommended to me once again) the National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo.

I've been tormenting Tripp, Hunter and Matt with tales of my desire to write for years now, and this would appear to be my opportunity to prove whether I'm all talk and no toenails, or whether there's something more substantial there.

The goal of NaNoWriMo is to get a 50,000 word novel written in a month, which translates to just shy of 1,667 words a day. Of course I started today, which means I need around 10,000 words written by the end of tomorrow to be on pace. As of tonight I've hit on characters and a plot, and got 2,007 words written. I'm off to a dinner date, but when I get back I'm going to try and get a little closer to 5,000 for the day.

5,000 more words for tomorrow ought not be too bad. The first several hours today were spent on deciding on something in the science fiction realm that wouldn't require too much research (i.e., conventional spaceflight times between here and Mars, or time-dilation calcs for near-lightspeed travel).

Yes, fifty thousand words in a month is a pretty insane pace, but quantity is the only real goal of the event: the only way to get there is to give yourself permission to write utter crap; if you're lucky, some non-crap will find its way in there as well. ;-)

I figure, since I work best with a deadline, and my primary stumbling block has been the question of quality over quantity, this ought to be right up my alley. If nothing else, I'll finish the month in something resembling the habit of writing daily, and from where I'm sitting that's worth a laptop's weight in gold.

I've added the logo at left for the project and a link to my NaNoWriMo profile, which contains an excerpt from the prologue. Be kind, should you choose to read. Remember, it's basically unedited.


Friday, August 05, 2005

Mourning on a Friday

I learned today that a friend of mine who had been waddling, pregnant and radiant, around our office for months, miscarried earlier this week. Cord around the boy's neck or something similar.

That's just about the saddest single thing I can imagine.


Monday, August 01, 2005

Birds imitate mobile phone ring tones

I think this story is actually pretty funny. :-D


Saturday, July 30, 2005

Seek First to Understand

I know it's been a while since I've posted. There hasn't been any particular reason, other than despite lots having occurred in my life, I haven't particularly wanted to spout off about it all. I may get into some of it later, though.

Right now, I'm studying up to read (an English translation of) the Koran.

I've done lots of thinking over the past few years (you know the ones) about the current State of Things, and that it's looking increasingly like the primary sociopolitical concern of the next century is going to be how Islam and the rest of the world come to terms with one another.

I feel like I've got a decent bead on how the dominant forces of the Judeo-Christian Western world function and interact. There are, of course, those who will disagree on that point, but I've grown up in the Western milieu, so it's familiar, and can at the very least look around and see when something confuses me.

I do not, however, understand the Koran (Qur'an/Kor'an/Quran) and how its contents mold the minds of its followers. Not in the slightest. There's a great deal of bluster these days in the conservative circles I frequent regarding what the Koran teaches, and my suspicion is that there is much repeating of hearsay and taking of tidbits out of context, though it's always possible that there are kernals of truth in the accusations as well.

For these and other reasons, I'm no longer content to go with pundits' quickie "analyses," or to risk parroting nonsense through simple lack of checking.

So tonight I picked up The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Koran, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Islam and Islam for Dummies for the Cliffs-Notes, twenty-thousand-foot view, and two English translations of the Koran itself. After an hour with The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Koran, I can see that I will also need to procure translations of the Sunna and the Sharia, and I plan to try and find some other exegetical texts--it would be tricky, for example, to come up with a thorough understanding of Christianity and all its schismatic history simply by reading through a copy of the King James Bible.

It promises to be a fascinating ride, and I want to find out what the apologists, apostates and opponents alike think. At the end of it all (if there is an end, which I doubt), I want to try and answer the question for myself: is Islam the problem? Certainly, the hellholes of the world, from Africa to the Middle East into Asia and Indonesia, seem to be disproportionately Muslim. Still, as I discussed with Matt earlier this evening, does this mean that Islam causes hellholes, or that hellholes attract Islam, or something else entirely? Also, there are some primarily Muslim regions that aren't pits of repression and suffering--what's different about them? And what bearing does being or not being Arab have?

I'm excited and slightly daunted: it's a lot of material, and of course not knowing Arabic I'm condemned to perceive a lot of things through translators' perceptions and prejudices, but one of the things that niggles at me most in life is not knowing, and Islam's place in and relationship to the world is no longer one of those areas in which I can allow myself to persist in ignorance.

That said, does anyone have books they'd like to recommend? I'm pretty much a complete tabula rasa on the subject.


Sunday, June 26, 2005

New Drawing Desk

Boredom is one of those things that can easily turn into frenzied activity in my case.

Some background: I was an avid sketcher on pretty much anything made of paper while I was growing up. I was actually thinking seriously about entering the comic book artist field at one point, but then my dad reminded me how "much" a comic book artist makes, which cemented my computing career.

Still, up through high school (and a much lesser degree, college) I did a lot of drawing. Some of my less demanding HS classes generated more drawings in my notebooks than actual notes.

So about a week ago I recaught the bug (which had been percolating for a long while, to be fair) to take up drawing again, but this time to do it right as regards equipment and time, and possibly go all the way to pastels and the like. You know, color.

So the photo here is of my shiny new drawing desk, canted to a nicely rakish angle. I woke up wanting to draw a black widow spider, and so, after a brief Google Image Search for a suitable photo, I did. :-D You've got to love a creative use for the laptop stand I grabbed on a whim a few weeks ago. Medium: graphite pencils for the black & white, and Prismacolor lightfast colored pencils for the admittedly less interesting color bits.

I hate my ankles, and they return the favor
On a less wonderful note, as I was unloading the desk from the Altima yesterday evening, I rolled my foot off the edge of the concrete slab that is the floor of my garage, and sprained my left ankle something fierce. Yes, Matt, just like I did back on Super Bowl Sunday in your garage, only more thoroughly.

The dogs look at me funny when I hobble around the house, now. I wonder if I look more edible to them...


Tuesday, June 14, 2005

In Other News...

I haven't undertaken a new quixotic, faintly counterculture endeavor for a while.

I'm seriously thinking about learning to type on a Dvorak keyboard. I learned how to tap-type pretty quickly with a Fitaly PDA keyboard a year or two ago, so in theory learning Dvorak might not be too bad. Lots of devotees say they have no trouble switching their typing from Qwerty to Dvorak and back after learning.

Why? Why does one make beer and wine, decide to pick up a new programming language, or learn how to shave with 1908 technology? I am, spiritually, bored. I guess this is the way I miss having Leslie around the most. I could never truly be bored hanging out with her. :-)


Beware the Busybody Matchmaker

A busybody friend of a friend of mine from work is attempting to set me up with a friend of hers tonight. It will be a group of five of us (the matchmaker, the work friend, myself, and two friends of the matchmaker's) talking over wine at a local restaurant.

Might be fun, might be a little oversaturated. We shall certainly see. It's been a while since I was introduced to a lady sight unseen. At least the restaurant is heavily reputed to be good.


Monday, June 13, 2005

Late Happenings

First, yes, I have survived the rampaging of Arlene, the non-storm. To be fair, she did knock out my power for several hours Sunday morning, which has never before happened to me in Alabama.

It's been a good few weeks. I'm still loving the Altima. I'm getting all sorts of use out of the XM radio I plugged into it, and discovering a love for Jazz that I didn't know I had.

Work has been sort of slow as deliberately, deliberately we circle the next big version of the application I've been working on: meetings, documentation, much beating about the bush. It looks as though we're finally going to get moving on it soon--here's hoping!

Life after Leslie has been...okay, actually. Things were up in the air between us for long enough that any shock at parting seems to have been absorbed long ago. I certainly have more time to myself. I've even been on a date or two! My first initial feelers into the Birmingham online dating scene were met with some enthusiasm, actually (it's nice finally to be on the positive end of the men-get-more-distinguished-with-age cliché), but it remains to be seen whether I've crossed quite enough post-Leslie water to be plying new relationship seas just yet. Still, it's good to be out and meeting people.


Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The New Maxima Altima, Long May She Drive; Other News

The New Altima

Pretty, no? I changed the tags over today during lunch.

Sadly, in other news, Leslie and I have called a halt to our relationship. Things had been rocky for a while thanks to stress and obligations at home and at work for both of us, and this weekend we finally decided that things weren't working and that we weren't sure when/whether they were ever going to start again.

All's well; both of us were mature about it; it was a truly terrific year. :-D


Friday, May 20, 2005

Not to 'Dis' the Altima...

...But I wouldn't kick the Fulda Maybach Exelero out of bed for eating crackers.

Maybach Exelerog

Just sayin'.


Tuesday, May 17, 2005

While I've Been Away

Hey everyone, sorry for the unannounced hiatus. It's been an eventful month or two.

The Pinot
The Pinot is bottled, as my previous post shows, and has been aging gracefully for a little over two months now. I tried some at one month, and it was promising, with a little more pungence than I liked, but less than when bottled. I plan to break out another bottle this weekend and see how things have changed then. Three months is about when the peak for this recipe should hit, so sometime in June will be the true test of the thing.

Classic or "Wet" Shaving
I stumbled across the late mini-craze in shaving one's face with an old-style double-edged razor (not the "cuttthroat" type, but the first incarnation of the "safety" razor pioneered by Gillette before getting into the disposable cartridge business), and decided to try it out, since I've never been truly happy with the shaves I've gotten from my electrics.

It's been a fascinating journey; I've grabbed myself a German-made Merkur Classic razor, a Vulfix 2197 shaving brush and several English shaving cream tubs from Truefitt & Hill, Geo. F. Trumper, and Taylor of Old Bond Street. So far the shaving has had its ups and downs as I've (finally) learned a shaving technique involving an actual blade, and as the skin of my face and neck has begun to adjust. My cheeks are finally baby-bottom smooth most days, but the skin of my neck is still fairly susceptible to redness and irritation. Ah, well.

Las Vegas
Leslie, myself and a few friends went to Las Vegas for Leslie's birthday at the end of last month. It was a complete blast; we stayed at the New York New York hotel, and did everything from breakfast buffet at the Bellagio hotel to visiting the top of the half-scale Effel Tower at the Paris hotel, to catching a Blue Man Group show at the Luxor. Much shopping and walking of the Strip was also done. All in all, a great trip and great visit. I would definitely go again.

Leslie's Move
Not content to have a hellacious few months at work and plan a trip to Vegas, Leslie bought a house this month, and there has been much painting and lifting and packing and unpacking activity around the event. Her house is beautiful, though, and the move went with precious few snags.

RIP for the Taurus
My Poor TaurusAnd on to the most recent event: I totaled the Taurus last Tuesday. I looked down to adjust my radio, and looked up into the back end of a Ford Windstar with a difference in speeds of about 25 or 30 mph. Crunch, airbags, horn stuck blaring. Thankfully neither I nor the guy in front of me were hurt seriously: I was stiff about the neck and shoulders (I braced with my arms and so never hit the wheel's airbag) for a few days but seem to have made a full recovery, and at last report the guy ahead of me was feeling some stiffness and had gone to the doctor for a precautionary look-over.

Blue 2003 AltimaInsurance has been fantastic, and the new car search has netted a winner: I will be getting an "electric blue" 2003 Nissan Altima 2.5 S (this pic isn't of my car [it's still in transit to the local CarMax], but stolen from another guy's site). Big enough to be useful, sleek enough to be fun, powerful enough to get from hither to yon, and cheap enough to be responsible. I'm not looking forward to a car payment, but the good news is that the monthly amount is low enough that I can double it most months without much pain.

Anyway, like I said, it's been an eventful pair of months; I do hope to do some more blogging from now on. :-)


Tuesday, March 15, 2005

At Long Last, Bottled Pinot!

This Sunday afternoon, I finally took the plunge and bottled my Pinot Noir. It was a bright, sunny day, so the photos are particularly nice.

Bottles, Clean and Sanitized

The first step was to wash and sanitize all the bottles. I did so with Iodophor, an iodine-based sanitizer, and hung them on the same bottle tree that I used for beer way back when. Isn't it pretty?

Filled and Corked!

Next came the actual filling and corking. I was lucky: the filling wand from my beer days left exactly the right amount of ullage in the bottle to contain the air compressed under the cork.

It was also my first time using the corker. It's a medieval-looking thing, but all it does is compress the cork in a metal iris and then slide it into the bottle. It's all about mechanical advantage!

For more of the story, check out this week's WineFix podcast, which I anticipate will be released tomorrow (Wednesday) evening.


Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Wine Table Shot

This is a much better picture (click it for a larger version) of the wine table Leslie got me for Christmas.

Isn't it beautiful?


Sunday, February 27, 2005

WineFix Number 1 Posted!

Just letting you know that my first-ever podcast has been posted at :-)



[UPDATE: Seems not everyone can see the new site! Please use if you have trouble, and please let me know if you can't reach either address.]

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Introducing WineFix!

Wine Glass and CorkscrewThis may sound like it's come out of left field to most readers here, but the more I learned about podcasting (see the previous post), the more I became intrigued by the idea of spouting off in audio form about all things wine-related.

One thing led to another: a tutorial was read, my meager collection of audio equipment was perused, podcast after podcast was downloaded and listened to (mainly from and, and ideas began to congeal and combine in my busy little noggin.

This all precipitated the registering of the domain, the eventual discovery of good podcast-hosting space over at Liberated Syndication (, and the grabbing of the comment line number 1-206-339-WINE for people to call in and comment about posts I've made there, or about whatever might be crossing their minds. :-)

As of right now I haven't posted any actual audio, but I plan to record tomorrow sometime, and depending whether I can get everything all equalized and finalized I'll probably be posting and making a note here as well.

So what does this mean for Brain Squeezings? Well, I will certainly continue to post here. I doubt I'm going to have the free time for more than one podcast per week (though time will tell), but for wine-related posts I may well wind up making intra-podcast posts over at WineFix.

Stay tuned!


Monday, February 21, 2005

Late to the Party: Podcasting and Me

Podcasting. For those who may not have heard of it, a podcast is a compressed sound file that a person has put online for download via an RSS reader.

(If you don't know what RSS is about, here's a precis: an RSS feed is an XML file that one puts online to advertise to the world that you have things [usually news stories or blog posts, or, lately, podcasts] that they might like to download. An RSS reader is a program (which might operate as the basis for a site like, or might run on one's desktop) which allows a person to "subscribe" to RSS feeds that he or she wants to keep track of, and which highlights new items that might have appeared in an updated feed. Brain Squeezings has its own RSS feed [which happens to be in Atom format, but that's not important], if you want to subscribe. RSS feeds are an incredibly efficient way to keep on top of news sources--I keep track of something like 25 feeds every day, on subjects from friends' blogs to tech news to wine reviews.)

...But this post is about podcasts. It's possible to link to an external file (called an enclosure) with a RSS feed entry, and if that enclosure is an audio file like an MP3, then you have a podcast. It's that simple. (The "pod" in podcast, by the way, comes from "iPod," currently the most popular player for compressed sound files, though anyone with iTunes [free] or Windows Media Player [also free, with Windows] can listen on their computer.)

Most people create podcasts in order to host their own music or talk-radio shows (responsible podcasters pay a fee to ASCAP and whomever else in order to play copyrighted music), or simply to have a blog that their readers can listen to. I finally got hooked on podcasts by grabbing the first eight episodes of Grape Radio, which is a trio of guys who just talk about wine. They frequently have guests on their show, and it's a well-produced bit of work, complete with bumper music and reading of credits at the end.

But podcasts aren't necessarily just for audioblogs and net-cast radio shows: it's not hard to envision a means wherein one's telephone messages are published for your perusal by your phone-service provider on a secure feed, or wherein radio shows publish popular "back-issues" of shows as podcasts (which, I understand, some shows are beginning to do), or indeed any audio information can be made available, TiVo-like, to anyone who wants it.

Here's the kicker: podcasts, as a concept, have only been around since September-ish of last year, and a Google search on 'podcast' yields around 1,790,000 hits as of this writing. This could be big...

One story of how podcasting started
A very thorough definition of 'podcast'
NYT on Podcasting (requires a free registration)
Mac Howto
Other documentation


Saturday, February 19, 2005

Wine Glass Rack

I got a wild hair today, and decided to vacuum, shampoo my carpet, do the dishes and (finally!) hang the wine glass rack that I brought here from Richmond.

This is a moodily lit photo, I admit, but with the blinds open the glasses were actually harder to see.

Aren't wine glasses purty?

I have to work this afternoon, so I'll just have to get to stabilizing and clarifying the Pinot tomorrow sometime.


Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Coming This Weekend: Stabilization of the Pinot

This Saturday will be the Appointed Time to "stabilize" the Pinot I've been fermenting. I'll be stirring a quantity of sulfites (potassium metabisulfite, if I'm not mistaken) into the infant wine to "stabilize" or stop the fermentation by (mostly) killing the yeast. In addition, I'll be adding a gelatin mixture and some dry clay called bentonite to "clarify" the wine, thus causing undesirable compounds (that would make it cloudy and/or taste odd) to precipitate out onto the yeast detritus on the bottom of the carboy.

One of the things that I've been fascinated with about the winemaking process is that it's a much more clinical and, well, synthetic-feeling process than brewing beer was. Certainly, brewing incorporates all manner of complicated measures like temperature regulation to maximize the action of certain enzymes in the mash, and siphoning and sparging methods to get the sugar-extraction job done, but that always felt somehow biological and mystical to me, more than chemical and logical, which is the impression winemaking gives so far. The difference is mostly semantics, I know, but making wine has been much more of a predictable, dump-it-into-a-container-and-add-stuff process than beer's bubble-bubble-toil-and-trouble ever was.

I know that the yeast is transforming the grape juice just as much as it did the barley brew, but winemaking seems a more clinical and exact thing than brewing. Not that I'm complaining, of course: beermaking involves making an elaborately-seasoned malt sugar solution called wort (which happens to be one of the most biologically "available" media you can make in the home) and then getting only the microorganisms you choose to flourish, and no others.

The central difference where wine is concerned is that wine "must" (prepared grape juice, pre-yeast-introduction) is inherently fairly acidic, and therefore inhospitable to many of the nasty-tasting microbes that love to mix things up in beer. Not that wine is idiot-proof: there are many nasties that can compete with the several flavors of Saccharomyces that one introduces to get fermenting done, but far fewer than in beer, and by judicious use of sulfites in wine, one can make a must that is very well suited only to the yeast you like.

Anyway, it's reassuring to know that the process is so well understood (given the several millennia of crushing experience the human species has amassed): winemaking books read more like formulae than do beer brewing's recipes. Might this be due to wine traditionally being more of a luxury product, and thus more likely to receive research attention? Possibly; I'll look into it.


Monday, February 14, 2005

Wine Table

One thing I've been meaning to wax poetic about is the beautiful wine table that Leslie got me for Christmas. The picture here is too muddy to do it justice (I'll try for a better one soon), but it's got a beautiful marble top, space for five bottles of wine and some rows of wine glasses, and all sorts of other amenities like locking casters and a drawer for corkscrews and the like.

What better place to put my Pinot as it ferments?


Friday, February 11, 2005

Fun with Multimedia

Thanks to my belated discovery of Flickr and my acquisition last year of a camera phone, I'm planning to put a lot more photos on Brain Squeezings from now on. I don't know if I'm going to be as prolific as Tripp has been, but snapping a picture has been a great way to catalyze a few blog ideas.

Oh, and this picture might actually be the first one I've posted of me with glasses! Enjoy.


Thursday, February 10, 2005

Pinot, Racked into the Carboy

Took the plunge and moved the Pinot Noir into the glass carboy (a big bottle, like those used in water coolers) last night. It smelled fairly odd, but then I've never sniffed a wine in the fermenter before, so I don't really know what's normal.

Another odd thing: the specific gravity of the wine (measure of its liquid density, which started at 1.080) was down below 1.000, which means it's less dense than water, and effectively finished fermenting! That was a bit fast; I was expecting it to be around 1.010. I may have to call R.J. Spagnols this evening to see what I should do.


Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Wine Rack

Leslie and I saw a great "diamond bin" wine rack at an Olive Garden the weekend we attended Tripp's and Trish's wedding.

I have a nice arched alcove in my house's living room that until recently served as home to a decent-sized TV, which desperately needed to house something else. A diamond-bin wine rack like this would fit the bill nicely.

She and I debated configurations and came up with the configuration here. We grabbed the wood a month or two ago, and this past weekend I enlisted Matt and his Vast Array of Power Tools before the execrable Super Bowl to do some of the beveling, sanding and cutting needed. This photo shows the resulting pieces loosely assembled; imagine it stained a deep reddish walnut and spanning the bottom portion of an archway.

It's pretty important that I get some wine storage built, and relatively soon: I have 30 bottles' worth of wine fermenting that I'm going to have to age somewhere!

PS. This is my first time using Flickr for a blog photo. Please let me know if anyone has difficulty viewing the picture.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Pinot Progress

Wine in the Fermenter

(The clock-looking thing trapped in the handle at the front of the canister is actually a thermometer, which has stayed at a nice 70° all week.)

It was burbling away at a brisk two pops of the airlock per second this morning. :-) If all goes according to plan the wine may be fermented nearly "dry" (sugar consumed to the limit of the yeasts' ability) by this weekend or early next week, at which point I'll "rack" (transfer via siphon) the wine to a glass secondary "carboy" fermenter to mellow and allow the natural haze to settle.


Dunno how I missed these...

Seems there's been some blowback versus the Stelvin screwcap, mainly because it seems to be somewhat fragile and prone to leakage and/or oxidation when damaged. Here's a long article that articulates some of the problems.

Seems innovation's breaking out all over as regards how to bury the humble cork!

VinTegraFirst, the VinTegra closure (Vino-Lok outside the U.S.) is a new cork alternative that Alcoa's just begun production on. It uses a similar sealing mechanism to the Stelvin closure I mentioned in my previous post, but wrapped around a glass stopper analogous to a decanter plug. It's elegant looking, and offers the benefits of a screwcap without the image problem. It does require a new type of bottle, though (as does the Stelvin).

It looks as though there's even going to be a three-level VinTegra product line, with the glass model for the high end, a Stelvin clone for the middle, and a truly ghastly-looking small screwcap for the low end.

ZorkThen there's the Zork (Wasn't that an Infocom game?). The Zork tries to capture the seal of a screwcap while retaining the "pop" of a cork-style stopper, and by some indications it may be succeeding. It's a funky-looking plastic affair about the size of a champagne cork assembly, with a zip-band that must be torn off before yanking out the synthetic stopper, so attaining the pop in question.

The Zork seems fairly new (in any event, I've never seen one), but the Zork website says it's been in development since 1999. I'm not sure it's dignified enough for use with a hifalutin' French red, but for any edgy or trendy label it ought to do wonderfully. Especially if it works as advertised. It will even work with standard still-wine bottles!

VinTegra articles:
PDF Brochure from Alcoa
Alcoa Product Page
Packaging World
German Alcoa site about the Vino-Lok
Alcoa Italy

Zork articles:
Penny's Hill "Red Dot" Shiraz, featuring a Zork closure (PDF)
"Open and Close Argument," an article from the Adelaide Review
All Hail the Zork from TVNZ


I Pitch in on a Raging Wine Debate

Natural corks versus alternate closures. It's a poser.

The image of a glass bottle sealed with a cylindrical stopper punched from the bark of the Cork Oak tree Quercus suber is iconic; it's what people think of when they think of wine. The "pop" of a cork from a bottle, whether its contents are still or sparkling, is one of the most universally welcoming and celebratory sounds we have that isn't produced by the human larynx.

Sadly all is not well in wineland: natural corks, for all the effort we may put into preventing it, are prone to contaminating the wine whose wellbeing was the very reason for their pressure into service. Figures vary widely, I suspect by affiliation with or against the use of natural corks, but I've heard a low of around one percent and a high of ten percent of all wine bottles are "corked," or suffering from "cork taint." I myself have been bitten by cork taint a few times (not nearly one bottle in ten, but far too many times for my comfort). The most recent was this past Friday. The wine wasn't destined to be great in any event, but it was foul, and the cork showed the reason why: dark veins rain through its lower third, and told the nasty-tasting tale.

Hardly anyone who has bought a middle-to-low-end bottle in the past few years is unacquainted with one variety or another of synthetic cork, from the often colorful, obviously injection-molded plastic SupremeCorq, to the odd, extruded homage that is Nomacorc with its inner granular cells and outer sealed layer, to the Betacorque (which I have yet to see, or perhaps, yet to notice) which is fully synthetic, but nearly indistinguishable from a good agglomeration of natural cork bits.

The jury is still out on whether synthetic corks impart any sort of plastic "notes" to wines over time (I've never noticed, but my palate is young and still learning), and they're known for being slightly more difficult to extract from a bottle than natural corks, and most models are difficult or impossible to reinsert in a bottle after opening. The major benefit they offer outside of protection from cork taint is that they preserve the experience and simple theater of corkscrew extraction: that old squeak-and-pop. Oh, and manmade corks never disintegrate and leave bits in the wine, either.

Then there are screwcaps, the sad red-headed stepchild. The sight of a screw-top bottle of wine brings all sorts of associations with it: skid row; a cheap, paper-bag-wrapped, low-quality wine. Which is a shame, since it's becoming clear that a screwtop (the most famous is the Stelvin Closure) may just be the best way truly to seal a bottle of wine. There is some debate about whether allowing some oxygen to pass a bottle's closure is necessary to age a wine properly, but wine experts seem to be coming to the conclusion that wines age perfectly well when isolated from the outside world entirely, citing the examples of fortified wines sealed with wax, and wines retrieved from shipwrecks (article--search for "Closures in practice"). So even though there's a version of the Stelvin that allows some transfer of oxygen, that's likely to be gilding the lily.

What I've enjoyed most about learning about this topic is the amazing amount of introspection that the wine industry seems to be undergoing as regards the simple cork. Cork taint seems to be one of those things that has simply been accepted for the vast majority of the cork's life, possibly lending the opening of a bottle a certain element of mystery and risk. With wine maturing into an industry like any other, however, with the requisite drive to provide the consumer with a high-quality, uniformly consistent product, the vagaries of natural corking seem to be tolerated less and less.

Possibly the most telling quote I found was from George Fistonich, of the New Zealand group Villa Maria, near the bottom of a fascinating Wine of the Week article:
...the over-riding business rationale in changing from cork to screwcap is that we could prove that under cork closure, we were UNABLE to deliver on our mission statement [based on wine excellence].
Fistonich has also declared that all of his wineries are now "cork free zones."

My guess is that sometime in the next 25 years we're likely to see natural cork relegated to the sidelines, and the landscape will be dominated by screwcaps, followed by a boggling variety of synthetic cork-esque stoppers.


Stelvin Closure

Plastic Corks
Screwtops Prove a Winner


Monday, January 31, 2005

Gentleman Vintner

I have put my kit Pinot Noir into the fermenter! It's a Vino del Vida kit from R.J. Spagnols, and from a brief search around Google Groups (Usenet) the VdV line of kits occupies the middle-to-lower-range in terms of price, ingredient quality and complexity, but has received fairly good marks from hobbyist winemakers. I got my kit for $50.

The kit came with about seven liters of Pinot Noir grape juice concentrate, and called for being diluted to 23 liters (five Imperial Gallons, or close to six U.S. gallons). I wound up spilling a cup or two of the concentrate, since the bag it came in was sort of unwieldy, but the rest of the process went fine, and the must (juice and yeast mixture) is being munched upon by the yeast as I type. The whole process of going from juice to a young wine ought to take around four weeks; aging to best taste ought to take another two to six months after that. The good news is that six gallons ought to yield thirty(!) 750ml bottles of wine, so there'll be plenty of wine to sample along the way to maturity. Here's hoping it's good stuff.

The kit also included some toasted oak powder (sawdust, really) for adding just before the yeast, and it was uncanny: my kitchen had been redolent with Grape beforehand, but adding oak to it took me back instantly to the barrel rooms I toured in Washington state this past summer. Wonderful! Dad also made the point that when the yeast really gets going (tonight or tomorrow) my house is really going to smell like a million bucks. Definitely looking forward to it.

So has this guy completely forsaken beer?
Nope, I'll be making the long-promised hazelnut porter this Saturday, before heading to Matt's to watch the Eagles pound the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

I do think I've got my fermentin' groove back.


PS. The title is a reference to my post Gentleman Brewer from back in 2002.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

New Blogroll at Left

As one is wont to do, I've begun to collect links for wine- and food-related blogs and other sites that interest me.

Those that are good enough to recommend I shall place at left.


Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Lameness Continues

Yes, the wine and beer are still unmade. No excuses, but it was a very cold Sunday.

Still, Leslie and I did do a fair amount of wine shopping in the gathering wind and chill of Saturday evening. I'm trying to educate myself in the world of sparkling wine, so we picked up a number of bottles, from a lowly Asti Spumante to a very nice-looking Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Noirs.

More notes to come.


Friday, January 21, 2005

My Obsession with Fermentables Continues (Revives?)

I've been on a bit of a fermentation hiatus, pretty much since I came to Birmingham back in '03. There are many reasons I've given myself for this, from my work schedule to the state of cleanliness of my house to the turns of the weather. No more!

I have, of late, been reading more and more about the making of one's own wines, and I believe that it's (finally) time for me to try my hand at it. I've had the same Pinot Noir wine kit in my closet for around six months, and it's high time that I pull it out and get it started.

I really do need to find myself Riesling and Gewurztraminer kits as well, and see whether I can make them do anything interesting--lately most of my wine drinking has centered around those two grapes, and the crisp/clean/sweet/spicy combination is one that I definitely want to experiment with. I'm also hot to vinify the juices of some other fruits: peaches, strawberries, apples and pears (and blends thereof!) to name a few. I'm also interested in probing the wiles of the Muscat grape, and perhaps even finding out what the Concord and local Muscadine varieties offer (outside of jam jars).

Leslie (a Riesling and Gewurz advocate herself, but a hater of any red wine that's not Lambrusco) is cautiously excited: I've been all talk and no toenails here for a goodly while.

But what about beer?
Don't worry, I will still punch out the occasional brew, but my interest in barley beverages has waned as wine has waxed in my imbibing. I've promised Hunter and the members of my IT department here a hazelnut porter for nearly as long as I've been promising the Pinot, so that needs doing as well.


Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Fed Up

I decided today that I'm tired of messing around with Earthlink (if you've dropped by the past few days, you may have noticed that the images have been missing thanks to their shutting my account off--due, of course, to a billing SNAFU). They seem to have reached the size and complexity that they can no longer confidently answer questions about their service, or indeed bill a person competently. They said my account would be up and running by yesterday evening, and it's today and still MIA.

Too bad. I have switched all the images and links (beer glossary, etc.) on the site over to the webhosting provided by my ISP, Charter. Please let me know if you find any missing images or broken links that have '' in the URL.


Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Starting Off the New Year

Wow, it's 2005. There's been both more and less fanfare than I expected. 2004 was a truly eventful year, and others have blogged extensively on some of the particulars, but I for one was eager to get 2004 in the hopper and move on; 2005 had been trying to get signed next to my signature for several weeks prior to this past Saturday.

A new year usually comes with a bevy of resolutions, and this year I'm no exception:

Leslie and I have been very good to one another over the nearly eight months we've been going out--too good, in some ways, and now we're seeing the need to be good for one another as well. I've got a good 20 pounds to lose to get myself back to where I met Leslie, and she informs me she wants to shed a few to feel satisfied herself, so we're going on a bit of an austerity program. I'm reactivating my Hacker's Diet activity, and she'll be hitting the treadmill and eating less according to her own preferences. We'll be walking after dinners (she has a great loop around her apartment complex), and I'm investigating the area around southeastern Birmingham for exercise clubs with pools, since we both enjoy swimming. It'll be good to have a partner.

This one is mainly for me, but again, Leslie and I are a trifle too lavish when it comes to eating out and doing things with one another that involve expenditure. We've decided upon one weekly "date night" where we spoil ourselves, and otherwise we keep the spending down to a dull roar. I received all sorts of great cooking gear over the Christmas holiday, so cooking from ingredients will be a more frequent thing for me as well, though Leslie already cooks for the two of us a great deal of the time.

...So between these two major resolutions Leslie and I are planning to leave a lot more leeway for "big fun" by cutting back (where it makes sense) on "small fun"--or at least expensive small fun.