September 2005
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Month September 2005

Fun with Pickling

I have no idea what possessed me to do this, but I’m trying to replicate the super-sour pickles they sell in the deli at the local PCC (hippy food coop for non-local readers).  They’re terrific, but they’re somewhat fickle about supply, and I figured it would be fun learn to make ’em in case they stop stocking ’em.   Also, watching too much Alton Brown on Food Network always make me want to try things in the kitchen. 

Fortunately, Whole Foods had a few pickling cucumbers in the produce department, but this may be it for the season.  I also bought the smallest normal cucumbers I could find, some fresh dill, and a couple of heads of garlic.  Oh, and some canning jars.  I got some funny looks in the checkout line — I guess not too many people do a lot of canning or pickling these days.  Dsc00568At home, I made a solution of vinegar and water, upping the percentage of vinegar in the "normal" recipe, and packed the cleaned cucumbers into sterilized jars.  I didn’t have enough whole small pickling cukes, so I mixed sliced normal cukes with pickling cukes in each jar, adding a bit more than a teaspoon of kosher salt for each jar.  To all jars, I added dill sprigs, whole black peppercorns, brown mustard seeds, and a sprinkling of dried red pepper flakes.  To half of the jars, I added halved garlic cloves to make "kosher" dills.  The other half were left without garlic to make standard pickles.  Dsc00567Then, fill the jars nearly to the brim (1/2 inch of room) with the vinegar/water solution and seal.  Finally, simmer in a water bath for 15 minutes submerged. 

They’re done at this point and labeled, and now I just need the jars to cool before I can put ’em in the "root cellar" for awhile.  In a couple of weeks, I’ll open a jar and see whether they’re inedible, ho-hum, or an excellent substitute for my PCC pickle obsession!

Preparations Continue for Next Weekend’s Launch

I finished the booster section of the Phobos this morning, over a pot of coffee and a big batch of epoxy.  Fin fillets went on smoothly, using tape "dams" to contain the epoxy to the fillet area. Dsc00553_1Some sanding will be needed after curing, but it should turn out fairly neat.  The next step was to do internal fillets, anchoring the fins to the motor mount and inside of the airframe.  This proved fairly tricky, since the 2.1 inch airframe and 38mm ID motor mount leaves only enough room for a smallish dowel.  Dsc00555I solved this by mixing West Systems epoxy with a generous amount of colloidal silica, to the "peanut butter" stage of consistency, and then loading this into a syringe. The epoxy could then be injected (with considerable effort given the thickness) into the narrow areas of the fin mounts, and then filleted with a dowel.  This worked relatively well, although the fillets deep into the fin root are nowhere near as thick and nice as the exterior fin joints.  The rearmost 1" of the fin root received a fairly heavy fillet to make up for this, Dsc00557and I suspect the fins are fairly well supported.  Finally, I placed the rear centering ring and applied more fillets of the thickened epoxy. 

The aft centering ring is plain — all of my attempts to construct a 4-40 hex bolt retaining ring failed, given the narrowness of the aft ring.  I split two of them, in fact, trying to carefully drill the pilot holes.  Instead, for next week’s launch I’m going to use friction fits for the F and G motors in the adapter, and worry about serious motor retention when I try to use reloadable 38mm motors for L1 certification and launches.  At that point, I may try to install an Aeropack Slimline retention system.

So what’s left?  The recovery system and payload bay, but these are fairly quick to construct compared to the booster section.  Once the aft fillets are set and curing, I can start on the piston, and if I have time later today I can begin on the payload bay bulkhead and eyebolts. 

Both of the BT-55 scratch builds are completed; the shock cords went in yesterday morning, with a loop for a parachute to be clipped onto each.  I did not permanently mount parachutes because I believe they should always be modular, to allow different choices for different conditions.  Even in small rockets such as this.  Both rockets turned out well, I think, and despite minor imperfections in fin mounting should fly just fine.  But we’ll see. 

Sadly, Bill Barnes isn’t going to make it to next week’s launch due to a family emergency, so I’m going to collect his van and gear mid-week and drive it to the launch.  So we’ll have all the pads, launch controllers, and his collection of rockets for the kids and visitors to launch.  It should still be a good time, even though Bill can’t make it. 


I was going to update the Current Listening section below, but I realized that much of the new music I’ve been listening to lately has come from Magnatune, and I’d like to give them a plug. Magnatune is an online, “non-evil” record label which publishes “open source” music. Their business model is that artists provide albums and songs in a variety of formats and quality levels, and you can listen for free in streaming mode. Downloading requires payment, but here’s the difference: you decide how much to pay.

Yup. Magnatune allows you to decide how much to pay for an album, on a scale between $5.00 and $18, via Paypal. This lets the artist and Magnatune get feedback on how much customers really think the music is worth, and allows customers to feel control over the value they’re receiving. The CEO of Magnatune reports that the average sale price is above the recommended $8.00. The label splits the profits equitably with the artists, so they get a large cut of an $8.00 sale.

It’s a cool model, and seems to be working at the moment. Support them if you agree. I’m personally enjoying Human Response and Indigneus under electronica, and some of the classical is excellent as well. Can’t vouch for other genres, but check ’em out if it’s your thing.

Book #48, Neal Stephenson’s The Confusion

I finished “The Confusion (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 2)” yesterday, and forged immediately onward into volume 3, The System of the World. Somewhere about nine hundred pages from now, I’ll be done with the cycle. Volume two was excellent, but much more focused on global politics and finance, and thus was slightly less interesting than the first (from my perspective). That didn’t keep me from burning through it fairly quickly, and it was a terrifically enjoyable read, but there was less focus on the origins of science (or “Natural Philosophy”) than was the case with volume one. I start volume three fascinated to see how the controversy between Newton and Leibniz is going to develop.

Of course, after this, I need to re-read Cryptonomicon so that I refresh my memory on the all the connections. Already I’ve noticed Queena-Koota will develop into the island principality of Kinakuta, and the Hacklheber family will return, and re-reading the Enoch Root sections will be fascinating.

Otherwise, I’m finishing off Kunstler’s “The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of the Oil Age, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century” which is fascinating and important. After that, I’m likely to bypass Philip Pettit for the moment, and start on Polanyi and James Scott’s “Seeing Like a State : How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (The Institution for Social and Policy St)”, which I’ve meant to read since seeing the reference in Jacob Levy’s terrific article Liberalism’s Divide After Socialism and Before (I recommend the latter highly).

What’s the story of this cocktail recipe?

OK.  I’m hoping somebody out there knows the provenance and origins of this drink.  A gin martini, with equal parts of Grand Marnier, splash of vermouth (of course), and a twist of lemon.  A superb drink, it’s not sweet like many of the "fancy" martinis out there, so it appeals to me when I’m in the mood for something besides a classic martini (which requires a 4-5 : 1 ratio of gin to dry French vermouth, instead of this "wave the vermouth over the glass" crap.  Harrumph).

The drink in question came from numerous samplings at the Gallery Bar in the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, over the last decade.  It’s apparently a cocktail of some antiquity, maintained at the Biltmore less for its crowd-pleasing characteristics for but its historic significance, as I vaguely recall from discussions with the bartender.  I travel to Los Angeles less than I prefer nowadays, so my opportunities to pursue the story are limited.  Does anyone out there know the story of this martini variant? 

Rocket Building Continues

The building of rockets for our group’s September launch continues; I seem to be rubbing stuck-on epoxy off my fingers most of the time now.  For those who care, I wrote about the details on our group’s blog, RocketGeeks.Dsc00547

On the domestic front, this activity has accomplished something that 5 years of living in my house had not — organizing my basement workshop.  I’d never really had much use for most of the space in my basement, since I’m not exactly home improvement guy, but the workshop is coming along nicely.  The plug strip in the upper right corner is a terrible thing, but my defense is that I inherited it from the previous owners, and oddly enough the sink shown in the corner (center of the photo) drains nowhere.  The pipes head off into the right of the photo, but stop at a wall.  Gravity, or engineering skill, apparently stymied the previous owner’s attempts to plumb the sink.  Which doesn’t bother me much — there’s a sink behind where I’m standing as well.  I am mystified by this recent bout of tool-using and project-making — it’s pretty uncharacteristic of me.  But a lot of fun.  Who knows, maybe I’ll become handy enough to actually fix things around the house.