OK maybe not quite back yet

20 March 2017

Like it says, maybe I’m not yet back into the writing grind. Still, some life is better than none, eh?

Since that last post, I’ve been mostly working on my ham shack. I now have a laptop set up for use with my radios and the setup works either on the desk in the house or in the vehicle up in the hills. Simple plug and play. Plus I got my radio desk cleaned off, finally!

I designed and built a switchbox that effectively gives me a Tigertronics USB SignaLink with two different radio jumper setups. It’s a simple circuit, just bringing the SignaLink JP1 socket out of the SignaLink enclosure and creating two parallel sockets in the switchbox instead. With a jumper block in each, I can easily switch the SignaLink between the two radios by flipping switches instead of having to open the SignaLink enclosure, swap jumper blocks, reassemble the SignaLink, and switch radio cables. A 15 minute operation is now down to 15 seconds. Nice trade, if I do say so myself.

You can see this switchbox in the picture right under the SignaLink.

The ham shack today. The new switchbox is under the SignaLink between the two radios, above the laptop.

Yup, those of you that are interested, it switches between the Kenwood TS-130V on the right and the Yaesu FT-2500M on the left. Being deaf, my focus is on the digital modes and a friend who is 20 miles away and I plan to play with the digital modes on 2m. So, I expect to be switching back and forth: experimenting, playing, and chatting with my friend on 2m and doing the same on HF with whomever’s out there. The 2m setup will allow us to both get familiar with various digital modes, including CW, and get in some regular practice with them regardless of HF band conditions.

I’ve finally been able to make the test videos for my video project. I have sure learned a lot just making these two 2 and 3 minute videos. Not only post processing, but things that have to be watched out for when filming. Trust me, I’m getting a new respect for directors and filmmakers.

The GoPro has definite fisheye artifacts, as I mentioned previously. I’m still feeling my way in the editing room dealing with this, but I think progress is going well. The Phantom 4 video doesn’t need much editing, as far as colors, etc., but I do need way more practice flying. I discovered that among other things, mimicking a bird taking off isn’t quite as simple as “just push the two control sticks at the same time.” Yeah, there’s that, but you don’t push them the same amount. I also absolutely must fly the planned route ahead of time or I’m going to have very definite un-bird-like behavior.  Even so, everything looks to be saying the video I want to make is doable.

Other than that, I’ve mostly been doing reading, studying Blender, and at least thinking about writing more Pa’adhe stories. Oh, and I have some more mead brewing.

I’m Back! I think.

26 January 2017

Well, this is odd. It’s been a bit over a year, I think (too lazy to look and see for sure) since my last posting here. On top of that, this particular post isn’t necessarily my standard fare. It’s probably a mix of rant and quick updates. All ranting is my personal opinion, of course. No pretty pix, those will come later.

So, which first, the rant or the updates? Ah, you figure it out, they’re all mixed together.

Photography wise, it’s been a bust, between building the Vardo (done!), Idaho weather, my dad, and other stuff, I’ve not actually gone out “to do photography”. I’m working on that, though, and you can expect some more pictures this year. Time lapse. Video. Landscapes. Macro. Whatever grabs my attention at the moment. And yes, I did indeed say video, that wasn’t an error.

I’ve written a small script, more a proof of concept idea than anything else, that I plan to video. If it turns out good enough, I might even look into YouTube. My granddaughters want me to start putting my videos up there and I’m tempted. If this project works, I probably will start putting a couple of older videos up and create more. I never expected to get into or enjoy making video but I find I do.

Don’t expect much in the way of audio on my videos. I’ll try and include music based on the input of other people, but I have a beef with the lousy captioning on YouTube and am going to extract my revenge by including captions and no voicing. So there. I swear, I never know whether to laugh or cry when I see the automatically generated captions on most of the YouTube videos. It sucks. The only ones any good seem to be those that go out of their way to include captioning themselves.

This next video project is showing me a bunch of stuff already, and I can’t get out to the Owyhees to film it. Film it…video it…whatever. I have a DJI Phantom 4 and that’s what gave me the idea for this video. Next up, I needed a video recorder that could become your eyes, so I wound up asking around and borrowing a GoPro Hero 4 Black. The video specs for that match well with the video specs for the drone, BUT the Hero 4 is a fixed fisheye. More on that later.

The Hero 4 has no playback capability and the only way you can get any kind of immediate feedback or live feed, is to use their Capture app. Or a third party one. And guess what? Those idiots at GoPro seem to think you absolutely need to log into their servers before you can get any use out of the app. Yeah, right. Waaaay out in the middle of the Owyhees, where I set up for my video on the GoPro and test it, where there’s NO cell service? How in Hades am I supposed to log into their servers from there? Stupid and pointless. However, I did manage to find an older Capture version and that one lets me have live feed and control over the camera to change settings WITHOUT having to log into their freaking servers first. Those of you out there wanting this…look for the newest version prior to 3.x. It also has the older logo. Just be sure and don’t allow your apps to automatically update or it’ll get replaced with the new one. You’d think losing their market share would warn them and that it’s logical that if you want to keep your fan base, you shouldn’t push out an upgrade that makes it impossible to use the app where there’s no service. Especially for a camera intended for extreme stuff out in the middle of nowhere. I guess common sense isn’t part of the job requirement there.

Now about the GoPro fisheye situation. For my wants, the fisheye gives me a great wide field of view, but it does have those pesky fisheye effects. You know, the curved  vertical and horizontal lines that should be straight.

To remove the fisheye effects, there are plenty of tutorials and apps out there. The first I tried was the GoPro PC app. Posts, reviews. blogs all say it has a built-in fisheye fix that’s good. Guess what? Yup, you got it. It, too, requires a server login. Forget it, I’m not gonna look for an older version of that, too. That made it easy to uninstall and discard with only a second or two’s thought.

I moved on to four programs that I already have. I’ve restructured my home systems so I have a laptop that’s just for photography work. On that machine, I have Linux as my OS: Ubuntu Studio. There are some things I don’t like about the OS layout, so I may just migrate to a clean, minimal Ubuntu 16.04 and have only the video and graphics programs that I find work for me. And yes, there is a point to mentioning this.

The four programs I was looking at for the fisheye removal are: Adobe After Effects (Win), daVinci Resolve Free (Win), OpenShot (Win/Linux), and Kdenlive (Linux).

OpenShot was the first I looked into, and while it’s a nice basic editor, it was taking me too long to find out how to deal with the fisheye effect so I dropped that approach. I then went and played with After Effects and it did a reasonable job, but the file size went from 357 MB to 12 GB. HUH? OK, I figured that was user error and I could set the parameters better later or transpose to a different format. At the same time I was playing with After Effects, I was messing about in Kdenlive. That one was not only easy to deal with the fisheye, but it had a couple different ways to do so. After I got done trying After Effects, I then looked into daVinci Resolve. This was just as easy to use as Kdenlive but the free version is apparently time bombed or has a file size or video length restriction. Unlike last time I used it, this time it slapped a watermark on the entire video. I’m going to look into that, but if that’s the case (time bombed or file size) then I’m going to toss it.

So, looking at the various outputs, I was rather surprised to find out that the best resulting corrected video came from my Linux machine: Kdenlive’s Defish filter. Not by a little, but by an easily noticeable difference. File size, quality of resulting video, quality of corrections…Kdenlive was the best. daVinci Resolve was the next, but it had a huge file size as well. That I expected, though, as Resolve doesn’t output the final video, only the feed into the conversion. That I could live with. To be honest, though, when I started looking at these I really didn’t expect the Linux program to come out ahead like that. That was a very welcome bit of support for my Linux love.

I’m going to take a look at PiTiVi (also Linux) later and see how it compares to Kdenlive, but going forward right now it looks like for my project I’ll be using Kdenlive as my editor.

On the writing front, I’ve been assembling an ebook with the various tales of the Pa’adhe. It has a cover for each story plus the ebook itself. I need to create three more covers, so I’m waiting for the weather here to get better so I can go get the pictures I need. We’ve busted the local records across the board for snow this winter. We got more than the winter of 1985, and that was on the ground only about two weeks. This winter’s snow has been on the ground for over a month now, and it’s been piled high. Buildings have collapsed as a result of the amount and type of snow.

I’ve sure enjoyed my first year retired, but funny enough, I sort of seem to be way more busy than when I was working. And I’ve still not gotten back into my radio stuff. Maybe this year!

First Mead

18 March 2016

Well, after many years of talking about it with a friend, I finally did it. Brewed my own mead, I did.

For years I’ve joked around with a friend, Bob (no kidding), about wanting to try mead, not finding it anywhere, and about brewing our own. I’m not talking about one or two years, I’m talking something like 7 or more years. We’d joke about it or talk about it seriously, but neither of us really did anything.

Until now.

Why mead? Because I have an interest in Vikings and…well…um, maybe that’s all the reason, really. Honestly, I can’t think of any other reason now that I try. Drinking horns and all that, you know?

So, back in December I went online looking for brewing tips, processes, whatever specifically for mead. What I found out was that it’s ridiculously simple to brew a basic honey mead. Water, honey, yeast, and above all time. That’s it, really.

I only wanted to brew a gallon, just to see how it went, and not jump in with a 5 gallon batch to begin. So, I went looking for what seemed to me the most important piece of gear…a glass gallon jug. They say online you can brew in a plastic pail or jug, but I decided to go with glass. Brewing in plastic just didn’t seem right. Actually, two gallon glass jugs, for reasons that will be evident later.

I had thought it would be easy enough to find a one gallon glass jug. Apple juice or the like, right? Not around here, apparently. I wound up buying two gallons of the cheapest wine I could find. I was going to dump them down the drain just for the glass jugs, but wound up transferring the contents to plastic gallon milk jugs. It may have been cheap wine, but it turned out to actually still be good drinking.

So, now I had my two one gallon glass jugs. Scrounging around, I found pretty much everything else I needed to mix up the must (technical term for the initial honey and water mixture) and consign it to a gallon jug.

After sterilizing the jug and the funnel to be used, I was ready to start brewing. The total contents of the mead must were somewhere north of three quarts of purified water, two pounds of honey, and a packet of yeast. I heated some of the water and mixed in the honey, itself heated up to flow easier. When that was thoroughly mixed, I poured it into the glass jug. Then I added the yeast to some warm water, mixed it thoroughly, and added that to the jug. Finally, I topped off the gallon with remaining room temperature water and made sure it was all mixed thoroughly.

And so, on the 7th of December, 2015, I had brewed my first batch of honey mead.

First batch of honey mead.

First batch of honey mead.

The balloon is my airlock, to allow carbon dioxide to vent but not allow oxygen or other impurities back into the must. Before attaching the balloon to the bottle, I ran a sterilized needle through one side, creating a small pinhole. The pressure building up will inflate the balloon and at a certain point will open the pinhole enough for the pressure to vent and re-close the pinhole. Simple and elegant. Then I stored it in a dark, comfortable location: under the computer table, back in a corner. That keeps it out of the way, out of the light, and in a steady, temperate zone good for the yeast. As you can see by the inflated balloon, fermentation has started.

First batch of honey mead stored away and fermenting. Note the simple airlock, a latex balloon with a pinhole.

First batch of honey mead stored away and fermenting. Note the simple airlock, a latex balloon with a pinhole.

A little over a month later, on 10 January 2016, I did what’s called racking. In this, you transfer the liquid from one glass jug to the other, leaving the dregs behind. Oh, and the glass jug is called a carboy. I put the full jug on the counter and used a clear plastic tube and some suction to siphon out the mead into the other jug sitting on the floor. Both the empty jug and the tube were sterilized prior to use. You need to be careful the tube doesn’t suck up the dregs at the bottom of the full jug. I have no pictures of that, unfortunately. I did make a slight mess while getting the mead to flow through the tube and transferring the free end of the tube into the glass jug on the floor. Once that was done, then a fresh balloon with pinhole was installed and the newly filled jug returned to the storage spot.

After letting that sit and ferment for another month, 11 February 2016 was bottling day. On the 9th I completely vented the balloon and left it on to see if it was still fermenting or had stopped. If it was still fermenting, I was going to leave it and check each week. Over the next two days the balloon didn’t re-inflate much, so the afternoon of the 11th I assumed it had stopped fermenting and got ready to bottle.

I like the re-usable clamping bottles and jars, so earlier I had gone looking for such bottles to use. Eventually I found some nice, thick bottles of lemonade at the local International Market. The lemonades were different flavors so I tried a couple. They weren’t bad, and being on sale at $2.79 or so per bottle, they were a good price for the kind of bottles I was looking for.

Everything assembled for bottling.

Everything assembled for bottling.

Remembering the mess from racking, I wanted a cleaner way to get the honey mead from the glass jug into the bottles. I knew that otherwise I’d make a mess every time I swapped out the filled bottle for an empty one. Fortunately I discovered my wife had a plastic water/lemonade/whatever dispensing jug, so with permission I decided to use that as an intermediate step.

Everything sterilized and ready to bottle...almost. Not enough height for me.

Everything sterilized and ready to bottle…almost. Not enough height for me.

First, of course, everything, tube, bottles, plastic jug, all had to be sterilized. Boiling water took care of that quite nicely. Then came bottling and I had to figure out how to rack the mead from the glass gallon jug into the plastic gallon jug with the valved spout. Ingenuity and sheer insanity came to the rescue. It ain’t pretty, probably not the steadiest way, but hey, it worked!

Bottling started, got enough height now.

Bottling started, got enough height now.

 

Almost done with transfer to plastic jug. Note the dregs at the bottom. Far less dregs than when first racked.

Almost done with transfer to plastic jug. Note the dregs at the bottom. Far less dregs than when first racked.

Once it was racked into the plastic jug, getting the mead into the individual bottles was simplicity. Doing it this way also had the advantage of getting rid of the dregs that had formed on the bottom of the glass jug after the initial racking a month ago.

So much cleaner than trying to use the tube for each bottle!

So much cleaner than trying to use the tube for each bottle!

 

First bottle done!

First bottle done!

I got more than I expected from this one initial gallon of basic honey mead. I expected to lose some through racking so I had figured four bottles would be enough. Silly me. I should have checked what size the bottles were or something. Clearly they aren’t quart sized.

Complete output: four bottles and almost two full glasses of honey mead.

Complete output: four bottles and almost two full glasses of honey mead.

 

Bottled and labeled. One glass left to sample.

Bottled and labeled. One glass left to sample.

At least it gave me an excuse to sample it. I had to do something with the two glasses of mead, right? It’d certainly be a shame to toss it, and I was curious about how it would taste. It turned out I like it. I also found out it had more punch than a bottle of beer.

My readings and web search had led me to a site that mentioned how to tell what “grade” of mead you had by the clarity, among other factors. You test clarity by trying to read newsprint through the liquid. As you can see from these pictures, it’s clear enough to read. The pictures don’t do justice, but you really could just make out the small text and read it. The final picture at the bottom of this blog entry actually shows the clarity best. To be honest, I have no idea if that means this is a good brewed mead or just that it came out right. I’ve no idea what the original Viking mead looked like, anyway. I got my mead!

You can see the text, it just didn't photograph well.

You can see the text, it just didn’t photograph well.

 

A little better example of clarity, the text is more visible in this photograph.

A little better example of clarity, the text is more visible in this photograph.

 

One more shot through the glass at some fine print.

One more shot through the glass at some fine print.

I wanted feedback on this basic honey mead, so I handed out the bottles to a select bunch of people. The feedback was interesting, to say the least.

I’d tasted it right after bottling, since clearly I had two glasses of mead and no fifth bottle. As I said, I liked it. It was different, a little dry, had a definite alcohol content, and had a kind of grassy aftertaste, much like a freshly cut yard smells.

The feedback I got was across the spectrum, from ugh to swoon.

My wife smelled it and had no desire to even taste it. I talked her into taking a sip and she didn’t like it.

Bob said it was like a fine white wine, which really surprised him. He tried it first at room temperature, liked it, and then a week later tried it chilled. With the chilled version, he filled a 6 ounce glass with cold mead and dropped in a tablespoon of honey. The honey clumped and fell to the bottom of the glass due to the coldness of the mead. He didn’t stir it but instead let the drinking motions roll it around. Result: the mead was sweeter with each drink and that last little bit of honey in the bottom of the glass was the nectar of the gods.

Out of curiosity, and because of the other feedback I got, I asked him to try a second bottle to see if there was any difference between bottles. The engineer in me says there shouldn’t be, and the engineer in me says it needs to be verified. Unfortunately, it’s been a couple weeks since he finished the first bottle, and I have no idea what the extra time is going to do. I’m not sure the comparison will be valid now.

My daughter said it tasted like it needed to have sat bottled for a while, as if it hadn’t finished fermenting. There was a slight refilling of the balloon in the two days leading up to bottling, but not enough to fully re-inflate to the level in the picture above of the jug stored away.

Her husband said it wasn’t bad, but that he preferred beer and doesn’t care for wine. He also said he’d had better home-brewed beer. Mead ain’t beer or wine, buster. 😉 No mention of it not being completely fermented.

My daughter’s sister-in-law said that when she smelled it, it gave her nose a yeast infection. Smart ass. Nothing about taste, so I guess she didn’t taste it after smelling it. Another mark in the not finished column.

I’m still waiting on the feedback on the remaining two bottles. They’ve been sitting over a month longer, so I suspect the result is going to be different than earlier results would have shown anyway.

I’ve already just started my second batch.

Second batch of simple honey mead ready to store away.

Second batch of simple honey mead ready to store away.

This time I’m doing two different batches, brewed a week apart. The first is a repeat of this simple honey mead for process verification and the second will be a peach melomel, or a honey mead with fruit added. I’m adding peaches at the start, as opposed to after fermentation. Doing them a week apart, I only need to get one more glass gallon jug for racking. I can rack the first batch into the new jug, clean the used jug. Then a week later, I’ll rack the second batch into the now empty jug.

I’m also going to do two rackings, each a month apart, so this will take me three months instead of two before bottling. That should be better able to ensure that the mead fermentation completes, or completes even more. It’ll be interesting to see what difference, if any, this makes.

And yes, I did get more bottles. I found nine of these at a local thrift shop at 99 cents apiece.

New, beer-bottle like bottles. Still with my favorite clamp system for capping.

New, beer-bottle like bottles. Still with my favorite clamp system for capping.

Uh, oh. Be right back.

Whew! I just filled and measured one with water. I got nine and they’re each a pint, 16 fluid ounces. There’s eight pints to a gallon. So I’m set. I do plan to get a couple more lemonade bottles, though, just in case. I clearly need at least one more, so two should do nicely. Then I can do each gallon into three big clear bottles and the rest in the smaller brown. Any left that won’t completely fill a small bottle gets drunk by the brewmeister, me, on the spot.

I'm happy with the result. Note the clarity in this picture!!

I’m happy with the result. Note the clarity in this picture!!