Archive for February, 2010

Timelapse Grosbeaks

Grosbeaks from video

Here is a still from the little 10 second movie I made this morning.  Just a little timelapse play with the D90.

And the youtube video

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We woke yesterday to no water, this is only the second time in nearly 20 years of living up here that it has happened.  We get used to no electricity, but no water is a bit different.  We were lucky the Giotto was filled, dealing with a waterless morning is way more acceptable with the aid of caffeine,  lots of caffeine in the form of Maple Cappuccinos,  even better.

We are on city water and our water main, down the middle of the road,  is about 5 feet deep. The first time I froze was two years ago, also in late February.   After 5 months of winter, the cold has finally pushed down to the main and our little tap, there it performed its evil task and left us dry.  Our water main is about 6″ and our house tap is 3/4″, both pretty typical for the size of our neighborhood.

I have considered my self lucky compared to some of my neighbors, who see their taps freeze a few times every winter.  There is a stretch of our road where the main is even shallower, and that area is in the curve of the hill where the sun rarely touches it all winter.   Ideally the main should be 7 to 8 feet deep for our climate and terrain.  The city guys have been adding to the road there little by little, but to build up three feet is a project that will alter the driveways to most of the residents along that stretch.

Since I am not on the short list for frequent freezes, my tap was just as it was when it was installed back in ’72.  When it was dug out 2 years ago, they added a “thaw cable”, a thaw cable is a heavy gauge wire that is clamped to the tap (mine is 4 strand 00 gauge) and directed up to near the surface.  The end of this wire is feed through a short length of square pipe. The pipe serves the purpose of location assistance with the metal detector type probe.   Once found and dug up, a device much like an arc welder is hooked up to it and a pipe at my house, the unit then sends a large electric current (about 130 amps) through this loop.  The current warms the underground pipe, much like the filament in an incandescent bulb, but a much lower level.   As the pipe is warmed the ice inside melts and flow is restored.  Pretty cool trick eh?

Digging for wires

When they buried the pipe marker last time, they took some measurements to pin point its location.   These were based off the corners of my house some 60 to 70 feet away. This rough triangulation plus the help of the metal detector thing gave a location for the guy to dig.  They said the metal detector was not working up to its original specs.  Combine this with some less than perfect triangulation…and we had a miss.  In the effort to find the pipe / thaw wire the newer city guy dug up our buried phone cable..me and every body else down the road, are now without phone internet etc.   Oops!

Backhoe VS Qwest Cable

An emergency call to Qwest got the ball rolling for this repair.  We did find the thaw cable (the fatter wire running left to right in the above pic) about 1/2 hour later with the help of some digital pics I took last time, and more detector work.  They hooked up the welder thingy and after about 15 minutes the water was flowing.  To improve for “next time” a piece of wire was added to the main thaw cable and routed to the side of the road and wrapped around a “t” post set in the ground.  If we need to perform this operation again,  we can do it without any digging.  The neighbors that see more frequent freezes than me have these set up too.

Qwest showed up later in the afternoon and put a splice patch on that tangled mess of wire in the hole.  Phone and internet were back just before dinner time.  As it sits this morning we still have a big hole in our road…with a few exposed repair strips….but the water and the DSL are flowing.  Qwest will later install some type of housing around the terminal strips and seal it all up, then the city can fill the hole.

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I got a link today from Kent over at the Tiny House Blog, via his newsletter, About a company In California that has been pioneering ahead in the field of Fuel Cells. The story was on 60 Minutes recently and today they had a “press announcement / release” type of event. The Basis of the whole technology is that they redesigned a fuel cell to use something other than Hydrogen to produce electricity. By reworking the Anode / Cathode / Base material. They can power it with natural gas, bio-gas and other more readily available fuels. They claim the CO2 produce this way is about half of what would be produced by normal “power plant” methods (coal). I dug around on the web for a few hours to get a handle on some of the numbers. The 60 minutes piece led you to believe it had no emissions…which is entirely wrong. What I did find is this great article that explains some of the costs / benefits to this system. The technology is still very new so we can all hope that these numbers will improve, but the bottom line is this still uses fuel…currently the test units are run on natural Gas….The real advantage to this is a reduction is emissions compared to coal generated power, and the decentralization of the generating facility.

You can check out the great article here about the costs and issues with this new technology.

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Coffee Cherries on the Tree

I started roasting my own beans almost four years ago. A client of mine had been roasting his for a while and being a devote of fine drink, I picked his brain for some ideas and his methods. I got a basic roaster from Invalsa on Ebay…If I remember right it was about $80 and came with a couple pounds of green coffee beans.  Most people don’t know how stale the grocery store coffee really is until they try a cup of truly fresh roasted.   The model roaster I got was the “Fresh Roast 8” and it has been replaced with the SR300 which has a few improvements and now runs just over a $100.  People ask, Why spend $100 for a roaster? I answer with 2 primary reasons…Cost and Taste.

I can get Fair Trade Organic Green Coffee Beans of great quality for less than $5 a pound…I’ve spent up to $6.50 and as little as $3.50…The variety is great and the freshness is unparalleled. Our super market sells stale old bulk coffee from a specialty roaster for about $11 a pound.  The little packages of Starbuck’s (the evil mermaid in some coffee circles) run about $13 a pound. Yesterday, I ordered 25 pounds from three different growers, via Sweet Maria’s…25 pounds delivered for $5.22 a pound.  This lot should last us about 3-4 months.  The prices and service at Sweet Maria’s are great, and they have about 60-70 different kinds of beans available.  You can get green beans from a lot of suppliers online, you can also find some from high-end coffee shops or local roasters.

High end coffee is a bit like fine wine, with different growing regions and processes bringing different flavor profiles. Yes, I have turned into a coffee connoisseur, or snob, as the less informed might say. But each morning, I am treated to a fine cup.   One of the benefits of getting the beans green is they have a very long shelf life.  Six months to a year of green bean storage, has little effect on the final roasted product.  Roasted coffee flavor peaks at 12-24 hours after roasting, and after a week, its pretty dull.   I roast every day, and use the beans the next day.  When we have guests I may roast 2-3 batches. Each batch roasts in about 5-6 minutes.  Larger roasters may take 15-20 per batch.  You don’t need a fancy roaster to get started, you can roast in the oven, on the stove top, or even with an old “air popper” for popcorn.

Before I became enlightened with fresh roasted, I thought dark was good, the darker the better.  A lot of commercial roasters use this darker roast to mask inferior beans.  By roasting every day we can switch subtle flavor profiles with minor changes in the roast.   Mostly we roast to Full City, or Full City +. You can read about, and see the different levels of roasting at this great page at Sweet Maria’s.

We drink lattes, and cappuccinos mostly, and we make these with our Giotto. I got my machine on E-bay for about half of the retail price you see listed here.  Mine is the older version built by the original company ECM.  These are now made by Rocket Espresso, a prosumer line spin-off from ECM.  I replaced a couple gaskets and gave mine a minor tune-up.  The guy I got it from said it was not performing well, he bought a newer machine rather than getting this one fixed up. With the new gaskets and tune-up, it has been running like a champ. I got the gaskets for less than 10 bucks, and  with my engineering skills the install was painless.  With a coffee-house latte running $3.50 to $4.00, This thing paid for itself within the first 6 months we owned it.   We make two to five a day.  One or two each and sometimes three for me.   Our rare afternoon pickup is normally just an espresso.   As it is in poor taste, per Italian culture, to add milk after 11.  We call these “shooters” and sometimes might add a dash of heavy cream, if we have some.  These cream shooters, of course, are truly decadent.


One of the keys to great espresso is a great grinder, the basic blade mill does not yield a uniform grind. We use a conical burr mill, when we roast up a batch for camping or for the cabin we grind coarse for use in the french press. The grind for espresso is quite fine.   If you want to experience great coffee…the first thing you should do is get a really good grinder.   Ours is a Solis Maestro, and we have been very happy with it.

Our “House” drink is a Maple Cappuccino or know here as a “cap”.  It starts with a dash of real maple syrup in the bottom of the cup.  (We buy grade B syrup in bulk at Whole Foods)  In next is a rich, crema heavy, double shot of espresso, then the foamed milk (we use mostly 1%). Sometimes we dress them up with some etching (chocolate syrup art in the foamed milk)…more on that in a later post.  We also have a few bottles of Torani Syrups, for Hazelnut, Vanilla, or Caramel additions.   The Real Maple Syrup though, is our hands down favorite, the other syrups have a slight “synthetic” type of edge to them, and detract from the base of the fresh roasted.   After all,  Why have great beans only to add and  alter nature’s perfection with artificial flavors?   The girls however seem to like the syrups in milk as a variation to the Nesquick.

I do believe it is time for another “Cap”


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Home made Saturday

We had a pretty quiet weekend., Gary and Deb came up from Denver, and we put together a home-made dinner. Gary had made some bread at home before he came up and I put together some pasta sauce with a couple kinds of Italian sausage. Gary also brought up his pasta machine and we made some homemade Spaghetti, It was my first experience from scratch. Just eggs and special flour…pretty easy really, time-consuming but easy. We finished off the dinner with some Creme Brulee…Master Chef Gary…made a fairly important omission in the creme brulee…but it was still heartily consumed (I now have some cooking ammunition for our next competition)

ps. We had a couple “Rib-off” cooking competitions last summer, with homemade BBQ sauces etc…the next big challenge will be the “Brisket-off” next month…he doesn’t stand a chance!!!

The Creme Brulee was another first for me….Mapp Torches in the kitchen? We also shared some homemade Burgundy that I had made over 10 years ago. We concluded the evening with some demonstrations with the intervalometer…and now my little brother needs to get one for his D90. We had some visits from a new bird at the feeder…a Pine Grosbeak… and also from one of our old-time friends woody the woodpecker.

Pine Grosbeak

Woody Woodpecker

Tori and I finished up the weekend with some lite reading, some Olympics on the tube and some relaxing by the fire. (I stacked our 5th cord of the season Sunday…and we woke to 3 degrees today) Spring is only how many months away?

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A Colorado man was arrested over the weekend for growing pot…a lot of pot. Many of you may know that Colorado has had a Medical marijuana law for a little while. With it, we have seen a huge increase in Mom and Pop type shops open to sell drugs to “medical” users. In my small town, we now have 7 dispensaries and two new stores catering to indoor gardening…..(may I say not for tomatoes or flowers) ….all of this in a town which According to 2006 Census Bureau estimates the population at 1,337. We only have one supermarket and two liquor stores but you can get your weed from 7  handy retailers.

DEA agents busted suspected grower Chris Bartkowicz in a suburb of Denver after he allegedly bragged to the media that as a medical marijuana caretaker his basement operation was bringing in $400,000 a year. He said in an interview before he was busted. “I’m definitely living the dream now,”

Maintaining his operation was costly. Bartkowicz’s showed 9Wants to Know his electric bill for two months. He owed $3,694.92, a small price to pay for what he earns, he said.

A DEA officer said he was concerned because the grow was in a residential neighborhood near an elementary school and the power needed to grow marijuana poses a safety hazard.

Safety hazard?..to whom…just the grower in my book… as I doubt he had wires run willy nilly on the outside of his house.

I see the majority of these medical users as scamers….I could see a small percentage for real cases but does a town of 1300 really need 7 dispensaries…admit it….your just a bunch of stoners, and NO its not “Medicine”.

The idea for this post comes from the news article I saw the other day, but also from this evening when I was driving Natasha and Sierra back to Sarah’s for school tomorrow. Tasha who just celebrated her 11th Birthday Saturday, asked after hearing a radio ad……Daddy, whats Maui Wowui?….So I had to explain.

Go figure….who would have thought we would be hearing ads like this…just a few years ago.

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The White Thing

The White Thing

The other day when I got some pics the of the Clark’s Nutcracker, I also got a few pics of Miss Maybelle and some Chickadees. We were doing a Photo shoot of Tori’s Blythe Dolls dressed in their snow clothes with some home made shovels. It was still quite cold but we did get a little sunshine…Sunshine…Single digit Temps…Fresh Snow…..It was a Sparkly day!

My Little Chickadee

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We woke to a few inches of powder this morning and the temperature is back down into the low teens. Our feathered friends returned, as they usually do when the feeder is full and the fresh snow is covering the land. We were treated to a visit from the normal group of Chickadees, Pine Siskin’s, Nuthatches and Juncos, but today we also got a Clark’s Nutcracker. These have only been visiting recently…I think their range has shifted due to climate shift. These are typically found further north.

Clark's Nutcracker (yes, from Lewis and Clark)

After “Clark” we got a few visits from a couple Magpie’s, a Stellars Jay or two and then the “Gang” moved in…The Evening Grosbeak Gang…Seriously these folks travel in a pack of at least 25 Birds…Even with the slider closed we can hear them chattering, and chirping as they vie for “pecking order” This shot here only shows about 75% of the upper group, there is a second group of about 15-20 on the ground below the feeder.

Pack of Evening Grosbeaks

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I’m writing this Sunday afternoon, the video is 240 meg and is currently being up-loaded to you-tube. I figure by the time I get this listing posted it might be completed. I had to play around with some of the exposure settings to get this to “go” the final results were: 20 sec exposure, ISO 800, wide open at f3.5. I set my Intervalometer to 45 sec. This gave the camera time to process between shots…I’m sure I need to tweak something somewhere to clean it up some…but hey, its my first night shot sequence. I may spring for “quick time pro” soon the photo-lapse software can’t handle the bigger images.

I have had my intervalometer for a bit over a week but just started playing with it the other day, last night was the first time we have seen stars in a while. After I got the exposure set, I was able to monitor the timer from inside, the camera was just outside the slider on its tripod.

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I grabbed the brown glass long-neck from the floor next to the couch this morning, and dropped it into our recycling bin. I had set it there last night after watching a pretty decent movie from Netflix…it was called “A perfect Getaway”
If you like action Thrillers with a really nice twist at the end…its worth it.

As the bottle clinked into the bin with the Salad dressing bottle and the others destined for their “green box” brethren. I Thought back to some of the old days when my family would get cases of soda from the market and we would bring the bottles back. The bottles would make their way back to the bottler and then back to the market again. I remember how the bases of some of the thicker Coke bottles had that worn dull look, a bit like “beach glass”. These bottles would be used over and over, and it was socially accepted. No fears of what might have been in there before..sticky goo… from the previous user, or maybe even a cigarette butt.

We bought, we drank, we returned…it was natural. I also remember my grandfather mowing the lawn with a Blatz long-neck in his hip pocket. He too, took his bottles back to have them refilled as did the generations before him. If I ask my daughters now what happens to an old soda bottle they say it is recycled, we are part of the 30-35% that recycle here in Colorado. Those numbers seem small compared to what can be obtained. When I was growing up in Michigan, a new law was passed in 1976 and that went into effect in 1978…What law? you might ask… The Famous Bottle Bill.

This required a 10 cent deposit on carbonated beverage containers…Soda and Beer…mostly, this was long before the bottled water craze and the multitude of sports and energy drink we see today. At first people were pissed off, it added almost two and half bucks to every case, but then people realized they got that money back when they brought back the bottles, the people who then got pissed were the store clerks and businesses that had to deal with the empties…in time they got used to it. In the early 80’s, in college, I remember hanging out in the dorms and tossing back a few with my dorm mates…ya it was against the rules…but that’s another story. Sometimes, an out-of-state student would pitch a can into the trash. Everybody else in the room would exclaim…”DUDE! We don’t throw dimes away…pick that back up”. We would then explain our bottle bill. Michigan, then and now, has the highest bottle deposit of any state. Yes, it is only a dime, but the other states that have bottle bills are mostly just a nickle. The Statistics on recycling show that the difference is huge. In Michigan the recycle rate averages about 95% other deposit states are 10% to 30% lower…The Container Recycling Institute has estimated a national beverage container recycling rate of about 33%, a rate that would be much lower if it were not for the high recycling rates in the eleven deposit states pulling up the national average.

In 2004, about 130 billion aluminum, glass, and plastic beverage containers were not recycled: double the amount wasted in 1990.1 Instead, these containers ended up in landfills and incinerators, or strewn across the landscape as litter.

I also remember seeing “homeless” type people collecting cans and bottles along the roadways when I lived in Michigan…they were getting paid for this… in the deposit they collected from the cans. The results were obvious over the years…far less road side trash. People did not want to throw away their dimes. If they did, there was a small population of people who would pick up their slack.

If you want to read more check out this great article.

So what will the future, hold? True…recycling by re-using / refilling the bottles? A Nation-wide bottle bill?

Both? It’s only a matter of time before all the landfills are filled.

The ratio of non-deposit vs. deposit containers collected during the Worcester Earth Day cleanup is 4.2:1. This result is remarkably similar to the tally conducted at the 4/12/03 Charles River Cleanup, at which the non-deposit containers outnumbered the deposit containers by a 4.5:1 ratio.

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