Tag Archives: advice

Brewing Tips and Tricks

Been homebrewing beer for eight or nine years, now. Learnt a lot and will continue learning a lot. IMHO, blogs are the perfect way to share things you’ve learnt but I’ve yet to share much “brewing wisdom” on my blog.

Here are a few things I’ve learnt, so far. Some of these are quite obvious, some I’ve learnt the hard way, some are somewhat controversial, and some are more matters of opinion. I could classify them, but I won’t.

A few of these things I’ve learnt while working at a wine-making store, after having brewed for several years. Some I’ve learnt through fellow brewclub members or the Interwebs. Most come from direct experience.

  • There’s a difference between a steel scrubby and stainless steel scrubby.
  • A rubber bung can stick so strongly to the inside of a carboy’s neck that the carboy can explode under pressure from fermentation.
  • Some of the best beers are brewed during the weirdest brewing sessions.
  • From brewing, you get a new perspective on all sorts of things, from biochemistry and physics to hardware and grocery stores.
  • Any ingredient can find it’s place in beer. (I’m especially fond of playing with spices, herbs, grains, sugars, and fruits.)
  • Whatever crazy thing you think of in terms of brewing has probably been thought up by somebody else. (Turns out, I’m not the only one brewing with hibiscus flowers.)
  • It’s important to taste everything you brew, at every step. (A yeast starter is especially important to taste before adding to your wort.)
  • Everything which touches your wort after boiling needs to be thoroughly sanitized. (Sanitizing anything else is overkill but it’s easy enough to do that it doesn’t matter.)
  • Yeast is a strange beast: some yeast strains are really finicky, others can withstand almost anything. (Any strain which has been used for beer can produce great results.)
  • There’s something strangely fun about reusing yeast.
  • Dropping wort on top of a yeast cake makes fermentation take off like crazy.
  • In some conditions, primary fermentation can be over within 24 hours.
  • Grain freshness doesn’t really matter but the freshness of every other ingredient does matter quite a bit.
  • A cheap digital scale with 1 g precision is among the most useful tools in a homebrewer’s arsenal.
  • There’s no correlation between the quality of the beer and how “hi-tech” your equipment is.
  • Find a no-rinse sanitizer you like and use it extensively.
  • “Clean as you go” is an important rule.
  • A Bruheat boiler makes a very cool mash-tun for step mashes if you put a false bottom or grain bag in it. (I use a zapap-style “bucket with holes” in mine.)
  • There might be ways to achieve the same results as a decoction but it’s still fun to do, once in a while.
  • It’s essential to clean a Bruheat’s heating element between mashing and boiling.
  • A PDA or smartphone has its place in the brewery.
  • It’s perfectly possible to brew in an apartment, especially if you have storage space.
  • A basement makes an excellent site for a homebrewery.
  • The more room you have for brewing, the more room it takes.
  • Auto-siphons do make life a lot easier and there’s probably no reason not to use them.
  • Splitting batches is an efficient way to experiment with diverse ingredients.
  • Brewing gets you to experience beer in a new way.
  • It’s much easier to do several brewing-related activities on the same day than doing them on separate days.
  • Siphoning a sanitizing solution through your equipment is an efficient way to sanitize everything.
  • Those bottle-washers you put on your faucet are really useful for both bottles and carboys.
  • A spray bottle is an excellent tool to quickly sanitize equipment.
  • To make a gallon of StarSan solution, you can use 8 g of StarSan.
  • Cold outside weather might be the most efficient way to chill wort.
  • Brewing on a whim is fun.
  • Throwing beer away should only be done when there’s a huge problem. (Even then, you could probably make vinegar or something.)
  • Don’t be afraid of brewing sour beers.
  • There are many ways to add coffee in beer.
  • “Hot side aeration” isn’t anything to worry about.
  • Do stir the mash, there’s a reason brewing is called «brassage» (“stirring”) in French.
  • A restaurant-size long-handled skimmer works well as a way to stir the mash as well as to skim the wort.
  • As there probably no way (at home) to produce the exact same beer twice in a row, it makes more sense to make every batch significantly different from all the previous ones.
  • The more frequently you brew, the easier it is to maintain your equipment.
  • Brewclubs make every aspect of brewing more enjoyable.
  • Papazian’s “Relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew” is a brewer’s mantra.
  • Anything you start worrying about makes brewing less fun and probably doesn’t matter nearly as much as you think it does.

There are many things I still haven’t learnt. Some should be obvious

  • How to make bottling fun, even when I’m alone.
  • How to plan my brewing sessions so that I have everything set up beforehand.
  • The volumes of some of my vessels. Haven’t graduated any of them, actually.
  • Whether or not I should skim the hot break.
  • The perfect moment to rack to secondary.
  • An efficient way to stagger my brew so that I do several activities on the same day.
  • The joys of using a refractometer. (But I’m getting one soon.)
  • The importance of proteins in brewing.
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Why Is PRI’s The World Having Social Media Issues?

Some raw notes on why PRI’S The World (especially “The World Tech Podcast” or WTP) is having issues with social media. It may sound bad, for many reasons. But I won’t adapt the tone.

No offense intended.

Thing is, I don’t really care about WTP, The World, or even the major media outlets behind them (PRI, BBC, Discovery).

Reason for those notes: WTP host Clark Boyd mentioned that their social media strategy wasn’t working as well as they expected. Seemed like a nice opportunity to think about social media failures from mainstream media outlets.

My list of reasons is not exhaustive and it’s not really in order of importance.

Social media works best when people contribute widely. In other words, a podcaster (or blogger, etc.) who contributes to somebody else’s podcast (blog, etc.) is likely to attract the kind of mindshare afforded social media outlets. Case in point, I learnt about WTP through Erik Hersman because Afrigadget was able to post WTP content. A more efficient strategy is to actually go and contribute to other people’s social media.

The easiest way to do it is to link to other people, especially other blogs. Embedding a YouTube video can have some effects but a good ol’ trackback is so much more effective. In terms of attention economy, the currency is, well, attention: you need to pay attention to others!

Clark Boyd says WTP isn’t opposed to interacting with listeners. Nice… Yet, there hasn’t been any significant move toward interaction with listeners. Not even “letters to the editor” which could be read on the radio programme. No button to leave audio feedback. Listeners who feel they’re recognized as being interesting are likely to go the social media route.

While it’s a technology podcast, WTP is formatted as a straightforward radio news bulletin. “Stories” are strung together in a seamless fashion, most reports follow a very standard BBC format, there are very few “conversations” with non-journalists (interviews don’t count as conversations)… Such shows tend not to attract the same crowd as typical social media formats do. So WTP probably attracts a radio crowd and radio crowds aren’t necessarily that engaged in social media. Unless there’s a compelling reason to engage, but that’s not the issue I want to address.

What’s probably the saddest part is that The World ostensibly has a sort of global mission. Of course, they’re limited by language. But their coverage is even more Anglo-American than it needs to be. A far cry from Global Voices (and even GV tends to be somewhat Anglophone-centric).

The fact that WTP is part of The World (which is itself produced/supported by PRI, BBC, and Discovery) is an issue, in terms of social media. Especially given the fact that WTP-specific information is difficult to find. WTP is probably the one part of The World which is savvy to social media so the difficulty of finding WTP is made even more noticeable by the lack of a dedicated website.

WTP does have its own blog. But here’s how it shows up:

Discovery News: Etherized.

The main URL given for this blog? <tinyurl.com/wtpblog> Slightly better than <http://tinyurl.com/6g3me9&gt; (which also points to the same place). But very forgettable. No branding, no notion of an autonomous entity, little personality.

Speaking of personality, the main show’s name sounds problematic: The World. Not the most unique name in the world! 😉 On WTP, correspondents and host often use “the world” to refer to their main show. Not only is it confusing but it tends to sound extremely pretentious. And pretention is among the trickiest attitudes in social media.

A strange dimension of WTP’s online presence is that it isn’t integrated. For instance, their main blog doesn’t seem to have direct links to its Twitter and Facebook profiles. As we say in geek circles: FAIL!

To make matters worse, WTP is considering pulling off its Facebook page. As Facebook pages require zero maintenance and may bring help listeners associate themselves with the show, I have no idea why they would do such a thing. I’m actually having a very hard time finding that page, which might explain why it has had zero growth in the recent past. (Those who found it originally probably had friends who were adding it. Viral marketing works in bursts.) WTP host Clark Boyd doesn’t seem to have a public profile on Facebook. Facebook searches for WTP and “The World Tech Podcast” don’t return obvious results. Oh! There you go. I found the link to that Facebook page: <http://www.new.facebook.com/home.php#/group.php?gid=2411818715&ref=ts&gt;. Yes, the link they give is directly to the new version of Facebook. Yes, it has extra characters. No, it’s not linked in an obvious fashion.

That link was hidden in the August 22 post on WTP’s blog. But because every post has a link with “Share on Facebook” text, searching the page for “Facebook” returns all blogposts on the same page (not to mention the “Facebook” category for posts, in the right-hand sidebar). C’mon, folks! How about a Facebook badge? It’s free and it works!

Oh, wait! It’s not even a Facebook page! It’s a Facebook group! The difference between group and page seems quite small to the naked eye but ever since Fb came out with pages (a year or so ago), most people have switched from groups to pages. That might be yet another reason why WTP isn’t getting its “social media cred.” Not to mention that maintaining a Facebook group implies just a bit of time and doesn’t tend to provide direct results. Facebook groups may work well with preestablished groups but they’re not at all effective at bringing together disparate people to discuss diverse issues. Unless you regularly send messages to group members which is the best way to annoy people and generate actual animosity against the represented entity.

On that group, I eventually learn that WTP host Clark Boyd has his own WTP-themed blog. In terms of social media, the fact that I only found that blog after several steps indicates a broader problem, IMHO.

And speaking of Clark Boyd… He’s most likely a great person and an adept journalist. But is WTP his own personal podcast with segments from his parent entity or is WTP, like the unfortunately defunct Search Engine, a work of collaboration? If the latter is true, why is Boyd alone between segments in the podcast, why is his picture the only one of the WTP blog, and why is his name the domain for the WTP-themed blog on WordPress.com?

Again, no offence. But I just don’t grok WTP.

There’s one trap I’m glad WTP can avoid. I won’t describe it too much for fear that it will represent the main change in strategy. Not because I get the impression I may have an impact. But, in attention economy, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

Oops! I said too much… 😦

I said I don’t care about WTP. It’s still accurate. But I do care about some of the topics covered by WTP. I wish there were more social media with a modicum of cultural awareness. In this sense, WTP is a notch above Radio Open Source and a few notches below Global Voices. But the podcast for Global Voices may have podfaded and Open Source sounds increasingly U.S.-centric.

Ah, well…


Flying Saucer: Doing the Right Thing

Few things impress me more from management than responsiveness and a sense of responsibility. Contrary to what some people seem to assume when I say a thing like this, the reciprocal isn’t true. There are several things managers can do which disappoint me more than their lack of responsiveness or their failure to take responsibility for something going on in their business. The main point is that I don’t really expect most managers to be responsive or responsible in matters pertaining to their business. Without my noticing it, there might be an implicit indictment of common managerial styles in the way I perceive responsive and responsible managers. But I mostly mean this as praise for what I perceive as proper management.

Now, those who know me would probably shout out that I’m really nothing like the “managerial type.” At best, I’d be the kind of person managers may pay attention to, on occasion. But I like ambivalence and nuance too much to be a “decider.” Since I have never been (nor do I ever plan to be) in a position of power over others, “it’s all good.”

What does any of this have to do with the Flying Saucer Draught Emporium, you ask so eagerly I can smell the anxiety in your voice? Simple: Management at FS has just provided me with an excellent example of what I consider to be responsible and responsive management. And this does almost as much to endear them to me than their beer selection. SRSLY!

Here’s the deal…

Went to the recently-opened Austin location of the FS beerpub chain. Based in Houston, the chain has pubs in different parts of Southcentral and Southeastern United States (AR, TN, TX, NC, and SC). Because their beer selection tends to be rather extensive, their pubs are mentioned occasionally in beer podcasts and informal discussions. I was thus enthusiastic about the opportunity to go and sample some of their beers. Anything which brings people to understand beer diversity has my attention.

To make things even more exciting, the pub has a Monday night special (every week, apparently) during which draft beers are sold at $2.50 a pint. There are less expensive beers around (including some carefully crafted beer brewed locally) but given Flying Saucer’s beer selection, the deal sounded too good to be true.

And it kind of was. Not every beer on the draft menu was part of the special. Fair enough, of course. But a bit confusing. In fact, something on their Austin website was slightly misleading. Nothing to sue them over but, still, it’s a bit frustrating to have reality not live up to expectations set up by information given out by an enterprise. (A rare occurrence, right? 😉 )
So I submitted some comments using their feedback form. Because my comments were (hopefully constructive but still) somewhat negative, I sent those comments in the “Criticize Us” category. I tried to make my comments as thoughtful as possible but I did feel a bit silly to criticize a pub for what is objectively a very nice special. It’s probably just something about myself that I like to tell people what I feel about what they do to me. It might even be a Quebecker thing.

Thing is, I didn’t really expect an answer. I was sending comments in the hope that, maybe, it would reach someone who might be reminded of it on an occasion where it might matter, somewhat. I almost sent a copy of my comments as an “open letter” but, probably because I felt a bit silly for sending such comments, I refrained from compulsively blogging the issue.

I sent my comment at 10PM CET. An automatic response told me, in a humorous way, that I should receive a response within 12 to 24 hours and, failing this, I should send another message. I don’t even expect that kind of a response time in time-sensitive situations (say, a moving or a courier company) so I really didn’t expect a response in that timeframe. But this auto-response did prepare me to get some kind of reply (probably a generic response) at some point in the not-too-distant future. Again, this wasn’t something I was really expecting when I submitted my comments.

What I still wasn’t expecting after receiving the automatic response was what actually happened. By 4:30AM CET,  a message was sent to me by someone at the Austin management for Flying Saucer. That message was CC’ed to other people but was clearly addressed to me. No form letter here. In fact, the message was directly addressing the issues I had raised, in exactly the right tone and most appropriate way. The person who sent the message took responsibility for the misleading statement and pledged to rectify it right away. In fact, by the time I read that message, the actual webpage had in fact been updated, and the statement I had quoted had been replaced with a claim that I find humorous, honest, and quite appropriate.

Wow!

Of course, it didn’t take them too much of an effort to make these changes. And they might have acted so quickly for fear of legal issues (even though my message wasn’t at all meant to be threatening). But I’m still very impressed by the responsiveness and sense of responsibility displayed by management at Flying Saucer Austin.

To remain in the corporate mindframe, it reminds me of ads for a fast-food chain in which people act in a “refreshingly honest” way. Though I’m certainly not going to eat fast-food because of ads like these, I definitely appreciate the concept. Openness, transparency, effectiveness, responsiveness, responsibility… Taken together, these qualities make for a very pleasurable experience, even when they relate to relatively large institutions. I sincerely think that if more managers were like that, many problems could be solved.

Now, if I can only get Texas to change its beer import laws… 😉

The Flying Saucer Draught Emporium – www.beerknurd.com


To a Newbie Blogger

 

Lisamm, who just commented on two of my own blog entries, is asking about blogging:How to Increase Your Blog Hits « Books on the Brain

Blogging is new to me. I haven’t learned the lingo. I don’t know the etiquette. I don’t know what a meme is (Do I want one? Do I need one? Is it fattening?) What is the deal with bloggers giving other bloggers awards? No one has challenged me, or tagged me, or whatever it is people do. I’m totally winging it.Someone told me recently that I could increase my blog hits with an intriguing title on my entries. Hmmmm. This one might get noticed. I guess we’ll see how it works.Speaking of blog hits, I seem to be getting a lot (I guess). What is a lot? How many do other people get?What is up with my obsessive desire to check my stats? How I love to see the blog stat graph go up, up, up. Is this normal? Why do I care? Do other bloggers do that? Will the obsession wear off soon????Experienced bloggers, I would love to hear from you. I’m hoping my insanity is only temporary.

My answers:Simply put, meme is an idea which propagates itself. Think “viral marketing.” Among bloggers, it often refers to a kind of tag-like game by which one blogger asks other blogger to post about something (say, eight random things about yourself) and to do the same with other people. It’s a fun (and non-fattening) way to connect with fellow bloggers.Awards are a bit similar. Bloggers tend to enjoy kudos, praises, marks of recognition, etc. Some awards (the “thinking blog” one is an example) are given as a way to connect bloggers who perceive to be of the same calibre, in one dimension or another.Intriguing titles do help increase traffic and bloggers are often (semi-secretly) proud of their clever titles. In this sense, we’re no different from journalists! An issue with titles, though, is that the type of traffic it increases might be the type of headline-reading which does relatively little good to a blog. My best example is my Facebook Celebs and Fakes post which is getting good traffic, apparently for the wrong reasons… ;-)As anyone can guess, “a lot” of blog hits is a really relative measure. Some bloggers get thousands of hits every single day, others get a few hundreds a month. From November, 2006 to February, 2007, I was getting an average of about 180 hits a day (with a peak at 307 hits in a single day). Since then, I’ve been down to about 100 to 130 hits a day. I still consider this to be a lot of hits, especially when I compare it to the number of comments I get. I also notice (by looking at the WordPress.com statistics page) that many of the hits I get come from Web searches about terms for which my entries aren’t that relevant (cf. “celebs and fakes” above).Many bloggers are obsessed by stats even if they know that they don’t tell much of a story. Bloggers often discuss measurement tools, especially if their blogging has a financial impact. Personally, I do check my blog stats regularly but I don’t really care about the numbers. It’s more of a way to observe tendencies, to learn more about effects of blogging, and as a way to assess differences between blog entries. Besides, the way WordPress.com works, the stats page is where incoming links are displayed. Now, having said all this, it’s probably true that I get a pleasant feeling when I see my numbers going up and I probably was slightly disappointed when they dropped. But those feelings are really transient.Speaking of graphs going up. It seems to be a common effect among bloggers that a site’s traffic will increase pretty regularly, regardless of what the blogger does. At least, that’s what I figured until my March, 2007 drop. I’m still a bit puzzled about this, actually.As for insanity, I think it comes with the territory.Main point of blogging is: blog the way you want to blog. Have fun, experiment with things, don’t take yourself too seriously. Blogging is just a system for making content available publicly. There aren’t set rules about blogging. In other words, don’t listen to any piece of advice.Now, a few words of advice. ;-)It’s probably a good idea not to make too much of stats. They’re fun to look at but they don’t say much about blogs. A blog with a small but dynamic reader-base is often better than a blog getting a lot of hits. Technorati and other measures of influence are similarly misleading as blogging isn’t “about that,” for most people. Yes, there are “A-list bloggers” out there (blogging celebrities, very influential bloggers). But starting a blog to become an A-list blogger is like learning a new language to become a best-selling author in that language.Use the bookmarklet in your blogging system. I can’t paste the WordPress.com one because WordPress.com doesn’t accept JavaScript in blog entries (for security reasons, allegedly), but it’s the one at the bottom of the blog writing page. I personally find those bookmarklets to be among the best features available anywhere. When you see a web page you want to blog about, select a piece of text and click on the bookmarklet from your bookmark bar. You then have a new blog entry with the title of the page, a link to that page, and the portion of text you selected. This part is so ingrained in my blogging habits that I often look for a page to start an entry from instead of creating a blank entry. That part may sound silly but it makes sense in my workflow.Speaking of workflow, it’s probably a good idea to take on tabbed browsing if you haven’t done so already. One blogging use of browser tabs is as placeholders for would-be blog entries. Kind of like a “to do” list for blogging. Notice something potentially bloggable? Keep that tab open so you can come back to it when you have time. I know other bloggers are doing this too because some talk about the number of tabs remaining in their browsers.Which leads me to one of the main hazards of blogging: you end up thinking about all the things you could say and you never find time to do much of it. As a general concept, “Information Overload” refers to something similar. Hence the need to adopt a blogging strategy. Personally, I haven’t find the best way to do it yet but I am decreasing my “blogload,” somehow. In fact, blogging itself does make me more efficient as it provides a central place for putting things I would otherwise repeat. (Though I end up with something like seven blogs…) So, my advice here would be something like: think about ways to control the number of things you want to blog about.One way to think about it is that, with “big issues,” other people have certainly blogged about them. Though there’s something intimidating about this, it also means that you may not need to blog about something if it’s likely to become common knowledge soon.Many bloggers seem to crave the latest thing. They want to “scoop” a story, be the first to blog it. Though it pains me to do so, I must say that I’m probably as guilty of this as the next blogger. Problem with this is that it requires a lot of effort to keep up with everything which is happening. And while being the first to blog about something might be the best way to get incredible traffic, the outcome may not be worth the effort.I try to take a longer view on things. If I can, I like to bring multiple items together in the same blog entry. Kind of like a “roundup,” if I can. It’s also a lot of effort, but it’s less likely to make you crazy than the quest for the first post.This all reminds me of a blog post I read about types of blog posts. IIRC, it was a presentation file and it had some things to say about the effectiveness of those posts. Though this kind of thinking makes a lot of sense for media-oriented bloggers, there’s a lot more to blogging than trying to build readership.Which leads me to the more social aspects of blogging. In the past several months, my blogging activities have probably decreased as my Facebook (Fb) activities increased. While Fb and blogging are quite different from one another, connections are quite clear. Posting notes or other items on Fb is almost exactly like a simplified form of blogging.There are disadvantages to posting things on Facebook.com, by comparison with blogging. There aren’t (AFAICT) RSS feeds for Fb Notes and Posted Items. Only your Fb friends can see (and comment on) things you post on Facebook. There isn’t a WYSIWYG editor for Fb notes (though you can use basic HTML). Fb notes don’t have categories or tags (though you can tag Fb friends). And you don’t get neat stats.But there are nice things about Fb notes and posted items. Since those items are seen by people who already know you, it’s often easier to get feedback through Facebook posted items than through a (public) blog. And because posted items are put on your Facebook profile, there’s a special connection between your items and your Facebook persona. Not to mention that blog entries can be posted directly on Facebook, which kills two birds with one stone.To get back to social dimensions of blogging… No matter how much bloggers like to talk about blogging as a social form of writing, it tends to be one-to-many, not many-to-many. In fact, most people who leave comments on blog entries are bloggers themselves. Though blogging is very “democratic,” it’s not the most efficient community-building tool available online.Anyhoo…I do tend to ramble a lot. There’s a lesson about blogging, somewhere… ;-)


Facebook for Teaching and Learning

My friend Jay Pottharst has created a Facebook group for a section he’s teaching. Thought about doing the same thing myself but I still prefer Moodle for learning and teaching contexts.

One thing which could be quite useful is Jay’s Tips for people who are concerned about joining Facebook. Though he wrote those three tips for his students, they could apply more widely. They’re quite straightforward and sensical. (Which shouldn’t be surprising as Jay’s in math at Harvard. If he were to not make sense, the world might collapse.) Summarised (from Jay’s already brief tips): use privacy settings, think about using a pseudonym, get a friend to register for you.

Personally, I’d say that it’s probably best to heed the first of the three tips. While Fb does encourage members to post all sorts of potentially sensitive information, it’s good practise to carefully treat any information you may provide online. Despite the ongoing media coverage on privacy concerns on Facebook and elsewhere, the main point here is that there are varying degrees of privacy which can be applied to information distributed on- or offline.

There’s a lot more to say about learning/teaching uses of Fb.

Of course, there’s a Facebook group about Teaching & Learning with Facebook. And I created a moderated group for passionate teachers on Facebook.

One thing I like about Fb in educational contexts is that it encourages a type of candour or, at least, some amount of transparency. Public information about members of a class (registered students, instructors, assistants, auditors…) can be very helpful as a course progresses. In fact, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Fb-like features in Moodle, such as elaborate profiles, ability to build links across courses, ad hoc groups, etc. Moodle and Facebook share several features and there could be a rich integration of features from both.


Advice to Forum Posters

Related to a thread about Moodle which veered into something of a flame war.

Lounge: How open source projects survive poisonous people

  • don’t start a discussion with an “I HATE…” list
  • respond sincerely and respectfully even if you suspect a possible trolly-conversation (Martin D.)
  • give concrete practical suggestions for action (Martin L.)
  • respond with light-hearted humor (Paul and his asbestos underpants) big grin
  • it is OK to be passionate (Tim)
  • take a step back and reflect on the process (Nicholas: “…can’t separate the code from the community…”)
  • and there no need to be defensive about Moodle and its history–warts and all, we are who we are

These pieces of advice can work in many online contexts, IMHO.

(Comments closed because of unsollicited and inappropriate submissions…)