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Idiotarod 2015
Posted - Feb 9th, 2015 6:16pm
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In the same way that farmers in previous eras must have measured the seasons by their fields - I feel like I'm almost able to measure the flow of time by the building of the annual idiotarod cart.

Idiotarod season came a little late this year.  The entry-forms became 'Officially' available only 2 weeks before the race for some reason.  I also have a mini-me on the way.  Yet such things seem to have little or no effect on my ambition and imagination.  For some reason I believed that 2 weeks was plenty of time to turn a shopping cart into a fully functional ice-cream truck: music, freezer, and all.

Naiveté and achievement pair well though, and so despite McCoy being sidelined with a cyborg hip, and Cupp deciding he wasn't injured enough and thus needed to go snowboarding, Amy, Jon, Billy, Nemo and myself painted, taped, glued, and birthed the Nice Dreams truck into a cold misunderstanding world in just about 2 weeks time.

My neighbors continue to be baffled by my hobbies, but I feel like this year our fellow idiots truly appreciated for our contribution.  There were at least a few other great carts - the far too soon Robin Williams coffin, and the insanely good lego movie kitty, but there was only one team handing out drumsticks and fudgesicles.  I suspect at some point in the future that an ice-cream truck will be instrumental in binding the disparate faiths of humanity.  A profound love of popsicles seems to be bound in our genetic makeup.

And what did we do with this newfound good will of our fellow racers you ask?  We turned right around and drowned it in a sea of hot fudge and strawberry syrup.

We always have a great time doing this race.  The AZ Cacauphony Society really deserves props for anything that can entertain me for the best part of a decade.  What was different this year was our prior decision to avoid the quest for 1st place.  This almost always goes to the Hash House Harriers anyway.  Its hard to beat folks who practice drinking and running on a weekly basis after all.  Instead, we just wanted to have fun and spread chaos.... and chaos we did spread.

From the time we got our first clue (your next destination is always a mystery until you complete a challenge there) - anyone within 20 feet of us got hosed down with sunday toppings and then coated with sprinkles.  I'm sorry to admit that even a few bystanders took friendly fire, but thats all part of the experience! Theres a odd satisfaction to assaulting your opponents with non-lethal deterrents, and it draws a weird kind of honorary animosity.  I suppose this is why we got rammed, tackled, cart-jacked, and I even got pie-faced Bill Gates style (check that off the bucket list).

If that doesn't sound fun, I totally understand, but when combined with potato guns, warm beer, and cups of snot-like alcohol laden gummy bear sludge - its kind of magical... either that or more likely it causes some sort of addictive PTSD.  Either way, it was another super fun Idiotarod, and I was happy to share one of my most favorite activities with my brother-n-law Billy and my friend Nemo who will almost certainly never speak to me again.

The word is that we won some kind of award but after about an hour at the finish line party we were full of tacos and ready for a nap/shower/delousing.  Hopefully I can add an update to this once we find out who won what.  I'll also include some of the build pics below as I always think its fun to see how these things come together.
 Highly detailed architectural drawing - CHECK! I decided to go with a pvc frame this year... not sure why we didnt think of this before as it worked great and gave us a rectangular shape to start with. A little more PVC, some cross-braces, and the frame was all set.  A closeup of the cooler.  I think we should include one of these in all our carts from now on. With the frame complete we hung cardboard to fill out the shape.  I added some retractable handles made from wooden dowels and larger PVC to make lifting the fully loaded cart easier.  A little cardboard and some more tape cleaned up the inside lines.  White basecoat and the start of a giant ice-cream cone - done and done.  Ive always wanted to use this stuff.  Who knew it was so good at making ice-cream. A close-up of the finished cone.  Thats parchment paper under it so it didn't stick to the top and could be removed for transport.  After a full night of painting/gluing and decorating with the help of Billy and Tara the cart was finally complete.  Idiots assemmmbllllee! As usual - folks are amazingly creative for this race.  I hadnt seen anyone try a looney toons cart before.  This was one of my favorites. The Care Bears made a showing.  As did a team in turd costume.  Another one I can't believe people ran in all day.  The wizard of oz was present. It took me until right now realize this was an animal house cart.  This one played pac-man music all day. I didnt get the theme at first but once it hits you its brilliant....and kinda sad.  The Dukes had about 47 team members for some reason. Of course this was the team of the day.  Amazing costumes. Everyone lined up at the starting line and we were off! After only a few minutes Jon began to look like a character out of a Hunter S. Thompson novel This is Karl - We drafted him during the race.  Huge props to him for providing some much needed horsepower and cart-protection. I think we stopped for this pic at the end of the race... I don't have much from the start until this  This was supposed to cure my nearly fatal case of hiccups.  It just kinda made me upside down.  Someday this trophy shall be ours.  I think Im happy though with how this year turned out.  Another great day in the sun.
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The Worlds Most Complicated Cocktail
Posted - Aug 2nd, 2014 11:48am
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Have you ever heard of the Green Rhum Thumb?  If so it means you were probably present at the 2011 Bar Vs Chef competition in Montreal, Canada.  If not, it means your the other 100% of the human population.

I've been on a cocktail kick lately.  Maybe its trending, or maybe I just fell into it by way of a low carb (read no beer) diet.  Either way, for the last few months, I've been reading, experimenting on my willing wife, and generally making a mess of the kitchen as I learn the ins and outs of classic cocktailing.

Its been fun, and I've learned a lot... and this is of course where I should have stopped.  I seem to approach everything at 400mph though, so when I came across a blog post describing the Green Rhum Thumb I knew it had to be recreated.  For what better test of my mixology metal could there be than to recreate the worlds most complicated cocktail!?

Well actually, as it turns out, there's a lot of better tests.  In fact, perfecting and learning about the more simple drinks turns out to be just as - if not more - difficult as concocting this monstrosity.  After all, no one has a clue how this sucker should taste, but there's certain expectations when it comes to something like a mint julep.

Nevertheless, the journey has been fun, and I wanted to share both the recipe, and how it tastes (something woefully left out of the original article).  So here goes.

The Green Rhum Thumb:
  • 1 oz Orange Infused Rum
  • 1 oz Hops Infused Rum
  • 1/4 oz Allspice Gastric
  • 1/2 oz Caramelized Banana Syrup
  • 2 tsp Blue Mountain Coffee Bitters
  • *** Pour all ingredients into a shaker, add ice, and shake for 20 seconds.  Carbonate and serve in a champagne flute.  Decorate with a banana slice, a leaf and your all done!

Did I mention you can't buy most/any of this stuff?  You have to make it all.  Here's the breakdown:


Orange Infused Rum:
  • 750ml of Appleton Reserve Rum
  • 2 Med/Large oranges
  • *** Using a knife, peel the rinds from both oranges (try not to get too much pith) and put that long with the rum in a large mason jar.  Store in a cool dark place (not a fridge) for about 3 weeks, shaking once a day for 10-15 seconds).

Hops Infused Rum:
  • 750ml of Appleton Reserve Rum
  • 1/3 oz Columbus hops
  • *** Using and electric hot plate or burner OUTSIDE - mix the hops into the rum and heat ~160 for at 5-10 minutes.  Filter the the hops out first with a sieve, then with cheese cloth until there are no fine particles left.

Allspice Gastric:
  • 1 1/4 cups of lemon juice (~6-8 med lemons)
  • 1 1/4 cups of water
  • 2 1/2 cups of sugar (aka 1 lb)
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup allspice berries (crushed)
  • 1 cup fresh pink grapefruit juice (~2 grapefruit)
  • *** Melt the sugar on medium temperature with the water and lemon juice.  Once melted, add the vinegar and allspice, then gradually put in the grapefruit juice.  Keep heat on until most of the bubbles disappear.  Chill and filter twice, once with a regular strainer, and then with a fine mesh tea strainer (or something similar).

Caramelized banana syrup:
  • 6 bananas, sliced
  • 1 1/2 cup cane sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • ***Put the butter and 1/4 cup of the sugar in a pan until it starts caramelizing.  Add the bananas until they start to brown, then add the rest of the sugar along with the water.  Let simmer until the bananas start to fall apart, then chill.  Once cold, strain through a cheesecloth to get a somewhat particle free syrup.

Blue Mountain Coffee Bitters:
  • 1 750ml bottle Appleton Estate V/X Rum
  • 3 teaspoons white cardamom
  • 3 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons angelic leaves
  • 1 cinnamon stick, crushed
  • 2 cloves, crushed
  • 1 nutmeg, crushed
  • 1 star anise, crushed
  • 1 wormwood stick
  • 1 Tonka bean, crushed
  • 3 teaspoons Allspice
  • 6 teaspoons Blue Mountain Coffee, crushed
  • 6 teaspoons Blue Mountain Coffee, uncrushed
  • Dried peels from one Mandarin, one orange, one lemon, one lime
  • 3/4 cup simple syrup, made with equal parts sugar and water
  • ***Dry the peels of the citrus for 4-5 days in the sun, then put it and the rest of the dry ingredients in a Mason jar with the rum.  Shake at least once a day for 10-15 seconds and keep at room temperature in a dark place.  After 3 weeks, add the simple syrup then refrigerate for a week, always shaking at least once a day.

Still with me????

I suppose I should mention a few things at this point - like the fact that the recipe originally called for cannabis infused rum, not hops infused rum.  On the off chance that marijuana is legal where you live you'll find it adds about $150 to the already costly list of ingredients above.  Meanwhile the hops will cost you only about a $1.99 and per the very excited, card carrying sales clerk who helped me pick out this exact strain of hops - the taste/smell is going to be pretty close.

Additionally, if you live in the good ol' U.S.A - you'll find that Tonka Beans are illegal for non-ceremonial purposes.  Fortunately there's a few wicka/shaman/spiritual stores on amazon that sell them.  So yes, its going to require that you buy special beans over the internet from a witch doctor, but at least they aren't poisonous!?

Lastly, I had to make a few corrections (angelica root instead of angelic leaves), some minor modifications (the original banana syrup recipe came out nearly solid), and fill in a few gaps(there were no instructions on how to make the cannabis rum for example).  I think the end result though should be pretty close to the original, and if you scour the various spice and liquor stores on the interwebs you should be able to find most of this stuff pretty cheap.  In case it helps, I ordered from The Spice House, The Great American Spice Co, and The Monterey Bay Spice Co.

So what does it taste like you ask? Kinda like beer actually.

First off - let me say that most of the individual ingredients are fantastic.  The orange rum is wonderfully aromatic, the banana syrup could go directly on top of pancakes, and the allspice gastric is totally unique.  There's a whole pile of stuff I want to try making with that last one, and since you only need a half ounce per drink I have plenty left over to play with.

The bitters and the hops infused rum are a little more challenging, but each turned out well in their own right.  While the rest of the ingredients are sweet, these both have a bitter edge to them.  I'm still kind of amazed that it called for 2 teaspoons of bitters per drink.  Its a little much in my opinion.  This, however, is partly why the result ends up tasting beer like.  Its some moderately sweet ingredients and some moderately bitter ones all tied together with carbonation that adds a breadiness to the mix.

I tried the drink out on my ever willing wife and my friends Veronica and McCoy.  The only thing I could think of to pair this with was jerk chicken so I found a great recipe and cooked up a batch.  The verdict was unanimous: The chicken was fantastic - the drink was.... not bad.  Its a really challenging beverage.  The alcohol isn't entirely up-front but its in the 2nd row.  Its well balanced from a sweet/bitter perspective, but the banana bread and coffee flavors don't mix all that well with the citrus.  The bitterness also seems to kill off all that wonderful brown sugar flavor the rum brings to the table.  Probably not something I would make again, but its an experience that filled my head with all sorts of neat ideas.

So if your thinking of giving this a try - I'd say go for it.  I learned a lot and have all kinds of fun leftovers to play with.  Not to mention that it finally gave me a good reason to buy a carbonator! Now you'll have to excuse me - my liver needs a rest and I have to go carbonate a bunch of random things in the fridge.
 In case your wondering about the 2 different rums.  The reserve is much smoother, tastes sweeter, and smells wonderfully of brown sugar when compared to the VX  The orange rum was pretty simple.  Made the house smell great too! Now I just have to wait a month before I can try it. No clue if this kind of hops is common or easy to find, but it sure was cheap. I used this poor excuse for a double boiler to infuse the rum. You definitely need cheese cloth for this - even the tea stainer left lots of hops grit. The resulting hop-rum should be particle free and smell like a grateful dead concert.  Another day, another series of random spices from the internets. The Tonka beans tasted bitter, but smelled like a wonderful combination of vanilla and cinnamon.  I thought the wormwood would smell good too.  I was wrong.  Smells like yard clippings, tastes like bitter death. Here's another odd one.  I hadn't even heard of white cardamom before.  They dry it on the coast so its sun bleached, a little salty, and milder than the regular stuff.  No clue why the recipe called for it specifically? Another batch of citrus peels made the house smell wonderful again. Of course they don't amount to much once they are dried out - I have to admit I dried them indoors though.  Not sure if it mattered.  When you finally get everything together for the bitters - this is what it will look like. All the herbs crushed laid out all fancy like.  The fruits of my labor... and about 15 hours of shopping on the internet. Getting the ingredients for the allspice gastric together was easy.  Though I didnt buy enough lemons the first go. Since crushed allspice isnt a thing, I bought whole berries and mashed em up in a mortar. If all goes well, you should end up with a delicious pot of um... this stuff Once its cool enough to handle you can start straining.  A tea strainer works great as a round 2. The original recipe called for a brita filter - I tried this contraption with coffee filters instead.  I highly suggest just straining it as this didn't do much more. The gastric should look like this in the end - mostly clear and nearly oily to the touch. Nearing the finish line - it's time to cook some bananas!  I think I overdid it a bit - the mush kinda soaked up all the water/sugar.  Mmmmm - banana glop Even after modifying the original recipe with more water/sugar and squeezing for almost an hour, I still only managed a measly 5 ounces of banana syrup.  Since pot leaves weren't an option, I made some bad imitations out of bitter leaves from the asian market. Here is what your months worth of work will look like in the end. Its no Perlini, but this carbonator did the trick just fine.  I present to you - the Green Rhum Thumb! Another project completed, it was finally time for a drink.  Cheers everyone!
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Wild N Woody Beerfest
Posted - Jul 28th, 2014 8:13pm
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I recently survived a local beer festival at the Tempe Center for the Arts.  It was something my beer guru Tylar suggested- 'Real, Wild, and Woody'.  You do have a beer guru right?

Real, Wild, and Woody is all about casked beers and specially conditioned ales of any sort.  Fairly common things like stouts aged in Jack Daniels barrels, and less common things like Farmhouse Sours that have rested in oak or old port barrels.  Generally the kind of beer that you will either want to make love to or burn with fire.... or both...beer is complicated like that.

Anyway, this was the first time Tara and I had a chance to use Uber.  If you haven't heard of it yet, its like a taxi only cheaper and with nicer drivers because they are normal people like you and... well like you.  If you haven't signed up yet, use this link and I'll get a free ride just for you signing up.  Either way it was really fantastic.  You select your pickup spot and destination in their phone app, select the kind of car you want (Uber-X is the cheap one) and then you can actually watch the car on the map as it drives to you.  When you get to your destination you just exit the car.  The payment is done automatically and tip is included in the price of the fare.

So with tickets in hand and Pretzel Necklaces all ready to go, Tara and I were Uber'd off to the festival.  We got there just a little before it opened.  This was great as we got in before everyone else, but not so great as it was about 300 degrees outside and there was no shade.  Why we don't build everything in phoenix under giant umbrellas is beyond me?

Once inside, we received a badge with numbers for each beer you use up (you were supposed to get 20 3oz samples), and a small glass to drink out of.  Everyone used the glass - absolutely no one used the badge.  This seemed like a dream at first but despite my best efforts there was simply no way to choke down more than a dozen samples even if you wanted to.   Nothing there was what you might call 'easy drinking' so no one bothered marking anything off.

Between Tara and I we tried a ton of different stuff.  My favorites were a Four Peaks Peach Ale that had been aged in oak and a Pale Ale from Papago Brewing that was so good it gave me goosebumps.  She found a Peach Ale from Hess/Huss? that was equally good but completely different and a wonderful lager from Flagstaff Brewing.  All in all just fantastic stuff with a few exceptions like 'Breakfast Hash' - which actually did taste a lot like someone put luke warm eggs and bacon in your beer.  No clue why someone would want that...

We stayed about 2 hours and had a really great time overall.  The only issue was that it was absurdly crowded in there.  It was billed originally as an 'Intimate' affair and only so many tickets were supposed to be sold.  Intimate my left buttock - there was no elbow room in the main area, and upstairs near the casks it was sardine city.  Still, it was air-conditioned which is a huge step up from the sun-burn fests that we normally get here.

I'm hoping they find a bigger venue for next year as I'd love to go again but don't think I'd attend there.  Simply unreal how many great brewers have sprung up in the Valley over the last few years.  Props to all of them and hopefully I'll be able to get cask aged Four Peaks Peach one of these days at the bar :)
I took this when we first got in - it only got more crowded from there. An inebriated photo of my glass, badge, and the remains of my pretzel necklace.
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A Return to Havasupai Falls
Posted - Jul 14th, 2014 8:13pm
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I remember a few years ago talking about the trip to Havasupai with my wife Tara.  The conversation went something like: 'No way in hell!'.

So it was with some surprise and with utter gratitude to our friend Veronica who really provided the final push, that last week I found myself driving once again to the edge of the Grand Canyon to make the long hike down to Havasupai Falls.

To her credit, Tara has been preparing for this both physically and mentally since about March.  We've been going on longer and longer hikes, buying supplies, and reading up on the trip since I had apparently forgotten much of what I learned to get there the first time.

We decided to stay the night before in Peach Springs at the Supai Lodge.  Long story short - big mistake.  Between the stench of lysol, the constant trains, and the early morning game of "dodge the elk" on the drive to the hilltop, we arrived pretty wiped out.  Fortunately we were in good company.  McCoy, Verionica, Hunter, Cupp, and our latest addition PJ were all just getting up when we got there ~5am.

I know Tara was tired and nervous, but she really handled the trip down well.  Its a long hike and if you haven't been before, its really hard to know what to expect.  Havasupai Falls is not like any other place I've been.  Theres no roads, no cars, mail comes in on a mule, and while they have a helicopter, it doesn't always run and theres a 10 mile hike between you and the nearest air-conditioner.  Pretty rough when its 100 degrees out every afternoon.

It was every bit as beautiful as I remembered though, and getting to share that with my wife was one of the best experiences of my life.  Sure - I didn't sleep for crap for a week, and yes it was hot and humid every single night.  It was worth it though - just to get to swim with her in the falls and hike down the river together.  Its so remote, and unhindered by so much as a guardrail that it feels like your the first person to find this place.  Every hipsters dream ;)

We found a wonderful campsite just north of Mooney Falls and were joined by Scott, Julie, her dad Rudy and their friend Kelly.  It was a wonderful group and for four days we explored, swam, ate, and hiked until we basically collapsed each night.  It rained a little which was fun, and we were warned of a flash flood which wasn't so fun - we had to haul ass back up Mooney falls only to find out hours later that it was just a little muddy water to come.

I don't know if this will be our only/last trip there.  I can't imagine getting Tara to hike down Mooney falls again but I suppose I couldn't imagine being there a few years ago.  I'm just really glad that we made it there and back again and that I finally got to share it with her.

Thanks to everyone for making it such a wonderful journey - lots of pics below and I'll hopefully post a few videos from McCoys new GoPro soon.  Oh and in case I'm reading this a few years from now: Bring extra water on the way up - at least 100oz per person.  If it wasn't for the enterprising lady in the parking lot selling ice-cold drinks we may have simply turned to sand when we finally got back to the car.
The ritual 5am group photo.  Tara started off all fresh and excited.  I was pretty exicted too - though you'll notice how small that backpack is this time :)  We begin the long hike after the initial descent.  McCoy sees his first solid proof that aliens exist. And we dodge some donkeys.  Hunter asks 'Are we there yet?' Ummm.... maybe? Wohoo - we reach the village!  Which hasn't changed much despite apparently being nearly washed away in late 2010. We exit the village and round the corner to get our first 2014 glimpse of Lower Navajo Falls.  So much greener than just a few years before! Heres a similar shot from my 2009 trip. I all but skip across the bridge to the campground and Havasupai falls.  Cold water here I come!!!  Tara and I stop for a much needed break at the top of the campgrounds overlooking Havasu falls.  We stopped for some water before setting up camp.  They've changed the spring a little bit - much easier to use now. We decided to call this home for the next few days.  Er... well some folks decided to call it a yoga studio for the next few days.  And I kinda called this my dog for the next few days.  Havasupai is actually full of critters. This is your friendly neighborhood skink. These are the rare river cats of Havasupai.  I tied an apple to some string and invented a new sport. It really wiped me out. We all hung out at camp each night. McCoy provided the musical entertainment. Julie and Kelly proved to be entertaining. As did the frogs that kept raining down on our tents from the trees above.   This is why we came though -tremendously beautiful waterfalls.  Actually its all tremendously beautiful.  This was taken on our hike down from Havasu falls to our campsite.  Brian was of course excited to jump off things.  The girls were just excited to hang out in the cool water.  Ok... Brian might have given them a few ideas. This lookout over Mooney falls was about 500 feet from our campsite.  Tara was really excited about the hike down there. As was Veronica.  Tara enters one of the caves on the way down.  This is what it looks like staring up from there. I think this is even more treacherous than before.  Notice the stretcher at the bottom - fun stuff!  The view from the bottom is worth it though.  And of course you get to cool off. We found this rope swing just below Mooney. And Hunter found this cave a little further down.  Tara and I stopped for a photo op in the cave. Then Hunter got the bad news - flash flood - time to go.  So we headed back to tent city for a nap.  The next day we hiked back up towards the village to Lower Navajo (aka Rock) falls.  Brian found more things to jump off of. Hunter joined him.  They even got Tara into the game of 'Jump off Things'.  Of course no trip is complete these days without a selfie.  Or more group photos... From Lower Navajo you can follow a path to get here - Upper Navajo Falls.  I was really surprised to see so many fish there.  Upper Navajo was full of surprises. This was my favorite moment of the trip.  Soon it was time to pack it all in and drop off our bags for the mules.  Tara was very excited to finally get back to the car.  Time for one last picture before we headed home.  See you next time Havasupai.
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Fourth of July Firework Cake
Posted - Jul 5th, 2014 6:21pm
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I usually do some sort of flammable project for the 4th of July.  Last year I fused together a bunch of smaller fireworks to make more um... interesting ones.  This year I wanted to try an idea I've had for a while.  To make a giant fake cake and fill it with fireworks.

I'm not sure why this idea has always appealed to me.  Obviously theres some sort of childhood trauma I still need to work through.  Regardless, a trip to the local home improvement store provided the necessary materials - cardboard cement molds/tubes for the cake layers, some blank signs, a little duct tape, hot glue, tiny flags, and some spackle for frosting.

The pictures do a better job than I can of describing how to build it.  I think it tuned out pretty good! At least the cake did.... as for the fireworks, it was kind of a wash.  The original plan was for it to start at the top, then go down layer by layer to the bottom, then back up again.  It was fused to pause slightly between layers and coordinate a few things then culminate in a finale where the entire top layer would basically blow off and go nuts.   It should have lasted about 6 or 7 minutes and have been paced based on what I've learned in the last few years of doing this sort of thing.

What actually happened is that the the finale caught fire almost immediately and the whole thing went up in a giant exploding mess in about 2 minutes.  It was certainly impressive - you can see Tara starting to back off in the video as it really gets going, but it wasn't quite what I had in mind.   I'll have to give it another shot at new years or something.  Till then maybe the pics and videos will inspire someone else build a giant firework cake of their own?
Cardboard forms, plastic signs, and spackle - sounds like a cake to me! A closer look at the blank signs I used for cake-tops.  Hard to beat these for being cheap, light-weight, rigid, and easy to cut. A small square and a sharpie makes quick work of sizing. The tape makes it much easier to saw in a straight line.  The bottom layer was actually 2 sections of cardboard tubing stretched out and taped together to make a bigger tube.  All 3 tiers taped up and ready for fireworking.  The general plan here was to light these from the top down and then finish at the top for the finale. I cut holes for most of the fireworks and sunk them within the layer to make it appear more benign and cake-like.  Some tape and hot-glue kept evertying in place underneath. With evertyhing in-place, its all ready to spackle! Looked pretty cake-ish in my opinion - only took a few hours to dry. I carefully laid out the fuses to not only be timed correctly, but add some decor - this took the best part of a day to figure out. From the back you can see how it got overly complicated.  I tried to use some aluminum foil over the fuses to protect it but it just wan't enough.... fail fail fail...  A little paint and a couple of flags finished it off.  I'm so ready to try this again... might need an additional layer though.
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Underwater Fishing Camera
Posted - Jun 30th, 2014 6:30am
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There is something endlessly appealing to me about seeing things underwater.  I'm not bored of the world above by any means, but like seeing things in slow motion - everything is cooler underwater (a phenomena certain to be studied by future generations).  So it should be no surprise to anyone that I decided to bastardize an action-cam and try to use it as an underwater video camera on a recent fishing trip to Lake Powell.

I'm not sure why I didn't try this before.  I've had my little GoPro Hero for a year or two now.  I just never considered the option to drop it in a lake.  For the record, these things are supposed to survive up to about 200 feet.  Something I probably should have looked up before I left...

Regardless, I did learn a few things:
  1. You really need 2 lines to guide an underwater camera.  Having just 1 causes the thing to spin and makes it hard to keep it pointed in a single direction.
  2. Underwater videos work best when the camera is pointed slightly up from the bottom or slightly down from mid-water.
  3. Not being able to see the results of your filming till you get home from your trip sucks.
  4. Due to the bubble lens on the older GoPro's like mine - the autofocus doesn't work right underwater, and everything you film will come out blurry.

While it was still a fun experiment, the reality is that it didn't work out very well.  I blame everything above for the weird, blurry, boring videos I made on this first attempt.  I have attached a couple of them to this post below.  I have also been looking around for other solutions.

Turns out there are a few commercial options like the Aqua-Vu.  At first, this looked like it solved most of the problems I encountered.  It has a live view screen, and its designed with a little fin on the camera to keep it moving in 1 direction.  Unfortunately, after emailing back and forth with their staff, it became clear that the reason their website doesn't list things like camera and screen resolutions, is that they are waaaaay behind the technical curve.  $500 is just too much money for a 640x480 camera and a 320x240 screen to view it on.  The GoPro for comparison, has a max resolution of 1920x1080 and costs about $200 and my phone has a resolution of about 4 gazzillion googapixels.

Other companies do offer higher def models.  If you have 6 grand you can even buy a remote control submarine to film for you.  There are also a nearly endless number of professional solutions if you live in a fortress of cash...which I don't.  Fortunately, there seems to be another option if I'm willing to undertake another project.

The newer GoPros come in a case that films just as clearly underwater as they do on land.  Additionally, they come with a wifi transmitter that can use your phone or ipad as a live screen.  I originally asked my friend Hunter if this would work underwater and got an authoritative lesson in 2.4Ghz technology.  Short answer - No.  Long answer - it should be possible to use a waterproofed coaxial cable to transmit from the water to viewing device.... at least for 50-60 feet... in theory...

So now I just need to get a new GoPro, buy some coax cable, waterproof it, come up with a rig that lets me control the depth/angle/direction of the camera within its case, and go fishing again! Doable - but it will have to wait.  I'm currently working on a few other projects.  For now, feel free to checkout the blurry, green, underwater world of Lake Powell in the videos below.
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Lake Powell Spring 2014
Posted - Jun 28th, 2014 1:35am
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I really love Lake Powell.  Just when I think I've seen all it has to offer, I have another great trip, and another new experience.

My dad and I have been fishing mostly 'down' lake by the marina/town for the last few years.  I'm not really sure why other than its easy.  Well that and we can stay at the local motel and get a hot shower every day.  This time though, we opted to fish for a full 3 days and stay on the lake for a few nights.

Lake Powell is big - maybe not great lakes big - but its big enough that you can boat in 1 direction flat out for 4 hours and not even get close to the other end.  Staying on the lake and bringing extra gas is basically required if you want to get anywhere near Dangling Rope marina (sort of a half way point in my mind).  So we packed on a couple 5 gallon cans, our sleeping bags, a few bags of Fritos, and set out.

We got an early start on thursday and headed up lake towards Friendship Cove.  The lake was down a bit so the 'cut' - the man made channel that lets you save about an hour or two getting to Padre bay - was just a little too shallow to get through.  So we took the long route.  Along the way, we tried fishing at the Cookie Jar, a place or two in Gunsight Bay, and some random points in the channel.  Nothing but deep blue water and worn out casting arms.  Things were much better in Friendship Cove though.

The water was a little green, warmer (@68 degrees), and it didn't take long to find some pretty decent stripers.  We tried a few different locations, but caught most of our fish anchored in about 35 feet of water - fishing at about 20 feet with everything from anchovies to worms.  The bigger fish(4-6lbs) were occasional pickups, but it was pretty easy to tell when a school would swim by.  We'd pick up 1 to 3 fish in rapid succession, then nothing for a half hour, then it would happen again.  It made for some pretty entertaining fishing.  At one point my dad had a striper wrapped around the anchor line, while I had one on in each hand.  I was trying to reel one in with my teeth when he finally got unstuck and grabbed one.

Sleeping was great.  The air was a little cold, but the sky was clear, and the stars were beautiful.  I crashed out each night watching the milky way and listening to my audio book - pretty much the best thing ever.

We didn't bring back any trophies, but we did manage to boat some small and large mouth, a bunch of stripers, a few catfish, and even one walleye which my father pulled out of navajo on our way back.  I also had some time to try out my GoPro as an underwater video camera.  Will post on that later.  For now, check out the pics below and I'll try to upload a video of our trip back through the cut.  Couldn't have been more than 18 inches deep - my dad is nuts.  He's also a great fishing buddy.
 I took this pic as we headed up lake the first day.  Considering this was the main channel around 9am the lake was smooooooth. Its terrifying how deep that lake is - the depth finder reads 1115 feet.  Do not drop your keys. Where we hung out in Friendship Cove the first day.  My old man with a pretty decent striper and a pretty silly hat.  Me with a slightly smaller striper but an absolutely fabulous hat!  We tried fishing these dead trees for crappie but couldn't find a single one. We returned to our original spot, kicked back, and enjoyed the warm sun and cool breeze. My dad - the fishing dwarf.  Sunrise on the last day - such an amazing place.
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The Dunes Incident
Posted - Jun 26th, 2014 9:00am
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I started writing this post nearly 4 years ago...  At that time, a title and a url were all that I could get down on the computer before a sort of full body and mind cringe would cause my fingers to lock up.  For whatever reason though, I think its important for me to keep a record of that weekend.  Maybe if your reading this you can tell me.  Either way, here goes.

A few years back I talked a small group of friends into traveling out to the sand dunes near Yuma.  I had seen a ton of pictures and videos of folks rip-roaring around the hills, and it looked like a blast.  It was also easy enough to rent quads and small trailer for a few days.  So with motorcycles in-tow, Tara, Brian, Mccoy, Veronica, and myself headed off for another AZ weekend adventure!

The dunes themselves are a neat area.  30 minutes outside of yuma, just south of the freeway they have a big flat sandy section where folks park, camp out, and load/unload all manner of sand-capable contraption.  Theres some food and facilities nearby, and an ice-cream truck goes barreling through once in a while.  In general though, it feels like your out in the middle of nowhere.  All you can see is sand, sand, and more sand.

Brian and I had both ridden before but everyone else was new to this.  I seem to remember Tara and McCoy reading the actual instruction manuals for the quads after we unloaded them and got geared up.   Probably should have been a good indicator that this was a bad idea.  We proceeded forward anyway, fearlessly taking our turns, learning the basics of shifting, turning, stopping, and before long we were doing all those things that looked so much fun on youtube.  Then Brian went missing.

Theres not much you can do out there when someone from your group doesn't come back.  Its a big area, everyone on a quad looks alike, and the dunes prevent you from seeing beyond the next hill.   So its unsurprising that our search for him didn't go very well.  Fortunately, after an hour or so he wandered back into camp.  He was a little beat up, and his pants were torn down each leg from crotch to toe, but he was ok.  Apparently he had gone over a dune that was concave on the other side and when he realized he was in trouble - pushed himself away from the bike.  His pants caught on the handlebars, but he got far enough away to avoid the bike landing on him.  When we went to look at where he bailed - there were 2 craters nearly 30 feet away from the dune.  I'm still not sure how he avoided getting seriously hurt.

Things seemed like they were going to be ok after that.  We had our accident for the trip, and now we could all have fun! We took turns riding (3 quads, 5 people), and in general had a great time following each other up and down the hills and watching high powered sand-rails scream across the sand.  Then Tara disappeared.

I had stopped to watch everyone and she was right there cruising around, but when she didn't come out from the dune in front of me for a few minutes I figured she stalled or got stuck or something.

It still bothers me to think of her lying there underneath an overturned quad.  Its a frozen and sickening image and I remember thinking as I crested the dune that it had to be a joke.  She was messing with me.  She couldn't be hurt....  People say time stands still at a moment like that, but I don't think it did for me.  Its all fast-forward from there.

I remember yelling, tearing off my helmet and running down the hill to her.  I started to lift the bike off her, but had apparently grabbed the exhaust pipe and heard my hand sizzle.  Not wanting to drop it back on her, and not able to use my right hand, I sort of rolled/pushed the quad over and found that she was breathing.  I thought - maybe she's ok?

I don't know if its normal or not, but over the next few minutes my brain began to try and de-escalate the problem.  Not fatal, check.  Not paralyzed, check.  Not bleeding, check.  Says arm hurts but is able to move it, check.  To the point where you try and hope that maybe nothing major just happened - like in a few minutes you'll be limping back with her to camp and her parents won't hate you, and she won't think you screwed up her life, like your not an irresponsible idiot who took a group full of unexperienced riders out into the middle of the desert and got one of them mangled.   Then I realized she kept asking me over and over what happened and couldn't understand where she was or who I was....

Eventually people came over to help, and a sand-rail ambulance (sandbulance?) took Tara to the emergency room in Yuma.  We followed shortly thereafter.  There were papers to fill out, and my hand was screaming.  It didn't matter though.  The only thought in my head was - "is she ok?" I'm nearly in tears thinking about that even now.  I was so grateful when they told me it was just a moderate concussion.  Then so heartbroken when they told me that her shoulder was busted up inside.  I felt like a shameful dog when they finally let me in to see her...

I fully believed it was my fault Tara got hurt, but she didn't blame me.  She was just as worried about my stupid hand as I was her shoulder/brain.  So we moved on.

We bandaged all the things, got pizza, and headed home.  I drove to keep my mind off the pain/guilt.  There were weeks that followed involving hospitals, surgeries, more bandages, and a lot of retelling of the same tale.  Tara was eventually ok.  My hand eventually healed.  I hope someday I can forget about it all.  For now at least the cringing is manageable.

I can't say this slowed either of us down, but I doubt we'll be back to the dunes.  A little research since then has led me to believe this type of accident is not only common, but happens to a huge percent of folks who go down there.  I think Yuma is primarily a care facility for quad accidents, and a home for injury lawyers.

This is a part of our history though.  Who knows if we would still be together if this didn't happen?  If I hadn't stayed with her in the hospital while she recovered?  If it hadn't shown me how important she was to me?  I think I'll say I'm just glad we squeaked by on this one, and try to be a little more careful next time I have an idea for a weekend adventure.
 We visited the date shake place on the way there.  Always wanted to try it.  I thought it was funky but Tara loved it. Apparently you need a permit to quad/camp there?  Don't remember this at all!  A small store/restaurant on-site.  Wonder if we were going to eat there?  A nice view of the dunes.  Was colder out there than it looks.  Tara all excited and ready to go.  One of several ice-cream trucks cruisin around.  Another ice-cream truck with a fantastic paint-job. McCoy starts things off easy.  Brian sporting his new breathable pants. My hander after getting burned.  Doesn't look to bad from this pic but burned like fire for a few days.
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Halloween 2013
Posted - Nov 2nd, 2013 6:26pm
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The biggest problem I have after this years Halloween party is what to do next year.  There's a point at which you've far exceeded anyone's expectations, and you just gotta drop the mic and walk off stage.  I fear it may be my time...

I mostly blame my friends Eric and Hunter.  Without their special brand of mad science it would have just been a great party.  Sure there was a liquid nitrogen ice cream stand and a shopping cart full of four peaks beer.  Yes... there was a psychic in the office and there might have even been a contest that ended with a gallon of wine and a wine glass to match.

But it was the Tesla coil... the damn Tesla coil that really did me in.

In case you haven't had the privilege of seeing one of these things in action, they are creepy little devices that shoot out bolts of electricity.  They are kinda loud, and they are a little dangerous if not grounded correctly.  They are usually about a foot tall and make a neat little science project.  The thing Hunter and Eric brought over was just like that only 10 feet tall and full of hate.

It ate every ounce of electricity my house could supply over a 220 line.  It could shoot lightning from my garage door to the cars parked on the street, and for something with no moving parts it was absolutely deafening.  Its one major redemption there being that the noise could be modulated in time to music - making sort of a mad scientists pipe organ.  It was freakin awesome.

The party guests tried it, the neighbors tried it, even the police stopped by and politely asked us what kind of sciencing this was.  It was the whipped cream and meth on top of the sunday and I couldn't have been more grateful or terrified if they had brought a jaguar... hmmm maybe next yea...anyway.. Its going to be hard to top.

Fortunately I now have an awesome beer sign and a fabulous zoot suit as a result of this years fiesta.  Huge props to Julie for having the imagination and the balls to dress up as a human thong and to Tara for making sure the Psychic thing happened.  Best idea ever!

If anyone has any ideas for what to do next year add a comment.  Personally, I'm hoping for some sort of anti-gravity development between then and now.
We began this years party with traditional Halloween fare... well I assume vampire donuts are traditional somewhere? Julie brought deviled eggs that put my effort last year to shame I was super happy with some new decor (including the shopping cart beer cooler and sign to help the inebriated) The giant (don't run into me) sign was put on the glass door (which failed to deter folks btw) and the party was off! It was another year of amazing costumes.  We had doctors and pirates Cow-folk and some dapper folks in their finest 40's gear Sheldon showed up as did kick ass (he dislikes the press) and then there was um.... mccoy... yeah... This domo costume won 2nd place that night. Julie took home first though for having the most original and most brave costume ever. Getting together with good friends is really what the night is all about. This year we found a psychic to entertain. She was super nice and yes... freakishly accurate. Eric with his coil.  Thats the look of a man who enjoys terrifying others... The monstrosity was controlled from the garage.  The dials made it go from scary to terrifying. Curious folks my friends are....  Very curious and very brave... Speaking of curious - McCoy rocking the coil. After we drained all the electricity from the house - the drinks started getting weird. There may or may not have been some gnome abduction. And we all basically passed out
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Crispy Little Mermaid
Posted - Jul 15th, 2013 10:51pm
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Found this on the menu at the local Thai place by where I work.  Makes me laugh every time I go there.

Apparently even Ariel can't escape a gil-net.
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