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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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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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Fourth Of July Fireworks!
Posted - Jul 8th, 2013 10:01pm
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To whatever deity, pyromaniac philanthropist, or cosmic mishap that was responsible for making fireworks legal in Gilbert a few years ago - I am forever in your debt.

No longer do I have to drive around aimlessly seeking an acceptable dirt lot to gaze at fireworks from the air-conditioned biosphere that is my car in July.  Instead, I can make my own seat - up front and center at a show of my own creation, and I can enjoy that show with my neighbors, my friends, and any number of crazy rednecks that randomly show up with a beer in one hand and a roman candle in the other.

Had so much fun this year - both making a bunch of new displays(thank you cannonfuse.com) and setting them off in front of an appreciative crowd just down the street in a community cul-de-sac.  If it weren't for the likelihood of sacrificing one or more digits to the firework gods I'd say this would be fun to do for a living.

Thanks to everyone who came down for the show and huge thanks to my wife for not minding that I spent an inappropriate portion of our income on things with fuses attached.
A shot of some of these displays setup in the garage A closer shot of the noisemaker A simple mortar board Sadly - I didnt even get to set these off :( This was outside my neigbors house int he morning - its like someone got drunk on fireworks and then threw up.
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The Voodoo Doll Project
Posted - May 29th, 2013 12:47am
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I'm not much of an artist when it comes to the classic mediums - but give me a home depot and I can build you just about anything.  Thus I think I've known ever since I went to Burning Man a few years back that I wanted to build something for one of these desert festivals which are all about artwork made from random urban materials

I finally got my chance earlier this month when I volunteered to build a giant Voodoo doll for this years Saguaro Man.  The theme of this years local burn was "Superstition", and our camp decided to go with a voodoo theme to go along with that.

From the moment it was mentioned, I had a picture in my head of what I wanted to build.  Not the dark device found in the back alley of a new orleans bar, but a giant silly stuffed animalesque critter with a giant heart and a big ol head.  Something to make people smile and something to make my neighbors wonder what I'm doing this time.

The following pics should lay out pretty well what I came up with and how.  Hope you enjoy it and if you ever need to build one yourself maybe it will come in handy.
I searched through a lot of voodoo doll drawings before settling on this design.  As you can see - the technical drawings were very detailed. Joan's supplied the right style/color of burlap.  The ever helpful folks at home-depot suggested the cardboard pouring tubes as well as the redwood (for its weight).  I tried to keep the duct-tape use to a minimum but a little bit couldn't be helped.  Testing the burlap wrapping.  Even this little bit took a few hundred staples.  Some more boards and some more cardboard tubing helped the body take shape.  The boards go all the way to the end to give the burlap/staples something solid to go on.  Some chicken wire across the front gave it a nice smooth shape.  Obviously the burlap was going to take a lot of work to tidy up. About 50 hours in its really starting to take shape.  The arms and head needed to be removable to fit in the trailer.  These brackets and a few bolts were the solution. I realized once I got the arms on that my original design of smaller legs looked terrible.  I rebuilt them with larger concrete tubes over the next few days.  One of the arms completed and ready to go.  Notice the 4 holes at the top for the bolts. Just eyeballing the head here with some cardbard balanced on an oil pan.  Very professional stuff here.  I wanted a little shape to the face so I built it in three parts making the middle panel slightly larger.  Super happy with how the heart came out.  Thanks to my wunderbar wife for drwaing and cutting that out (my attempts were less than stellar).  I added some stitching and a darker tone of burlap to the hands/feet. This was the first time I assembled all the pieces.  So happy with the result. I sewed on a few buttons I made from leftover wood and stitched on a quirky smile to finish the look.   The pins were a last minute addition.  Just some aluminum tubes and spray painted spongeballs.
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Halloween 2012!
Posted - Oct 25th, 2012 12:47am
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So where were we?  Oh yes - Halloween.

For whatever reason - I really wanted this years party to be special.  I had a great time last year, but wanted something over the top... something that got back to the original reason I started putting on a Halloween party in the first place.  So I took a week off, scheduled the shindig a week early so that people wouldn't have to double book, and poured my heart into it.

First up, I did some serious grounds-keeping and took over 800lbs of my yard to the dump.  Next, I hired Jessica's troupe (Morning Fyre) to perform for us.  Everyone (including myself) was so blown away by her fire dancing a few years ago that I couldn't imagine another party without that.  I was nearly out of fireworks so Kellie accompanied me on a trip to Mom and Pops Pyro Shop.  Tara helped me improve my party food repertoire, and I began work on something new - a zombie shootout using airsoft guns and zombie targets that ooze when you shoot them!

Long story short - it all came out wonderfully.  Even though it was a week early, people still managed some amazing costumes.  We finally had proper party food.  The fire dancers were fantastic.  My fireworks skills continue to improve, and most importantly - the zombie shootout was a huge hit.  Folks burned though almost 6000 rounds in just a few hours reducing the targets to a mass of pink ooze and I think its something they will remember for a quite a while.

I have no clue what we'll do next year to top this, but thanks to everyone who came and made it such a great night and to my fiance for helping me make it all happen.

It wouldnt be a costume party w/o prizes.  That beer in the center was for best costume this year.  2nd prize was a 7lb steak :) Our new piano became part of the halloween decor. The spread before the wolves got to it. Tara made a mountain of guac just so we could do this :) The guests arrive! (Kellie, Amy, and Stephanie) Amy and John came as first time parents. Tara and her brother Billy Amy and her sister as Gem McCoy won first place with his cloud costume Veronica as a very convincing jellyfish Taras friends Rocco, Brittany, Kristin, and Nate all came dressed for the occasion. Tony Stark showed up Mike came all the way from canada for this picture Daniel #1 went retro Daniel #2 went futuristic Brandon and Nicole went as test subjects... er pilots We found Waldo And I played ringmaster as best I could without a whip and a chair. My favorite photo of the night. My 2nd favorite photo of the night :) There was some Gangam dancing There was some fire dancing There was also some fire breathing! This was insanely impressive You cant go wrong with spinning fireworks And of course - there was the zombie shooting area The fog chiller from last year came in handy This is what a few thousand rounds of airsoft do to one of these things. See you next year!
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The Hexayurt Project
Posted - Jul 24th, 2011 10:44am
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Part of the fun of Burning Man seems to be the build up before hand.  There is no end to the amount of time, money, and creativity people pour into this event and I think that is part of what makes it so special.

In the spirit of this - a group of us decided to build Hexayurts.  Geodesic dome like structures made out of insulation panels and tape that provide a cool and spacious living space that if done right is dust free and protected from the wind and sun exactly like a tent isn't.

Originally, these structures started out as an attempt to find a better and cheaper alternative to the kind of make-shift homes that crop up during mass evacuations and natural disasters.  Of course cheap, strong and element proof is a magic formula for Burning Man and thus the Burning Man Hexayurt was born!

We are actually making three yurts this year.  Cupp and Denny are both going to stay in the 6 foot stretch variety and I'm building the 8 foot Camp Danger Model both to sleep in, and provide a communal place to get out of the wind, dust, and sun during the heat of the day.

This has turned out to be a really fun project so far and I'll keep attaching photos to this post as we make progress on our builds.
And so it begins... This pile-o-insulation is our basis for all 3 yurts The 1 inch thick panels we chose turned out to be plenty strong After cleaning the panels you have to tape the edge of each one for strength The tape for this project was absurd.  6 inches across and tough like canvas. The full size yurt turned out to be huge - this is just the base set up in my living room And here is the roof - Brian was actually trapped under there for a biit. Each section collapsed down so you could stack it back up like they were flat boards. A rube goldberg exauhust system made from a computer fan and some ducting will hopefully keep me cool.
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Idiot-A-Rod 2010
Posted - Jan 24th, 2010 10:46am
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I'm tired, hungover, my knees are killing me and I'm pretty much covered from head to toe in pudding.  Today may not be so great, but you have to pay for glory and yesterdays Idiotarod was truly glorious.

Quick refresher: The Idiotarod is a 4 mile shopping cart race.  Carts must be found - not stolen and returned when your done in good condition.  Teams are made of 4 runners, 1 passenger, and each team has to choose a theme and decorate/dress up accordingly.  The actual race is separated into 4 legs.  At the end of each leg you check in, then after 20 or 30 minutes you check out and haul ass to the next stop.  In the middle and sometimes at the end of each leg is some crazy ass drinking challenge.  There's also a bonus challenge at some of the stops which knocks extra time off your total.  Sabotage and bribery are perfectly legit as the point is more to have fun than win, but everyone still gives it their all to come in first even if prizes are only given out for a bunch of randomm stuff like last place and best cart/theme.

Amy, Jon, McCoy, Cupp(broken hand and all), and myself reformed the same team from last year.  We've been looking forward to this for quite a while.  Lunchtime talks about names/themes have probably been going on since October.  After a lot of back and forth we finalize on a name: Section 8 and a cart design: A Tank.

I enlisted a couple of my friends Palmer and Wilson to help with the engineering this time - especially on the cannon.  I think our build of the shuttle last year was nothing short of miraculous, but it was a push to get it all done in 1 night.  This time we had a few weeks to put something more substantial together and we succeeded beyond all of our expectations.

"Tanky" was officially born on Sunday January 17th.  His creation required the following items both purchased and found around my garage:
  • 1 Shopping cart (acquired with the help of my folks on Christmas day)
  • 4 cardboard boxes
  • 6ft of drain pipe
  • 1 4" to 6" pipe converter fitting
  • 10 small paint buckets
  • 1 mortar mixing tub
  • 4 foam core boards
  • 1 garbage disposal mount
  • 2 gold stars
  • 1 license plate
  • 1 fire extinguisher (bought in the middle of the night off a Craigs List post)
  • 3 rolls of duct tape
  • 12 glue sticks
  • Zip ties
  • Green, white, and black paint
Check out the pictures and I'm sure you'll agree that Tanky turned out absolutely brilliant.  Props to everyone on the team for putting their heart into it.  When we rolled up to the race yesterday we were already pleased with our design.  After about half the competitors came by just to say how much they loved our cart we were absolutely glowing.

Like last year, Jon had spent the night prior filling condoms with tapioca pudding.  New to our arsenal though were beer powered squirt guns and our secret weapon - a huge CO2 fire extinguisher hidden in the cannon of the tank.  Other competitors had water balloons, squirt guns, bags of watery fudge and their own secret weapons like skunk oil(unbelievably horrific stuff).  Fortunately, everything stayed pretty civil while we waited for the start of the race.

We wandered around admiring everyone's creations.  The Disco Pimps were back with their rendition of studio 51, the Chickens had their giant nest, the CUNTS returned in all new pink underthings and our friend and coworker Spohn even showed up with some kind of giant Christmas tree cart thing.  The amount of energy people put into this race is a testament to just how unbelievably fun it is. Random people who stumble into these proceedings are always dumbfounded.

All the runners on the team this year(myself included) have been training for various races for the past few months so when this thing kicked off I wasn't surprised to see us take an early lead.  I was a little surprised however at the sheer amount of pudding, water ballons, silly string, and whip cream that got thrown around.  We all looked like we had been in a war by the time the race was over.

Tanky fared pretty well for a while and the CO2 cannon was 11 kinds of awesome.  Anytime someone got in our way we just blasted them! As things progressed though we lost 1 fender and track then the other.  The cannon also kept falling out which meant I had to carry it half the time.  Still it was much more sturdy than most of our competition.  The biggest issue we faced was weight.  There was a challenge where you had to push/carry the cart (passenger and all) through a sand volleyball court.  Between all the tank stuff and the fire extinguisher this was a nightmare. In the end I had to hold up the front of the tank while everyone else pushed completely burning out my legs in the process.

We kept in the first couple spots drinking hard and running harder throughout the race.  Being out front meant we had to figure out where to go though and the map this year was a Greek tragedy.  We kept going the long way or the wrong way alltogether.  All the running and the drinking took its toll on me and even though we ended up finishing first, I was running well behind the other guys and there is some debate as to whether or not we got disqualified at the finish line.

The best part of the race may very well have been the after party at the Bikini Lounge.  Camaraderie, booze, and lots of cute girls made for a really great time.  There was a 2nd after party at a house after the lounge but I was pretty gone by that point.  We bailed right after the awards ceremony (Dicso Pimps won best cart again grrr) and briefly took Tanky to the grocery store for some food.  When we finally made it to Amy's house for Jon Tencza's birthday party I was done.  In no shape to drive, I crashed out on the spare bed which brings me to where I am now - recovering on my couch typing this.

Amy, Jon, McCoy and Cupp - you guys are the best.  Thank you so much for carrying my ass on this one :)
It always starts with a simple sketch. The cart is obtained and the building process begins! Things start to take shape A disposal mount was the perfect size to hold the drainpipe/cannon to the mixing tub. McCoy brought his spawn over to help with the initial build. The test run is a success! We start work on the cardboard armor. Liquid Nails - is there anythying it cant do? The laws of physics dont apply in my garage. How things looked after our first session. The tires get glued on The fenders go on and it really starts to look like a tank. McCoy puts the final touches on the paint job Teeth were added for extra intimidation. Tanky is born. We pose withour creation. Tanky never looked so good (and never will again). Jon with one of his pudding filled condoms Cupp in his Section 8 garb Team photo! Another team shot - this time Amy is fastened in This is our friend Spohn getting hit by the cannon. The giant tetris cart was well.... freakin huge Nothing is sacred at the Idiotarod Uh... ok... maybe some things are sacred? Found out after the race that the ninjas had 4 extra team members that were hidden at the start of the race. One of my favorite carts of the race (its a little obscure) No clue what their theme was but their cart was very very odd... They Monkeys and their giant bannana cart Tanky suffers a little mid-race damage Team Lebat-Blue kept up with us the whole race. Poor Tanky after the race The after-party gets going full steam America  - f*ck yeah! Amy in the Bikini Lounge This girl whooped Jons ass at one of the stops - turned out to be really nice (if still a bit crazy) MCoy does his best Conan impression I get in on the act as well. The official and almost useless map We make peace with a member of the chicken team. Chicken girl denigrates herself with the chicken dance McCoy does the same Ninja! I tried to tell them it wasn't a toy but I dont think they understood. Jon and Cupp pose with some of the local fauna A trough of cornstarch and water and a giant tetris piece at the 2nd afterparty. Dont really remember what led up to this pic. The Disco Pimps celebrate taking Best Cart (again) No clue here either.... not so lucid at this point. Tanky visits the market Amy trying to look normal pushing around a tank shaped shopping cart covered in pudding. The check-out girl gets in on the act Happy birthday Jon Fireworks! Apparently Brian put his costume back on during the party? Tani and Vince made an appearance And this is how the night ended.  Everyone hanging out by the fire at Amy and Jons. Time for this solider to retire
 
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Building A Better Halloween
Posted - Nov 25th, 2008 5:38pm
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Most of my ideas start out very small.  I think the weight of reality prevents me from dreaming too large.  That's probably a good thing though as like any engineer I tend to turn molehills into condominiums once I get started.  This years Halloween decor was no exception to this rule.  A quest to remake my living room in the image of the Adams Family mansion started out with a simple categorization of goods in the "Halloween Box".

I'm not even going to try to explain why I needed to categories my holiday decor.  I don't really know.  What I do know is that I originally decided Halloween items fall into 1 of 2 categories - Cute or Gory.  I did my best to divide my favorite decorations into these 2 categories (not wanting to cross the streams) but quickly realized that there was a third category: Creepy.  Not the kind of "Creepy" that's sold in stores that show up every year around the middle of September and sell foam chains, plastic bats, decals for windows and overpriced light up junk better suited to Christmas.  Those places specialize in cute or gory.  I mean the kind of thing that's just off kilter enough to make you look twice or three times and say wow... thats kinda messed up.

It was this third category that really appealed to me.  I wanted to live in a house decorated so that people would come in get creeped out.  Only trouble is I wanted it livable too.  I needed inspiration and turned to one of my favorite movies of all time - The Adams Family.  After all, nothing says Halloween like the Adams Family Mansion.  I watched the movie twice writing down all the everyday items that make their home the creepy/kooky place it is:
- Skulls
- Candelabras/Candels
- Big Clocks
- Swords
- Old books
- Chains
- Dead Plants
- Old Mirrors/Paintings
- Mysterious Bottles
- Black and Gray Curtains
- Old Chests
- Jacobs Ladders
- Dirt
... I also had written down "black blueberry pie" on there but honestly I don't know what hell that was all about?

I figured most of the items on that list short of Dirt and the Jacob's Ladder were doable.  I bought a pile of old display swords off of a guy from Craigslist(Note to myself here: don't buy things of Craigs List late at night anymore).  I found some creepy used books at Bookmans.  The liquor store provided me with a Crystal Skull.  I put together a nice dead flower arrangement for the dining room table.  Kristin began collecting the empty's from the bar she now works at.  I bought machetes, chains, and hooks from the hardware store.  I even went so far as to create black curtains for all the windows in the living room.  The only thing I really couldn't procure were candelabras.  Antique shops had a few but they were just too much money or not the right style so I settled on a ton of candles instead.

My crowning achievement was a giant frame I nabbed at Goodwill on the cheap.  I got some mylar from a local hydroponics place and after far too much effort created a big warped mirror.  It wasn't perfect but it was fun to try and build - the perfect geek decor :)

After getting all this crap up it really did create the feel that I was looking for.  The house wreaked of Halloween and was neither gory nor cute.  Perfect for the Halloween party I was throwing in a few days.  The only thing I can hope for next year is a budget to get more swords, and some old paintings.  Damn this economy and my compulsive behavior!
Nothing brightens a room like black roses. Black curtains to cover the windows by the front door Crossed swords come cheap if you buy them used from random strangers The mylar mirror and a couple more swords hanging around Bottles, books, and a couple of wooden stakes I carved for the occasion A few stickers and some black vodka turned the bar into decoration as well Can you really have too many machetes? Add in a few pumpkins and your ready for a party! Sean at the Halloween party A bandito and his seniorita Dale aka the Cuthulu King Kristin and Mandi Tani and Vince (Vince had light up eyes in that thing... awesome!) Amy and Jon This is what Sean looks like when he's had too much to drink This is what I look like when I've had too much to drink This is what Denny looks like when he's had too much to drink This picture will just have to speak for itself... needless to say it was a great party :)
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Build Your Own Entertainment Center
Posted - May 23rd, 2008 11:30am
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I was searching for an entertainment center to home my new Plasma TV.  Unfortunately everything was either to expensive (as in thousands of $) or to small, cramped, ugly, shoddy.  Basically I have better taste and tougher requirements than my wallet can afford.  As is often the case in this situation I decided the only way to get exactly what I wanted was to build it myself.  So thats what I set out to do.  Build a custom entertainment center cabinet to hold all of my stuff complete with built in power, cord management and extra wide shelves for controlers, dvd's and extra cruft that always gets stored along with our electronics.

I'm not Bob Villa though nor do I really have any woodworking tools to speak of so its been an interesting process to say the least.  Luckily I stumbled across these metal brackets usually used for framing that made it possible to keep the design simple and strong at the same time.  Hopefully the steps below and the plans below will make it easier for someone else to build a similar cabinet with little more than a cordless drill and some supplies from the hardware store.  Just make sure to read and re-read everything before you start if your actually going to build one of these suckers.

To begin with you'll need the following:
  • Drill with 1/8 & 3/8 drill bits.
  • Sand Paper (various grades)
  • 2 - 24" bar clamps
  • 2 - 36" bar clamps
  • 30 - L metal brackets (see images)
  • 12 - flat metal brackets (see images)
  • 4 - European hinges
  • 24 - 1/4" hole shelf holders
  • 1 - box #8 2 inch wood screws
  • 1 - box #8 1 1/4 inch wood screws
  • 1 - box #8 3/4 inch wood screws
  • 1 - box finishing nails
  • 2 - 1 qt boxes of epoxy finish(see images)
  • enough semi gloss paint, or stain and varnish to cover the piece
You'll also need the wood to build this sucker but lets talk about cutting wood first.  Basically this is my achille's heel.  I can't cut a straight line to save my life.  Fortunately the Home Depot next to my house will cut any wood you buy there for free.  Its a big ass saw, but if your nice to them they will take their time and make some pretty good cuts.  So take the cut-guides available at the end of this post with you, mark everything up and pray to the wood-working gods.

For wood you'll need: ('==foot, "==inch)
  • 2 - 8' redwood 2x4's
  • 1 - 6' redwood 2x4
  • 1 - 4'x6'x3/4" birch plywood
  • 1 - 4'x6'x1/2" MDF
  • 1 - 1"x6"x2' Poplar
  • 1 - 1"x3"x6' Poplar
  • 2 - 1"x2"x8' Poplar
I choose the redwood 2x4's because they are usually straighter than pine.  Since I painted my cabinet black I supposed I could have used any plywood or trim boards but the Birch had a nice grain and the Poplar was harder than pine but still easier to work with and cheaper than oak.  All in all - the wood is under $100 and as long as you have some of the supplies you can probably come in under $200 total which is shitty Swedish furniture level costs (only this thing should last a lot longer).

Oh and don't freak out if you start measuring and find out that a 2x4 ins't really 2" x 4".  I've accounted for the masochistic jacked up measuring system the hateful wood people created to try and prevent us from building anything.

Anyway, the basic idea here is to build a strong base, attach the upper frame, and then cover up all the ugly stuff with trim boards.  The brackets and screws will make it strong and hopefully straight as well.  So either cut up your wood as described in the plans or have it cut for you, but get all your supplies together and follow these steps:

Step 1) Build The Base
I was working on carpet so I put down some boards on each end to keep it all flat. Start out by screwing the side 2x4's together.  The sides should be vertically oriented as opposed to the front and back which will be flat or horizontally oriented to give a nice gap above the floor.  I put the screws towards the middle because you'll be screwing all kinds of stuff on the ends soon.  Next using some L brackets on both the top and the inside screw the sides onto the front and back 2x4's.  You'll want to do all of this upside down on a flat surface so that the base MDF board will go on nice and flat.  Once your all done turn the base right side up and test for straightness and stability - you really want this to be solid as its the foundation of the piece so redrill and rescrew it all together if necessary.
Step 2) Drill Shelf Holes
Carefully measure these and use a straight edge if you have one.  If these are uneven across boards then your equipment won't sit straight. Mark all of the holes for the shelves on the vertical sides as well as center supports.  Then drill out those marks using a 1/4" bit.  You'll only want to drill about 3/4's of the way through on the sides (unless you want holes facing outward) but you'll want to drill all of the way through in the center pieces.  The mini drill-press gizmo was very handy for this as you could set the depth of cut/drill.
Step 3) Attach Sides to Base
I had to do a little light bending to make everything straight here. Place the bottom MDF board which forms the floor of the piece down on the base.  Then using L brackets, screw the sides onto the base pinning the base MDF board between the bracket and the base 2x4.  You'll want to make sure the brackets are a little way from the front or you'll hit other screws you've drilled in.  Then using more brackets screw the 2 center vertical pieces in place.  Don't use any brackets on the front inside of the center pieces though or they will show when the piece is done.  Once all of those are in I used 2 of the long 2" screws to screw the sides right into the base 2x4.  This helped the stability but you'll need to countersink them and fill the holes later.
Step 4) Attach The Top
Makes a nice workbench when its all screwed together. Use your last 12 L brackets and screw the top on using the short 3/4" screws.  You want to make sure the top is perfectly centered with the back of the top even with the backside of the piece.  The front will overhange a few inches but thats a good thing! My top board was a little warped so I actually had to sit/lay on the top while I screwed it on to keep it down - hopefully you will be luckier in your choice of wood and hopefully the thing will be nice and square once you have it all together.
Step 5) Add The Facing Boards
Nothing fit perfectly here for me and I had to make some minor tweaks using harsh sandpaper. Start here by screwing upper facing board snugly below the top.  I used the longer clamps to hold it in place while I screwed it into the center of the vertical boards.  You could use finishing nails and glue if you don't want to fill the bigger holes instead - the choice is yours.  Next follow the same procedure for the 2 square pieces on the bottom(I used the finishing nail/glue system on these).  Lastly do the same for the bottom board and the 2 vertical boards.  Hopefully everything will fit snugly and honestly if you wanted to you could add 2 finishing boards to the sides and jump to step 6 if you don't want the cabinets.
Step 6) Build Cabinet Doors
The notch on the inside edge here is only needed if you want to try to inset your backing (not worth it if you ask me). Take all 4 pieces from the left or right cabinet and clamp them all together nice and straight like.  Next, place the 1/4" plywood backing down in the center of the rectangle you just created.  Place a flat bracket on each corner on top of the plywood and use the 3/4" screws to fasten them down.  This will both pin the plywood between bracket and the cabinet face and keep boards together that make the frame.  If this structure isn't strong enough you can also add some glue between all the joints and pieces.  I did this and it definitely helped but you'll want to keep the clamps on there till its all dry(6hrs).  Rinse, lather, repeat for the other cabinet.
Step 7) Hooray For Hinges!
Its a tad ugly if you don't paint it, but no one will really see it open like that. Once the glue on the cabinets is dry, bust out the big drill bit you bought just for this step.  Measure out where you want the hinges to sit on the cabinets, making sure they won't hit the metal brackets used to screw this thing together.  Drill out the hole till the top of the bit sits flat on the board and that should be plenty deep enough for the hinge to sit.  Screw that piece down and then fit it in the cabinet and mark where the other side of the hinges need to be attached.  Hopefully they will fit with a perfect 1/16 gap all around but you'll likely have to use the adjustments on the hinges to get it square (or in my case somewhat close to square).  Again, rinse, lather, repeat for the other 3 hinges.
I should mention here that I did't build my cabinets quite this way and instead used a router to cut out a lip on the inside of each cabinet front where the plywood could sit.  In the end though it didn't seem to look much better and was really time consuming so while your welcome to do the same I'd try it like I've described it above as it will save you a lot of grief and look almost as nice.

Step 7) Sand and Paint
If your a sadist and want to spray paint like I did, then by one of these little handle deals.  Your finger will thank you. This part is easy but time consuming and the more time you spend here the nicer it will look.  I sanded the ugly bits once roughly using a 100grit sponge block and then the whole piece with a 320 pad.  Then I took off the hinges and the shelving brackets, painted everything once, re-sanded and painted it all again.  I used spray-paint on my cabinet, but it was a real pain in the ass.  I would suggest clear varnish or a brush paint instead - it will be much cheaper too.
Step 7) Epoxy Top (optional)
The epoxy comes in a big 2 pack like this My TV weighs a ton and the Birch isn't the hardest wood so I decided to give the top a nice hard epoxy finish.  This looks nice but is kind of a pain in the butt so only bother if you really want to go the extra mile.  Anyway, move the piece to a room thats as calm and dust free as possible(I used my spare bedroom).  Put down a dropcloth and tape off the piece leaving only the top board exposed.  Put on disposable gloves and mix a box and a half of the epoxy in a disposable tub then spread 90% of it evenly across the top allowing some to drip over the edges.  I then used my gloved hand to just smear and smooth the remaining epoxy around the edges and the underside lip of th edge.  Lastly use a hair-dryer on hot to blow out bubbles on the surface. This is all a tricky operation so I'd suggest practicing on a sample piece or two to get your technique down.
You'll want to give the piece a few days to a week to really dry and cure hard before putting stuff in there.  During that time you can screw some power strips to the back and add cord management stuff.  I also created a screen for the top center shelf area to hide my speaker (makes it look buit in).


NOTES:
  1. Download, read through everything, and know what your doing before you start. The hardest part of this project was coming up with the plans while I was doing it all.
  2. There is a lot that I've left out above which mostly consisted of I screwed up X so I did Y - if things don't go perfectly don't panic, improvise!
  3. Some of my cuts didn't end up perfectly straight but the piece turned out fine in the end - as long as your close the design allows for quite a bit of fudge room.
  4. Sandpaper and/or a Dremel is your friend if anything doesn't quite fit.
  5. If you are going to stain instead of paint it make sure all of your wood grains go in the direction you want them to.  I didn't even think about this till I was done and it would have looked strange in anything but black.
  6. If you paint it consider brush-paint instead of spraypaint.  It would have saved me some $$ and not sure if it would have looked any different.
  7. Lastly - have fun and remember its the journey not the destination that matters.  This isn't the easiest project but it was very rewarding for me and took only about a week or so to do.
If anyone builds one of these and sends me a photo I'll happily post your result.  Also please post any tips and/or hints in the comments section to make life better for everyone.
The post-it note that started it all :) After you buy all the wood and have it cut up you should start with a pile like this. Here are all of the screws and some of the metal brackets you'll need for this sucker. These bar clamps are pretty cheap and really really useful. I also purchased this cheapo($15) mobile drill press deal because I can't drill straight either.  Was very handy but not entirely necessary. Flush, European Style Hinges.   Very cool and very stable. The 35mm drill bit you'll need for the hinges as well as the type of finishing nails I bought. The 1/4 inch brackets to hold up the shelves. Sanding pads are great and don't skimp on the tack cloths Some optional chord management stuff I picked up. A little hard to work with but you can get a really cool finish with this stuff. The end result of the base building. A closeup of the brackets used on the base to keep everything together and 90 degree(ish). I added this extra bracing to the bottom in my build but it turned to be more than steady enough without it so I wouldn't bother. I would suggest drilling the holes for the shelf holders before you put the vertical pieces on but I forgot so its possible to do either way. Once the base piece of MDF is mounted and all of the vertical pieces are screwed on it should look like this. A closeup of the side screwed into the base This is one of the center vertical pieces.  I only used 1 bracket on the inside towards the back on each side otherwise you would see them in the end.  It was plent stable this way. I also suggest screwing the sides right into the base at the bottom to improve the stability though you will need to coutnersink fill these holes later. What it should look like after you get the top up and but before you put all the facing wood on.... and yes, I did all this in my living room. The trim/face boards make it look like real hardwood furniture The cabinet frame all clamped together ready for the backside plywood. A closeup of the cabinets doors attached to the frame All put together and ready to be sanded With everything closed up its pretty nice looking given the rough construction job. The almost-finished product just waiting to finish drying. Even the bracks look decent once painted over. A close up of the glossy top. I choose some simple hardware as its just my style but theres tons to choose from. The speaker cover I added to hide the center channel I mounted some powerstrips on the sides so that the unit can just be plugged in as a whole. The back of the unit with using all of the cord-management I could muster. The classic  - before - picture (man thats ugly) The - after - picture (much better) Finally a place for all of my things.
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