Saturday, March 25, 2017

Michael Bower: The Drink

As a boy in the 1950's, part of growing up was learning about drinks and drinking.  No drink fascinated me more than the Boilermaker, a shot of whiskey placed at the bottom of a stein of beer.  It was two drinks, not just one, and the name gave it stature.  A boilermaker, I figured was a a massive figure in a wife-beater t-shirt, with belly overflowing belt, but with massive arms that could lift anything and whip anyone.

The mystique was increased by the fact that Indiana's Purdue University used "Boilermakers"  as a mascot.  For a middle-class boy growing up in Palo Alto, the Boilermaker loomed large. 

One of the great honors is to have an internationally-known dish (Peach Melba or Beef Wellington) or drink (Shirley Temple or Mary Pickford) named after oneself.

Recently, pal Michael Bower retired from CBS Radio.  We've been friends for quite a while. As he is a bon vivant, compared to me, anyway, I decided an eponymous drink in his honor was in order.

Of course, my childhood Boilermaker interest reminded me that, if a drink named after one is good, then two (or more!) drinks in one's honor would be even better.

Casting about for the recipe of Michael Bower: The Drink, I decided first that a multi-part drink would certainly be best. Recently, Michael was introduced to the Pisco Sour by mutual friend and former colleague Terry Conway.  He took to it at once.

Pisco is a brandy, a distilled beverage made from fermented grapes.  While brandies are found nearly world-wide, Pisco is unique to Peru and Chile.  Of course, both counties assert that their version is the only authentic one, and that Pisco from the other is "Fake news."

Not one to shy away from difficult research, I resolved to try a Pisco Sour for myself, purely as investigation, of course.  It turns out, though, that Pisco and its Sour are largely unknown in Southern Oregon.  Who would have suspected that?

I felt sure that the best-known (well, only) Peruvian Restaurant in Grants Pass, Gtano would be sure to have them available. After all, it was Peruvian and it had a full bar. A slam-dunk, right?

Wrong.  The friendly bar-lady there said she wasn't sure if they had Pisco, but that she'd make me a Sour if they did. Triumphantly, she pulled a bottle from the back-bar.  Alas, the bottle was empty.   Other bars in the Grants Pass metropolitan area claimed never to have heard of Pisco at all.

Undeterred, I decided to Sour-seek further afield.  Some quick research on Yelp steered me to Jefferson Spirits, an upscale whiskey bar and brewpub in Medford.  I asked Master barkeeper Schuyler if he could make me one.  "Certainly," he replied, "But I must warn you: I'm going to put an egg white in it."  "Is that official," I asked?  "Yes." 

We discussed the possibility of contracting Salmonella or other infection from uncooked egg white.  He assured me that doing so was less likely than being eaten by a bear.  Of course, he added, most people live in cities, where there are few bears anyway.  Here in the Rogue Valley we do see the occasional bear.  Nevertheless, research must be served, so I bade him go ahead and make me one complete with egg white.

And he did:

Pisco Capel is made in the Elqui Valley of Northern Chile. (Not like the fake stuff from Peru).

The Sour, with an artistic garnish of Angostura Bitterswas delicious.  So, the first part of the Michael Bower was set!

Next came the beer.  Michael is a connoisseur of beers, far more than I.  He's tried most of them, some of them quite exotic.  But I limited myself to what was easily available in rural Oregon, and that meant the Belgian brew Stella Artois. It's actually a brand owned by Anheuser-Busch, but it's fancier, because it's European, I guess.  It reminded me of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot. In a story where someone calls him a "French Bastard," and he gently corrects them: "Belgian bastard, if you please."

So, we were there! Michael Bower: The Drink, in all its glory:

The bottled Stella was a compromise, of course.  Stella Artois on tap is largely unknown north of Marin County, California.

And yet, something was still lacking.  Yes, it was a double drink, like a Boilermaker, and was made with two beverages Michael likes.  But it still lacked....what?  I thought back to Michael's homeland, England, and realized what the missing ingredient was.

"No," I told myself, "No!  No one would drink it with that added!"  "Perhaps not," I answered, "But remember what Barry Goldwater said: 'Moderation in alcohol is no virtue, and Extremism in Bowerness is no vice.'"  Or something like that.

Even I could not face it.  Still, I had to admit, Michael Bower, The Drink" would really be complete only with a third ingredient:

Yep, it's Marmite, the leftover yeast from beer brewing turned into a sandwich spread and eaten, inexplicably, by many Brits.

As for me, I can face the truth.  I just can't taste it.

March, 2017

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

An Eye for Bigfoot

Those who, for some reason, read this blog regularly know that we have a six-foot plywood cutout of "Bigfoot" in our yard.  Southern Oregon is Bigfoot country, so we want to do our part.

One of the descriptors of Bigfoot is that has "Glowing Red Eyes."  Since our cutout is in profile (his good side, natch), we only needed one eye, but we did need one.

Originally, when one bought LED's, they came in one color; red, and one illumination mode; continuous.  The most common size, called "T-1.75" was and is about 5 mm in diameter.  If you wanted an LED to blink, you had to use an external circuit, usually made from a couple of transistors or, later, using an NE-555, a Signetics integrated circuit from 1980 or so that is still in production and being designed into products today.  Not many IC's can say that.

Eventually, though, manufacturers figured out that they could incorporate a "blink" circuit inside the LED.  You just supplied continuous DC power and it blinked.

A colleague told me of a job interview he had where the prospective boss pointed to a blinking LED in colleague's radio station and asked "What's the technology behind that?"  No doubt, he was expecting to hear that colleague had built an external blinking circuit as described above.  Not so:  It was just an off-the-shelf blinking LED.  Nonetheless, colleague got the job!

When it comes to Bigfoot, a steady-burning LED (red, of course) would work as an eye.  It's a little boring, though.  A blinking LED might be better, but there were problems there, too.  Most "Blinker" LED's are the 5 mm (or even 3 mm) diameter ones -- too small to serve as a Bigfoot eye.

Fortunately, LED's also come in 10 mm (0.39") diameter, which is much more suitable.  They're fairly rare, though, and they don't blink.

Within the last few years, fortunately, LED designers have created "Flame" LED's, which flicker in a (pseudo-) random pattern, simulating the flame of a candle.  They're often used in middle-level Italian restaurants as rechargeable fake candles to light your meal.

To the rescue rides our old pal and Dead Electrical Dude Georg Ohm.  His law tells us that a series (daisy-chained) circuit divides the voltage between the loads, but that current is the same for all of them.  That meant that I could use a 5 mm "Flame" LED in series with a 10 mm red LED to make the big one flicker along with the little one.

LED's are current-operated devices.  They usually want something between 1.6V and 3.5V to operate.  Normally, you supply voltage through a resistor, which serves to limit LED current.  (Without a resistor, the LED will burn out instantly. (Don't ask me how I know that.)

Living in the woods as he does, Bigfoot could not rely on plug-in electric power.  The logical alternative was a small storage battery, recharged in the daytime by a solar panel.

Most small solar panels are rated for 5 volts, to use with phone chargers and such, or 12 volts, to operate equipment normally used in vehicles.  For my purposes, though, 5 volts was not quite enough, while 12 volts was too much.  I could have used 12 volts, but it would have meant just burning up more power in the resistor.

While there are several different technologies, most lead-acid storage batteries, like those in cars and (most) airplanes are called "12 Volt" batteries, even though, when fully charged, they're more like "13.8 Volt" batteries.  Similarly, most aircraft use a "24 Volt" electrical system, even though they actually run at more like 28 Volts.  A "12 Volt" battery has six cells in series, each providing around 2 volts, while a "24 Volt" battery has twelve.

Up to the 1950's, most cars used "6 Volt" electrical systems, powered by 3-cell batteries.  They did the job, mostly, but had a serious limitation:  Work, measured in Watts (named for another Dead Electrical Dude), is the product of voltage and current.  Doing a job like running the starter motor on a car takes twice as much current if you only have half as much voltage.  6 Volt systems often needed really fat wires to carry the heavy current needed to run lights, motors and radios.

Car makers figured out that they could save money by doubling the voltage of car electrical systems from 6 to 12 Volts, so they did.  That's the same reason that most airplanes use 24 Volt systems - because they can use thinner wires than 12 volt ones.  That's especially important when designing an airplane, where saving weight is the Holy Grail of design.

Fortunately, there are still a few applications where a 6 Volt system is needed (besides Bigfoot eyes).  One of them is automated "Game Feeders." They're timer-controlled units that regular dispense, say, deer food so the deer get in the habit of coming by regularly.  Then, once hunting season opens, you know when to come and kill them.  It doesn't seem very sporting to me.  (Actually, most hunting seems pretty unsporting to me).

Because they're out in the woods, game feeders are often solar powered, so there are 6 volt solar panels to go with the 6 volt batteries.  Those are what I used.

Since "Flame" and "Blinker" LED's need a bit more voltage than regular ones, I bread-boarded the circuit to see what value of resistor I needed.  It came out to around 30 ohms, for about 10 milliamperes of current through the LED's.

Current is measured in Amperes, named for Dead Electrical Dude Andre-Marie Ampere.  As you'd expect, a milliampere

is 1/1000 of an amp.

Batteries are often sized in "Ampere-Hours."   A battery rated at 5 AH can, in theory, supply 5 amps of current for one hour or 1 amp of current for 5 hours before needing to be recharged.  (In actuality, batteries are much more efficient at some discharge rates than others, so Amp-hour ratings are stated at only one discharge rate, often 20 hours.

So, how many Ampere-hours of battery does Bigfoot need? At a minimum, the battery has to supply power to run Bigfoot's eye overnight, when the sun isn't shining. But what if tomorrow were cloudy or rainy, and the solar panel didn't charge it enough?  What if it were rainy for four days in a row, or five, or 10?  (This is Oregon, after all)

Since Bigfoot's eye uses 10 milliamps, (1/100 of an amp), it needs 1 amp-hour of electricity every 100 hours).  A small 6 volt lead-acid battery rated at 4.5 amp-hours would keep Bigfoot flickering for 450 hours, almost 19 days.  Even in Oregon, we usually get sun more often than that.

Solar panels generate power based on their area.  Again, there are different technologies used.  But, all else equal, panel with twice the area will produce twice as many watts of power.

Since most hunters don't care much about electrical engineering, the "Game feeder" 6 volt solar panel didn't come with detailed specifications.  Based on my experience, though, I expect it's around 5 watts.  Of course, solar panels are rated on bright, cloudless days, so most of the time it wont do that well.

As I like to ask, though, "How good does it need to be?"  5 watts in a 6 volt system is about 0.8 ampere (5 divided by 6).  If it's, say, half that good, that's 0.4 amperes for perhaps 5 hours a day.  Charging a 4.5 amp-hour battery at 0.4 amp means that a full charge takes maybe 15 hours (you have to put back more electricity than you took out of the battery when you charge it).  So, each day you get roughly two amp-hours (0.4 amps times 5 hours of daylight) of charge.

We know that Bigfoot's eye draws about 0.01 amp of current, so, over 24 hours, he needs 0.24 (about 1/4) amp-hour.  If the solar panel delivers almost 2 amp-hours per day (on average), Bigfoot's eye should continue flickering for a long time.

In larger systems, one needs a "Charge controller" to prevent overcharging the battery.  At this scale, though, we don't, since the overcharging is happening at a pretty low rate. That means it doesn't generate much heat --  the big enemy of lead-acid batteries.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Pre-Retrofit A Florescent "Shop Light"

By Andrew Ellis

One of the most useful and inexpensive light sources is the "Shop Light."  Originally, they held two (or sometimes four) 4 foot florescent tubes rated at 40W each.  More recently, most come with "Energy Saving" 32W tubes.

While LED shop lights are becoming available, they are more expensive, and it's easy to repurpose a fixture intended for florescent tubes to use LED tubes instead.

This shop light fixture, sold without tubes, costs less than $11.

Shown with it are two four foot LED replacement tubes, which cost me $9.95 each from Amazon.  That's not cheap, but they don't contain mercury like florescent tubes do, and one can select the color temperature one wants.  There are four temperatures available, from "warm white" (4000 Kelvin) to "arctic white" (6000 Kelvin).  Choose the color you like best.

Most home florescent tubes and fixtures have two pins at each end. When doing a conversion, I prefer the "single-ended" replacements, where 117 volt power is connected to the two pins at one end of the tube and the two at the other end connect to nothing.  "Double-ended" tubes are wired differently.  This article assumes single-ended tubes are being used.

The tubes here are made by Hyperikon, part number  842100608.  I bought them from Amazon. They use 18 watts per tube, about half what florescent tubes would use.

Florescent tubes need a "Ballast," either magnetic or electronic, to control current.  LED tubes do not, and it's best to remove the ballasts from fixtures that will use them.

The fixture I used is by "Lights of America," part number 8045 E-WH.  I bought it at WalMart.  It uses an electronic ballast in the plastic container shown in the picture.

To begin the modification, be certain that the AC cord on the fixture is NOT plugged into a power source.

Gently pry out the center cover, which hides wires.  We're going to remove the wires, so the cover can be replaced afterwards or not.

Before disassembling the end pieces of the fixture, remove the plastic "strain relief," which ensures that force applied to the cord is transmitted to the fixture body, not to the wire connections inside it.

Look closely at the plastic strain relief.  It's in two pieces, with a plastic strip linking them.  Remove it from the fixture by squeezing the two parts together using pliers, then pulling it out of the mounting hole.  Since it's designed to hold the cord firmly, some serious squeezing may be needed.
Once you have it out, gently pull the two parts open, freeing the cord.  

Unclip the end of the fixture without the power cord from the metal reflector.  Remove the cover from the part with the lamp contacts by pressing two tabs holding them together apart.

Once you have the end removed and separated, cut the wires very short against the sockets, since they will not be used after modification.  Then reassemble the end piece and snap it back onto the reflector.

Now disassemble the fixture end piece from the end WITH the AC cable. Note that there is a green ground wire that attaches to the reflector under the ballast.  Pull the free end of it out of the tab on the reflector to which it attaches.
Cut the wires that went to the far end of the fixture where they go into the plastic box that houses the ballast.  Remove the end piece and slide the circuit board of the ballast out of its housing.
Now cut all the remaining wires going to the circuit board as close to the board as possible.  Discard the circuit board.  Separate the AC cord by two inches or so to provide more length for the ground wire.

Each tube socket has two wires.  We will connect one wire from each socket to each of the two white wires in the AC cord (it doesn't matter which.  Strip about 1/2" of insulation from the four wires attached to the sockets and the two white wires from the AC cord.  Leave the green wire alone.

To make the connections, hold the three wires (one from each socket and one of the two AC wires parallel. Twist the two connections together with a "wire nut" by screwing it onto the three wires so it twists the wires together.  Continue twisting the wire nut until the wires protruding from are twisted together beyond the nut Itself.  Be sure the uninsulated copper wire does not protrude from the wire nut.  Redo it if necessary.

 Reassemble the two plastic sections of the end piece.

Thread the green wire in the AC cord through a hole or slot in the end of the plastic enclosure.  Fasten it to the metal strap where it 
was originally attached.  Snap the end piece onto the reflector, sliding the now-empty ballast enclosure into place as you do.
Put the AC cord through the strain relief as shown, with the smaller end facing the fixture. Then close the top part of it and squeeze it together.  Since it holds the cord tightly, some muscle may be needed.

Once you've squeezed the two halves of the strain relief together, push it back into the hole in the plastic end piece until it snaps in. Again, some muscle may be needed here.
Now insert the new LED tubes.  Be sure you have the "POWER THIS END" label on the tube at the end of the fixture with the AC cord.  Line up the two pins on the tube so it slides into the circular socket.  Be sure the other end of the tube is in the socket as well. Then rotate the tube until the side from which the light comes faces out of the fixture.

Though not shown here, I wrote a note in Sharpie on the ballast housing saying that the fixture should be used only with LED tubes.  It's not likely to matter, though, since the LED's have extremely long lifetimes.
Check both tubes to see that they're in the sockets at both ends and plug the fixture AC cord into an outlet.  The tubes should light up.
This fixture came with two short chains and four "S-hooks." Use them to suspend the fixture.  Substitute longer chains if you need them.  After hooking the S-hooks into the fixture and the chain, bend the ends of the hook together so they will stay attached.


March, 2017
Bandon, OR