Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween visitor

Just when we thought we were safe from Armageddon predictions we learn that a huge asteroid affectionately named "spooky" (because it's closest to slamming into Earth today) is passing by the Earth at an astounding 78,000 miles per hour. The space rock is about 300-600 meters across and would make a big dent if it collided with us; fortunately it's passing by at a range of 300,000 miles (further away than the Moon) and so we should be OK... for now.


I spent a half hour or so racking and dry-hopping my Citra brew this morning, even had the back door open as it's such a lovely sunny day here today. The process involved siphoning the liquid out of my primary fermenter into a fresh empty one and adding a muslin bag containing a sanitized marble (for weight) and some fresh Citra hops. Hopefully the flavour from the hops will be infused into the beer prior to bottling and the overall effect will enhance the impact that I'm looking for (which is a citrus/grapefruit hit on the nose and palate). The bag will sit in this demijohn for about a week now and then I'll transfer it to bottles for the final stage; I did think to myself as I finally stuffed the hops in; how the heck am I going to get them out again? I guess I'll have to engineer some kind of hooking device on a wire.

As can be seen in the photograph, the beer is quite clear now and smelling gorgeous already, but as you can see from the level I'm not quite hitting the right quantities somewhere along the line, next time I think I need to use a bit more water at the start, about 30% more judging from the empty space!

Wrestling with suspended belief..

I took my son and one of his friends to a local wrestling match the other day; I think they were hoping for a WWE experience like on the TV but, although it wasn't bad (quite fun actually), it was a little more Aldershot on a drizzly Thursday evening than Vegas, if you know what I mean. Still, the kids enjoyed themselves, much shouting, cheering and stamping going on although I must admit I did feel like there was a whole sub-culture going on there that I was completely oblivious to. I also confess that for most of the 2 hours I felt like turning to the people sitting next to me and reminding them that it wasn't real. I guess that's the skeptic in me, although I suspect most people didn't really care that it's all scripted and fake, they go for the atmosphere and good luck to them, at least wrestling fans don't insist that we have un-elected wrestlers in the House of Lords; although I would bet good money that a few of the Lords have tried on the gear..

Friday, October 30, 2015

Live exorcism (yawn)

I noticed this little story on the wire today Apparently a US (where-else) TV station is going to air a "live" exorcism in the St. Louis house that spawned the original inspiration for the move "The Exorcist" (as we all know the best bit of that movie was the music)

I can safely predict that this programme will be a feast of atmospheric images, music and sudden clanging sound effects with perhaps some cutaway shots of some idiot twitching whilst having "magic" water sprinkled on him. Seriously, are there (intelligent) people still around today who think this stuff is real?

Doing well

I was wandering around Waitrose the other day and happened to see some beer from local (Finchampstead) producer Siren Craftbrew. I've visited their brewery a couple of times now and enjoy most of their beers (here is a write up of my last trip) I particularly admire their experimental philosophy and am delighted to see them achieving a measure of the "big time", i.e. being stocked by a major supermarket chain. Hopefully many more people will get to try their core range and be inspired to take a look at some of their other seasonal and collaborative brews. Of the Waitrose selection I would strongly recommend "Soundwave" (which has the purple label in the photo) it's an American style IPA full of citrus and resinous hop flavours a great place to start the journey and very drinkable; if you see it, grab a bottle to try!

Burden of proof

Don't you think it's funny how flimsy, half-baked assumptions about the nature of the universe become so entrenched through childhood indoctrination and tradition that the burden of proof somehow switches from the people proposing the idea to those simply asking for some plain evidence that it's true? In the mean time the most effective way of making this point seems to be through humour and ridicule; being able to laugh at authority is (as always) one of the first steps to human emancipation.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


Jesus and Mo bang on the money as usual; many religious people I've spoken to over the years seem unable to see the difference between truth and popularity, not to mention the difference between indoctrination and education.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Amstel Autumn

Amsterdam looking splendid in her autumn colours, just spent a glorious weekend visiting this lovely old city.

I hadn't been there for quite a few years and had forgotten what a wonderfully chilled out place it was. The weather over the last couple of days has been fantastic, blue skies and positively warm/dry for the time of year. We were celebrating the very "special" birthday of someone in the family and decided to pop over for a long weekend and reacquaint ourselves with the sights, food, culture and vibe of the place, I'm pleased to say all were present and correct; arriving back to a rainy Gatwick this afternoon I'm beginning to regret not having booked a whole week.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Radical thinking..

There are quite a few things that our stone-age human brains crave, things that were beneficial to humans living in a hunter-gatherer setting but that we now know are harmful and unnecessary. Modern, enlightened office-based humans now know for example that sugary and fatty foods do unwanted things to our circulatory systems and that clubbing a member of a neighbouring tribe over the head in order to steal her hoisin duck wrap doesn't contribute to social cohesion. I would put believing in angels, gods and evil spirits and that they have a "special" plan for us into that same bucket, i.e. things that we need to educate ourselves away from.

The new J&M cartoon economically illustrates this idea.

Best laid plans

I was reminded today about the law of physics that says your kids don't have anything like the same idea about what constitutes fun as you do.

I took half-a-day off work to spend the morning with my daughter (half-term) and having planned what I thought was a fun packed few hours we sat down together to review the itinerary, each line item was greeted by the comment "why would I want to do that"... I felt deflated for a moment but then I thought, sod it, if you can't beat them, join them. We ended up spending the morning doing exactly what she wanted to do, which turned out to be delicately putting (what seemed like thousands) of small, coloured plastic cylinders* onto a preformed plastic pegboard in the shape of a rabbit. Then we ironed the beads so that they melted slightly fusing together and adopting the rabbit shape permanently, it was strangely therapeutic albeit slightly one dimensional; must be a girl thing?

*I am reliably informed that these are known as Hama Beads

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Maths matters

I was helping my son with his maths homework last night, it was dredging up all kinds of memories from my own days of struggling with algebra; some of it even came in useful later in life.

Monday, October 19, 2015


Contents may also damage your health..

Citra brew day

I decided to have a brew day on Saturday and try out one of my own recipes. The beer I chose to make is loosely based on a beer I enjoy from Oakham Ales called "Citra IPA" and is my "interpretation" of it rather than a strict copy (from taste rather than a list of precise ingredients). I used mostly Maris Otter Malt as a base and added a little Aromatic Malt to spice it up a bit. Then for the hops I went for Columbus to bitter with and a raft of Citra added over the course of the boil. In about a weeks time I'll also add some more; in a process called "dry hopping" The idea behind dry hopping is that because the beer is cold none of the essential oils in the hops evaporate, meaning that more of the aroma and character of these oils will be retained in the final brew.

As the name suggests Citra is a hop that imparts various citrus flavours to the beer, particularly grapefruit; in fact our house now stinks of it as I dumped the spent hops in the kitchen bin at the end of the day (I probably should have put them on the compost heap!) Interestingly my wife and son hated the smell but my daughter and I love it and think they're a bit odd, I guess that suggests who got the lions share of whose olfactory genes?

Tasting notes to follow (in about 4-5 weeks time!)

Friday, October 16, 2015

Some things never change

I went up to London yesterday for a business meeting and snapped Reading station looking more like a shiny airport terminal than a grubby regional rail hub. I must say the recent development and modernisation at the site has made things much easier and smoother for passengers; a real boost to the town providing much needed infrastructure for when cross-rail arrives in 2019. I shouldn't have been fooled by all this modernity though, on the way home my train broke down and was an hour late getting me back to Reading and then my connecting train had a door fault which held me up another 30 minutes, oh well, I guess some things never change..

Seems legit

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Beer today gone tomorrow..

Here's an example of great lateral thinking and entrepreneurial flare! An out of work designer from British Colombia in Canada combined his two great passions, design and brewing beer into one and put his CV on the labels of beer that he'd made and send a 4-pack to prospective employers. Genius! For those who have to suffer the painful interactions with "recruitment consultants" every day (which I do) something like this would immediately push a candidate to the top of the heap! If the beer was any good then it would be a slam dunk!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

True story

In his inimitable style J&M points out the obvious flaw in all faith based systems, i.e. how can you ever know it's true or even reach a consensus? Clearly most people of faith don't really care much about truth in a scientific/evidential sense; most seem to believe in things for other reasons (like tradition, conformity or comfort etc.). However, getting them to admit they don't really "know" it's true in any meaningful way is a whole other kettle of fish.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Dirt to man

Looks like someone at Google was paying attention in school Biology lessons...

A night on the lash?

When pensioner Karl Andree fancied a night out on the lash he probably wasn't envisaging what he ended up getting. Andree made the fatal mistake of living in Saudi where making a bit of home brew to chug with your mates is a corporal offence; he got caught with some wine in his car and has spent more than a year in prison as a result. Of course being Saudi, a prison sentence is not enough to appease their petty minded cultism, the sentence passed now calls for 360 lashes in addition to custody; the relatives of this unfortunate bloke are concerned that he won't survive it.

Part of me thinks this guy is daft for a) living in a place with such stupid laws and b) getting caught, however it's easy to be glib about other people's circumstances. I have many friends who spent time in Saudi working for various oil companies in the 80s and 90s and they say that making home brew for social occasions is a universal tradition among ex-pats there; why can't Muslims just respect our culture and our traditions I hear you ask..

Monday, October 12, 2015

Time for a change..

Look closely and you can see evolution happening before your eyes!

Friday, October 09, 2015

It just is..

Jesus and Mo highlighting the huge logical fallacy at the centre of theism; it's a shame that some, otherwise smart people feel they need to make things up (or peddle past generation's made up stuff) rather than admit they simply don't know.


I came across this lovely little viral piece today; it's the musings of an elderly American visitor to the UK  (Scott Waters from Florida) who captured his experiences of Cornwall on Facebook in a simple bullet point list. It's very amusing, I particularly liked the repetition of "there's no guns" and "football is religion and religion is sport", here is the full list.

* Almost everyone is very polite
* The food is generally outstanding
* There are no guns
* There are too many narrow stairs
* Everything is just a little bit different
* The pubs close too early
* The reason they drive on the left is because all their cars are built backwards
* Pubs are not bars, they are community living rooms.
* You'd better like peas, potatoes and sausage
* Refrigerators and washing machines are very small.
* Everything is generally older, smaller and shorter
* People don't seem to be afraid of their neighbours or the government.
* Their paper money makes sense, the coins don't.
* Everyone has a washing machine but driers are rare
* Hot and cold water faucets. Remember them?
* Pants are called "trousers", underwear is "pants" and sweaters are "jumpers".
* The bathroom light is a string hanging from the ceiling
* "Fanny" is a naughty word, as is "shag"
* All the signs are well designed with beautiful typography and written in full sentences with proper grammar.
* There's no dress code
* Doors close by themselves, but they don't always open
* They eat with their forks upside down
* The English are as crazy about their gardens as Americans are about cars
* They don't seem to use facecloths or napkins or maybe they’re just less messy than we are
* The wall outlets all have switches, some don't do anything
* There are hardly any cops or police cars
* 5,000 year ago, someone arranged a lot of rocks all over, but no one is sure why
* When you do see police they seem to be in male & female pairs and often smiling
* Black people are just people: they didn't quite do slavery here
* Everything comes with chips, which are French Fries. You put vinegar on them
* Cookies are "biscuits" and potato chips are "crisps"
* HP sauce is better than catsup
* Obama is considered a hero, Bush is considered an idiot.
* After fish and chips, curry is the most popular food
* The water controls in showers need detailed instructions
* They will boil anything
* Folks don't always lock their bikes
* It's not unusual to see people dressed different and speaking different languages
* Your electronic devices will work fine with just a plug adapter
* Nearly everyone is better educated then we are
* If someone buys you a drink you must do the same
* There are no guns
* Look right, walk left. Again; look right, walk left. You're welcome.
* Avoid British wine and French beer
* It's not that hard to eat with the fork in your left hand with a little practice. If you don't, everyone knows you're an American
* Many of the roads are the size of our sidewalks
* There's no AC
* Instead of turning the heat up, you put on a jumper
* Gas is "petrol", it costs about $6 a gallon and is sold by the litre
* If you speed on a motorway, you get a ticket, period, always.
* You don't have to tip, really!
* Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Cornwall really are different countries
* Only 14% of Americans have a passport, almost everyone in the UK does
* You pay the price marked on products because the taxes (VAT) are built in
* Walking is the national pastime
* Their TV looks and sounds much better than ours
* They took the street signs down during WWII, but haven't put them all back up yet
* Everyone enjoys a good joke
* There are no guns
* Dogs are very well behaved and welcome everywhere
* There are no window screens
* You can get on a bus and end up in Paris
* Everyone knows more about our history then we do
* Radio is still a big deal. The BBC is quite good
* The newspapers can be awful
* Everything costs the same but our money is worth less so you have to add 50% to the price to figure what you're paying
* Beer comes in large, completely filled, actual pint glasses and the closer the brewery the better the beer
* Butter and eggs aren't refrigerated
* The beer isn't warm, each style is served at the proper temperature
* Cider (alcoholic) is quite good.
* Excess cider consumption can be very painful.
* The universal greeting is "Cheers" (pronounced "cheeahz" unless you are from Cornwall, in which case it's "chairz").
* The money is easy to understand: 1-2-5-10-20-50 pence, £1-£2 coins and £5-£10, etc. bills. There are no quarters.
* Their cash makes ours look like Monopoly money
* Cars don't have bumper stickers
* Many doorknobs, buildings and tools are older than America
* By law, there are no crappy, old cars
* When the sign says something was built in 456, they didn't lose the "1"
* Cake is pudding, ice cream is pudding, anything served for desert is pudding, even pudding
* BBC 4 is NPR
* Everything closes by 1800 (6pm)
* Very few people smoke, those who do often roll their own
* You're defined by your accent
* No one in Cornwall knows what the hell a Cornish Game Hen is
* Football is a religion, religion is a sport
* Europeans dress better than the British, we dress worse
* The trains work: a three minute delay is regrettable
* Drinks don't come with ice
* There are far fewer fat English people
* There's a lot of healthy old folks around participating in life instead of hiding at home watching TV
* If you're over 60, you get free TV and bus and rail passes.
* They don't use Bose anything anywhere
* Displaying your political or religious affiliation is considered very bad taste.
* Every pub seems to have a pet drunk.
* Their healthcare works, but they still bitch about it
* Cake is one of the major food groups.
* Their coffee is mediocre but the tea is wonderful
* There are still no guns
* Towel warmers!
* Cheers

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Duck and cover

I must have missed the "all_world" email (probably went to my junk mail folder which would have been appropriate), but according to a Christian group in the USA the world is ending today. Chris McCann of the eBible fellowship claims that our little planet is going to be obliterated by fire and extinguished for ever and all this before EastEnders.

I wonder how he rationalises the fact that in some parts of the world it's tomorrow already? Oh yes, I almost forgot, Armageddon predictions are always faith based initiatives...

Update: still here..

Monday, October 05, 2015

Home brew - official tasting

Back at the end of August I did some experimentation with an "all grain" brewing kit and made some of my own beer. Ever since then my brew has been conditioning in bottles in a nice cool dark place and this weekend (since it was my birthday!) I thought I'd be brave and risk cracking one open. As you can see in the picture above, it certainly looked the part! A nice foamy head, good carbonation and perfect colour for the kind of beer that it was, i.e. American style IPA (India Pale Ale). I was expecting a cloudy beer but it turned out reasonably clear with very little bottle sediment although it was very lively, i.e. once opened the beer did it's best to exit the bottle!

The key question of course was how did it taste? I'm happy to report that it tasted great (verified by 3 impartial judges) the aroma was authentic, and the taste malty, rich and full of hops which gave it a nice citrus and (subtle) mango character, it also held it's 5% alcohol well too. If I had any criticism at all it would be that there was a tiny bit too much yeast flavour appearing on the finish and perhaps it could have been a little sweeter but no one else noticed. I think next time I'll allow it to ferment a little longer (it was possibly a little too cold where I stored it during that stage) and I also need to improve the way I do the sparging step (which is where the mashed grains are washed) as I didn't have a suitably large strainer, this was perhaps to blame for a slight reduction in sugars ending up in the wort and available for the yeast to work their magic on.

Overall I'm really pleased (and surprised!) with how this turned out; the only downside is that my kit is a small one (1 US Gallon ~ 6 UK pints) and so between a couple of friends a batch gets consumed pretty quickly! Since doing this initial experiment I've done 2 more brews, another IPA (with different hops) and a Summer wheat beer based on Kent Goldings hops, both need a few more weeks of maturation before they're ready but now I can't wait to try them!

If you're interested in the hops for this recipe then they comprised a fiendish mix of Ahtanum, Chinook, Simcoe and Nelson Sauvin.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Birthday treat

I celebrated my birthday this weekend with a superb bottle of St. Estephe (Bordeaux) by Lafon-Rochet, from the great 2000 vintage. With the kids safely tucked up in bed we shared it with a simple spread of French bread and cheese whilst curled up on the sofa watching a scary movie (Nightcrawler), pretty hard to beat.

The wine was a showing really well and still has plenty of time left; powerful, earthy and dense, oak infused blackberries with a lovely crème de cassis dimension to it; a fine Northern Medoc; I've got two more bottle left and I think I'll hang onto them for a while.

Friday, October 02, 2015

When is an atheist not an atheist?

It's starting to look like the shooter in yesterdays campus massacre in the USA was deliberately targeting Christians. This obscene revelation has started some people off speculating that the lunatic who perpetrated this criminal act was some kind of atheist railing against religion; a truly "militant atheist" if you will.

For those that care to dig a little deeper into the story will discover that Chris Harper Mercer (the gunman) was in fact into all kinds of crazy stuff, he was pro-Nazi, pro-IRA and also a pagan with interests in the occult, astrology and spiritualism. For Christians who perhaps don't know what atheism actually means or don't know any atheists, the fact that he was into paganism and the occult means that he most definitely wasn't one!

In any case, I think we can all agree that whatever his personal beliefs on anything (religion, politics, nationalism, sports teams, Marmite etc.), US society has a serious problem with mentally unstable people being able to easily get hold of lethal weapons. The statistics are alarming, more people have died from gun related crime in the US in the last 9 months than have died from terrorism in over 40 years!

Sam Harris expresses the issue very well in the following piece,

"No rational atheist (or “New Atheist”) holds religion accountable for every idiotic or unethical thing religious people do. We blame a religion only for what its adherents do as a direct result of its doctrines, such as opposing gay marriage or killing apostates.

Atheism has no doctrines. It does not demand that a person do anything, or refrain from doing anything, on the basis of his unbelief. Consequently, to know that someone is an atheist is to know almost nothing about him—apart from the fact that he does not accept the unwarranted claims of any religion.

Atheism is simply the condition of not believing in Poseidon, Thor, or any of the thousands of dead gods that lie in the graveyard we call mythology. To that extent, everyone knows exactly what it is to be an atheist—he has simply added the god of Abraham to the list of the dead.

If a belief in astrology were causing people to go berserk—to deny medical care to their children or to murder unbelievers—many of us would speak and write about the dangerous stupidity of astrology. This would not be bigotry or intolerance on our part. It would be a plea for basic human sanity. And that is all that an atheist’s criticism of religious tribalism and superstition ever is.

If you understand this, you will recognize any attempt to blame atheism for specific crimes, great or small, for what it is: A fresh act of religious demagoguery."
—Sam Harris

Weird doesn't cover it..

Here's the weirdest thing you're going  to see today; a prayer meeting with Donald Trump assisted by a bunch of Christian shaman casting magic spells on him and getting all "spiritual" on his ass.

Really? And this is a Presidential candidate in the most powerful nation in the world in the 21st century - what a ridiculous and embarrassing spectacle.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Font of humour

A little typeface humour for a Thursday evening whilst I'm banished to my study for fear of causing embarrassment; you see my wife is hosting her book-club meeting at ours this week. Although, from here it sounds more like a wine, gossip and giggling evening..

School shoot-out

Looks like there has been another mass campus shooting in America; this time it's up in the North West of the country and from initial sources on the news wire just now between 7-10 people are dead with more wounded.

Of course the majority of American people will now spring into action, mobilize their vast financial and material resources, focus their almost unlimited cumulative political, intellectual and cultural energies and ... pray.. (i.e. do nothing at all but make themselves feel like they are)


An old joke, reworked for modern (hipster) times.