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W8TD has been off the air for decades except for some light use of VHF/UHF FM. I was inactive for a while but the final straw was my last relocation (20 years ago). I just never got around to erecting any antennas or setting up a station at the new location. It is a wonder that I remembered to renew my license the last time (and I have just renewed it again). I would have hated to see 50 years as a ham interrupted, even though I was inactive.

I have been pondering the possibility of getting back on the air for a few years. My tiny downtown lot put some barriers in my way. There isn’t much room for wire antennas or a tower, and municipal antenna height restrictions won’t permit a tower of the size I used to have. I do have an unused third floor in the house and an unused second floor in the garage so I considered indoor antennas. I still may add some small antennas up there at some point – maybe VHF/UHF and a 10M vertical. My prime interest has always been the lower bands, though, so that is what I have been trying to work out.

I finally decided to erect a very modest 30 foot tower near the center of the lot. I can stick a tribander on it, and also use it for a center support for 40M and 80M diploes. Today the base was poured so there is concrete (pun intended) progress on the project. The photo above foreshortens things a bit – the tower base is nearer the center of the 36X36X36 slab than it appears. I will add a bracket to the garage at about 20 feet up and the tower legs are on 16″ centers (similar in size to Rohn #45) so it should hold whatever I can get up there. I selected a Cushcraft A3-S for its unusually wide bandwidth and added the 40M kit to it. No 40M Yagi as I used to have up, but it will give a bit of directionality. As I no longer have access to climbing gear or a gin pole (or vigorous youth), I believe I will have to hire a crane or bucket truck to get the top section and beam up there.

I dug out the radios and set them up in a newly added room. The operating desk is a little crowded in the above photo so I have rearranged things a bit. The test equipment on the desk to the right has been relocated to a different desk across from that one and some of the radios will be moved onto the former test bench. I haven’t yet powered up the Collins gear to see if it survived the long storage. I will bring it up slowly on a variac when I do. I picked up the Yaesu when I first started thinking about getting back on so it is a current model and should have no issues. After I get the radios spread out onto two desks there will be room for microphones and keys and the other necessities, such as a rotator control.

The goal is to have something on the air in the next few weeks.

Concurrently, I am also working on getting the observatory back into operation after a several year hiatus. That will be the subject of the next post, and I hope to also have that operational in the next several weeks. Never a dull moment around here.

 

Finally received my scores for this year’s entries. Last year I submitted a couple of beers from what was on hand just to see what would happen. I was glad to receive feedback from the judges and was pleased enough to receive midrange scores despite the fact that neither placed or advanced to the finals. This year I submitted two of my favorite recipes (one of which had done very well in a regional competition) with higher hopes. Sadly, neither placed or advanced.  The scores were in the same range, too. Still, the judging comments should be useful when those arrive later.

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I have been brewing indoors since January. The indoor system is really convenient but the batch size is limited to 2.5 gallons. A typical homebrew batch size is 5 gallons. My usual system can do 5 to 10 gallons and I have missed having that capacity. I tore it all down to upgrade and update it and never got around to completing the project. I made massive progress today, though. I installed the temperature sensors on the MLT, HLT, and heat exchanger and wired them all to the controller. I got all three pilot/thermocouple assemblies mounted, made new pilot gas lines for all three, and wired them all to the controller. I did the first test burns to test the pilots, thermocouples, and burners and all looks good. Just need to mount the pumps, make up new silicon hoses, add the autosparge and whirlpool fittings, and rig the plate chiller. You can see the test burn here: http://johnrcrilly.com/20160723_214848.mp4  (yes, I need to crank the gas down and the air up!)

The rig consists of three 10″ banjo burners running on low pressure propane and controlled by PIDs driving Honeywell furnace valves. There is a heat exchanger in the hot liquor tank so I can operate as a HERMS (heat exchanger recirculating mash system). There is a controlled burner on the mash/lauter tun so I also have the option of running it as a RIMS (recirculating infusion mash system). The kettles are 15 gallons so capacity is 10 gallons max.

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No photos this time, but the observatory should ready to move into again. New roof, new South wall, new drywall (Thanks, Scott at backyardobservatories.com ). Just need to paint the interior and get some gear mounted onto the pier which is still in place. I am not sure what I will install, but it will be lighter than what I have had in there in the past. The days of hauling 70 pound mounts and 50 pound optical tubes up the stairs are over for me, so no more Tak NJPs or 12″ RCs. No more LX-850 and 12″ enhanced SCT.  I have a couple of high quality small refractors available, and a Vixen GP-DX that would carry them with grace and style, so it will probably be something like that. I have a better Canon DSLR (T2i) than the one I used all those years ago (original Rebel) so I think that will do to get me back in action for widefield shots. Might pick up an 8″ SCT for longer focal length work, or the very economical and effective Astrotech 8″ RC.

The setup will be very modest compared to what has been installed in the past, but should be enough to keep me active.

Automated small-batch brewing appliances have been around for a little while. The first to hit production was probably the Picobrew Zymatic, which makes 2.5 gallon all-grain batches using conventional ingredients and sells for about $2000.  The next to reach production will probably be its little brother, the Picobrew Pico, whose Kickstarter campaign was extremely successful. The first production units, originally predicted for March shipment, should be going out fairly soon. Given that their first Kickstarter project resulted in the Zymatic, a product that has been delivered in decent quantities (well over a thousand),  it seems likely that the Pico will come through. That one is half the price (and half the production quantity) of the Zymatic. It is much smaller, too. The big difference is that, although it is an all-grain system using “normal” ingredients, they can’t be loaded directly into the machine. Ingredient packs must be acquired from the vendor. They have acquired the rights to a fair number of popular craft brews and their in house brewers, who  have created a large library of recipes for the Zymatic, are busily converting those to Pico packs as well. They are also aggressively pursuing independent homebrewers for their recipe development program. It appears the Pico owners will have no trouble obtaining recipe packs that will please them – but this one isn’t going to be nearly as attractive to homebrewers as the Zymatic. They (we) like to use the ingredients we already have on hand (and generally buy in quantity to control costs). It should be a pretty cool item for a non-brewing craft beer drinker, though.

The Brewie is a riskier proposition; it isn’t yet in production and the company can’t point to a previously successful brewing appliance as Picobrew can. Pre-orders are $1600. If successful, it will do 5 gallon batches, and you can use your own ingredients.  I don’t feel very confident about that one.

The next contender’s Kickstarter project just went hot today. The Artbrew will be about the same price as the Pico (though adventurous Kickstarter supporters can snag one for $490). Same capacity as the Pico, too – but with the ability to use your own ingredients. It seems to be one to watch. There’s no history to look at, but the price seems right for what it offers. If successful, it will offer features not available in the Pico, such as internal chilling to fermentation temperatures, as well as maintaining proper temperatures during fermentation. That last bit is important, especially for casual or careless users, as poor management of fermentation temps is a frequent cause of poor homebrews. It is more of a crossover machine, probably directed primarily toward the craft beer crowd yet offering homebrewers the option of using their own recipes and ingredients.

 

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Newsflash: neither of my entries in the AHA national homebrew competition made it to the final round.

It was an extremely mild and pleasant winter here, but also a very busy one. Between relocating the office, Dad’s broken hip, and reverting to a solo practice in which I do everything myself, I haven’t been inspired to write here. There are developments, though.

The brewstand described in the previous post has arrived and is nearly ready for action. The burners amd gas manifold are installed; just have to mount the pilots and thermocouples now. Then I will be able to do normal 5/10 gallon brews in the garage again. Parts one and two of my build article are posted on homebrewtalk.com . Part three will be the final installment after the project is complete.

I have been using a Picobrew Zymatic in the office for indoor 2.5/3.5 gallon all-grain brews. With 15 batches under my belt on that setup, I’m ready to review it when writing time permits. It is a great little system and I plan to use it whenever weather or time don’t permit full, outside brew days.

Current favorite brews: a clone of Pliny the Elder IIPA, a clone of grapefruit sculpin IPA, my house pale ale, my house vanilla porter, and a clone of Yeti RIS. I know, I need to get more of my own recipes into the rotation when time permits – but the clones are so darn good and I only have five taps!

I’m going to make a real effort to post something here biweekly so folks don’t get the impression that it is an abandoned page. I plan to describe a typical Zymatic brewday. I also want to write a little about some new toys, such as the digital refractometer and the pH meter.  Of course, I’ll have to write about the first brewday on the big rig whenever that is complete. I thought I was going to finish building that this weekend, but there’s a lot of paperwork that will need to be done today instead.

 

 

layout testlayout test WITH FUNCTIONS

Phase one is the construction of this control panel to operate the three burners, heat exchanger, and two pumps that will be installed. Three Mypin PID modules will operate the burners via Honeywell solenoid valves. The Inkbird at the bottom is being used only as a display device. I plan to have the panel cut, the devices mounted, and the wiring completed over the next two weekends

 

Note: I see that I set up the new URL as a redirect so the browser still displays the old blog name. I’ll switch it to a mirror so it shows the new domain name when I’m in a really good mood and time permits.

The great LX850 experiment is complete. I kept the mount significantly longer than usual, which should be interpreted as a hint that I liked it. It performed as expected every time I used it over a period of 2 1/2 years. I captured plenty of images. Now it’s time to move on. In this case, it is really time to move over.  I don’t want to commit to any particular astronomy activities. I’ll put one of the other mounts in the observatory and do some casual DSLR work as time and interest permit, but probably nothing worth writing about. Instead, I’ll be using this blog space to talk about homebrewing because that is what interests me now. I may preserve the astronomy posts in one blog and transfer the brewing posts into a separate blog, or I may leave them combined here. The new URL is www.allminebrewery.com but for now that just takes you here.

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It’s time to begin the final stage of renovations to my home brewery. I’ll be switching to a one tier brewstand with all temperature-controlled burners and a stainless steel mash tun instead of the modified beverage cooler. I’ll be using the same stainless steel boil kettle and HLT/HERMS that I’ve been using. It won’t make better beer, and it won’t make beer faster, but the intent is to make the process more enjoyable and, perhaps, more consistent..  The plan is to do the first brew mid- or late November.

newherms

 

Brewed my standard American pale ale today (a tamer version of Sierra Nevada pale ale). I always keep some of this around but I was a little careless and ran out this week. Now I won’t have any available for a few weeks. I wanted to make a larger batch but since I was testing the new heat exchanger I decided it would be more prudent to keep it down to a 5 gallon batch in case there were any complications.  The new heat exchanger worked great – the 1/2″ tubing permitted much better flow and the system responds much more quickly.

I’ve been using only welded keg fittings until now but I installed these weldless fittings myself and they are perfectly sealed. I won’t hesitate to drill any needed future holes in the kegs. I’ll need at least two in the near future; one in the boil kettle for a whirlpool inlet and one in the hot liquor tank for a thermowell. Please ignore the soot on the keggle; I had tried to soup up the HLT burner and got the orifice too large. After a couple of brews the keg looked like this so I went back down to a smaller orifice. It provides more heat amd no more soot. I just haven’t cleaned the old soot off yet.

 

I ordered the ingredients for my next brew today. It will be a clone of Ballast Point’s grapefruit sculpin. I’m not an IPA fan generally, but that one is wonderful.