Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bottled the Hefeweizen

We brew our own beer.

Yesterday I bottled a batch of Hefeweizen that had been fermenting for the last month. I'm a fan of Hefeweizens, so I'm eager to figure out a homebrew "Hefe" recipe for my everyday beer. The bottling went smoothly; there were no mishaps and I got all 48 bottles' worth out of the fermenter. This was a batch of MoreBeer's malt extract based Hefeweizen kit. We tried a small sample, and it looked, tasted, and smelled like a Hefeweizen should, so I'm optimistic about the final result after the beer "mellows" and carbonates for a couple weeks in the bottles. I'm especially happy that the banana overtones are noticeable, since that was what I was going for.

Now we don't have any beer brewing, which is unusual. We still have some of the last three batches, plus these 48 Hefes, so I don't think we need to start another batch too soon. It's always challenging to decide when to brew a batch since the whole process takes 5-6 weeks, and we need to have enough empty bottles on hand when the fermenting is done 4 weeks in. Right now bottles are our biggest obstacle since my bottle scavenging has hit a dry spell for the last couple months.

Since this is our first post about home brewing, I'll give a couple references. My primary references are John Palmer's online book How to Brew, and the HomeBrewTalk forum. I get my supplies from and O'Shea Brewing in Laguna Niguel.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Selling clutter-books on Amazon

Lately I've been weeding out possessions I don't really need as part of my quest to simplify things. I've been a working student my whole adult life, so I haven't accumulated a whole lot of "stuff." However I have found some things to get rid of: media I don't need or like any more, semi-obsolete computer parts, and materials for hobbies I no longer practice.

Most of these things have very little value, so I donate or recycle them. But a few seem valuable enough that I ought to sell them. I don't have a lot of time or energy for this, so I try to sell this stuff in ways that are fast and painless, even if I don't maximize the proceeds. I've been happy selling books through Amazon's used book marketplace and shipping them with USPS flat rate envelopes.

My process works like this:
  • Find the book's page on Amazon, enter the book's condition (e.g. "Used - Good"), and a brief description (e.g. "Crease on cover"), and my price. I usually set my price so my book is one of the cheapest available.
  • Wait for an email from Amazon saying that a book sold.
  • Go to Amazon's page and print an invoice for the book.
  • Put the book and invoice in a Flat Rate Envelope.
  • Go to the USPS web page and use their "Click'n'Ship" facility to buy flat rate postage and print a shipping label.
  • Tape the label to the envelope and drop it in a mailbox.
  • Go back to Amazon's page and send the buyer a message with the tracking number.
After some practice this only takes about 5 or 10 minutes per book. I've found it helps to keep a "workstation," with a pile of the envelopes and a roll of packing tape, near the printer.

The beauty of this system is that once it's set up, I can sell books without interacting with customers or leaving the house!

Friday, January 25, 2008

The philosophy behind the blog

Kevin has been extremely good about posting here. I have not, but plan to remedy that. As you may have noticed, we are making a concerted effort to make things ourselves and rely less on the hyper-materialistic consumer machine. What we've found is that making things ourselves is not only cheaper, and more satisfying, but is also easier in many circumstances. With a well stocked pantry or refrigerator, we can start a new batch of yogurt or a new loaf of bread with much less effort than it would take to drive to the grocery store and buy one.

What we haven't spoke of is what caused this shift in our thinking-- from one of running with the pack mentality of consumerism to a life of voluntary simplicity and frugality. Living in Orange County, CA has definitely tinged my outlook on life in a variety of ways. We are surrounded by wealth, excess, narcissism, and selfishness every time we step out of our front door, and have chosen to create a world of our own that is decidedly dissimilar from the rest. We hope to one day live in a place that more closely echoes out ethos, but for now, we are making the best of it.

We would also be entirely remiss if we don't mention the book that really started it all for us: The Simple Living Guide, by Janet Luhrs. This book really taught us that every day you have a choice about how you want to live your life. Voluntary simplicity can take many forms for different people, but for us, as a young couple just starting out, it means that we will never aspire to the "keeping up with the Jones'" mentality that traps so many people in this country in debt and despair. We hope to give you all some good tips for doing the same.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

One nice thing about media PCs

We use "media PCs" -- regular computers in the role of media appliances -- instead of conventional electronics like TVs, DVD players, and TiVo boxes. I'll probably describe our whole setup in a future post, as well as sketch out the trials and tribulations of running a multi-node MythTV setup.

Recently the DVD drive in our living room computer has had trouble reading a lot of discs. I think it's worn out. I tried rummaging for a DVD drive in our housing complex's electronics recycling pile but didn't find anything, so I'll probably order the cheapest drive I can find on Newegg.

This made me realize a hidden benefit to using media PCs instead of consumer electronics: it's possible to repair and upgrade computers. Consumer electronics like DVD players are not designed to be serviced and replacement parts are not available, so if we owned a regular DVD player instead of our media PC we'd have to throw the whole thing away and buy a whole new DVD player (about $75 new). Instead we only have to discard a 5.25" DVD drive and buy a new one (about $20 new, and easy to find used or even free).

When I set up our media PCs it seemed like a pure extravagance, but it turns out that we exchanged a need for "throwaway" products for equipment that can be maintained easily and cheaply. So maybe using maintainable equipment like old PCs is defensible even when it's overkill for the task at hand.

I wonder if this is true in other areas -- for instance, using an industrial-grade stove or clothes washer that's designed to be kept in service for a long time.