The Obligatory Vacation Announcement

Now that it is May 31st I must reiterate the sad news in a more blatant and public manner: orders placed after the 30th will not ship until June 22nd (after we return from DC & NY). This is not because I don’t love you all but instead because I haven’t turned the BBotE rig into a suitcase portable unit yet, something that is a goal for future international travel.

There will be words from the trail no doubt. If you wish to place orders just get in the queue for my return, by all means do so but you have now been properly alerted when things will ship.


Kennedy Space Center Vehicle Assembly Building

Take care, kids. In the meantime, enjoy this picture of the Kennedy Space Center Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) I took a couple years back in honor of Atlantis heading out from it’s final “stand up”.

I simply cannot do justice to how huge this building is. Those doors on the side are tall enough to allow a fully erect Saturn V rocket in and out.

Down To The Wire

Alright, coming up on the next bunch of travel as my Lovely Assistant and I set out for Washington DC, New York City, and the Finger Lakes. This means you now get the obligatory last minute reminders and bits & bobs as I clear the decks.

Your last chance to place orders for BBotE will be this Sunday. For Steins of Science, you’ve got until next Tuesday. If you are in Washington DC or NYC are and would like to save on the shipping costs, let me know so I can do the shipping refund and we can arrange an opportunity to meet up. We are not insane enough to rent a car in either DC or NYC, so mass transit friendly rendezvous is key.

In reference to the Death Wish BBotE, I have to admit that my tongue seems to be the minority opinion. After feeding my bottle to my favorite test subjects, there was near universal appreciation of it. From time to time, I get some complaint that the bulk of the regular offerings of BBotE are medium roasts, not dark. Well, Death Wish seems to have satisfied their dark desire. There was also a rather pronounced harrumph from the BBotE Pimpstress of PDX that she didn’t get a chance to have any before it was all gone. In summation, more will get made when I return from travel.

Just be on the safe side, I do recommend cutting my 100ml/day daily maximum in half for the Death Wish BBotE. The zing is quite noticeable. I couldn’t help but smirk at the generally increased bounciness in the St. George Tasting room and rapid speech from everyone that tasted. To the gents at Death Wish, well played…well played indeed. You’ve got quite the bean.

My parting meditative thought for you today:

There are doctoral theses that actually have made profit based on the number of times they’ve been reprinted, referenced and considered seminal works, but you’ve never heard of them. You’ll never read them. In fact, you’ll probably never even read the papers that reference them because they all live in a classified documents vault that take a Q clearance and compartmentalized permissions to access. Keep this in mind when you start writing your thesis; it’s hard enough to get a thesis done without having to work on it only in a secure facility and finding a faculty committee that has the clearance to actually read it so you can graduate.

BBotE Experimentation: Death Wish Coffee

Know Fear: 750ml of Death Wish Coffee BBotE

Know Fear: 750ml of Death Wish Coffee BBotE

A while back, one Mr. Kristobek presented me with the simple challenge to see how Death Wish Coffee worked out as BBotE, on the principle that one ridiculous thing taken to the power of extreme must, by definition, be More Awesome. I can’t fault this logic and it is the principle to which Funranium Labs is dedicated.

More to the point, the folks at Death Wish have pursued a line of questioning that has been nagging at me since the dawn of BBotE: why don’t we have tastier robusta coffees? We know that the robusta beans can be 2 to 5 times the caffeine content of their arabica cousins and that they will happily grow in climates that arabica would never sprout. If the childhood memory of Li’l Herr Direktor Funranium serves, we actually had some robusta growing in the wild hammock of Erna Nixon Park in Melbourne, FL. One of the wonderful things about robusta coffee plants is that they are rather friendly cultivation-wise which makes for low impact farming. They’re practically weeds they’re so hardy.

The problem is that robusta beans are regarded as tasting almost uniformly awful. Part of the reason that many mass production store bought coffees are cheap (and regarded as crap) is that their arabica beans have been cut with robusta to help bulk out the can. Yes, that sounded like I was discussing crack sales to me too. I’ve gotten kicked out of more roasteries than I can count for breathing the word “robusta” in the presence of their bean roasters, as if it would taint their production.

But I always wondered, there must be some robusta that isn’t as awful. There must be something that can be done to breed for improved flavor while preserving the higher caffeine content. This is precisely what the folks at Death Wish did. Where I went searching for a process to improve coffee to make it more drinkable for me, they went searching for the highest possible caffeine levels they could find and then making a delicious coffee from that.

Some caveats for my rather biased tasting:

  1. I am fond of light roasts, not dark. Even the choicest picked beans taken to a dark roast loses a great deal of flavor as far as I’m concerned.
  2. The original reasons I made BBotE in the first place was because my sweet tooth couldn’t handle the bitterness of arabica coffees without heavy cream & sugar masking, and diabetes had made that impossible. Thus, the average robusta is a no go. The hot perc coffee I made with the Death Wish was undrinkable to me, though others were quite fond.

As both a grind in the process and as straight BBotE liquid, there was a distinct butyl rubber & deep dark coffee aroma in the air, which is characteristic of robusta beans in general. This is the smell of a new respirator if you aren’t familiar with the chemical. It was somewhat muted compared to some other robusta blends I’ve worked with so that was a good sign.

In flavor, both straight and with 1 part straight vodka to 3 part BBotE addition there was an wild green grape metallic-like (go eat one sometime and and see what I mean) & licorice flavor. And then there was a very long, though muted, bitter pinch on the front sides of the tongue. The robusta bad qualities were showing in the long palate, though not cripplingly so.

When diluted with 3:1 with hot water, the grape-metallic flavor and long palate bitterness disappeared, leaving a good strong, dark coffee that finished with long feeling of menthol cool on the tongue. I think it may have made the best pairing with absinthe yet as it pulled a strong root beer flavor.

For all of these tastes, I can most definitely testify that it had more than the normal amount of caffeinated zing. I felt eyelids go a bit wider after a few minutes after my testing sips. ADDENDUM: did not comfortably get to sleep until roughly 2:30am after a half shot. Wow, and this is my caffeine tolerance talking.

When fed to my favorite guinea pigs at St. George Spirits, there was uniform approval with particular props from the apprentice distiller. Half of the crew are fans of dark roasts, they regularly complain that I don’t do enough of them, and the Death Wish BBotE really hit the spot. I would like to note that the “bouncy” level in the tasting room went up a notch and their knob already goes to 11 in there.

So, the end result is impressive caffeine content but not my favorite flavor. Folks well disposed toward dark roasts will probably be quite pleased with it. There are two 750ml bottles of it now in the Prototypes & Clearance section, so help yourself. (EDIT: Oop, not anymore. Both gone within an hour. Fear not though, there has been sufficient whining from the Caffeinatrix of Portland because she didn’t get any that I’ll probably make another batch when I return from DC & NY. Follow up discussion of Death Wish and why there will be more here.)

Last Minute Orders, & Further BBotE Experimentation

The past couple weeks have been rather exciting what with the travel and even more travel coming, with no sign of letting up. That said, I’ve had time to do a little bit of BBotE tinkering that I’d like to share with the collective.

Speaking of more travel, the next leg of Scientific Drinking Tour 2011 is coming up very soon, next week in fact. So, get your orders in by Friday at the latest so I can ship on Monday. After that, my Lovely Assistant and I will be on our way to the reclaimed malarial swamp that is our fair nation’s capital.

Herr Direktor Funranium, Growler & Stein In Hand at Silver Gulch Brewery

Herr Direktor Funranium, Growler & Stein In Hand at Silver Gulch Brewery

From the previous trip on the tour, Fairbanks AK, I give you the Silver Gulch Brewery, America’s northernmost legal brewery (I would be very surprised if there weren’t some small clandestine operations in Point Barrow). Pay no mind to the several miles of what looks like heavy equipment junkyard on the Richardson Highway as you drive from Fairbanks out to them, that’s just the scenic town of Fox. The beer was delicious, particularly the Epicenter Ale, so much so that I had to grab a growler to go for home enjoyment.

With regards to BBotE experimentation, I have begun tinkering with a new medium roast from a small farm in El Salvador. I have to say the flavor has been all over the map and, as always, everyone thinks my nose and tongue are broken. I swear the BBotE made from the Salvadoran has a grape Bubble Yum aroma to it. This got me strange stares as everyone else declared a salty, bacon-y aroma and flavor. On tasting, I agreed with the collective’s assessment, in so much as that I thought it was smoky. Except my smoky made me think of black powder smoke from a Civil War Re-enactment, something I’m quite fond of. In terms of mouthfeel, there was a strange sensation of a pat of flavor/butter sitting in the middle of the tongue, melting off to the sides and letting the whole tongue taste it.

No, that last sentence doesn’t make sense to me either. Describing flavor is hard.

In other news, my samples of Death Wish Coffee are now in process and I hope to have news on how they turned out by the end of the week. The guys at Death Wish have actively pursued one of my earliest questions: we know robusta strains are more hardy and higher caffeine content than arabica coffees, but taste awful. Have we tried to make good tasting robusta? I look forward to seeing the result.

Oh, some discussion with the folks at Caffe Vita seems to indicate that the Guatemala Mundo Nuvo will be returning. I have been lusting for this for nearly nine months now, as has everyone else I let taste the BBotE made from it. It will still be a limited run of BBotE, but there will be quite a bit more than last year. Probably will happen some time in late summer.

Buddies - A 665ml Shiny Brass & A Growler of Epicenter Ale

Buddies - A 665ml Shiny Brass & A Growler of Epicenter Ale

Right, with that, I should probably go play with x-rays again. I leave you with this picture of joy.


In Memoriam: Erik Allen Fitzpatrick (1975-2010)

This was originally written on May 20th, 2010, the day after Erik died beneath the wheels of an Alameda County Transit bus. The original post evaporated between many server migrations, in addition to many of the original links disappearing, so I have recreated it here as best as I can as it something than can be done while traveling (or in an airport). It’s been a day short of a year now, the void is still there, but these days I do a lot more smiling when I see or do something that reminds me of his shenanigans. I like to imagine that the first hoist of every Stein of Science is a toast to Erik. So, cheers and raise ’em high, boys & girls.

Erik Fitzpatrick, better known to The Internets as graymalkn in various dark corners and rock undersides, the wielder of, is no more. He has ceased to be.  You may fill in the rest of the Dead Parrot Sketch quietly to yourself.

Erik Fitpatrick, Playing With Fire (Possibly Going More Bald)

Erik Fitzpatrick, July 4th On Treasure Island, Playing With Fire

Since learning of his unfortunate demise at lunch time, I have spent the afternoon thinking of how very many of the adventures I’ve had in the last fifteen years have either directly involved Erik or been instigated by him.  These are stories that many of you at one time or another have endured at cocktail point as I enter raconteur/bartender mode.  Because I know how much he hated my bullet point posts, allow me to enumerate in no particular order:

  1. An abortive zero-notice drive to Vancouver to get Tim Horton’s doughnuts, that didn’t quite make it much beyond the southern border of Oregon.
  2. Being the loudest thing on Treasure Island for several Fourths of July.
  3. Formalwear Bowling.
  4. Introducing me to Urban Exploring on my return from Antarctica, and thus making The Golden Age of Ording (exploring the former Fort Ord) possible.
  5. The Proud Dwarven Maritime Tradition.
  6. While we are speaking of Steinwielder Humphrey, The Humphrey Room Inconveniencer.  A wonderful study in the limits of slack vs. inconvenience.
  7. A relationship and help recovering at its end.
  8. The inspiration to actually goddamn make something.  There would be no Steins of Science or Black Blood of the Earth without the Typewriter-Keyboard Conversion project.
  9., the second time.  I blame Antarctic dementia for me failing to heed his & Steinwielder Humphrey’s words the first time.
  10. Dry ice bomb detonation of the Death Star.
  11. The friend who prior to my departure thought that my year in Antarctica sounded like the best thing ever, rather than crazy.
  12. Dance, Dance Immolation
  13. A vegetarian willing, on many occasions, to discuss the merits, ethics, logistics, and food preparation concerns of cannibalism.
  14. The man who gave me two copies of Cryptonomicon at the same time so that ONE of them would stay intact long enough for me to complete the book, knowing my previous history destroying that book by accident.  It was just that important to him.
  15. Seriously, Urban Exploring.  I received an angry fist for getting to do Urban Exploring as a part of my job in places he couldn’t get to and nor could I take pictures of to share.  I did a better job decommissioning former nuclear facilities by his inspiration.
  16. Introducing me to Oingo Boingo with their “Farewell”…dammit.
  17. He introduced me to Ole’s Waffles in Alameda.

This is far from an exhaustive list.  Mighty Wurlitzers crop up in it now and then.

More importantly, Erik was a principled man that made a difference.  He worked in schools teaching elementary school kids that science and computers were awesome.  He left a relatively decent job in the games industry to instead be IT and computer education to Walden House.  He was proud of being an poll station monitor.  And then he decided the only way he was really going make the world better by following his dream to become a lawyer.  Next week, he was supposed to start his internship with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Death Penalty Project in Louisiana.

He was going to be a GOOD lawyer.

While most of us were too busy trying to make a buck and make ends meet, Erik found a way to make his daily bread and help many, many more do the same.

And now he is gone.  The world is so much the poorer for his passing.  I was looking forward to voting for him someday.  As a member of my Shadowy Cabal for Global Domination, a public face is necessary to be loved by the masses.  It is good for that love to be genuine, well-earned, and returned by the recipient.

Erik Allen Fitzpatrick, 1975-2010


A Scheduling Observation

Sitting here in Fairbanks, AK on the latest leg of Scientific Drinking Tour 2011 while drinking a stein worth Silver Gulch Brewery‘s Epicenter Ale (took a growler home today), I realized that the next leg in DC and NY is going to be unhelpful to people looking for presents for Father’s Day. This year Father’s Day is on June19th and if you wanted to get a stein for day so he can drink his cares away in a properly cooled style or hep’d up on BBotE, you’ll need to order very soon to get it there in time.

We depart for DC on June 2nd, so all orders will need to be in by the June 1st to get orders in the mail to you. Possibly your father will be understanding about a late gift.

If so, your dad is more forgiving than mine. That’s why my vacation ends on the 18th…

Playing Cops & Robots and Touching Faults, Part 2

The other half of last week’s fun was responding to a request from UC and Berkeley Police Departments to assist them with some training for their bomb squad unit. While they’re quite familiar with what to do with explosives, they wanted to get some practice in with radioactive sources just to work on potential “dirty bomb” responses. Seeing as how I’m the guy with interesting materials at my disposal and have been The Radiation Guy Who Talks To Cops, I got a call.


A Robot Beyond The Drums

A Robot Beyond The Drums - Source Sighted, Box Full Of Thorium Ignored

I set up a nice obstacle course for them to drive the robots through, with some of my favorite sealed sources tucked away out of view behind a whole bunch of waste drums. On the other side of the building, I had the large Cs-137 source put out on the instrument calibration range. Their mission: starting in the middle of the room, head toward the drums and find the sources I’d hidden over there and then drive all the way back to the other end of the room and identify the radioactive source.

Did I mention that over beyond the drums was a somewhat non-descript large cardboard tri-wall box full of uranium/thorium waste? No? Hmm, I failed to mention that to the bomb squads too for some reason.


Sandbagging: Distracted The Robot Operator With Thorough Labeling

Sandbagging: Distracted The Robot Operator With Thorough Labeling

The purpose of test one was a sandbagging exercise to see if I could distract them with shiny, well labeled items to the point that they ignored the very evident higher radiation fields from the cardboard box full of thorium and uranium. The did find my check sources, but when asked them what the dose rate was, they let me know that it was only .3mR/hr but it was a bit higher a bit back. I just kind of stood there quietly while they listened to their own words. They then backed the robot up and went inspecting the box.  When I was asked what the hell was in there, I said that I was pretty sure that they had cameras on that robot that could look for identifying information rather than deploying a dearly precious technician to go read the paperwork.

On the return trip for a look at the large Cs-137 source, I had my technician leave all the transport containers over there, easy to be seen by the camera. The operator homed in on the larger transport container and was rather to disappointed to discover it was empty. I asked him if, like the sealed source, that was the highest field he’d seen. He began searching again and found a lead container that looked suspiciously like it fit inside the larger one.

I had my technician open it up and show the interior to the camera. Empty. The operator grumpily resumes searching.

After five more minutes, he shows me a picture of the calibration stand and says it is somewhere on there. I ask what, specifically, was the source. He opens his mouth, begins to point at the screen, stops, hangs his head and says, “I don’t know. I have no idea what it looks like.”

I gave him a hearty clap on the shoulder and congratulated him on saying the three hardest words in the English language for people in authority. I then had my technician point at the very, very small,unmarked, quite unobtrusive bullet of metal. Radioactive sources don’t necessarily look like anything. Packaging and labeling is what you look for to indicate something is missing or has gone wrong, but the actual source itself may take some finesses with a meter to find. If it is a rather large source, all you’ll really be interested in doing is defining an exclusion area to keep people out of due to high dose rate.

When we were finished with the exercise, I told them all it was about time to pack up their gear. As the officer went to reach for the instrumentation case, I told him, “Uh uh. What do you think you’re doing, officer?”

With some confusion, caught mid-motion of picking up the case, he slowly replied, “Packing…up…our gear?”

I crossed my arms and felt a smirk I remember all too well from the faces of some of my radtech trainers. “Not that way. You have a perfectly good robot to pack all of that with. Reload your cart using the robot.”

The look I got from him will still be treasured when I’m retired and sitting on the porch in my rocking chair. He then nodded and said, “You’re nastier than the FBI was.”

When they finished, I asked the sergeant how often they practiced with these units. His answer: “Not often enough. This has been a serious workout.” I asked if the police, or the City, held picnics or BBQs where they were present. He nodded as if I were a ninny that hadn’t paid attention to the civic calendar ever.

I told him, “Okay, then there is no reason why the Bomb Squad robot isn’t there serving beer and soda to people. I mean, c’mon, it’s a frickin’ robot, guys! This is a goodwill goldmine in a way that a K-9 unit never will be. It is a chance for you to practice while impressing the bejeezus out of kids. Also, make sure to check if your manipulator arm will crush a beer bottle first. Important safety tip.”

As we were loading everything back into the truck I gave them my take home message, which is very similar to that I’ve been giving for Fukushima reactor problems: never forget the latency of what you’re working with. The explosive will always take priority over the radioactive material as the kaboom will kill you dead immediately. I can always decontaminate things and people later; it may not be quick, it definitely won’t be cheap, but cleaning up rad is what people like me are for. What I can’t do is unexplode people, which is why we have a Bomb Squad.


Test Subject Vivian at the helm of the BPB Bomb Squad Bot

Test Subject Vivian at the helm of the BPD Bomb Squad Bot

So, if you’re at some future Berkeley civic function where beverages might be served, look out for your friendly robo-server and say hello to the guys driving it. They’re fun guys doing a tricky job, though a bit PR-impaired, bless their hearts.


United Airlines Business Class

Oh, International Business Class. Will I ever get to sit in you again?

Tickets are officially purchased for upcoming the May and June parts of the 2011 Scientific Drinking Tour plus a new addition in September! This is your opportunity to get direct hand off of either Steins of Science or BBotE while we’re on the road. They more detailed itinerary looks like this:

May 12th-17th: Fairbanks, AK

We will most definitely be going to the Silver Gulch Brewery in addition to My Lovely Assistant’s sister’s graduation from University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

June 2nd-8th: Washington, DC

Well, more properly staying in Arlington, VA but there will be much nerding about in our nation’s capital. A trip to the Confederacy’s capital might happen.

June 8th-14th: New York City, NY

Again, more properly we’ll be staying in Brooklyn but we’ll be all over the place. It is guaranteed that we will be going to the Big Apple BBQ Block Party. A trip to Brookhaven National Laboratory has been discussed. One of those nights at a location yet to be determined, there will be a meeting of the Shadowy Cabal For World Domination (NYC Chapter). I expect great things will happen around this table. At the very, least some Steins of Science will be hoisted with delicious beer.

June 14th-18th: Penn Yan, NY

Visiting My Lovely Assistant’s extended family in Finger Lakes. Oh yes, I am looking forward to the Mennonite beer. It is possible that we could be tempted to say hello to Rochester.

September 2nd-5th Portland, OR

PDXYAR succeeded in their Kickstarter project to build their boat/stage (AKA El Tiburon) which means we’ve got tickets to go to the Portland Pirate Festival. I’ll be danged if’n I ain’t going.