A Long Overdue Update

It’s hard to believe the last time I created a blog post was Thanksgiving of 2015. That was almost 3 months ago! I have been super delinquent about getting any kind of blog posts since then. A lot’s happened in the last three months.

Beer Brewing

Just before Christmas break, I put my American Pale ale into the secondary fermentation vessel and bottled the Belgian White that was in secondary.

Unfortunately I didn’t use enough priming sugar for the Belgian white when I bottled as it failed to fully carbonate. It tastes great considering I scorched the wart when I cooked it and there’s hardly any head formation. It’s certainly a recipe I’ll try again, but next time I’ll use more priming sugar and I’ll be a bit more careful with the malt.

The American Pale ale has been sitting in secondary since December, so it’s ready to bottle. At some point I’ll get to it, I’ve been rather busy since the start of the new year.

Eventually I plan on making a keezer so I can keg my beer instead of bottling it. It’s a bit of an added expense, but kegging beer will be way easier than  bottling and using priming sugar. I’ll have a bit more control over the carbonation.

2015-12-01 19.18.54.jpg
These Kegs Need Beer in Them!


Christmas was a blur, it’s hard to believe it passed by so quickly. That being said, I got in a few days of much needed snowboarding.

2015-12-30 10.59.59.jpg
Beautiful Day at Sunshine Village


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The Canadian Rockies

I saw lots of family and friends back home but like always, the break wasn’t long enough, and soon enough I found myself back in Detroit for the new year.

2016 and Going Forward

This year I started my Master’s in Mechanical Engineering at Wayne State. Right now I’m only doing one course, however with school in the evening on top of working during the day, life has gotten busy.

Unfortunately for the next couple of months I’m going to be busy, school takes up a significant amount of time aside from  work, so my free time has been significantly reduced.

Ideally once this semester is over, I’ll have a bit more time to get back into some of my hobbies over the summer. A few things I want to work on:

  • Keezer – Converter chest freezer for serving kegged beer
  • Grind Rail – Small flat bar rail for skateboarding. I’ve been thinking about learning to weld for some time, so this rail would be a good starting point.
  • Skateboarding – With it being winter and all, this has taken a back seat. Looking forward to doing a lot more once summer is back!

Other Ideas

In the past, I had done a blog on investing and managing money, however I lost the motivation to continue on as I didn’t really have a good focus for the blog. Since I stopped doing that blog a couple years back, I feel like I’ve done a few things that might be of value to the internet.

I’m hoping to throw some posts in here and there about money management and finances. I realize there’s already a lot of literature about money and finances, but at the same time, I feel like it doesn’t hurt to throw out a few ideas for money management.

All in all, 2016 has been busy to say the least. More to come in the future!





Thanksgiving, Beer Brewing, and a bit of DIY

Thanksgiving in Texas

Even though it’s been some time since Thanksgiving, I found myself in Dallas during Thanksgiving (or the day before Black Friday, depending on what’s more important). Despite the fact that I got sick the night before, I found my first experience in the Lone Star State quite enjoyable.

I’m guessing to no one’s surprise, everything is over the top in Texas. While I didn’t get a chance to experience everything that’s “bigger in Texas”, I did get a chance to enjoy the new James Bond film Spectre the way I want to experience all movies on the big screen in the future.

Like a lot of places in Dallas, typically ordinary venues can be quite extravagant. Take for example your typical driving range. Nothing too exciting, right? Well, it can be quite the event in Dallas. We stopped at the Top Golf facility just to see what it was like. It’s by far one of the most lavish driving ranges I’d been to. How could you go wrong with a restaurant, a bar, and electronic chips in golf balls all in the same place? Sadly, we only checked out the facility and the amenities. Even though the stalls were heated it was quite chilly outside, so we chose not to play. If (AKA when) I go back to Dallas, I’ll be hitting some golf balls at this high tech driving range.

When I went to see Spectre, I saw it at the iPic Theatre. While watching a movie on the big screen is always a good time, watching a movie on the big screen in a plush recliner with a blanket, a nice pint of beer and an appetizer (or main course, if you desire) is the best way to watch a movie. I really wish I was watching the upcoming Star Wars that way. While it can be a bit pricey, it’s well worth the additional cost in my opinion.

My mom (bottom right), Aunt (bottom left), my sister (top right) and me (top left) getting comfy for Spectre.
My mom (bottom right), Aunt (bottom left), my sister (top right) and me (top left) getting comfy for Spectre.
That pint of beer was mighty delicious.
That pint of beer was mighty delicious.

All in all, Texas is quite the place. I didn’t get to experience everything it has to offer since I was only there for 3 days, but I look forward to heading back in the future.

Upcoming Brews

My beer supply has been (not surprisingly) diminishing. Prior to Thanksgiving I hadn’t been able to brew much, since I’ve been back I’ve upped my soon to be ready supply. So what’s on tap?

Almond Joy Porter

This one was a bit of a nuisance since the recipe called for orange peel and coriander during the boil. Transferring the wort to the primary fermenter was a mess, since the pulpy remainder of coriander, orange peel, and hops kept clogging up the siphon hose. Also the fermentation called for hazelnut flavor, which I added to the primary and shredded almond, which I put in a grain bag and added to the secondary. It’s in bottles and should be ready in the new year.

Almond Joy Porter in Secondary
Almond Joy Porter in Secondary (The bag contains coconut)

Belgium White

The Belgium white taught me a valuable lesson: If I’m pouring malt extract into the brew pot, take it off the heat. I’m not sure how I didn’t figure this out before, but I scorched the malt extract. As least I learned how to clean a scorched pot. 1 part water, 1 part vinegar, and a lot of elbow grease.

A Nicely Scorched Pot
A nicely scorched pot. Guess where the burners were?
All Clean!
All Clean!

The scorching might give the ale a bit of a different flavor, though I can market it as a “toasty” flavor. I have yet to see if this completely throws off the flavor of the beer. If so, lesson learned. The real test will be not making the same mistake twice.

Detroit Steam Pale Ale

This one was a pale ale and I enlisted the help of a friend to assist me in brewing this batch. A helping hand makes things go a lot quicker and it makes it a lot more fun. Right now it’s primary fermentation, I’ll be transferring it to secondary very soon.

Differing Specific Gravities
Differing specific gravity of the water and the wort.

I got the chance to try out my new hop spider, which I’ll take about in the upcoming section.

A Bit of DIY

The Hop Spider

After my experience with the pulpy mess making my almond joy porter, I discovered that some home brewers use what’s called a “hop spider”. This is basically a mesh bag that allows the hops and additional ingredients to break apart and absorb into the wort while keeping them contained in the bag. It keeps the pulp at bay. Some purists may argue that you lose some flavor, though for now I’ll go for less clean up.

It was pretty easy to put together. The parts list is below.

  • PVC Pipe Reducer (I used a 4″ to 3″)
  • Worm gear clamp
  • 3 stainless steel carriage bolts, nuts, and washers
  • Paint straining bag
Everything needed for a Hop Spider
Everything needed for a Hop Spider

I picked everything up at home depot. All that’s required is drilling holes through the PVC reducer to fit the carriage bolts through. The only tool needed is an electric drill. Once I put it together, I tried it out while making the Detroit Steam Pale Ale recipe. It worked like a charm!

Hop Spider in Action
Hop Spider in Action

It held back the hoppy pulp that’s created after the hops break apart during the boil. It made transferring the wort into the primary fermentation vessel a heck of a lot easier, considering that it didn’t clog the siphon hose.

Garage Floor Containment Mat

In an effort to keep my garage floor somewhat dry during the winter, I decided to put a garage floor mat together. There are garage floor mats you can purchase for +$300, whereas I figured I would make my own. It’s not the best solution by any means, but I figured it’s a good temporary system for holding any melting snow and water at bay that falls off my truck in my garage. At least then just maybe I can keep the other side dry for some workshop space.

I used the following for the mat:

  • Large Tarp (20′ x 30′ tarp from Home Depot)
  • 2″ x 4″ lumber
  • Staples

There should be enough of a lip to keep the water at bay. The materials themselves were about $60, so if it turns out to be an utter failure, well at least I learned a few things along the way.

The Frame:

I used 9′ sections of 2″ x 4″ lumber to make the frame. I left ~2″ between the two side sections so that the mat can be sorta folded to contain the water should I try to drain it during the spring when the snow starts melting.

Frame of the Garage Mat
Frame of the Garage Mat

I laid the tarp underneath and lined up the tarp with the lower right corner. I left some of the tarp hanging over the side so I could roll it over the 2″ x 4″ and staple it into place. I put staples into the frames at about 1′ apart.

Tarp Laid Out
Tarp Laid Out

I cut the tarp to size and stapled it to the frame. There was a good amount of extra tarp left over, which I would discover I needed later on.

Flipped Over and Stapled
Flipped Over and Stapled
It Fits my Truck
My Truck Fits!

I learned a few lessons the hard way. The first one is that I should have assembled it right side up. I assembled it upside down, then tried to flip it over by myself. That was a really bad idea. The corners of the tarp ripped during the process of flipping it over. I ended up doing some patch work with the tarp I removed. I cut some sections of the leftover tarp and stapled them over the sections that ripped. I also got some silicone caulk and sealed around the sections that were ripped. I did some sealing around the rear and left side edges since the water tends to flow that way. We’ll see how it works for the time being, it ended up being a bit of a hacked up DIY. Knowing what I know now, I think I could make another that looks a bit cleaner in the future. But I only have plans to keep it for short term, so it doesn’t have to last forever.

The Near Future

I’m hoping to get back into my Beaglebone Black as I’ve got some ideas for projects in the near future. I keep telling myself I’m going to get better at using sensors for controls based projects. The timelapse project is still on my mind. The temperature logger I put together was going to be used for beer brewing, however I never got around to getting myself a better soldering iron or making myself a decent work station for electronics projects.

I also plan to build a keezer! For those who don’t know, this is a chest freezer that’s converted into a refrigerator to hold kegs and a CO2 tank. Here’s an example of what I’d like to do. I’ve discovered that even though kegging might be a bit more costly initially, it saves a lot of time considering there’s no bottling to do. The perfect at home draft beer system.

I’ve got lots of ideas for the New Years. I’m starting my Masters in January, so it looks like life is about to get really busy!

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Looking into the Future: The Pursuit of Cheap Speed

In my previous post, I had eluded to the difficult pursuit of cheap speed. (Read it here.)

Briefly stated, it’s really challenging to get high performance on a budget. For the most part, if you want a fast car, plan on forking out some money for it.

So What Am I Trying to Do?

I’m trying to figure out a way to get a “fun to drive” car at a relatively low price. While this is difficult, it’s not necessarily impossible.

Basically, you build your own car. This can also be considered the “kit car” approach, however in my case, I’m not looking to make a replica of a Ferrari, or Lamborghini, or any kind of high performance car out there. The amount it would cost to make a comparable replica of one of these cars, you’re almost better just to buy an actual brand name car and save the time putting it together.

The real trade off is the monumental amount of time you will spend building and customizing the car. For a lot of people, the amount of time spent building this kind of car is not worth the difference in terms of buying a car that already performs to your hearts desire.

Note: If you’re looking for very high performance in terms of top speed, very high horsepower, and sub 3 second 0-60 mph times, a great alternative to a $300,000 Lamborghini is the Factory Five GTM. While it’s technically a kit car, sourcing some high performance Chevrolet Corvette Drivetrain Parts and using a donor Corvette C5 can get you a Supercar that costs less than $100,000. But I digress, that’s not the point of the discussion.

What I would like to Build?

After a lot of research, my plan is to try and take on building a kit car that is commonly known on the internet as the “Locost 7”. This is a design that’s based on the Lotus 7 designed by Colin Chapman back in 1957 as a basic, lightweight race car. It was designed to race on the Formula 2 circuit. As always, there’s way more info on the original Lotus 7 here.

1970 Lotus 7

The reason I’m looking into this car is it’s relatively simple design. It was designed to be a basic sports car, one that hardly packs any weight. When looking at performance, if you can’t increase your engine performance, you can decrease your weight.

A “Locost 7” is a replica design of the Lotus 7, jokingly named “Lo cost” because it can be built for a relatively small amount of money. Many people have managed to build these for well under $10,000. A book by Ron Champion is called “Build Your Own Sports Car For As Little As £250 and Race it!“. The main premise of the book is finding a suitable donor car and selling the components you don’t use from your donor to offset the project car. I think £250 in today’s terms is unrealistic. By the sounds of it he’s coming out with an updated version that sets the limit at £1,000. While this sounds challenging, it seems a little bit more realistic.

The frame is a simple space frame made of steel square tube, which is relatively cheap. Then if you can pull a lot of the parts out of an inexpensive donor car, the overall cost becomes fairly reasonable. From the LocostUSA forum, most builders indicate that their costs can be from about $5,000 to $9,000, depending on how you source your parts. If you can keep the design as basic as possible, you can end up with a fun car to drive that is fairly unique.

The Plan

A few things need to happen before this project goes forward:

I need more workshop space.

Typically a project like this requires a garage that can house not only the kit car as it’s being built, but also the donor car being used. This means at least a two car garage is required. As much as I’d like to start right away, I simply don’t have the space.

I need more tools.

To take on a project like this you need a serious assortment of tools to complete the build. Tools are a key part and like so many things in life, you get what you pay for. If you want good tools that don’t wear out, you’re going to have to pay higher prices. I have yet to build any kind of major tool collection. Tools = $$$.

I need more workshop skills.

While I’ve turned a couple of wrenches in my life, a project like this requires a lot of workshop skills. A lot of people who didn’t have much for workshop skills have completed these kinds of projects and treated the project as a learning experience, building the skills as they go. I’m certainly ok with that approach, I just need to budget for the inevitable set backs from making mistakes from not having the best workshop skill set.

I need to figure out exactly what I want.

If I start something like this, I want to have a good vision of at least what I want the end result to be. I understand there are always inevitable changes that occur throughout a project like this, but I still want a good vision of the end result so I’m not changing what I’m working on halfway through. A lack of vision is usually a recipe for failure, since you end up abandoning a project when you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve.

I need to set a financial target.

With projects like these, the sky’s the limit in terms of how much you choose to throw into this project. There are a lot of costs to consider however.

  • Donor Car Cost
  • Performance Part Costs
  • Tool Costs
  • Costs of hiring an expert for certain jobs
  • Time (not necessarily financial, but there are convoluted ways of arguing that your time is worth money…)

Of course, all these amounts differ depending on what the end result is. There are a number of questions that need to be answered:

  • When do I want this completed?
  • How well do I want the car to perform?
    • What kind of specs do I want to have?
    • How do I plan to use this car? (Race or just have fun?)
  • How much time am I willing to put in to completing it?

The Conclusion

Overall, I know this is something I want to do in the future, however for the time being there’s still a lot of questions that need to be answered. I don’t foresee myself starting the actual building for quite a while since it’s likely going to be a while before I have the dough to start. In the meantime, I can get a better sense of what I want. This will make it easier to figure out a timeline and an approximate cost of the project.

Sports Cars: What Does Your Money Really Get You?

Cheap speed. Rarely often do you hear these two words go together in the automotive world. I could go on as to the many reasons as to why this is, however the short answer is simply that more power means more money.

Performance Cars Today

Today there’s an unprecedented offering of sports cars to anyone wanting something with a bit more pep than your average car. You can spend anywhere from $1,000 for a used sports car to upwards of $3 million for that ultra-high performance ultra-luxury machine. There’s something for everyone.

Who wouldn’t love this $4 million Lamborghini Veneno Roadster in their driveway?

Typically the motivations for buying sports cars vary from person to person, but I’ve found the predominant factors people look at when purchasing a sports car (in my opinion) are as follows:

  • Performance and Feel
    • 0-60 mph acceleration
    • top speed
    • handling
  • Luxury and Appearance
  • Exclusivity

Typically, sports cars are not practical, fuel economy friendly, or inexpensive. This means you typically have a smaller subset of people willing to fork out the money for a sports car. Remember, everyone has their reasons and I’m not claiming to be an absolute authority on why people buy cars.

For me, if I was to purchase a sports car, it’s purely for it’s performance. It’s not because it’s luxurious and happens to have these performance characteristics, it’s because it performs like a race car. So when I look at sports cars, I look for the best performance I can get for the price. While brand plays some part, my argument is for a sports car that doesn’t break the bank. What breaks the bank is subjective. $30,000 is a lot of money to me, however to others that’s a pittance. There’s multiple ways of looking at this, however for sake of argument I’m only looking at a couple of factors which I’ll indicate below.

Examining Sports Car Performance

When you examine the kinds of sports cars out there, you can see a few trends that emerge. Of the cars I’ve looked at, it’s pretty evident I’ve picked a number of cars I will most likely never be able to afford, but it’s more to illustrate the point between speed and cost.

Model Price
1998 Chevrolet Malibu $         15,670.00
2015 Ford Mustang GT $         32,000.00
2016 Chevrolet Camaro SS $         33,355.00
2014 Dodge Challenger SRT8 $         44,685.00
2016 Shelby GT350R $         63,000.00
2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 $         83,000.00
2014 BMW M6 $       118,195.00
2014 Lamborghini Huracan $       240,745.00
2014 Ferrari F458 Speciale $       291,744.00
2015 Lamborghini Aventador $       441,600.00
2012 Gumpert Apollo $       550,000.00
2012 Pagani Huayra $   1,400,000.00
2014 Koenigsegg Agera R $   1,520,000.00
2012 Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse $   1,819,961.00
2015 Ferrari FXX K $   2,369,180.00

Note: These are not absolute prices, it’s based on a quick search of Google. There’s a lot of conflicting information out there.

As you can see, I’ve tried to pick an assortment of sports cars. I know the Malibu is not a sports car by any means, I just wanted to illustrate where it fits in the performance spectrum, just to show how far off my old car was from any semblance of performance. Also you can see my bias towards Italian Sports cars.

I put down a bunch of data to show a few different points in relation to the sports cars listed above. The main points I’m going to focus on are performance based, including 0-60 MPH times and top speed. If you really want to scrutinize racing attributes, there’s also cornering abilities, such as how many g’s it can pull in a turn, handling, 1/4 mile times, etc… I’m trying to keep it somewhat simple.

Brace yourself, graphs are ahead.

Most of the following graphs are pretty trivial, however lets look at a few. Remember when looking at these is that they are meant more than anything to show general trends and relationships between different parameters, they are not meant to be absolute numbers.

Top Speed of Given Sports Cars
Top Speed of Given Sports Cars
Horsepower of Given Cars
Horsepower of Given Cars
0-60 MPH Times for Given Cars
Curb Weight of Given Cars
Curb Weight of Given Cars

These all show three pretty trivial facts. More money means higher top speed, higher horsepower, lower 0-60 MPH times, and (in general) lower curb weights.

Deeper Analysis

While these are one way of looking at it, I feel like performance parameters can be scrutinized a bit more. For example, when considering the engineering aspects of a performance car, how can acceleration times be decreased? If two engines are the same size, the engine that has less weight to propel into motion is going to reach 60 MPH faster than the engine with more weight. Try going from a standstill to 35 mph on a beefy downhill mountain bike versus a lightweight road bike. Same principle with an engine.

A good way of looking at efficient performance is to look at the weight of the sports car as a ratio to the engine horsepower. I like looking at this metric the most, because this is where you can start to uncover bargains in performance. You can tell how much weight an engine has to move on a per unit horsepower basis. Lower is obviously better.

Weight to Power Ratios for Given Cars
Weight to Power Ratios for Given Cars

Clearly, we see the same conclusion. More money equals lower power to weight ratios. One interesting point comes up though. As you can see, the 2015 Corvette Z06 has a power to weight ratio of 5.4 LBS/HP, whereas the close by Lamborghini Huracan has a power to weight ratio of 5.2 LBS/HP. The Lamborghini Huracan costs $240,745, whereas the base Z06 starts at $83,000. You get (close to) Lamborghini Performance in a Corvette at almost 1/3rd the price!

Another place we can look is at the dollar amount per horsepower of performance. Here, you get a good look at the dollar value per horsepower. It tells the same story as we’ve been seeing, higher priced cars means you pay a premium for each horse.

$/Horsepower of Given Cars
$/Horsepower of Given Cars

Again, the interesting thing to see is that the Corvette shows the same conclusion we saw before. For comparable performance, it’s almost a 1/3rd the price!

The main thing I want to start looking at is the cost versus our performance characteristics.

Cost Vs. 0-60 MPH Times for Given Cars
Cost Vs. Top Speed
Cost Vs. Top Speed

These both show that essential in the performance world, after about $100,000, you’re incremental performance gains are fairly minimal. After the $100,000 mark, you’re essential paying for the design, luxury, and exclusivity.

Remember, this is my take on it. I haven’t done an exhaustive analysis of all sports cars out there, nor have I looked at the multiple performance parameters that should be assessed when looking at sports cars.

In the end, it all comes down to what you choose to look at and what you consider important

You can see that I only chose to look at top speed and engine horsepower. I didn’t analyze a number of sports car dynamics (e.g. corner abilities), quality and manufacturing volumes of components on cars, component materials, etc… For example, the 2015 Mustang GT has a lower price point than a Ferrari FXX K, however they made over 87,000 Mustangs, whereas they’re only making 32 Ferrari FXX K’s. The Mustang is a working man’s sports car, whereas the Ferrari FXX K is a car for the super elite, a place most of us will likely never make it to. There are two completely different markets. Different markets drive different engineering decisions when it comes to cars, such as manufacturing volumes, design complexities, manufacturing approaches, and product line lifetimes. Hence, the Mustang GT starts at around $30,000, the Ferrari FXX K starts at above $2,000,000.

Where is this all going?

From my last post, I had alluded to a new project I’m doing research on at the moment. While I had been looking for some kind of sports car to have some fun with, I ended up buying a truck instead, which has temporarily put the kibosh on any other major expense. Funny how new cars have a tendency to do that.

What am I looking for?

After the exhaustive analysis done above, I’ve figured out a few things.

  1. I want something that goes fast. That being said, do I need it to go up to 200 MPH? No. My focus is on acceleration.
  2. I will never be able to justify +$100,000 on a car. Considering you can get a Corvette Z06 that accelerates from 0-60 MPH in under three seconds for less than $100,000, I can’t justify spending more than that.
  3. To be honest, I struggle to justify spending more than $30,000 on a car that’s practical as a daily driver. A sports car performs and that’s about it. Is it practical? I would argue no, but that’s my point of view.

So accepting that I want to go fast but don’t want to spend a lot of money, where does that leave me?

Here’s where I introduce the Lotus 7.

Check out my next post as to how I plan to get past the cheap speed dilemma. I’m arguing cheap speed exists, even if I’m choosing to make it more complicated than it needs to be.


Changing Priorities

Once again I’ve gotten off schedule with my regular posts. That being said, a lot has happened in the last little while.

The Car Hunt

I had been on the hunt for a mid 1970s Corvette back in September. I had looked at a couple of potential candidates, however I found that of the ones I looked at, there were a couple issues that I couldn’t get past. My biggest issue was the fact that there was more rust that I was prepared to put up with. One of the things I discovered is that when ads say “no rust” that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no rust on the car. People have different interpretations of what “no rust” means. The truth is with cars that are 40 years old, there’s bound to be some rust somewhere on the car. You just have to know how much rust you’re prepared to put up with.

I did a lot of scrutinizing over the cars that were in my price range, but based on the research I’d done, I didn’t find any that matched my expectations. I understood that it was going to take a while to find the right one, but based on my expertise at working with cars and previous restoration experience (which was essentially none) I didn’t find the car that fit my expectations.

My Daily Driver

The car I’d been using for my daily driver had started to give me issues a couple weeks back just before I went to Toronto for the weekend. I got a low coolant indicator on my dashboard. One of the things that concerned me was that I wasn’t seeing any indication of a coolant leak underneath the car. After some research I checked my rear tailpipe and had confirmed that I had a leaking head gasket. There was white wisps of smoke coming out of the exhaust, indicating that coolant was leaking through the gasket. Bad news.

After more research, I discovered that fixing a head gasket wasn’t something I could easily do myself and that it was likely to run ~$1,000 to fix. Maybe if I got multiple quotes I might have been able to get a slightly better price, but everyone I talked to had told me it was an expensive repair.

Sadly, my car was running on borrowed time. The exhaust and muffler needed to be replaced which was going to be about $200 in parts, the head gasket needed to be replaced, which was going to run about $1,000, and the climate system wasn’t working. After 15 minutes of running the AC I would lose all airflow. I wasn’t able to find a root cause as to the climate system, which meant this could have turned into a costly repair. I had already put enough money into replacing the brake calipers and rotors, replacing two wheel bearings, and replacing the rear struts. Considering the car itself wasn’t worth that much, it was starting to ramp up in maintenance costs. It was going to start costing more money than it was worth.

Next Steps

As much as I wanted to get the Corvette, I knew that I needed to get a daily driver. My car was running on borrowed time and I wasn’t sure how long it would be before other things started to break down. I also was in the unfortunate position of not being able to sell the car since I’d imported it into the US. It would have cost more money to get it to the standard required to sell it than I could have sold it for, so there was no point in trying to sell it.

So what were my options?

  1. Fork out the money to fix up my daily driver
  2. Buy a used vehicle.
  3. Buy a new vehicle.

Take a wild guess at which one I chose…

I picked the option I never thought I’d do…I opted to buy a new vehicle.

The Malibu before Mother Waddles picked her up. I was sad to see her go :(
The Malibu before Mother Waddles picked her up. I was sad to see her go 😦

Serious Contemplation

Many would argue that the purchase of a new car is a bad choice. There are so many arguments for and against purchasing a new vehicle and I’m not going to get into them here. All you have to do is search Google and you can find countless articles that can convince you one way or the other.

The thing I looked as is that I nee to build credit history in the US. Ever since I’ve gotten here, I’ve found that my lack of credit history has made things such as banking and obtaining credit incredibly difficult. My rational is that if I going to be here for a while, I may as well build the credit history by financing a new car. I realize that there are many other ways to build credit history as well, yet this was a personal decision, and being that I was now a part of the auto industry, I wanted to get a sense of what a new car really felt like.

Now that the Corvette was sadly going to be off the table for some time, I asked myself what I was really after. The Corvette had the allure of being the cool classic sports car with the big powerful motor. My plan had been to make it go fast. So if that was no longer an option, what was the next logical choice? Considering I work at Ford, the choice was pretty obvious…

She’s calling my name… (image source: huntleyvoice.com/2015-mustang-gt)

The 2015 Mustang GT is a beautiful car. The 5.0 L engine puts out 435 HP and 400 Ft-Lbs of torque, which would have made for a wickedly fun ride. It looked good and would have been so much fun to drive. I had seriously contemplated buying this car.

So why did I hesitate?

Because in my mind, the reason you purchase a car like this is to go FAST. You buy a Mustang GT for the performance. The thing I thought about then, is “where am I going to use this performance?” Honestly I’d probably use it to accelerate from 0-45 MPH very quickly, then list along feeling somewhat dissatisfied everywhere I go. Also, since I tend to base the majority of my thinking on Murphy’s law, I figured any time I really did push the performance of this car, I was likely to get caught. Last thing I needed after getting a new car is getting taxed due to my happily heavy foot.

Basically, if I was going to get a Mustang, I wanted to drive it, yet the problem was is I wasn’t likely going to use it for it’s intended purpose. Considering this was going to be a $30,000 daily driver, I figured I wouldn’t be super thrilled at taking it out in the snow and the rain, nor was I going to have the fun I wanted. So I ruled the Mustang out early.

After all this, I learned that all I really want is something I can go fast in without worrying about the consequences, also known as “cheap speed”.

So what were the other options?

Down to the Final Two.

While I likely wasn’t going to have the performance monster I wanted, I figured it would still be fun to have a stick shift. The next option was the Ford Focus ST.

Courtesy of Prettycarz.com

Again, another sporty option with a standard transmission. This would have been a fun car to drive, without quite the price tag of the Mustang (or so I thought). This made it down to the two cars I was looking into.

However once I started looking more into this car, I started to realize that it wasn’t going to be quite the performer I wanted. It would have been a fun car to drive, but I found that the price of the few remaining 2015’s were only about $4,000 less than the Mustang. With this small of a price difference, I may as well go with the Mustang. While it would have been fun as well, it was lacking in a few features and I found the insurance was going to be more expensive than the other vehicle I was looking at.

What did I end up getting?

Considering the incentives that were available for the last of the 2015s, the lower insurance cost, and my planned usage for the future, what could I have possibly got?

My New F150. No regrets so far :)
My New F150. No regrets so far 🙂

2015-10-27 17.54.46

Yes, I ended up going with a truck. I will admit the decision process seems a bit odd considering my wants and desires, but this ended up being the vehicle I wanted. There were terrific incentives and I got an A-plan price considering I already work at Ford, so I managed to do pretty well with the price I got.

She’s got some juice in her as well. I got the 2.7 Liter EcoBoost option, and it accelerates quite nicely. It’s only a 2WD, but I figured I didn’t need the 4X4. Others would argue 4X4 is essential if you’re getting a truck, but I don’t plan on doing much off road driving. The additional equipment required for 4×4 would have driven up the cost of the truck above what I was prepared to pay.

So in the last couples of months, I’ve changed my mind over and over about what I’ve wanted to get in terms of a vehicle. While a year ago I never would have found myself saying “I’m buying a new vehicle”, I proved myself wrong my doing just that a week and a half ago.

What about my desire for cheap speed?

In the next post, I’ll detail my plans for cheap speed going forward. There won’t be anything immediate on the horizon, but in the mean time there’s lots of possibilities to research out there.

Corvettes, Beer, Microcontrollers, and Future Plans

Once again, I’ve gotten out of stride with my posts. Last weekend was a rather busy weekend for me as I looked over a number of possible C3 Corvettes for sale. While there were some very nice Corvettes I looked at, I found that each one just had some flaws that I wasn’t prepared to deal with.

Classic Car Hunt

The Mid 70’s Corvettes were a very interesting time for the Corvette, because they went away from the all chrome trim that was found on most cars in the late sixties to early seventies. Also, the power specs started to go way down with the required addition of emissions equipment. Performance-wise, the mid seventies Corvettes were rather pathetic (the “high performance” option only made 225 hp in 1979) but GM made a ton of these cars (they made over 53,000 Corvettes in 1979). The way I look at it, these cars can be picked up at a pretty good price for a classic. I’m not too concerned about the originality, so I have no problem putting on some high performance modifications to give the car a bit more power than the factory specs. I still want the car to look and sound original, but if it’s modified under the hood, that’s fine with me.

1979 Corvette (Courtesy of Hemmings Blog: http://blog.hemmings.com/index.php/2012/11/02/petersen-to-pay-tribute-to-the-corvette-for-its-60th-anniversary/)

That being said, there are a lot of Corvettes out there to look at, and there are a lot that have hidden flaws that can become problematic very quickly. As with most cars that are 40 years old, rust is the biggest enemy. Corvettes had a steel frame which makes rust prevalent in these cars. Fixing rust can be one of the biggest expenses to owning a classic car. For my current scenario, I’d rather pay more up front and have a car with a decent frame than pay less for a car that needs more work. In all of my research on buying a classic, everyone has told me to save my money and buy the car that’s already at the point that I want it to be at, since it will cost a lot more money if I buy a car that’s cheaper but requires work to be done.

While I’m hoping to get a Corvette before the winter comes, I’m not going to jump on something just for the sake of getting a classic. I have a very specific idea about what I want. So my research continues as I look for my 1974-1979 Corvette.

Home Brew

In the world of beer, I just finished bottling my Dunkel Rye batch. I tried a sample during bottling and while it tastes like a German beer, I find it’s lacking the body that I was hoping for. What I’m discovering is I’m trying to make a beer that’s got a full body. I’m not looking for something as heavy as Guiness, but something that’s got a body similar to a Killian’s Red Ale. I haven’t decided what my next batch of beer is going to be yet, but it’s going to be something likely a bit lighter. I’ve made two dark beers, and I’d like to try a light beer. I’ll have more updates on how the Dunkel turns out in about 2 weeks when it’s done carbonating.

Siphoning Action
Siphoning Action
No Leaking This Time
No Leaking This Time
A Sample (No, it's not Scotch Wiskey)
A Sample (No, it’s not whiskey)
Replenished my Beer Supply Just in Time!
Replenished my Beer Supply Just in Time! (Second Row is Batch #2)

Beaglebone Black (Nerding Out)

I’ve been spending a lot of time preparing for my next challenge with the Beaglebone Black (BBB). While I haven’t made leaps and bounds towards my time-lapse rig, I’ve found I’ve been working a lot on just developing my understand of what the BBB can do. While it’s pretty basic in the world of embedded electronics, I managed to develop a temperature logging program that runs when the BBB is initially powered on. This is very nice in the sense that you don’t have to SSH into the BBB to get the program working. I can simply plug the power supply in when I’m ready to start logging temperatures and it will log them on a frequency that’s specified in the program. I found out how to start a program on boot from the following site. I’ve discovered that Adafruit is a great resource for learning about how to use the BBB. (The lesson for logging temperatures can be found here.) I added an LED into my circuit so that once the program was running, I could tell if the temperatures were being logged. It’s a green light thank blinks every time a data point is measured.

Temperature Logger with Green LED
Temperature Logger with Green LED (Arduino doesn’t do anything, it’s just for show)
Temperature Plot from Beaglebone Black Data Logger
Temperature Plot from Beaglebone Black Data Logger

As a test, I ran the program over the period just under 4 minutes. It’s just in my den and you can see I brought the temperature up a bit at the beginning, then it comes back to the temperature that’s in the room. As you can see, it’s a bit chilly in my house right now!

I had planned to run a test overnight to see the temperature change, however I made a mistake in my coding. When the program executes, it creates a file with only one name and overwrites any data that was previously on the file. So after I had set up the program, I let it run overnight and collect the data. I had to shut off the BBB and plug it into my ethernet cord to SSH in and get the data (It was in a different room than my internet router). I had forgotten that the program would run on boot, so when it rebooted, it wrote over the file I had created the night before and erased all the data I had collected! Sometimes you have to learn the hard way…

This is a pretty primitive way of logging temperature. There are other things I need to work out. For example, I’d like to work a button switch in that lets me start and stop the data logging process so I’m not relying on stopping Linux processes through the terminal.

Future Plans

My plan for the future is to use the temperature logger to see what the fermentation temperatures of my beer are. Right now I don’t have much control over it, but sometime in the future I’d like to add fermentation temperatures to my brewing experiences to see if manipulating the temperature they’re brewed in makes a significant difference. The only time I know it would make a difference is when brewing a lager versus an ale, since lagers require much lower fermentation temperatures. Logging the temperature gives me a chance to try and see what my beer fermentation temperatures are.

Fermentation Temperature Logger Sketch
Fermentation Temperature Logger Sketch

Once I get a little better at putting BBB scripts together, I’ll start showing the code I used for my programs. Since it’s a mish-mash of code that’s not commented at the moment, it doesn’t look very pretty and probably wouldn’t make much sense to someone looking to do something similar.

More to come!

The Wonderful World of Linux

Over the past couple of weeks I have been messing with Linux and finally it was time to try and install a Linux operating system onto my laptop. Why? Well, if I’m ever going to get a good grasp on running my Beaglebone Black (BBB) I’m going to need a good command of Linux, hence I figured I’d give the Linux operating system a try. While it’s not all command line, it helps me work on my command line skills to try and accomplish tasks by working with the terminal (such as installing new applications or packages using the command line). Plus I feel like a cool coding geek you might see in the movies who’s hacking into a corporation to steal intel, or something intense like that. Of course, it’s more like me typing three lines of code, cursing the fact I mistyped it twice, and cheering when something on my screen actually happens. Yes, my life is that exciting, I bet you wish you were me.

I picked the Debian Linux distribution and used the GNOME desktop environment. I think in the proper terms, Debian (or technically, Debian Jessie) is the name of the base system, and GNOME is the graphical user interface. The actual term is GNU Network Object Model Environment. I’m gonna pretend I know what that means.

So what is Linux? Well, it’s a operating system the same way Windows and Macintosh are operating systems. So what differentiates Linux? Well, it’s an operating system that’s been developed by a collaboration of multiple programmers, developers, and companies, and it’s completely free for the public to use. The short form is that it was developed at it’s very basic level (the “Kernel”) in 1991 by a Finn named Linus Torvalds. Since then, it has grown into a massive platform spanning multiple distributions and forms that the public can use. There is no one sole owner of the Linux operating system, it is developed, maintained, and improved by a community dedicated to the development of free software for the public. (This is Linux at a very basic form, A very good explanation of what Linux is can be found here).

This sounds great! A free operating system? What are the drawbacks?

Well, for starters, you many not invest money in the operating system, but you’re guaranteed to invest time in setting it up. While Linux has gotten to the point where there are very easy distributions to set up, some that arguably are as easy to use as Mac, Linux is almost always not a straightforward process. With so many options and forms of the Linux operating system, there’s always some kind of time investment in configuring your system. For example, when I set up Debian GNOME on my laptop, it didn’t configure my wireless network right after installation. It took some hunting to find the packages and software needed to get wireless up and running. While it’s certainly not hours of coding on the command line, you have to be prepared to be patient if you’ve never used a Linux system before.

Also, as I indicated above, there are so many options for a Linux operating system. Wikipedia will give you a list of all the distributions for each base system. It’s amazing that there’s so many.

The nice thing with so many distributions is that it can be put on pretty much any kind of computers. I was able to install Debian on my laptop with 10 GB of space on my hard drive. Many sources I read indicated that you only really needed about 4-5 GB, 10 GB was probably overkill if you just needed an operating system.

One of the really nice features with most Linux operating systems is that you can write an image of the operating system to either a CD or a USB and run it from that medium on your computer without installing it. This gives you a chance to try the operating system without having to install it right away.

If you go one step further, you can install a program called VirtualBox which creates a virtual machine on your main operating system. This lets you run the Linux operating system within your native operating system. The picture below shows Debian GNOME running with Windows 8 in the background.

Debian Live Using VirtualBox
Debian Live Using VirtualBox

This was running off my laptop. To show just how versatile Linux is, below shows a lightweight version of Debian running off my BBB.

Beaglebone Black Running Debian with XKDE.
Beaglebone Black Running Debian with XFCE.

While it’s hard to tell, I’m running a keyboard, mouse, monitor, and an ethernet cord all into the Beaglebone Black (just above the top left of the keyboard). Maybe it’s just me, but I’m amazed that you can run a full operating system off something so small (when you think that the BBB is a computer, compare that size to a laptop, or even a desktop). Of course, the operating system is somewhat slow if you’re going to run it solely off the BBB, but that’s to be expected when you can only package so much onto such a small surface.

I’ve only scratched the surface of what Linux really is. In the meantime, I’ll be working to get a better grasp of how to use Linux and how I plan to use Linux to interface my BBB to a multitude of embedded electronics and related software. That is all (hopefully) in the near future.

Below are a number of resources you can check out to get more information on what Linux is, the types of distributions there are out there, and how to get a Linux operating system installed on your computer.

http://www.linuxfoundation.org/what-is-linux – Great resource for explaining what Linux is (In much more detail than my post.)

https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=Best+Linux+distributions+for+Desktop – TechRadar resource that breaks down the top 10 Linux distributions

http://www.ubuntu.com/ – Link to Ubuntu, which is one of the easiest Linux distributions to set up if you’re interested in trying it out.


A Short Update

Well, there’s not a whole lot new in the world of James, other than a few minor things.

Beer Brewing

I just recently transferred my Dunkelweiss-like beer into the secondary fermenter. I left it in the primary fermenter for two weeks instead of 1, I don’t anticipate this to cause any issues with the outcome of the final beer, but we’ll see what happens.

I tried my bottled Irish Hills Ale, and at least I can say it tastes like beer. It does have a hoppy finish, the body isn’t too bad, but I think I was hoping for something with a bit more body to the beer. It’s a bit lighter than I expected, but it’s a good beer for the first run. I can at least say I’ve got a drinkable beer and I’m happy about that! 🙂

Beaglebone Black

I’ve been working my way through the book “Exploring Beaglebone” by Derek Molloy. It’s a great book that provides a lot of information of the Beaglebone Black (BBB) microcontroller. I’m trying to work my way through the book in a sequential fashion since I want to understand not just how to put circuits together, but how the Beaglebone architecture works.

What I’ve been working through this last month is just learning how to run the Linux command line. The BBB comes pre-loaded with the Debian operating system, which means in order to use the BBB, you have to understand a bit about the Linux command line. From what I’ve read, you can connect your BBB to a computer monitor, add a keyboard and mouse and run a Linux operating system like Ubuntu off it, just like an ordinary computer! This is pretty incredible since the BBB is the size of a credit card.

Learning the command line is rather challenging since the book presents all these new terms that make a non-savvy Linux user like myself scratch their head. There’s a lot to learn and it will take a long time to fully understand the Linux operating system.


Sadly, I still find myself using the “Auto” function of my new DSLR for the majority of the time. I can say that I’m getting a little better at knowing when to use longer exposure times and different shutter settings to create different photos. I was in Toronto last weekend and managed to get some good photos of Niagara falls and downtown Toronto. You can see the album here.

I’m hoping once I get a little better grasp on the BBB to get my time-lapse project somewhat underway. I’ve been slacking in this department.

Classic Car Hunt

Since I’ve decided that I want a classic car, I’ve been mostly trolling Craigslist for that new classic to hopefully enter my garage soon. There’s lots of options out there, but I have a feeling I’ll find myself with a 1974 – 1979 Corvette.

One of the things I’ve found is that it’s a bit challenging for me to jump right in and start looking into classic cars. So much scrutinizing is needed when looking at a classic car and while I’ve decided that I’m going to get one, I know it’s not a quick process. Sure, if you really wanted to you could go out and buy one today in good shape if money is no object, but when you’re on a budget, finding the best car you can for your budget is a time consuming process. There’s so many things to think about. What kind of classic do I want? What are the main issues with these particular models? How easy is maintenance? How easy is it to find parts? How much will certain parts cost? When looking at cars, what red flags should I be aware of? How original is the car?

A lot of these questions come down to figuring out a few things, like how involved you plan to be with owning a classic, how much you want to spend time doing repairs (I’ve been told no matter how much you spend, classic cars will ALWAYS need repairs) and how much money and work you want to put into it.

I’ve started looking, though it’s going to be a long process. For now, I know I want a black, blue, or silver Corvette (though not the 78 silver anniversary two tone silver, I personally don’t love the two colors), model years 1974 – 1979 with a standard transmission (though the transmission isn’t a deal breaker, I could do auto if the right car came along). We’ll see what happens



Beer Batch #2: Dunkel Rye, Son!

Even though I haven’t had a chance to try my first home brew beer, I figured I would get started on my second batch. I was feeling in the mood for something German related and I was recommended a Dunkelweiss (more specifically a Dunkelweiss). It’s similar to a Hefeweizen, however it’s darker and has a more complex malt taste with a lower alcohol by volume, this one’s around 4.30%. The website Beeravdocate.com gives a better description.

One thing I should have learned a long time ago, but somehow continue to forget through my own moments of stupidity is that steam really hurts. My arm is in a bit of pain as I write this post. Gosh darn pain receptors.

So, same as last time, we’ve got the grains, hops, malt extract, and the yeast. Since this isn’t as strong a beer, there’s only boil hops in this recipe, there’s no finishing hops.

Ready for the Boil
Ready for the Boil
Batch #2 Ingredients
Batch #2 Ingredients

The recipe is as follows

  • Grains
    • 8 oz CaraMunich
    • 8 oz Special B
    • 4 oz Carafa I
    • 4 oz Rye
  • Malt Extract
    • 6 lbs Liquid Wheat Extract
  • Hops
    • 0.5 oz German Traditional Hop Pellets
  • Yeast
      White Laps 300 German Hefeweizen

At some point in the future, I’ll need to give a breakdown of how the grains influence the overall flavor and body of the beer. I have yet to do more research on the different types of grains and their traits.

For this particular recipe, the CaraMunich and the Special B grains give a caramel base to the beer, the Carafa I is a german roasted malt, similar to a chocolate malt. The rye grains contribute a deep red color and add a rye flavor.

The liquid Wheat Extract is a mix of 40% barley and 60% wheat.

The hops give a “Medium intense floral and herbal (grassy) tones” (see hopunion.com for more info.)

The yeast is a German yeast typically used in the production of Hefeweizen beers.

I’ll be honest, I haven’t tried enough varieties to know what kind of combinations of grains, hops, and malts will produce what kinds of beers, but the best I can do for now is give a quick breakdown as to what the ingredients are supposed to produce.

Home Brew Batch #1 – Irish Hills Ale Update

It may be a bit early to open my Irish Hills Ale, but I’m going to be in Toronto for the weekend and figured it would be a good way to start the long weekend.

Ready for Consumption
Ready for Consumption
It's Carbonated!
It’s Carbonated!
Success! First Beer!

Well, my first beer is carbonated, so that’s a good sign. So how did it taste?

Well, it tasted like beer, which is a start. It was a little bit weak in my opinion, though I want to wait for a little bit before I decide how the beer tastes. It may need a bit more time to age, I’ll give an update in the near future.

Homebrew Batch #1 Update – Bottling and More Waiting

So after waiting for 2 weeks for secondary fermentation to take place, I got a chance to finish the last stage of my first home brewed beer. If you want to see the stages leading up to this batch, see my post here. In the future I won’t be taking so many photos, I’ll likely just give an overview of the type of beer I’m brewing, a few characteristics, and the finished beer.

Overall Set Up
Overall Set Up
Red Ale Sample
Red Ale Sample

The sample after secondary fermentation tasted like a decent red ale, though it was hard to gauge because it wasn’t carbonated. The bottling will take care of that. Also, the spigot on the fermentation bucket didn’t seal that well. I’m guessing I lost about half a beer from the leaking.

While it’s hard to tell from the photos below, I filled up each bottle to just underneath the label. I guess I’ll find out of this is too much as the carbonation will blow off the cap. We’ll find out.

First Bottles Ready For Capping
First Bottles Ready For Capping
First Bottle!
First Bottle!
All Complete!
All Complete!

Now it’s just another couple of weeks while I wait for the bottles to carbonate. It made just shy of 48 bottles (so close at 47). On my next update, I’ll give a quick breakdown as to how the beer tastes and what my plans are for the next few batches.