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Friday, August 31, 2007

The Wasteland Revisited

"Well, Mack the finger" said Louie the King
"I got 40 red white and blue shoe strings
And a thousand telephones that won't ring
You know where I can get rid of these things?"
—Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited

Well, it ain't Highway 61, it's the future site of a bunch of pseudo-affordable tract housing built way too close to the tracks. But we were back to assault the skies with paper tubing and sheet balsa. There was very little breeze, the temperature was actually comfortable, and we had polka dotted sidewalk chalk to boot.

Mr. Creosote got to fly!

I'd done my best to sand out his launch lugs, but it's tricky to do. And I siliconed the shit out of the launch rod. Almost tried to launch him off the little rod but he overwhelms it. And I think he needs a few more inches to get up to speed for fin stabilization.

Evidently, what I did was enough. He got maybe 70 feet in the air, barely deployed his parachute before he touched down, but it was a successful flight.


Lola made three flights, the third being apparently terminal. We went looking over at the cometary where she seems to have drifted, but no sign of her.

Em brought her markers and muses to go with Mo's sidewalk chalk. She made me hold off on launching to make sure she got everything she was trying to sketch. And when I asked her which rocket to launch next, she told me I was disrupting the muses.

And Peter Pan just Bermuda Triangulated after I'd told Em how beautifully slow he comes down on his streamer.

Tony Gonzalez didn't drive out of range but threatened to. He really flies beautifully, tall and fast like his namesake.

Dog Days of Xmas

It's happening already. The assheads have already got the Christmas stuff on display at Wal-Mart. They are putting in the Halloween stuff, which is only premature. Santa on August 31?

The up side of this seasonal thing, I was looking for a bucket of sidewalk chalk. But they are too busy trying to sell me shit I won't need in a few months to sell me shit I don't need right now. Except those clearance aisles...

Polka-dotted sidewalk chalk on clearance: 75¢ marked down from 88¢. Which I would say is priced to move.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Right in My Back Yard

You have a beautiful wife, wonderful children, a wasteland.
—Fester to Gomez in The Addams Family

When I bought my house, the view out back was a view. It was a farm, complete with grazing cattle, giant bales of hay, feed corn going dry on the stalk.

Now they're growing identical 'custom' tract houses back there. Assheads. It's so close to the tracks a train would sound like it was actually in your living room, but people will live there anyway.

But because housing hasn't been selling so hot just lately, they've slowed down the madness and the result is a glorious rocket field.

While Mo vandalized a street that has hardly been driven on with sidewalk chalk, I launched a couple of rockets. What else is a field like this for? I can see my house from here. It was tempting to go harass the soccer mafia, but it was a school night and drive time would have been a problem.

Dave came by walking Murphy, his dog-faced girl. Dave is a politician, but I like him anyway. He fills the role of George McGovern to my Hunter Thompson. Except Gardner city politics are pretty big-time compared to my writing career.

'That's Mr. Creosote!' he exclaimed. My rocket is famous! A household name!

Mr. Creosote didn't slide very well on the launch rod. The launch lugs took on some paint, and while I launched him successfully at the KCAR launch, I'm thinking maybe it was on a skinny rod. I sprayed the 3/8" rod down with silicone spray, but when I hit the button he just sat there, spewing fire and smoke. Then he threw his nose cone and parachute into the dirt.

'It deployed,' Dave observed.

So then I decided to launch Thor's Candycane. Who at least flew. That's always something, when the rocket leaves the pad.

Then the parachute didn't deploy. And, of course, in 40 acres of mostly soft dirt, the rocket comes down on the blacktop. I must not have gotten enough recovery wadding in, because the nylon parachute had singed a bit and stuck closed. Crap.

Third time is the charm, right? Buster flew as beautifully as he can. He's got a crooked fin and describes a crazy sort of corkscrewing ascent. But his parachute deployed and he was recovered at least a quarter mile down field.

Majorly Good Stuff

Okay, I'm not a big red sauce fan, but every once in awhile...

I had a jar of Classico that's supposedly got sausage in it but I wasn't convinced after having some on pasta the other day. So I browned up a pound of Cosentino's hot Italian, and spiked the remainder of the Classico spaghetti sauce with a jar of their sun-dried tomato pesto.

The result was fabulous. Had it on some rigatoni. Wish it'd been a larger batch.

Shape of Things to Come?

I bought another BT-80 nose cone to go with the tubing Mr. Creosote was built from. The pack I got was four 18-inch sections. With couplers and this nose cone, the three remaining sections could be made into one rocket. Of course, Mr. Creosote at almost 7 ounces is pushing the envelope of too heavy for a C motor. Three Mr. Creosotes and I'll have to go to a bigger engine. Plus, he'd probably top the pound mark, meaning fewer legal launch sites and the need for an FAA notification.

So I'll probably use at most another 18" section with this nose cone and save the rest for other projects.

It would be fun, though. He'd be taller than Em.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Mo's Logo?

Mo's been doing this logo all over the place. It's a person, I think. I fat dot, a broad stroke for the arms, and a squiggle for the body. She's done it over and over in my driveway, using up two whole packages of sidewalk chalk (including a set of Crayola Giant chalk).

It's so purposeful, but I don't know what it means. Is it a logo she's seen on TV or something? Or is it something she's created and feels the need to repeat over and over?

Beyond the Pale and Cult Recruiting

Okay, I love to brew all-grain but my rig dictates I either have a brew partner or do an extract batch. Extract brewing isn't as satisfyingly involved or as creatively flexible. It's also more expensive.

So I got to thinking, I need to make more friends. Then I said to myself, Self, What about the friends you already got?

And I thought about Derek, whether he'd be a willing grunt for the one lift I can't make, maybe come hang for part of a brew day. You never know, but maybe the novelty of seeing how beer is made from scratch, right?

Turns out, Derek is on the verge of buying a starter kit himself. He's done a bit of meadmaking in one gallon batches, so he's not entirely uninitiated either. He didn't just come to the brew session, he pounced on it with enthusiasm.

Derek and his lovely wife came and hung for the latter half of the brew day, assisting with the lift, asking questions that made me seem less of a bore on the subject of brewing, then insisted on popping for pizza for lunch, and even made an ice run for me when it was time to run the wort chiller. (When it's as hot as it's been lately, the tap water is about 80º, and the counterflow chiller will only get you about 10º warmer than the tap temperature. In the dead of winter, sometimes that means letting the wort warm up to 65º before pitching, as it comes out of the chiller at 55º. In August, if you start fermenting at 90º, there's a better chance that Elvis is still alive than that you'll avoid overwhelming phenolics. It's too warm, and once fermentation is generating heat to boot, you're screwed. Some people just won't brew this time of year, but if you'll convert your cedar closet to an ice house, it's doable.)

It was great to just hang with old friends anyway. I've known Kim since high school, and she's such a decent human being she'll still speak to me anyway.

Derek also made himself even more permanently welcome in Lobster Land by loving my homebrew. I presently have the full complement on tap: mead, cider and beer. Well, the full complement by today's standards. Ideally, I'd have a cider, a mead and three or four kinds of beer on tap at any given time.

What did I brew? Well, a lot of the comments I get (well, a lot as a proportion of the comments I get, I don't really get enough comments to call it 'a lot') on these brewing posts are along the lines of 'Do you make dark beer?'

Well, yeah, I do make dark beer. But this is like asking a winemaker if he makes red wine: he probably does. White wines too, most of the time. And I love all kinds of beer. Tangy-bitter Guinness Extra Stout, sure, but Boulevard Zön witbier, too; see also the deeply amber, big-malt-big-hops experience that is a glass of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale (or it's big brother Big Foot Barleywine!!); see also a delicate and smooth Pilsner Urquell; see also a smoky-sweet peat smoked Scotch Ale; see also a fruity and potent Tripel; see also an assaultively acidic Lambic, see also a nicely balanced Ordinary Bitter; see also etc.

So just to be a contrary sort of Lobster, I decided to brew my idea of a light beer. I used 20 lbs of Golden Promise malt, a British pale malt with a very low Lovibond rating but a reputation for finishing quite malty and 3 lbs of Cara-Foam, basically an un-crystal crystal malt that ads body without adding much in the way of color. So I give you Beyond the Pale Ale.

I used the Thames Valley Wyeast strain and first-wort hopped 10 gallons with 2 oz. of Centennial (10.4%) and an ounce of Magnum (14%). Finishing hops were: 1 oz East Kent Goldings (6.9%) 20 minutes before the end of the boil; 1 oz Fuggle (6.0%) and 1 oz EKG's 10 minutes to go; Another ounce of EKG's and an ounce of Spalt (3.6%) at knockout. I only got 9 gallons pitched, and the initial gravity was only 1.042 (I thought it would be about 15 points higher), so we're looking at another Bitter Beer Face 96 IBUs.

I did recruit Em to help set up. I was kidding, told her 'carry this up to the head of the driveway.' I expected her to say, 'Dad! That's a beer keg!' Even though it's got the top cut out of it, it is what it is. Plus, it's got to be 30 lbs. Imagine my surprise when she just took it and carried it up there!

No, I don't have any illusions Em will just become my brewery slave. When she told me how she was going to get rich and famous the other day, and I said, 'So then you can outfit me with the brewery of my dreams?' she smilingly replied, 'No, but I'll pay your doctor bills.'

Which could come in handy, because I'm not as young as I once was, and my lower back really tells me about it when I do all the bending and lifting involved with a brew day. So my own pet chiropractor and massage therapist would be welcome additions to my personal Bear and the Big Brew House.

A good time was had by all, and with Derek & Kim's help, I even got shit put away more or less in time to take the honyocks to the Special Olympics swim party. Because I needed more sun and fresh air at this point, right? I'd only been out in the sun for ten hours at this point. But I did sunscreen the shit out of myself. Four applications by day's end, would have been five but I ran out. No desire to repeat my recent Darth Mall impersonation.


Back when I first found myself a single Dad, Mo was not generally an easy kid to shop with. She'd try to run away, jerking her held hand so hard it was moderately painful, like an Indian burn done palm to palm. She'd grab fragile things, open packages, and trying to write a check, well, really. So I basically did as much of my shopping as I could when I was sans children.

But of course, there was always some needful thing and a weekend was long. It wasn't instantaneous, but in pretty short order, we started to find our level. She got better about the pulling away and grabbing stuff, and I got better about not being so obtuse about what store or section of a store was an obvious avoid. I also got to where I could figure out what she was straining to get at and sometimes that meant I could find an acceptable outlet for her.

I realized as I took her to buy the propane refill I needed for Sunday's brewing activities, this was something I would never, ever have contemplated doing with her a year and a half ago.

She had fun sitting on the posts they put up to keep errant cars from blowing up the service station, and feeling the weight of the tank before and after 20 lbs of liquid propane was put in it.

Saturday, August 25, 2007


Okay, this weekend has not gone as planned. At all. On the whole, though, I'd say it has gone better than the plan. I've had the girls for reasons I won't go into here even though it's not my ex's weekend to have them (and no, I didn't kidnap them). Having the girls is great: I'd have them all the time if I could. However...

I had a big block of ME time slated for this, the one weekend of the month I don't have my daughters. Thing is, a couple of my passions don't quite coincide with supervising an autistic ten year old who at times can combine toddler impulse control with adolescent physical capacity. I can take Mo to launch rockets, I usually do, but I can't take her to the KCAR launches at Shawnee Mission Park. I've tried that, and while I can generally control the mayhem in my own rocket stash, I can't prep rockets and keep her from grabbing all the interesting things other folks have brought.

So being's the KCAR launch was the same weekend I wasn't going to have the honyocks, I was all stoked to go. I learn a lot talking to these guys, most of whom are way, way more experienced than I. Bucher, he's a walking encyclopedia of rocketry. See also Randall, see also the Dave who's not Bucher, see also that one guy I can't remember the name of (oh, yeah, Blake) who's into glider recovery models.

Example: I learned today that a bunt cake pan is an excellent deflector plate for mid-power rockets.

I learned that syringes make good launch lugs.

Oh, the block party. My Mom's neighborhood, where I grew up, was having it, but since it wasn't my weekend, it had been written off. So when I called her to ask if she might watch my kiddos for a couple of hours while I went ballistic, she mentioned it. How perfect? I mean, a moon walk, sidewalk chalk, balloon animals, a fire truck, free food...

Yeah, it's awesome when shit works out.

So anyway, I had a sense of urgency when I got to Shawnee Mission Park. My babysitting was going to turn into a pumpkin at 2:30, I needed to leave by 2:00. I got there at 11:15 with nineteen rockets, nine of which were absolute virgins. My goal: get nine maiden voyages flown while talking my fool head off, and while a bunch of other folks launched their rockets.

Randall's big rocket was going to start the day off with a bang. And it did. It didn't go anywhere, but it made a bang like a bullet hitting a trap. The engine shredded, gutting the rocket. These things happen. This is why, despite how much fun they look like, I don't go for $70 kits and $30 rocket motors. I can handle the heartbreak of a lost $8 rocket, even a $15 rocket. But not a $100 rocket.

I also learned that two of my rockets had slightly canted fins. One was Jolly Green Giant, who is too small for my fin jib. The other was McRocket, and I can't explain that one. He corkscrews in flight, and I can see the cant to a couple of his fins, but I can't figure how they got there. Bucher swears I don't need a fin jig, that I can eyeball it better than that. Maybe, but that doesn't explain Jolly Green's screwy debut.

I also learned to say goodbye to Two-Da-Lou. I'd weathercocked her into the wind that had picked up, so she could fly upwind and drift back to the field under canopy. But then coming off the launch rod she cocked a bit more, not quite moving fast enough for the fins to stabilize, and she went screaming off at a much steeper angle than planned. She dropped her booster stage and that second C6 just got up and boogied. We saw the parachute open and I went hiking in that general direction as far as I could, but no sign of her. Crap.

I guess I can build another rocket to go on her booster stage for another two stager.

Mr. Creosote had a stellar first flight, landing about twenty feet from the pad. Tubster lost a nose cone, but other than that things were going pretty well.

Except it got to be 1:55 and I had promised to leave the park at two. I had two rockets, Buster and Lola, that had not flown but were prepped and loaded. So I drag raced them.

Except it didn't quite work that way. I had Buster on #2 and Lola on #5. Another rocket was on #3. I armed #2 and #5, counted down, and floooom! Lola went drag racing with the rocket on #3, leaving Buster standing there wondering if he was named for Buster Keaton or what.

Then, when I did get Buster launched, he came down in a damn tree. I was about to give him up, but Bucher had a very long extending pole with a saw on the end, and I was able to get him down. 'You're out of your tree.' 'It's not my tree.'

Of course, by this time, it's 2:15. I boogie back and we do us some block partying. They had a moon walk, face painting, folk singers, folks standing around talking, a fire truck and I don't know what-all. Hot dogs, cupcakes, a table with free junk that Em loved. Balloon animals.