Do you like my labels?

Three labels, for the three beers I currently have in ‘stock’ now.

Idea is the coloured band at the top will change based on the colour of the beer. And to help with easy recognition in the fridge…

 

Watts &co. Label - Christmas Porter

 

Watts &co. Label - Pale Mild

 

Watts &co. Label - Tipple Pale Ale

November 9th · 2 Replies · Tweet · Link

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Some days

Are perfect for showing you exactly what you should be thankful for :)

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November 8th · 2 Replies · Tweet · Link

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The Apprentice vs. Real Life Business

The Apprentice

Business is all about money. So profit at all costs.
You are the most important person in the team.
There is no-one else you can rely on.
Find the weakest person and crush them.
You are useless unless you sell.
Never, ever smile. Business is very serious.
Don’t listen, talk first.
Money wins.

Real Life Business

Smart business means working as a team.
Your weakest link defines you. So strengthen it.
Be friendly, be warm and be open.
Sales matter, but what you sell matters more.
If you’re listening you’re learning.
Move with a purpose, but move with thought.
Smart businesses are the ones that win

November 5th · 3 Replies · Tweet · Link

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This Is My Beer For That (or home brewing a Pale Mild)

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Say hello to my latest home brew. This is my go at a Pale Mild.

“A pale mild? I thought mild was brown?” is what most people have said when I’ve told them about my latest brewing adventure. Mild means lots of things, but it doesn’t mean beer that is brown.

In my case, I’ve taken it to mean a mildly hopped beer, with some interesting flavours from the malts I’ve used.

Voile

I brew using a system called Brew-in-a-bag. It replaces the three or four vessels you usually need to brew with one — all thanks to a little voile bag. It works a charm for me.

The basic process is as follows:

As is often the way, anything that can be described as ‘basic’ is actually really complicated. It has taken me 7 attempts to get my process working properly. This brew is my latest.

This brew taught me

  1. I need to freshly crush my grain. I am getting a very poor efficiency for my brews – just around 50%. I think this is because I have to buy pre-crushed grain, and it isn’t crushed fine enough for the BIAB process.
  2. Sorta-Sparging really helps efficiency. I recirculated some of the wort through the grains in the bag at the end of the mash.
  3. Pumps and False bottoms rule. A tiny little 24v pump and a perforated stainless steel disc saved me about a hour from the brewday.

Simple Beer

I wanted this to be a simple beer that I could bottle for Christmas. I didn’t want any LOLPUNKIPA hop madness. I wanted to see what a plain malt bill with a few additions could do.

Its currently 10 days out from the brew day, and nicely into secondary fermentation.

Tasting beer as it ferments is very enlightening. Every evening I have a tiny taster of the beer, and every day its changed noticeably. This is the part where the beer develops its character. The yeast has done the job of converting most of the sugar into alcohol, and now its working on other sugars and compounds in the beer, turning them into delicious beery flavour.

(For a proper description of what ‘turning them into beery flavour means, read this)

Amateur

Homebrewing is my latest obsession.

I’ve only been doing it 6 months and I am not an expert. I am fascinated by the science and process of what is going on. I wish I really understand how the yeast was behaving, about how different yeast strains produce all those different flavours, about how different temperatures in the mash really affect the conversion of starch to sugar.

The real fun is learning just little bit, each time.

Some interesting links about mild beers

November 4th · 6 Replies · Tweet · Link

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How Barack Obama got me interested in homebrewing

I like beer. Lovely, lovely, beer.

I never knew you could make good beer at home. I mean, I knew that home-brew existed, but I always thought that was about musty malt extract and a bucket in the back of the airing cupboard. I didn’t realise you could brew beers at home that tasted like the ones you had in the pub.

Barry

This video below was what prompted me to think about actually trying it myself. That shot of the beer boiling on the stove, and the steeping of the grains made me think: maybe I can give this a try…

 

Yeast

I met Mike, Ed and Garry through Twitter. We’ve been friends for quite a few years. One of our shared loves is good beer – like lots of people.

Last Christmas we spent a happy evening ploughing through a case of different BrewDog beers. It was a thinly veiled attempt to further our beery knowledge. The highlight were 4 beers that were part of a series called ‘Unleash the Yeast’.

All four were the same recipe, with the exception of the yeast. They tasted completely different. I had no idea that changing something that seemed as simple as yeast could produce something so different.

If just changing one thing could produce such different results, what could I do starting completely from scratch?

Vinegar, Hops and Obsession

It is amazing how much you can learn so quickly. When I re-watched that video, I couldn’t stop critiquing their technique.

My first attempts at home brew were abysmal. I’ve produced everything from exceptionally bitter vinegar to Essex’s biggest mould colony – and I’ve only been doing it 6 months.

I am blessed plagued with an obsessive personality. When I’m interested in something I commit to it – I want to know everything I can, until I feel I’ve got it completely.

Apparently I’ve always been like this. My first obsessions were Hot Air Balloons and Kingfishers.

Homebrewing is the perfect obsession. It’s a little bit of science, a lot of asking questions and a lot of faffing about with plumbing and electrics.

The end result: Beer. Lovely, lovely beer.

 

November 3rd · 2 Replies · Tweet · Link

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3 amazing posts about being a Dad

I read each of these today. Each made me misty eyed, and grateful for what I have. Amazing writing.

Three, by Stephen Hackett

Today, you’re three years old. It really seems like just yesterday you were born. Your mom and I were so nervous about being parents, that when we brought you home from the hospital, we didn’t take you out of the carseat immediately. Instead, we just looked at you, wondering how we could unstrap you without hurting your little chicken arms.

And the follow up. Six, also by Stephen Hackett:

That picture — of my six-year old son singing to my newborn — is everything you need to know about Josiah. The universe has been unbelievably cruel to him with a rare, aggressive cancer diagnosis, but his life is full of love and hope and music.

Happy birthday, buddy. I need to hear your voice as long as I possibly can.

Finally, by Casey Liss:

“Maybe it’s just not supposed to happen for us.”
My wife Erin — the most important person in my world — is feeling somber again.
It’s late 2011. We’ve been trying to have a child for a year now. It hasn’t happened yet.

November 3rd · 1 Reply · Tweet · Link

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I have known I am going to be a Dad for about 7 months

Most people that I’ve told tend to deliver a one-two punch of excitement followed by a well timed upper cut of negativity. It’s like someone cooking you a beautiful meal and then serving you brussel sprout tarte tatin for dessert.

“Oh! That’s it then! Just you wait! Say goodbye to sleep!”

This is pretty much the first thing out of most people’s mouths once you tell them you’re expecting. They’re inducting you into a special club. Where the price of entry is a constant throbbing headache and endless scowling.

I’m not naïve. I know our life is going to change completely, and I know that is going to be hard. And painful. And difficult. I just find it curious that most people tend to focus on the pain rather than why you’re doing it.

“You’re doing what?!”

We are doing Hypnobirthing classes to prepare for our son’s arrival. Hypnobirthing is based around the idea that the body is designed to give birth. If you work alongside it rather than fighting it you can have an easier and less painful birth. It is not for everyone, but I think it is for us.

Giving birth is scary. It involves the two most precious things in my life doing things they’ve never done before. It can go wrong. We want to approach it by preparing for the best, and if the worst happens, handling it as best we can. Not the other way around.

I’ve never been more excited about anything than becoming a Dad. I’ve never been more scared about anything than becoming a Dad.

I think that embracing the former helps deal with the latter, I just wish more people did too.

February 16th · Tweet · Link

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Travelling to Europe by Train

I’ve had the fortune to go on some pretty excellent holidays over the last few years. Last summer we took the best trip of the lot, travelling from home in Colchester to Italy, Switzerland and France — all on a train.

We had a pretty good idea of where we wanted to visit [1] but no idea how to get there. This is where we stumbled upon the first thing I came to love about European train travel:

You can get pretty much anywhere in the world by train from the UK

Example: There are only 5 changes needed to get from Colchester to Vladivostok (yes, Vladivostok in Russia).[2]

Deutsche Bahn’s bahn.com is simply outstanding for planning your route. It gives you chapter and verse on journey times, connections and so forth. Booking with them is a little tricky, but fortunately there’s a splendid solution for that particular problem.

Rail Europe

These guys are simply fantastic. Once I’d worked out my route I gave them a call. Nothing was too much trouble. Every leg of the journey was booked with cost and convenience in mind. Tickets arrived promptly and with a clear itinerary.
Put simply, if you’re considering booking a train adventure, book with Rail Europe. [3]

When you’re there

I would thoroughly recommend getting the DB Navigator app. Its a great way of keeping a log of your day’s journey, and if you’ve got a connection it will usually tell you which platform you need to get to.

Our Route

We settled upon a long first leg, heading straight from Colchester to Rome using the Eurostar and Thellio Sleeper service from Paris to Rome. We’d then go from Rome into deepest Switzerland and then back out to Paris. A vaguely circular route of around 2,500 miles.

The sleeper train from London to Rome on the Thellio.

If you’re going to take a lengthy trip across Europe on the train you’re pretty likely to encounter a sleeper service at some point. We picked the Thellio, which goes direct from Paris Gare du Lyon to Rome. Word is this service has recently been withdrawn which is a massive shame.

Paris was hot. 32c when we arrived. The train had been sat in the siding all day. The air conditioning was off and the windows closed. We’d booked a two ‘bed’ sleeper compartment. A step up from the couchettes which are little more than a bunk bed. The compartment was very comfortable, but don’t expect too much in the way of luxury. It was like camping but on a fast moving train.

None of this matters though, because less than 24 hours after stepping on a train in Essex we stepped off a train in Italy!

Swiss trains are the best

The goal of our trip was to visit Switzerland. My wife’s grandfather collected and built model Swiss trains, and we wanted to see them for real.

All the stereotypes about Swiss trains are true: On time, beautifully comfortable, smooth. Imagine the UK but if we’d never listened to Beeching.

One of the longest legs of our journey was from Basel to Paris. 3 hours on the TGV-Lyria. This is a French/Swiss joint venture and one of the most amazing trains I have ever been on. 300 km/h through the French and Swiss countryside, non stop, no signals.

Coming home: Eurostar and Liverpool Street

After Switzerland and Paris it was time to come home. On the Eurostar.

The Eurostar has always felt rather romantic to me. Where you can skid under the Channel and emerge in France in the blink of an eye, with the giddy excitement of different electricity pylons, louchely spoken French and the social acceptance of shandy as a pre-dinner drink.

That giddiness was burnt away quite quickly. Once you’ve tasted ambrosia anything else tastes like a shrink wrapped sandwich. Eurostar looked old. 1990’s decor and Parisien customer service.

Liverpool Street was even worse. I have the worst kind of pavlovian reaction there. 10 years of commuting has taught me to seek out Platform 9, 10 or 11 with laser guided precision. Its almost pointless to say that this was the only leg of our trip which was delayed. But we didn’t care, we’d just been to Europe and back on the train.

Let the train take the strain

Until last year, I’d never ever considered taking a holiday where I’d rely entirely on a train. Right now, I can’t think of a better way to vacation. One where you can enjoy the journey as much as the destination. Give it a go.


  1. The gorgeous and largely unknown town of Arbon, in Switzerland. My wife’s family come from here.  ↩

  2. Granted it does take eight days, but that’s not the point. Its 5 trains. It takes 3 to get from Colchester to Thurso in Scotland.  ↩

  3. I’m not on commission. They are however, changing names soon to VoyagesSNCF as part of an expansion.  ↩

February 16th · Tweet · Link

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The first video of the Moon orbiting the Earth

jkottke:

In a fly-by of Earth on its way to Jupiter, NASA’s Juno probe took a short movie of the Moon orbiting the Earth. It’s the first time the Moon’s orbit has been captured on film.

(via @DavidGrann)

December 11th · Tweet · Link

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Helpful ideas for naming our child

Last night, I asked this:

The ones I can publish:

November 30th · Tweet · Link

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Some reflections on being at and helping to run a Good for Nothing Gig

There have been a couple of excellent blog posts about what we got up to at our first GFN Colchester Gig last weekend by Sally and Samra and an excellent Storify Feed put together by Mike.

I wanted to add my thoughts and reflections as part of the motley crew who organised the gig itself.

On Saturday morning we had no idea who was going to turn up. Nervous glances and awkward jokes were exchanged, and we were left wondering if anyone was really motivated enough to come along after breaking loose and partying the evening before.

Our fears were misplaced. People appeared in dribs and drabs. Coffee was made (and spilled) and hello’s exchanged. Briefs were reviewed and teams started to form.

I’ve learnt through painful experience that anything which requires a degree of facilitation can be very unpredictable. Coupled with the fact that I am considerably more shy that my gregarious overcompensation suggests I had no idea what I’d need to do during the gig.

Within 10 minutes of Gaz kicking things off and people really getting down to it I felt it was obvious we’d hit upon the perfect mixture of people. Heads were down, marker pens were squeaking furiously, and the four of us who first discussed this crazy idea back in July were left twiddling our thumbs.[1]

Running one of these gigs is hard. GFN is great because its set up not to require formal leaders, but having spent months thinking and putting this together I felt a sense of responsibility to make sure everyone was getting something out of it.

It ends up this was one of the easiest things I have ever helped to facilitate. I felt a massive sense of accomplishment in being able to have an outlet for my technical and creative juices that I just don’t normally have [2]

Inspirational is a very over-used word. But there were a few things about last weekend that I think warrant its use. found what happened last weekend

Firstly, the fact that people decided it would be better to do work for free than stay in bed at the weekend. They were prepared to offer their skills to help something that benefits others. I don’t want to sound preachy, but that’s pretty inspirational to me.

Secondly, we had a fine mix of people. People who are used to doing this kind of thing for a living to people who aren’t used to speaking publicly or working in project groups. Everyone managed to contribute something and everyone was made to feel valued.

Finally, this:

There’s often a lot of grumbling in Colchester. We can be a confused little town: often filibustering and worrying more about point scoring than Just Getting On. There are so many things that are happening in our little corner of Essex to be proud of — which show we’re a lot more than a poor Channel 4 series about one naff bar. I’m really pleased that GFN Colchester is a part of that.


  1. Designing posters for one of the causes.  ↩

  2. By breaking GitHub, writing poor CSS and remembering how to use Layers properly.  ↩

November 27th · Tweet · Link

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Two videos from Colchester Borough Council, and an offer of support

There’s been some discussion today about a couple of videos produced by Colchester Borough Council: one about Food Waste Recycling, the other about ‘social media’. Given that I create online content for a living I thought i’d offer some constructive criticism, along with an offer of support to Colchester Borough Council [1].

The two videos:

First, things first, I think the fact that these exist at all is a good thing. It means CBC have crossed from talking to doing, and that is a scary step. It’s also really important to say that I wouldn’t have approved either of these videos for release to the public, for one important reason.

I don’t understand what they’re trying to get me to do.

Video is an excellent online medium, and it is seductively easy to feel like you’re doing something good with it when perhaps you’re not. Any content you create needs to answer a really simple question: “What’s the story I’m trying to tell, and what do I want people to do once I’ve told them it?”

The ‘Binlings’ video is a great idea on paper, but I know from bitter experience how expensive and time consuming it is to create something that involves good character animation and which feels warm and fuzzy.

I think an alternative might have been to show the real impact of not recycling our food, and what happens when we recycle it: think piles and piles of landfill contrasted with neatly rotting compost or biogas.

My real beef is with the ‘Social Media video’. This is perpetuates so many myths about the modern internet which are just false. Social media is not:

A social media strategy is not ‘post 3 times a day to Twitter’. It is thinking deeply about how you will use these immensely powerful tools to have a proper connection with the people you serve — in this case everyone in Colchester.

So, my offer of help: I’ll gladly donate some time to help CBC write a proper social media strategy, and to understand what it could actually do for them. Anyone else in?

[1] This isn’t the first time I’ve offered. Back in March myself and some other interested folks met up with the council, but sadly nothing progressed. I’d love to do more. https://twitter.com/ColchChronic/status/310012191849992192

[2] Source: Global Web Index: http://blog.globalwebindex.net/Stream-Social

November 14th · Tweet · Link

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Fancy helping to do some Good for Nothing?

The internet is great, but it can make it seductively easy to feel like you might be making a difference about something you might care about when you’re not.

Starting next week in Colchester there’s an opportunity to change this a little bit.

How?

Good for Nothing is a national network of groups that get together to do good, for nothing. It encourages people to come out from hiding behind their screen, meet new people and make a bit of a difference. It is not about talking, but doing.

We are hosting the first of a series of weekend get togethers next weekend, bringing a group of interesting people together to look at real challenges being faced by local groups working to make our community better.

What does this actually mean?

It’s a chance to spend a few hours over the weekend contributing (any) skills you have to helping a good cause.

The causes who are looking for help will be present what they need and you’ll have a chance to offer your support to any or all of them over the course of the get together.

We’ll be meeting on the evening of Friday 22nd November and during the day of Saturday 23rd November at the marvellous Waiting Room in St. Botolph’s, Colchester.

But how can I help?

You may be a writer, designer or coder; artist, photographer or business owner.

You also might be none of those things. It doesn’t matter. You can help by wanting to share your brain power on how to solve a few problems for your community.

What do I get from dragging myself out of bed at the weekend?

A few things actually:

Where do I sign?

You can find out more by adding your name to the list of attendees on Facebook or Attending.io

November 13th · Tweet · Link

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5 Alternatives to Jumbo That Would Shut Everyone Up

  1. Take off and nuke the site from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure — Lets bulldoze the site and start again. The building is a beautiful example of Victorian architecture, but is that enough of a reason to use it as a starting point?
  2. If music be the food of love, Jumbo on — Another prominent old relic is regularly used for performances and as an open arts space. Why not run a little fringe to the Free Fest under the legs? Or a beer festival? Or a regular market?
  3. I can see my house from here — The main reason I am interested in Jumbo is because I want to stand on top of its and see what the hell Colchester looks like from up high. How about just doing the bare minimum to make it safe and open it up to visitors for a weekend. There’s been insane interest for doing this at disused Tube stations, and it’s a good way for Jumbophiles to get their fix.
  4. Ebay — Worked for a crusty bridge in London, could work for us. Could even invite everyone in Colchester to bring a sledgehammer and slice it up for sale. Postage and packaging might be an issue though.
  5. There is no Jumbo, only Zool — The building specs for Jumbo show the use of cold-riveted beams with cores of pure selenium, magnesium-tungsten alloys, and gold plated bolts. I think this is an opportunity to establish Colchester as the primary destination for inter-dimensional travel.
November 1st · Tweet · Link

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