Home Brewed Beer in Clear Glass Bottles

Last night I bottled my second batch of beer, and maaaan was it a challenge. As mentioned in my previous post [(Home)Brewing Some Beer], the Mr. Beer kit is a good way to begin to learn the craft of beer making. The equipment leaves something to be desired, however, as it’s cheap. But as we’ve all heard, “you get what you pay for.” Everything is plastic, which means replacement parts are required at some point. Unfortunately, in my case, the need for a replacement part came much too soon. The spigot on the fermenting tank stopped working after brewing the very first batch, and the discovery of that came at a most inopportune time.

While prepping the second batch (American Blonde Ale), I went through the motions – sanitize all the required tools/boil water in a pot/mix in the hopped malt – and discovered that the sanitized water wouldn’t pass through the spigot on the fermenting tank. So the only option was to flip the fermenting tank over to dump out the water. I then removed the spigot from the tank to see what was up. The assembly is designed so that hitting the “push” button activates a bar inside that pulls down on a rubberized seal, allowing liquid to pass through the valve. Well, the bar had somehow become disconnected from the rubberized enclosure, so the “push” button activated nothing. Since the spigot wasn’t leaking, I had no choice but to go ahead and reassemble it so the “wort” and yeast could do their thing.

Mr. Beer’s Customer Service dept. was a big help. I let them know the equipment failed after just a single use, and they promptly sent me a replacement/redesigned spigot. It sure is nice to have, though it’s hard to remove a tap when its seal is helping keep liquid in the fermenting tank.

My wife and I schemed and debated on the best approach to get the beer out for bottling. Ultimately, I ended up turning the faulty spigot counter-clockwise until beer began pouring out. I really hope the liquid didn’t get too agitated/aerated, as it flowed down into the sanitized pitcher I put in the sink. In retrospect, the better idea probably would have been to sanitize a ladle and slowly, scoop by scoop, move the beer into the pitcher. Once enough beer poured out of the tank, I was able to reach in and install the new spigot.

Also, this could turn out to be a really stupid move, but I substituted sugar for honey in one of the bottles to see what happens. As it’s a sugar product, I know the yeast will convert it to alcohol, but I have no idea if it’s appropriate to use the same amount of honey as the recommended amount of sugar. We shall see, and hopefully nothing blows up.

One thing I was concerned about was that all the swing top bottles I have are clear. Dark brown and green bottles are used to keep out sunlight, which can break down the hops in the bottled beer. Sometimes that’s used for effect, as it adds flavor to brews like Corona. So it seems to be that you can use whatever bottles you want – colored or not – but be sure to store the clear ones in a dark cabinet to avoid introducing a skunky flavor.

Also, to further develop my beer making skills, I bought a hydrometer. Honestly, I still don’t know exactly what the “specific gravity” readings tell you, but I do know that you can calculate the beer’s percentage of alcohol (ABV) with the device. The tool also indicates if fermenting is underway or if it’s complete. But how to determine those from the hydrometer, I have no idea, as the one purchased through Mr. Beer came with no instructions at all. You’re pretty much on your own figuring the thing out, but I guess they must figure you know how to operate such a device if you’re buying one. But I don’t, and I have some research to do.

So my second batch ever is now in storage for the next couple weeks. Hopefully it will be a hit at Thanksgiving… but I think I’m going to have to try a bottle beforehand so I don’t potentially offend my guests!

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The disclaimer comes first. Don’t take this purely as advice for your situation. Even a lot of people who called themselves “experts” you should be skeptical of, and I’m not expert. With that said, here are my discoveries…

You’ve heard it before: don’t put all your eggs in one basket. I’ve really taken that to heart, seeing the ups and downs of my first stock purchase back in 2008. Recently, I have diversified my portfolio and have also started looking for a place to stash some cash. I know, you’re probably thinking “You can put some cash in my pocket,” but I bet you won’t pay interest.

If you are having trouble saving money to put back for retirement, here is an idea that might help you. If your employer offers direct deposit, have them take out an amount every week that you won’t miss. In my case, that small amount goes straight into a bank that I only have a savings account with and rarely visit. It’s really out of the way, which is great because it’s not so tempting to use that money on a whim for something else. When I reach a goal of $500 or $1000, for example, that money gets invested.

CDs

CDs are a tricky thing these days. Rates are sooo LOW, LOwww, lowwwwwww, but the important thing to remember is that rates are even lower for that money sitting in your savings account. Although you will get a higher interest rate for that five year CD, a lot can happen in that time. Your best bet is probably going to be to lock away that money for two years and search for better rates when that term is almost up. Alternately, if you plan on socking away, say, $1,000 in a CD every year, you could continually set up 5 year terms and, eventually you’ll get to the point where you have a CD term ending every year.

Now, when it comes to IRA CDs, the guidelines are slightly more complex. With that direct deposit money I spoke about, I was going to set up an IRA CD at one of the banks that had a higher yield rate listed on bankrate.com or bankaholic.com (I forget which). With the particular bank in question, I browsed through some reviews and decided to navigate on over to their website to start setting up an account. I think that’s when the Lord Almighty blessed me with a sign… honestly. I filled out all my personal information, clicked “submit” and suddenly lost my internet connection. When it came back, I was like “Okay, I’m going to read a little more and make sure this is the right bank.” It turned out it wasn’t. I discovered some fine print on another page saying they charge an annual $30 IRA account maintenance fee. I was going to make about $10 a year on the two-year CD I was going to set up, so going with that bank would have actually made my retirement account lose $20 a year!


STOCKS

When I first bought stock, I didn’t have the freedom to decide what broker I was going to use. My employer decided that, as I was purchasing through an Employee Stock Purchase Program. The broker is a major one that you’ve heard of, and I like how the system works. I bought the stock when it was at an all-time low in 2008, at less than $1 a share. Knock on wood, but the stock has shot up since then, back to a more normal value for that company. A dividend is paid on the shares every-so-often, and the dividend reinvestment program is awesome. It’s great to periodically check in on your account and discover that you have more stock shares than the last time you logged in.

Automatic dividend reinvestment is great, but some DIY stock brokers like Scottrade don’t allow it. Instead, when a dividend is paid, the money goes into your account. It seems like a ploy to add money to your overall balance, to get you to buy more stock, which means having to pay the $7 transaction fee more often.


IRAs

This is where it starts to get into those murky, giving-specific-financial-advice waters that I am trying to steer clear of. But if you don’t already have an Individual Retirement Arrangement (IRA), they are a smart choice. There are some limitations, but the tax benefits can be great. This year, the maximum contribution limit for most people is $5,000. There are also some income limits to consider. If you’re earning a six-figure income every year, chances are you’re not eligible.

Roth and Traditional IRAs each have their own tax rules but, in my exploration, it seems that most people prefer the Roth. With the Traditional IRA, you can deduct your contributions on your tax return every year, and you pay on your earnings when it’s time to retire. With the Roth, you can’t deduct the yearly contributions from taxes, but the money isn’t taxed at retirement. In other words, for people who can do without that tax break, it’s probably wiser to go with the Roth. Again, though, consult an adviser for your personal situation.

Another thing I have learned is that contributions to your IRA have to be cash, unless you’re rolling another investment vessel like a 401k into the account. Otherwise and unfortunately, you can’t do things like take stock shares in a regular account and transfer them directly to an IRA. Rather, you would have to sell your shares and use the proceeds as a contribution to your IRA. From there, you could buy shares of the same stock again if desired, but that wouldn’t be so wise because of the taxes you would have to pay on the stock sale. I would love to make a hefty profit, then move it to a tax-advantaged account, but it’s just not to be.

That just about sums about my recent discoveries for now. If you have any questions or have your own helpful tips to add, feel free to comment below. Happy investing, and good luck!

If you value your photos, videos, and documents – and I know you do – you may occasionally back up your digital files, without any real consideration for long-term storage. But we all know hard drives (even external ones you rarely use) will fail on occasion, and plastic storage media like DVDs and CDs degrade over time. So what’s one to do?

First and foremost, the best practice to battle the digital reaper is to copy/back up the same data to various types of media. I am currently in the process of backing up everything on my two computers to an external hard drive and to a pair of DVDs. When a project or a set of files is finished copying to the backup hard drive, I also burn that project to a primary DVD and then make a backup DVD.

In 2007, Google wrote a rather long-winded report on the typical failure rate for hard disk drives (linked at bottom). In summary, the biggest killers of hard drives are heat and shock. Time usage can also certainly be a contributing factor, though Google’s results came from hard drives that “remain powered on for most of their life time.” Such drives, on average, had the biggest jump in failure rate between years 1 and 2. Additionally, it’s been noted in the tech world that traditional, magnetic hard drives (aka Hard Disk Drives or HDD) lose their magnetism, and thus their ability to store information, over time.

On the other hand, solid state hard drives (SSD) are quickly gaining favor because they have no moving parts that might fail, and they can retrieve data much quicker than magnetic drives. Browsing through various forums and articles, however, it seems there is consensus that long-term storage on a SSD is inadvisable. Such drives can begin losing information within a matter of months without frequent use.

The positive, though, is that the previously mentioned Google study proclaims the SSD failure rate to be lower than that of those HDDs with all the moving parts.

 

Drobo storage:

To help solve that problem of disk failure and subsequent data loss, some companies have developed technologies that copy data to multiple locations. Here in the office, we use the Drobo S hard drive storage system, to back up video that continually costs millions of dollars to produce. The unit is an external box capable of holding a total of five hard drives, for maximum storage space of 15 TB. The drives in the Drobo all work in unison, essentially making the whole unit one big-azz external hard drive. When you use the “dual disk redundancy” setting, though, the 15 TB storage then drops down to around 7 TB total. In that mode, the information on the drives is duplicated and spread around on all the drives in the Drobo unit. Our tech consultant purports that all the data would be safe even if two of the five drives in the Drobo were to crash simultaneously. Woah!

 

G-RAID Storage:

A lot of tech types in the entertainment business gravitate towards G-Technology’s G-RAID drives. They look sleek and cool and seem super durable. I worked on a TV show a couple years ago, wrangling and backing up all the footage shot everyday. Prepping for the show, the Producers came to me to find out what we should be storing all the footage on. I suggested G-RAIDs. “Nooo, noo, nooooooo! We can’t afford that,” they responded. So they bought a bunch of regular G-DRIVES instead. If you aren’t familiar with the conventions, I will briefly describe them in the short paragraph below. Otherwise, feel free to skip ahead.

– G-RAID drives are actually comprised of two hard drives, connected together inside an nice, aluminum, external hard drive housing. In the standard operating mode, when you connect the drive to the computer and drag files onto it, it copies the information to both drives inside the unit. If one of the drives were to become corrupt, your data should be retrievable from the mirrored, non-corrupt drive contained in the housing. As opposed to G-RAID drives, regular ol’ G-Drives are made by the same company and only have one drive inside the similar-looking housing. –

Backing up all the data for the aforementioned show onto the regular G-Drives ended up working great. I replicated the “dual disk redundancy” of a G-RAID by connecting the two G-Drives together and copying all the files to the main drive I designated, and then copying the same information to the backup drive.

Fast forwarding to the show I work on now, the Drobo unit was purchased as a replacement for those G-RAID drives that I had always previously thought were so indestructible…. it turns out they aren’t quite so reliable after all. Remember, I said before that the footage we back up costs millions of dollars to produce? Well, that means we also have to be able to access that footage at any time for flashback sequences and such. Over the years, we amassed eight G-RAIDS, and two of them ended up failing. Two of eight – that’s 25%! Our computer guy had to send them in for data retrieval, which meant they were out of service for a couple months. That’s right, when we plugged in drives to get the data we needed off them, two of the G-RAIDS failed. Done. Kaput. Stemming from actual experience, my preference these days is to backup files to two separate drives, rather than using a single “raided” enclosure that shares one circuit board.

 

Summary so Far:

G-RAID drives aren’t as safe as they might seem. If possible, backup your data to multiple hard drives and then to other storage media, like DVDs. The up-and-coming solid state hard drives have a limited life span, just as magnetic drives do, and it’s also worth noting that those SSD drives don’t hold information so well without having frequent use.  ( –> http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/ssd-reliability-failure-rate,2923-9.html).


Obsolescence:

Aside from the question of which storage media to use for long-term backup, another consideration for the future is file format compatibility. Codecs change and many programs eventually lose backward-compatibility with previous versions of the software. Unless you plan on keeping old computers around, consider archiving your most important documents as basic files.

For DOCUMENTS, consider saving in Real Text File (RTF) or basic Text (TXT). These formats lack in the ability to save things like flashy banners, text boxes, and other things that make your document look more like a fancy webpage or magazine cover, but they will continue to save your basic text for the long-term.

For PHOTOS, JPEG files will probably be the best bet for the future. The majority of cameras these days save in that standard format, and JPEG is the predominant format to display images on the internet.

For MUSIC backup, consider MP3 files. The proliferation of that file format really came about with online file sharing in the late ’90s and the subsequent development of MP3 players that so many people take to the gym, hook up in the car, and pack on vacations. The MP3 format will likely continue to be around for a long time. For audio enthusiasts, WAV is another great format to use. It’s the format encoded on standard music CDs and provides a higher fidelity sound than that of the MP3 format. For many people, the difference in sound in negligible.

 

Off-site Data Storage:

Off-site data storage is an important consideration if, God forbid, disaster strikes your area. Here in California, a sizable earthquake could break down this infrastructure for a long while, and such destruction could destroy those hard drives and other storage media. Aside from earthquakes, some parts of the world have to contend with floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, and tsunamis. Sometimes houses and apartment buildings burn down. These aren’t pleasant thoughts, but it’s true. For these reasons, it’s wise to keep a backup copy of your data off-site. When finished with my current project of backing up ALL my photos, music, and documents, I plan on keeping a small book of DVDs at a relative’s house, which is in a different town. You could also keep your backups with a friend, at the office, in a safe deposit box, etc. Also, when keeping such things in the possession of others, be sure to use your best judgment, based on what the content of your backups is. If some of the information is sensitive and potentially embarrassing, take the safe deposit approach or just leave it off your off-site backups.

 

Photo Prints:

For photos that are really important to you, print ’em out! My family has some tintype photos from the 1800s, portrait paintings from the early 1900s, and a collection of film negatives and slides. In other words, physical portraits can last an extremely long time, especially under proper care. For long-term storage, again, the best bet is to keep a copy at home and another off-site. Be sure your printer paper is acid-free, as well as any envelopes you may be storing them. If at all possible, keep the photos stored away so exposure to air is minimal, and don’t touch the photos if you don’t have to. That way you will keep oils from your skin off the photos.


Second (and Final) Summary

Ultimately, there is no single, bullet-proof data storage solution. Your best best to ward off data loss is to back up files to two or more storage mediums, which can include a combination of hard drives, DVDs, online/cloud storage, tape drive, and even CDs. Periodic backup is also crucial, since hard drives will inevitable fail and plastic storage media will degrade. Even online storage shouldn’t be used as a single source of data backup.

If possible, transfer your backup files to new media every 3-5 years to keep your storage devices fresh. Keep copies of your data off-site and, lastly, put your most important files in a physical medium (like photos) when applicable. Happy data preservation!

Before you begin, be sure to unplug all cables going to the hard drive and to discharge all potential static built up on you/your clothing by touching a grounded, metal object that is not the hard drive…. seems like simple stuff, but it’s really important.

The drive – this set of instructions applies to any of the LaCie Rugged series drive:

Disassembly of a LaCie Rugged External Hard Drive

 

Remove the rubber bumper.

Disassembly of a LaCie Rugged External Hard Drive

 

With care, pry the overlapping aluminum tabs on the side of the drive up to about a 45 degree angle. These tabs are fragile – four of them broke off in this disassembly process – so only pry them up far enough to clear the underlying tab. Warning! Warning! Warning! Breaking the sticker will void your warranty (if you still have one).

Disassembly of a LaCie Rugged External Hard Drive

 

Again, the tabs need not be pried as far apart as shown.

 

At this point, the top and bottom of the case will come right off.

Disassembly of a LaCie Rugged External Hard Drive

 

The plastic around the drive is very flexible, so pull the sides far enough apart and the drive will swing out.

Disassembly of a LaCie Rugged External Hard Drive

 

The small, black rubber bumpers that act as a shock mount for the drive may come off… if so, no big deal, as they slide right back on when you are ready to reassemble the drive in the case.

Disassembly of a LaCie Rugged External Hard Drive

 
This drive uses an IDE connection:

Lacie Rugged Hard Drive Teardown

 

Lacie Hard Drive Repair

 

The tabs broken off from prying them further than needed… If the same happens to you during disassembly, bend the rest of the tabs back into place when ready, and the outer bumper should hold everything in place just fine.

Disassembly of a LaCie Rugged External Hard Drive

If you enjoyed this article, please consider sharing it below!

Also, see my LaCie Porsche External Hard Drive Disassembly post here.

Tools needed:
-thin flat-head screwdriver
-Phillips screwdriver

Before you begin, be sure to unplug the external power going to the hard drive and to discharge all potential static built up on you/your clothing by touching a grounded, metal object that is not the hard drive…. seems like simple stuff, but it’s really important.

Steps:
1) Turn the hard drive over. Gently wedge the flat-head screwdriver between the hard drive enclosure’s base plate and the main body of the enclosure. Begin to slowly pry so that the side of the enclosure begins to bow outward. Continue until the base plate pops out. Keep the popped out side close to seam (so the still-attached side of the base plate doesn’t get bent). Perform the same pry technique on the other side of the base to fully remove the plate. [click on any of the photos to enlarge]

Disassembly of a LaCie Porsche External Hard Drive

 

2) Now that the hard drive is exposed, you will notice three, small aluminum brackets on both sides of the drive. Bend those upward – this can be done by hand.

Disassembly of a LaCie Porsche External Hard Drive

 

3) Use the Phillips screwdriver to remove the four screws binding the hard drive to the enclosure. Once removed, bend the aluminum screw brackets upward.

Disassembly of a LaCie Porsche External Hard Drive

 

4) With the exception of the power and data cables, the drive is free at this point. Carefully turn the enclosure over so that the drive slips out of the case. Gently pull the slack out the cables that are still plugged into the drive and begin wiggling the power cable out (the transparent connector with four wires).

Disassembly of a LaCie Porsche External Hard Drive

 

5) Once the power connector is unplugged, do the same for the data cable. Do not be forceful with the ribbon cable. Through trial and error, I have broken these cables before, and they aren’t fun to try to fix. Additionally, you don’t want to end up with bent pins on the hard drive itself. If the ribbon connector doesn’t come off easily, unplug the other end from the board attached to the enclosure. Since the drive will then be free, you will have plenty of leverage to remove the cable from the drive.

Disassembly of a LaCie Porsche External Hard Drive

 

At this point, the drive is completely free from the enclosure. Congratulations!

If you enjoyed this article, please consider leaving a comment or sharing below!

Also, see my LaCie Rugged Hard Drive Disassembly post here.

It’s a wonder I didn’t do better in school. I didn’t do bad, but I could have just done…better. The thing is, I like to read a lot. Looking through the search engine results, forever logged somewhere deep in this computer, would probably not reveal a whole lot specifically about the person sitting in front of it every day. The information contained would just be a dizzying array of terms and phrases that have no definable link, except for maybe “this person likes to look s*(@ up!”

Being so familiar with the ways this technology is used, I also understand a little bit about how it works. Plus, it helps having studied things like copyrights, open and public records, and data aggregation in college. I strongly believe in the right to privacy and the right to control potentially unique, identifying information related to privacy.

To see what’s out there – and in moments of boredom – I have done Internet searches for my name, phone number, and e-mail address. For you to do the same might yield some interesting results. And, in case you haven’t heard, managing this kind of information is big business these days. Services like “Reputation Defender” exist for the purpose of 1) removing your personal information from data aggregate websites and 2) burying pages containing your information deeper in the search engine results.

There is too much asked of us too often, and too much info is needlessly spread about. What happens to your information when a cashier swipes your ID, rather than manually inputting your birth date? Why has our society allowed for so many applications unrelated to income to require a social security number? Why must we disclose ethnicity on college applications, rather than admitting students, who are sight unseen, based on academics?

Look, to consider and be concerned about such topics doesn’t mean you live in a lead box and wear a tin-foil hat. There is some weird, unnecessary crap that goes on out there, and here are two of my personal examples that spring to mind: Back in 2003 or so, I received a letter from my university one day, urging 1,000+ of us students to sign up for a credit freeze/watch because an adviser had lost a PDA (remember those?) that contained our social security numbers. That sorta seemed to defeat the purpose of us having “university IDs.” Another weird happening was when I picked up my car from an auto shop way back when and realized that, sometime between dropping the vehicle off and picking it back up, a paycheck stub previously in the car was no longer there.

A professor once tipped us students off to the fact that, in Ohio, we could visit county auditor websites to see who owns which house, how much the person paid for the property, and how much is paid annually in property taxes. Aggregate sites like Zillow and Redfin essentially provide the same data. And now you can also see what your favorite actor’s backyard looks like via Google Maps. Knowledge drives business and, as we all know, knowledge = power.

Knowledge, or the appearance of possessing it, has also allowed some sketchy cottage industries to creep in the mix. Putting nearly any phone number in a search engine will bring up pages headlining “Free Reverse Lookup” and “Find out who is calling you? (sic)” My number brings up 6,750 results and numerous hits provide only enough information to show where in the country my phone is supposedly located (based on the prefix) and who my FORMER carrier was. Not much of a reverse lookup, eh?

What this analysis really boils down to is that we could all do a better job of managing our personal information. Some people don’t show any interest in doing so, but you can’t tell me there aren’t places in your life that are off-limits. What gets me are these people who say “I’m no criminal… I wouldn’t care if the police were watching me because I have nothing to hide.” Yeah right! Surveillance for no reason is probably a result of profiling. Otherwise, how would the surveyors pick and choose who to watch and who they think would be most likely to commit a crime? Realistically, everyone I’ve ever known who thought they’ve been profiled were mad as hell about it. We all have moments, as mundane as they may be, where we do something when we think no one is watching… moments where we would be embarrassed to find out someone WAS watching. It’s NOT OKAY!

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?