Archive for November, 2011

I started my first batch of home-brewed beer last night. How many mistakes did I make?

1. I didn’t clean the kitchen before starting, so I ended up having to work around a lot of dirty dishes taking up counter and sink space.

2. The largest stock pot we have wasn’t really large enough. I had to use a half-gallon less water than instructed and still had a boilover. I may look at getting a larger one before the next try. (I think this one is a 3-gallon pot; I need a 5-gallon.)

3. I let the grains boil when they should have just steeped in water no warmer than 170 degrees. Lesson learned: Be more patient to get the temperature stable before steeping; stay at the pot and monitor. This might be a fatal mistake, since I read that letting the water get too hot leaches tannins into the wort and makes it bitter — and not in the good way that beer can be bitter. We’ll see when the batch matures.

4. I may not have disinfected the equipment adequately. I’m not sure I like the powdered no-rinse disnfectant that comes with the kit. Most of the books I read advocate using a bleach or iodine solution, which I might try next time. Also, I didn’t know what to do with the thermometer, hydrometer, etc. after disinfecting and before or between uses. It may be that  I need to disnfect multiple times, before the equipment touches the wort. I need to mull on that one some more.

5. I transferred the wort to the fermenter when it was a little warmer than recommended, but not by much. The main concern here is whether it’s hot enough to kill the yeast, but I think it was fine.

6. I wasn’t able to get an exact reading on the hydrometer, due to not having used one before and also due to a lot of foam on the surface of the liquid, making it hard to tell exactly where the instrument was settling. I got an approximate reading though that seems to be in the right range.

I’m going to go ahead with fermentation and bottling, even though I suspect this batch may be lost, mainly because I want to make any further mistakes now rather than on the next one. Even if this first try, fails, I learned a lot that will come to bear next time.

The main lessons come down to two key words: Patience and Attentiveness. A few of the above mistakes (1, 4, 5) happened because I was rushing things, and number 2 because I wasn’t paying close attention as I needed to. The others were born of inexperience and unfamiliarity with the equipment, and will be less of a factor next time.

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Do you recall the last time you saw a gas station attendant?

I don’t mean the person behind the counter who’ll ring up the candy bar and soda you buy after you pump the gas. I mean a person who comes out when you pull up, puts the desired amount of gas into your tank and, while the pump is running, checks your oil and washes your windshield. Gas stations used to be called “service stations” for a good reason.

They still exist in New Jersey, which has a law banning self-service gas stations. But pretty much anywhere else in America, the attendant is as extinct a species as the elevator operator. An entire class of employment has vanished, supplanted by technology (card readers and automatic shutoffs for pumps) and a deliberate downscaling of service.

A similar phenomenon is happening now in supermarkets and other stores (Home Depot for one): self-service checkout. Instead of having a cashier scan and bag your items, you do it yourself. Instead of several cashiers, the store needs one person to monitor the self-check lines and fix the occasional malfunction. The store cuts its labor costs, and the customer is made to believe that it’s a convenience.

But these are just two more mainfestations of the ongoing replacement of human labor with machines. At a time when unemployment is perilously close to 10 percent, businesses are looking for ways to employ fewer and fewer people.

The supplantation of people by machines is a theme that John Michael Greer, Richard Heinberg and other social critics have expounded on at some length. In particular, once-plentiful agricultural jobs have mostly vanished, as now one corporate-paid farmer with a tractor can do the work that a dozen or two men would have done a century ago.

As the wheel of time turns, we have more people needing work and less work that we need humans for. It has been said that service jobs are the one category that can’t be outsourced or replaced by automation. In at least some cases, the automation is proving that maxim to be wrong.

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I Come of Age
I Go To College
Death and the Televangelist
The Return
Finding My Way


It’s become clear to me I’m not going to finish the “My Pagan Soul” series in any consistent way. The chronological treatment doesn’t work all that well for my more recent years. So I’m going to conclude by starting from the present.

Right now, I’m a Unitarian Universalist and a new member of ar n’Draiocht Fein, also called, A Druid Fellowship – ADF, either way.

Ultimately, despite one more short return to Christianity at an Episcopal Church in 2008, monotheistic, exclusionary religion doesn’t ring true to me. I have tried to make it fit. I have stepped away from it knowing that that represents a break from my upbringing, which isn’t easy to do. But, try as I might, it just isn’t me.

Unitarian Universalism is a much more suitable place for my regular religious practice. I like the freedom of thought and belief it allows, and the people are far more likely to share my values and approach to life than any I’ve encountered in traditional Christian churches. We’re part of a small but vibrant congregation, and find it fulfilling.

ADF too is proving to be a good fit so far, although it’s a much newer involvement. Paganism in general, and the various kinds of modern-day Druidry in particular, feed my resonance with nature. And ADF offers a polytheistic view of deity that reflects the way everybody thought of the gods before monotheisms arose and took over. I have a little difficulty committing to that as a faith-statement, but as I become increasingly comfortable with it as an operating paradigm, I think that day may come.

I am happy with my present spiritual life, moreso than I remember having been in the past. I’m not going out of a sense of obligation to another person, nor am I constantly having to reinforce my commitment by trying to control my own thoughts, nor yet am I drifting along with no structure … and if you look at any phase of my life prior to the last couple of years, one of those three conditions would be in play.

This is good.

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