Tea pots

March 4th, 2013

Glass provides a nice view of the tea inside. It’s also essential to the presentation of wrapped or folded tea such as tea flowers.

Some tea pots are designed so they can be used to boil water on a heating element (such as a stove), and can also be kept warn on a heating element. Glass and some ceramics will break if put on a heating element. A common characteristic that I’ve noticed is a metal collar that makes the tea pot look like a coffee pot, though the shape is different.

A “Brown Betty” tea pot is quite commonly used in many households, though with tea culture from various sources spreading, other pots are often seen too. One appealing aspect of the common colour used for the tea pot is that it doesn’t show tea staining very well.

Some designer teapots can be hand painted, have unusual shapes (such as squares and triangles), and unusual colours.
Paderno makes some nice shiny metal double walled metal tea pots which may help to retain heat.

When looking for a tea pot, consider how it will be cleaned. Built in strainers are nice, but may be difficult to clean. Also, you may want to consider the size of the top opening verses the size of your hand so that you can easily reach inside for washing the pot.

A coffee press (or even coffee pot) can double as a tea pot. I don’t recommend using it for both as coffee coating can cause a scummy residue to form around the edges of the container and float in the tea.

A small individual serving tea pot can be a nice option, especially when re-using tea leaves as is customary with some tea cultures. In such cultures, I’m told that attention is payed  to not “scalding” the tea by using water that’s too hot and using a first pot quickly drained called “washing water” which is sometimes drained into the cup to wash it out. “Washing water” also serves to “steep the pot” providing removal of some residues and warming the pot to better retain the heat of future cups. I suspect some tea leaves may need to be rinsed off too. Using this method, I recommend varying the brew/steep time according to the number of uses the leaves have seen.

Yerba Mate is sometimes consumed using a gourd and a metal filter straw. If using a gourd, it’s difficult to see the leaves. The Columbian that introduced me to using a gourd said that it’s common to re-use the leaves in the gourd. I’ve seen restaurants like La Fiesta using a coffee press to give a nice visual display of Yerba Mate. Of course with leaving leaves in, I recommend consuming the tea within the first few minutes to prevent too much caffeine from leaching out.

A good China/porcelain tea pot can provide an appealing design with matching cups, saucers, creamer, sugar bowl, serving tray etc.. The rims are sometimes decorated with a thin line of gold. While very visually appealing on their own, they can be impractical to wash due to how delicate they are, and likely should be washed before tea stains set in. I have not seen any tea stains set in China or porcelain, but at the cost it doesn’t seem worth the risk. I have seen tea stains in ceramic tea cups, even those with a glossy finish.

In one episode of Sherlock called The Blind Banker tea pots from China in a museum must be washed with tea regularly to keep from cracking, and to help them slowly get a nice tea colour. I have not heard of this outside of this tv episode and expect that such a pot would be very impractical even for an avid tea drinker.

Camp Fire Wood

January 6th, 2012

Some Manitoba provincial parks like William Lake have free firewood (in piles outside), and some like Birds Hill have firewood for sale ($8 this summer for a bundle of dry, covered wood). Some parks like Stephenfield have firewood for sale just outside the park.

This last summer I stayed at Pickerel Point Campground which is on Madge Lake in the Saskatchewan provincial park called Duck Mountain. The firewood was free, but was very green and was piled in heaps exposed to mud on the bottom and rain.

So what makes good firewood?

  • Clean of dirt and mud.
  • No or very little bark.
  • Old cuts so that the sap dries out. Preferably stored dry for a year.
  • Dry rotten wood burns quickly.
  • Small pieces.
  • No leaves, grass, or twigs.

Using a hatchet, you can remove thick bark and make cuts in some dryer wood. Using an axe you can cut up wood that is more wet, or larger. Other options include mechanical splitting devices (hand, pneumatic, electric or gas powered), a wedge and mallet/hammer…

Remember more air gaps in upper surface area (e.g. small pieces) means more oxygen for combustion, and more upper surface area means less ash and more fuel available to burn. This also means arrangement of small pieces is important. It also means larger, pieces burn slower which can be an advantage for longer fires.

NASA recently studied fire in space aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and since there’s no upper side to fuel, ended up with interesting results. I suspect liquid fuel benefits from dispersion of burned fuel if the burned fuel is less dense. No upper side also makes it harder to extinguish flames as fuel needs to be covered from all sides in an even form so that it doesn’t cause propulsion (think rockets, and newton’s laws of motion). This is however getting a bit off topic.
More information on NASA’s fire studies at: http://www.space.com/13766-international-space-station-flex-fire-research.html and http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/FLEX-2.html and other places.

Drew Daniels

Tea and related infusions

September 18th, 2011

There is only one kind of tea plant, but many infusions. Black, green and white tea are just oxidized for different amounts of time. Other interesting related infusions include:
* “Red tea” (Rooibos) which is made from the roots of rooibos bushes.
* Yerba Mate
* Mint “tea” which is just mint or spearmint infused in water
* Lemon “tea” which is commonly made with lemon grass

Common brewing/steeping instructions for tea:
1 Clean the pot.
2 Use good dechlorinated, preferably filtered water
3 After the kettle has boiled, pour some water into the tea pot, swish it around, and let it sit for a short time. I sometimes time it by adding more water to the kettle, and boiling the kettle again.
4 Pour out the water out of the tea pot. You now have a “steeped” pot.
5 Use one bag/tea spoon for the pot and one per person. With most tea one bag/tea spoon is roughly two grams. Obviously there’s more factors.
6 Wait two to three minutes, and pour into tea cups.

Chinese preparation of tea includes “washing water” to wash the tea leaves, and doesn’t leave the tea sitting in the pot for long. The more common practice in that case is to use small one cup tea pots, and add more water before making a new cup. Common tea used for the style is large leaf (i.e. not cut up or ground) green teas, though white tea is highly regarded.

There is a British standard for brewing tea. It is “BS 6008:1980″, now ISO 3103. This standard is similar to instructions on many tea’s, but brew time six minutes.

Tea has less caffeine than coffee, but that’s measured for standard brew times. The long the brew/steep time, the more caffeine released. I suspect how ground the tea is effects how much flavour and maybe caffeine is released into the water.

Red Rose tea has 3 grams of tea per bag versus the more common 2 grams. Red Rose tea also seems to use tea leaves that have been ground up more

Ceylon tea comes from what was once the country of Ceylon and is now called Sri Lanka. Assam tea comes from the Assam province of India. Tea comes from Assam trees, and other varieties of the same species.

In India, tea is commonly known as Chai. Translating Chai tea into English makes it seem as funny as it is: Tea tea. Traditional recipes for tea in India, and other places are more accurately called spiced tea. Extending the Table has a good recipe for spiced tea. Several people I know say that Red Rose tea is the only tea to use for making good spiced tea, and that it’s best made on a stove with milk instead of water.

Real Earl Grey tea is more than black tea with bergamot flavour/oil. One commonly missed ingredients is lapsang souchong which is black tea that has been smoked with cedar.

A good London Fog is made with real Earl Grey, brewed in a pot of milk, with good quality vanilla extract. Real vanilla tastes noticeably different than artificial, but is twice the cost. Watch out for real vanilla extract that has a low quantity of vanilla in it. I suspect the extracting agent of vodka/alcohol and the additive of sugar can make a significant difference in vanilla extract.

Tea tastes best when it’s fresher. To keep the flavour of tea, keep it in sealed containers, away from heat and moisture.

I like pre-bagged tea the best at home and work as it’s easy to clean up. “Coffee” presses, various tea balls, tea strainers can be used, but removing finer ground leaves can involve more work than cleaning regular dishes.

Yerba Mate is a nice tea like infusion. It’s great by itself, but is also nice with honey. Make sure to use good honey though as some store bought brands of honey taste noticeably worse than good local clover honey.

Some of my favourite teas and infusions include:
* Earl Grey
* Yerba Mate
* London Fog
* Darjeeling
* Common black teas (Red Rose, Assam, Ceylon…)
* Prince of Wales
* Black Currant
* Lapsang Souchong
* Sweetened/unsweetened lemon iced tea.

Quality ingredients that can be added:
* Manitoba clover honey (it’s local to me)
* Good quality vanilla extract (I’m having trouble finding a good source)
* Whole spices to grind when making spiced tea
* Raw sugar
* White sugar (it’s the sweetest additive)
* Fresh milk (I like 2%)
* Lemon juice (don’t mix it with milk. I use lemon extract for convenience.)

Drew Daniels

Self-Watering Plants

August 21st, 2011

Research into creating materials to allow plants to release and absorb water from stores only when needed is continuing. This research could be valuable to not only reducing water shortages, but also increasing productivity, making space exploration easier, increasing plant health (including potential yields) and helping out with long haul cargo trips. The addition of nutrients using the same method makes this even more useful.

According to a letter by Hymie Gesser of Winnipeg in an article in the Winnipeg Free Press on August 11th, 2011 work is continuing on a self-watering process for plants that uses a “special micro-porous plastic material that separated the plant’s roots from the supply of water and nutrients.”. The original process was for potted plants written about by Louis Errede, of 3M in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Gesser has extended the process to row plants and just patented it. Apparently there’s a more detailed article about Gesser’s work in the Winnipeg Free Press on May 17th, 2002. I found another article that seems to be written by the same researcher with the name variant Dr. Hyman D. Gesser. The detailed article by Gesser is available from Winnipeg Jewish Review at: http://www.winnipegjewishreview.com/article_detail.cfm?id=145&sec=2 and seems to have been written in or around 2009 as it refers to an article published in the Journal of Applied Irrigation Science, Volume 44, (2009) pp 31 -37.

Self-watering plants seems like a useful concept to reduce water usage, but it is worrying that the work was verified in Florida which I generally associate with being wet from rain and swamps. It’s also quite a hot climate. I’m also discouraged that drip irrigation seems to be preferred by several desert institutions.

Reduce water usage could be very useful to grow food and raw materials in deserts, other dry lands, or even on space expeditions. Long haul trips like cargo ships and distant space travel could benefit not only in reduce water consumption, but also potential longer life for some perishables, and less human intervention being required. One practical application for me might be for some office plants that I’m considering buying, but will not be able to water on long weekends, or some vacations. I can imagine some offices that have shutdowns for weeks, and some that have very few workers that could benefit. Also, reduce time spent watering plants means more time available for other tasks. People likely won’t deliver water as efficiently as the plants want, but hopefully a technology like this will which may mean better yields and healthier plants.

I haven’t found out what the source of the water is, but for potted plants it seems like manual refills will be required. For row plants hopefully there’s tubing that allows water to flow, though distances and rates of flow may mean that there are more opportunities for research. Fortunately Gesser lives in the same city as me so perhaps I’ll have the opportunity to find out more.

Further Research

Some topics that could be further researched include:

  • What are the substances released by plant roots when water and nutrients are needed, or not needed?
  • How can the costs of materials and production be reduced?
  • What plants are best suited to these watering techniques? Guesser found it to be effective for many different fruit and vegetable plants.
  • Do these techniques not work with certain plants?
  • How does this technique effect yield? It may reduce yield in certain cases.
  • Should nutrient or water be decreased during certain events such as certain growing phases, different weather, different ground conditions, and pesticide application?
  • How can materials be protected during tilling?
  • How do pesticides effect the materials?
  • How do “weeds” behave in the presence of the materials? Last year’s crop can be considered a weed.
  • How do insects and animals interact with the materials? This may make a good home for certain species, some may puncture materials making them less effective, and some might find the materials toxic (though this seems less likely).
  • How do various harvesting techniques effect the materials? Using a mower cuts lower than a swather. Flooding fields to harvest cranberries could be significant to the materials…
  • How can materials be repaired? Delivery of “healing” material may be possible via the same tubes.
  • How do different shapes and orientations make a differences? Tubes with branches, capsules, spikes…
  • Can roots be attached to more directly?

Further reading

Louis A. Errede and Patricia D. Martinuccl, Flow Rate of Water through Porous Membranes as Affected by Surface Modification on the Low-Pressure Side of the Membrane, 1980, 19 (4), pp 573–580 found at: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/i360076a018

João G. Crespo, Karl W. Böddeker, North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Scientific Affairs Division, Membrane processes in separation and purification, Springer, 1994, ISBN 0792329295, 9780792329299

C. A. Heath and G. Belfort, Synthetic membranes in biotechnology: Realities and possibilities, Springer Berlin / Heidelberg, 1992, ISBN 978-3-540-55551-3. Abstract found at: http://www.springerlink.com/content/245u31675230m064/

Camping supplies

June 13th, 2011

Shampoo/Soap

Toiletries like shampoo can be a pain to take when travelling or camping because it can pop open, or leak needing a plastic bag and leaving half open containers. Shampoo’s number one ingredient is usually water (sometimes they call it aqua). Some bar soap from Rocky Mountain Soap is also shampoo, and I’ve heard of other soaps that can be used for shaving, bubble baths, and more. The “shampoo bar” is listed as only for men and for dry scalp, but for camping I imagine the applications might be wider, and if you visit, they might also know of other useful products. Their soap is “natural” so that may appeal to a camping crowd too. With limits on liquids for air travel having bar soap allows another toiletry to be carried on reducing what you might need to check-in if you want to make sure you have it. Of course with air travel, another popular option is getting free small bottles from the hotel or buying it along with other supplies from a store at the destination.

Food

There used to be a product that I believe was called Pasta Magic which was widely available. Pasta Magic was great for hiking or long duration camping because the pasta needed minimal preparation. Now I look to Mountain Equipment Co-Op (also known as MEC) for their camping food. There’s even some good substitutes for some of the frozen food people bring to the office. Camping food can be a great alternative where no microwaves are available. Some foods are ready to serve, and many simply require hot water. Some foods cheaper than a cheap meal out while also taking less time to get, possibly being more healthy, and many “camping” foods just aren’t available elsewhere. Unfortunately cooking directions seem to be missing from at least some of the online entries so you can’t be sure if they expect a pot and fire/stove to cook.

Note

I’m looking at helping out more with Beaver Scouts (“Beavers”) next year so there may be more camping related posts coming up.

ReactOS for hardware companies and GNU/kwin32

May 31st, 2011

ReactOS can be useful for hardware companies looking for a cheap simple platform to show off their hardware when they only have a driver for Microsoft Windows.

Linux tools may someday be even easier to get for Windows though the Debian project. Cygwin and MinGW are good, but Debian has more resources to help maintain a larger number of programs. The Debian win32 mailing list has discussed several efforts for the port.

ReactOS is an Open Source operating system that aims for Windows compatibility. I used to work at Linear Systems Ltd., a computer engineering company that mainly developed hardware for the broadcast industry, but had specialized software as well. While working there I got increasingly interested in ReactOS.

Why my interest in ReactOS?

  • It’s free.
  • It’s Open Source.
    • It’s easier to debug low level issues when you have all the source code.
    • It’s easier to customize low level options when you have all the source code and can search and modify it.
    • Working on it I can give back to the community that gives to me.
  • Contributing and using ReactOS might make tools only available on, or more easily available from Linux also be available on Microsoft Windows (as I sometimes have to use Microsoft Windows).

To answer my questions in my notes:

  • ReactOS does support WDM drivers.
  • I never did find out if the Linear Systems driver would work on ReactOS which is a pity. I believe the driver is a free download so someone with hardware can give it a try.
  • The Linear Systems NDIS driver is likely now unsupported as there are no new parts needed to build the required hardware.
  • debian-win32 is largely a dead list now. I still periodically check the list archives. There have been some interesting new efforts to port dpkg and apt to Windows, but none that have done both using MinGW. Many of the supposed technical problems have either been removed in newer versions of Windows, or perhaps didn’t exist. This however seems like a different post.
  • It seems mingw is the way to go to have glibc support for Microsoft Windows and ReactOS.
  • Debian GNU/win32 may be more possible given the success of the Debian GNU/kFreeBSD port that uses glibc on the FreeBSD kernel.
  • To get Debian onto the win32 kernel, the base packages need to be updated. There are existing ports of dpkg to windows through at least cygwin. The Emdebian project may have made this easier with simplifying what needs to be ported with projects like Emdebian Crush that puts off issues like porting a vanilla Perl to Windows. I should not however that there is a project to port vanilla Perl to windows called: Vanilla Perl.
  • ReactOS licenses allow it to be used for commercial purposes.
  • ReactOS can support ext2 through existing 3rd party Windows drivers.
  • My notes dated “Monday, January 26th, 2004″ are as follows:


    ReactOS

    • Does it support WDM?
    • Does it suppport our DVB driver [ed note: Linear Systems' PCI card driver]?
    • Does it support our NDIS driver [ed note: Linear Systems' T1 card driver]?
  • Suggested on debian-win32 that GLibc maintainers wouldn’t support patches for MS Windows as it’s Closed Source. Investigate if they’d support ReactOS.
  • Can Debian be made to boot a ReactOS kernel?
  • Can ReactOS be componentized for Debian?
  • What things need to be done to get Debian to support ReactOS? (triplet?)
  • What are the licences on ReactOS?
  • Can ReactOS support ext2? ext3?

  • Locality of Reference

    May 25th, 2011

    In my studies of Computer Science I learned about the principle of locality which might be better called locality of reference. Two basic kinds of locality are temporal locality (locality in time) and spacial locality (locality in space). The theory basically says that similar things will group together. We see the same principle many places in daily life and other disciplines.

    Some examples of locality include:

    • people speaking the same language tend to group together,
    • wheat fields being on land close together,
    • forests having many of the same species of tree,
    • minerals like gold being in high concentrations in certain areas,

    In data compression, locality is important to reduce context windows to be small enough to fit in memory, to reduce context windows to reduce processing. A context is a kind of locality. A window is a term meaning the area being looked at (or evaluated). Many compression algorithms use a sliding window. A sliding window is a view of several blocks of data that shifts such that when one block is done being evaluated, the window moves one block.

    Why am I talking about locality of reference in data compression? On April 14th, 2004 (2004/04/14), I wrote the following note to myself:


    • duplicate files
    • principle of locality
      • files by time
      • files by directory
      • files by type

    n(n-1)=0(n^2) Every file in front of every other file can be done in parallel.


    This means that for file ordering in an archive, there are some short cuts to finding the optimal order that can take advantage of multi-processor systems. Now checks can also take better advantage of increased parallelism and faster random access provided by solid state disk drives (SSD’s).

    In the above note, O(n^2) is Big O notation for order n squared. That means for every extra unit of input, the processing time roughly takes twice as long. This is a simple exponential curve.

    For further references look up “locality of reference”, “sliding window” compression, “parallel processing”, and “Big O notation”. Also see my evolving nots on data compression including some future information on “Drew Daniels’ compression magic”.

    Drew Daniels

    Adding old paper notes

    May 24th, 2011

    I plan to start adding in my old hand written notes into this blog. I have notes going back more than 13 years. Most of my notes were written during my time at the University of Manitoba.

    I have notes on Data Compression, games, short-wave radio logs, computer errors, my own literary writing, course related reference notes, notes about various organizations I was in, travel observations, business process observations and more.

    I’ve got a small folder of things mostly from 2004 that I may be starting with. I’m still debating what’s worthy for entry. Some notes I may have lost the context for. I must admit that one of the reasons for this effort is reducing the pile of paper I’ve accumulated.

    At one point I was taking notes on my Palm device, but after several minor data loss incidents, and the nuisance of changing batteries I stopped using it. I have some notes there that I may look at putting in this blog too, but since I’ve got a digital copy there’s less urgency.

    Another challenge I have is what to do with the various diagrams and pictures I’ve drawn. Most of it isn’t relevant, and when it is I may put it into a proper web page and re-draw it digitally. I think when I was younger I had a notion that my hand written notes would be treasured like those of the scientists of history, but that was long before the topic of “horders” hit the main stream media. Now my rules for what to keep and what to dispose of is leaning towards getting rid of more.

    I have a small file folder filled with small notes on books I’ve looked up that I’d like to revisit and maybe post reviews about. Without looking I know that I want to re-read some books that quote “How To Solve It”. I particularly liked the following problem:
    If a bear walks south 1km, east 1km, and then north 1km and ends up where it starts, what colour is it?

    Drew Daniels

    Random word’s definition shell script

    March 20th, 2010

    dict "$(head -n $(($(od -N 2 /dev/urandom|cut -d' ' -f2 -s)%98326)) /usr/share/dict/british-english| tail -n1)" |less

    More people may prefer:

    dict "$(head -n $(($(od -N 2 /dev/urandom|cut -d' ' -f2 -s)%$(wc -l /usr/share/dict/words|cut -d' ' -f1))) /usr/share/dict/words| tail -n1)"|more

    • I still want to check for bashisms
    • 98326 is the output of wc -l /usr/share/dict/british-english. I put it inline for speed, and didn’t bother with a variable since I wanted a one line script.
    • If the dictionary is too big then a larger random number would be needed.
    • /usr/share/dict/british-english isn’t installed on many systems, but words is.
    • “more” is lighter weight than “less”, and is installed on more systems. It lacks the ability to go backwards.

    To get a random number I used:

    $(od -N 2 /dev/urandom|cut -d' ' -f2 -s)

    • od converts to decimal.
    • -N 2 gets two bytes
    • /dev/urandom is pseudorandom bytes from the kernel. There might be a more cross platform alternative like maybe $RANDOM for bash.
    • cut -d' ' -f2 -s gets only the second column. Often awk '{print $2}' is used instead. Awk can be very big. gawk is said to be big, and mawk is said to be minimal. cut seems more portable and smaller yet to me. -d sets the delimiter, -f2 is field two, -s is only print lines with the delimiter.

    Try “set -x” before the command to see the different levels of shell script in the one line, do “set +x” after to get things back to normal.

    Drew Daniels’ resume: http://www.boxheap.net/ddaniels/resume.html

    Online vs Offline data storage

    September 20th, 2009

    I have a ever rising need for data storage. Even if I stop accumulating data, or even cutting back what I store, I have to deal with failing media. I’ve had numerous hard drives die over the years, CDR’s have gone bad…

    In my searches for cheap ways to store data, I came across some recommendations to use online storage. With Dreamhost offering 50GB for backups for free, this is something I’m going to start using. At $0.10 US/GB for overages, I hear it beats out quite a bit of competition. I’d prefer to stick with Dreamhost if possible as I know and use them.

    Hard drive costs

    So how much does hard drive storage cost, and how reliable is it? Well for the raw drive, I’ve recently been seeing about $1/GB CDN for SATA drives. My backup server is currently PATA with slow USB (likely version 1) so I’d likely need to spend some money upgrading the backup server. A cheap modern PC seems to go for about $300 CDN. I’d guess controller cards aren’t cheaper than $20.

    Related costs

    But the media cost isn’t the only cost. There’s also install time, maintenance time, and operation costs. One of the biggest operation costs at a house is electricity. Manitoba Hydro charges somewhere around $0.063/kwh CDN. That’s about 365.242199 * 24 * 0.063 = $552.246205 per kw-year.

    Western Digital seems to say hard drives consume between 0.40 Watts to 5.4+5=10.4 Watts. I’ve seen elsewhere claiming 25 Watts for hard drives. So at the given kw-year, the cost of operation could be as low as about 0.40 * 552.246205 = $220 CDN. The more likely case of lets say 2 hours of operation, 1 hour idle to off, based on Western Digital’s “competing” write case of 5.4+4.5 watts in operation, 2.8 watts for idle, and 0.40 watts for standby is about
    ((((5.4 + 4.5) / 24) * 2) + (((2.8) / 24) * 1) + ((0.40 / 24) * 21)) * 552.246205 = $715.

    Wow. I need to turn my computer off more often.

    Simple comparisions

    So lets take the best case for hard drives then and make it as big as seems reasonable right now. 1.5 TB is about 1,396.98386 GB. At Dream host, 3 years (typical hard drive warrenty) times 12 months times $0.10 times 1396 GB times 1.13 for padding for exchange rate, and possible volitility is about
    3 * 12 * 0.10 * 1 396 * 1.13 = $5,679. Local storage would be $750 for electricty * 3 years, plus $150 for the hard drive, plus maintanence of lets say $250 is about (750 * 3) + 150 + 250 = $2,650.

    So local storage is about half the cost in its best case. I’d say it’s more likely to be far less used, but at home I’d have to budget for expansion immediatly. Being at Dreamhost is good for a site disaster (like a house fire), but bad for access time.

    Conclusion

    More research is needed. If I had to make the decision tomorrow, I’d probably go with spending more on Dreamhost storage. I like the offsite feature, the low maintenance, and not having to spend as much time figuring out how much storage I might need.

    Drew Scott Daniels’ resume