Clock Radio – Screen Taming

May 31, 2012

I’m well and truly a bedside alarm clock user.  I know I could use my phone as an alarm, but sometimes it’s nice to wake up prematurely, realise that you’ve still got an hour or so to go and roll back into sleep.  And I like to wake up for the news on the hour – it helps me not hit snooze, because otherwise it won’t come around for another hour.

My old clock radio was one from childhood and the analog tuner was wandering around everywhere.  Combined with squelch this meant that once detuned it would fail to wake me up!

I replaced it with a Sony Dream Machine ICF-C7iP which had a number of features that appealed to me: digital tuner, two alarms (settable for days of the week) and ipod integration (possibly useful?).

What I wasn’t expecting was the freaking searchlight of a screen!  It all looks wonderful in a well-lit room, but this thing is meant to be BEDSIDE – ie operating in the dark next to your head.  Even on the lowest of the three brightness settings I can see this light THROUGH MY EYELIDS!  The problem is exacerbated by the fact the the backlight not only lights up the numbers but it also shines through what are supposed to be the dark areas of the LCD.  So after living with it for far too long, it’s now time to do something about it.

My first intention was to open the clock up and locate the high brightness white LED responsible for backlighting the screen and replace it with a lower intensity red one.  Unfortunately, as you can see in the photo above, the backlight is integral to the LCD screen and therefore not replaceable.  You can also see how ridiculously bright it all is in a brightly lit room (that reflection on the table is from an 80W bulb directly overhead!)

So the only other alternative that would be quick, easy and cheap was to use a filter of sorts between the LCD module and the front screen of the case.  I picked up a sheet of red cellophane from the newsagent for $1.50 and stuck it to the LCD with patches of tape in the corners – I used 2 layers.  Once reassembled it’s not a perfect job, you can see a bit of wrinkling.  But really this is such a better outcome than the searchlight in the room!

This is what the finished product looks like.  This is the middle brightness setting, which I think is probably about right.  And unlike before I have the option of going one setting brighter or darker should I need to.

I’ve seen a number of people complaining about this issue on the net, and now that I have performed such a simple fix I feel a little silly for having not done so earlier.  And why has no-one else done this before me?

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Keezer – Digital Thermostat

May 20, 2012

A chest freezer has many advantages over a standard refrigerator.  One of them being the thermal efficiencies gained by avoiding a front-opening door that spills all the cold air out every time it’s opened.  Indeed I have recently tested my keezer and a digital thermometer placed inside, halfway down, doesn’t even move by 0.1C when the lid is opened (carefully) for a short period of time.

Unlike a refrigerator, however, a freezer must be run with some form of thermostat.  People routinely store normal bottled beer in their home fridges but uncontrolled a freezer will (obviously) freeze them.  I don’t see this as an encumbrance at all – I don’t like my beer at household fridge (food preserving) temperature anyway, so I would have to run a thermostat regardless.

I already run a digital thermostat on my fermenting fridge.  And another one on my HLT.  These are both STC-1000 thermostats, which provide both heating and cooling circuits.  The thermostat that I have ordered for the keezer only has one switched output – it’s a Willhi WH7016C (again bought on ebay and cheap: $15).  I don’t like the interface on this unit as much as the STC, but that might just be a familiarity issue at this point in time.

Just like my previous thermostats I placed this one in a black project box and wired it up by cutting an extension cord in half to provide the power connections.  Some people like to install these units into their keezers but I didn’t for a number of reasons: I think that a visible display ruins the look of a full-wood keezer; I don’t intend to change the temperature very much so what’s the point?; this keezer is going to live in a domestic space (do I really want to be watching a movie with the room lit up by the keezer display?); if I installed it inside the keezer it would be subject to temperature fluctuation and presumably condensation.

Just like the HLT temperature controller I wired this one up with an RCA plug for the NTC temperature probe.  This meant that I could use a bulkhead fitting RCA socket on the back of the keezer, making it easy to seal any holes that pass through the wall of the keezer collar.  It also means that the thermostat box is completely removable, which is clearly useful if the keezer ever needs to be moved.

The probe itself sits inside the keezer.  I’ve just left it dangling about halfway down so that it’s measuring the temperature of the mass of air in the center of the keezer.  I figure this is probably a sensible location for it and will prevent it from fluctuating if the lid is ever opened.


Keezer – Drip Tray

May 17, 2012

From what I have seen on the internet the drip tray seems to be a bit of an after-thought for many kegerator builders.  Many simply roll out a bit of towel on the floor and do without for years.  I thought I’d buck the trend and order my drip tray as one of my first tasks.

Stainless steel drip trays can be surprisingly expensive.  Tiny 1-glass sized ones can be in excess of $100, and larger ones (suitable for my 3-tapper) even more so.  No wonder people do without.  But after reading a post on HomebrewTalk I was put onto Barproducts.com who do a 19″ stainless steel drip tray for US$18.50!  Sure I was slugged with a fair bit of postage, but it still worked out very cheap.

The first step is to knock up a wooden surround for the tray to sit in.  As a starting point I cut a base plate out of 12mm ply a few millimetres larger than the tray, then threw some 40x12mm pine DAR around all sides (mitering the front edges, of course).

Next to be made were some mounting brackets.  Originally I had thought that the drip tray box would sit flush with the front of the keezer, but now that the taps are on it I realise that it will need to sit out by 40mm.  The woodwork on the brackets isn’t exactly my best work, but I’m hoping that most of it will not be visible to a standing person and any gaps that are will be filled with filler.

On goes two coats of the same combination stain and varnish that I used on the rest of the keezer.  And a few more coats of high gloss clear.  I temporarily screwed the drip tray bracket to a spare scrap of wood so that I could varnish it both in the horizontal and vertical positions (with the aid of a bench vice).  This allowed me to get to all the sides of the tray box and to avoid trying to paint upside-down.

And then there’s nothing to do but screw it to the keezer and slip in the stainless steel drip tray!  The real test will of course be whether it can take the load of a full glass of beer, when someone inevitably uses it as a shelf… so to double check I’ve filled up my heaviest 500mL stein and it doesn’t budge a bit.

Now all that remains is a bit of plumbing took hook up the gas and beer lines…


Tortilla de Patatas with Chorizo and Goat’s Cheese Salad

May 14, 2012

During this year’s Formula 1 season I have set myself the challenge of cooking in the style of the country hosting each race on the night of each grand prix.  This week was the Spanish Grand Prix so tonight was tortilla de patatas with chorizo and goat’s cheese salad…

Ingredients:

  • 1 chorizo
  • 3 small waxy potatoes
  • 3 eggs
  • Spring onions (shallots)
  • Baby spinach leaves
  • Goat’s cheese
  • Balsamic vinegar

Peel, dice and cook the potatoes (I bunged them in the microwave, or you could boil).

Barbecue the chorizo so that the skins are crunchy.  Let the chorizo cool, slice thinly then fry in a frying pan until browned and crunchy.  Set aside but keep the pan juices.

Fry the potatoes in the chorizo fat until golden and crunchy.  Whisk the three eggs together, add a crack of pepper and some salt then pour over the potatoes.  Put finely sliced spring onion stalk on top and push under the surface.  Cook through and grill the top.

Assemble the salad: green baby spinach leaves, crunchy chorizo slices, sliced spring onion (white end), crumble a bit of goats cheese and drizzle with a small amount of balsamic vinegar.

Serves 3.


Keezer – Varnish

May 7, 2012

In the last update the keezer was still raw pine.  Not only did I want a finish which would protect the raw wood from spillage and staining, but this is also an opportunity to move away from a boring blonde pine appearance.

I went for a two-in-one stain and varnish by Cabots.  I figured that this would be more forgiving when it came to all the filler and bodges because it would sit on the surface and ‘cover’ better.  Now I wonder if this was the right choice.

The drawback with a combination product like this is that it is essentially a massive compromise.  A stain is best mopped on thin with a rag, and varnish with a brush – yet here both have to go on simultaneously with a brush.  It’s very hard to get the stain covering evenly – especially when you consider that I’m painting horizontal and vertical surfaces, broad and narrow spaces and plenty of ornate trim pieces.  This was a nightmare, and the finish is acceptable but hardly a quality job.

Most areas got two coats, but the trim pieces accepted it different so some of these needed three.  Then three coats of clear went over the top to make five coats of oil-based finish.

In the end I’m still pretty happy with it.  It’s very shiny, should be easy to clean up and I think that the darker finish on the wood will show off the chrome taps nicely.  And when you consider what a stock white freezer looks like, it is quite handsome.


Pimientos de Padron – Now With Flowers!

May 4, 2012

Just a quick update on the Pimientos de Padron…

It’s been a little over two months since the seeds went into the ground and we’ve hit a milestone: flowers!

Surely this means tapas-imminent?


Keezer – Taps

May 4, 2012

My taps arrived from the US yesterday and so it was time to bung them in the lid!

I ordered 6″ stainless steel shanks to go through the double wall collar of the lid.  This would mean that I would need to drill an appropriate sized hole in either side of the collar.  I marked the drill hole on the front, then using a set square I transferred this to the bottom edge, then to the inner edge and then measured it up the same distance to get what I hoped would be a mark on the inner wall directly opposite the front.

First I drilled a pilot hole in the front and back walls, before drilling the full size hole in the outer wall with a spade bit.  Due to difficulties drilling the inner wall from inside I simply got it started from the inside so that there would be a recess to prevent splitting before then drilling it through from the front via the front hole.  This worked rather well, with two of the three shanks lining up perfectly!

The middle shank did not, however – it was off by about 5mm.  In order to get it to sit square I needed to elongate the hole in the inner wall.  I figured the quick and easy way to do this was using a sanding bit in the Dremel.  This almost went horribly wrong.

The heat from the sanding friction caused the wood to smoke.  An ember had been created and was now buried in the inaccessible depths of my double wall collar.  Quite a bit of smoke was coming out of it.  This is not good!  Left unresolved the lid will catch fire.

Luckily I’m into kegging so my solution was to tape up all the holes and flood the entire collar with CO2 from my cylinder.  I taped up the last hole where the CO2 was being injected and then carried the lid out to the back garden, wrapped it in a tarpaulin and left it there over night to its fate.  If it burned, at least it wouldn’t burn my garage down!

Anyway, it all turned out fine so here’s some photos…

Above you can see the shanks installed through the collar.  I was pleased with the length of the shanks – they needed to be pretty long, not only for the depth of the double-wall collar but also some nuts still need to go on for the beer lines.

Next we have a shot of the taps.  I selected Perlick 545’s which are forward sealing taps and feature a flow control adjuster on the side.  This will allow short beer lines in the keezer and make foaming issues easier to deal with (I hope!)  I spaced the taps so that they would be a shank-flange-width between each shank flange.  Speaking of which, I don’t really like the look of the black plastic flanges.

And lastly, here’s what it all looks like to date.  The drip tray needs to be affixed and all the wood needs a final sand before being varnished.