Spring Means Blooming Flowers… and Ideas

I seem to have found a pattern in my own internal workings. In the fall, I work furiously and get a lot done. Around the time of the winter holidays, I almost always do major personal web site changes and upgrades according to a mental list I’ve compiled over the previous year.

In the spring, I shake off the winter (I’m not a fan of winter), I brew my first batch of beer for the season (which symbolizes the end of winter, because I brew outdoors), and my brain starts to be flooded with new ideas. They range from the simplistic (maybe we should consider replacing windows in the house this year), to the slightly odd (why isn’t there a bluetooth setup that pairs two devices and alerts you if they get out of range, so if my daughter strays too far…), to the really useful (I should really take on that woodworking project to build that bookcase we desperately need), to the GEEKY!

This year I seem to be having a lot of geeky ideas. The difference is that, this year, I finally feel empowered enough to go after some of them. One idea that has come up is building an online brewer’s workshop. I would just build a GUI to do this for myself, but then I’d have to deal with which widget set to use, which platforms to support, and whatever else. Also, the final step in the evolution of a lot of GUIs is webification anyway. So I *think* this might be a job for Python, and I *think* I might try to do this using Django, which is fully supported by my web host (finally – see yesterday’s post)!

Brewing is one of those things that you can make as complex as you care to get. I started brewing with a buddy using a Coleman picnic cooler, a few buckets, and some odds and ends from the kitchen. Now I have a full three keg system, with pumps, plate chillers (small plate heat exchangers), fancy false bottoms, cool valves and tubing, and it involves relatively little manual labor. And that complexity can infect recipe development as well. Hops add bitterness by leeching alpha acids into the wort (the liquid that is not yet beer). Hop utilization calculations can be non-trivial and depend on many other factors in your system. Other characteristics depend heavily on the percent of available sugars you’re able to extract from the grains, your ability to keep a mash at a given temperature for a fixed period of time. This is easier to predict if you know, for example, the thermal mass of the vessels involved, and how much heat will be lost when you combine water and grain and stir. There are also proteins at work in the mash which can gum things up enough to make draining the liquid off a chore, so knowing what water/grain ratio to use is also important. And how quickly can you bring wort from boiling down to a temperature more friendly to yeast at the end of the cycle?

That’s a small fraction of the considerations you *could* make when brewing. I didn’t even touch on pH and water characteristics, or yeast attenuation! Needless to say, brewing with any consistency would be a great challenge and take a good bit more preparation without some tool to help you figure out how much water you’ll need, how many ounces of hops for how long, and how much grain you need to mash (and for how long), etc. There are lots of tools to help brewers out with this kind of stuff (ProMash is a popular one). The problem I have is that these tools are mostly commercial, proprietary, platform-specific ventures. I’d like to put one on the web that is at least “good enough”, and free for anyone to use. I’m open source that way (I’m happy to release the source as well).

Another tool I’d love to see is one that would let me manage my consulting business online. If BestPractical’s RT had a good PayPal plugin that would let you charge per ticket or charge for a bundle of so many tickets or something, that’d be a good start, but I’ve mucked with the code for RT (it’s written mostly in Perl), and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. This wouldn’t be a complete solution either, because most of my work is *not* simple support tickets, it’s large projects. For those I’d like people to be able to pay invoices online. There’s lots more I’d like to add on top of that, but that’s the general gist of it, and in the past I’ve been unable to find a really good solution, where “really good” is a completely nebulous term barely defined in my own head. :)

In addition to those ideas, I registered a couple of domains over the past year, and I hope to do some cool things with them as well if I ever get some time away from work and consulting. Oh yeah – I’ll also continue working on loghetti! Keep any eye out for updates. Maybe some people reading this have similar interests and would like to collaborate. Ciao for now!

  • http://justindriscoll.us Justin Driscoll

    That’s a great idea. I’ve been talking about setting up a home brewery in my basement for a couple years now but I keep finding other things to keep me busy.

  • David Boddie

    It’s not a Web-based tool, but QBrew is at least open source: