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Herman Sourdough
May 6th, 2022 | View Post

Herman Sourdough just after I took it out of the oven
So this is basically the holy grail of sourdough breads. It's a complex process and as I've baked many dozens of breads over the past several months, I naturally wanted to give the most difficult bread a go. And I couldn't be happier that I did. While it was a tedious process that took 15 full days just to prepare the dough, it was well worth it.

Herman Sourdough is still a sourdough and so it still uses a starter that has that unique sour smell to it (like a beer tap), but the twist with Herman is that it's much sweeter. The starter is a careful blend of sugar, milk, and flour. And unlike a typical sourdough starter that specifically requires a warm environment in which to thrive, Herman lives in the fridge. It's an extremely unique bread and has an absolutely delicious flavor profile.

I recorded a few videos shortly after I ate my first slice of it and I'll just go ahead and leave them below.

Crafting Rachel's Easel Legs
April 28th, 2022 | View Post
Given the litany of things I've been building over the past several months, Rachel had noted how she had really been needing an easel. Claire had a handful of them at her house and while I considered grabbing one of those for her, I thought it would be far more enjoyable to build one myself. You know, just to give it that personal touch. Plus, I love a good woodworking project. Rachel found a handful of woodworking YouTube and TikTok channels that had built standing easels. I went through a handful of them focusing on one design in particular that she really liked. Of course I've no intention of building somebody else's design and so I set out to build my own mostly using it as a reference point for the scale.

Two of the pieces of wood waiting to be joined together.
While I was using the project she found as a kind of "base idea", I generally just kind of build these kinds of projects in my head first, jot down a few brief notes, and then bring them into existence with the wood, often just figuring it out as I go along. But with any good woodworking project, first things first: selecting the wood.
I took her up to Woodcraft so that we could find the kind of wood she wanted to use. I wanted to make sure that I could help her understand some of the pros and cons to each type of wood she might like. I also wanted to make sure that we'd be able to get the wood in sufficiently large pieces.

We looked at dozens of woods. The project she liked online was built out of a nice maple. Woodcraft sells a variety of maples; my personal favorite being Ambrosia Maple. But she wanted something a little darker. We looked at teak, mahogany, cherry, cocobolo, and a handful of others. In the end, she decided that she liked the Peruvian Walnut the most. It's a little bit darker and harder than a traditional walnut and is overall a beautiful wood.

I helped her to select the pieces that we'd need as there were certain properties I was looking for (mostly dimensional, but also to do with the grain and knotting patterns).

Preparing to rip one of the walnut pieces on my table saw.

With the wood in hand, the first step was to fashion the legs. I set the table saw to just over 2" and started ripping pieces of the walnut. The wood is cut in the mill to about 1" thick so my thought was that we could glue two pieces that were 2" wide to one another thus yielding a 2" x 2" cubed rod. Given the Peruvian Walnut has a pretty high hardness to it, I had to work the table saw very slowly, but the pieces came out nicely.

Once I had the pieces cut, we chose the sides that seemed better suited for binding. I poured a generous helping of LockTite wood glue all over both sides, spread the glue with a foam paintbrush, and then put the two pieces together. Proper wood clamps are expensive. Consequently, I only have 12 adjustable DeWalt wood clamps of varying sizes. Those alone probably cost around $500, but I digress. Given that the legs to this easel are each 5'10" (177.8cm) in length and I really wanted to ensure a proper join, I needed to use all 12 clamps per piece. This wasn't a problem, but just meant that I could realistically only build one leg per day.

With the clamps firmly in place, the glue is seeping out the sides.

One of the leg pieces after having dried overnight.

I let each of the pieces dry for a full 24 hours before starting the planing process. In retrospect, one of the boards I used should have been planed before gluing. It would have ensured there were absolutely no air gaps between the wood pieces, but for the time being I'm just going with it and will try to work out any gaps with a formulation of walnut sawdust and wood glue.

After the final pieces bonded together and sat overnight, I began the process of planing the wood down. The goal is for each of the legs to be 1 7/8" (47.5mm) squared by 5'10" (177.8cm). Given there are two pieces of walnut formulating each of the legs, I also wanted to ensure that the thickness of each piece is equal. This made the planing process slightly more involved as I had to keep measuring to the center line and taking sixteenth inch bits off at a time.

A pile of walnut shavings sitting next to my planer after thinning out two of the legs

The three legs having been planed down to 1 7/8" (47.5mm) each.

I'm planning on working in some inlays to the legs next before I process them further so I'll be working on some dado cuts next. Rachel has been following along so that she can pickup some of these woodworking tricks and said that she'll do the next phase of planing for me.

The three legs planed and waiting for the next steps

Opening Up a Fresh Durian
April 12th, 2022 | View Post
I've looked high and low for fresh durians in the US. But try as I have, I have never been able to find them. I see them frozen from time to time, I see them sold dried from time to time, but I never seem to find them in a fresh fruit rack. Until yesterday. There is a small Asian market in Asheville, NC that happens to sell them. They were $6.99 / pound and I found the smallest one I could. It still came out to over $40.00, but totally worth it.

Claire and I hosted a hot pot night at her house and so I saved the durian for a kind of pre-dessert dessert. There were many mixed feelings on it ranging from a gooey banana, to sweaty gym socks, to rotten fruit, to just a regular sweet smell. I personally find that it smells just like most other fruits and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Stylish Bluebird House Plans
April 8th, 2022 | View Post

One of the completed and installed birdhouses
My friend's dad found the plans to this particular birdhouse on a handyman site. There is currently a sizable grass-roots effort across the United States to repopulate bluebird populations and these particular birdhouses are specifically designed for doing just that. Something about the shape and the opening is attractive to bluebirds over many other species.

This same friend of mine recently purchased a large piece of property deep in the woods and has been working to attract any number of bird species. I thought it would be fun to construct a few birdhouses for her property, but didn't really have a starting point. So I took these plans and made a number of “fancy” modifications to them just to make them much more aesthetically pleasing and hopefully much more durable in the elements.

The birdhouses are designed with a swivel door so that they can be easily opened and cleaned from time to time. While it’s not entirely necessary to include that functionality, they came out very nicely and the mechanics work well.

Materials Needed

# Birdhouses
Per Item
12x4 (pressure treated)$6.882$3.44
11x12" Pine Common Board$27.362$13.68
1Everbilt 3/16" steel dowel rod$2.116$0.35
5-packSchlage interior bathroom key$4.995$1.00
50-packUenhoy 5/8" diameter plastic bushing (50-pack)$8.9912.5$0.72
1 box2" GRK #8 White Finishing Screws$16.998$2.12
1 boxSpax #8 1.25" multi-purpose screws$13.9816$0.87
1 boxSpax #10 3" exterior screws (x3)$4.675$0.93
1 boxSpax #8 3/4" multi-purpose construction screws (x3)$2.7812$0.23
1 box#17 3/4" weatherstrip copper nails$2.103$0.70
1 packEverbilt Brass #4 5/8" Wood Screws$1.284$0.32
1 rollRolo 5.5mm Brass Chain$15.9912$1.33
1 sheetZinc Sheet Metal (26 gauge) 18" x 12"$6.832$3.42
1White polystyrene molding 11/16 x 11/16 x 96"$5.362$2.68
1 box#18 gauge 5/8" stainless wire brads$2.108$0.26
1 canColored exterior sample paint$4.982$2.49
1 canWhite exterior paint$4.9816$0.31
22" foam paintbrush$0.981$0.98
1 rollPainter's Tape$7.4850$0.15
1 canRustoleum Semi-gloss black spray paint$4.988$0.62
15" zinc plated 20-gauge tie plate$0.701$0.70

Tools Required
  • Miter saw (ideally with fine tooth sawblade)
  • Jig saw (with wood and metal saws)
  • Drill
  • Various drill bits
  • 60 grit sandpaper
  • 400 grit sandpaper
  • 5/8" hole saw or paddle bit
  • Drill press
  • Wood clamps
Cutting out the Pieces

I won't go into all of the details on how to cut the dimensions of the birdhouse, namely as they're all available in some detail on the original website, but would instead just note that the project is probably easiest with a jigsaw. You can configure a table saw to do the cuts, but I found it much easier just to use the jigsaw and then handle any straightening during the sanding process.

I should note that this is also a perfect project for all of the scrap wood that you might have lying around. While the birdhouses are larger than any others I've built in the past, they still don't require all that much material. There are just three sides and a roof; the entire back and separating pieces inside of the birdhouse are all constructed from a single 2x4.

After you finish cutting out the pieces described in the plans, you should have 7 unique cuts of wood: two sides, a front door (without the door hole), a roof, the top 2x4, the midpoint 2x4, and the birdhouse stem 2x4.

The various pieces of wood for a single birdhouse after making all of the required cuts

A collection the assembled birdhouses

Birdhouse Assembly

The assembly of birdhouse should be pretty straightforward to anybody even nominally capable of doing craft construction projects. The original plans used nails for the construction, but I thought it would be nicer to use GRK finishing screws. These are extremely thin screws and have no kind of visible head on them. This makes them ideal for countersinking (which is of course why they're used for finishing). With a little dab of extra paint over the holes, the birdhouse will appear as if it has been glued together.

Incidentally, you can use wood glue for the entire process, but there's really no advantage and then have to wait for it to dry. If the goal is merely to hide the screws then either finishing or cabinet screws should do the trick. Either way, it's just a birdhouse so there's really no wrong way.

A rough version of what the door hole looks like after being cut. This one got a little scraped up, but it still works just fine

Cutting the Front Door Hole

I tried cutting the door hole using a variety of methods on my drill press, but the bottom line is that it's just very difficult to use a boring bit for overlapping holes. Not to mention, you'd still need to trim the edges of the hole slightly to get the ovular shape.

With that in mind, I found it best just to use a jigsaw. If you're going to be making several of these birdhouses at once (a I did), then it would probably be easiest to create some kind of template on paper first. This way you can just set the paper atop the door and use a punch or pin to "trace" out the door hole. Whatever method you use, the jigsaw will work best for the cut itself.

The original plans suggest scraping up the inside of the hole so that the birds have something to grip onto when entering the birdhouse. So don't worry about the hole not being perfectly smooth. This is actually to the advantage of the final product.

Painting the Birdhouse

Painting the birdhouse is a pretty simple and fun process. I found it easiest to use foam brushes. They're cheap, effective, and more than large enough for expedient painting. I wound up applying 4 or 5 coats to these birdhouses and sanded them with a high grit paper to give them a smooth-looking surface. Keep in mind that the first two coats are going to absorb pretty heavily into the wood, so you're really just create a base layer. You can apply a primer first if you want to, but I didn't think it was necessary to do this since it was just as easy to add additional coats.

Try not to get any paint on the inside of the birdhouse itself. I used some paper towels and tape to prevent this from happening, but you can also just be careful. It's likely that a little bit of paint will get inside of the door hole opening, but this can just be sanded out later. The airholes require slightly more attention as the plastic bushings won't properly fit if there is a buildup of paint inside of them.

Three of the birdhouses drying in the sun before the next coat

Continuing to add coats of paint to the birdhouses

Playing with one of the airhole bushings
Adding the Airhole Bushings

Once all of the painting is completed, you can finally install the plastic airhole bushings. These certainly aren't necessary, but add a really nice flair to the final product. They're also useful in preventing the airholes from getting warped and rotting out in any kind of way.

You may need to clean up the inside of the holes ever so slightly. I just used a small piece of 60 grit sandpaper to smooth them out. The 5/8" bushings should fit perfectly into the 5/8" holes you drilled. They're a light plastic, so be sure to use a gentle mallet if you encounter any resistance; they will definitely break if you hit them too hard.

Cutting the Trim Pieces

I'm not going to lie, this part is a real pain in the ass. It will absolutely require some kind of miter saw and ideally one with a high-tooth / sharp blade given you'll be cutting polystyrene. There's really no good way to join the two pieces along the front perfectly together at the bottom corners, but you can give the illusion of this with some careful cuts.

Testing one of the trim pieces against the front edge of a birdhouse
Since the birdhouse has been cut using 63 degree and 27 degree angles, you'll want to set the miter saw for 27 degrees. It's probably going to take a little playing with it to see which direction the molding has to be cut. I found it easiest to cut a piece about 20” long, place it along the front edge it’s going to be affixed to, and then use a pencil to draw the angled direction of cut.

The front molding will need to hang down slightly lower than the birdhouse walls so that it can be joined to the base molding.

I won't go into textual details on how to accomplish this, but if you look closely at the picture provided, you should be able to recreate the process. To keep myself humble, I should note that I went through quite a few pieces before I finally settled on a cutting pattern that worked for my tastes.

Attaching the Trim Pieces

Attaching the trim pieces is actually a pretty fun step. I decided to go with the copper nails for durability in the elements, but also because I happened to like the aesthetic of making them visible along the edges. I used my nail gun and air compressor for the first version, but found it difficult to purchase 3/4" brad nails at my local store. After experimenting with a few different materials, I found that the copper heads provided a good contrast against the black.

You can really do this part any which way you like, but I did meticulously measure out the sides and then affix the nails at even intervals. Again, this is entirely for the aesthetic of it. So long as the trim is properly affixed to the underlying wood, it'll work just fine.

Adding the Door Lynch Pin and Chain

Holding one of the lynch pins against the left side of the door. I wound up placing all of them on the right side of the birdhouses
I tried a variety of different locking pins and lynch pins for the front door, but none of them really accomplished what I was hoping to find. My Schlage keypadded door came with a special tool for opening the door in an emergency. I noticed that it was the perfect size for a lynch pin and found that I was able to order additional ones directly from the manufacturer on Amazon.

Use a 3/32 bit and drill the lynch pin hole so that it aligns with the bottom of the bird hole entrance. Be sure to align the drill on the side so that it's as centered as possible in the front door.

Once the hole has been drilled and you've tested the lynch pin, use about 4-5 inches of the brass 5.5mm chain and one of the #4 brass wood screws. The brass chain is malleable and should be easy to affix onto the side of the door. The lynch pin can just be slid into one of links of the chain and will rest in the looped part.

This part isn't entirely necessary, but given that the birdhouses should be cleaned at least once per year and the fact that the lynch pin is so small, it just seemed like a better way to ensure it doesn't get lost during cleaning.

Experimenting with the brass chain

Creating the Mount Points

Affixing the tie plate to the back of the birdhouse
Starting on the front side of the birdhouse, place a mark in the dead center of the 2x4 about 2" from the very bottom of the 2x4. Place another mark in the dead center of the 2x4 where the base of the house walls end. Using a 3/16” drill bit, drill holes through. These will be used for the mounting screws along the stem.

Flip the birdhouse over and place the tie plate at the very top so that just one row of holes is exposed above the birdhouse itself. Use a sufficient number of the Spax #8 3/4" construction screws to affix the tie plate to the back of the birdhouse. We'll use the center hole on the top row as a means to secure the top of the birdhouse to a tree. You can skip this step if you're planning to mount the birdhouse to a pole.

Affixing to a Tree

The ladder leading up to the mount point for the purple birdhouse
Insert a 3" #10 Spax Construction screw into each of the two holes on the stem. I found it best to get them started so that it was easy to screw them into the tree when I was hanging by the ladder. The two screws along the stem are likely more than enough to affix the birdhouse to a tree, but it's best to use the exposed tie plate as a final mounting hole.

The screws should be more than long enough to seal against the tree with a significant bit of pressure.

Best Cinnamon Raisin Sourdough Recipe
March 28th, 2022 | View Post

Make sure that the starter is super bubbly
Having made dozens of near perfect sourdoughs at this point and having experimented with a variety of my own recipes for the perfect cinnamon raisin variety, I believe I have found the one that I'll stick with. It should be noted right off the bat that because cinnamon naturally inhibits the work of yeast in the proofing dough, many recipes call for adding additional yeast into the dough. I've actually found that this is unnecessary and merely requires letting the dough proof a bit longer than it normally might. Given the temperature of my own house, most sourdough will proof for me in about 8 hours time. This one takes closer to 12 hours, but comes out perfect every time.

I've also experimented with combinations of flour (between white, whole wheat, and rye) and have actually found that just using 100% bread flour works the best.

Build your starter however you normally do, but just make sure that the starter is super gaseous before you actually use it for the bread. It should float like a cork when you mix it with water.

The Recipe

In a large wooden mixing bowl add:
  • 520g white bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2.5 tablespoons of ground cinnamon
  • 110g raisins (no need to pre-soak them)
  • 40g raw sugar
Mix the dry ingredients before you add the starter so that they're evenly distributed.

In a measuring cup (or similar container) stir:
  • 90g starter
  • 385g water
Use a fork to mix 90g of your starter in 385g of water. Then pour the mixture into the bowl. Stir it up like you normally would for any other sourdough until it has a good doughy consistency. If it seems overly dry, add another tablespoon of water before starting the proofing process.

The dry mixture before stirring it up

Proofing and Folding

I use two initial folds 15 minutes apart and then two final post-proof folds.

Once the dough has been made, let it sit for 15 minutes and be sure to cover it with a damp cloth. After 15 minutes, do your initial folding, being sure to turn the bowl 90 degrees before each of the 4 folds. Once done, cover it with the damp cloth and let it sit another 15 minutes. After another 15 minutes passes (30 minutes from start), repeat the same folding process. Again, cover with a damp cloth and now let it sit for 12 hours.

After 12 hours, the dough should have risen to a satisfactory level and with any luck, you'll even find some gas bubbles trapped at the top of the dough. Perform the post-proofing folding the first time and replace the dough back into the mixing bowl. Turn the bowl 90 degrees and after this fold, place it into a metal bowl lined with parchment paper.

The final product
Sprinkle cinnamon, sugar, and white flour atop the dough and place it in the refrigerator for an hour. While it's cooling, set your oven to bake at 500 degrees and place your dutch oven inside. After an hour, remove the dough from the fridge and use your lame to make the top cut. Remove the dutch oven from the oven, move the chilled dough into the dutch oven (I always add plenty of parchment paper so that I can just pick it up like handles) and place it into the dutch oven. Put the dutch oven back into your oven with the lid on.

Bake for 21 minutes with the lid on, then remove the lid. Bake for another 11 minutes.

Updating the Database
February 12th, 2022 | View Post
As a small technical note for my blog, I've been busy writing a ton of code to fix some of the issues that have recently come up. I'd been working on this over the past several months, but took a bit of a break in January while tending to other things. I've written about this rather extensively before, but most of the problems stem from Apple stupidly reorganizing the way they store photos within the iPhoto app.

While they used to keep a tight directory structure on your photos disk (making it extremely easy to RSync to one's personal server), they are now using some kind of hex-based directory structure and simply add all of the photos into these folders using $0 through $F (eg: ~/0/, ~/1/, ... ~/F/). Worse still is that they include the photos in the directories seemingly at random.

This makes it extremely difficult to find your new files and move them where they need to go. Yes, you can use the export feature, but this is SUCH a slow process and makes absolutely no sense for storing your own photos on your own system. It's absolutely bonkers that they've adopted this new structure.

Of course this is all in line with Apple taking the blue ribbon for "most evil tech company". They're quite clearly doing this to make it more and more difficult for people to use software outside of the Apple realm thus ensuring that people stick with iPhoto (and much more insidiously, their Cloud services). I've been writing about this for nearly 20 years now and this is just the latest example of it.

This required me writing code that would look at the MD5 checksum for every single file and then compare those to the files that I already had on my server. The ones that were missing were copied into one of the new directories and processed.

I still have a ton of photos needing to be sorted, but it's coming along in my spare time.