Our beer making weekend
Saturday, July 28, 2007 1:36:55 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
My mum gave me a slightly odd Christmas present this year -a beer making weekend. I like many 20 something relished the opportunity to spend a weekend trying out a multitude of different beers, learning what goes into making one and more importantly how I can concoct my own sweet ale. Why then did I start this post saying it was somewhat of an odd present? Well mainly due to my training and much to Stacey's delight I'm virtually tea-total which means my beer-drinking experience thus far in life has been vastly limited to the odd drop of Kronenberg Blanc or Corona (my two current favorite beverage choices) and I can in no way call myself a beer connoisseur (or indeed want to call myself a beer connoisseur). Always wanting to try new things however I went to the beer making weekend with a clear and open mind.
We arrived at Nether Stowey Brewery after a fairly straight forward journey (god bless in-car sat nav systems -they really do take the pain out of navigating) a touch later than planned which meant the other attendees of the beer making weekend had already had the chance to get acquainted with our teacher for the weekend "Ian". I don't know too much about Ian other than he enjoys beer, works -as and when he likes (or so it would appear)- as a very successful employment lawyer and that he likes good beer (I know I've already mentioned that but he really did like his beer...).
The weekend started with a short lesson in beer making, some of the different techniques/flavours produced and a little background behind beer, for instance, did you know that beer was drunk as the primary drink until fairly recently as water was not safe to drink? Or that pale ale was produced by running water through the already used mulch? It was then given to the children as a much weaker beer? Or how about: Most beer and wine is not vegetarian as they use "finings" to remove the impurities (cloudyness) which are made from Fish Liver...
Followed was a discussion on both which drinks we tended to drink at home and what sort of beer we were all looking to produce. There were 5 of us in our group, obviously we were all going to have different opinions of what we wanted from "our" beer. Before we made our final decision we had the part that I think everyone was looking forward to the most -the beer tasting.
The idea behind the tasting was not to get drunk or simply down a load of different beers, we were taught how to taste (and so appreciate) each beer's qualities. It's amazing how different beers that you would assume were similar taste. The names of different beers was also intriguing. My favourite was the acclaimed "Titanic". Having won numerous awards I thought it was going to be a delightful drink, but lets just say the drink went down as well as the boat...
Ian and his most hospitable wife Lynne also run a B&B (The Old Cider House) so your accommodation over the weekend is in very pleasant surroundings -and the food to an excellent standard, we quickly relaxed. It turns out that Ian not only runs beer making weekends, he also produces a selection of fine ales for the local pubs -some of which go down a storm, others not...
The Saturday was primarily spent mulching the various ingredients in a giant vat before leaving it to simmer for a few hours -during which we were left to our own devices -Sam, Pat and I resorted to wandering the streets and playing Pooh sticks of all things in the village's stream.
We then spent most of Sunday naming our new creation, I really dislike trying to name things, naming my company "The Site Doctor" was hard enough but something that came over time, we had a matter of hours to name the beer and create the label. We went round in circles trying to think of something witty yet meaningful, comical yet serious. In the end we settled on "That" with the slogan "Making Life Taste Bitter" -I can't say it was my first choice but the majority ruled.
It was a good 6 weeks before Nether Stowey Brewery finally sent us the products of our weekend of hard work. Carefully packaged in a large cardboard box were 12 bottles of fine ale. I for one (as I'm sure is true with the rest of the group) was not sure what to expect from them so decided to store them away for a special occasion. When I did finally crack one open, I was pleasantly surprised, I can't say it's something I would choose to buy in a pub but it was certainly more drinkable than I was expecting! I've still got a few bottles remaining so if you are -or were- the recipient of one of my bottles, you were either very much liked by me -or disliked, depending on your outlook ;) Needless to say the "Gaunt Brewery" will remain little more than a dream for now...
If you're interested in learning how to make beer, why not try out Nether Stowey's beer making weekend for yourself? I would think it'd make a good stag do. Check out www.4ale.co.uk for more information.
Identify IIS Sites and Log File locations for WWW and FTP
Wednesday, July 25, 2007 4:18:42 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
When we got our own dedicated server we needed to start working out a fair number of processes and decide upon a structure that was replicable, scaleable and manageable on a large scale, although the solution we've ended up adopting may not be the best, it certainly works for us.
One thing that has been bugging me however is the location and folder naming convention of the log files -for both the web hits and FTP hits. Typically, shared hosting solutions place the log files under the same folder as the one your website's root is situated but as we had no plans on giving our clients access to these logs this was an unnecessary task so we left them collecting in the default folder.
Leaving the log files in the default folder meant downloading them was very simple, all I needed to do was point our download script at the main folder and that was it, all would be included, the catch however was that the folders weren't named logically* instead they seemed to include some form of ID that was relevant to and assigned by IIS i.e. W3SVC1.
*By this I mean human readable i.e. domainname.com
Until recently I've not worried about analysing the log files beyond one or two clients whom I could manage fairly easily but now with the inclusion of a host of other domains on the server I needed a way of quickly and easily identifying the folders and which domains they related to.
Historically when I needed to know which domain the log folder related to I would log onto the server, open IIS, open the properties of the domain, click on the log file properties and below the folder directory would be the folder name, that's fine if it's only a handful of domains but what when it's say 20? That's 2mins each (with cross referencing etc) so that's 40minutes. I needed an automated system!
As it turns out, Microsoft have been kind enough to provide us with an interface we can easily code against in .Net so after a little Google-ing I wrote a number of little helper applications.
This little console application simply loops through all the domain names on the server it's being run on (the default instance of IIS) and outputs the relevant log file and folder path into a handy text file. I'll post in another post about how I use this file.
For convenience's sake I have this run on a nightly basis and the text file output to the root of the log file directory, that way when I download the logs during the next day I get the latest update of log file locations and domain names :)
Download the IIS WWW and FTP log file location exporter.
1 Year Update: I've posted the source for the IIS WWW and FTP log file location exporter here.
Big Dreams - a waste of time?
Tuesday, July 24, 2007 12:38:20 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
If you're a semi-regular reader of my blog you'll know that I'm a great believer of having goals and targets to meet when you setup in business. As I mentioned in my mini series on starting up in business, these targets have to be achievable and quantifiable.
Recently however I have had a couple of pretty zany ideas passed by me which, at first sight may sound completely nuts and unachievable but I've been left wondering why that is. I have always felt that The Site Doctor is a foundation for something larger but quite what that is I have no idea at the moment but one idea that's readily stuck with me is one that Rich Davies and I merely jested about -buying a big, expensive yacht and sailing it around the Caribbean for the rich and famous.
I've put this idea to a couple of people since and every time they've laughed. I can understand why they see it as a joke but why should it be? When I first setup in business I had a surprising number of people assure me I was mad and it would never work so why should this idea be any different? Ok the investment involved is on a scale way out of the league of The Site Doctor but I still don't feel it's unachievable if the time and effort is put into it.
What do you think? Is thinking big just a waste of time in your eyes or is it more speculative than wasteful?
Getting rich –is it as hard as it was?
Saturday, July 21, 2007 5:04:58 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Stacey and I were enjoying our last meal in Croatia last night when the subject of where we "go" next came up. I've never hidden the fact that I want to be wealthy, in fact I would imagine many who know me would go as far as it's what drives me. This is true in a sense however you will notice I used the word "wealthy" rather than "rich" or "loaded".
What many people seem to do is confuse what I mean when I say I want to get wealthy (or sometimes rich), I don't mean I want to have stacks of cash sitting in the bank or a huge number of shares under my belt, what I in fact mean is I want to enjoy myself, ok I need cash to do that but it's more important that I -and those around me- are happy.
Anyhow, I digress. As I was saying, Stacey and I were talking about how we were going to get our incomes to a level that would support the somewhat luxurious lifestyle we have imagined for ourselves when she said "The people with stacks of money have inherited it". This -in many cases- is true, people such as Paris Hilton for example haven't "done" anything to get the money, it has been -or will be- inherited.
That got me thinking, does that run true in today's society? Of course there are people who have inherited serious sums of cash but there are also a large number of self-made -and young- millionaires cropping up all over the place. A few that sprung to mind almost immediately are Bill Gates, Larry Page and Sergy Brin (the Google Guys), Richard Branson1, Sir Alan Sugar, The Bechams, Duncan Bannatyne, Peter Jones2 and more recently the plethora of web 2.0 start-ups that are getting sold off for millions.
1 Ok, I know many say that he was given a pretty good start by his father but you still have to have something to make it work
2 IIRC Peter Jones (from BBC's "Dragon Den"/ITV's "Tycoon") was also bankrupt a few years ago
So it got me wondering -disregarding those who were able to make a serious amount of money through "lucky breaks"3 in technology and successful "celebrities"- has the birth of the Internet made making large amounts money a whole lot more reachable?
3 Personally, I think it takes more than just being in the right place at the right time (which undoubtedly helps), I think you also need to be able to spot the opportunity and have what it takes to grasp that opportunity.
From stunning sun to severe storms in less than 12 hours
Thursday, July 19, 2007 11:31:06 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Well, we're back from Croatia (I'll post all about that later I'm sure) but I was just wondering if anyone else has seen this weather icon before? While we were over in Croatia, it would have been a bright sun and a number around 40C so it's somewhat of a shock...
Nice graphic though!
Microsoft Expression Web and CSS -is it all it's cracked up to be?
Thursday, July 19, 2007 11:02:32 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
After a number of months of hearing how great Microsoft's latest web development environment is -Microsoft Expression Web- I thought I would install it in place of Dreamweaver on my new laptop. I was -until today- pretty impressed with some of it's features, how well it handles CSS within the IDE and had no reason to complain.
That was until today. As I write this, I'm sitting in our apartment in Croatia with the sun beating down on me, generally enjoying life. As it's incredibly hot outside around noon, I thought it would be a good idea to crack on with some work on the new The Site Doctor design -which I hope to have online shortly after I return. So I load up Microsoft Expression Web and the various pages of the new site and crack on.
I've already sorted the CSS for the site so there was no need to open any of the files or make alterations to them however I like to have them open so I can check class names and ids as I work. When I switched over at one point, I noticed that my nice, neat and tidy CSS file of around 190 lines was suddenly closer to 300. I couldn't work it out until I noticed that Microsoft Expression Web had separated out all my group declarations into separate declarations such i.e.:
Well done Microsoft, I thought you would have learnt your lesson after the fiasco that was Visual Studio 2003's HTML editing, what on earth were you thinking? I'm sure this is a simple setting I need to change (and I can understand why they've done it) but not having Internet access here there's no easy way of finding out (I've searched the help files) which means hours of careful CSS architecture have been completely trashed.
So, as soon as I realised, I spent about 20 minutes meticulously working through the bunch of CSS files open reversing the mess Microsoft had made of them and promptly closed them, safe in the knowledge Microsoft Expression Web can't mess with them again. Or so I thought.
A short while ago I needed to open one of the CSS files again to alter a few declarations and to my horror I found that the declarations had been ungrouped. I can't believe it, not content with simply altering the CSS files that are open, Microsoft Expression Web actually alters the CSS files on the FSO without you knowing.
If you're ever thinking about using Microsoft Expression Web for CSS development then don't expect your files to be neat and tidy, in my case I would say the files were increased in size by almost 5x which ok may be 1Kb --> 5Kb but if you're getting tens of thousands of hits a day, that's a serious bandwidth increase.
Not a happy bunny.
The Cheshire Ring Race -the aftermath
Monday, July 02, 2007 8:07:24 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
“Ow ow ow how I ache!” I know that’s what you wanted to hear but sadly for you I feel strangely fine after completing The Cheshire Ring Race (for those of you who have been living on the moon for the past few months this was a 96 mile canoe race my brothers, canoe coach and I were doing for charity –if you’ve not yet donated and would like to, please do this at www.paddlathon.co.uk).
So how was The Cheshire Ring Race?
The race went particularly well despite various navigational and kit issues we completed The Cheshire Ring Race course in just over 22 hours (22 hours 57 seconds to be exact) without any injuries or drop outs. We came home with a gold medal –which I think was because we won our division but part of me says they’re all gold for just making it around!
We were also all awarded a certificate and mug to prove we were there (see photos below) and our time so check it out all you doubting Thomas’ ;)
I don’t know if it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done what with completing things like my gold DOE and climbing Ben Nevis to mention a few but it was certainly one of the most challenging events I’ve competed in.
We had a fairly good first leg, holding between 6-7mph and overtaking the guys that started a few minutes ahead of us, but then we had a few issues with getting to the next checkpoint in time and ended up not swapping over with Pat and Paul and instead chasing them around the next few checkpoints playing catch up. We finally met them at Relay Point #5 Ducie Street.
The first mile or so of the next leg through central Manchester was pretty much just portaging lock after lock. I didn’t count them all but there must have been a good 8 or 9 locks and a few tunnels too (complete with dodgy locals of course). Before the next relay point we passed another boat with a broken rudder which has to be a massive PITA as you don’t want anything like that going wrong on a long distance race like The Cheshire Ring Race.
Due to mega traffic in Manchester, the support crew decided to skip the relay point and continue onto the next checkpoint (7. Lymn (Burford Lane Underbridge)) which would have been ok if we had taken our water with us and had more to eat before setting off –neither of which we did as we thought it was only a quick 6.75 mile leg. I think this slowed us down somewhat as both Sam and I ran out of steam half way through the next leg and ended up drinking the canal water to ensure we could continue (not a good thing to do really but it was that or fall in).
By the time we got to the next relay point we were pretty tired and I was seriously hypoglycaemic –to the point I was feeling faint but our super support team had food and drink already prepared for our arrival.
Again, with somewhat sketchy directions, the support team managed to battle onto the next relay point just in time to meet Paul and Pat. The next leg included our first tunnel –and film crew! Had they not been there we would have ended up paddling through the tunnel and missing our next relay point! I would have loved to paddle the tunnels but it’s instant disqualification if you do...
Somehow Pat and Paul wangled a short leg which was a PITA as I wanted to sleep and no sooner than we had got into the car we were off again!
The next few legs were pretty uneventful, just a lot of water and canal boats, but waiting for Paul and Pat at relay point 11. Broken Cross, we were greeted with your typical Saturday night brawl –great entertainment I can tell you! No idea what it was about mind you however I know it involved Michelle and a lot of shouting. Sadly we had to set off before the police were able to get there and sort it out.
Things got a little more interesting as the dark came in. Just as it had got real dark we were doing leg 12. Middlewich Big Lock which included a “make or break” portage –basically if we got it wrong we would either: Go the wrong way and head off to Sheffield, go in a loop back to a checkpoint a few miles back or continue on the right way. Wanting to get it right, I made a point of memorising the directions but when we got there things didn’t make as much sense as they perhaps should have and we ended up wandering into a housing estate before thinking “sod it, let’s try and work it out ourselves”. Shortly afterwards we saw the support crew drive past so we knew we’d gone the right way for once!
Although I’ve paddled early in the morning and late at night in the past, until this race I don’t think I’ve paddled in the pitch dark, due to the rain the moon was covered by cloud which meant when we got out of the urban areas it was seriously dark which made navigation very hard. Sam did a sterling job and managed to get us around without any major incidents (though we did come close to crashing into a lock! –it’s amazing how something so large can be so hidden by darkness...!)
By about 4am however dawn was starting to break and paddling became a lot easier, we had a couple of very nice legs however leg 16. Bridge 77 Congleton was nasty as there were 12 locks to run up right at the end! On the plus side however we did see a couple of kingfishers.
Sam and I then paddled leg 18. Bridge 44 Bullocks Lane to the finish, meeting Paul and Pat at 19. Bridge 29, Clarke Lane to paddle the last 3.75 miles before finishing together at Bridge 18 (also the start).
A breakdown of the relay points:
- Bridge 18 (Start/Finish)
Distance to next point: 5 miles
Distance to next point: 5 miles
- Apethorn Lane
Distance to next point: 3.25 miles
- Dunkinfield Junction
Distance to next point: 6.25 miles
- Ducie Street
Distance to next point: 8 miles
- Marsland Road
Distance to next point: 6.75 miles
- Lymn (Burford Lane Underbridge)
Distance to next point: 6 miles
- London Road Bridge
Distance to next point: 6 miles
Tunnels: ½ (relay point on top of the tunnel)
- Preston Brook Tunnel
Distance to next point: 3.5 miles
Tunnels: ½ (relay point on top of the tunnel)
- Valley Farm, Little Leigh
Distance to next point: 7.25 miles
- Broken Cross, Bridge 184
Distance to next point: 5.5 miles
- Middlewich Big Lock
Distance to next point: 6.75 miles
Distance to next point: 4 miles
- Rode Heath
Distance to next point: 2.25 miles
- Red Bull
Distance to next point: 5 miles
- Bridge 77 Congleton
Distance to next point: 5.75 miles
- Bosley Top Lock
Distance to next point: 4 miles
- Bridge 44 Bullocks Lane
Distance to next point: 3.25 miles
- Bridge 29, Clarke Lane
Distance to next point: 3.75 miles
The weather was pretty poor throughout, it seemed to start raining every time we were about to start a new leg of the race. I don’t mind paddling when it’s wet but it certainly makes it hard to get out of the toasty warm support vehicle!
Although it rained for a lot of the way around I feel we were pretty lucky on the whole as there was a severe weather warning around Manchester on the weekend. The weather was pretty mild which meant the rain wasn’t too much of a hindrance –if anything it helped you cool down from the paddling!
We had a fantastic team both on and off the water. I can’t begin to explain how crucial the support team is in an event like this and ours was fantastic. Our support team for The Cheshire Ring Race consisted of:
They all went above and beyond the call of duty and made sure the change over paddlers were in the right place at the right time (most of the time) and also that food/drink was readily available for the paddlers who had just got off the water.
My recent training routine has clearly paid off, I did mean to blog more about how I was improving in the run up to the race however time simply got the better of me. The long and short of it however is that I felt great during the race, ok I was tired at the end of the legs but by the time we had got to the next relay point I was ready to go.
The one thing I wasn’t prepared for was the running, according to one of the marshals, the race involves nearly 10miles of portaging (getting out of the water with your boat and running until you get to the next part of the water i.e. around locks), that was particularly tough however I have been including running in my recent training routine so was able to manage it –I’ll be doing more now though!
I’m very pleased with Sam’s training too as that has clearly paid off which makes my job easier! I can’t really comment on Paul or Pat’s training as we never ended up paddling together which is a shame in many ways but they were both looking good –all be it a little tired on the last leg.
What have I learnt?
Those of you who spoke to me before the race know I was aiming to beat the previous relay record (around 16 hours) and after doing that race I’m sure it can be done –and we’re already fit enough to do it. However having completed the race it’s evident that you need far better directions for the support crew and probably included a couple more drivers (which was the plan but sadly a couple had to drop out) to ensure they were able to rest between legs too.
I also think from the POV of the paddlers, it’s important that you drink and eat a lot more than we did. Due to the navigational issues Sam and I didn’t refuel correctly on a couple of our legs which really affected our paddling the next time. Sam and I recon we burnt off in the region of 12,500 calories over the duration of the marathon –I’m going to weigh myself shortly to see how much weight I’ve lost but I recon it’s a couple of pounds.
It’s imperative that each team member concentrates and concerns themselves with only their area –i.e. paddlers on refuelling and resting, drivers on driving, navigators on navigating etc. As soon as you start mixing them up you run into issues.
The last thing I think I’ve learnt is to always go with your gut feeling –it may be a couple of extra kilos but always take your water pack, dehydration of even just 2% can massively affect your performance.
So what’s next?
Replace the 12,500 calories I burnt off!
I would love to do another long distance race at some point, longer term I’d like to take part in the Devises to Westminster race but short term we’ve got the Hasler Finals (national canoe finals) in September to train for. Sam and I are aiming for a medal so I’ll keep you posted.
Will we be doing the race next year? That’s a hard one, at the moment I’m doubtful but if we can get the support crew together again and the rest of the team are up for it I wouldn’t mind taking that record :D
How much did you raise?
We’re still not sure at the moment as there were four of us raising and the website –that and a few people are still promising to make their pledges but I think we’re going to be close to (if not over) our £2,000 target. As soon as I have tallied up the totals I’ll update www.paddlathon.co.uk
I’d like a moment to thank all those involved with supporting us during the event –without you all we wouldn’t have made it around. That also goes for the event organisers, co-ordinators and marshals, I’m sure there was a phenomenal amount of work involved to host the event –it was well worth it!
I’m going to get some more off Sam, Pat and Paul shortly but here is a selection of mine...