Saturday, March 22, 2014

My LASIK experience

My first appointment at the IEC in Kirksville was to see if I would qualify for LASIK.  Some people will not.  It turned out that I was a good candidate for LASIK.  When asking about the price, they weren't able to tell me anything specific.  They said it would be between $1200-2500 per eye.  That is a very large ball park when you are trying to set money aside in a Flexible Spending Account.  What value do we pick between $2400 and $5000?  My recommendation is to budget for the maximum amount and expect to pay that, because you very well may.  My cost was $2099 per eye, from which an insurance discount of 15% was applied.  We underestimated, and as a result, our FSA is already cashed out for the year with several more prescriptions to fill.

Then there is the scheduling.  This was when I envied those that live in larger cities, that can have it done a little more conveniently.  I was given one day for each month of 2014 from which to select.  All of the days available I had something going on.  I selected one and found subs and moved things around to make it work.  And so it was that I would have LASIK done on March 19, 2014. 

One week prior to your LASIK surgery, you are to have a pre-LASIK visit.  One week prior to that, you are to stop wearing contacts so that your eyes get a break from them.  For two weeks, I wore glasses, which was something I had gotten used to not doing.  It made me appreciate the surgery more in the end.  At the pre-Lasik visit, they map out your eye and get the information they will need to tell the laser.  Something that they forgot to remind me to do was begin antibiotic eye drops a few days prior to the surgery.  I received a reminder call of the surgery (as if I would forget) telling me I should already be on the eye drops I knew nothing about.  I started them right away and got a day's worth in.  That was good enough.

On the day of the surgery, they instructed me to arrive a little before my appointment time of 10:30am.  As in any doctor's office, there is a long, long wait.  They are always frustrating, these seemingly avoidable long waits.  Even when they finally called me after almost 2 hours, they took me back to a room where they prepped me and had me wait another 20 minutes or so.  It felt like forever until the doctor's assistant came and asked if I was ready.  Um.  Yeah.  I had been ready for 2 frickin' hours.

Before I go into any more detail, you should be warned that this isn't for the easily queasy.  Although there was no pain, these details could potentially make one a little faint, and perhaps even decide against having such a rewarding procedure.  OK.  You've been warned.

They walked me into a cold room, and before lying me flat, gave me a little stuffed lion named Harry to hold onto with both hands and not let go.  Upon lying down, they told me not to cross my legs for the whole procedure.  I think these were simple distracting things that would take my concentration somewhere other than creating a flap on my eyeball.  It worked in a small way.

Once I was positioned correctly, holding and petting my new friend Harry, staring up at some red and green lights, the doctor put several drops in my right eye after covering my left with a patch.  My guess is that these drops were both for moisture and a local anesthetic.  After a few moments, he taped my eyelids open.

With eyelids taped open, the doctor placed some sort of device around my eyeball.  My guess is that this was the 'structure' or 'base' that was needed for what came next.  A small dome was placed onto my eye (or the 'base' that was around my eye) and the doctor requested suction.  I could feel the suction, but I could only imagine my eyeball lifting a little out of the socket because I couldn't feel it.  At this point the doctor told me that things would be going dark, which they were.  He asked when there was total darkness.  That was when it was time for the worst part.

Again, let me repeat, there is no pain.  It was only the worst part because you know what is happening, you feel what is happening, you hear what is happening, and you smell what is happening.  The sensation is a vibration of the eyeball.  Since the device cutting a flap in your eye is right there by all of your sensory organs, the sound is like a jigsaw.  Then the smell of burning flesh hits your nose.  They say it is only the smell of the laser, but I question that.  I'm not going to lie, this made me shiver slightly and get a little queasy.  If you are prepared for a jigsaw sound, the smell, and the sensation you will be fine.  I was prepared for everything but the sound, so that took me by surprise.

Once the flap was created, the rest is easy peasy.  The suction went away, and my vision returned.  A tiny instrument came in to view and opened up the flap, as if opening up a window into another universe.  I was then instructed to look at the blinking red light, as this is where the laser would come from.  The doctor centered the machine and I could hear his assistant say something like "first three sessions at 15 seconds."  Then the laser began doing its work.  There is nothing awkward about the laser except the sound, which isn't anywhere near as bad as the noise that cuts the flap.  I saw the light flicker as the laser did its work.  She may have then said something like "two sessions at 11 seconds" before another round of laser hit me.  After each of these "sessions," things were clearer.  There may have been five of these such sessions, I can't remember.

When the laser was over, the tool came back to close the flap.  A tiny brush came in to apply what I imagine to be some sort of adhesive.  The 'structure' thingy was taken out, I received eye drops, and then the tape was removed so my right eye could finally close.  The patch was then removed from my left and placed on my right.  The process was repeated for the left eye.

The whole process felt like it took 10 minutes, which probably means it took less.  They had me sit up and open my eyes.  It looked as if I were underwater, which I guess the adhesive was causing.  The assistant asked me if I was OK because I looked pretty pale.  I wasn't going to get any paler, so I was fine.

I was walked back over to the room I waited in and given a pill.  This pill helped me sleep on the entire drive home and for a few hours after arriving at home.  I took a short walk that evening and wanted to sleep again.  The eye drops are non-stop right now.  

The next morning I was measured at 20/15, and told that my vision would only improve over the next month.  I'm a happy camper.  Except for having to give up Harry.  That was tough.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Canning an All-Grain Yeast Starter

It has been a long time since I brewed without using a yeast starter.  Even if I'm using Wyeast, I still like to slap the pack and give it a head start in an Erlenmeyer flask.  This takes a half-hour to 45 minutes of my time a few days before brew day, considering prepping, boil time, cool time, pitch, and clean up.  Then I was introduced to canning yeast starters through the Deputy Chairman of the Kirksville Guild of Brewers, Mike Martel.  Pop the top, pitch, and your yeast is started.  What a time saver.  So, I decided to give it a try today. 

In the above picture you see the eight canning jars that I would be using, the pressure cooker, and the pot that was steeping about 1.5 lb of grains in a little over a gallon of water.  After steeping for 30 minutes at 150°F, I put the burner on high and brought the wort to a boil making sure to take the grains out before the temp got above 170°F. 

Once I brought the wort to a boil, I used a ladle and funnel to pour the wort into the jars and put them in the pressure cooker that already had boiling water going.  Once the 8 jars were filled, I put the pressure cooker lid on, turned the burner on high and brought the pressure up to 15 psi and boiled for 15 minutes (15 @ 15). 

After 15 minutes I turned the burner off and took the pressure cooker off the burner, then let the pressure decrease naturally.  Once it came down, I took the lid off and arranged my beautiful jars of canned wort in a few rows for a nice picture.

Now, the next time I brew and get my yeast started, it will save me at least 8 * 30 min = 4 hours.  This was about an hour process, so I net 3 hours saved.

Well, then I took time to write about it, so I really haven't saved much time at all when you think about it.  I hope you enjoyed the information at least.  For a lot more detail (maybe too much in my opinion), check out Canning Yeast Starters from a Sept. 2006 issue of Brew Your Own magazine.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Brewing Beer


Brewing Beer is such a fun and rewarding hobby.  I began brewing in the summer of 2008.  My first batch was brewed from extract.  I bottled and enjoyed it immensely, mainly because I had brewed it myself.  I converted a freezer into a four tap kegerator, and have brewed most of the batches since then for the keg. 

The times I brewed fluctuated and I could not get into a brewing rhythm nor find any consistency.  Some of my beer was good, some was awful, and a few were so-so.  Not making good beer is a horrible motivator for making more beer.

How I got started brewing again

Flipping through a few Zymurgy and Brew Your Own magazines one day in September 2013, I found some scientific and geeky articles written on brewing science.  Since I am statistically and scientifically minded, and my professional scholarly work as well as my personal enjoyment of brewing had become stagnant, I decided to combine the two and rejuvenate the hobby that I hold dear.  Since I also like writing, which has also become inactive, I'm making an attempt to throw that in the mix as well. 

The first steps were to change a few things and energize a dormant homebrew club in Kirksville.  After thinking on a name for the club, I woke in the middle of the night with a "Eureka" moment as the name Kirksville Guild of Brewers popped into my head.  We would be the KGB. 

Thanks to Jerry Jones for much of the help on this logo

Although I dived right in and poured a lot of initial energy into defining what this club would be about, we took it slow and steady to gauge whether or not a club like this could exist.  It definitely could.  We are now 17 members strong and have a KGB bank account.  Transfers for t-shirts have been ordered.  The t-shirts will be here soon.

Beer Brewed

I've been consistently brewing beer again since October 5, 2013.  I brewed two Northern Brewer kits: The Rebel Rye Porter and the Anarchy in the UK British-Style American IPA.  In November, two more: The Tongue Splitter and the Kiwi Express IPA.  Sometime in December, I had four of my own homebrews on tap for the first time since I can remember. 

Erin surprised me with all-grain equipment for Christmas so I could finally begin brewing all-grain.  In early January I brewed another porter that would take the place of the Rebel Rye, and later in January I brewed a red ale reusing yeast from a previous batch.  This was the first time I experimented with that, and I found it exceptionally easy.  It only saved me around $6. 

On February 5, I brewed a version of Two-Hearted Ale from Bells that I will brew again and again until I perfect it.  This beer is the reason I will be taking very detailed notes every time I brew.  On the 16th of February I brewed my own made up recipe for the first time using a single malt (2-row Rahr) and a single hop (Amarillo).  In early March, I was able to enjoy four all-grain beers on tap for the first time. 

It won't be ready for the KGB March 22nd meeting, but I brewed a Fixed Gear (Lakefront) clone on February 22.  It was supposed to be the red ale entry for this month.  Even though I could rush it, I already have a red that I will submit, so I decided to be patient and let it continue conditioning. 

Yesterday (March 13), I finally took advantage of my Spring Break and had an "all things beer day".  I brewed The Plinian Legacy, an all-grain kit that is Northern Brewer's tribute to Pliny the Elder, one of the best beers in the world.  I also bottled my porter and red ale so I could create some keg space for the Fixed Gear clone that I'm about to keg and The Plinian Legacy.

The Plinian Legacy

One of my main difficulties in all-grain brewing is using the correct amount of water in the beginning so that when you are done, you have very close to 5.5 gallons (or whatever your goal end volume is) to ferment.  There are brewing calculators for this, which I used.  Here were my estimates for the mash:
15.25 lbs. of grains * 1.25 qts/lb = 19.0625 qts ~ 4.75 gallons
So, I heated 4.75 gallons of water to a strike temperature of 165°F and put it into the mash tun along with the grains for a 60 minute mash at 151°F (I used this brewing calculator to help me determine the temp).  The temperature was very close to that when I put the lid on the mash tun.

To mashout at 170°F for 10 minutes, the brewing calculator informed me I needed to add 2.5 gallons of boiling water to the mash (you need to do this slowly as to not scorch the grains). 
Easy math shows that I have used 7.25 gallons of water thus far.  Since I want to end with 5.5 gallons, I need to add 5.5 to the amount I will lose to the grains and boil off.  I estimated that I would lose
15.25lbs * 0.10 gal/lbs = 1.525 gallons
to grain absorption and 1 gallon to boil off. So, 5.5+1.5+1=8 gallons will be the quantity of water I should use.  Since I already used 7.25 gallons I heated 0.75 gallons for the sparge water. 
In hindsight, the boil off was underestimated since 1.1-1.25 gallons boiled off.  I also underestimated the loss to absorption by about the same amount.  The post mash volume was ~6.25 gallons which was shy about .25 gallons (since I was calculating a 1 gallon boil off, I needed 6.5).  The volume right at the end of the boil was barely over 5 gallons, so again, I underestimated the boil off.  Paying close attention to these values this time will definitely help when I brew again. 
As I was reading "Yeast" by White & Zainasheff that day I employed two more strategies with this beer.  The first, I chilled the wort to a temperature below at which it would be fermenting.  My beer will be fermenting at 66-68°F so I chilled it as close to 60°F as I could get it. "The benefit of this process is controlled yeast growth, which often results in better overall yeast health" (White & Zainasheff).
Since it also had a high OG at 1.080, I aerated the wort with pure Oxygen using a stone, and then did it again in the morning (16 hours later).  "In those cases, where yeast need large reserves to ferment the beer to completion, a second addition of oxygen between 12 and 18 hours after pitching can make a tremendous difference in attenuating the beer to the desired level" (White & Zainasheff). 
I followed the tips, so we'll see how it comes out in another month.