Cooking: Barbecue Sauce Experiment, First Four

I've always had a soft spot for good barbecue, and I include pretty much any meat cooked low and slow for long times when I say that. A key part of BBQ for me is the sauce, and there are many restaurants that do it really really well. In Tucson alone we have Mr. K's (easily the favorite, but quite a drive) and Brushfire BBQ, both of which have amazing sauce. I've been eating a lot of chicken over the past few years, as it's cheap, full of protein, and easy to make delicious. BBQ sauce usually finds its way into either the marinade or goes on top right before I eat it, but it's always been the store-bought stuff. After seeing fantastic results by dousing my chicken in some leftover sauce from Brushfire, it occurred to me that I should try to make my own rather than buy it pre-made. I looked around the internet for recipes and found that not only were the majority of the ingredients were already in my kitchen from making beef jerky, but every recipe (with minor variations) used the same core ingredients. I selected 11 different recipes and gathered all the ingredients necessary. For the preparation, every recipe had some variation on "mix the ingredients, bring to a boil, simmer for a while". To minimize the variance I'm applying the same preparation procedure to each run, whisk together everything on the list, bring to a boil, then simmer over low heat for 45 minutes. I'll be recording my commentary on each batch here, along with anyone I can conscript into giving their thoughts.

Ideally, once a good number of established recipes are tested, I'll have enough information to begin manually probing the phase space. While reading I've come across variations that merit investigation, such as using coffee in place of water, or making an entirely mustard-based sauce. Whiskey and honey variations are also on the list. From all this I hope to arrive at a recipe that I like the most, though I wouldn't be disappointed to accidentally replicate Mr. K's sauce.

Batch #1: The first recipe I tried had the slightly over-the-top name, "The Best Homemade BBQ Sauce Ever". Essentially just ketchup, apple cider vinegar, water, brown sugar (I used dark, other recipes call specifically for light), worcestershire sauce and spices. The first tastes, albeit on its own and with a tortilla chip,  yielded lukewarm responses: "Very mild. Doesn't really stand out. More spices would improve it." and "Yep, that's barbecue sauce.". Over scrambled eggs it was totally usable, with just the slightest kick of heat, lots of sweetness and vinegar forming the base of the flavor. Several chicken breasts were marinated in the sauce, cooked at 350 F for 30 minutes and served with the sauce on top. On chicken (first day): It's got a good amount of sweetness, but the rest of the flavor is dominated by vinegar. On the second day I was looking forward to it, tasty, just not life-changing.

Batch #2: For the second trial I decided to go as far afield as I could. I selected this recipe, entitled simply "Absolutely Awesome BBQ Sauce". It drops the cider vinegar entirely and adds a comic amount of hot pepper sauce (I used Tabasco), which does indeed contain plenty of vinegar. In addition is uses rum (dark, I'm guessing), soy sauce, and crushed cloves of garlic, which make it rather unique among the ones I collected. My first impression while cooking it was that it smelled substantially more salty and spicy, and that definitely comes through in the taste. I first tried it over eggs. Quite spicy, especially compared to #1. Definitely more flavors running around, which gives it some depth, but the spiciness needs to come down for it to be competitive for most people. In future iterations I imagine I'll bring the Tabasco down by half and substitute additional ketchup, water, or rum. This one also came out surprisingly thin, consistency-wise.

Batch #3: The third recipe I tried involves yellow mustard, which was a first. Outside of that it held fast to the basic building blocks of ketchup, brown sugar, cider vinegar, and a few spices. It definitely didn't have the super-spicey problem of #2. Just like the others this was tried on chicken breasts and eggs. Strong tangy vinegar and mustard flavor at the fore, with just a hint of heat. My first thought is that this could use black pepper for a little more kick. The second taster confirmed that it was his favorite so far.

Batch #4: The fourth recipe, marketing itself as Big Daddy's Carolina BBQ sauce, was a second vinegar-and-mustard based attempt. In addition, it required an extra ingredient that I don't usually keep on hand: ground white pepper. I was able to pick up a few ounces at the local spice shop for about $3. The preparation also had a minor alteration, a handful of the unique ingredients had to be added in a second heating step, namely the butter, soy sauce, and liquid smoke. I did deviate from the published recipe by reducing the liquid smoke to 1 tsp from 1 tbsp. My initial reactions while preparing this included "Wow, that's really a lot of chili powder", and "this is a lot thinner than the other sauces". There was less apparent mustard taste compared to #3, and a slow building heat as opposed to the instantaneous heat of #2.

Arcane Ages/TERAMUD: Necromancer overhaul

It came to my attention a while back that the Necromancer class on the MUD had a large collection of glaring issues.  With help from Winterstar and Lascelles I was able to sink a good deal of time into fixing myriad problems with the class. A list of the changes is presented below:

Summons

  • Ghost, lesser and Ghost, greater were fixed such that the ability works as indicated in the helpfile.
  • Ghoul, devouring no longer summons a skeletal fury instead. The ghoul now eats corpses on command.
  • Ghoul, venomous no longer summons a lesser wraith instead.
  • Greater shade now works.
  • Shadow warrior now works.
  • Summon Dracolich now has help file.
  • Summon lich now works. Helpfile added to clarify current working.
  • Wraith Lord no longer summons a Wraith Knight instead.
  • Damage, AC, Stop, and abilities adjusted to make pets more comparable to golems, treants, phantasms, and other summons.
  • Abilities adjusted to maintain themes for each line:
    • Skeletons (and skeletal dragons) are aggressive, susceptible to fire and acid attacks.
    • Ghouls are more resilient and immune to poison and draining attacks.
    • Shades are incorporeal, making them harder to hit.
    • Wraiths hit harder, possess potent cold-based attacks. Immune to cold, and draining attacks.
  • As Necromancers rely on their pets as a primary damage source, all pets now incur NO PENALTY to earned XP. Go forth and raise an army!
  • All summons now use dissolve(), meaning objects inside targeted corpses drop in the room instead of being destroyed. The same function is used when the Ghoul, Devouring feeds.
  • All summons renamed to fit the "Type, Subtype" template.

Other spells

  • Blackmantle works now. Help  file has been updated to describe how it functions.
  • Messages fixed on Soul whip. Fixed major typo in help file.
  • Messages fixed on Shadow gate.
  • Added damage formula to help file for sap and sap, minor

Runes

  • Added par rune at level 100 to allow spectre touch to be learned at 106.
  • Added bod rune at level 145 to allow backmantle to be learned at 148.
  • Added met rune at level 54 to allow dispel magic to be learned at 54.

Skills

  • Unearth corpse has been disabled for the time being.
  • Necromancy i, ii, and iii renamed to Necromancy Mastery i, ii, and iii to better fit with the other mastery skills.

Help Files

  • Help file for the necromancer class has been updated
  • Help files for all the summons have been grouped by line (e.g. shades, wraiths, etc).

There's still a few issues that I will be working on as time goes on, namely:

  • Zin'Carla doesn't work, might require new low-level features to be implemented.
  • Necromancy Mastery doesn't actually do anything useful at present.
  • Necromancers get alchemy (brew potions) but don't learn any useful
  • Nethershield can't be brief'd like normal damageshield messages.
  • Negative energy spells can't be aimed at undead minions, regardless of nice settings. Necromancers should be able to heal their pets.

Arcane Ages / TERAMUD Areas Listing

I played TERAMUD (now Arcane Ages) for years and years. It's a MUD, or Multi-User Dungeon and it is still in operation. There was some interest in the Facebook group for this game for a set of directions to all of the user-built areas in the game. Given that I spent so many years tooling around that world, I had a good number of them memorized and a few of them foggily recalled. A bit of running around on the MUD fleshed out the set, which I've included as an Excel file. I realize I'm lacking the areas for the Lost Continent, which I sadly never got around to exploring in earnest. If anyone has content they'd like me to add to this hosted version, either send me what you'd like to add or just send the edited version of the sheet. Either way, do indicate how you'd like to be credited.

I should warn that there are a few spoilers in the notes column regarding which areas have deathtraps in them. Though given the low traffic on the MUD I figure this is information that was once freely available by word of mouth, is probably fair game for sharing.

The file: ArcaneAges_TERAMUD_Areas

Binding: Black Widow 1-5

On a recent trip to Berkeley I helped my girlfriend learn to bind books, starting with a few comics she had on hand. Given that single comic books are essentially built like the signatures of a larger book, this turned out to be fairly easy. The method for binding is available in many books and on many other websites , so I'll spare the details and get to the photos. The cover was printed at a FedEx location using their color plotter for a few dollars, but the paper does seem to attract fingerprints and smudges. The biggest difference between the result and a commercial trade hardcover, aside from the whole custom aspect, are the advertisements, which are fairly irritating.

 

BW 1-5 Cover

For the cover we chose the minimalist poster done by Olly Moss for Mondo Posters. You can find more of her work here.

BW 1-5 Front

We cut a frame into the front flyleaf to not only frame the cover of the first issue but also to obscure excess information. Unfortunately the glue adds too much stiffness to the thin pages, and we'll likely stick with the normal method on later comic-bindings.

BW 1-5 Middle

The book lays fairly flat and has a crimson bookmark ribbon.

Magic: Mark of the Vampire Alter

I'm clearly still getting the hang of acrylic paint alters, but I'm making some progress. After weeks in a half-completed state I returned to this one and finished it this evening. Why this card? The last time I drafted my cube my friend stomped me 3-0, every time this card hit the table it ended the game. Always run removal, always. Mark of the Vampire

Late Semester Hiatus

It's been a while since I've been able to post any updates, mostly due to work demands as the semester wraps up. I've got several projects started and will definitely post about them once I have progress!

Magic: Foil Alter Progress

I've continued using the method outlined in the previous post to alter lands for use in my cube. It's surprisingly fun once you spot the right cards, and my local game store sells less popular foil commons and uncommons for 25 and 50 cents respectively, making each land a relatively small investment. If anyone has suggestions for good pairings, or of non-land cards that would look good with something layered on top of them, I'm open to suggestions. I've got a handful of others lined up, but time is the limiting resource these days.

Magic: Learning to make foil peel alters and an alternative method

Update 2: I've started adding the newer attempts to the gallery linked on the top bar. If there are any major process changes I'll likely make another post about it.

Update: It seems allowing the cards to soak for long times (that is, overnight) has mixed results. One of the two I tried came out perfectly, the other had some minor cracking though I'm not sure when it developed. Moving forward I'll probably keep it to 2 hours and make sure to use cold water when removing the residual paper. Hopefully I can update with more results this weekend!

I'd spotted some really excellent work posted up on reddit by users djpattiecake and bigupalters and became interested in giving foil alters a go. In short, the idea is to carefully peel away the foil layer from one card, trim it down, and glue it onto another card for visual effect.

My first attempt at this turned out to be rather ambitious, transferring a gnawing zombie I'd happened to have onto the text box of a swamp. I started primarily following the guide put up by bigupalters on facebook, here. Using a hobby knife I picked at the edges until I was able to get at a layer with mostly foil and very little paper. I thought it wasn't an issue, but it turns out having the fibrous layer beneath makes cutting small accurate segments very difficult and results in ragged white edges. A second gripe, once peeled the foil has the tendency to want to coil up like a scroll. I did try to flatten the foil out by pressing it under a stack of hefty books, but that didn't work.

A M14 Gnawing Zombie composited onto an 8th edition swamp.

A M14 Gnawing Zombie composited onto an 8th edition swamp.

For my second attempt I decided that getting a paper-free foil was absolutely key. I followed the advice given here. Namely, I got some acetone and rubbed the corner until it managed to dissolve the adhesive between the paper and foil layers, giving me a good clean peel. However, this still had the issue of yielding a very tightly curled foil layer.

At this point I decided to science at it a little bit: what causes the curling? Internal stress from the peeling process. The 'curl' clearly aligns with the direction of the peeling, likely due to alignment of the polymer in the film. We can, in principal, remove internal stress by heating the material up with it in the desired orientation, essentially ironing. I used two advertisement cards (generally regarded as worthless) to sandwich the foil flat, and kept a scrap of parchment paper on top. This stack was ironed for 10 seconds, cooled for 10 seconds, ironed for 10 seconds, then cooled for 10 seconds. This did indeed flatten it out, however the glue remelted and stuck it to one of the cards. After carefully pulling it off of that card it was much less curled, but it did begin to wrinkle and crack in several regions. Testing with a foil scrap showed that a single 10 second cycle produced substantially less wrinkling and cracking.

Joint Assault composited onto a Shards of Alara Forest. Note the cracking.

Joint Assault composited onto a Shards of Alara Forest. Note the cracking.

The peeling process itself was the cause of the problems. It got me thinking, "If only we could lift it straight off of the paper-adhesive stack without tensioning the film, we'd be golden", and it turns out we can. Given that the peeling method is destructive anyways, it opens the door to a lot of other methods I would normally shy away from. Short story: intentional water damage. When soaking the to-be-peeled card for long periods in water the adhesive eventually dissolves, the paper backing soaks up water and breaks away as it expands. The foil layer is a polymer, a water-proof plastic with water-proof ink on it, so it survives unscathed.

Below is an example, I wanted to composite the art from the 2012 Lifelink onto a 10th edition plains.

 

Two cards to composite

Two cards to composite

I used a small tupperware with room temperature tap water.  Linked are images taken immediately, at 10 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes. Below the card after 1.5 hours is shown. I'll be honest, I did get a bit impatient and started tugging at the corners after 45 minutes, hoping for a clean separation. This may have influenced the resulting curling, and I'm planning to let one soak over night to see if my impatience was a factor.

The card submerged in water.

The card submerged in water.

 

The card after 1.5 horus

The card after 1.5 horus

The foil layer was easily separated from the backing, with any residual paper removed by rubbing it under running water. Once the entire foil layer was smooth it was dried by pressing it between paper towels a few times, then being left to air dry. Some curling is still apparent, and this may just be a property of the foil as curling of foiled cards is an established problem. It is, however, much less curled than the peeled foil. From here we can simply cut it to size and glue it to the host card.

The foil layer removed from the cardboard backing.

The foil layer removed from the cardboard backing after drying.

From here on I cut out the art from the foil. In order to get the art the right size for the text box on the plains, I went ahead and made a template using a newspaper, artist's tape, and two advert cards, yielding three well-defined edges.

The foil layer cut apart, isolating the art

The foil layer cut apart, isolating the art

The template allowing me to cut a rectangle with the correct angle and height.

The template allowing me to cut a rectangle with the correct angle and height.

After the art was cut out, all that was left to do was to gingerly glue it in place and trim any stray edges.

Gluing the art in place

Gluing the art in place

The round handle of the hobby knife was used to roll over the glued region to ensure it lay flat. The final product actually looks pretty nice!

The final product!

The final product!

As with everything in life, there are many right ways to do it, but I'm happy to say I've found a method that works for me.

Four Wave Mixing: Setup Photo

Four wave mixing apparatus

Four wave mixing apparatus

The materials characterization project I've been working on for a good deal of time now recently required a new four wave mixing setup to be constructed. It had to be based around a novel laser that was built through a collaboration with another research group. It took a handful of very long days and a good deal of painstaking alignment to get everything right; if anyone was wondering why I fell off the map for a while, this would be why. We needed some photos for a report, so I went ahead and did a long-exposure card-drag through the beam path, which always looks suitably futuristic. Here's hoping I get to post an update about publishing on this work before too terribly long!

"Reboot Even If System Utterly Broken"

I've had some system instability on my laptop for the first time in ages, and had to recall a trick I learned several years back. On a linux machine, even if everything else is entirely locked up, one can safely reboot. The gist is, by using the Magic SysRq key you can force low-level commands in. This consists, on my laptop at least, of holding left alt and the print screen key down while typing out the letters REISUB, with the mnemonic "Reboot Even If System Utterly Broken". Personally, I think about the store REI and submarines. Each letter sends a specific command, namely:

  • R - This takes the keyboard input away from the X session
  • E - Sends SigTerm to all processes, asking them nicely to shutdown
  • I - Sends SigKill to all processes, forcing them to shutdown
  • S - Syncs all changes to disk
  • U - Unmounts all file systems
  • B - Reboots the machine

With all the processes stopped, all changes written to disk, and all file systems unmounted, there is no risk of file system corruption when rebooting with this method. If you follow the link above you can see that there are a good many things you can do with the Magic SysRq key, even intentionally initiate a system crash, but the sequence above seems to be the single most useful.