Thursday, January 25, 2007

Hack of the Day: Magnetic Spice Rack

Came across this the other day, and it reminded me that I never blogged on my own solution to the "problem" of kitchen spice management.

My Aim Is True: DIY: Magnetic Spice Rack

When it came time to setup the kitchen in our new house, I wanted my spices to be better organized and more accessable than they'd been at the old place. Being a die hard Alton Brown and Good Eats fan, it was a natural that I chose an in-cabinet solution, to offer better visability to my collection (versus the 5-rows deep of spice containers in a high cabinet that many folks have). It also keeps the spices out of the sun, away from damaging heat and most importantly, doesn't burn counter space.
Here's my solution, which is similarly magnetic:


I went magnetic because we found a great deal on a spice kit similar to this one on clearance at Sears. The shakers already had magnets on the back and have two "cutouts" around the rim that allow either light or heavy spice shaking without having to remove the lids. The plates are Ikea "BAR" message boards, a whopping $0.99 each. Note that I've combined two different kits worth of spice shakers here... I have a lot of spices.


I like the inventiveness of Amber's project, but the aforementioned heat and light are big issues when it comes to the useful life of spices. If you're starting with plain watchmakers cases like Amber did, you could either go magnetic or make like Alton Brown himself and just use self-adhesive Velcro strips. However I've seen lots of knock-offs of the magnetic tins at places like Lowes, Sears, etc. and they're a lot cheaper than the Amazon example, so you might actually save money not doing everything from scratch.

EDIT: OK, a tipster in another thread pointed to these at Sciplus, which is pretty damn cheap for a similar solution. In this case, gluing your own magnets or velcro will almost certainly be cheaper. Man, I haven't been to Sciplus in months. Need to start checking back there on a regular basis.



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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Hack of the Day: Microwave your Kitchen Sponge

Like a lot of people, we use kitchen sponges at home for washing pots, scrubbing the stuff stuck on plates before the dishwasher, etc. And like a lot of people, we worry about what's actually living in the cells of those little cellulose critter catchers...

We change sponges regularly out of these concerns, but the reality is that the sponges are probably just as nasty on Day 2 as they are on the day we throw them out. Thus, I love the simplicity (and the chance to prolong sponge life and reduce waste) of this idea from LiveScience:

LiveScience.com - Study: Microwaves Kill Kitchen Germs

OK, the title of the article is a little misleading, its not microwaves that do the killing, per se. The reality seems to be that the heat generated by microwaving a wet kitchen sponge is enough to sterilize it. They recommend 4 minutes to ensure death to even the nastiest, hardest to kill spores. I can say that based on my experience with modern microwaves, 4 minutes on "High" for the amount of water in a normal kitchen sponge is definitely enough to superheat the water (i.e. raise it beyond the normal boiling temperature), which will certainly get it well into critter killing temperatures.

WARNING: Be extremely careful removing the newly nuked sponge from your 'wave. It will be hot, Hot, Hot!

NEW WARNING:
Apparently some people didn't twig to the fact that its hot water that does the sanitizing and there were a rash of fires and problems with people microwaving dry sponges. YOU MUST WET THE SPONGE!

Personally, I plan to use a small microwave safe dish for this, since then I can nuke the sponge after the morning breakfast cleanup, set it on the counter, and let it cool back to sub-plasma temperatures while I head to work.
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Friday, January 19, 2007

"Shaun of the Dead" team returns...

OK, I can't wait to see this one. Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, the writing team behind Shaun of the Dead, the greatest "Romantic Comedy. With Zombies" movie ever filmed, have returned with Hot Fuzz, which looks to be a similar treatment of the "cop movie" genre that SotD received via the horror genre.

As the Times Online points out, the cast reads like a who's-who of Brit actors, most of whom, like Bill Nighy and Martin Freeman, have already proven their comedy chops. I couldn't get SotD into my collection fast enough when it hit DVD, and I'm sure the same will be true here.

I think maybe we need either a Shaun or generic cop movie themed DVD party at my place when this thing lands stateside!

The Times article is mostly spoiler free, but avoid the last paragraph if you want to completely avoid anything remotely spoiler-like:
Hot Fuzz - First night reviews - Times Online Read More...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

We're Getting It: BMW 135i Coming to US - Jalopnik

We're Getting It: BMW 135i Coming to US - Jalopnik

Hooray!!!

During our trip to Germany last summer, this was one of my favorite "foreign" cars we'd spotted. (I was also a big fan of the various Smart offerings, especially the Smart Roadster, Kim liked the Smart ForTwo).

I have to say that, up-close, the Bangle "Flame Edge" treatment actually seems to work on the scale of the 1-series cars. (In the same way that it "sort of works" on the Z4 coupe.) The cars very purposeful looking, and have a similar "hunkered down" look as my E36/8 Z3 Coupe (although not as extreme).

Hopefully, the modern suspension design will allow them to comport themselves in a more "gentlemanly" manner, as my E36/8 is a handful. Definitely not a "beginners" car. She'll hang the tail on a whim and leave it hanging "'till you run out of petrol" as Jeremy Clarkson once said of the car on Top Gear.

The 135 (with the biturbo mill from the new 335 coupe) makes me think that maximum hoonage is likely to ensue. (Big power, low weight, and RWD is a recipe for hoonage if there ever was one).

For now, us 'mericans can sate our taste for Bavarian tail hanging with this little diddy courtesy of Google Videos. Read More...

Friday, January 12, 2007

Gettin' Outside

Long ago I was a Boy Scout. My close friends know this, not because I speak often of my time in the scouts, but because parts of the social conditioning they imprinted on me stuck so successfully. Like it or not, the "Be Prepared" ethos is carved onto my soul, and while I sometimes don't work hard enough at being obedient, thrifty, or reverent, most of the other conditioning has stuck too. Its amazing to me that an organization that I feel so conflicted about (and ultimately felt compelled to leave, over organizational politics), had such a strong impact on me that in most things would probably be considered positive.

Well, BSA Motto, Law, and Slogan aside, my time in the scouts left me with one other itch I haven't scratched in quite a while, and that's a love of the outdoors. Between family trips and scouting, I spent a good chunk of my youth outdoors. That practice ended unexpectedly suddenly with college, when time and sleep became precious commodities. I've dragged my wife out on a few outings since then, and even done a couple of (perhaps ill-advised) solo trips.

I like the freedom of a solo hike, but that "Be Prepared" mantra as well as a healthy respect for Murphy and Mother Nature make me a bit anxious when off by myself. So while searching Craigslist for a hiking partner, I found instead the Sierra Club Wilderness Basics Course. I'm pretty excited, as the course consists of weekly classes and biweekly outings including hiking, car camping, backpacking, and snow camping.

Now I'm sure the weekly lectures will be largely review, but then again I can use the review. I'm also hoping that at the end of the course I've gained either some new potential hiking partners, or at least the confidence and knowledge to tackle additional solo trips with less risk.

In any case, I'm sure I'll be commenting on this experience more, and offering my review as it unfolds, but for anyone looking for a way to get outdoors that provides some structure and oversight, this looks like a great way to get it! (My class starts January 18, so sign up and join me if you can!) Read More...

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Clear as a Bel...Canto

So a while back I saw this post on Lifehacker on the easy way to digitize audio cassettes. Now as far as purchased music is concerned, I'd rather just re-buy the choice stuff, and forget the dated clinkers of my youth.

However, I do have a bunch of cassettes that are worth the effort, and this week I got just the kick in the pants I needed to spend some time on it. I caught wind of an informal reunion of the Patrick Henry Bel Canto Singers. (Long story short - A competitive vocal group I was proud to sing in from 1990 to 1993)

In the family collection is a set of concert tapes from the years my younger sister and I were in the group (spanning to 1995!). Some of my happiest memories from high school (and indeed my whole life) came while singing in this group, so these are definitely tapes worth saving.

So I dug out the box containing my ancient Tascam Portastudio (overkill, but the only cassette player I still own with a decent transport mechanism) and lined it into my PC, pretty much following the Lifehacker instructions.

Having a real 4-track, even a 13 year old low-budget one, was much easier to deal with than I imagine a walkman would have been, since at least I had dedicated slider pots for the channels and master, and could control the mix a little...

As I'd feared when I first started thinking about this project, the magnetic media is already pretty degraded. That, coupled with the low-budget nature of our production (public school music program anyone?) and the less than ideal mic and production setup from the guy who sold the tapes, made for a pretty ugly audio canvas...
... but at least now I've started the process of archiving this stuff permanently. I managed to get two concerts recorded and cut into tracks tonight, and I'm hoping to have most of the collection done before the reunion, as some CDs loaded with our exploits will make excellent party favors.

I really like the Audacity package recommended by Lifehacker. After spending some time in real studios where the "low end" software is something like ProTools, this is pretty limited, but for what I'm doing, and given the price ($0), I'm very happy!

Here's a couple of the tracks that resulted: (big files, but worth the download if you're a music lover)
Exultate
Love Walked In Read More...