Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Pie Time

Melanie and I got together to practice making pie crust yesterday. We ended up making three pies:

Apple Bacon Cheddar Pie ABC

Yes, my friends, that's an Apple Bacon Cheddar pie. It remains to be seen if it's actually tasty, but those of you attending Arun and Rachel's holiday party will get to find out. We also made a cherry pie:


Finally, we made a chocolate-peanut butter cream pie, not pictured here. I'd like to think that I imparted some knowledge of making crust to Melanie, but she's mostly right that I'm a control freak in the kitchen. Sorry Melanie!

Brian Ferris: Pie Maker

My Mom's New Dog

My mom got a new dog:

Mom's New Dog Mom's New Dog

She's a French bulldog named Georgie, Gi-Gi, Georgette or something like that. She's a rescue dog from a puppy mill, but she seems to be quickly on her way back to health under my mom's care. For the snort-tastic effects of Gi's battle with a respiratory infection, make sure to watch this with your sound on:

See more photos in the Flickr set.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Pie Drives the Traffic

I noticed a bump in my blog traffic the day before Thanksgivig. Wow, 50 visits in one day! I'm big time...

Thanksgiving Pie Crust Bump

It took me a few minutes to figure out why I was getting all the traffic, until I figured out which page everyone was visiting from Google:

Pie Crust For Fun and Profit

Gotta love the pie.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Domestic Me

Our refrigerator door has never been very good about closing, but things got particularly bad in the last week. Specifically, a few chunks of mangled plastic fell off the base of the door and suddenly it didn't want to close at all. To actually get it to close, you had to physically lift the door about an inch and shove it into place. Not exactly great.

I decided to try to fix it myself, since getting our landlord and most likely a repairmen involved seemed like a pain. I'm posting this mostly so anyone Googling about their GE Model # TFF22RC or TFF22RCB refrigerator and its broken door might learn something useful.

After looking at the mangled pieces of plastic at the base of the door and comparing them against the working parts at the base of the freezer door and against the GE parts manual (door parts only), I figured out that the part I needed was drawing part # 16 or the Hinge Cam Riser (full part #WR2X4901). I actually needed two, since both the cam attached to the hinge and the door itself were broken.

The parts from GE were $10 each (scam!), but I found them online for $5.99 for a pack of two. Score.

The hardest part of removing the door was transferring all the condiments from the door into the fridge proper. Then I just unbolted the bracket at the top of the door and there you are:

The Fridge Door ... Where It Does Not Belong

Fridge Sans Door

I taped some plastic where the door used to be, since the operation takes some time. At this point you can get a clearer look at the hinge and the mangled cam:

All Kinds of Ugly

I unbolted the hinge pieces from the door and the base of the fridge. Replacing the cam on the door was a piece of cake, but the cam on the hinge is actually riveted into place, so I had to drill out the rivet and replace it with a bolt. The result is here:

New Cam, Meet Old Cam

Good as new. I put the door back in place and now it closes like charm.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


So I've been working on a project called http://onebusaway.org/ since early summer. OneBusAway provides an easy-to-use interface to real-time bus tracking data provided by Metro King County. The main killer feature is a phone number you can call, punch in your bus number, and the system will then tell you the predicted arrival time for the buses at that stop. The key here is "predicted", as the system can tell you when your bus is running late or if it's already gone by. OneBusAway is made for all the cold and rainy nights here in Seattle when you can't help but wonder if your bus is ever going to come. In addition to the phone number, there is a website, iphone, and SMS interface.

The system currently gets about 400 hits a day on the website. It's interesting to see the usage patterns:

OneBusAway Usage

The main thing to note is that people don't ride the bus as much on the weekends ;)

OneBusAway has been written about in a couple of local blogs: Seattle Transit Blog and Bus Chick, to mention. However, OneBusAway hit the big time when we are actually mentioned in honest-to-god print media:

OneBusAway in Seattle Magazine!

Ok, I realize that's just a link to a website, but here's proof that it appeared in the actual print edition:

OneBusAway in Seattle Magazine

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

San Luis Obispo to Yosemite Valley

Last weekend, I rendezvoused with my sister Elizabeth and my dad down in San Luis Obispo, where my dad is working. After taking in the local wildlife:

I wish I could swim and nap at the same time

we piled in my dad's truck and headed for Yosemite National Park. Yosemite, to put it simply, is awesome. A valley of steep granite cliffs carved by glaciers, the views are incredible.

Yosemite Valley

Yosemite is full of iconic scenery: Half Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls:

Half Dome Yosemite Valley - El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridal Veil Falls Yosemite Falls

Yosemite is also full of bears. You have to keep your food locked up at all times in steel bear boxes, as the bears have no qualms ripping the door off your car to grab a loaf of bread sitting inside. Though my sister Frances lost her entire weeks worth of food to a bear the last time we were in Yosemite (his name was Yogi I guess?), we had no run-ins this time. We also had no run-ins with showers either. The hat head was epic:

No showers + wearing a hat all day = oh god

Our intrepid crew went on one hike while we there: the 4.6 mile, 3400 vertical feet trail to Glacier Point. Note the squiggly line with all the switch backs that goes straight up the side of the mountain:

We hiked the steep, squigly line going straight up the mountain

The hike was tough, but the views were worth it:

Half Dome and Nevada Falls

Friday, November 7, 2008

Lego Mindstorm Drawing Robot

Back in the fall of 2007 (yup, I've been delinquent about posting this), I took a class in the School of Art here at UW called ART 383 - Interaction Design - Designing Behaviors. The class basically involved building cool interactive robots with Leog Mindstorm robotic kits. What's not to love about that?

My team built a drawing robot:

The Spydr Drawing Robot

We called it the Spydr bot: it hung on a white board using two almost invisible strands of fishing line, making it appear to float in space as it moved over the surface of the board.

Once we worked out the crazy math involved in converting geometric drawing commands into the proper motor controls, we could do some relatively precise drawing:

The Spydr Drawing Robot The Spydr Drawing Robot

From there, the sky is the limit. Check out this highly stylized Mona Lisa:

The class was a blast, and though it didn't put me any closer to graduation, I would definitely take it again. I mean, come on. Legos!


Tuesday... was good. Obama won! Dino lost! Prop 1 passed here in Seattle.

Also, I made my friend Nancy an Obama cake for her birthday:

Obama Cake

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Pie Transport

I went over to watch the Eurocup 2008 final at a friends house today and I promised I would bring a pie. Here is the pie:

Blueberry Pie

I've never made a blueberry pie before. Seemed to turn out ok. My friend lives a little over 7 miles away in Mt. Baker. Getting there by bus would have required two transfers, so I decided to bike it. That means I needed some sort of pie transport unit for my bike. Thanks to Emily and Mark's recent wedding present and a little bit of ingenuity, I came up with the following:

Hot Pie on Bike Action

It actually worked really well in that the pie made it with narry a misplaced berry. I wish I could say the same. I sort of got "lost" on my way there and ended up going up and down a few too many hills in Madrona. I earned my piece of pie to say the least.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Google Reader Shortcut Bug

Procrastinators of the world! Troubling news...

I'm a big fan of Google Reader, and by big fan I mean total addict. I need my feeds and I need them now. However, it looks like there was an update to the program last Wednesday, and I've got bugs! Specifically, I'm a big fan of the keyboard shortcuts (j and k for life) and they are not working like they should. When I click a link to read a story, read said story, close the tab and come back to Google Reader, the keyboard shortcuts don't work until I click in the window. I've confirmed the bug on Firefox on both Mac OS X and Linux. This may sound trivial, but it has really cut into my procrastination productivity.

If you are a fan of Google Reader (bonus points if you are reading this in Google Reader right now) and have also noticed this bug, let Google know by posting a message to the bug's thread on the official Google Reader problems forum.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Roast Chicken Challenge

Melanie challenged us to roast a chicken, so I did. I followed the recipe she posted, and I have to admit that I was a little skeptical of the dry salt rub. I guess I never fully understood why brining works in the first place. From what I remember of high school chemistry, when you have a high concentration salt solution (the brine) and a low concentration salt solution (any liquid already in the chicken), the liquid would flow from low to high to equalize the concentrations, the exact opposite of what we want! Yet brined chickens and turkeys are definitely more juicy... what gives?

Thankfully, this post on brining at cooking for engineers explains it all:

Obviously, there's more going on than simple osmosis. It is true that salt enters the meat (it tastes more salty after brining). But why is it also more juicy? Well, when water flows out of the meat, salt flows in and begins to break down some of the proteins in the cells. In the broken down state, the molecules become more concentrated and the solute levels rise within the meat. This causes additional water to flow into the meat.

Well said sir. Thus, a dry salt brine will theoretically do the same work as a regular brine. But will it really? Here's what it will do: turn your chicken pink!

Chicken With Salt Rub for Two Days

I had originally planned to cook my chicken on Friday night after a few hours in the fridge. However, Amy and I were both tired and not very hungry, so we decided to delay until Saturday night. However, we were out late bouncing around post-caucus parties, so I didn't end up cooking it until Sunday night. The recipe states a max of two days in the fridge, so I was still ok for time... but during all that time in the fridge, my chicken started to turn pink. I don't know if it was the salt or just the time in the open air, but it was definitely an interesting look.

Color aside, time to roast. I stuff my chicken with a sliced up Meyer lemon and maybe eight cloves of garlic, chopped up in big chunks. I didn't have any twine, so I twisted up some tin foil into sort of a homemade twist-tie and used that to tie the legs. Olive oil and pepper on the outside (I skipped the sugar suggested by the recipe). Roast! Except I did it backwards. You are supposed to start it breast-side down for the first 30 minutes, but I totally did it backwards. Oh well. Not exactly a disaster.

Roast Chicken

Here begins the hardest part of roasting a chicken... is it done? I hit the requested temperature on my thermometer and let the chicken rest for 30 minutes, but even so, I still feel like I had some pink spots near the thigh joint. I know there is a major wow factor in presenting a whole roasted chicken or turkey at the table, but I usually end up carving the entire thing up into component parts almost immediately. I think in the future I'm going to lean towards carving up the bird before roasting. Takes less time to cook and more consistent cooking. We'll see.


I whipped up a quick marsala gravy (same recipe as the pinot noir gravy from thanksgiving, but with marsala wine instead). Tasted ok, but didn't rock my world. Once everything was prepped, it was off to the HCI potluck and my bird's date with destiny. I had promised Kayur, the organizer, that I was "bringing meat." Mission accomplished. I also made rolls:


Oh baby.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

It's Washington Caucus Time!

We have the Democratic caucuses in less than an hour. I have a lot of persuasive arguments lined up for why you should choose Barack Obama, but there is really only one reason you need to consider:

Obama Cupcakes

Cupcakes for Obama

I made Amy's red velvet cupcakes and attempted to do justice to the Obama logo. Eat em up.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Forbidden Doughnuts

I made doughnuts for Friday Morning Grad Student breakfast this morning. I think this counts as the first time I've successfully made doughnuts, which may come as a shock to some of you. I've actually tried making cake doughnuts before, but I failed miserably. I went with a yeasty doughnut this time, and had a lot more success.

I used the recipe for dough from this Epicurious recipe, and it worked pretty well. The texture was more dense than a KK doughnut, but still tasty. I didn't bother making the jelly doughnuts as described in the recipe, but instead went crazy with a variety of frostings and fillings after I fried them up.

Maple Bacon + PBJ + Maple Nutella + Espresso + Cinnamon/Sugar

You can click on those photos to get the annotated version of which doughnuts is which, but all told I made:

  • Maple-Bacon Bars - Inspired by a trip to Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland, where I first had a maple-bacon bar. Just as tasty as I remembered and a big hit with the grads. Also, did you know that Maple Bars are a North West thing?

  • Peanut Butter and Jelly - I made these in honor of a similar doughnut I had at Doughnut Plant in New York City, under the tutelage of doughnut master Chethan P. Damn those were good doughtnuts, and my cheap knock-off was still pretty tasty.

  • Nutella Glazed - Nutella on a sandwich. Awesome. Nutella on a doughnut? Sweet fancy Moses.

  • Espresso-Glazed - Cribbed the glaze recipe from Epicurious. I'm not a fan of coffee flavor, but they were all eaten in quick order, so what can I say?

  • Cinnamon Sugar - Simple and tasty.

All in all, the doughnuts were a hit. Now I just need to nap off the food coma I'm in.