Mead Making

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A little less than a year ago, I made a potion as part of the 31 Days of Magic blogging project.  Mead.

Mead is a beverage based on honey. It’s a fermented (alcoholic) drink based on a relationship of about 15 pounds of honey to 5 pounds of water.  I learned how to make it from the chapter on Fermentation in Kevin M. Dunn’s book Caveman Chemistry. (This, by the way, is an awesome book detailing the chemistry behind a number of simple processes, and accompanied by projects more-or-less time consuming that teach these chemical concepts through projects that our human ancestors mastered thousands, and hundreds, of years ago).   This time, I took it up a notch and risked a good deal more materials and time and money by making five gallons at once.

Today I decanted my expensive (about $150 in honey and equipment) from the carboy (a large five-gallon jug) to a series of bottles.  I ran out of bottles before I ran out of mead.  It’s OK — the bottom of the bottle is usually filled with sediment anyway, and you’re unlikely to get five gallons of mead out of a five gallon carboy.  It’s more like four gallons and then some.

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A siphon works, but don’t put the end in the sediment (lees)…

There are a number of things that I like about mead.  One, it’s alcoholic. That’s nice in and of itself. But more than that, it’s dependent upon the unseen world of microbes — without yeasts and similar, mead doesn’t happen. It’s also dependent upon bees — without bees, honey doesn’t happen, and mead doesn’t happen without bees.

It’s beeatific, if you’ll pardon the pun, what yeast and bees do together. Pretty much all I did was put the two ingredients into a carboy, seal it with a vapor lock, and leave it alone for eleven months.  The result?

Delicious. And alcoholic.  I had about a glass and a half in the process of testing the batch, starting the siphon, and enjoying the first fruits of my (mostly non-existent) labor (other than patience), this afternoon while conducting bottling.  And I can’t say it’s the tastiest mead I’ve ever had. But neither is is frail and weak.

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My camera lens was a little foggy…

Best of all, I feel like I’ve mastered an understanding about chemistry, and about alchemy, that I didn’t have before.  I have the equipment, and I think I could do this again (with the right bottles, and some encouragement).  There’s enormous power in the knowing, in the doing, and in the daring…  and this was quite the dare, let me tell you — the first time I did this, it was a 2-liter Coke bottle and a vapor lock made with a balloon and some rubber cement!

We’ve come a long way since then.

Maker Education

Obviously, you don’t want middle schoolers or high schoolers learning to brew alcohol. But Kevin Dunn’s book is a pointer to the nature of genuine hands-on education.  It isn’t Project Based Learning (PBL); nor is it strictly Maker Education, nor is it Design Thinking. It’s not any of these.  It’s really hands-on learning, or learning through the hands. What the hands make, the mind knows.  It’s hard to argue with the reality that every time I walked through the kitchen for months, my eyes lighted on the huge brown-gold carboy bottle in the outer corner of the pantry door in the place of greatest darkness in the apartment. It occupied my thoughts frequently… was it alcohol? Was it very expensive vinegar?  Was it poison? I didn’t know… and opening the bottle wouldn’t necessarily tell me.  The longer I went without opening it, the better… but every day was a calculation.

For months.

The closer we got to a year, of course, the more likely that it was essential to remove it from the carboy and transfer it to bottles. At last, the calculus of acquired bottle-quantity-and-volume appeared to match against the quantity of  time-fermenting-in-the-carboy, and an impending move to a new apartment weighed heavily in favor of bottling.  Today was the day.  And so it’s done.

And we have to ask ourselves, “is this a living problem?”  That is, does the process  of making cheese or making vinegar (deliberately), teach a group of students to understand chemistry more effectively than simple book-reading alone?

I must say that it does.

Holiday Making

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I’m in the middle of a dilemma.  I like to post an article a week these days, so that people know I’m still working on stuff.  Yet at the same time, some of my readers are also recipients of the things that I’m making. So, that’s no good.  I can’t very well show what I’m working on, and give away the surprises meant for later in the season… right?

So what I need to do is give an update on what I’m working on, without giving away what I’m working on.  And the best way to do that is to present areas of skills-development and talent-training.

Sewing/Tailoring

  • Sewing machine cleaning, triage and repair
  • Sewing straight seams
  • Sewing curved seams
  • Scaling patterns up and down
  • Designing patterns from scratch
  • Sewing multiple/thick layers of fabric together
  • Quilting

Bookbinding & Graphic Design

  • Panel Book Making
  • Book of Secrets Making
  • 11×17″ book layout & binding
  • Coptic stitch binding
  • Belgian secret binding
  • 11×17″ book layout & binding (long-edge binding

Metalworking

  • Brass soldering
    • (still can’t do it. But have the tools, and can experiment)
  • Wire sculpting
  • Jigs and templates for soldering

Knitting

  • Knit Stitch
  • Perl Stitch
  • Casting On (Long Tail)
  • Casting Off
  • Bamboo Stitch
  • How to knit a lazy-8 scarf

Programming

  • Progress on HTML/CSS
  • Progress on JAvaScript
  • Progress on Python
  • Writing my own program using arrays, variables and counting processes

All in all, I’m making pretty good advances on the skills that I have, and that I’d like to have going forward.  I still feel like electronics and robotics eludes me to a large extent.  But I have other abilities that most Maker Spaces and Maker Programs don’t have.

Book bound, & #makered

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I spent some time today binding this book. I had a bunch of 11×17″ paper left over from another project, so I arranged it into signatures/quires of six or seven pages each, and groups of six quires, to produce eight notebooks: coptic stitch sketchbooks.  I like this size and heft; it feels about right.

But boy, are they a pain to bind!  The covers aren’t quite stiff enough with just plain cardboard inside them; there’s a lot of floppiness… or not floppiness, but flexibility.  And you need about nine yards (it feels like, in reality it’s more like four) of waxed string to bind a book of this size, which is more than is convenient to work with at one time.  And the black string combined with the wax leaves black marks on the paper… white waxed string, it seems, is the way to go so as to avoid staining the paper.

Still, it came out all right.  Not an entirely successful experiment, but OK, I learned a few things.  Now what? What comes next?

At this point, I’ve bound and given away four of these notebooks of this size.  (Two were for my parents for their wedding anniversary — matching papers of the same pattern, in different colors).  I have this one bound, which means that I have three more to bind.  I think I’ll save them for days when I don’t have anything else to work on.

Why Bookbind?

Some of my readers are teachers, and must wonder what the advantage is of doing bookbinding.  I mean, MakerSpaces are really supposed to be about things like robots and 3D printers and AutoCAD and digital design…. aren’t they? Or aren’t they supposed to be about building things out of wood and plastic and metal?

Yes, MakerSpaces are frequently about that — but let me say, those of us who teach or taught Maker work in schools are forgetting the importance of the soft skills, and of artisanship.  It’s part of the reason why I taught knitting, and built inkle looms, and learned to spin wool.  It’s part of the reason I learned to work a sewing machine, and to make costumes and hats and bags.

But I’d like to offer the point that Making comes in many different flavors, and it’s not all electronics and gears and 3D printing. There’s fashion design and graphic design and book production and artisanship and cabinetry and furniture-making and mechanical processes and block printing and leather working and architecture and… and… and… the list goes on.  The human experience is huge, my friends in Maker Education… and learning to do more than simply program pre-made robots or build circuits out of LittleBits is probably not enough.

We have a whole range of things that our students are hungry to learn how to do… and there’s benefit in building up OUR skills so that students can see how to grow and expand their own learning processes to encompass other fields of endeavor.

A song for finding your coffee

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I composed a song today. Chance are you know the tune; try singing along with me:

Oh where, o where did my coffee cup go?
O where, O where can it be?
My brain is fogged and my wits are slow —
I need more caffeine in me!

And of course, as soon as I’d sung this little ditty, I found my coffee cup.  In the last place I looked, no less.

I think we grossly underestimate the importance of folk magic — ditties, rhyming quatrains, songs, and so on — in the work of re-enchanting the world.

To @nashworld: Badging & Credentials

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Sean Nash, otherwise known as @nashworld on Twitter, said the following this morning.

I’m sure that there are many badging and credentialing systems out there, Sean.

But I think that you should identify your own rather than using someone else’s, and that you should consciously teach graphic design skills as part of the effort, by having your students design the badges.

Let me unpack this further after the cut. More

The Headless One

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Last year, lots of people in the magical community got hugely excited about Gordon White’s book The Chaos Protocols and the hugely relevant and powerful Star.Ships (which I reviewed here).  Gordon is of course the author of the moderately-successful chaos magic blog, Rune Soup. So did I, but due to events in my life it was impossible for me to write about my experiences with the Headless Rite.

And I kind of made what feels like a relevant discovery. More

The jacket 

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This was an awesome jacket.
I saw a kid in my regular coffee house wearing this jacket the other day.  He was wearing this customized leather biker jacket, tricked out like the biker jackets of the punk scene in the late 1970s and 1980s. It had been painted in turquoise, white and maroon paint and adorned with layered rows of metal studs. All the work had been done by hand.

By him.

I call him a kid, but let’s face it, some of those bottle caps are beer caps. He’s probably in his early 20s. I hope.

I asked him if I could photograph some of the detail work. I think he thought I was going to take a picture of him in his jacket, so he put it on. In retrospect I wish I had — but I feel uncomfortable about photographing strangers.

Even strangers wearing clothes they made. Or at least customized.
Still, I was impressed. it was a lot of work, 10 or 20 hours of labor customizing this jacket.

I think that we tend to underestimate the importance of customization in Maker work. But we live in a world absolutely overflowing with cheap manufactured goods. (This jacket, frankly, is not as well made as my jacket from the 1990’s… which isn’t as well made as my girlfriend’s from the 1980s, and definitely isn’t as good as my dad’s leather naval bomber jacket from the 1960s.)

We might disapprove of the message this kid is sending to the world, wearing a studded leather jacket. Or maybe we approve: I certainly do. But rather than purchasing such a jacket pre-made for some fashion line, this kid correctly recognized that there was a DIY ethic at work. He did the work himself. He customized an off the rack leather jacket to express his self-identity to the world.

And maybe we should encourage that in our students more — not because we want everyone walking around in studded leather jackets, but because we would like  people to be able to express their creativity and their hope for a more individualized world, even in off-the-shelf components.

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