Mount Rainier

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Despite having grown up in Seattle, our kids had never been to Mount Rainier; even Michelle and I hadn't been since before we were dating. It was such a nice day today that I dragged everyone on the long drive to Paradise to check out the mountain. (I had planned to go to Sunrise, but that was an even longer drive.)

Not surprisingly, the mountain was stunning. The wildflowers were in bloom and the sky was clear. Also not surprisingly, it was pretty crowded with a long line of cars trying to get into the parking lot. Note to self: go earlier in the day vs. waiting until afternoon.

The drive was a bit long for a day trip, but I'd love to check out some of the other areas of the park as well as the lovely lakes nearby.

Wildflowers dotted the hillside on the cloudless day:
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Michael (11) checking out the summit from the visitor center:
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The big crowds were the only downer.
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Michelle, Michael, and Andrew (14) in Paradise.
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Rebuilding My Kamado

When I bought my first house (gosh, maybe seventeen years ago?) one of the first things I wanted was a Kamado. These are ceramic barbeque grills, like the Big Green Egg, that can produce almost magical results grilling, roasting, baking, and smoking. Over the past few years I found myself going to the more convenient gas grill, but after my recent BBQ Fantasy Camp, I wanted to try using the Kamado again.

Unfortunately, my Kamado was pretty run down after so many years outside plus a few moves. The metal hinges and cart were rusty, the firebox was cracked, and the paint very faded. Drawing inspiration from netizens in similar situations, I ordered new replacement parts and spent the weekend rebuilding my Kamado.

Here's my Kamado pre-rebuild. You can see all the rust (and rust stains) on the metal parts. The thing under the grill is the cracked grate (usually inside).
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Here's a shot of the cracked firebox inside.
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The faded and peeling label.
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I took the grill apart and repainted the pieces with black spray paint made for use in high temperature applications. (This is easy to find at hardware stores.) The rectangular hole in the red section below is where I took off the old draft door. The screws holding the draft door assembly on were so rusted I had to cut the heads off with my Dremel; this was probably the most time consuming part of the whole job.
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Here's the finished product, with the new hinge band and draft door (at the bottom). I also repainted the wagon and replaced the rusty and bent casters with new ones. Even though I didn't do a great job with the spray paint, I think it looks much better. I ultimately used a little over a can of spray paint for the whole job. I probably should have put a second coat of paint on, but I was too lazy.
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This is the interior with a new firebox and grate (the old ring on top of the firebox was still fine, so I'm still using it.) You can also see the nice new lid gasket. I haven't had a gasket on the Kamado for years after the original one burned off. This one is supposed to be a high temperature gasket that won't burn. We'll see.
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All told, I probably spent about $300 repairing the grill (replacement cost is about $600) and 4-5 hours. I ran out of time this weekend to cook anything in it, so I'm dying to give a whirl.

Ren Faire!

The family and I plus our friends John, Kellie, and Barbi went to the Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire in Bonney Lake today. This was the kids' first time to a Ren Faire. I think it was Kellie and Barbi's first faire too.

We all had a great time. Almost all of the costumed attendees were very friendly, despite the fearsome looking weapons. These guys practically dragged Andrew (14) over for a photo.
Andrew surrounded by four faire goers in armor.

I got my obligatory Ren Faire meal of a roasted (and smoked!) turkey leg. It was actually quite nice.
My lovely roasted turkey leg.

The Academia della Spada offered a pretty interesting overview of how fencing evolved in Europe including this sword and buckler fight. I was surprised how slow and calculating the fights were. This is apparently historically accurate. Going fast makes it easy for your opponent to get around your guard. (Who knew there are historical fencing clubs, let alone multiple in Seattle?!)
Two men fighting with sword and buckler.

The boys got in on the action too in a massive Boffer sword fight. There were two teams with maybe fifteen fighter per side, armed with soft swords, spears, and shields. There were some simple rules about how you were wounded and died in action. (They'll come out and stage fights for parties! Can you say "morale event"?) The boys both thought this was the best part of the faire. Here's Michael (11) about to leap into the fray.
Michael (11) ready for action with sword and shield.

We all tried our hand at throwing knives, axes, and throwing stars too. I was pretty terrible at all of them, managing to hit the targets but not getting anything to stick in. Barbi was clearly a ninja in a previous life, scoring the best of all of us on the throwing stars. Here's John releasing his axe.
John throwing an axe.

A Nice Hike Up Little Si

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Since the weather was so nice today and since they spent most of the day playing video games and watching TV yesterday (for Michael's 11th bday), the boys and I got outside today and went for a hike on Little Si. This was the first time I'd been there, although Michelle had taken them there before.

Little Si is a nice hike about 25 minutes from our house. It's around five miles round trip from the trailhead with 1200 feet of elevation gain. Most of the hike is through the woods with some scrambling up rocks in sections. The views at the top are great. It took us about 1:15 up and :50 down. It was a popular hike today, so the parking lot was pretty full. Andrew (14) enjoyed it and wants to do more hiking; Michael (11) was inexplicably grumpy today (as you can see from the photo below).

Here's us at the summit (actually standing at the highest point:
Michael, Tony, and Andrew standing on the top of Little Si

You can see the breathtaking view here behind Andrew (this is looking SE, I think).
Andrew standing in front of a great mountain-and-valley vista.

BBQ Fantasy Camp

Last weekend, my friend Sean Alexander hosted a "BBQ Fantasy Camp" at his home. He invited Grand Champion Pitmaster Konrad Haskins to teach this private class to a small group of us. Konrad is an interesting character, a South African who grew up in London, worked at Microsoft, and then went on to compete (and win) in BBQ contests. He has no shortage of opinions and stories on all topics (typically well-informed and entertaining), which he generously shared throughout our 9am-5pm meat-fest.

I was pleasantly surprised by how practical Konrad was about his BBQ. For instance, rather than smoke the pork shoulder whole for 12-13 hours, he butterflied it and then wrapped it in foil for a few hours after the initial smoking, shortening the cooking time significantly. (He finished it uncovered.) The results were spectacular.

It was also interesting to learn about how competition BBQ differed from home BBQ. He admitted he didn't really like eating competition BBQ. In competitions you only have one or two bites to show off to a judge, so you over-flavor everything to maximize the impact. However, if you did this for something you ate a whole meal of, it would be overpowering. They also use a lot of seemingly weird methods like cooking in fake butter instead of real butter, since the fake butters are engineered to taste more buttery than real butter. Gross.

Over the course of the day, Konrad cooked up a fattie (basically a whole Jimmy Dean sausage rolled in dry rub, smoked, and sliced onto biscuits -- yum!), brisket, pork shoulder, ribs, chicken, tri-tip, and burnt ends (plus biscuits and mushrooms). I never thought I could have too much meat, but I did. It was a good problem to have.

I really enjoyed the day and learned a lot. It certainly didn't hurt that the weather was gorgeous, the company entertaining, and the wine and beer plentiful and tasty. I'm ready to do more grilling and barbequing now. Thanks to Sean (and his awesome wife and my old friend Nickie) for hosting and to Konrad for the great lessons.

 

Here's Konrad showing us how to prep a full brisket; he separated the point from the flat, trimmed most of the fat away, and cooked them separately.
Konrad Haskins trimming a beef brisket

Part of the brisket being finished in a dutch oven with red wine and mirapoix - basically a BBQ Beef Bourguignon. Crazy good and falling apart tender.
Dutch oven with charcoal on top, sitting on a low Weber grill.

Here's another part of the brisket, this one smoked for a few hours, wrapped for a few hours, and finished on the grill for an hour. Look at the smoke ring!
Close-up of sliced brisket with a lovely red smoke ring.

Konrad had a good tip for getting more ribs onto a grill -- roll them up. The rolls are held together with a bamboo skewer running through them.
Three racks of pork ribs rolled and cooked like standing roasts in a Big Green Egg.

DNG Codec for Windows 7

On my digital SLRs, I've been shooting RAW files for quite some time now in order to get the most out of my images. However, I've had some concerns about being able to read these files later, so I've started converting all of my RAW files to Adobe's digital negative format DNG. I figure with Adobe backing it, it's more likely to be supported in the future vs. some random old Canon file format.

However, one my frustrations is that there hasn't been a free, Adobe codec for DNG for Windows 7 (especially 64-bit); this prevents me from seeing thumbnails in Explorer or from seeing the images in apps like the nice Windows Live Photo Gallery.

Well, my wait is over! Adobe Labs has a release candidate codec available now for 32 and 64-bit Windows 7 (Vista is not supported). It seems to run fine, albeit a little slow. (No word on their site about when they'll have their final release.)

You can get it here.

Congrats, Andrew!

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Andrew (13) graduated from eighth grade today. It's hard to believe he'll be starting high school in the fall. It seems trite to say it, but they really do grow up too fast.

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Let summer vacation begin!

Bing on Xbox!

Last week at the gaming industry's E3 Expo, Microsoft announced a bunch of cool stuff coming up for the Xbox including one of the projects I've been working on -- Bing on Xbox!

You'll be able to simply say a movie or TV show you want to watch, a song you want to hear, or a game you want to play, and Bing for Xbox will find it for you across different content providers like Hulu, Netflix, and Zune, bringing you all the results in one place; today you'd have to search each of the apps separately. (Of course, if you don't have a Kinect, you can type it out.) So, you just say "Xbox, Bing Batman" to find games, movies, TV shows, and music related to Batman.

Here's a sample of what the search results page might look like if you said, "Xbox, Bing X-Men".

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Here's the video of Xbox Live VP Marc Whitten describing the functionality. I love all of the Bing logos everywhere!

If you have an Xbox at home today and log into Xbox Live, you may see an ad describing this upcoming service too. I was pleasantly surprised to see this.

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If you select the panel, you get a little more info:

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You can then click to see a video of the the feature in action. (I'll see if I can find and post a copy of that video).

I'm proud of the work we've done to get this far and looking forward to getting it out. It was exciting to do the announcement and finally be able to talk about our work a little more publicly!

Fly a Warbird!

TP-51C Mustang

Like I mentioned recently, I've always been a big fan of World War II aircraft. Over the next few weekends in the Seattle area, warbird fans will have an amazing opportunity to fly in a B-17 Flying Fortress or B-24 Liberator bomber. The Collings Foundation is conducting their Wings of Freedom Tour and is selling seats on these iconic bombers.

Even cooler, you can go up in a P-51 Mustang fighter!! The latter is amazing since most fighters from that era were single seat, so rides are impossible; however, the Collings Foundation has a trainer version of a P-51C that has two seats.

Perhaps even cooler still is the WWII Crew Fantasy Camp that the Foundation runs. This is a two day training program where you train for and fly a simulated bomber mission on a real B-24. You get to suit up, help load ordinance, shoot live and blank .50 cal rounds from the aircraft's guns, and drop 250lb dummy bombs! They also planned to have a P-51 Mustang and German Me-262 jet fighter in the air too! (You can sign up to fly in the P-51 or Me-262 instead). Crazy awesome. They ran the camp in May. Hopefully they do it again sometime because I'd love to try it.

Anyway, despite the fact another classic B-17 burned this week after an emergency landing, I hope to be able to go up this weekend, maybe with Andrew (13).