SlingFest 2015

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When I first joined the Plano-area makerspace,, there were a number of programs I was interested in. There seemed to be no end to the amount of creative endeavors the other members were into: homebrewing, information security, wearable electronics, etc.. But one of the programs that really got my attention was presented by a subset of trebuchet aficionados within This contingent of designed, built, and fired their own medieval siege weaponry as a hobby.

Better than that? They put together an annual event called SlingFest to showcase and compete amongst each other. A video from the 2014 SlingFest cemented it for me—I’d be attending SlingFest in 2015, especially since it was happening practically in my backyard at Oak Point Park & Nature Preserve where I’d previously attended the Plano Balloon Festival.

All the Competitors,  Ready to Fire! Fibonacci's Apprentice by Trey Bouchet Frankchet by Manly Team Delta Thunder Explosion Squad KRAKEN by Heart of Experian Mother Chunker by  Old School Trebuchet Not So Little Monster by Texas Trebuchet SlingKong by SNS by Paul Sanders Velocichunker by Velocichunker Funky Flings being showed off to the Crowd Baby KRAKEN's eating this pumpkin Superman sort of flew but did NOT stick the landing SlingKong covered everything in powdered sugar HexBug Tent and Catapult Competition #1 HexBug Tent and Catapult Competition #2 Smokin' Jalapeno Food Tuck #1 Smokin' Jalapeno Food Tuck #2 What remains of a fired pumpkin


SlingFest was broken up into three primary competitions:

Accuracy: Each team placed a marker out in the field and then fired their trebuchet. The distance between the target and where their projectile landed was recorded and added up across three shots, with the lowest score winning.

Funky Fling: The funky fling was by far my favorite competition of the event. Each team thought of creative things to load onto their trebuchets and then flung them out onto the field. The Kracken team attached a fresh squid to a pumpkin and launched it with horrifying success—the force caused the squid to be ripped apart and flung across the field, I believe I even saw some of it land amongst the competitors.’ own entry, SlingKong, decided to hollow out a pumpkin, cram it full it with powdered sugar and fling it — it was delicious! The winners of the event, team Old School Trebuchet, were picked by the crowd for launching a mannequin draped in a Superman cape with a horrific limb-removing landing.

Distance: Each team was given three attempts and the longest throw of all won this event. It was interesting standing amongst the trebuchets as the teams loaded them down with extra weight. The amount of creaking and groaning that came from the trebuchets had me both excited and a little terrified.

SlingFest was even kid-friendly with two “baby” trebuchets launching potatoes and golf balls, the latter of which fired at such a velocity that I had an impossible time trying to record any video for it. However, I did manage to film the launching of a potato or two.

In addition, there was a tent from the company HexBug which contained their Hexbug Kids VEX Catapult kit for the kids at the event to play with. They got to set up and fire the pumpkin-shaped marshmallows at targets. Each competitor received a score, and I believe a few lucky kids even won those catapult kits and are hopefully playing with them as I write this blog.

Lastly, The Smokin’ Jalapeno food truck came out to SlingFest and served up some food. Personally, I enjoyed the heck out of my brisket tacos, and judging by the constant line of people I saw at the food truck, I wasn’t the only one enjoying the food.


Pretending to be a journalist, I attempted to take pictures and video of everybody at SlingFest 2015. Because I’m a terrible journalist, some of those videos and photos didn’t come out too well. For a better experience, I suggest you start keeping an eye out for SlingFest 2016 and come see it in person! Here’s a rundown of each team competing in SlingFest 2015 with the names of their trebuchets in parentheses. Much of this information was gleaned from the SlingFest flyer as well as from what was announced at the event. If there’s anything incorrect or missing, then let me know and I’ll get this updated! (SlingKong)

SlingKong was’ entry to SlingFest, and as the title sponsor, they earned no benefit of the doubt from the field marshal. This is the team that I wound up spending most of my time around during the event, since Pat was an official team member. SlingKong is considered a traditional trebuchet whose prior claim to fame has been that it generated so much torque it cracked its arm in the 2014 competition. This year the team captain (and pretty much one-man band) engineered a new arm that was so strong and covered so much square footage that they ran out of spray paint covering it!

A few sling issues had SlingKong primarily firing in a backwards direction. In fact, for the accuracy contest it was suggested that he even be rotated 180 degrees! However, one of the biggest cheers from both the competitors and the audience was heard when SlingKong fired in a forward direction! Additionally, SlingKong had by far the best-tasting funky fling as they launched a pumpkin packed full of several bags of powdered sugar. Everyone downwind of the trebuchet and the pumpkin’s trajectory got a slight dusting in powdered sugar—it was delicious.

Heart of Experian (KRAKEN)

The KRAKEN is a trebuchet I’ve had the pleasure of seeing come to life over the past few months. The team captain, Richard, is also’ brewmaster and the driving force behind the Brew of the Month program. Because each brew event has taken place at his house, I’ve been able to see the KRAKEN slowly being assembled. While they wound up a few trebuchets down from where I was sitting, the smell from their funky fling draped the field in its aroma. I’d really wanted to get their funky fling on video, but I missed the signal that they were firing. However, that poor squid was torn asunder by the forces of the spinning pumpkin; bits of squid stench were strewn all over the battlefield. I have sympathy for the team member or volunteer who cleaned that up!

Texas Trebuchet (Not So Little Monster)

Not So Little Monster is a floating arm trebuchet that stands about 13 feet tall. It was one of two trebuchets at SlingFest whose arms are moving so fast they sounded much like a bullwhip moving through the air. Team Texas Trebuchet brought it all the way up to Plano from Houston and performed quite well. In addition, Not So Little Monster is a very-much scaled up version of the golf ball trebuchet that kids were getting a chance to fire.

Velocichunker (Velocichunker)

Velocichunker is a modified MURLIN (multi-radius linear nodes) trebuchet and as I understand a new entry to SlingFest. I especially liked their team sign. Prior to SlingFest and seeing Velocichunker, I’d never seen this type of trebuchet before. I feel a bit guilty because I think the one video I captured of Team Velocichunker happened to be on a couple of their less-than-impressive throws. I spent a bunch of my time assisting with SlingKong who was right next to Velocichunker, so I missed a bunch of their throws. They did however attempt to fling a pumpkin wrapped in what looks to be a basketbal hoop’s net; it went pretty high but not pretty far!

Trey Bouchet (Fibonacci’s Apprentice)

Team Trey Bouchet also brought a MURLIN-style trebuchet, Fibonacci’s Apprentice. As this trebuchet’s arm moved through the air, it sizzled much like a bullwhip. The velocity of the arm moving and the projectile being flung from the sling caused me to lose my calm journalistic demeanor and exclaim “Jiminy Christmas!” It’s my understanding that Fibonacci’s Apprentice is the baby brother of a much larger trebuchet, Trebzilla, who suffered at the hands of a cruel road trip to Route 66 Pumpkin Chunkin and was not repaired in time for SlingFest 2015.

Paul Sanders from Lavaca, Arkansas (SNS)

Paul Sanders brought his trebuchet, SNS, all the way from Lavaca, Arkansas, turning SlingFest into an intra-state competition. Not much was written in the SlingFest materials about this trebuchet on account of his late entry to the competition. However, I was at the field when they rolled in from Arkansas with SNS on a trailer; it was an impressive sight. My favorite SNS highlight was a slightly problematic trigger on one throw that caused a brief bit of micro-consternation and the subsequent humorous recovery.

Old School Trebuchet (Mother Chunker)

Mother Chunker is the output of the efforts of team Old School Trebuchet. Mother Chunker is truly keeping it old school with its traditional construction. Mother Chunker has been competing for 5 years and over those years has endured a number of repairs from whatever scrap materials can be found to get it back in competing form. Mother Chunker is the last remaining competitor from the original SlingFest and took home a championship in 2013. From what I overheard, it is very likely that SlingFest 2015 will be Mother Chunker’s last competition. After that, he’ll be put out to pasture and sired out as a stud in order to bring more trebuchets into this world.

Manly Team Delta Thunder Explosion Squad (Frankenchet)

Frankenchet, from Manly Team Delta Thunder Explosion Squad, was my personal favorite from SlingFest. As its trebuchet type, they listed it as a “floating arm nightmare” which seemed to be quite the apt description. It is a massive, complicated-appearing machine. It is a two-time returning champion whose counter-weight is built around a rusted-out engine block. Watching Frankenchet hurl objects through the Sunday afternoon was exciting, and at the end of my video you can hear me say “Wow!”

Final Thoughts

If you didn’t make it out to SlingFest 2015 then you really did miss out on a good time. The eight competitors each built really impressive machines, whether they were big or small and whether they fired forward or backwards. Each of the teams were proud of what they built and were gracious when interacting with the audience. Beyond gawking at the trebuchets and being entertained by their feats of strength, there were enough kid-centric activities to do. If you got hungry, there was The Smokin’ Jalapeno food truck serving up

And lastly, kudos to for being the driving force behind this year’s SlingFest as a title sponsor. The entire organization really got behind SlingFest and turned it into the great event that it turned out to be. Hopefully they can use this year’s success and build an even bigger event for 2016. I’m already looking forward to it!

Building a Keezer and Kegging my first Batch of Homebrew

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In my previous homebrewing blog, I talked at length about fermenting my first batch of homebrew beer, which I did during’ program, Brew of the Month. I also wrote about the fact that I had decided to keg my beer and that I’d need to buy/build some sort of keg-dispensing system for use at my house.

In my research I was pleased to find that there’s a plethora of ideas on the Internet for the burgeoning home brewer to consider for their own dispensing system. If you’re inclined, there are plenty of off-the-shelf kegerators which are essentially modified mini-fridges which have room for the keg, CO2 bottle, keg connections, and the beer-dispensing tap, already assembled and waiting to be hooked up to your home brew.

In order to design my own beer-dispensing solution I decided to make a list of requirements and nice-to-haves in order to facilitate my shopping. I covered that list briefly in my previous blog too:


  • 4 total taps
    • 3 carbonated tap (for most beers)
    • 1 nitrogenated tap (for stouts like Guiness or nitrogenated cold-brew coffee)
  • Each tap capable of running at a unique pressure
  • Room for at least 4 Cornelius (aka “corny”) Kegs
  • Fits in my laundry room alongside the washer and dryer


  • Dry-erase-marker-friendly surface
  • Doesn’t look too out of place alongside my washer and dryer
  • Avoid having to heavily modify the refrigerator/freezer.

What I found is that my requirements pretty much eliminated all of the off-the-shelf kegerators and practically put me up into the kinds of equipment you’d need if you wanted to open your own bar, which naturally carries a much heftier price tag.

Since I was delving off into something outside of my usual comfort zone, I was perfectly willing to buy a consumer-grade kegerator, but I just couldn’t find one that would meet my requirements. Because I wasn’t willing to compromise on those requirements, I decided instead that I’d build my own.

Kegerator vs. Keezer

Among DIYers, there are essentially two styles of DIY beer dispensing setups: kegerators and keezers. Just like a kegerator is built on top of refrigerator, a keezer is built on top of a freezer. Ultimately, I decided that the keezer was a better format for my purposes for a couple reasons. First, most refrigerators (especially those that would fit 4 corny kegs) were too tall to fit in the space that I had carved out inside the house. A chest freezer would be a much nicer fit. Second, a chest freezer appeared that it’d need much less modification than a refrigerator would require. As an added bonus, the chest freezer’s dimensions and layout were ideal for dropping the cornelius kegs down into.

Building my Keezer

One weekend not too long ago, I sat down at my computer and spent the entire day reading Home Brew forums gathering ideas from people who’ve built their own DIY keezers and placed what seems to be a dozen different orders from Amazon, who somewhat surprisingly had very competitive pricing and availability of the parts I’d need for a keezer. I halfway expected having to order a number of parts from a bunch of different websites, but that really didn’t wind up being the case.

What I wound up deciding to do is to build a collar, remove the lid from the chest freezer, affix the collar on top of the freezer, and then attach the freezer’s lid to the top of the collar. Ultimately, I’d drill holes for the taps and beer gas lines through the front of the collar.


Collar Parts:

The most important selection here was my choice of the melamine shelving, which we’d use to face the front and sides of the keezer. I picked the material because of melamine’s dry-erase-marker-friendly properties, as Pat captured in his blog article on building huge and inexpensive dry erase boards. We wound up using the 2x10” lumber to build a box that sat flush on the back of the keezer and left enough room on the front and sides for the melamine shelving. The melamine shelving was cut to run the length of each side with a “nice” uncut end facing the front of the keezer. The last piece of melamine shelving was cut to fit across the front of the keezer.

After test fitting the collar to the keezer many times, we were confident enough to use a healthy bead of silicone window caulk to attach the collar to the keezer. Once it was cured, the silicone was surprisingly sturdy and was holding the collar to the keezer quite well. However, we felt that the collar needed a bit more support to hold the collar in place.

The 2x4” pieces were used for two purposes: to hold the keezer in place on top of the freezer and the leftover 2x4” material was attached to the back side of the collar but still inside the collar for mounting some of the beer gas hardware. The legs were cut to length of the inside of the keezer and then we used the lag bolts to put a leg inside the keezer on two opposite corners. Originally, we planned to build 4 different legs to hold the collar in place, but after feeling how sturdy it was with the two legs and silicone we decided that four legs wouldn’t be necessary.

The freezer’s lid had a beveled edge to help guarantee a good seal when the freezer was closed. We emulated this on the keezer via the difference in height between the melamine shelving and the 2x10s used in the collar’s framing. But because we didn’t face all four sides with melamine shelving that left a gap on top of the collar on the backside of the keezer—a 1x2” was used to close that gap.

Finally throughout the collar’s build process, the lumber used for the collar framing and legs was coated on all sides in polyurethane to protect it from the conditions inside the keezer.

Test fitting the melamine shelving to the collar frame #1 Test fitting the melamine shelving to the collar frame #2 Test fitting the melamine shelving to the collar frame #3 Test fitting the freezer lid to the collar frame #1 Test fitting the freezer lid to the collar frame #2 Test fitting the collar frame to the freezer #1 Test fitting the collar frame to the freezer #2 Test fitting the collar frame to the freezer #3 Test fitting the collar frame to the freezer and lid #1 Test fitting the collar frame to the freezer and lid #2 Pat slopping polyurethane all over the collar frame #1 Pat slopping polyurethane all over the collar frame #2 Collar frame mostly coated in polyurethane #1 Collar frame mostly coated in polyurethane #2 Test fitting the melamine to the collar frame while on freezer #1 Test fitting the melamine to the collar frame while on freezer #2 Test fitting the melamine to the collar frame while on freezer #3 Test fitting the melamine to the collar frame while on freezer #4 Test fitting the melamine to the collar frame while on freezer #5 Melamine shelving screwed into collar frame #1 Melamine shelving screwed into collar frame #2 Melamine shelving screwed into collar frame with lid resting on top #1 Testing out the dry-erase marker on the melamine facing #1 Testing out the dry-erase marker on the melamine facing #2 A bead of silicone ready to hold the collar in place. Collar is attached to freezer with silicone #1 Collar is attached to freezer with silicone #2 Collar is attached to freezer with silicone #3 Close up on the collar's joints #1 Close up on the collar's joints #2 Close up on the collar's joints #3 Close up on the collar's joints #4 Lid is attached to the collar Rear view of freezer lid attached to collar Testing using the lid to ensure it's opening and closing nicely


Keezer Parts:

All of the Keezer parts Beer Gas Tanks,  Secondary CO2 Regulator, Taps, Kegs and Clamps CO2 Regulator, Secondary CO2 Regulator, Nitrogen Regulator, and Kegs Ball Lock Keg Adapters, Keg Rebuild Kits, and Kegs Clamps, Taps, Handles and Tank Kegs, Beer Gas Tubing,  Beer Tubing, and miscellaneous brewing supplies Cleaner, Sanitizer, Beer Gas Tubing, and miscellaneous brewing supplies Secondary CO2 regulator CO2 Regulator and Nitrogen Regulator A mountain of boxes.

Surprisingly, putting together all of the beer-dispending equipment wound up being easy compared to building the collar. The hardest part of any of that, was getting some of the various hoses pushed onto their respective barbs. A bit of Keg Lube helped make that quite a bit less difficult. Ultimately, we wound up deciding to store both the CO2 tank and the Nitrogen Tank outside the keezer: the MFL Bulkhead 4” pieces were pushed through holes on the backside of the collar and then each end had barbed fittings installed on both ends. From the outside of the keezer the high-pressure hose was hooked up to the CO2 tank and Nitrogen tank.

Inside the keezer, the MFL bulkhead was connected to the secondary CO2 regulator. Continuing further on down, each of the three barbs on the secondary regulator were plumbed to separate Cornelius Kegs. Similarly, the nitrogen line’s MFL bulkhead was plumbed directly to the Cornelius Keg since there’s only one nitrogenated tap. All of the hoses used for this plumbing were done using 5/16” ID High Pressure Braided Clear Tubing and each end of hose was kept in place by hose clamps on both ends.

Continuing on, the kegs were connected to the barbed side of the shank assemblies for each of the different kind of faucets on the keg. Because stout beers are served at a higher pressure, a more heavy duty and purpose-built faucet was required.

The most problematic part of the keezer build-out wound up being the drip trays. When we were first building the collar, we meticulously measured the taps, drilled holes from them and then began discussing how to install the drip trays. Pat and I both decided that the drip trays would screw into the bottom of the collar and hang down flush with the bottom of the collar. That way, if the collar ever moved, the drip trays wouldn’t be in the way or accidentally get damaged. We measured about fourteen times and drilled holes to hold screws for hanging the drip tray from and proudly began assembling one of the faucets to admire our handiwork.

And that’s when we realized our mistake! We never even bothered considering how much room would be needed beneath the faucet for a glass to fit. As it was, a shot glass would barely fit between our drip tray and the bottom of the stout faucet. We were equally shocked, amused, and disappointed in our utter lack of planning. This snafu caused us to have to remove the melamine shelving from the front of the collar, replace it, and drill new holes for each of the faucet’s hardware to fit through. And after that, I still had no way to mount the drip tray.

My first thought was to just get some sheet metal screws and install the drip trays exactly as we intended before by drilling into the keezer (but this time, with enough room for some beer glasses!) but I got cold feet when I realized that the cooling filament of the freezer wrapped all around the back and front. In order to safely drill the holes, we’d need to use a field repair manual in order to determine exactly where those cooling tubes were located and then make sure to not hit them when drilling into the freezer. Furthermore, I wasn’t very excited about permanently altering the freezer if it could be avoided. After thinking about it for a few days and discussing with my friends and wife, my wife asked a brilliant question: Why not use magnets to hold the drip tray to the freezer? Thankfully Pat has had a stockpile of neodymium magnets that he salvaged from old computer hard drives squirreled away for an undefined project. Using some quick set J.B. Weld, I glued five of the magnets to each drip tray and let it cure overnight. The next morning, I set a drip tray underneath each set of faucet(s) and each held strongly to the front of the keezer. The magnets held the drip trays in place, but the weight of a glass on the drip tray would cause the tray to start sliding down the keezer. In order to avoid any accidents, I keep the drip trays down the keezer far enough that nobody would be tempted to place a glass on one when filling their glass.

Taps Installed #1 Taps Installed #2 Secondary CO2 Regulator Mounted #1 Secondary CO2 Regulator Mounted #2 Secondary CO2 Regulator Mounted #3 Affixing magnets to drip trays Drip Trays Mounted #1 Drip Trays Mounted #2 Drip Trays Mounted #3 Plumbing the kegs, taps and gas connections #1 Plumbing the kegs, taps and gas connections #2 Setting different pressures on the Secondary CO2 Regulator #1 Setting different pressures on the Secondary CO2 Regulator #2 Testing the taps,  doesn't that beer look funny? Relocating the beer gas to come from outside the Keezer Completed Keezer – Taps and Drip Trays #1 Completed Keezer – Taps and Drip Trays #2 Completed Keezer – Kegs and Plumbing #1 Completed Keezer – Kegs and Plumbing #2 (and my toes) Completed Keezer – Kegs and Plumbing #3 Completed Keezer – Kegs and Plumbing #4 Completed Keezer – Kegs and Plumbing #5 (notice the different pressures) Completed Keezer – CO2 Taps and Plumbing Completed Keezer – Beer Gas Tanks before being Tucked Away Completed Keezer – Nitrogen Tap and Drip Tray Completed Keezer – CO2 Taps and Drip Tray Completed Keezer – Drip Tray Completed Keezer

Post Keezer Build Thoughts and What I’d do Differently

Overall, I’m estatic with how my DIY Keezer turned out. Its feature-set far exceeds the things that I found in the available consumer-level kegerators. About the closest thing I could find to my keezer were things like the Turbo Air TBD-4SB and even then, I’m not sure if it allows for two different kinds of beer gasses like mine does. It’s a product intended for commercial use inside restaurants and it carries an astronomical price tag of over $3800. Altogether my keezer cost me right around $1250 and quite a few hours of our time—that’s less than 33% of the cost of the similar commercial product.

One of the things I was worried about was leakage of the cold air through the construction of the keezer’s collar. I had been prepared to go absolutely bonkers with my silicone caulk to seal up every little potential gap on the collar as well as considering buying some sort of spray-on insulation or insulated board to line the inside of the collar with. However, once the keezer got down to my desired temperature (34 degrees Fahrenheit), I felt all around the outside edges and seams of the collar to feel if I was being chilled by cold air escaping. But it felt exactly like everything in the room around it. I feel pretty confident that additional insulation simply isn’t necessary.

I started writing this blog a couple days after we finished putting it all together and here are some things I’d do differently if I were starting all over from scratch again:

  • Think a little bit harder before drilling holes in things to hang accessories like drip trays.
  • Consider building a shorter collar. This because I’ve found that hoisting kegs in and out of the keezer is a bit more difficult than I would’ve liked it be.
  • Or instead of a shorter collar, attach the collar to the lid instead of the freezer. That way opening the lid would move the collar out of the way.
  • Buy an additional drip tray. The one drip tray is not enough to cover all three of the carbonated taps.
  • For the beer gas (CO2 or Nitrogen) include: a tee-fitting, some extra tubing, and an additional set of Ball Lock adapters for Corny Kegs. This would allow for the carbonation of additional keg(s) without having to remove a keg that’s already on tap.

So far it’s a pretty short list but since completing the keezer a couple weeks ago it’s grown slightly. None of the above are deal breakers, and I’ve already taken steps to eliminate one of them buy picking up a third drip tray. It’s interesting how when you do a DIY project, you’re already thinking of things you would’ve done differently. Had I just bought something from the store, I think I’d probably be more accepting of its weaknesses, but when it is a product of your own labor you’re way more critical of it. That’s especially funny in this case because my keezer is already so much better than what I found online.

Don’t get me wrong though, I love this thing. I’ve showed it off to anybody who has come by the house. I keep waiting for one of the delivery people to make a comment about all the beer stuff I’ve had delivered lately, I’d invite them in and show them what we made. I’d even pour them a club soda or a nitrogenated coffee, or if they wanted to come back in when they’re off the clock, the could have a pint of my first batch of homebrewed beer!

Kegging “The Mexican”

Ultimately, my fermenting and clarifying batch of beer from the Brewterus was our primary motivation for completing the keezer. The same night we finished the keezer, we were scheduled to keg this beer. After the assembly of the keezer, we cleaned the kegs, sanitized them and left a little sanitizer in each keg. We pressurized the kegs with CO2 and when we felt confident there weren’t any CO2/Nitrogen leaks, we ran that sanitizer through the faucets looking for leaks along the way.

Once we were confident in the plumbing and that everything was sanitized, we transferred ‘The Mexican’ from each of the five-gallon glass carboys into two of my corny kegs. According to the recipe, we were aiming for a carbonation level of 2.50-2.80, so using one of the calculators out there we determined that would be anywhere between 9 psi to 12 psi. Since there were two taps free in my keezer, I wound up setting one keg to 9 psi and the other to 12 psi.

This recipe is supposed to be a Dos Equis tribute, I’ve tried it before but I’m not real familiar with the style. But, as far as I’m concerned, I think what we’ve made sure tastes pretty good. I think that I’m a little disappointed with the lack of head the beer poured at both 9 and 12 psi. I’m going to consult my home brew oracle, but I’m guessing I should probably up the carbon dioxide pressure a bit to get what I think is missing. Even without the head, the beer’s carbonation level seems fine, and most importantly it tastes quite delicious.

Siphoning the beeer from the carboy to the Keg Pat's really excited about the siphoning Pat's really excited about the siphoning, plus he's lit better! More siphon action Slowly filling the keg. Close up of the keg's mouth Nearing the end of the keg,  don't want any of the sediment! The Mexican,  Pre Carbonation #1 The Mexican,  Pre Carbonation #2 The Mexican – 9 PSI #1 The Mexican – 9 PSI #1 The Mexican – 12 PSI #1 The Mexican – 12 PSI #2 The Mexican – 9 and 12 PSI #1 The Mexican – 9 and 12 PSI #2

I found Sixth barrel kegs (approx 5.0 gallons) starting around $92.00 for Dos Equis. My cost was $60 cheaper due to the monthly rental fee of $30 in the Brew of the Month club from for members. Now all I need to do is drink (with help from friends and family, of course!) 20 corny kegs’ worth of beer. 100 gallons of beer comes out to be about 1,066 cans of beer—it might be a while before it will have paid for itself!

Movember: 2015

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It is that time of year again, Movember is upon us! During the month of November men shave their faces and grow mustaches in order to raise awareness and hopefully a few dollars towards men’s health issues.

It’s also an excellent time for me to take part in one of my favorite past-times, self deprecating humor—there’s very little that I enjoy more than poking fun at myself! Last year I took Movember to the nth degree, in addition to offering to match dollar-for-dollar the first $500 raised, I also said I’d keep my mustache for an entire calendar year, which I have. Leading up to the 1st, I was both excited to get this thing off of my face and a little bit petrified about how weird I’ll look without the mustache. Please keep in mind, I look weird with the mustache too, it’s just a different kind of weird.

This year, I’ve set a goal of raising $1,000 dollars before my contribution. I’ve also decided to match donations again but instead of matching up to $500, I’m going to match all the way up to $1000! When donating to my Movember page your donation will likely be twice as effective! It’s practically a no-brainer! Simply follow this link to my Movember 2015 page and make a donation!

For those of you unfamiliar with Movember, here are the rules:

  1. Once registered at, each Mo Bro must begin the 1st of Movember with a clean-shaven face.
  2. For the entire month of Movember each Mo Bro must grow and groom a mustache.
  3. There is to be no joining of the Mo to your side burns. (That’s considered a beard)
  4. There is to be no joining of the handlebars to your chin. (That’s considered a goatee)
  5. Each Mo Bro must conduct himself like a true country gentleman.

Pretty easy rules, I think. Well all for number five, that always gives me fits!

Because I need all the help I can get, I literally shaved and took my first picture at 12:00 a.m. Here’s what the starting point looks like!



Moving forward, I’ll take a daily photo and post updates (at least once a week) along the way. If you donated, please feel free to leave a note in the comments and mock my inability to grow facial hair. As a perk, I’ll personally thank you for your mocking.

Week One

Week one’s in the books, my progress is meager but steady. There’s a hint of nonsense on my upper lip, which either matches or exceeds my expectations. I suppose that’s the beauty of low expectations. The first week also so a total of $120 donated to the Movember cause, which is definitely more than I would’ve predicted. Let’s keep growing!

Day #1 of mustache growth Day #2 of mustache growth Day #3 of mustache growth Day #4 of mustache growth Day #5 of mustache growth Day #6 of mustache growth Day #7 of mustache growth

Week Two

Week two moved along at a pretty lethargic pace. There were two highlights of week two; I experimented with both dark and bright clothing to try and create contrast in order to accentuate my growth atop my upper lip and I’m pretty sure I got a compliment from one of my superiors at work on my progress. I studied him carefully post-compliment and detected no hint of stifled laughter — a very promising sign!

Day #1 of mustache growth Day #2 of mustache growth Day #3 of mustache growth Day #4 of mustache growth Day #5 of mustache growth Day #6 of mustache growth Day #7 of mustache growth


Thanks a million to everyone who’s donated so far. As the month draws to an end, I’ll make my matching contribution. Let’s see if we can get all the way to the $1,000 I’ve committed to matching:

  • Julia Moses ($20)
  • Karen Moses ($100)

Friends’ Movember Pages

I’m not the only Mo out here (both figuratively and literally). I’d love to spread the Movember attention around to the rest of you participating. Go ahead and leave a comment, send me an e-mail, or order up a singing telegram with your Movember page and I’ll share it here!

Release the Brewterus!

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I’m a big fan of beer—a really big fan. I’m also a fan of things that I can do myself with a little help from my friends and the Internet. Pat and I recently joined, which is a Plano-area makerspace. One of’ more interesting programs to me is their Brew of the Month program and it was a big reason that convinced me to join the group. Essentially, members of the are invited on a monthly basis to come out and participate in brewing some beer and for a pretty meager fee, members of are welcome to rent equipment and brew their own beer.

Over the past three or four months, we’ve lurked at the Brew of the Month events and partaken of the prior months’ beers as they’ve been kegged and made ready to serve. Having enjoyed observing the process almost as much as I enjoyed its outputs, I knew this was something that I wanted to get involved in. About a month ago, I decided that I’d go hog wild and start down the home-brewing path myself.

To Keg or To Bottle?

This was one of the first questions I asked myself, did I want to bottle my beer or did I want to put it inside a keg? From what I understand, at the end of the fermentation process you bottle all of your brewed. Fermentation continues (at a greatly reduced amount) due to some sugar that you place in each bottle, which results in the bottle becoming carbonated. The advantages of bottling seemed to be a lower up-front cost and portability, which meant sharing my beer with others — like my softball team on Friday nights. However, bottling sounded pretty repetitive. With both Pat and I brewing, we’d have up to 10 gallons each month of beer to bottle. The typical beer bottle here in the US is 12 ounces and there are 128 ounces in a gallon, so that’s a total of 1280 ounces each month needing bottling—that’d be over 100 bottles every month!

Kegging on the other hand had its own advantages and disadvantages. If you’re an American then you expect your beers to be served ice cold, which means you’d need to find a way to store and serve them that way. I’ve even been able to experience Oktoberfest in person and drink beer brewed to the German Beer Purity Law in all of its glory. At room temperature it’s wonderful and delicious, but it’s still my preference that beer is served ice cold. I hope I get the chance to brew a beer according to the German Beer Purity law and that beer will definitely be served at room temperature for authenticity’s sake!

The primary problem with this is that kegs are big and there’s not any room in a typical household to keep them cold. This is typically solved by something like Kegerator, which in short is a smaller refrigerator converted to serve kegs of beer from. If you clicked the Kegerator link, it should be apparent what the drawbacks of this approach are: cost and real estate. Eliminating the inconvenience of bottling is an expensive proposition!

Ultimately, I decided that I would keg the beers that we brewed at’ Brew of the Month events. Because variety is “the spice of life,” and because I’m anticipating that I’m not going to be able to drink 10 gallons of beer every month all on my own, my Kegerator was going to need to support more than just 1 or 2 taps like the less-expensive kegerators can handle. Ultimately, I decided my kegerator was going to need to accommodate the following:

  • 4 taps.
    • 3 carbonated for most beers
    • 1 nitrogenated for stouts like Guiness or nitrogenated cold-brew coffee.
  • Each tap capable of running at a unique pressure.
  • Room for at least 4 Cornelius (aka “corny”) Kegs

Of the “off-the-shelf” kegerators I found, I couldn’t find a single one that matched my requirements. And the ones that got close to my requirements were all pretty expensive. Based on their prices and the fact none of the ones I saw met my requirements, I’ve decided that I’ll build my own. Because I made all of these decisions literally the days leading up to my first brew, I spent the weekend researching an ordering parts I’d need to build my kegerator — sure to be a topic of a future blog in the next one or two months!

The Brewterus

My followers on the various social media platforms have probably noticed I’ve been babbling quite a bit about my “Brewterus.” Those of you that haven’t (and probably some that have) are probably asking yourself: “WTF is a Brewterus?” The answer is a bit silly, which is why I like the name so much. The Brewterus is a name for my fermentation chamber, essentially a brew uterus. Once the beer is brewed, I needed to have a temperature-controlled space to ferment the beer. Different recipes call for different temperatures for fermentation which typically takes roughly 3-4 weeks. As I understand it, the different yeasts used in brewing behave differently under different temperatures, and if the recipe calls for it, it’s a requirement to be able to manipulate the temperature at which your brew is fermenting.

Essentially, this means in addition to the kegerator, I’d need a second temperature-controlled space, capable of holding at least two 6.5-gallon containers of fermenting beer. Based on my research (Googling), the temperature-controlled space can be accomplished in a number of ways: swamp coolers, cool basements, via buckets of ice, and temperature-controlled fridges or freezers.

7.1 cu/ft freezer 7.1 cu/ft freezer – in the garage STC-1000 Temperature Controller Parts for the DIY Temperature Controller Testing our Wiring DIY Controller Begins Regulation of Temperature Temperature Logging #1 Temperature Logging #2

Because I couldn’t devote half of the kitchen or living room to brewing, I decided whatever approach I took, it needed to work out in the garage. In the past I’ve set up an air conditioner in my garage, but I doubt very much that it is capable of lowering the temperature of the entire garage down to something that’d allow the beer to ferment. Even if it could, it didn’t make any sense to spend the money cooling my entire garage, especially during the ridiculous summers we have in Texas.

My solution? A 7.1 cu/ft chest freezer that I picked up off of Craigslist. Please note that mine has a different brand name but it is literally identical to the one in this link, the only difference being the name brand, I have a strong hunch that these two freezers likely came off the same assembly line. In addition to that, I built a DIY temperature control which enabled me to set a temperature and maintain it to facilitate fermentation.

DIY Temperature Control Unit

There are some food-grade temperature control units out there like the Johnson Controls Digital Thermostat Control Unit but it felt a little expensive at $70. Especially after I found these blogs (listed below) from other home-brewing enthusiasts who all built their own DIY Temperature Control units. Their DIY temperature control units were both dual stage and cost much less than $40 in parts. Ultimately, I’d need two of these control units (one for the Brewterus and an additional one for the kegerator) so spending as little around $25 per DIY unit wound up saving me almost $100 compared to the other temperature-control units I looked at. Here are the few blogs I found most helpful in building my temperature control unit:

There are a couple differences in my own DIY dual-stage temperature controller from the ones above, but they’re pretty minor:

  1. Instead of modifying a power extension cable and wiring it directly to the STC-1000 to power the device, I bought a power inlet which would work with a PC-power cable. I have lots of PC power cables lying around the house.
  2. Rather than using a standard outlet for the heating/cooling plugs, I used a couple 3-pin power sockets.
  3. Pat is in the process designing and 3D-printing my own custom project box for holding the STC-1000 and various outlets. But while Pat was working on designing and 3D-printing the box, I temporarily used a black project box to hold my prototype.

With the prototype assembled, I hooked the freezer into the cooling side of the STC-1000 on my project box. For the time being, I haven’t put anything in the Brewterus for heating. I expect that the garage will remain warm enough to keep the Brewterus at the programmed temperature.

After that, I wound up filling up a 32oz cup full of sanitized water and submerged the STC-1000’s temperature sensor in that water. I did this because what I’m interested in is the temperature of the beer and not the air in the brewterus. However, I am curious about what the various temperatures are inside the Brewterus, so I also picked up an inexpensive thermometer as well as a temperature logger too. Because the temperature logger did not appear to be water-resistant, I taped it to the side of one of the fermentation buckets and rotated the bucket so that the logger was between both buckets. Because plastic isn’t a great conductor, I expect that the data pulled down by the logger will wind up being a bit warmer than the temperature inside the buckets, but I think it’ll be close enough for me to decide if I need to tweak the temperature setting on the STC-1000 and to also show whether or not I actually need to add a heat source to the Brewterus.

I pulled the temperature logger out of the Brewterus just a couple hours shy of having it in there for 3 days and based on the summary data from the temperature logger, I’m pretty happy how the DIY temperature control unit is performing. According to the recipe of the current beer, I should be fermenting at 54 degrees Fahrenheit for the first two weeks. Per the data logger, the average temperature over those three days was 53.9 degrees Fahrenheit and the raw data was even more exciting:

According to the graphed data, the DIY Temperature Control unit seems to be working as well as I had hoped. Despite many people saying that it’d work just fine, I was concerned that the freezer I purchased would be too cold to control the temperature tightly; I expected that it’d cool far past the point that I set and spend a lot of time warming back up to the correct temperature. These concerns are what led me to buy the temperature logger, but seeing the data that it has spit out has given me quite a bit of peace of mind. Temperatures seem to be hovering right where I have the temperature control unit set at. I’ll probably continue to use the temperature logger to keep an eye on how things are inside the Brewterus and check it on a periodic basis.

Next Up? The Keezer

I really liked the chest freezer I used in the Breweterus, and I discovered that they’re sold at Lowe’s, so I picked one up to use for my kegerator, or more accurately a “keezer.”“ All this week, parts for my keezer have been showing up from Amazon; every day’s been a bit like Christmas! In my upcoming brewing blogs, I’ll talk about the parts I picked, share my thoughts on assembling the keezer, talk about getting the beer into the keg, and finally talk about how well the first few frosty beverages tasted out of the tap!

An assortment of boxes from shipments. All the Keezer parts CO2 and Nitrogen Tanks, Taps, and Clamps Corny Kegs, Secondary CO2 Regulator, and Primary CO2/Nitrogen Regulators Clamps, Taps, Handles, and Tanks Corny Kegs, Gaskets, and Ball Tap Adapters Some Random Homebrew parts and supplies Primary CO2 and Nitrogen Regulators Secondary CO2 Regulator Supplies and Hoses

We Simply Don’t Have Enough Power, Brian!

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Do you know one of the things that’s great about all of these devices that charge via USB? Travelling! A decade ago, anytime I had to travel I was stuck making sure I had a handful of different power supplies packed in order to keep devices charged and all of those power adapters were device-specific. In the current day, considering our number of different devices, I’d need the airlines to allow me to bring a third carry-on item of all my different toys! Thankfully, I can usually get away with a single AC adapter to charge my various devices.

But at home, it’s a bit of a different story. I’ve literally got AC adapters scattered throughout the house: in the bathroom, in the bedroom, next to the couch in the TV room and near the computer. And in some of those places, there are more than one or two adapters capable of charging devices. All of this is fine and dandy, until everybody has a device which needs charging. It’s a bit of a first-world problem, but it’s a modern inconvenience nonetheless. A few times I’ve wondered out loud to myself: Why hasn’t someone created a power strip for charging USB devices?

The answer to that first-world problem? The gofanco® 7-Port USB Charging Station (specs) — exactly what I had wondered. A 7-port USB power strip for all of your mobile devices. I’d finally be able to charge my iPad Air, Nexus 6, Dexcom G4 CGM, Fitbit Flex and Kindle Paperwhite at exactly the same time without having to use up more than one power outlet. And even then, I’d have two spare ports for any of Julia’s devices or for any visitor.

I recognized the goFanco brand from an adapter that I needed for my QNIX 2710 monitors. My positive experience with that device encouraged me to go ahead and give the 7-Port USB Charging Station a try after seeing that it was priced extremely competitively with similar products I found on Amazon. On top of ordering the gofanco® 7-Port USB Charging Station, I purchased six 6 inch Micro USB cables and an AmazonBasics 4” Apple Certified USB-to Lighting cable. The AmazonBasics 4” Lightning cable wound up being a bit too short to reach the tablet and I remembered that my glucometer charges via plugging directly into a USB port, so I also bought a couple Mediabridge USB 2.0 – USB Extension cables to allow me to charge those two devices. I decided on the shorter cables because I didn’t want a bunch of loose USB cables ruining my cable management system that I’d set up earlier this year.

Immediately out of the box, I was most impressed with something unexpected on the gofanco® 7-Port USB Charging Station. It wasn’t the abundance of USB ports, the dedicated power switch, or anything else I found on the product’s specification page — it was rubber! Specifically, the rubber feet on the bottom of the charging station. The rubber kept it in one place on my computer desk; picking up and removing devices from the charging station didn’t cause it to move one bit. Furthermore, that same rubber lines both borders of the stations “slots” to hold your devices, which keeps the devices from sliding when they’re left in the station or accidentally brushed up against.

In the box. Unboxed #1 Unboxed #2 Charging station from the front. Charging station from the side Placed at my desk #1 Placed at my desk #2 Loaded up with 7 devices #1 Loaded up with 7 devices #2 Loaded up with 7 devices #3

Update (9/28/15): Corrected an assumption that I made about the charging unit after gofanco® contacted me, I originally had said that devices like my iPad Air and Nexus 6 could not charge at 2 amps or higher, which was incorrect on my part!

One of the things I especially appreciate about the gofanco® 7-Port USB Charging Station is the fact that it supports charging at 2.1 amps (for theiPad Air) and 2 amps (for the Nexus 6). Based on what gofanco® explained to me earlier today, its Smart IC will allocate the maximum amperage allowed to the devices requesting it. However, it’s also my understanding that it’s not possible to charge 7 different 2.1 amp devices all at once, but as long as the unit isn’t going over its total allowed output of 65 watts it will continue to charge devices at the devices’ maximum capabilities.

Altogether, I’m really pleased with the gofanco® 7-Port USB Charging Station. It’s found a permanent home here on at my computer desk and to me, that’s some pretty valuable real estate. I appreciate having one place to set a device down and charge it up, rather than taking it to any of the dozens of AC adapters or USB ports around the house.

Brian’s 2015 Gaming Rig

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It’s been a very long time since my last computer upgrade, almost three whole years! It’s been long enough since I built that computer that when I finally decided to upgrade, it made more sense to build a new computer than to try and piecemeal upgrade of my existing PC. Based on what I was wanting to do, I thought that it was a bit beyond the capabilities of my old motherboard and CPU to pull off.

On the flip side, that meant I would wind up having a whole extra computer here that could be used to upgrade or replace my wife’s old computer. In the three years I’d owned the computer, I wound up needing to RMA the Crucial m4 256GB SSD. During that process I decided to just go ahead and upgrade to a Crucial M550 512GB SSD. On top of that the AMD FX-8350 Black Edition has aged pretty well. Overall, my old computer was going to be a rather nice upgrade for Julia.

Bang-for-Buck vs. Bleeding Edge Performance

Typically in my builds in the past, I’ve made attempts to get as much performance out of as few dollars as possible, although I usually splurged on an item or two to make sure my new computer wasn’t too pedestrian. So far I’ve been very happy with this approach and the fact that my current computer has almost made it to 3 years old is a testament to how well that plan has worked for me so far. However, in looking at some Geekbench scores for CPUs I began to worry that this approach wasn’t going to produce results that I’d be very happy with this time around.

For this upgrade, I allowed my impulsive side to abduct, hog-tie, and stash my frugal side in the basement. I ultimately decided to build a pretty high-end machine, especially by my previous standards.


Case and Power Supply

I used a couple random power-supply calculators and the rest of my hardware specifications to decide that I’d probably want somewhere in the range 600-700 watts of power for the hardware I was considering. In addition to that, the GeForce 980Ti video card I wound up picking had two 8-pin power connectors. After some trials and tribulations (more on that later), I wound up deciding that I wanted a bit more total wattage than what was being recommended, that I wanted the power supply to be modular, and I wanted to have at least two separate 12 volt rails for powering the video card. This led me to pick the Raidmax Vampire RX-800GH (specs) as my power supply.

Even though it gets hidden underneath my desk, I wanted a pretty simple case without all the angles and LEDs you see in so many popular cases. Enter the Fractal Design Define R4 case (specs), a case built satisfying exactly those needs. Among my favorite features of the case is the perpendicular position of the hard drive bays which allow for much neater and easier access to the drive bays. The fact that this case holds up to 12 total hard drives has tempted me in the past to use for it for one of my DIY NAS blogs, but its price and size has usually been a bit too big for my NAS-preferences. There is quite a bit of sound dampening material inside the case to try and keep things as whisper-quiet as possible. About the only complaint that I had about the case is that its “Two Extra 2.5in. SSD Positions” are pretty useless. They’re located on the flipside of the motherboard plate and in order to mount a drive in those positions you’d have to install them before the motherboard. In all of my experience building PCs, the last thing I’ve always put in are the hard drives, which meant by the time I got to mounting my storage I couldn’t access those two positions any more. Furthermore, what happens if your SSD fails or needs to be upgraded? If you used one of those two positions, you’d have to remove your motherboard in order to replace the SSDs!


Based off of my experience with my prior computer upgrade in 2012 I already knew I was going to be using a SSD manufactured by Crucial. I actually wound up buying nearly the same SSD that I was already using in my current PC (after an RMA); the Crucial 512GB MX100 SSD (specs). For this new PC, I wanted to increase the redundancy and reliability by a bit, so I wound up ordering two SSDs which I’d use in RAID1 configuration using either the software RAID built on the motherboard itself.

Video Card

The video card wound up being the easiest (or most difficult) item to choose. I knew that I wanted an nVidia GeForce GTX 980 Ti video card for my machine, but I was also using Dual QNIX 2710 27” LED monitors which have DVI-D connections only. I’ve had luck using a DisplayPort adapter with my work laptop, but there are some noticeable artifacts occasionally. It’s fine when I’m doing some working from home, but it’d be a huge distraction on my personal PC. Keeping that in mind, I went out hunting for GTX 980 Ti video cards which had two DVI-D ports and found only one: the Gigabyte GeForce GV-N98TG1 GAMING-6GD (specs). Only having one option sure made picking out the best one for me an easy decision, albeit not a very inexpensive one!

CPU, RAM and Motherboard

Ultimately, the CPU is what drove all of the remaining decision points. While I wanted to build a powerful new desktop machine, I didn’t want to go so far out on the bleeding edge that it really became painful to my wallet. I knew that I wanted an LGA 2011-v3 so I picked out the Intel® Core™ i7-5820K Processor (specs). As an added bonus some of my research seems to suggest that its a particularly overclock-able CPU. Which essentially left me with three viable upgrade options down the road: by overclocking, by replacing the CPU, or by both!

DDR4 is the supported type of RAM type for the LGA 2011-v3 CPUs, of which I hadn’t collected a stick yet. Every now and then, I like to save a few bucks by supplementing RAM from a prior machine with additional RAM of the same type to achieve a higher amount of total RAM, despite the fact there are usually faster supported speeds. Intel’s specification sheet for the i7 5820k CPU had 2133Mhz listed as the fastest supported memory type. The Corsair Vengeance LPX 32GB (4 x 8GB) DDR4 DRAM 2666MHz C16 kit (specs) had a base speed of 2133Mhz and a tested speed of 2666Mhz and seemed to be priced well amongst the DDR4 memory that’s out on the market.

I wound up digging through quite a few Intel X99 chipset motherboard reviews and thought I’d found a motherboard priced pretty competitively with a pretty awesome suite of features. But that motherboard wound up getting replaced (much more on that later) by the ASUS TUF Sabertooth X99 (specs). Ultimately, I decided that a couple of the features of the Sabertooth X99 were right up my alley. Especially the “TUF Fortifier” which adds rigidity to the motherboard and really helped support the full-length Gigabyte GeForce GV-N98TG1 which is also quite heavy for a video card. An added feature that I liked of the motherboard was that plastic covers were included for just about every feature on the motherboard to protect unused DIMM Slots, PCI-e slots, SATA connectors, etc… from dust. It also didn’t hurt that I was routinely seeing the ASUS TUF Sabertooth X99 at the tops of Intel X99 motherboard round-up reviews and reading that people were getting good results when overclocking their CPUs with the motherboard.

Assembly Challenges

Normally at this point in a blog like this, I’d have a couple nice galleries of pictures to show off, featuring the pictures of the parts and step-by-step photos of the computer’s assembly. But this time around, fate had something completely different in mind for me.

For those of you that follow me closely on Twitter, you already know that I had some initial problems after putting the hardware together. The computer was very unstable with frequent BSODs and unresponsiveness; especially while playing games. I thought that the video card may be to blame, and after swapping my new video card with my old video card, it sure seemed like it. But then the new video card didn’t have any issues in my old PC either. Unfortunately, I couldn’t swap out any other components between machines since this is my first LGA2011-3 CPU and first set of DDR4 DIMMs. However, I was pretty confident in the RAM because it went through numerous passes in Memtest86+ without any issues.

Based on my gut feeling and because I wasn’t crazy about powering the Gigabyte GeForce GV-N98TG1 6GB PCiE Video Card entirely off the same 12 volt rail, my first step was to go ahead and replace the power supply that I had selected. The issues were just random enough and I didn’t care for the fact that my original power supply was powering the video card solely off the same 12V rail. I decided my easiest step would be my first — pick a new power supply. That’s how I arrived at putting the Raidmax Vampire 800W RX-800GH in the computer. Unfortunately, this did not solve my instability issues. Which wasn’t a huge deal at the rate I’m building computers (especially DIY NAS machines); I’d have use for the previous power supply in no time.

After failing to solve the problem with a new power supply, I decided to try the motherboard next because it was the biggest pain in the neck to swap out. I had originally selected the ASRock ATX DDR4 X99 EXTREME4 primarily after having a great experience with different ASRock motherboards in my NAS blogs, especially the DIY NAS: 2015 Edition. But after beating my head against the rock trying to solve whatever issues plagued the ASRock motherboard and not getting any response from their technical support team, I eventually decided to spend a few dollars more and replace it with the ASUS TUF Sabertooth X99.

Once I’d replaced the motherboard, I figured I’d repeat some of my burn-in tests in the same order and that’s when I found out that my “gut feel” had been all wrong for this issue. While running the very first pass in Memtest86+, many errors were captured by memtest. Which was equal parts disappointing and relieving. It was a relief because after testing each DIMM one-by-one, I determined that there was a particular DIMM that would not pass Memtest86+ under any circumstances. But it was disappointing both because it hadn’t been caught the first time through on a different motherboard and it was especially frustrating since it meant I then needed to exchange a third component of the hardware.

Ultimately, I wound up swapping three different components than the ones I originally ordered. I’m a little disappointed that some of my gut feelings hadn’t proven to be more accurate, but I’m glad that once I upgraded the motherboard, it helped me determine exactly what the issue is. The worst lingering effect was that I had a bunch of photos that I couldn’t use with this blog.

Burn In

Before I considered my new machine “worthy” of being my primary desktop, I essentially put it through a number of steps. It’d have to pass each of these with flying colors before I used it:

  1. At least 3 error-free passes in Memtest86+.
  2. At least 12 hours of Prime95’s torture test.
  3. Problem-free runs of my favorite benchmarks (Geekbench, 3DMark Vantage, 3DMark Advanced, PCMark Vantage, PCMark 8)

Thankfully, after finally getting four good sticks of RAM in the machines, it survived/passed all of the above without any issues.


For apples-to-apples comparisons, I installed the same benchmarking utilities I used two years ago: Geekbench, 3DMark Vantage, and PCMark Vantage and ran them on the new computer. On top of that, I wound also updating to latest version of both 3DMark and PCMark to use as a baseline for any upgrading/overlocking/tweaking that I wind up doing in the future.

A quick note on the graphs below, if I didn’t have a particular benchmark for a computer (especially my old, old computer) then I just left its value as zero on the charts. The performance of my older PCs is certainly less than my newer ones, but it wasn’t that bad!

Butt Dyno

If you’re a car guy like me, you’re familiar with the term “Butt Dyno” but for everything else the butt dyno is an unscientific way of measuring the increase in performance to car after some upgrades. Once you upgrade into the car, you hop in the driver seat and take it for a spin. How the upgrade winds up feeling the first time you experience it is more or less the cognitive dissonance of the car’s performance after the upgrade. It also works pretty well with computers; after a major upgrade like this one I’d expect that everything I do on the computer feel faster and smoother.

Which is exactly what I experienced with this PC. It was a bit difficult for me to gauge some of the differences, since I’d moved from Windows 7 to Windows 10 in the process. But within the games I spend quite a few hours playing, the difference was pretty evident. Especially in multiplayer games, my prior computer would begin to bog down the more objects there were on the screen and even start dropping frames.


In my prior blog’s benchmarks I’d only run the “free” versions of both Geekbench 2 and Geekbench 3, which is the 32-bit version. This year, I decided to go ahead and purchase Geekbench 3 so that I could get both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions to see if there was much of a difference. I also did two sets of tests, one with the RAM set at it’s conservative default of 2133MHz and a second at the 2666MHz the RAM is advertised at.

With the RAM set at 2133 MHz, I managed to score 14725 in the Geekbench 2 32-bit, 19074 in Geekbench 3 32-bit, and 20070 in Geekbench 3 64 bit. When bumping the RAM up to 2666 MHz, I saw a performance jump anywhere between 5.03% and 6.47% and scored 15465 (5.03%) in Geekbench 2 32-bit, 20280 (6.32%) in Geekbench 3 32-bit, and 21368 (6.47%) in Geekbench 3 64-bit.


3DMark / PCMark

3DMark and PCMark were a bit problematic, as there have been new versions and releases over the years since my last upgrade. Which meant just installing the latest versions wouldn’t give me very good data for an apples-to-apples comparison to past benchmarks. So I decided to also install the “old” versions (3DMark Vantage and PCMark Vantage) in addition to the latest version of each. Based off the results and the data out there for similar computers, I’m a little disappointed in my numbers out of the default tests. Compared to my prior PC there’s a very good performance bump as well as some room for improvement with some further tweaking.

Like with the Geekbench tests, I saw a bump when running the RAM at 2666MHz. In 3DMark Vantage I scored P46769 and 15303 on the latest 3DMark Firestrike test with the RAM at 2133MHz. Setting the RAM to run at 2666MHz saw an increase in performance between 3.43% and 7.37% with 3DMark Vantage scoring P50215 (7.37% better) and 3DMark Firestrike scoring 15828 (3.43% better)

While at 2133MHz PCMark Vantage’s score came in at 20356 and in PCMark 8’s two tests I scored 3856 on the conventional test and 4065 on the accelerated test. With the RAM set to 2666MHz, I saw gains in each test but they were pretty meager coming in between 1.58% higher and 6.2%. At 2666MHz I scored 21635 in PCMark Vantage (6.28% higher), 3917 on the PC Mark 8 Conventional test (1.58% higher), and 4159 on the PC Mark 8 Accelerated test (2.31% higher).



Back in 2012, I made the switch from a platter hard drive to a solid state disk. I was pretty excited then about the performance increase related to using a SSD, which is pretty evident in that blog’s graphs. But for this upgrade, I wasn’t all that interested in seeing the marginal performance increase from my Crucial m4 256GB 2.5-Inch Solid State Drive to my Crucial 512GB MX100 SSD. However, that being said I think I should get a bit of a boost in performance from the newer generation of SSDs and from the fact that a RAID-1 configuration should have some modest performance gains in reads. But I didn’t really feel the need to try and measure that boost in performance. Until we experience another leap in performance like we did as we started using SSDs instead of platter drives, I probably won’t be doing any benchmarks of my storage devices.


This was a pretty problematic upgrade due to the bad RAM and/or motherboard I experienced early on. I’m the first of my close friends to upgrade to an LGA 2011-3 CPU and DDR4 RAM, so not only did I not have any working systems to test parts with, but also the people I’d ask for help couldn’t test my parts in their machines either. Ultimately, this made something I could’ve sorted out in a matter of hours, stretch across a couple weeks — not exactly the best outcome for someone who’s notoriously impatient.

Coolermaster Hyper 212 EVO CPU Cooler Intel Core i7-5820K #1 Intel Core i7-5820K #2 GeForce GV-N98TG1 980Ti Pair of Crucial MX100 512GB SSDs Fractal R4 Case #1 Fractal R4 Case #2 Motherboard, RAM and CPU Installed #1 Motherboard, RAM and CPU Installed #2 Motherboard, RAM and CPU Installed #3 All drives installed. GeForce 980Ti Installed. Fully Assembled Machine #1 Fully Assembled Machine #2 Fully Assembled Machine #3 Fully Assembled Machine #4

But with these problems in the rear-view mirror, I’m pretty excited with the result. Primarily, performance in my games is noticeably better. It’s been fun going into games and changing the level of detail from pedestrian settings and crank them all up to their most advanced settings.

By my standards, I definitely spent way more money than I normally do on any kind of PC even when I’m already quite the hardware enthusiast. However, if my 2012 PC is any indicator, I should expect to get 3+ years out of this PC too. And I purposefully picked out hardware that should have room for upgrades in the future, as well as quite a bit of potential for overclocking. Between those upgrades and overclocking, perhaps I can go even further before needing to build another brand new PC from scratch again!

Our Foster Hillbilly, Jed

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Update (10/10/2015): Today is Jed’s birthday, his eighth, and for his birthday he got the best gift he could be given — a forever home! As I type this update, he’s in the B.R.I.T.-mobile headed further south into Texas to join his new family. Happy trails, Jed, you’re a lucky guy!

As I mentioned in a previous blog, we’ve been on a bit of a hot streak with our foster dogs recently from Brittany Rescue in Texas. Our past three foster puppies Sunshine, Emily, and Pardner all wound up finding their forever homes quickly. In Emily’s case, just after a few minutes! I’ve been frantically working on this blog about our newest foster dog, Jed, as soon as possible because I’ve got a feeling that he’s headed to his forever home shortly!

When we found out that our next foster dog was named Jed, I immediately started humming this song aand hence the title of this blog. I remember during summer break, we’d occasionally watch the Beverly Hillbillies reruns in syndication and from what I remember of J.D. “Jed” Clampett, a few of his traits are present in Jed the Brittany. Especially loyalty and a calm demeanor!

Jed is an eight-year-old Brittany, he’s neutered and he’s probably a bit on the heavy side. When we picked him up from BRiT we were told he weighed 47 pounds. However, Crockett is around 45 pounds and he’s quite a bit smaller than Jed. Jed’s got a bigger frame than Crockett does and Jed’s is a bit more filled out than Crockett too!

Unlike our other two Brittanys, Crockett and Zoe, Jed is low-key. If I could describe Jed in a single word, I think that “mellow” is the best adjective that comes to mind. Compared to Zoe, he’s practically catatonic. However, our little Zoe’s probably on the high-energy end of the spectrum — she’s frenetic.

When the time is right, Jed likes to curl up and lay down in front of us or near us and just relax. I came home from work the other day, exhausted and irritated after my commute home and I laid down on the bed to take a quick little nap to recharge my battery for the evening’s activity. I had been on the bed all of 3 seconds when I felt Jed gently jump on the bed and curl up right next to me and join my restful state.

Checking out everything in the backyard #1. Checking out everything in the backyard #2. Patroling the backyard and enjoying some sunshine. Enjoying some shade in the backyard. Relaxing while Zoe and Crockett investigate. Catching some Zzzzz's with Zoe. Posing with Zoe and Crockett. A selfie with Brian. Posing in the backyard with Zoe and Crockett. Is that a treat?! Gimme! Worn out after watching some Thursday Night football.

Normally we’ve found that the excitement of unfamiliar places and perhaps a lack of indoor manners have led to a few indoor accidents with our other foster dogs, especially Marley and Pardner. However in Jed’s case, he’s not had a single accident inside. In my opinion, I’d say Jed’s completely house trained.

Jed seems to have some basic obedience training. When outside in the backyard, he’ll come when called and if he’s being oblivious it’s not difficult to get his attention and get him to come to you anyways. In working with some of the standard dog obedience commands, he seems to understand both “sit” and “down” pretty well. And when on a leash, he’s been pretty complacent. Considering his larger size, I halfway anticipated that Jed would attempt to pull his handler around by the leash, but so far that’s not been the case. Jed also didn’t seem to have any issues staying in a kennel both overnight and while we’re away at work. Finally, we also didn’t have any reservations about letting Jed stay out of his kennel overnight on special occasions.

If Jed is laid back, he’s certainly not lazy. He gets real excited when either Julia or myself come home, he’s quite vocal about barking at the neighbor’s dachshund whose owner lets him out to relieve himself in our yard, and he likes to play with our other two dogs. Jed certainly seems to have that high-energy Brittany spirit within him; perhaps his age and previous activity level have just taught him how to have a better on/off switch than most dogs. I think Jed would benefit from being a bit more active and I certainly think he has the motor and the spirit to do it.

All that being said, I’d recommend that both Jed and his new owner take some fundamental dog obedience lessons in order to get on the same page. Ultimately, that’s my recommendation for anyone adding a dog to their household even when the dog is as well behaved as Jed has been.

It’s our understanding that Jed’s prior home had quite a bit more backyard and front yard than we did. At first we were a little concerned that Jed was used to running around an patrolling a large backyard with most of his time and that he’d need some time adjusting to being an inside dog with much less property to be responsible for. However, what we’ve found is that if Jed is more comfortable outside, then he is every bit as comfortable inside with us. His indoor manners are fantastic, he doesn’t jump up on furniture without being invited. He will put his forelegs on the couch and stand up to get closer to you. When invited, he’ll jump right up on that couch and snuggle right next to or in between whoever is currently on the couch.

Just like each of our foster dogs before him, Jed is a fantastic dog and would make a great addition to the right home. Are you that home? I certainly hope so! If you’re interested in Jed, your best bet is to first check out Jed’s page on the BRiT website and then go fill out the BRiT adoption application. On top of that, please feel free to use the comments below to ask any questions you might have about Jed and I’ll answer them as best that I can in a quick fashion.

Continuous Glucose Monitoring Review: Dexcom PLATNIUM G4 with Share

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As many of you might know, I’m a Type 1 Diabetic, which essentially means my pancreas no longer produces the insulin required to break down sugars and starches and turn them into energy. It’s a life-changing, yet manageable, disease that technology is giving us more and more tools to take care of ourselves. One of those tools is Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM), where a sensor is placed in the skin which measures the amount of glucose in the interstitial fluid and that sensor transmits the values to a receiver wirelessly and the end result is that a Diabetic can have a near real-time eye on their glucose levels, which is invaluable in spotting trends, heading off high glucose levels as well as low glucose levels, and giving our health providers a better glimpse at how we’re managing our conditions.

For almost two years, I’ve been using the Medtronic Enlite CGM, which is incorporated into their MiniMed 530G insulin pump and for the last few months, I’ve been slowly amassing a list of grievances that I have with the Enlite CGM.

Medtronic Enlite CGM Grievances

  1. Clunky Interface: All of the CGM data is displayed right on the insulin pump itself, which to my chagrin is about as advanced as a 1990s era pager and every bit as fun to use.
  2. Frustrating Calibration Issues: Because you’re measuring your blood glucose in a different way, there’s a bit of calibration and intelligence that happens with the CGM. Periodically throughout the day, you still do the traditional finger-stick tests with a glucometer. That value is then input into the CGM and based off calculations your glucose value is presented on your CGM. However, what I’d found is that I was frequently running into issues where the calibration was way out of whack. These calibration issues were incredibly frustrating and usually wound up causing me to do one (or both) of two things: turn the CGM off and not use it for 8-12 hours and call Medtronic’s technical support. The support people were always friendly, helpful, and ultimately replaced any defective sensor, but the phone calls were often long and exasperating. At its worst, my CGM data was way off one early morning, reporting that it was 100 lower than it actually was. Because of how the pump & CGM are integrated, the pump stopped dispensing insulin as a precaution. Because I slept through the alerts from the pump, I wound up getting no insulin overnight and had to deal with outrageously high blood sugar that morning.
  3. Unreliable Data: This probably goes hand-in-hand with my calibration issues. It wasn’t uncommon for my glucometer and CGM to be pretty far off from each other. While I never really expected that they’d be the exact same value, I did expect the readings to be in the same vicinity the majority of the time. However, this wasn’t the case, as there were frequently times when I looked at my CGM and had no confidence in what it was telling me.
  4. Missing Features: It’s frustrated me to no end that I have more computational power in my Nexus 6 than my computer from just a few years back, but for some reason I couldn’t use my phone to manage either my insulin pump or CGM. Medtronic recently announced the MiniMed Connect, which is bringing some of the functionality I’m interested in. However, it’s still not available yet and, its initial release is targeted at Apple iOS devices only.
  5. Limited Range: I quickly found that the range of the Enlite CGM was pretty limited. I used to tuck my insulin pump under my pillow to keep it in one place at night; however, I quickly found that in the middle of the night that the connectivity to the sensor would get lost when sleeping like that. Instead, what I found was that I had to keep the insulin pump on my waistband on the same side of my body as the sensor. As someone who frequently tosses and turns in bed, this led to quite a bit of night-time aggravation as I tried to get situated for some sleep.

Ultimately, these complaints led me to talking to my doctor and asking about the Dexcom PLATINUM G4 with Share.

Dexcom PLATINUM G4 with Share

I follow quite a few Diabetic bloggers, Twitter personalities, and participate in the /r/diabetes sub-Reddit, and what I’ve learned is that the preferred CGM is the Dexcom PLANTINUM G4 with Share. Above all else, it appears to produce the best real-time glucose data for Diabetics. It’s helped out immensely by the fact that the CGM receiver has a pretty modern interface, especially the color display. The receiver boasts a range of twenty feet if unobstructed. In my use, it’s had no problems sitting on my nightstand while I sleep, which is a huge bonus and means my insulin pump can go back under a pillow where I’m much more comfortable. The first night I used the Dexcom CGM, I had a hard time falling asleep because I’d grown so accustomed to being uncomfortable with how I was forced to wear the Medtronic CGM. It’s ironic that finally being comfortable once again was temporarily the reason I couldn’t fall asleep.

In looking at the Dexcom CGM sensor materials, I was a bit bewildered, and even a little intimidated. I’ve been poking and jabbing my body now for well over a decade, but my initial impression of the Dexcom CGM was that it was a bit terrifying. The strange angle that it sits when flush to your skin, the long thin needle in the middle of the sensor inserter and the sheer bulk of it all wound up surprisingly intimidating. Watching this instructional video was informative but didn’t do much to calm my irrational fears.

However, just like giving myself the first insulin dose via a syringe in a hospital room so many years ago, it looked way worse than it actually was. I found that the act of inserting the Dexcom CGM’s a bit more complicated than the Medtronic’s CGM sensor’s insertion. However the execution wound up being pretty pleasant, all things considered. That odd angle that I was worried about? Not a big deal at all; in fact I found that the angle of the sensor’s insertion to be quite a bit more comfortable than the Enlite CGM sensor insertion.

Speaking of videos, I was a bit taken aback at Dexcom’s approach. With the Medtronic devices, I’d always received some sort of in-person training from a Medtronic trainer. Usually this was in small sessions, even one-on-one. Dexcom however, had a series of instructional videos they wanted me to go through instead. The videos were very helpful and I didn’t wind up having any issues following them and inserting my sensor for the first time. But I wonder how I would’ve felt if this had been my first experience with a CGM. Perhaps in this regard, I’m a bit old fashioned.

As my experience with CGM has proven, it didn’t take long for something wonky to happen with my sensor. The first two mornings with the sensor in, I wound up having issues with the receiver displaying ??? after I took a shower. My shower’s enclosed on three sides, so if the receiver is on the counter there’s a wall between myself and the shower. The second morning, I set the receiver down on the bathtub across from the shower where the only thing between us would be a shower curtain. However, after each shower the receiver read “???” which according to Dexcom’s FAQ on errors and alerts meant “The question marks mean that the receiver does not understand the sensor readings for the moment. You will want to wait a minimum of three (3) hours for them to clear.” In both cases, it took a couple hours but eventually it got back to normal. However, towards the end of the second night on that sensor, it crapped out on me, and eventually this error message popped up: “Sensor Failed. Replace Sensor.”

That meant I needed to call in and talk to Dexcom’s technical support for the first time. In the past, whenever I encountered an issue like this with the Enlite CGM it wound up taking around 30-60 minutes on the phone, if not longer. Eventually they’d wind up replacing the failed sensor, but not after using up all of my patience. Dexcom, on the other hand, handled the phone call quickly, advised me to go ahead and replace the sensor, and that they’d ship me a new one the next morning. I’m still not quite sure what happened to that first sensor, but I’m suspecting that I might have been a bit delicate when first inserting it and latching down the transmitter due to some hesitance on my part in setting up the new sensor.

Shoddy insertion (more likely) or defective sensor (less likely) notwithstanding, so far I’ve been pretty impressed with the Dexcom CGM. I’ve been using it now for a few weeks and I’ve noticed how close the CGM’s readings are when compared to the regular finger stick tests I’m doing with my glucometer. I’ve seen a few people boast that they’re so confident in the Dexcom CGM that they’d be willing to dose based solely off the numbers on the CGM. Both Medtronic and Dexcom warn you not to do that and that any insulin boluses should be done using data from a glucometer, but nonetheless it’s impressive to me that someone has that much faith in the data they’re getting back to the CGM. Starting the morning of my third day with the CGM, I decided to start keeping track of what my CGM said and what my glucometer indicated for my glucose values any time I measured my blood sugar and remembered to jot it down and save it for the blog later. Here’s what about a week’s worth of data from both looked like for me:

To be completely honest here, I was really surprised at how close together the readings from the CGM were to the readings from my glucometer. Really surprised. One evening we went out to eat and before we ordered our food I’d measured my blood sugar at the table and to the chagrin of my company, I exclaimed “Holy Shit!” quite loudly in the restaurant. The numbers on my glucometer and the Dexcom G4 receiver were identical! Nearly a third of the data that I collected had CGM readings (in either direction, positive or negative) which were single digit differences from what my glucometer was saying. At no point, despite my best efforts otherwise, did the Medtronic Enlite CGM come close to that kind of accuracy.

There were also a few points where there was quite a bit of variance between the two devices, but what I seem to be observing is that it is the least accurate around the times that you’re doing your next required calibration. The Dexcom G4 recommends calibrating twice a day, not at a meal time, and when your blood sugar has been relatively stable.

What, no Android?!

As I mentioned before, I have been exceptionally motivated to see my CGM results displayed on my phone. I’ve been enviously lusting after the Dexcom CGM ever since they announced that iPhone users could view, upload, and share their CGM data using their phones or tablets. I got pretty pumped when Dexcom announced their Follow App for Android devices, but boy did I misread that!

What I assumed from the press release, was that you could do everything with the Dexcom CGM on your Android devices that you could using an iOS device. I misread, I assumed, and I was wrong! The Dexcom Follow App for Android allows you to view CGM data from a Dexcom CGM user who’s sharing their data via their iOS device. I was so angry at myself, I saw the words “Dexcom,” “App” and “Android” and made up my own mind about what the app would be able to do, but once I installed it on my phone I was crestfallen.

Diabetic ‘Hackers’ to the Rescue – #WeAreNotWaiting

I started poking around trying to figure out what could be done about my mistaken assumption. While I enjoy using my iPad Air, I’m an Android guy to the core. I do too much cool stuff like home automation and my Ultimate Car Dock for Gearheads which depend on Android apps and device-level functionality that I’d have an impossibly hard time recreating on an iPhone. From a fellow blogger and fellow Diabetic, Scott Hanselman, I’d been remotely aware of a project named Nightscout, which showed promise to being the answer to my problems.

Nightscout is your own diabetic software as a service (SaaS) whose goal is “To allow remote monitoring of the T1D’s glucose level using existing monitoring devices.” Skimming through the website, this project sounded like it was going to be exactly up my alley. In fact, Scott Hanselman even wrote a blog about Bridging Dexcom Share CGM Receivers and Nightscout, which was essentially an answer to the very problem I was trying to solve. To summarize, Scott wound up using the Dexcom CGM Reciever, a USB On-the-Go cable, a Micro USB cable and a spare Android device. The phone was hooked up to the Dexcom CGM receiver using those two cables, it pulled the data off the Dexcom CGM Receiver and then would use its data connection to upload the CGM to his Nightscout installation.

While I have plenty of old Android devices laying around unused and gathering dust, I didn’t really feel like carrying a second phone with me all the time. I also didn’t like the prospect of having to hook my Dexcom CGM to my Nexus 6 on a permanent basis. I also wasn’t very excited to add an additional line to our mobile phone account, or to try and find some pay-as-you-go plan to cover the data this additional phone would use while publishing the CGM data to Nightscout.

I asked /r/Diabetes for help and they came to my rescue, educating me on xDrip and I believe that one of the replies is even from the project’s leader, Stephen Black. xDrip was quite literally the answer to practically all of my problems. It’s an Android app, which uses your phone’s bluetooth to connect to the Dexcom CGM Receiver and bring the CGM data down to your phone. From there, you could upload that data to your own Nightscout installation or using the latest xDrip beta the app would upload the data to the Dexcom Share servers, which means you could then allow other users to access your CGM data using the Dexcom Follow app for either iOS or Android.

Notification Icon Main Screen and Glucose readings graph Calibration Graph System Status screen 30 Day Raw Statistics 30 Day Pie Chart 30 Day Graph

It’s my understanding that Dexcom is working on getting an Android app completed, approved and into its customers’ hands, and I look forward to trying it. However, due to projects like Nightscout and xDrip the bar for their app has been pushed pretty high. Dexcom’s got quite a bit of competition from these projects and they’re going to have to beat the pants off of xDrip before I’ll consider using their offering.

Final Thoughts

I finally seem to have part of I have been looking for — access to my CGM data from my mobile phone. The xDrip Android app is outstanding, filling a tremendous gap in Dexcom’s approach to mobile devices, which Medtronic appears to be foolishly following. If I were Dexcom, I’d be hiring each of the people working on xDrip today or at the very least supporting their ongoing efforts in a meaningful way.

One final note — Murphy’s Law struck this week with the FDA and Dexcom announcing their next CGM, the Dexcom G5 Mobile. Dexcom is being gracious enough to offer those of us who recently purchased (purchases on or after July 25th) to upgrade to the G5 for free. The really exciting part of this newest version is that the low-power Bluetooth is now incorporated within the sensor’s transmitter, eliminating the need for a receiver — but only if you have an iOS device. Android users will have to continue using a receiver and hoping that Dexcom finally releases an Android app or that the awesome folks working on the xDrip project are able to reverse engineer and support the Dexcom G5 Mobile. My money’s on xDrip.

Little Miss Sunshine

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Update (9/7/2015): Sunshine has been adopted! BRIT contacted us yesterday evening wanting to know if we’d be willing to drive a bit to the south to help deliver Sunshine to her new family on Labor Day. And boy, what a lucky dog she is! She’s going to live in Houston with two of the nicest people I’ve met lately, we had a great little chat after making introductions and I’m really happy for Sunshine. Personally, it’s a tiny bit bittersweet, Sunshine is a really fantastic dog who really loves her people. I’m a tiny bit envious that she’s not going to be following me around the house any more and she was only here for one day! On the other hand, I’m also tremendously excited for Sunshine, she certainly seems to have won the lottery with her new owners!

This blog is about Sunshine, a dog rescued by Brittany Rescue in Texas group that we’re providing a foster home for. When possible, I like to write a blog about each foster dog and get it published shortly after they come home with us. This “rush” might lead me to jumping to some conclusions too early. If you’re interested in Sunshine, please check back often. As I learn new things about each dog, I post regular updates. Especially when I find out that I’ve been wrong about an important aspect of their personality.

Before I dive too deeply into words, here’s a small gallery of pictures to have in mind while reading through this blog. I’d really like if you o had this sweet little face in your head as you’re reading and learning all about her down below.

Resting in the living room, looking pretty happy! Early on, Zoe was protecting Brian from the new dog. She found a safe place very early on. Relaxing in her safe place while Brian writes this blog. Equal opportunity relaxer,  hanging out with Julia #1 Equal opportunity relaxer,  hanging out with Julia #2 Equal opportunity relaxer,  hanging out with Julia #3 Sunshine's looking attentive. Now this is a happy face! And an even happier face, who wouldn't love this?

Our Recent Foster Adventures

We’ve had a pretty exciting foster-life lately. We wound up having one short-term foster dog stay with us for a few days only. Pardner is quite the handsome and friendly guy. I’d started frantically throwing together a blog about him when the folks at Brittany Rescue in Texas called me up and informed me that they’d already found a home for Pardner!

But if you think finding a forever home before I could write and publish a blog was quick, just wait till you hear about Emily! Emily and her sister Trixie were picked up by the BRIT team and they made quite an effort to find a home that could take on two dogs. But they were having a hard time finding someone who wanted to adopt both dogs. The BRIT team determined that the two sisters could be split up, and they called Julia and I asking if we’d take on Emily, and naturally our answer was “Yes!”

Pattie from BRIT asked me where in the Dallas Metroplex would be a good place to meet. Considering that the BRIT team covers the entire state of Texas and it sounded like they were about to have a busy weekend, I told them we’d just meet them wherever they were going that morning. That morning they were headed to Denton, TX in order to to meet a family from Oklahoma who was meeting Trixie and planning to adopt her. Denton is about an hour-long drive from where we live and well within my driving tolerance, so I said that we’d just meet them up there! Besides, I thought it’d be rewarding to get to see an actual adoption — I had no idea!

When we showed up, Pattie was already talking to the family and had Trixie in the hands of the daughter of the adoptive family. However, her parents were nowhere to be seen. Pattie looked at me and said lowly “We might have a small complication, but let me introduce you to Emily.” We retrieved Emily from the BRIT-mobile and she was as pleasant as could be, she was friendly, energetic and really sweet. After reading Emily’s profile on the BRIT webpage I had been excited about sharing our home with her for a little while.

However, fate had other plans in mind. The “complication” Pattie had alluded to was the adoptive family was distraught over breaking up the two sisters, despite Pattie’s best efforts to reassure them. I tried to help by explaining what a great situation we have here at our house and about how we wouldn’t let Emily out of our hands unless she was headed somewhere fantastic just like where Trixie was going.

In the end, the family decided that they just couldn’t bear to separate the two sisters. And despite being adamant that they were only interested in one dog, they decided to adopt Emily too! What a pair of incredibly lucky dogs! Emily’s leash was in my hand for a total of maybe 5 minutes — this has to be some sort of record for the shortest foster stay in BRIT!

I’ve never been so happy to head home empty-handed, but I will have to admit that I was a tiny bit disappointed that we weren’t going to get to find out more about Emily. However, thankfully for Emily and Trixie, the adopting family’s hearts had room for two new dogs.

Introducing Sunshine

No worries though, the BRIT team is so active that it wasn’t too long before we were asked about the possibility of fostering another dog, a “little” girl named Sunshine. Sunshine’s story is a little incomplete — she was found in McKinney, a town here in the Dallas area not too far from where we live, but nobody had claimed her. To be safe, BRIT swooped in to claim her and waited to see if anyone contacted the animal control office about her. When nobody did, BRIT assumed responsibility for her and asked if we would foster her. Naturally we said yes!

About the first thing you notice is that Sunshine is a sweet girl, but perhaps a bit on the round size for her frame. Wherever she lived previously, she was well fed! Sunshine’s weight is 44 pounds. She’s roughly the same height and length as Zoe, but she weighs about 12-14 pounds more. However, that’s nothing a little diet and exercise won’t fix.

I picked up Sunshine this past Saturday and she is a doll! Best of all, she appears to be housebroken. With the foster dogs we’ve had so far there’s usually a transition period where it takes the dog a little while to figure out how to ask to be let out, and that usually results in an accident or two. However in Sunshine’s case, that’s not been the issue at all. She’s very well housebroken and there haven’t been any accidents early on, which hasn’t been the case with our previous foster dogs, Marley and Pardner.

Even better? She seems to have a little bit of training. I was able to get her to sit using commands; we got on the same page really quickly. Despite all of the commotion of changing hands and meeting Crockett and Zoe, she has been very well behaved. On top of that, Sunshine appears to be crate trained. We introduced her to her crate here at the house and she went in without needing any coaxing. Equally great, she’s been excellent on a leash. To introduce Sunshine to Crockett and Zoe, we took her on a walk around the block once with Crockett and then again with Zoe. On her walks, Sunshine was very polite. There was rarely tension on the leash at all.

Sunshine is a tremendous dog, she’s very sweet and tuned-in to her people. I picked Sunshine up from BRIT and as I’m writing this, she’s laying right next to me. If I get up to go get a drink in the kitchen, she’ll follow me. She’s been following me around since I brought her home; all this attention is flattering! Sunshine really likes to be close to people in general. When I woke up this morning and fixed some breakfast, she was wrapped around my wife, Julia’s, feet as Julia caught up on current events from her computer.

We have two Brittanys already: Crockett is a four-year-old male, and Zoe, who’s nearly two year old. Both of them are relatively young and still quite energetic. Sunshine has gotten along well with the two of them, but clearly prefers the people to the dogs. She’s played a bit with our existing dogs, but something about Sunshine’s energy level (more on this later) suggests to me that they might be a bit too high-paced for her preferences. Her behavior with the other dogs has been perfec; even though her energy level may not be 100% compatible with Crockett & Zoe’s, they have all gotten along from the moment Sunshine was introduced to them.

Sunshine’s Backstory

As I understand it Sunshine is a stray that was picked up in McKinney, a suburb of the Dallas/Ft. Worth area just a little north of where we live in Plano. The BRIT team was either notified or saw a listing on a local Animal Control website. They informed the animal control of their interest of rescuing Sunshine in the event that nobody claimed her, and picked her up when that didn’t happen. We’d discussed Sunshine when we were fostering Pardner, and Pattie was hopeful that Sunshine’s owners would come find her.

A bit more about Sunshine

Sunshine appears to have been treated very well and is accustomed to being around people. As I mentioned above, she’s completely house broken. So far, all of the dogs we’ve fostered have also been housebroken, but in the excitement and chaos of changing hands so often, there’s almost always an accident or two inside the house while the dog gets situated. That hasn’t been the case with Sunshine at all. It’s been a couple days by now and we’ve had zero indoor accidents.

I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m going to keep mentioning it because it’s her most prominent trait, she’s a very sweet dog. She and I are already forming a special little bond. I’m not necessarily sure why that is, maybe it was our hour or two in the car alone together when I picked her up, or maybe I remind her of her prior owners the most. In any case, she seems to be very in-tune with my comings and goings throughout the day. If I’m at the computer, she’s probably laying down near my feet somewhere around the desk. If I get up and go to the kitchen, she gets up and follows me to the kitchen. This is both a bit flattering and unusual. Zoe and Crockett do the same things but to a much lesser extent and they get bored and do other typical Brittany things like patrol the house and look for things in the windows.

Sunshine also seems to be a bit more sedentary than Crockett and Zoe, which might be due to her personality or the fact she’s a little bit on the rotund size. According to her biography on the BRIT page, she weighs around 44 pounds. Her frame isn’t sized much differently than Zoe’s, but Zoe’s a good 12 or so pounds lighter than Sunshine. In some of Sunshine’s photos, you can tell that she’s quite a bit more filled out than Zoe is. And to be frank, when watching how she moves around compared to our other two dogs, I think she’s probably a bit overweight. We treat all of our fosters as if they were our own, so we’ve put her on a bit of a diet and we intend to help her be a little more active than she’s inclined. I think just having Zoe and Crockett around will force her to be more active.

My Idea of Sunshine’s Perfect Forever Home

Note: This is 100% my opinion and ultimately has nothing to do with how or where Sunshine will get placed. The most important part in finding a forever home for any dog is you! If you know that Sunshine’s perfect forever home is your house, then you can make that happen regardless of my opinion.

I honestly think Sunshine will fit in wonderfully in just about any home. All indications so far is that she’d do fine at a home with dogs or a home without dogs. She seems sweet and patient enough to me that I think she’d do well around children as well, although I haven’t had a chance to observe that yet, but in gaging her demeanor, I’m pretty confident with this hunch.

Sunshine seems to have some training already. She’s better than either Crockett or Zoe on a leash, she seems to be crate trained — although the first couple nights she let us know that she was uncomfortable in a strange new place, she comes when you call her but not necessarily by her name (give her a break though, she’s only been named Sunshine a couple days) and she’ll sit when you command her to. I also found out accidentally that she knows shake when I reached out to pet her once this morning. Personally, I’d recommend some more obedience training for Sunshine, but that’s my recommendation for all dogs. Whether you’re aware of it or not, you get trained every bit as much as the dog does during obedience training. It goes a long way towards getting you on the same page with your dog and being on the same page is what makes dog ownership so rewarding.

I think Sunshine’s biggest immediate need is to find a person, or a family who can be the center of her universe. They’d need to help her lose some weight by being active and setting up a healthy diet. But there’s nothing about her energy level or her zest for life which make me think that’s not possible. I get the distinct feeling that this dog would happily follow her owners for as long as her body would allow it, if not longer.

Are you interested in Sunshine? Do you have any questions about her? Please feel free to use the comment section below to ask any questions, I promise I’ll answer each and every question that comes to me in as quick a fashion as possible. If you don’t have any questions, please feel free to visit the BRIT webpage and then read over and complete the BRIT adoption application.

Figuring out the ESP8266

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For those of you following me on Twitter, you know that I’ve been on an Internet of Things binge lately. It started off when I finally did something with my Arduino Leonardo after having it for almost a year. My original plan was to find a decent WiFi shield for the Arduino Leonardo but there’s been a recent development of a very interesting, inexpensive products that both has WiFi capabilities and Arduino Sketches can be loaded on it, the ESP8266. And by inexpensive, I mean only $2-3 on eBay. If you’re impatient and want faster shipping they can be found on Amazon for a few dollars more!

Unfortunately for me, I’m a novice. The biggest problem with being inexperienced is that your problem-solving toolbox starts off pretty empty. Thankfully solving those problems begins to fill up that toolbox, but those first few problems wind up being really difficult to move past. I’m writing this mostly to help move people past the problems that I encountered.


I wound up running into a few different obstacles:

  1. My own cheeky and fun shenanigans.
  2. I couldn’t get my ESP8266 ESP-01 to talk to my Arduino Leonardo.
  3. My DROK LM2596 Adjustable Power Supply cooked a couple ESP8266 ESP-01s.
  4. Nothing but garbage back via my USB-to-Serial adapter.


My own shenanigans are a minor, yet ever-present challenge whenever I am learning something new. None of my self-inflicted problems are ever incredibly serious, but when you inject one of those into a sequence where you’re unfamiliar it can have very maddening results. Here are a few of those self-inflicted problems that I ran into:

  • Forgetting to swap the transmit (TX) and receive (RX) pins between devices: Your ESP8266 can’t talk directly to your computer, so you need to use something like the Arduino or some sort of USB-to-Serial device in order to be able to talk to the ESP8266. Each device has its own transmit and receive pins, which means the ESP8266’s transmit pin needs to be hooked to the other device’s receive pin and the other device’s transmit pin needs to be hooked to the ESP8266’s receive pin. It sounds simple, but when you’re frequently changing things around, it’s easy to get this backwards.
  • Neglecting to run power to the CH_PID pin on the ESP8266 ESP-01: Because I bought several ESP8266s ESP-01s, I wound up swapping them in/out frequently, wondering if one device was bad or not. I’d unhook everything and then hook it back up, but I’d very frequently forget to run power to the CH_PID pin and then be dumbfounded as to why it wasn’t powering up.
  • A common ground for all devices: At one point, I was using my KEDSUM CP2102 USB-to-Serial adapter and for some reason, I grounded it out on the opposite side of the breadboard as where the ESP8266 and power supply were grounded and the devices just wouldn’t cooperate.

Ultimately, I wound up solving most of these shenanigans by using a breadboard and a breadboard adapter for the ESP-01 along with my ESP8266 ESP-01. Once I had that, I didn’t have any more self-inflicted problems of not hooking the appropriate cables up.

Failure to Communicate

My initial ESP8266 plan was to use the ESP8266 ESP-01, my Arduino Leonardo, and a PIR Sensor to make a little device that I could put by the back door to detect when one of our dogs is by the door wanting to be let out. My first step of that was to get the Arduino Leonardo and ESP8266 ESP-01 conversing with each other. I wrote crude Arduino sketch to run some AT commands and write the response so the Arduino IDE’s serial monitor would display their result. But for some reason, nothing I tried seem to work. The closest I ever got was an “ERROR” response to the basic command “AT”. None of the other ESP8266 AT Commands seemed to be working at all.

I wound up having to decide if it was my Arduino Sketch, the Leonoardo, or the ESP8266 which was defective. My typical approach is to assume that I’m the most likely source of problems, so I assumed it was the sketch that wasn’t working. I decided to instead of use the Leonardo, I’d just use the KEDSUM CP2102 USB-to-Serial and send AT commands at the ESP8266 manually to see if I got a different result.

ESP8266 Barbecue

Previously, I’d been using the Arduino Leonardo to power the ESP8266 ESP-01, but since I was bypassing that, I’d need to find another power source. I couldn’t use the power available on the KEDSUM CP2102 USB-to-Serial because its default is 5V which, is too much for the ESP8266 ESP-01 which only needs 3.3v of power. Changing the CP2012’s output power was possible, but it was going to require soldering some pins and I didn’t want to do that yet unless I really had to.

Thankfully, I had purchased a DROK LM2596 Adjustable power supply which could be easily adjusted down to 3.3v. I immediately hooked it up to power the ESP8266 ESP-01 and used the CP2012 adapter to transmit data between my computer and the ESP-01, but for some reason I wasn’t getting any response. The activity LED on ESP-01 never made any indication that data was being transmitted, despite a plethora of AT commands being sent.

At one point, I touched the ESP-01 and found it to be really hot. I asked my friend Pat if that was unusual and his response was “Yeah, they get pretty warm. Even at 3.3 volts!” The next day we planned to nerd out in my kitchen and solve all my ESP8266 problems once and for all. After Pat also failed, to get any kind of response to AT commands he reached down to pick up the ESP-01 and immediately yanked his hand back like he’d been bit. Apparently, my ESP-01 was running a bit warmer than normal!

We used a cheap multimeter to check the output voltage from the DROK LM2596 Adjustable power supply to make sure it was operating at the expected voltage and it was. Assuming the ESP-01 was just defective, we swapped it out for another one. When we powered everything back on, I noticed something peculiar on the DROK LM2596’s display and captured a video of it. The display on the LM2596 is a little hard to read, so I left the multimeter hooked up too:

After powering on the DROK LM2596 Adjustable power supply, the output display fell from the voltage of the adapter (12v) down to the voltage the DROK LM2596 was set at (3.3v). Initially, we hoped that this was just a display error, but the multimeter confirmed what we suspected. We found that the initial output voltage was as high as 12v in those first few moments and likely frying the ESP8266 ESP-01! I’m glad we caught that after two ESP-01s!


After solving the combustible ESP8266 ESP-01 problem, we still couldn’t get the ESP-01 to respond to the AT commands. Pat’s experience with the ESP-01 was that they communicated either at two different baud rates: 115200 or 57600. Some Googling confirmed Pat’s experience and assumption, but for some reason we’d get garbled output back from the KEDSUM CP2102 USB-to-Serial when we used it to send AT commands. That’s when we decided to try every supported baud rate in the Arduino IDE’s serial monitor. We started at 115200 and worked our way down, eventually landing at 9600 when we got the expected “OK” back from the plain old AT command.

Even then, we weren’t in the clear. We kept trying to run the the AT+CWLAP command, which should list the WiFi access points that the ESP8266 ESP-01 can see, but we kept getting the ERROR response to that command. Ultimately, what we found is that my ESP-01s were all in the Access Point mode and apparently the AT+CWLAP command doesn’t work when it’s in that mode. Sending a AT+CWMODE=1 changed the mode and finally I was getting somewhere with the ESP8266!

All Problems Conquered!

Now that I finally had achieved my goal of having luck with AT commands, I was pretty confident I could use one of the sketches that came with the ESP8266 Arduino IDE add-on package (File > Examples > ESP8266WiFi > WiFiWebServer from inside the Arduino IDE) which toggles the LED based off of hitting a URL being served up by the ESP-01. However, I did run into a momentary wrinkle uploading the sketch; in order to upload a sketch, you have to set the GPIO0 pin to low as it boots up. The ESP-01 firmware uses this to put the ESP-01 into its download mode.

Once I was finished uploading the sketch, I added a resistor and a green LED to run off of GPIO2 on my breadboard. After I powered it on, I was then able to pull up the two URLs (it’s documented in the sketch’s comments) in a browser that turn the LED on and off.


So, here are a few suggestions that I’ve come up with based on what’s gone well and what hasn’t gone so well for me.

  1. Download Arduino IDE 1.6.4 or later: They improved the IDE to make the management of boards like the various ESP8266s easier in version 1.6.4.
  2. Follow the Installing with Boards Manager directions at the ESP8266 Arduino Github page: These steps will install everything that you need in order to start developing sketches for the ESP8266.
  3. Purchase some extra ESP8266 ESP-01s, especially if you buy at the $2-3 price point: They’re cheap enough to buy a handful of them and have some spares in case something bad happens. It’s a luxury to have some extra lying around when you need to troubleshoot why something is not working the way it should.
  4. Buy some breadboard adapters for your ESP8266 ESP-01: I can’t recommend these enough, they really helped cut out some of my self-inflicted nonsense.
  5. Use your USB-to-Serial adapter and run some AT commands first to validate that you’ve got the hardware wired up correctly:
  6. Build a “download station” using a mini-breadboard, an ESP8266 ESP01 breadboard adapter, your USB-to-Serial adapter, and a 3.3v power source: There aren’t very many GPIO pins on the ESP-01. If you want to do something more complicated than light up a single LED, then you’ll need to use the GPIO0 pin, TX pin and RX pin, but all of those are used in the transmission of sketches. Having a download station like this will save you some frustration of constantly re-wiring your device before/after each sketch download.

Do you have experience with any of the ESP8266 boards? What other tips am I overlooking that would help a newbie like myself get started? Please share your tips in the blog’s comments and I’ll keep this list up-to-date with the best tips.

What’s Next?

I tweeted about this the other day, but my first thought for a little ESP-01 device is pretty simple. I’d like to make something that monitors my blog. Every few minutes it’ll do an HTTP GET of something that’s up on my blog. If the result is positive, it’ll light up a green LED. If the result is negative, it’ll light up a red LED. After that little device is done, hopefully I’m going to start using the ESP8266 boards and Arduino sketches to start building out some interesting home automation tools.