Pizza on the Weber Kettle

In the past few years I’ve been moving away from seeing pizza as junk food towards seeing it as another food that is sometimes made with care, skill, and love and sometimes make in a hurry for a buck. I can’t remember the exact timeline and can’t be bothered to search for photo evidence, but the two restaurants that changed my mind on pizza were Two Amys in Maryland and Grimaldi’s in Brooklyn. Two very different styles of pizza, but Grimaldi’s cooked in a fire-based pizza oven and authentic Neopolitan at Two Amys. So now there was a new measurement against which to measure all pizzas: the wood-fired pizza.

Naturally, when I found out that a wood-fired pizza oven could be approximated on a Weber Kettle, I was intrigued. As usual, Meathead was my first stop for anything grilled or BBQ’d. I got myself a pizza paddle and a pizza stone.

pizza paddle
pizza paddle
pizza stone
pizza stone

For my first outing I didn’t want to do my own dough in case it turned out badly. I didn’t want to have also wasted time making dough. So I bought a couple pounds of dough from Wegmans. Then I set up the coals in a rough U shape around where the pizza stone would go.

coal setup for pizza on Weber Kettle
coal setup for pizza on Weber Kettle

I left the dough out for the amount of time recommended on the package, but it was not fully defrosted. That made working with it very challenging.

First pizza for the Weber Kettle
First pizza for the Weber Kettle

Here’s how the first one came out:

First pizza cooked on Weber Kettle
First pizza cooked on Weber Kettle

Not the prettiest, but when it’s not a perfect circle we call it rustic. I got the comment that it wasn’t quick as cooked on the top of the dough as would be preferred. So I went from 10 minutes to 15 minutes – rotating every five minutes.

Second Pizza from Weber Kettle
Second Pizza from Weber Kettle

Better crust and better cheese distribution. By this time, though, the temp in the kettle was getting low. I started with one chimney of coals. So I added some more coals above the already lit coals. This was a huge mistake as it ended up WAAAAY too smokey:

For some reason, it seems that having unlit coals underneath (or in a snake or fuse method) doesn’t cause a noticeable amount of white, acrid smoke. But adding coals on top does have the smoke issue.

Final Weber Kettle Pizza

It was pretty delicious, but actually, I found  them to be tastier the next day heated up in the toaster oven at work. But that’s generally the way I feel about pizza.

So lessons learned:

  • Pizza may need to cook for 15 minutes
  • Wegmans dough takes longer to defrost than it says on the bag
  • use a rolling pin if it’s cold or the dough will keep trying to bunch back up
  • Do not add more coals on top if the heat is getting low – have more coals already on the bottom or wait until the smoke clears again
  • Overall, it has a good pleasant taste
  • May need to use less cornmeal on the paddle or warn people about the “sandy texture”

To try next time:

Putting a mild wood like post oak or whatever they typically use in pizza ovens and see how that affects the flavor.

Review: Battle Royale Slam Book: Essays on the Cult Classic by Koushun Takami

Battle Royale Slam Book: Essays on the Cult Classic by Koushun TakamiBattle Royale Slam Book: Essays on the Cult Classic by Koushun Takami by Nick Mamatas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s been over a decade since I read Battle Royale. It was a book that amazed me with its emotional resonance. It was the first book that ever made me tear up with the lighthouse scene. The author did such a great job building up both the stakes and the relationships, that it was devastating to read. I have enjoyed many a book since then, but few in number are the books who have affected me so much.

The deepest proof for the artistic quality of the story is the fact that these essays represent a bunch of different (and also a few similar) interpretations of what we can gain from the story. There are both obvious lessons and ones that make you think, “Oh yeah!”. There are even a few that deal with my original rejection of The Hunger Games as an anglo ripoff and being upset that it was more well-known than BR. Within a context of remakes of Japanese horror rather than just bringing out subtitled or dubbed versions, I think it’s understandable, even if it’s misguided.

Well, as is the case for anthologies, magazines, and essay collections – here are the thoughts I had as I read each one; a collection of my status updates.

“Death for Kids” – A guy who lived through an evil police state in Argentina sees death at 8 years old and realizes how the world is. Sees BR as a lesson kids need to experience.”

“Blood in the Classroom” – Intro essay to the book. Discusses how the subversive books of yesteryear are today’s boring books that kids are forced to read in the classroom. Mentions that Battle Royale probably won’t suffer this fate.

“The Fight the Night Before” – About deliberations on Battle Royale winning a horror prize and why, perhaps, it did not win.

“Happiest Days…” – Showing ways that reality is like BR and comparing other novels, including Hunger Games and Lord of the Flies. Also a great section of how school shootings are nothing new.”

“Innocence Lost and Regained” – Touches on similar themes to the essay before it – innocence of children is a construct, relatively recent, & a false one. A bit more of a scholarly style of writing & so a bit harder to read than the previous essays in that it it has more complex sentence structure that my brain isn’t quite awake enough to parse right now. Also neat exploration of how Bradbury tackled similar topics.”

“From Dangerous to Desirable” – A look at where BR fits in with gender norms in Japan via various media that is its spiritual ancestor. There’s a lot I missed as an American reading the story and applying my ideas of gender to the story. My takeaway after reading this essay is that the author was a bit more adventerous with the male characters.”

“Girl Power” – A great example that with art, each person takes something different out of it. While many have criticized BR as mysoginistic, this author sees strong women in some of the female characters.

“Over the Top” – An exploration of how wrestling in the USA and Japan inspired the author to write Battle Royale.”

“Generational Warfare” – The author of the essay takes a look at the societal issues that drove the zeitgeist as the author of BR composed his book. Also inadvertently taught me the origin of the motorcycle gangs in Akira.”

“Killer Kids in Jeopardy” – the essay explores how we have been OK with kids being in trouble in novels, but not movies. Or rather that it’s been a reluctant march towards acceptance in movies of that which has been happening in novels for hundreds of years.”

“Seeing the Sequel First” – The writer had a bad childhood in school and talks about how BR2 was a spark of inspiration for him.”

“Dead Sexy” – The author essentially posits the same theory that eventually came to guide how I understand sex and violence in art. There is a difference between the gratuitous and the story-rooted acts. Take, for example, The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s key to the story that the sex scenes both in the book and TV are depicted the way they are. That is not gratuitous.”

“The Postwar Child’s Guide to Survival” – An analysis of BR as a criticism of what the post-WWII generation did with the country. I’m not sure it resonates as well as the author posits, but it certainly has merit.”

“Children Playing with Guns” – uses BR as a reason to talk about gun violence in schools in America (with a few world examples). Best case I’ve heard yet as to why all the gun laws we can come up with won’t do a darn thing to stop it from happening again.”

“List, Combination, Recursion” – a strange, stream of consciousness essay I did not enjoy. Perhaps something was lost in translation.”
“Buelller” – The author starts off with the same criticism I had when Hunger Games first got popular – It’s a rip off of Battle Royale. Then used this to go back through the history of teen movies since they’re all riffs off each other. Then ends with an absurdist version of Battle Royale containing characters from nearly every movie he mentioned.”

“Whatever you encounter” – How BR demonstrates Zen teachings.

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Review: Elantris, Part 1 of 3

Elantris, Part 1 of 3Elantris, Part 1 of 3 by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is one of Sanderson’s earlier books and it’s exploring similar themes as Warbreaker, so while I’m enjoying it, it’s definitely not as good to me so far. What does it share with Warbreaker? The idea of divinity on Earth vs a god you can’t see, humans becoming divine, and an arranged marriage between royals who haven’t met. What’s weaker from Sanderson’s lack of experience – The Prince seems to be a bit of a Marty Stu so far – a little too perfect in every way.

But there are lots of things I like so far:

Sanderson writes some pretty able women – or at least has in these two books. In this book (contrasted to Warbeaker) the marriage is the princess’ idea. Her father’s actually initially against it, but realizes it would be good politically. While in the new court she uses her brain to manipulate others into giving her what she wants or needs. (Manipulate has a bad connotation, but she’s not malicious) She gets into a metaphorical chess game against the priest in which they’re each trying to outdo the other. And the princess gets herself accepted into a group of nobles to formulate a plan to save her new city.

I like the idea of the AIs that allow a fantasy skype in this world. As in the later Discworld books, I think there’s something interesting that comes from modern tech in a medieval or Renaissance world. So while most fantasy stories can count on a slow movement of information as a plot device, a world with these AIs allows for faster communications. It also serves as an information retrieval device.

So far, across these two novels, Sanderson has also proven adept at starting off with a cartoonishly evil antagonist who then becomes more of a person with complicated morals. I’m enjoying the information we’re learning about the high priest and how he’s trying to make this city’s conversion as bloodless as possible. It makes his fanatical acolyte all the more dangerous.

It’s fun to have the 3 chapter structure where you see the same event or aspects of the same time period through each of the three viewpoints.

Finally, I really like the inclusion of the princess’ uncle’s family. I like the comic relief of his kids. I like how it shows just how much her uncle has grown and changed. And I am enjoying the fact that it’s a modern blended family which doesn’t happen too much in fantasy (at least the way it’s been depicted in this first book). He has step children with whom he has a regular relationship (not some fantasy hatred of step-children). Also, the uncle is a great chef from having traveled the world and so he does the cooking. Overall, it’s a continuation of the refreshing modernity in a fantasy novel that isn’t urban fantasy.

So much can go so wrong with three different people planning independently and with their goals seemingly at odds. We also have the 3 month timer before an invasion or destruction or something. I’m looking forward to it and perhaps parts 2 and/or 3 will get a higher rating.

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Review: Uncanny Magazine Issue 1: November/December 2014

Uncanny Magazine Issue 1: November/December 2014Uncanny Magazine Issue 1: November/December 2014 by Lynne M. Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yet another demonstration of authors who are doing great things with the short story format. I’ll definitely be buying other issues. As usual for magazines and anthologies, a collection of my status updates.

“The Uncanny Valley” – An intro and the the mission statement of the magazine.

“If You Were …. White” – About Jungleland and a premise not unlike Roger Rabbit (the movie, not the book) where all the animal actors in movies were sentient.

“Presence” – Sad tale about caring for a parent in hospice care via a robot

“Late Nights at the Cape and Cane” – A perfect use of the short story form to tell the story of some super villains at a super villain bar.

“Celia and the Conservation of Entropy” – A precocious high school girl goes back in time to visit her grandfather. The story is fun as written, especially Celia’s mindset. But it all comes together in the final page (as is often the case with mysterious short stories)

“Migration” – About a world in which birds carry souls.

“The Boy Who Grew Up” – A teenager meets Peter Pan (who’s now also a teenager) and gains some perspective on his situation. It was sad, but perhaps a bit hopeful at the end.

“Her Fingers like Whips, Her Eyes Like Razors” – what I find annoying about many stories of the fey is that they seem cryptic to a fault. You never quite know WTF is happening and that’s annoying. It’s not a trope I enjoy. That said, the story overall was good and was successful in conveying the emotions it wanted to.

“Mars..Attacks!” – This article, like other similar ones, made me both happy and sad at once. And, considering it was written 3 years ago, almost sunk me into depression. It’s about how geek women are constantly attacked, especially online. (Something I just learned about in the past 2-3 years) It’s also about hope with all the female geek cultures. But to see where we are in 2017….ooh boy.

“Worldcon Roundtable” – a roundtable panel conducted via email about Worldcon. Made me more interested in trying to attend a WorldCon. There’s a lot of drama around it and that was even present in the roundtable. But fan comes from fanatic, so I’m not surprised people are extremely passionate about it. The important thing is everyone remaining respectful and polite.

“Does Sex…Soft?” – Shout out to God’s War,which I read last year! I have a hard time understanding the mindset of the people she’s criticizing. Sex, love, & romance are a part of the human condition.While I understand if a story ignores it because it takes away from the narrative (books don’t mention every character’s bathroom use), don’t think any story is poorer for including.

I skipped over the shorts article.

“Kissing Song” – a poem

“The New Ways” – a poem

“The Whalemaid, Singing” – a poem

“Interview: Headley” – So much of the tiger story is based in reality, it blows my mind. Also great to see her thought process.

“Interview: Beth Meacham” – Neat talk about how she worked with Jay

“Interview: Christopher Barzak” – A discussion about his short story in the magazine as well as his career.

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First Impressions of Trust Issues by The PDX Broadsides

At the time that I’m writing this, I’ve had Trust Issues for a few days. I signed up for the Kickstarter campaign after The Doubleclicks mentioned them. I then went to the PDX Broadsides’ bandcamp page and ended up buying the entire back catalog.

After having heard the album a few times, here are my first impressions:

  • Favorite Song: Robot vs Boy – although it seems like it should be the first track to a concept album and leaves me wanting to know more about the story
  • Most beautiful song: Dolores – about HBO’s Westworld
  • Most fun song: Tiny Little Octopus

Now, track-by-track:

  1. The Weather – I love the vocalizing on this track, but I have no idea what it’s about and why it goes from an ominous song to talking about the weather. So I enjoy listening, but will probably enjoy more when I know what it’s about.
  2. Rocket Science – a song I’d play to kids 7 or 8 and up about how treating others by the golden rule isn’t Rocket Science
  3. Acoustic Kitty – pretty funny premise, but one of the ones I currently like least
  4. Tiny Little Octopus – see above
  5. I’ll Eat You Last – this is a nerd version of the song my brother danced for his first dance. I don’t know what the song is, but it was a young Christipher Walken singing it and somewhat insulting the other person, but still being about love
  6. Noncompliant – a good feminist song
  7. Nerd Love Song – what it says on the tin.
  8. On the case – About Where’s Waldo? Probably the song I like the least
  9. Delta You Delta Me – a song about growing apart. I like how the chorus/bridge go
  10. We Want Rey – a great, fun song about how representation in media is a good first start, but what about representation in merchandising? Also has a part near the end reminiscent of the main verses in We Didn’t Start the Fire
  11. I Go Both Ways – a very fun song about not falling prey to flame wars/culture wars and just enjoying what you enjoy – even if it comes from rival companies. I didn’t get the line about the snails, though…
  12. Dolores – see above
  13. Robot vs Boy – see above
  14. Sign off – a whispered message that freaked out my 5 year old when it played because she didn’t expect someone to be whispering in the speakers.

Stratis or BTRFS?

It’s been a while since btrfs was first introduced to me via a Fedora version that had it as the default filesystem. At the time, it was especially brittle when it came to power outages. I ended up losing a system to one such use case. But a few years ago, I started using btrfs on my home directory. And even developed a program to manage snapshots. My two favorite features of btrfs are that Copy on Write (COW) allows me to make snapshots that only take up space when the file that was snapshot changes and the ability to dynamically set up and grow RAID levels. I was able to use this recently to get my photo hard drive on RAID1 without having to have an extra hard drive (because most RAID solutions destroy what’s on the drive).

However, btrfs has been plagued with some important issues – for example RAID5/6 is unstable, not recommended, and after many years still hasn’t solved the write hole. (Something the very similar ZFS has had solved for years) Look online and you’ll find scores of tales of people who have suffered unrecoverable data loss from btrfs.

A few years ago Red Hat deprecated btrfs on RHEL6. That makes sense given the long support times of the RHEL releases. The team at Red Hat has to backport kernel fixes and that gets complicated as time goes by. btrfs has grown by leaps and bounds since RHEL6. But a couple days ago (when I write this – 10 days before the blog post is going to appear), Red Hat announced it was getting deprecated on RHEL7. There was lots of speculation on the net and someone who used to hack on btrfs for RHEL mentioned that since he left, no one at Red Hat worked on it. Suse is the distro that employes btrfs hackers at this point. Then, yesterday, Stratis was announced. From the Phoronix article I read about Stratis in:

First a quote from the announcement of Stratis:

Stratis is a new tool that meets the needs of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) users calling for an easily configured, tightly integrated solution for storage that works within the existing Red Hat storage management stack. To achieve this, Stratis prioritizes a straightforward command-line experience, a rich API, and a fully automated, externally-opaque approach to storage management. It builds upon elements of the existing storage stack as much as possible, to enable delivery within 1-2 years. Specifically, Stratis initially plans to use device-mapper and the XFS filesystem. Extending or building on SSM 2.1.1 or LVM 2.1.2 was carefully considered. SSM did not meet the design requirements, but building upon LVM may be possible with some development effort.

From the Wikipage describing that it’s going to land in Fedora 28:

a local storage system akin to Btrfs, ZFS, and LVM. Its goal is to enable easier setup and management of disks and SSDs, as well as enabling the use of advanced storage features — such as thin provisioning, snapshots, integrity, and a cache tier — without requiring expert-level storage administration knowledge. Furthermore, Stratis includes monitoring and repair capabilities, and a programmatic API, for better integration with higher levels of system management software.

Then from the author of the Phoronix article:

For Stratis 1.0 they hope to support snapshot management, file-system maintenance, and more. With Stratis 2.0 is where they plan to deal with RAID, write-through caching, quotas, etc. With Stratis 3.0 is where it should get interesting as they hope for “rough ZFS feature parity” and support send/receive, integrity checking, RAID scrubbing, compression, encryption, deduplication, and more. Only in the first half of 2018 is when they expect to reach Stratis 1.0. No word on when they anticipate getting to Stratis 3.0 with ZFS feature parity.

Interesting. I led me on a path of exploration of LVM and other tech. First of all, I don’t imagine btrfs is going to sit still, unworked on, while this happens. Maybe it finally reaches its stability goals. Maybe the threat of Stratis attracts more hackers to btrfs. Or, maybe Stratis catches up with, and surpasses, btrfs. I think if they can make the dynamic RAID work, and can get stability up to ZFS levels, I could move over to Stratis. If not, I’m still thinking about LVM and XFS or ext4 for my home-built NAS rather than btrfs (or together with btrfs if it doesn’t get too complex for snapshotting purposes) because that would (potentially) let me grow directories indefinitely in a way that works as my backup needs grow. This will require more knowledge and planning, though. I’ll keep documenting my research here.

BBQ Danielle’s Marinade Chicken

A week or so after the smoked chicken, Danielle did her marinade on a whole chicken we’d cleaved in half. I cooked it on the Weber Kettle at an average of 350 F and it came out GREAT! I did a 2 zone setup with the dark meat facing towards the fire. I took it out when the breasts were 160 (which was approximately 180 for the dark meat – which is the temp most people like dark meat). Look at how juicy that came out!

Chicken BBQ'd on the Weber Kettle
Chicken BBQ’d on the Weber Kettle