August 28, 2005
How to make a gyro cooker

I enjoy good gyro meat in sandwiches or in a greek salad. There's a good place near the office (with a surly owner) that makes pretty good stuff. For those that don't know, gyro meat is cooked on a vertical skewer and cooked with radiated heat. As the meat browns, the outer meat is sliced off and served.

One day, my co-worker Yoshi mentioned that Alton Brown of Good Eats had discussed making gyros. I love Alton Brown and if he said it could be done, then I could do it. Yoshi mentioned that his plan kinda sucked because it wasn't cooked by the traditional method of a rotisserie. At that point I decided to build my own gyro cooker.

The first thing I had to solve was how to rotate the meat. On ebay I found a motor made for gas BBQs that looked like it would stand up the usage I intended.

The motor came with a long skewer and meat holder. That it much easier to figure out how to hold the meat. Using a pie plate, I fashioned a a grease catcher. The second item I picked up was a simple electric single burner, similiar to what I used when I built a smoker out of a trashcan.

Click MORE to see the full post.

Rummaging through the garage, I found some leftover plywood and 2x4s. I soon had a plan in place on how to build this thing. This is the mount for the motor.

This is the motor mounted with the skewer and grease catcher in place. Looks good so far.

Now I focused on mounting the burner to the wood. My first mistake was using the cordless drill to drive the screw completely though the back of the burner. The back of the burrner is made of a brittle high temp plastic and it snapped with the force of the motor driven screw.

I used a simple screwdriver to put in three more screws, careful not to break the plastic.

Here is the mounted burner on the plywood and 2x4. The center of gravity went thought the 2x4, so it was stable and didn't tip over.

Here's a first look on how I intended the operations to work. The motor would spin the meat and the burner would heat it. I could raise and lower the meat on the skewer to match the burner. The burner could move closer or further from the meat depending on the temperature I needed.

With the basic construction complete, I needed to prepare the meat. The recipe for gyro meat requires chilling the meat for hours. Gyro meat is basically ground lamb with onion, garlic, and spices. I gathered them all and got out the food processor.

The ingredients ready for the finally 'processing'.

Once the food processor has had it's way with the mixture, it was quite different. Rather than the loose, crumbly nature of ground lamb, this mixture was sticky. It easily held together and I saw how it wouldn't fall off the skewer when I cooked it.

I put the meat mixture on some plastic wrap and shaped it into a cylinder. Suprisingly easy.

Wrapped and ready for a night in the refrigerator.

I then spent the evening playing World of Warcraft and surfing the net.

The next morning, I realized I needed a good way to power the motor and burner and built this little distribution box. With a switch and light, it would be useful on other projects as well.

The cooking apparatus was set up and ready to go. Or so I thought.

Getting ready to load the meat, I bent down the prongs on the skewer to make a sort of platform. In hindsight, it would have been better to make a solid bottom for the meat out of a can top or something.

With the meat mounted, I was ready to cook!

Here's the cooker, ready to go. I took this photo and flipped the switch. The motor spun for about 3 seconds and quite. Barely avoiding panic, I flipped the power off and on several times and couldn't get the motor to keep spinning.

Dejected, I put the meat back in the fridge and opened up the motor to look inside. I could see that it was designed to deal with the lateral force of a BBQ trying to torque it at ninety degrees to the rotational axis. It didn't like the full weight being redirected back down the shaft.

I realized that I would have to shed some of the force down the skewer. By getting the skewer for point a bit off of vertical, I was able to get the motor to run with the full weight continuously. College linear mechanics class was still paying off.

Due to the 'handedness' of the motor mount, I had to move the mounting block to a different place on the plywood and basically reverse the cooking arrangement. Thankfully, I had used screws in the construction, so the rework only took a couple of minutes.

Finally, I was able to get the meat skewer loaded into the motor and the motor would rotate. I turned the burner up to full and the gyro began to cook. You can see the angle of the skewer in this image.

The temperature was over 100º F while I was cooking the gyro outside. With nothing left to do but wait, I grabbed a beer and tried to find some shade.

Now these photos don't do my gyro cooker justice, so I shot a little bit of video so you could see and hear it in action. Take a peek at the homemade gyro cooker (1 MB WMV) or (1.5 MB Divx AVI).

After about an hour, I tested the meat temperature and it was around 170º, about 5º over the recommended 165 for lamb. I stopped the motor, moved the burner, and sliced off the first pieces. The meat was actually pretty tasty. The deeper the browning, the better it tasted.

Over time, as meat cooked, I contined to slice the browned outside off. This is where a few extra burners would have been useful. The gyro meat continued to cook for the next couple hours. Good for a restaurant that want's it to last all day, bad for a guy that wants to be in from the summer heat.

When all the meat was cooked I had a nice couple pounds of gyro meat.

Overall, it was fun, but a lot of work. I didn't spend a lot of money, but the project took a long time compared to the ease of smoking meat.

Posted by michael at 06:41 PM | Comments (14)
August 26, 2005
MT 3.2

I upgraded to Movable Type 3.2 last night. It seems pretty snazzy at first glance, but I haven't delved into the cool new features yet. So if you see any issues while wandering about here, please let me know.

After about 10 minutes into the upgrade, my mom was IMing me that my comments weren't working. I think I'll start renting her out as a service delivery monitor.

Posted by michael at 06:51 AM | Comments (2)
August 23, 2005
NFL Widower

Another football season begins and once again I find myself one of the few NFL Widowers around.

Michele loves her football something fierce. Over the years it's gotten worse, growing from watching the occasional Sunday game with Cincinatti (her hometown team) to watching Thursday Night Football to this year with her enrollment into fantasy football in July.

Last year for her birthday I bought her a special quilting table and she had it placed in the living room so she could quilt while watching football.

For the Superbowl this year, we bought an HDTV so the game could be as good as possible. Now we have the NFL Network, the DirecTV NFL Sunday Ticket, and even the DirecTV Superfan package for true football otaku that need to watch EIGHT football games SIMULTANEOUSLY.

Currently, she's Tivoing every possible pre-season NFL game for later viewing.

Some of you think that it would be good to have a wife that is a football fan. I'm a football fan myself and enjoy watching games, but my with, she's a fanatic.

My main role on Sundays is to keep the children entertained and make runs to 7-Eleven for more soda to fuel her orgy of football channel changing. On the positive side, it leaves me free to play games on Sunday and not hear any complaints.

So on Sundays and Monday nights, think of me and hope for rain delays.

Posted by michael at 07:49 PM | Comments (8)
August 21, 2005

Last night I got one of those phone calls that computer saavy people hate to get. "Honey, I think my computer is broken. Your father is looking at it, but it says something about reformatting a hard drive."

Yes, my mother's hard drive was failing. They got me the computer and this morning I took a look. Sure enough, the drive wouldn't boot or allow itself to be repaired.

I popped it into my computer to look at it and even then I had trouble getting it recognized. When I finally got it mounted I realized it was in sad shape.

The problem was that some of the files were corrupted and others were fine. I was trying to copy files off of the bad hard drive onto a good hard drive. The problem is that with the drag and drop copy feature in XP, if any of the files you requested copied are bad, the whole copy crashes.

This really bummed me out since I was getting very little copying done due to the bad files. I remembered about Xcopy and figured out a way to copy all the files I needed easily.

How to copy directories with bad files and get the good files

Xcopy is used from the command line, so you need to open a command window. Use Run from the Start menu and type 'cmd', this should bring up a command line interface. That xcopy link takes you to the full manual on xcopy where you can see all the parameters possible.

Xcopy is pretty straightforward, xcopy sourcedir destinationdir is the normal command. But since you know you are copying possibly bad files you need to set a few parameters. The /c parameter tells xcopy to ignore errors. This is key.

So if you want to copy the files out of a bad My Documents directory to a new drive, you'd do something like this.

xcopy "D:\Documents and Settings\User\My Documents" "C:\Saveddata\" -c -s -h -i

This example supposes that the bad drive you are salvaging is the D: drive and the drive you are saving to is C:. You can use tab to autocomplete path names to make sure the path is correct.

Remember, if your directory name or any part of the path has a space in it, you need quotes ( " ) around the path. If you don't use quotes you will get an invalid parameter error. You will probably want to save several different directories, depending on where the data is located, so you can open multiple command line windows and run the xcopies simultaneously if you want to not sit and watch.

When xcopy hits a bad file, don't be suprised if it hangs on the bad file for a minute or two before moving on. Have faith. The xcopy will ignore the errors, because you commanded it to ignore them.

If this isn't clear to you and there are things you don't understand about what I wrote above, you probably shouldn't be trying to save the drive data yourself. Honestly, if you aren't command line saavy, you run the risk of seriously fucking up your computer with xcopy. Call your best geek pal and offer him or her a six pack to come save your data from /dev/null.

Back to my own experience, I was able to save most of Mom's files, the only real blow was a corrupted Outlook pst file meaning that some of her email was gone. I picked a new drive at Best Buy and in a few hours, the computer was up and purring with a sparkling new version of her beloved AOL 9.0 running. The OS patching, anti-virus, and anti-spyware are all set to auto-update. Let's hope for the best.

Posted by michael at 10:00 PM | Comments (7)
August 20, 2005

Spin - an amazing new short film (via Metafilter)

Trust me, you'll like it.

Update: The original link is farked, here is an alternate link to watch Spin.

Posted by michael at 01:10 PM | Comments (4)
August 18, 2005
How TV gets to your house

At the office I sometimes have to explain things to people about the way that television works. I'm a television engineer, so it all makes sense to me, but to many it's a mystery. So today I present:

How TV gets to your house

First, you have to make the leap of faith that television networks make a channel in some way and add in all the programs, promos, and commericals that you love. The signal is feed to a large (usually 30 feel in diameter) dish that shoots the signal up into space. The dish and equipment that shoots the signal into space is called a Earth Station.

Up in outer space is a special communications satellite that orbits 22,300 miles up. To compare, the Shuttle visits the Space Station at about 250 miles. This orbit is called a geosynchronous orbit and is about a tenth of the way to Moon. It's way the hell out there.

The satellite listens to the Earth Station and immediately rebroadcasts the signal back down toward Earth. This allows many places to all see the same signal.

The local cable company has a smaller receive antenna (usually from 10-20 feet in diameter) that is pointed at the satellite and listens for the TV signal.

The receive antenna pulls down the signal and feeds it into a special receiver called an IRD (Integrated Receiver/Decoder). The IRD is very much like a radio that converts wireless signals into something you can see and hear. The IRD sends the channel to a set of modulators that combines all the other channels that the cable company assembles into a single cable feed.

Television networks all over the country bouncing signals up into space and down to cable companies, allowing them to put the various channels all together in their line up. They take ESPN from Connecticut, and HBO & MTV from New York, and Disney Channel from California and a hundred other channels and modulate them all together into a single feed.

Once the cable company has combined all the channels, they send it down the wires that they hung from telephone poles or put underground in your street.

The cable signal gets split over and over as it branches into various neighborhoods and then into specific houses. Even at your house, the signal is split again to the various rooms you want cable. Each time you split the cable signal you cut the power level down significantly. Many people have crappy pictures from cable TV and it's often due to low cable signal strength.

To understand what happens in your house, you need to learn a little physics. When you tune an FM radio, you are changing the frequency you are tuning to to change stations. It seems clear that when you go from 93.1 MHz to 103.1 MHz, you are changing stations.

Television works in a similar way. To change stations, you are changing the frequency you are tuning in. A long time ago, the television engineers thought that it might be simpler to give channels numbers instead of frequencies to refer to when tuning. At the time, they only imagined that there might be a dozen or so channels. Channel 1 was reserved for testing and so the first real channel was 2. That's why Channel 2 is the lowest channel most people are used to.

In cable TV, the amount of bancwidth or space to shove channels is usually between 50 MHz and 800 MHz. Yes, that means that the FM stations are right in the middle of the TV band. But radio bandwidth is so small, it doesn't take up much space.

Each TV channel takes up around 6 MHz of space, so you can place around 125 channels on a typical analog cable feed. Digital cable systems work differently and I won't go into it here.

So you can now see that when you change channels, you are actually choosing a different frequency to tune in, just like a radio dial. Old people, like me, can actually remember TVs that tuned with dial like a radio. I doubt my daughters have ever seen a TV with a dial on it.

OK, now that you understand how frequencies map into channels, you can see that a set-top box from the cable company is tuning the channels for you. A cable ready TV is a TV that can tune in the higher channels that only exist in the cable world and not in the over-the-air antenna world.

The cable set-top makes audio and video (or sometimes a Channel 3 signal) that you plug into your your television.

To explain this, I've skipped over a lot of details and didn't get into digital cable, direct to home satellite, HDTV, or many of the other modern methods of television distribution.

I can explain those things if you all are interested, but all of them are variations on the basic idea of television distibution I describe here. Ask away...

Posted by michael at 10:36 PM | Comments (8)
August 17, 2005
Intelligent Falling

An interesting article on scientific debate: Scientists Refute Gravity With New 'Intelligent Falling' Theory

Who can argue with such reasoning?

Posted by michael at 12:06 PM | Comments (3)
August 11, 2005
Not for Children

There has been some debate in Cruft Manor about the appropriateness of Adult Swim cartoons for the girls. For a while we were watching Futurama, but now it is once again disallowed.

Tonight Zoe and I watched the end of a show around 9PM when the following scene took place:

DAD hits guide on remote, sees Aqua Teen Hunger Force on and switches to it,
hoping to see the talking french fries, 'cause talking french fries are funny.

... and let's seen what happens when we blow this nun's brains out with a shotgun ...

DAD switches the channel before the shotgun fires.


Um, I guess that Adult Swim really isn't for kids...


Ha-ha-ha-ha! They said "blow this nun's brains out"! Ha-ha-ha-ha!


Your mother is going to be so mad at me.

ZOE runs to find MOTHER.


Ha-ha-ha-ha! They said "blow this nun's brains out"! Ha-ha-ha-ha!


(attempting not to laugh)




MOTHER shoots flames from her eyes at DAD.

Lesson: Do not switch to Adult Swim while children are present.

Posted by michael at 12:59 AM | Comments (7)
August 08, 2005
No excuses

Some may have noticed that I have not been updating my blog reguarly. This is mainly because I have not been updating my blog regularly. No excuses, I've simply not been doing it.

In the latest round of ego boosting into the stratosphere, I'm quoted in Information Week blathering on about RSS and all the hard work other people did at the office that I get to take credit for. There's even a picture of me looking serious with baggy eyes. I guess I need some sleep.

Here are few sites to read that will keep you entertained. Go, read them, blogroll them, and leave some comments, my faithful droogies.

My old friend from high school, Kirill is blogging away now. Kirill is the smartest person I've ever met. Through high school and college we were as tight as brothers. We've drifted apart over the years, but I'm happy to see he's doing well and already retired before forty.

My co-workers Mister P. and Travis have also been posting regularly. Do be sure to check out Mister P.'s site Neoprene Wedgie about his preparation for a triathlon.

Even my friend Paul has posted a bit on his site about Terrible News.

Scott "Lum the Mad" Jennings always keeps me entertained over at Broken Toys.

Posted by michael at 10:35 PM | Comments (0)
Camping with pyros

Back in the days before children, Michele and I used to go camping. In fact, we got engaged on a camping trip up through Big Sur.

For whatever reason, laziness or busy-ness, we hadn't taken the girls camping. So last weekend I took the girls up to Millard Canyon in the local hills for their first outing. I had picked up a new huge tent and a pair of air mattresses to make things a little less spartan than my old two man tent and 15 year old foam pads.

Once we arrived in camp, the girls were excited and ready to begin. They were intrigued by the campfire ring and wanted to play with the fire. They gathered a few twigs and tossed them in. Shrieks of glee filled the campground as the tinder ignited. Soon they were tossing everything not bolted down into the fire ring.

The camp host Lonny showed them a pile of old lumber that he said they could burn and they went to town, hauling and burning. Poking and prodding at the fire, they were grinning ear to ear. Of course, they burned themselves with hot poking sticks, as all children do, much to my chagrin.

They started to clamor for the marshmellows to roast. I threw a few clean burning logs in and soon set them up to cook a traditional S'more.

Giggling like the schoolgirls they are, they roasted the marshmellows while I prepared the chocolate and graham crackers. Soon enough they were chowing down on S'mores.

On the second batch, I was able to snap this quick photo before they wolfed it down.

Throughout the trip, the girls were enthralled with the fire. "Daddy, can we feed the fire?" was the most oft heard phrase of the day. Once they realized they could burn the baby wipes I brough to keep them clean, they became the most hygenic children around constantly finding excuses to wipe up and toss it into the fire.

True pyromaniacs to the core. They are truly my daughters to have such fire loving genes in their DNA.

When I asked the girls what we should on our next camping trip, their answer was, "more wood".

Posted by michael at 09:57 PM | Comments (0)