Concrete Fence Posts

Since moving back to Indiana in April, I’ve done a lot of cycling. It turns out, even though Hoosier drivers aren’t the most amenable folks to having bikes on their roads, there is so much space in-between everything that riding is pretty good. It doesn’t take long to get out to gravel county roads, and away from most cars. Riding through a lot of areas that time seems to have forgotten has really engaged a standing interest in Indiana history.

One of the things in particular that has interested me as I’ve been putting on the gravel road miles are all the old farm fence posts still left intact.  They are an interesting artifact of a time when (I assume) roads, as such, didn’t exist, and the fences held up by these posts were the divider between farmers fields. This dovetails with some longstanding field-based Indiana location names – Westfield, Greenfield, Bloomfield, Chesterfield, Plainfield, Wheatfield, Winfield.. And probably several more defunct ones.

I’ve snapped pictures of a few of these posts haphazardly. Most are concrete, but there are a swath of weathered lumber, with various forms of bracing, both wood and steel. Continue reading

A Dip in the River – An interpretation of John Cage’s A Dip in the Lake for Lafayette Indiana


Over the past semester I did a re-imagining of Cage’s A Dip in the Lake for the Greater Lafayette, Indiana area. It was a pretty interesting process, and despite my love of recordistry, not something that I’d have usually embarked on.

Score for A Dip In the Lake

I think I’ve gotten deep enough into this piece that it’s a little hard for me to describe what it is concisely. The original A Dip in the Lake is a kind of Visual composition for a sound collage. I’ve not been able to find a lot of detail on his composition process, but it looks like Cage just selected random points on a map of the Chicago area. A list of addresses was created from this map. The composition was published in 1978 by Henmar Press, Inc, and copies are available in some libraries. 

Aside from the location list, little direction is provided in the original work beyond the text:


for performer(s) or listener(s) or record maker(s)

(Transcriptions may be made for other cities, or places, by assembling through chance operations a list of four hundred and twenty-seven addresses and then, also through chance operations, arranging these in ten groups of two, sixty-one groups of three, and fifty-six groups of four.)

Funny how seeing the above direction describes the work better than my earlier attempt. The lack of specificity is really nice. It opens the work up to be as simple or difficult as you want, and free for all kinds of interpretation. There are so many different ways you could go about this! One that just dawns on me is use of video instead of just audio..

The lack of specificity could also be a burden, depending on how you look at it. I generally like to have specific direction when I’m working on something like this. Having a logic, or an ideal outcome, or even a reason for doing the project in the first place are generally important, and not knowing these things can be crippling. [This is probably the biggest issue in my life right now as I go through a graduate program in Art and Design.. Specifically the areas of Industrial Design and Visual Design. I’m learning _creative_ professions, but in reality I’m just learning to spot and regurgitate trends.] This is where I really got into Cage’s philosophy. It’s almost like decision nihilism. The artist’s choice is totally irrelevant, or rather, the beauty lies in choas, and making decisions undermines that.

My Version
I’m getting too far into the theory. To step back, for my re-imagining and realization of this piece, I fought to use chance where ever possible, and beyond this, I used more technologically determinate methods for doing so than I suspect Cage did. I guess this really makes it easier to be “random”, which I think is a good thing. It also highlights our default use of technology for completing everyday tasks.

MapWithLinesTo start, I chose my locations randomly. I used a website called GeoMidPoint. It was really the first thing I found in a Google Search, but it turned out to suit my needs. It generated 20 GPS locations for me in a radius I specified that mostly encompassed Lafayette and West Lafayette, IN. I only used 20 points (down from Cage’s prescribed 427) to make this complete-able in the given time frame.

My next step was to visit all of these locations to record audio. The quickest means I could think of to get to each GPS position was to enter it into Google Maps. Interestingly, this resolved the locations to street addresses. This was a form much easier for me to use, but it also distorted the data a bit – Google Maps “thinks” in terms of streets, not in terms of locations, and this was evident in it’s translation of the GPS coordinates. For example, one of my GPS locations was in the middle of a corn field. Rather than giving me directions to get to the middle of the corn field, Google Maps gave me directions to the closest road to that point in the corn field, as well as a picture of that spot on the road. It was interesting what we lose in the augmented perception offered by Google Maps. ..You can’t see inside structures either.. or hear sounds from the location.. etc, etc.

I recorded 2 minutes of audio at each location and then proceeded to my next step, which was figuring out how to combine the audio together. Peter Gena, who did the first realization of this piece in 1982 was my primary source of information for the processing of the audio. [1. isn’t it interesting that the composition sat around for 4 years before it was ever performed? 2. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have relied on prior methods in figuring out my own] Gena had the luck of being able to ask Cage himself how the sounds should go together, and it was suggested that he use a similar method to one from another of Cage’s works called Rozart Mix. This involved some interesting (and random) editing of magnetic tape. My recordings started off in the digital realm, so I had to adapt. I initially planned to cut up the audio segments “by hand” in editing software and recombine them according to chance operations, but before long I realized that even with my reduced number of recordings, it would take a really long time. Instead, based on a suggestion of a friend, I used Cycling’74’s MAX software to build a processor that automatically did what I had planned to do manually. It worked wonderfully, and as a side effect, can run infinitely. This immediately made me think it would be something cool to use in a gallery show.

Long winded enough, I suppose. Here is a video for the first of the 4 pieces that came out of this. Photo’s of the 5 locations included in this work are shown – first what Google Maps showed me followed by what I found when I arrived there. There is also video of the MAX patcher at work.

Related links:
More details in the paper for this project
The MAX Patcher I used
Other realizations of A Dip in the Lake: Chicago, Washington DC, Luxembourg Germany, Potenza Italy

I want a pump track in my back yard.

For a while now, I’ve wanted a pump track in my backyard. This video of Tammy Donahugh that was posted on bikerumor yesterday with her bike check got me thinking about it again.

[EDIT – After posting this I found out that only allows embedding videos from select sites. To view the first two videos in this post, you’ll have to click the link. sorry. :/ ]

Tammy Donahugh – backyard pump track

If you aren’t familiar with pump tracks, here’s a definition from

Pump track: (n) (pumb-p tra-k) is a short, off road course of smooth rollers (humps) and bermed corners; where the movement of the rider propels the bike rather than conventional pedalling.

And here’s a video that does a good job of breaking down the physics of pumping and explains why it’s a good skill to work on:

There are a lot of places where you can go to ride pump tracks. Both Ray’s indoor mountain bike park locations have them, and if you have any BMX oriented trails in your area, they usually have a nice pump section. Unfortunately for me, I live in an area that’s far from Ray’s, and has no suitable BMX trails. I’m always keeping an eye out for a good spot to build a little pump track, but nothing good has appeared. (If you know of, or have some land suitable for a pump track around Lafayette, Indiana let me know!)

I started thinking about how much of a track I could cram in my back yard. Not much, but certainly something. I started googling the idea, and it seems like a lot of people have had success with it.

Here’s a particularly small one. It doesn’t look like you can get up much speed, but you can still get your skills up on it.

Backyard Pumptrack from Shawn Murray on Vimeo.

Homebrew diaries – robust porter experiment

If you dig back deep enough into the archives on my blog, you’ll see that I’ve done some brewing in the past, but I haven’t done an actual beer. For some reason I got all motivated to do an all grain brew, so I stopped by Great Fermentations in Indy to get some stuff. I wanted to make something I would like to drink, but I also wanted to find something that could be developed into a platform for experimentation. I’m a fan of big porters, and I’d also been kicking around the idea of doing a persimmon porter, so it was kind of a no-brainer. The guy at Great Fermentations pointed me to one of the kits they had for a recipe called “Porter, Call me a Taxi”. It looked good, so I had him get me the stuff for an all grain version of the kit. It was about 10lbs of 2 row malt, and then another two pounds that was a combination of chocolate, caramel and black malt.

The Recipe:

"Porter, Call me a Taxi" all grain recipe

“Porter, Call me a Taxi” all grain recipe

The Gear:

Unfortunately, I wasn’t as prepared as I’d thought for this brew. My plan was to batch sparge, and I picked up a couple of water coolers with the intention of using one as a lauter tun. I expected to make my own false bottom for the tun, but it didn’t turn out to be as simple as I’d hoped. After getting nervous about my grain sitting around for a few weeks, I decided to grab a mesh bag from Northern Brewer and try my luck using it as a filtering medium.

My modest brewing setup
My modest brewing setup

I’d also gotten ansy about the size of my brew kettle. I’d been using a 4 gallon kettle that came from harbor freight, but I got the idea in my head that I should really get the whole boil (7.5 gallons) in one vessel. I ordered this one from amazon under the logic that 30Qt = 7.5G = enough. Unfortunately, this is bad logic. Yes, 30Qt is 7.5 gallons… right up to the top. This means that there is no room to have a boil, let alone a vigorous boil. To add to frustrations, this kettle doesn’t actually hold 30Qt. It’s more like 24Qt. I don’t know what the deal with this is, but I decided to just work around it. It’s a nice kettle otherwise, and worth the modest price.

Alpha 30 QT Heavy Gage Stainless Steel Stock Pot with Glass Lid

Alpha 30 QT Heavy Gage Stainless Steel Stock Pot with Glass Lid

The Science:

I’ve read a reasonable amount about the all grain brewing process, and could probably go through the motions, but I wanted to actually figure out what I was doing. I started by reading some first person tutorials including this one where I saw some of the mashing process. The point of the mash process is to generate fermentable sugars. The author of the site started off with a two part rest. (this means bringing the grain and water to a certain heat and leaving it there for a certain amount of time) The first part is the sachrification rest whose goal is to get the starches out of the grain. Next is the protein rest, whose goal is to convert the starches into sugar. Apparently for the homebrewer, any more than just the protein rest isn’t necessary, but I figured that since this is the source of the fuel for fermentation, I ought to spend a little time with it.

Next I checked out the all grain section on and found another rest schedule. This one used 3 rests at 104 – 140 – 158°F, as specified in the hombrewing book by George Fix. In this case, the low temperature rest is to help liquefy the malt to help release the starches. Some slight detail is also given on how modifications to the rest times can affect dextrosity, alcohol content and malty-ness in the end product. These temperatures are what I went with for 30 minutes each rest.


I also looked into water quality.. I was lucky enough to find a recent water report for my city from a user on the message board.

Lafayette, Indiana municipal water.

pH              7.3
Alkalinity      225 mg/L (as CaCO3)
Fluoride        1.1 mg/L
Orthophosphate  0.6 mg/L
Total phosphate 1.5 mg/L
Chloramines     1.1 mg/L
Lead            undetectable
Copper          undetectable
Iron            0.189 mg/L
Manganese       0.210 mg/L
Chlorides       39 mg/L
Sulfates        61 mg/L
Conductivity    670 µm HOS/cm
Total bacteria  0 (per what???)
Total hardness  350 mg/L as CaCO3
Grains hardness 21 grains/gal

The city uses chloramine to treat the water, so I’m a bit hesitant to use it at all, though I do now have a faucet filter.  Brewing suggestions for this water?  (And yes, I agree that my city certainly didn’t give me much to go on here.)

As the OP stated, it’s not a lot to go on, but I guess it’s nice to have a record. The chloramine freaked me out a little, and I didn’t have any campden tables to add. I just boiled all the water in advance, and hopefully it neutralized most of the crap.

My final bit of research was In regards to hop schedule. Let it be known that I really don’t like the flavor or aroma of hops. My recipe only called for 1oz of hops, but I decided to half it anyway. I read a bit about the hop infusion process on this page , which I think also drew from the George Fix book, and ended up adding them for the last 30 minutes of my 60 minute boil.

The actual brew:

You can see my complete procedure notes below for intimate details, but all things considered the brew went ok, and mostly to plan.. One deviation from plan was that I did a second small batch with the later runnings that I wanted to use as an experiment with persimmons.

Brew Notes

Brew Notes

The biggest problem I had over all was temperature regulation. It took a long time to get my initial boils going, then it took a long time to cool down to my target temperature. I didn’t have a whole lot of ice on hand, so I tried putting an ice pack in a ziplock bag and submerging it. It had practically no effect, and the zip lock ended up leaking. I had the same issues in post striking processes. Even with the wort chiller, I was only able to get the wort down to 90 degrees. I suspect the high ambient temperature in the kitchen (~80) had something to do with this. This gave me some interesting design ideas, but I think in the immediate, I’m going to have to bolster my chilling system.

Ice pack - not worth the effort
Ice pack – not worth the effort

Another problem I had was consistently stuck sparges. I suspect the mesh bag was getting bunched up in the cooler’s drain hole. Using my long spoon, I was usually able to move the bag away from the drain and get most of the wort through. I’m sure this effected my efficiency quite a bit. I wasn’t getting the full batch out of each sparge, so I think I ended up doing around 4 batches. The last one was for my secondary small batch.  I just picked up the bag, and squeezed, getting most of the wort out. I think I got about 2 or 3 gallons.

Lauren helping me with the sparging process
Lauren helping me with the sparging process

From this point out, everything went pretty much according to plan. For my small batch, I added 1 cup of strained persimmons that my Grandmother gave me last year, in the last 5 minutes of the boil. As I understand it, adding a fruit adjunct during the boil will provide more aroma than taste. Thus, I plan to add another 2 cups of persimmon during secondary fermentation which should work more to the flavor.  I used a different yeast for the small batch than what was called for in the recipe. I had some saferment ale yeast in the fridge, so I went with that.

Persimmon slurry from Grandma
Persimmon slurry from Grandma

Having never done an actual beer, I wasn’t sure what to expect in regards to primary fermentation activity. What I witnessed was fairly tame, peaking at the first and second days of fermentation. Now, two weeks later, there is no visible activity. This seems like a pretty short time, but I suppose only a gravity measurement will tell. FWIW, my post boil gravity showed an ~80% brew house efficiency. I don’t know if I believe that calculation. Also notable, the coarse mesh bag didn’t do as good a job filtering as I’d hoped. There was quite a bit of traub, and even after careful racking, there’s a lot of sediment in the bottom of the fermenters. I’m going to have to add some kind of filtering step, but I’m not sure how short of buying a pump and force filtering, which is kind of out of the budget.

I’ll probably rack the main batch to a keg this weekend for a long secondary fermentation, and add the remaining persimmon to the small batch and let it go for a while before kegging. Watch for a result update in the future.