The Real Clif Bar Recipe

Note: This article has recently (10.22.12) become very popular with you Pintrest users.  Welcome! However, this is a CLIFF bar, not a Granola bar! They’re supposed to be gooey and chewy. When you modify the recipe to include 95% granola, you’ve simply reinvented the granola bar. The big draw of a Cliff Bar is that it’s not a crumbly mess when you try and eat it (along with tasting something unlike a bland, crunchy breakfast cereal). The desired consistency should be closer to a Samoa-style Girl Scout cookie or a (very healthy) Snickers bar. Please keep this in mind before you overload it with crunchy granola or oats and make this in to something it’s not. Alton Brown has some great recipes for that sort of thing. Slightly chewy, and full-of-flavor-without-tasting-like-oats is what made Cliff bars popular and the brand that it is today. Moving right along…

Googling “Clif Bar Recipe” is a frustrating experience. You end up with pages upon pages of recipes for granola bars, which, if you talk to anyone who’s had a real Clif Bar, is the opposite of what you’re trying to make. Clif Bars have a taffy like, caramelized flavor. They usually sell for about $2 a piece, but can often be found on sale for $1 each. I suspect this is due to their relatively short shelf life, owing to their lack of preservatives.

If you’re new to Clif Bars, they’re famous for being an energy bar that doesn’t taste awful (they’re quite good, actually) and have identifiable ingredients. They’re also gluten free, if you’re in to that sort of thing. Rice and Oats don’t have gluten in them (being the primary carbohydrate ingredients in the bars).

Anyways, after years of searching on and off, I finally found a recipe that makes something that resembles a real Clif Bar, without the overabundance of oats held together with a minimum amount of binders. It even looks like an honest to god Clif Bar:

 

• 1 and 1/4 cups of Rice Krispies
• 1 cup of uncooked quick-cooking oats
• 3 tablespoons of ground flaxseed meal
• 1/4 cup of finely chopped dried cherries
• 1/4 cup of finely chopped roasted almonds
• 1/4 cup of brown rice syrup
• 2 tablespoons of dark brown sugar
• 1/3 cup of almond butter
• 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
• 1/4 teaspoon of almond extract

  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the Rice Krispies, quick-cooking oats, flaxseed meal, dried tart cherries, and chopped almonds.
  2. Combine the rice syrup and dark brown sugar in a saucepan and bring it to a boil over medium heat. You will want to stir the mixture the entire time, it will only take around a minute to boil. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the almond butter, vanilla extract, and almond extract until your mixture is blended.
  3. Pour the liquid mixture over the dry mixture, and stir until evenly coated.  As the liquid cools, the mixture will become stiff.  I used my hands to combine the mixture, like kneading bread.
  4. Spray an 8-inch square pan with nonstick cooking spray and press the mixture into the pan.  Use wax paper to help press the mixture flat and even across the pan.
  5. Allow the pan to cool for about an hour and cut into 6 hearty-sized energy bars.

To store the bars, wrap them and store them in the refrigerator.  For long term storage, you can freeze the bars. Challenged, or novice cooks may add up to an additional 1/4 cup of brown rice syrup to improve adhesion of dry ingredients.

Posted in food | Tagged , , , , | 17 Comments

Building Bamboo Bicycles and Road Bikes

I recently stumbled upon Bamboo Bicycles. I’ve spent a couple of days investigating this on and off now. There seem to be two major vendors at the moment, both related to the same man. Calfee Design appears to make Bamboo bicycles in the US, and then there is a separate factory in Ghana that makes bicycle frames. Also there is one guy in Australia making Bamboo Bikes, but he’s only producing about one frame a year.

Bamboo bikes, like traditional bikes, seem to come in a wide variety of styles and frame designs. There are only a few rules that all of the bikes seem to follow:

  • Use natural fibers instead of carbon for joint wrapping (hemp, twine, etc)
  • Grossly overbuild the joints
  • Use metal dropouts
  • Use a metal seatpost
  • Use a metal fork

The biggest long term problem seems to stem from using carbon fiber wrappings, which apparently don’t expand/contract at the same rate as the wood and cause cracks after a period of several years. This is easily remedied by using hemp fiber or a similar fibrous binding material to match the expansion rates of the Bamboo, with the added benefit that when done right (and with dark fibers) the end result joint can look like burled walnut.

The other immediate problem is that the joining where the seat tube meets the seatpost clamp, cracks can occur. This joint is expected to carry the full weight of the rider at an angle that causes leverage on the joint. It appears that this is the only place where sizing your bamboo properly seems to really matter – you need to be able to epoxy a small piece of metal seat tube inside the bamboo that fits snugly enough

How to build Bamboo Bikes: Actual construction seems simple enough. Devise a jig of the appropriate dimensions, cut bamboo to length + 1″ on either side. Toast the bamboo using a butane torch, once to dry the bamboo, and after cooling completely, a second time to toast it. Removing the bamboo skin may improve the asthetics considerably.

Once the Bamboo is ready, roughly cut the ends of bamboo in a concave, semi-circular fashion to fit flush with the other pieces. While still in the jig, roughen the joint areas and glue together the entire frame using expanding glue (Gorilla Glue). This will fill many of the gaps left during the fitting process and provide the initial strong bond. Let sit overnight.

Once the glue has cured, the bike should be strong enough to release from the jig and place upright. Mix a batch of slow-set epoxy and mask off the bamboo not involved in the joint to improve finish. At this point you can start tightly wrapping the joints, literally painting on the epoxy overtop of the fibers. For the best “burled” pattern, wrapping motions should be somewhat random, as if you were lashing together the bamboo without the aid of epoxy. Judging from pictures it looks like they are using a Size 20 (1/2″ to 3/4″ art brush) to apply epoxy resin directly to the bamboo and fibers. Don’t be afraid to go overboard here, you want to overbuild your joints to prevent stress fractures in the future.

For final finishing, fill in gaps by cutting pieces of hemp cord to size and paint them in. Cover the entire joint with an extra layer of epoxy and then wrap with black electrical tape (sticky side out) to level the surface. Remove the electrical tape when the epoxy becomes tacky to firm (not completely cured).

Continue reading

Posted in Arts, bicycles, Mechanical | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Shopping for a cheap VPS

It’s still a bit of a Wild West in terms of VPS providers. There is Amazon’s EC2, Rackspace…. and then there is everybody else. Amazon seems to have a “micro” tier for $2.30/mo…. but you have to pay 3 years in advance for it ($83 or $28/yr). Rackspace, on the other hand will only do managed hosting, which means you’re paying almost 5x the price at $11/mo ($132/yr).

Now if you look at some of the…uh, independent VPS hosts, (most of them are probably resellers) prices typically range from around $5.00-$7.50 ($60-$90/yr). This is a volatile market and I won’t attempt to make any suggestions. Slicehost had a $5/mo deal going if you bought 5 years worth of service, but they were swallowed up whole by rackspace about six months ago, and Linode comes highly recommended by many people, but start around $20/mo ($240/yr). That is not “cheap” tier pricing.

There does seem to be a website that keeps (rough) track of the wild west, they are called lowendbox.com and are able to point out some of the cheaper VPS providers. Sadly most of these places look like fly-by-night operations in comparison to the reasonably priced Amazon EC2 micro tier.

In my case, I need to be able to run a python script 6 times an hour, 18 hours a day. That’s it. Unfortunately my GoDaddy hosting account doesn’t really handle the kind of python functionality I need, and has nerfed quite a bit of the PHP5 functionality as well. So here I am, looking at a proper VPS to run some web apps of mine as a service.

Posted in computing, linux | 1 Comment

Flashlights

Dealing with my second power outage tonight, I thought I would highlight my favorite flashlight of all time, this little Brinkmann milled metal flashlight. It’s not tremendously bright, but it’s always worked for me, and most importantly, the batteries never ever run out, even after being left on by accident for days at a time. The mark of a good flashlight should be threefold:

1. Always turns on
2. Batteries never run out
3. More likely to break things than be broken by them

Most LED flashlights these days satisfy the first two, and while you can find some flashlights with solid metal cases, most are just big enough to grasp, but no more. I feel that like many things, their purpose has been nerfed for the purpose of making it fit in a woman’s handbag (see also: the completely useless “mini” umbrella). This one is large enough to gasp, with a decent sized crown that keeps your fingers from obscuring the lens, and also does a superb job of protecting it.

This thing has been with me through seven countries and countless miles and keeps on going. It’s a solid flashlight that I don’t have to worry about breaking. To cover point number 3, I generally try and separate this flashlight from my laptop or other valuables – it’s very likely it will scratch them.

It looks like they’ve updated the model – it now includes a halogen bulb for additional intensity.

Posted in travel | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Libtcod and Roguelikes

Digging around in a friend’s python scripts and editing them for my own use got me thinking about games like Dwarf Fortress, NetHack and even old space trader games like Elite and Freelancer. Generally, Roguelikes are characterized as being text/console based games, with randomly generated dungeons, and often times randomly generated items (an item named “bubbly potion” might heal you in one game, but kill you in the next).

Perhaps the most interesting Roguelike to come along in recent years has been Dwarf Fortress, which has sort of been defining it’s own incredibly complex, detailed sandbox genre. By complex, I mean that some people complain about playing it at an acceptable rate on modern hardware, as they might complain about a more graphically intense game like Battlefield 3.

That said, the seeming simplicity of the game genre would seem to make it rather easy to code one up from scratch, and make your own customizations as you go along. Alternately, if you could find a NetHack-style Roguelike framework, you could take the “rendering engine”, apply your own back end, and create a different genre of game, like a Space Trader perhaps. I was happy to find the Libtcod library.

Libtcod gives you a huge amount of Roguelike features right out of the box, and in about 500 lines of code, you can be up and about scooting your little @ symbol around the screen, fighting monsters and exploring randomly generated dungeons. There’s a great tutorial that will walk you through getting the @ symbol on the screen, to building a randomized dungeon, to fighting monsters in it. You can find the tutorial here. It includes standard features, and in addition things like 24 bit color, alpha transparency and support for bitmaps. It’s a fancy piece of kit. If you want an idea of what it can do, take a look at and download Pyromancer, a visually stunning game built on top of Libtcod.

What blew me away was that in addition to what he’s done with Libtcod (well, he wrote it, afterall!) – is that someone took this graphically intensive ASCII interface – and then built a windowing system – Umbra – on top of it. Let me take you through this again – console, text only game, color 24 bit text only game, application platform.

Umbra looks and feels like this (skip ahead to the 0:55 mark):

Anyways, I am relearning Python, digging through the tutorial bit by bit. It’s written simply enough that you have a functional game by the end of the tutorial, and is modular enough that you can go about modifying bits without too much fear of permanently breaking other things. There is a C++ version, but I am spending a lot of time digging in to Python code these days, and Python feels faster to modify and test than C.

Posted in computing, Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Container Bob – Who is he? And what does he represent?

My buddy just sent me a strange message. When he says things like this, it’s usually wise to take note:

just shy of half way down there’s a paragraph about a guy called “Container Bob”
it is possibly one of the most intriguing paragraphs ever written

The Paragraph, from Wired Magazine, reads:

It was hardly the first fishy shipment to pass through Gioia Tauro. Famously, just six weeks after 9/11, workers there heard noises coming from inside a container being transshipped to Nova Scotia via Rotterdam. Inside, police found an Egyptian-born Canadian carrying a Canadian passport, a satellite phone, a cell phone, a laptop, cameras, maps, and security passes to airports in Canada, Thailand, and Egypt. The container’s interior was outfitted with a bed, a water supply, a heater, and a toilet. Nicknamed Container Bob, the man posted bail in Italian court and was never seen again.

Gioia Tauro, is if you’re curious, is one of the busiest ports in the world, somewhere halfway between the Suez Canal and the Strait of Gibraltar, at the toe of Italy’s famous “boot”.
Only two articles about the topic so far:
Posted in Economics, Politics, travel | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Britain’s Economic Decline and the rise of Mechanized War

I chat regularly with some British guys. One is from England proper, the other actually has roots in Rhodesia but whose family originated in England. I had commented on the fact that England was pretty wealthy right up until the end of World War 2. Both of them responded almost immediately that WWII had bankrupted England. I took this at face value, and assumed they were exaggerating.

After some long reading, it turns out that whole “lend-lease” program we learned about in high school (and then promptly forgot) was due to the fact that we had already sold Europe all of the weapons they could possibly afford, at which point we extended them an apparent infinite line of credit for further weapons, the debt which we immediately forgave at the end of the war. WWI had depleted a full quarter of England’s wealth, and England was for all intents and purposes bankrupt by the end of WWII. England still had to pay the bills and support their economy transitioning away from a wartime economy, which ended up with the US making what today would have been a half a trillion dollar loan to England. That’s roughly equivalent to 2008′s TARP funds.

So yes, war effectively bankrupted England. This brings an interesting question – with modern, mechanized war, is there still a way to affordably go to war? If you look at the great millitary powers of our history – Alexander the Great, the Mongolians, the Romans, Napoleon – they came out on top, made their country incredibly wealthy and were unarguably the peak of their respective civilzations. Even comparably minor skirmishes in mainland Europe didn’t threaten to fully bankrupt nations the way WWII did for Britan.

I’m sitting here wondering, as we spend $20 billion USD a month in Afghanistan, if mechanized armies are only useful as deterrents against invasion. Mobilizing tanks and occupying countries these days is ludicrously expensive. North Korea has a half-starving army 1-million strong, and have not invaded anyone in nearly 50 years but at the same time, nobody’s tried to invade them either. There’s no way North Korea could leverage their creaking fleet of tanks to invade South Korea without causing their country to implode due to the support costs.

And here we are, finally(?) pulling out of Iraq on threat of losing our legal immunity in their country, I wonder – staring down Iraq over an attempted assassination – can we really afford another 10 year mechanized war?

Posted in Economics, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Currency Markets

In the last six months I found out Google News has a section called “Currency markets”. I’ve added it and it has been interesting to casually follow the problems of Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain.

Here’s three interesting articles from the last 24 hours, regarding currency markets:

This comes after Greece announces they plan on writing off 50% of their debt. These are some huge moves to secure relatively low-risk currency investments, all over the globe. Last month, investors were buying in to Swiss Francs. The Forex markets have always been busy, but in this case we’re talking 5% of Hungary’s GDP being pulled out by foreign banks, and double digits for Brazil’s GDP. In any other situation, one would classify this as economic warfare.

Somewhere, brilliant people sit in think tanks and help make fiscal policy decisions for huge banks. You wouldn’t see this sort of global landslide shift in movement of wealth to safe havens if very smart people were not predicting a serious event happening in Europe in the near future. I think at this point, it is no longer an “if”, but “when” for Greece and the fallout with the Euro.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Windows 8 Developer Preview

I’m writing this on Windows 8 right now. It both installs and runs surprisingly well inside of a virtual machine. Actually, it shouldn’t be that surprising; in this day and age most people would rather cautiously install it on a Virtual Box or VMWare instance rather than set up a physical machine to run it. Clearly, someone at Microsoft is aware of this. The developer preview worked flawlessly out of the box on Virtual Box. Hell, I wish Windows 7 installed as smoothly as Win8 preview did.

So far, I am cautiously optimistic about Win8. I can see purchasing Win8 for my mother. She’s more of a “big, squishy buttons” kind of person, and “the desktop” is about as complex of a concept that she wants to deal with during casual computer use. Poking around with it for about 30 minutes, the “Metro” interface seems awkwardly tacked on – you click “control panel” and it gives you a very Metro looking control panel option, but if you click “advanced options” twice, it begrudgingly kicks you back to the desktop and you get the traditional Win7 control panel.

Chrome installed cleanly, as did Steam. In fact, when I installed Steam on Win8, windows asked me which browser I wanted to use to open web pages in a friendly dialog box. I have a Steam chat bot that I use to run various Battlefield admin commands, written in C#. Windows automatically downloaded and installed the correct .net 3.5 package, and while ChewieBot was designed to run on XP, he runs flawlessly on Win8 as well. So of my need cases, Win8 is 3 for 3.

In fact, the only problem I’ve come across (and this is subjective) is the terribad ribbon interface that’s been included on the Explorer file manager. Granted, the ribbon interface is probably ideal for ham-fisted touchscreen users, but it would be nice for so called power users to still have regular drop down menus when you need to use a mouse.

Posted in computing, Games | Leave a comment

Outfitting a sailboat for cruising

I’m helping my friend go over the logistics of outfitting a boat for cruising/live aboard for a long distance trip now for about three months. I’m trying to organize my thoughts here.

There are three general categories for a liveaboard, or any sailboat really: Floating, Moving, Living. In order from most important to least important.

Most important is floating. If your boat isn’t floating it is sinking. The first thing to check is all of the through hull fittings, then through hull valves. Through hull fittings should be SS or Bronze. Valves should be bronze is possible. Some european manufacturers use nickle coated brass which only has a 5 year lifespan in salt water. All boats leak, particularly through the cabin top. If the boat has a bolt-on keel, it might have the “catalina-smile” — keel-hull separation. Check the hull-deck joint for any obvious signs of leaking. Check the chainplates for signs of cracking or soft spots. Make sure the bilge pump works and there isn’t much (if any) oil leaking in to the bilge. Proactive owners have a counter wired in to their bilge pump to see how often it kicks on.

Next most important is moving. Most any boat in any condition will sail moderately well in a light breeze. This may be why owners let their boats sit and rot but still take them out twice a year, because they can get away with it. This isn’t the problem; the problem is sailing in 35 knot winds and 12 foot seas is the problem. You go from 300 lbs of tension in the halyard to roughly 3000lbs of working  tension. In no particular order you need to look at these systems: Rigging (cracked swaging, rusting wire), mast (cracks near rivets, corrosion/bubbling paint near winches), steering (wheel steering wire/chain, lubing), sails (hugely variable in quality depending on the previous owner(s)), the variety of sails (2-3 jibs, main needs 3 reefing points), then there is the engine (time for a new paragraph)

Engine needs to be diesel. An Atomic 4 (gas) at the end of the day is hard to get parts for and is in it’s sunset years in terms of repairability on the go and very few parts suppliers. Engine power is only at the top of the RPM range which is not where you want to rev a 30+ year old engine. The engine should be able to push the boat at hull speed against a 2 knot current in 20mph winds. For a 30′ boat that means you are looking at a 18-30hp diesel, preferably on the higher end of that range. You’re probably looking at a Yanmar, Perkins or Volvo. It shouldn’t leak too much oil, spark plugs should look good, compression should be good (80+psi), oil should be the correct color, should have “explosive” acceleration when manually adjusting the throttle. If it stutters in forward but not reverse, the piston rings are shot (rebuild engine) or valves are sticking (remove the head, replace headgasket while you’re at it), the reason why reverse works is due to the reduction gear in the drive system. Check the engine for “freeze plugs” and make sure they aren’t cracked/”used”. They aren’t actually called freeze plugs, the previous owner just wants you to think that. If the engine needs new freeze plugs there’s a good chance the block is cracked somewhere. Check for oil leaks going in to the bilge – the oil will clog the electric bilge pump faster than you can say “where’s all this water coming from?”. Obviously the engine should start right up, batteries + cables should be in good condition.

New paragraph. Running rigging (ropes) will all have to be replaced. Expect to pay $1.00-$1.50/ft. Expect to buy 200 feet of rope. The reason you’re buying the boat is because the old owner got bored of it, and after 3-7 years of the ropes sitting exposed to the elements, they will need to be replaced. This doesn’t mean you can’t use the lines as spares, but there’s no way you’ll want to be caught dead in a squall with your jib line snapped going to wind. Winches should move freely and easily and should not even give the indication that they might start sticking in six months. Parts are getting harder to come by and you can expect to spend $400 for a very basic two speed winch. All the blocks (pulleys) should run easily (try this after spraying them with some fresh water from a hose). All of them. Blocks are $18-55 generally so you should be very happy with how they work.

Living! You’re going to be spending a lot of time on this boat, what works and what doesn’t? You’re going to want a quarter berth; it provides superior interior storage compared to a double lazarette. The table in the salon should fold down in to a full or queen size bed. All berths need at least 6’6″ of space. Don’t settle for 6’1″; that extra 3″ of spaces makes all the difference in the world. The V-berth should have a hatch in the ceiling. Too many boats put the hatch in the head instead. This creates poor ventilation. Quite a few larger boats also have a second hatch, in the main salon for good ventilation. The head should work well, the holding tank and the hoses attached to it should be in stunningly good shape. There shouldn’t be a bathtub ring around the bottom of the boat. That is a good indicator that any encapsulated wood (tabbed in bulkheads, etc) is possibly rotten below that ring mark. Kitchen appliances should all be there and all work. They should be propane. Your boat should have an external propane locker.

You’ll need (want) a GPS unit; don’t skimp on the $300 model; get the $550-800 model, you will use it a lot. You’ll want a backup hand held model as well. Depth finder should work, as should the water speed indicator. The water pump should work, and again, the bilge pump should work. As should the manual pump out. Either the upholstery is perfect, or your girlfriend/wife is going to demand you reupholster, so factor that in to your budget. The VHS marine radio should work on the first try, or needs to be replaced. Stereo needs an ipod aux input line or similar, or needs to be replaced. All of the doors and cabinets should have metal locking latches that work and do not break.

You should expect to spend $5500-7000 to outfit for cruising. This does not include safety equipment, spinnaker equipment or a dinghy.

Posted in travel | Tagged , , , | 23 Comments