Friday, July 19, 2019

Axe Throwing Physics

I touched on a previous post about physics in axe throwing and how empirical data is very different. The first issue I have with articles I've read leads to an interesting conclusion that that axe velocity doesn't have an impact and that the rate of speed and rate of spin are two different and independent forces. While it was possible to lob the axe quickly without spin, trying to spin the axe quickly without affecting velocity was a fruitless effort. There were assertions made as fixed constants for unknown or flexible variables including distance, axe orientation (90 degrees to the floor) and that every axe sticks in the board. The assertions aren't accurate representations since ideal landing is the top edge of the blade, while distance is relatively fixed between fourteen to sixteen feet, it doesn't account for taking a step, and we have all had our share of drops and know that sticking it in the board isn't a guarantee. As we become experienced we become able to manipulate our throw to accommodate a variety of variables for an ideal stick in the board, but physics suggests otherwise.

There are two camps of thoughts on how an axe rotates according to physicists. Camp A asserts that the largest mass being the axe head will predominantly influence the spin in an uneven arch that's off-axis, and the second the axe finds an equilibrium somewhere between mass, length, and energy with energy separately defined between velocity and rate of spin. The distance being minuscule the attrition of energy from other factors are entirely discounted. The biggest problem for both camps is incomplete data. There are a lot of assertions made that doesn't even take into account board density, newness, moisture level. There are numerous variables either wholly ignored or treated as constants that unilaterally apply to all throwers like arm length, height, force, axe weight, and axe length. Environmental conditions aren't even considered. The damning conclusion from both is that if the axe is held lower on the handle that the rate of spin increase. This doesn't align to empirical testing and leads question the validity of their initial calculations. There was one interesting observation that proved true, and that's thrower height. The observation of their data suggests that the taller the thrower, the slower the spin that necessitates greater distance. To test this I took the giant throwing and what do you know? I also interviewed coaches on the topic and field data suggests this observation be true.

After reading a lot of about axe throwing physics, comparing my own empirical testing, and my own math, I conclude that this is bananas, that at every iteration I find my solution incomplete because of the lack of data. It's not that science isn't a great approach, I simply don't have the appropriate equipment to measure things that I would need to measure nor a facility to have repeatable results. Can I speculate on the topic along with some science? Sure. But so far old fashioned tried and true, just throw it and get at it has proven to be the best teacher. With this final conclusion, I won't include any science in this writing as the data collection is incomplete and immature, but welcome any comments and happy to speculate on data to collect with those looking to try. For a primer on the topic to those curious but unfamiliar, read up on rotational motion of a rigid body, much of which is based on constant angular acceleration.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Advancing Axe Throwing Technique

These observations and opinions are from my own experience and in no way definitive. As I continue to learn and grow in the sport of axe throwing, I plan to come back here and share new tips, techniques, and ideas since anything past the basics is a scarce topic. Let's dissect and talk through the various components of an axe throw and where better to start than the grip. The throw that I've developed over the course of my first season is a one-handed throw with a Canadian pinch for the grip. The Canadian pinch was popularized by our northern brethren by the likes of Straun and Julio. They've sorted out that in order to have a consistent release it is important to minimize contact surface between hand and grip without sacrificing articulation. The result is a three-fingered grip between thumb, index and middle that pinch the handle with the majority of the weight resting in the palm. The Canadian pinch as seen in the pics below showing what the normal full grip looks like, but demonstrating how it is supported by three fingers by releasing ring and pinky that results in a clean release with finesse and accuracy.

It's hard to discuss grip without talking about the handle and I'd like to circle back to how my handle length, size, and profile iterated to where it is today. When I began throwing I gripped with my thumb wrapped around like handling a hammer. I throw an Axe Gang and it comes with a straight handle that's cut and shaped on the bigger side as a square with very rounded corners. It was cut down to fifteen inches and I kept scraping the blade side of the butt of the handle, causing it to skip off the target before landing. To address this issue I cut a thirty-degree bevel on the problem area of the handle which was well highlighted by the amount of paint picked up from the scrapes. While there was a reduction in handle scrape, it wasn't entirely eliminated and after trying out other thrower's axes I cut mine down to thirteen and a half inches from eye to heel for additional clearance. The change in length also means a faster spin from a change in rotational mass (the one part of the physics everyone agrees on) that enabled me to stand closer. It worked ok for me, but when I started developing my throw I realized that common mistakes like the handle slipping out of my hand came from the straight handle that's unforgiving for a pinch type grip.

It was around this time that I bought two more Axe Gangs with the intention of experimenting with different handles. I bought a couple of handles off of Amazon but they arrived with the eyes cut facing the wrong direction, making them useless. Not wanting to wait and take a chance on another set of handles and figuring that the stock handle has plenty of material, I decided to re-profile it. I drew on the handle with a grease pencil until I was satisfied with the curve and started shaping the handle with a random orbit sander, stopping to check with a simple grip and feel and kept going until it felt 'right'. When I finished what I didn't expect was how the change in ergonomics impact the balance of the axe and thus the perceived weight. To be clear, it was a .02oz difference between starting and ending weight, but the perceived weight felt lighter by pounds. I iterated over three axes, adjusting size and profile after each throw to land on the profile that I liked best. Through this process, I discovered between optimal grip and release that sanding past 120~150 grit makes the handle too smooth. Length of 13 3/8" is ideal for me and helped me win my first league playoff. Above all, it fixed the straight handle issue where the curved profile mitigates the axe from slipping out of a pinch grip.

The handle was initially finished with tung oil but found that it wasn't water-resistant enough (I sharpen on a wet stone) and switched to an old school clothespin finish made of boiled linseed oil (wood conditioning), pure gum spirits (keeps mixture pliable), and beeswax (water resistance). If you want to make a batch, be sure to do this in a well-ventilated area, and be aware that the materials you'll work with are highly combustible with low ignition temperatures. The ratio is 1oz beeswax, 2tbsp each oil and spirits. You need to melt the beeswax first either over a candle warmer or in a double boiler. Keep in mind the melting temp is around 135~145F and anything higher you'll discolour the wax with a flashpoint of around 200F. Once the wax is fully melted keep on the heat and slowly pour in as you mix the oil than spirits until completely mixed. Let cool and solidify to a paste before use. When using a little goes a long way, put it on overnight wipe off the excess in the morning.

The top picture is the profile I regularly throw. The second pic shows the first axe in front but across slight variations during my experimentation, and that's @mostinterestingchiweenie in the background photobombing like a pro

Knowing where you stand in relation to the black line is key to a consistent starting point and distance. NATF allows your leading foot anywhere past, on, or behind the black line so long as one foot is completely behind. When I began throwing I picked the distance that naturally gave me one rotation which was at the black line and didn't take a step. One of the coaches at Urban Axes Boston, Travis mentioned to me that the ability to take a step means being able to close the distance to the target. This is an interesting strategy where the NATF rules stipulate that taking a single step during the motion of the throw is allowed so long as the player doesn't cross the fault line. The strategy enables me to close the distance from around fourteen feet down to maybe eight feet, that is a 57% change in distance, more if you take a bigger step. Closer to the bullseye, easier the reach. So I began practising, trying to close that distance. Changing the distance with a step impacts the available rotational distance and it required me to adapt and change my throw. Initial feedback from my coaches helped immensely. As I accumulated experience I became able to identify my own faults and make adjustments as necessary. I ended up with my leading foot around halfway on the black line vs one foot over to favour the ability to land the axe with the top edge of the blade consistently.

I've been throwing one-handed my entire throwing career and began varying my axe starting position as I evolved my throw. I originally held the axe ninety degrees to the floor and as I closed the distance with a step, I defaulted back to other analogues like shooting where I began pointing the axe at the target that changed my starting index to a forward tilt. The reason for the forward tilt was to emulate pointing at the target. In shooting a base premise to understanding your natural point of aim derives from the concept that where you point your finger is where your pistol is pointed. In speed draw I index my trigger finger parallel to the barrel for two reasons, first to ensure my finger doesn't land on the trigger during the draw (safety first!), and second to be able to point at the target and have the barrel naturally align before engaging the trigger. The drawback to throwing this way is that I noticed my recoil to throw increasing and going past my line of sight. When I say recoil in the context of axe throwing I mean to describe the amount the arm moves the axe back to throw. I wanted to increase the economy of motion and I went back to watching the Straun vs Julio final match from the 2019 NATC. Not only did I notice that they have a small economical motion to their throw, but I also noticed that they both start with their axe tilted back towards them. I began experimenting with this and made a couple of interesting observations. First, it reduces the recoil and increase the economy of motion and second, it became possible to keep the axe throw in my line of sight. Having the throw in-line of sight means being able to see wrist orientation, release point, and trajectory that provide real-time feedback. I realize right away if I'm dipping my shoulder down where my axe lands in the three-ring, or tell at release if my wrist was tilted and may have a negative impact against a new board. I practised this throw repeatedly and is how I threw through in my playoffs to a win.

Here you can see Straun (right) and Julio (left) who came up throwing together and have a nearly identical throw starting the finals match at NATC 2019 (Starts around 2:55:00), watch the masters of this throw themselves where they regularly hit 81s

Starting axe/hand height has a significant impact on where the axe lands. I realized that if I line up for a throw and stay too relaxed I hold the axe where the head is about chin height and I will under throw the bullseye in this position. I raise my axe to about eye level for my throw, which is similar to the NATC footage between Straun and Julio above. The height isn't absolute and is relative, but I've found that with the change in axe/hand height I feel my trajectory is less like an arch and more direct and straight which greatly improves my bullseye accuracy. I can also feel if it's throwing like an arch or right at the bullseye which informs me if I am holding too low. Along with this subject comes aim. Conceptually easy to understand, but when asked what people are aiming at, the answer suggests an area, not a precise place. In shooting, there's a saying; aim small, miss small. I don't just aim for the bullseye ring, I aim for a specific spot, usually dead centre of the bullseye. A great practice is to put a dot in the centre of the bullseye with a marker and throw till you can consistently split the dot (thanks @axcellentabby for this awesome practice!).

On the topic of aim, I feel it's a rare case but have seen folks sight and line up with just one eye and feel that sighting should be mentioned, especially on the topic of using both eyes. I get that TV and movies tell us a very different thing about aiming with one eye, but it is less than beneficial. This reminds me of a lesson from shooting where it's important to shoot with both eyes open, and axe throwing is no different. There are many reasons that shooting with one eye open isn't optimal, but the main drawback is that we are used to stereoscopic vision; two competing yet similar sight of the same object that is coalesced as a single image by our visual cortex that excerpt additional information like distance and depth. When you sight in your axe, resist the urge to close one eye as it will be a disadvantage, especially if you don't know which eye is the dominant eye. I'm fortunate and am right eye and right hand dominant. I know people that are cross-eye dominant where your dominant eye is opposite your dominant hand. Watch the short video below to determine which eye is dominant, what I find interesting is the amount of drift people experience between left and right eye. I have a mild drift in my left where I know people that have nearly none to it's so exaggerated they wonder how they see straight at all. These factors can be mitigated in axe throwing by simply sight and throw with both eyes open.

A thing that's rarely touched on is what your form looks like when completing the throw. @axcellentabby got her axe name, the flamin flamingo because she completes her throw with one leg up. As I evolved my throw I started unintentionally flamingoing. There's even footage from the 2019 NATC where Straun can be seen flamingoing a little bit as well. At first, like Abby, I became a little conscious of this and tried not to but doing so had a negative impact on my throw. With anecdotes and advice from Abby, I decided to embrace it as she had since it doesn't negatively affect my throw. During my practices, one of the things I practice is timed throwing where I count hoe many clutches I can throw in three minutes (thanks Travis for this awesome practice!). The practice is meant to shut down your brain and stop overthinking your throw and it was during one of these drills I discovered why I flamingo: forward momentum. The faster I threw, especially when I have both lanes to myself and don't have to wait to get my axe, I realized that my stride to doesn't break between throw and walk and in fact is in direct line with my normal stride. When I was able to essentially keep walking through my throw (still releasing at the NATF mandated one step, but kept walking through to the next step after release) I wasn't flamingoing (oh verb weirding) because I was able to keep my forward momentum and that I flamingo in an effort to redirect energy from my forward momentum to stop at one step. So if you flamingo, don't worry, some of the best throwers in the world do and doesn't hurt your throw!

The release has two components to it, when and where you release the axe during the throw and how you release the axe. The point of release during the throw is a nebulous topic that I don't frankly have a go-to answer for as it depends on how a person is throwing in relation to where the axe is going. How it's release however is a topic that can be covered, specifically the order of operation for your fingers and axe orientation. For the sake of clarity, I'll refer to point of release as release-p and how it's released as release-g. What the Candian pinch forces is proper release-g, meaning that the process should start from your pointer finger. Most sports teach the opposite where your pinky if at all involved gets out of the way first. Pick up something and toss it in the air, what finger do you release last? If you throw it straight in the air, it feels like it's simultaneous, but if you try purposefully adding spin you'll likely drag your middle and pointer fingers to affect the necessary force for the spin. In axe throwing, we don't want roll or yaw, just pitch. If you're a new thrower experiencing a throw where the axe is reaching the board, but landing with the blade facing sideways, try thinking about releasing from the top (pointer finger) to bottom (pinky) to eliminate unwanted yaw to the throw.


Between our skeletal structure and muscle orientation, it's unnatural to throw the axe completely straight and will be something that will require practice to overcome. The benefit of throwing it parallel to the wood grain is an increased chance of the axe sticking by following the natural grain. You have three components of your skeletal structure to consider, shoulder, elbow, and wrist. The muscles around your shoulder want to naturally pull your arm across your body (think about how a baseball pitch completes) and this is something that can negatively influence roll and yaw. The Canadian pinch is designed to isolate the shoulder as much as possible while predominantly relying on the elbow for force and wrist for pitch, but it's still possible to add unwanted roll if your elbow is off-axis and is important to keep the elbow directly in line with your axe. The wrist is the weakest join in the throwing chain but can influence the throw most and if unstable would consider exercise to strengthen.

Let's talk about the elephant in the room, how to throw a clutch. A tip that @axcellentabby shared with me was to raise my axe higher than my normal throw to better align with the clutch. The moment she said it, it was one of those statements that made so much sense and was so obvious after the fact, that I don't know how I didn't realize it until it was pointed out to me. How much you raise the axe is personal preference, I started out very exaggerated raising it and since found a comfortable middle ground. One of the fortunate side effects of iterating my throw is that my clutch throw isn't all that different compared to my regular throw. The a-ha moment came when I was drilling clutch throws and during the speed drilled, another observation I made was that the economy of motion is important. My normal throw isolates my shoulder and leverages the elbow for velocity and wrist for pitch. My clutch throw is just that, isolate the shoulder, use the elbow and keep the wrist straight. The economy of motion has really helped my clutch percentage and it was this throw method that helped me win my league championship with a clutch.

A slight change in throw for the clutch is normal. I've tried no tilt back with the axe staying perpendicular to the floor and keep throwing motion above me, tile back and recoil past my head (per recommendation from Andrew at Half Axe, Marlborough), change in distance, etc. I'm still experimenting and dialling in my clutch throw. There is another strategy I've considered and that's using a clutch specific axe. While the NATF stipulates qualities necessary for an axe to be used within the NATF regulations, there is nothing stating that a player can't switch axes mid-game. This is something that I haven't seen anywhere yet, but have contemplated if there are benefits to this or not. For example, being a thrower slightly under six feet of height may mean that I am at a disadvantage compared to taller throwers who are closer to the clutch by height alone. There may be a potential strategy where a longer handle may yield positive results by having the axe blade closer in line to the clutch. I don't yet know if this is true as it is strictly a hypothesis at this point.

My nerdy self with my trophy and the championship-winning clutch right above me!

Above all else, practice. Repetition is what creates muscle memory and begin to be able to understand where your own throw may be off. One of the things I came to learn after developing muscle memory is when I feel like I am overreaching on my throw. At first, I just thought that I had a bad throw, but come to discover another interesting thing is that the black line may not be even to one another in the same arena. The black line is measured from the backboard and is 170" away, that's around fourteen feet. The black line is ten inches wide and is 52 inches long, or about four and a quarter feet. We make an assumption that all buildings are perfectly square with straight walls, and that the backboards are all the exact same depth...but none of these assumptions is true. Add to those variables that it's measured by human hands using tape measures where if the tape measure pulled at the tab or not can drift up to a quarter-inch pending how loose the rivet is, and if the tape was drawn perfectly perpendicular to what is likely an uneven surface as a point of reference. This means that the black line may be at, or slightly forward or back of the fourteen-ish feet. It was this observation that made me pay attention to feeling like I was overextending and if I was, it was more likely the fact that I am just a little too far away, even if my foot placement on the black line is consistent. I realize that this contradicts the earlier statement of knowing where you stand, but it isn't it's an evolution in understanding precisely where to stand based on feedback from my throw. This is why practice throws are super important, and if you aren't used to throwing in a given arena, take the time to throw at every lane to learn if there may be a need for small adjustments to foot placement. Another key element for me was concentrating on one thing and making small changes. Don't try to make all the changes at once, get perfect on one thing, and then move on to the next.

Once I was able to throw from muscle memory, the hardest part was developing my mental game. I've found that I sabotage myself more than anything else when I start to overthink my throw, let's say it's fourth throw and I've been throwing fives and all I need is this bulls and then a clutch for a 27...I already failed myself by concentrating on the outcome and forgetting about the process, the throw before me at that moment. Sports psychology is a whole other topic and well established by professionals in the field who's advice and strategy helped me win my playoffs on my rookie season. The two articles that helped most are 'Sports: The 5 Ps for the Big Game' by Dr. Jim Taylor and 'Five Tips for Mental Preparation' by Mike Edger. I've also received amazing advice from Shane 'snapshot' Shep who's currently ranked number in Massachusetts. He asked me how I was feeling before my playoff and I said a little nervous, but that I was trying to reign that into something positive and he said that this sport isn't about throwing against another person, but against yourself. Best of all, those boards down there don't heckle you. Another piece of sage advice came from Travis to only think about the throw at hand, that the last throw, good or bad it doesn't matter. To don't let a 'bad' throw shake you. The ability to focus on the task at hand is critical. I stayed in A bracket for m playoff and lost the first round and without having a strategy in place for adversity and to remind myself to focus, I wouldn't have pulled off the win. I clearly remember throwing the last clutch that I wasn't thinking about how this is the game-winning throw, or that I need this clutch to close it out. I only thought about where I stand, and how I've thrown this before and know that I can hit the clutch whenever I wanted.

I'm curious to hear from other throwers and coaches of their thoughts, opinions, and experiences. I also like to invite physicists and mathematicians on narrowing what variables to collect for a complete set of data. Please comment and share as I hope to have this as a living document as I have found scarce information on advanced technique in axe throwing, only the basics of how to throw an axe.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

My journey into Axe Throwing

In March of 2019 my bestie organized her father's birthday that included a variety of activities that culminated at Urban Axes Boston located in Somerville MA. I arrived not knowing what to expect and discovered that it's a well organized and well thought out operation. Upon walking in the staff has you fill out a release form if you haven't already done so via the internet. The staff checked my ID and ensured that the information entered on the release matches up and to validate age (21 and over), and finish with a check for closed toe footwear. All checks complete a wrist band is provided indicating when and where I'm throwing an axe, or if you're just spectating (you will still need to fill out the release as a spectator). Off I go to huck an axe at a bunch of 2x10s...well almost.

The throwing area is an arena divided into a set of lanes which are two adjacent areas with targets. think of the two lanes in a bowling alley that share the same ball return. There are clear boundaries for axe throwing demarked by a short wall that doubles as a counter, and paint lines for segregating arena and spectator area, throwing lines and fault lines. I met my coach Travis (Urban Axes Boston) who walked us through how to throw an axe starting with a two-handed throw, then one-handed throw and finishes with explaining scoring and gameplay. Urban Axes is a National Axe Throwing Federation (NATF) member and use the rules and match format provided by NATF. To summarize the NATF rules a match has three throws of five between two players. The target has three rings starting from bullseye to the outer ring and the points are 5, 3, and 1 respectively with two smaller green dots at the top left and right corners above the target called clutch. The clutch is only available on the fifth throw and is worth 7 points. Axe scoring is done by the majority of the blade in a ring with favour towards the higher point value as it is measured from the outer edge of the paint line inward with the exception of clutch where you only need to break paint. Once we learn the gameplay and have had a few practice throws, we begin throwing axes for points. It was awesome. The points racking up and narrowing down to a final style bracket I came out the victor (sorry not sorry bestie's dad's birthday and all). Travis mentions to me that there's a league and encouraged me to join one...

I signed up for what is now Season 3 at Urban Axes Boston and joined Sunday Green which is the earlier of the two leagues on Sunday night. The first time meeting the rest of my fellow Sunday green league on week one was really great, and count myself fortunate to be among some stellar humans within a super supportive environment. It was fortuitous to have joined a night where there are good throwers still dialling in their technique and gave me a lot of room to grow. Our night has 29 people total, and it was explained on the first night that the top 16 players will move onto a final championship and I set a goal for myself to be within the top 16 for playoffs on week 8. Previous to arriving we received league emails notifying the availability of Coldsteel Axe Gangs for purchase by league members, which I decided on immediately recalling every sport I've ever played and how having my own gear helps improves my performance by fixing what may be a variable using house axes. In hindsight, it was a great decision as the Axe Gang has an ideal shape to the axe head where the cheeks (the sidewall of an axe) thinly taper to a fine edge that holds a really sharp edge well where the Axe Gang is differentially hardened at the blade while the rest of the head is softer to absorb impact (read: less bounce out). They initially came with something like an eighteen-inch length handle which is just too long and was cut down to fifteen inch overall for me. I threw with it at that length for a few weeks and I've discovered that 13 3/8" is an ideal length for me, and just slightly over the NATF minimum length of thirteen inches measured from eye to heel. NATF does have clear guidance on min and max on axe head weight and blade length as well. The Axe Gang weighs just .05 lbs over the minimum axe head weight at 1.3 lbs with a max allowable blade length of four inches that provide a lot of surface area for clutches. The blade comes to a sharp point at the top and bottom that increase the chance for inexperienced throwers like myself to stick the axe in the board. Overall an ideal axe and why I see nearly all of the top throwers in the NATF throwing an Axe Gang in one form or another. Since the release of the axe gang between increased popularity of axe throwing and feedback from end users, Coldsteel now offers the Competition Thrower which is an axe gang hung on a shorter handle and the head painted grey versus the original black. Otherwise no difference in the axe head itself.

The fun thing in axe culture is personalizing your axe. There are some things that would be disadvantageous to do, like adding anything that would increase the friction that can negatively affect the release. But sometimes, it's not all about performance and just got to have fun. I've seen vairous painted handles and fully painted axes or covered in stickers from various things. Adorned full of sharpie writing, or just left as is and let age and use be the only character on the axe. I went the route of cleaning up the axe head by removing the paint and sanding and polishing out most of the tooling and production marking. The Axe Gang comes with a straight handle which I've been contemplating replacing with a curved fawns foot style handle, but after getting terribly made handles delivered via Amazon (the eyes were cut in the wrong direction) I decided to apply my woodworking experience and re-profile the straight handle. I also bought two more Axe Gangs to hedge against adverse change that doesn't work. I narrowed it down after experimentation to a profile that I really like throwing and will need to produce my own handles from hickory sheets going forward if any of them break.

First experiment next to my league thrower maintaining the straight handle

Later iterations as I developed the profile that I use today (photo with axe on counter with sharpie graffit)

The first week Zen was the league coach as our regular season coach Abby was busy off winning first place for a west coast swing dance competition (congrats @axcellentabby !). League nights offer an hour window before start time for practice which I showed up for religiously. Each league night practice I doggedly sought guidance and tips from my coaches and fellow leaguers, making small changes to my throw and evolving to how I throw today over the 7-week course of the regular season. I obsessed over the 2018 and 2019 National Axe Throwing Championship (NATC) and observing where possible two-time champion Straun Riley and how he throws (speaking of if you're reading this NATC, two words for you: guy-wire camera). I've read a few articles on the physics of knife and axe throwing, but the unfortunate assertion to every article on the physics of how an axe spin is an assumption without validation. The two hypotheses are either the axis is off centred and controlled by the axe head being the heaviest mass, or is centred to a point between the head and somewhere on the handle. Both hypotheses did figure out that velocity doesn't matter from a fixed distance, but that velocity can remain fixed if the rate of spin can be changed and remain unaffected by velocity to compensate for the change in distance. In a perfect world, those conclusions should be true, but empirical data is very different in that it's really hard to change the spin rate without affecting velocity. I've digressed on my topic and will touch on throwing technique and lessons learned in another article.

We finished our regular season with a bi-week for finals with the fourth of July on what would have been week 8. I did make my goal of making the top 16, what I didn't expect was to finish third in my regular season with pretty good stats for my rookie season. I count myself fortunate for the support I've received from the coaches and the axe throwing community and have signed up for the next season on Sunday late night where the top players are competing and hope to make myself push to match their skill level. Thanks go out to @axcellentabby for all the tips and information on throwing and discovering my throwing handle, and to Travis for teaching me skill drills that have improved my clutch game. Looking forward to kicking some axe at the finals!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Fighting back moths (from yarn, not mothra)

This scenario unfolded recently where the missus rather annoyed and mildly upset that her collection of yarn has been attacked by moths. Yes, I know this is a riveting piece of news to some excluding myself until I learned more about yarn and those who knit. To start, it's been explained to me that people who knit do it because they like it, not because it's any cheaper than say buying a sweater from a store. On a recent yarn shopping trip with the missus I've learned that a good quality yarn for a sweater costs between $60 to $200 not counting the time invested. Those figures assume that you already possess the necessary tools which in this case, are knitting needles and the like. That's another thing I never realized that knitting needles come in different sizes, materials, and features. Sure that's obvious if you give any thought to knitting, but being someone who doesn't knit it's all brand new to me. I've also learned that the knitting folks are rather pun-y when it comes to the nomenclature of the craft. Tinking is the process of un-stitching a stitch at a time and the name becomes obvious along with an instant facepalm when you realize that 'tink' is 'knit' spelled in reverse. Frogging is where you pull out several rows of stitches by yanking at the row and my inquisitive mind as to where the name 'frogging' came from it was explained, 'when you frog, you rip-it, rip-it, rip-it'........

Appropriate groans to puns aside the missus discovered that her yarn was eaten away by moths, well specifically moth larvae are the culprits. Having one's 'yarn stash' compromised is a big deal to begin with considering cost and time to accumulate the material, what was really devastating was her collection of hand-spun wool yarn from her time in Scotland which are irreplaceable. Some internet searches lead to this site where the author talks about how moth larvae can be eradicated with a temperature of around 130 Fahrenheit. The issue we've discovered that most modern ovens don't go that low (mine bottoms out at 160) and toaster oven's heating elements are far too close and damage the yarn. I start to think of how to have a controlled temp and consider a few ideas up to and including building a mini-oven with fire bricks, heating element, thermometer, and an Arduino board but settled on a far simpler idea that already exists and has all of the features already. I'm going to Sous Vide me some yarn.

First thing I need to figure out is at what temperature does yarn's mechanical bonds breakdown. Instead of empirically testing it I decided to see if someone already researched this topic and as it turns out a letter to the editor in the a 1968 edition of The Journal of the Textile Institute goes on to describe that wool's mechanical bonds breakdown starting at around 100 degrees Celsius, or 212 Fahrenheit which means that I have a pretty wide margin to play with. What I also found out that wool ignites at 228 to 230 Fahrenheit which means that I could have oven baked the wool, but what I couldn't account for with higher temps are dyes and wool filament size that may change those figures and decided to stay the Sous Vide course where there are no open flames. Another thing that I wanted to figure out is what temperature and duration would it take to kill moth larvae. A study published by Washington State University explores in detail that temps as low as 46 Celsius/114.8 Fahrenheit for fifty minutes has a one hundred percent mortality rate for moth larvae and basically states that with enough heat and time that they all die off.

With the data on hand I decide to Sous Vide the yarn at 135 Fahrenheit for one hour as the only thing that remains unanswered is if it's the temp regardless of condition, or if dry heat makes a difference. In theory, it should be way overkill, but given the varying density in spools of yarn as well as wool itself and the fact the Sous Vide is flameless where there is no concern for accidental ignition or a sudden climb in temperature breaking down wool I went with the longer cook time. The first issue I had to overcome compared to what I normally Sous Vide is just how buoyant wool is in a ziplock bag devoid of air. It took two bricks to overcome the buoyancy of three skeins of wool for those that are wondering. We pull the first bag out of its maiden soakage and inspect the yarn to discover that the first few layers had moth damage as expected. We salvage what we could of each skein and re-wrap the remainder. Overall the process worked. It was a great advantage to be able to walk away while the Sous Vide ran, running errands and such and after a day we Sous Vide her entire yarn stash. A month later and we've overserved no moth infestation and the yarn remains intact to this day since.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Trying Sous Vide

I've been curious about sous vide for sometime and took the plunge when I came across an Anova One for ~$160 on Amazon's Cyber Monday deal. Sous vide cooks by submerging vacuum sealed food in water at perfectly controlled temperature compared to traditional cooking methods where you heat up a pan or oven to few hundred degrees while trying to cook until desired doneness and try to pull the food from the heat source at the perfect time which becomes a quickly dwindling window. The problem with traditional methods is that it over cooks the outside with food like steak creating a grey band while aiming for between 130~139 fahrenheit in the center for medium rare where else sous vide doesn't run this risk because the water immersion is heated between 130~139 fahrenheit to cook the steak to a perfect medium rare from edge to edge. After sous vide traditional methods to cook a steak feels like the very definition of Schrodinger's cat. Another amazing benefit is not running the risk of overcooking your meat and can even leave it cooking longer to tenderize. The one shortfall with sous vide is that it doesn't create a Maillard reaction, which in laymen's terms is to brown your food. Specifically Maillard reaction is when proteins are super heated where sugars and amino acids breakdown to create that savory flavor, those lovely smells when steaks are cooked on a grill. With the Anova One delivered today I am in the midst of sous vide cooking a couple of blade cut steaks with carrots and asparagus to follow.

The Anova One is extremely straight forward to setup. The box contains device, power cord, and manual along with warranty and looking at the Anova One there is no mystery as to where the power cord goes and how it mounts on the side of a container. Initial power up has you pick either Celsius and Fahrenheit and then you're onto picking temp and time. Like I said, simple. So simple in fact I read the manual only to find out how to clean and maintain the device. Next comes food prep and that means a way to seal your food in an air tight bag. I didn't want to invest in a vacuum sealer quite yet so I used zip lock bags with the water displacement method, which like anything has its pros and cons. With the proteins I was able to get a better seal and the weight made up for any air in the bag to keep the food submerged, but with vegetables I couldn't get as much air out in comparison and would float which is slightly annoying having to binder clip a wooden spoon to pin the bags down in order to keep the veggies submersed. Another option with zip lock bags to to simply keep it open and clip it to the edge of the container, which I plan on trying out.

Cooking if you want to call it that is as simple as cooking with a crock pot. First I cooked the meat at 138 fahrenheit and the veggies followed at 190.

The meat pulled and veggies in, I realized an error in my methods. I'm so used to cooking various things at different timing on the range and to account for meat to rest that I now have to worry about the meat getting cold while the water comes to temp for the veggies which is slower than I imagined would be. I left the steaks in the zip lock bag to keep them as warm as possible while I busied myself preparing the next steps. I planned on searing the steaks in an iron skillet with fresh thyme and sage with oil and butter in the last few minutes of the veggies cooking. Once the water comes to 190 I drop the carrots in which have a fifteen minute cook time and the asparagus five minutes which mean they will be dropped the last five minutes of the carrot's cook time. I bring the skillet with oil to temp and as the asparagus are dropped I begin to sear the steaks basting with a spoon once I add the butter. Everything comes out at the same time, which is awesome and really easy to time things with sous vide compared to traditional cooking. To my joy the steaks aren't cold and the searing brought the steaks up to perfect serving temp. The vegetables are finished simply on the plate with olive oil, salt, and pepper. I pull the red herb potatoes from the oven and plate and couldn't be happier with the results. The steak was very tender and the medium rare just perfect and the vegetables maintained a vibrant color with perfect texture.

I left the Anova One running to hold temp at 140 and when I finished dinner I started cooking the tomorrow evening's dinner, country style pork ribs. The ribs were cooked at 140 for twenty two and a half hours and seared seared in the iron skillet with garlic and scallion infused olive oil. I cooked another round of carrots and asparagus sous vide and reheated left over potatoes. It was by far one of the most tender ribs I've ever made, and tasted amazing.

My first experience cooking sous vide is a positive one with lessons learned. Veggies should be cooked first and then the water temp dropped quickly with ice to cook proteins. While the proteins are cooking the veggies can be placed in the water to keep warm without cooking further. Furthermore this means that you can pre-cook veggies at portion size in a vacuum sealed bag in advance and bring to serving temp as the meat cooks as well. With sous vide I found it much easier to time everything coming out at the same time with that translating to being able to plan for exact dinner times next time I invite friends over. Clean up was really easy with the Anova One wiped and dried. I find that an immersion circulator is a worthwhile investment and if you've been thinking of trying sous vide, but aren't convinced yet you can try the stovetop method and see for yourself. The only thing to think of now is what to cook next.

Monday, December 8, 2014

I want the world to stop abusing the word 'hack'

This is just a rant of seeing all things being a, 'hack' these days. lifehack, this and that feels like the collective IQ of our species dropped a few points when there was a movement on the internet to start calling things a hack when it all came down to either approaching something in its use slightly differently or god forbid, using something exactly as intended. That is simply not a hack. I realize that writing this will invite comments disagreeing with me and that's ok, we are entitled to our opinions just as I am with viewing those that use the word, 'hack' outside of cutting something roughly or with heavy blows, or in using a computer to gain unauthorized access as fuckery by mouth breathers.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Getting Geppetto Version 4.3.0 working behind a proxy (a workaround)

Geppetto stands alone as the only Puppet IDE available as of this writing. Initially created by cloudsmith the IDE leverage Eclipse with custom components for developing modules and writing manifests. As of version 4.0 Geppetto has been maintained by Puppet Labs with one of the fixes being that it would work behind a proxy. The idea is that the Puppet components should obey proxy settings set within Eclipse and the reality is that his doesn't work. First of all there are sparse documentation on where and how to set the proxy within Eclipse. In case the next release fixes the bug that I filed regarding this issue, here is where you set the proxy setting within Eclipse;

-Click the Window tab and select Preferences which bring up a new window
-Select Network Connections in the left pane and change Action Provider drop down to Manual
-Edit the proxy info as necessary and hit apply then close window

What happens once the setting is crated is that certain functions does obey the proxy settings except for Java function calls within Eclipse. When an attempt is made to import a module from the forge the error log isn't clear on where it fails, but the log reveals a java process that is making a call to The workaround I have in place makes use of Proxifier to direct any traffic going out to to make two hops, the first through Proxifier which then redirects it to the corporate proxy address and port. Here are the steps and settings within Proxifier;

-Click the Profile tab and Select Proxy Server. Enter your corporate proxy's IP and port and select protocol and click OK.
-Click Profile tab again and this time select Proxification Rules. Create a new rule called Geppetto and under Target Hosts enter and change the Action drop down to the the Proxy Server you set up in the previous step.

Proxifier will not pipe all traffic that tries to reach to the corporate firewall. The con of this process is that it requires a second application to continuously run, but sure beats waiting for my bug to be resolved.