Thursday, July 20, 2006


The most expensive lesson of all...

Imagine, if you will, a system that knows how long it takes to heat up 6 gallons of mash at 1.15 qt/lb, or 10 gallons of sparge water, and actually begins pre-heating to accomodate that anticipated time lag (minimizing the overall brew cycle time)... That can take a stock ProMash recipe and associated mash cycle and control to it (including step times) with minimal manual intervention... That maintains mash temperature within half of a degree... etc. That's really the kind of functionality I want out of an automated brew sculpture.

I guess when I really think about it, I really am looking for a system that has automated and intelligent MASH functionality - I don't intend on automating anything on the boil side of the system. Once my wort is in the boil kettle, I want things to essentially be manual (adding hop and spice additions, cooling, racking, etc).

When thinking through what it would take to design and build this, I've come to realize how much from my formal university training has been lost in the past 10 years - and quite honestly it makes me dismally sad. I think back to the sheer volume of things I learned at Georgia Tech, and how much I've actually retained, and I can't help but feel remorse - Tens of thousands of dollars and nearly five years wasted. OK, not wasted - I have a very good job and make a very good living, but I use none of the things that my education prepared me for. Here's a list of the things I COULD use in building my brew sculpture system that I don't remember anymore:

  1. Heat and mass transfer - calculating fluid flows and pipe losses, heat required for step mashes, heat losses through pipes, heat pickup from HERMS coil, etc. This is the fundamental basis by which everything else is developed. Without that knowledge, your only hope is empirical models.
  2. Physics (Electromagnetics) - Circuit design (pure and simple). How much money am I going to pay for off-the-shelf circuits that I could have done myself if I remembered what a RC vs. RL vs. RLC circuit was, conditioning input signals, stepping voltage / current, etc. I was DAMN GOOD at this stuff in college, and now I feel like a big idiot looking at circuit diagrams.
  3. Process Control - Predictive model control, direct digital control, cascade control, you name it - I can't do any of this anymore. Hell, I don't remember enough of my heat and mass balances to actually develop the equations I would need for a model, let alone actually use it for process control! God I suck.
  4. Calculus and Differential Equations - How in the world are you supposed to solve the equations associated with all of the modeling above if you can't even remember the methods, tools, and theory? I could probably differentiate a simple algebraic equation if I had to, and MAYBE integrate one, however if you threw in a COS(), SIN() or "e" in there, I'm totally hosed... and let's not even mention DiffEQs. I couldn't solve one if my life depended on it anymore.
  5. Numerical Methods - Computers don't scratch out solutions on paper, they use complex methods that take advantage of their incredibly fast computation abilities... but in order to effectively use numerical methods, you still need to know how to do item (4).

I spent so much time and energy trying to become a Chemical Engineer, to aquire the knowledge one would need to do all that, only to graduate and never use it - and hence lose it. I have no doubt that I could probably re-learn a good portion of it if I sat down with my textbooks over the next year and teach it to myself again, and it may come to that - But it still upsets me to think that it is even necessary.

Use it or lose it. It's as true as it is trite... And if you spent nearly $100K to get it, losing it is just plain stupid.

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