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State of the House (Mandato House)

Deck GateThe past couple of months I’ve been focused on the Trans Am project. Last week I finally got the gate made for the deck. Most of the time the gate will be open, but any time we’re out and want either to keep the dog off the deck or Melanie on the deck, we can use the gate. I will stain it when we get a break in the weather.

The next house project is to insulate the garage.  I’ve been holding off on insulating the garage until I got extra outlets wired in, but now I’m just going to forgo the extra outlets and just insulate it. The extra cost of having an electrician add the outlets vs. how often we would use them in the garage pretty much sealed the deal on skipping them.

My plan is to roll-in insulation into the walls, then follow up with drywall. From there on in I’ll be learning how to tape joints and fill in gaps. I’ve never done drywall before, so it will be a good learning experience. It is a garage so I will not feel too bad if I don’t do a top quality job.

The garage door is going to be the most time consuming part of the insulation project. I’ve looked at kits, but they seem overly priced. I will most likely buy strips of foam insulation and glue them in followed by replacing the rubber seals around the door. I estimate about $180 to insulate and drywall the remaining 1-1/2 walls in the garage, and another $200 to insulate the garage door itself. It is crazy to think the door will cost as much, if not more, than to insulate the rest of the garage.

One thing I am going to do is paint a visible vertical line on the footer brick in the garage inline with the vertical studs that way when I go back to hang tools and such, I know where I can drill without using drywall anchors.

What sorts of suggestions do you have for my garage insulation project?

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Project Trans Am Transportation

Project Trans Am – Focusing on the Engine

To update on the progress of my project 1981 Trans Am, the Turbo motor has been successfully pulled and I’m now in the process if getting it sold. So if you’re looking for a Pontiac Turbo 301 from a 1981 Trans Am to rebuild or for parts, please contact me!!! I’m going to keep some of the core parts for the Turbo just in case I need them for the other motor.

Pontiac 400 W72 EngineIn late August I acquired a Pontiac 400 V8. It is a Pontiac 400 from a 1977-78 Trans Am with the W72 option. Click here to read details about the motor. What makes this engine special is the heads, which are 6x-4 higher compression. Even though this engine does not have the same compression as some of the older Pontiac 400’s, it should be just right for the desired mixture of performance and economy I’m looking for in a car I can drive on an almost daily basis. The motor included the TH-350 automatic transmission with the original torque converter as well as the original carburetor, which helps out tremendously with the swap.

My initial plan was to just go ahead an use the motor right away in the car. After spending a good month trying to clean the motor and do some light dis-assembly, I came to the conclusion that I really need to take the engine down completely and have a machine shop do their thing to the crank, block and heads. This weekend I plan on taking it apart and taking it to a reputable machine shop known for Pontiac motors to do the valve job and let me know what sort of condition everything is in.

I’m recording video of the process, though I am on the fence if I should release all the work I’m doing as a podcast or not. What do you think, should I post all the video as a podcast? My only reservation is, I’m no automotive mechanic expert and I don’t want folks to watch thinking I am an expert.

I have to thank Mr. Yuhnke for all the help acquiring parts for the motor and Chris Goetz for coming down to helping me with the engine swap and for putting up with going to Greaters for Ice cream, I know it’s hard!

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Transportation

Thoughts on GM’s Volt Hybrid Technology

2011 Chevy VoltIf you know me really well, you know that I wrote a report on hybrid technology my senior year of high school. When the first hybrids came onto the market 7 years later, I didn’t rush to buy one. I admire the technology but up to this point, I’m not completely sold it’s the best approach to the problem. The Chevy Volt approach though has a lot more potential and if it is executed well, GM may just get me to buy a Volt type product.

GM’s Volt Hybird Technology

Back in 1994 when I wrote my report on alternative engines for automobiles, the concepts for hybrid car technology is essentially now what both Honda and Toyota have designed. Honda’s approach is to have electric motor work in tandem with a gasoline engine, thus optimizing the use of fuel. Toyota took a different approach designing a hybrid system that can use the electric motor alone, gas engine, or both together. On paper, Honda’s design makes the most engineering sense. In practice though, the Toyota approach is working out much better and is reflected by the higher mpg observed in the Prius line. The Prius can also be converted into a plug-in hybrid, making it a more diverse system.

What GM is about to release with the Chevy Volt was not discussed in the research I did back in ’94. It’s a rather simplified approach to the whole hybrid concept. The electric motor does all the actual propulsion of the automobile, while the gasoline engine’s role is simply to provide electricity when it is needed. This basic concept is not new. For example, post 1940’s locomotives, which have proven over 50 years ago how much more efficient they are to directly driven locomotives,  use electric motors do the propulsion while a diesel engine or aircraft turbine creates the electricity. Chevy is simply applying the same basic technology in the Volt.

What GM’s about to launch with the Chevy Volt isn’t revolutionary as far as technology is concerned. What is revolutionary, is how the technology is being put to use. With the combination of batteries, the Chevy Volt can run without the gasoline engine on short distances. It promises to run without gasoline on most commutes and trips to the store. For most of us, that’s convenient. On long road trips, we have to treat the Volt as a regular car and fill it up every 40 miles, and on local drives in theory we’ll never have to put gas in the car. Brilliant!

Why this is Brilliant!

Here’s where the real excitement comes into the usage of the Volt technology. If you’re a programmer, you know the importance of separating the presentation from logic. The Volt technology essentially does the same thing with the propulsion and the energy used for the propulsion. So in 10 years from now, if Fuel Cell batteries become cheap and plentiful, the gasoline engine can be replaced by a Fuel Cell. Between then and now, hobbyists will be tinkering with other energy ideas, possibly batteries, natural gas powered engines, etc… The rest of the car doesn’t have to change at all, just the energy creating portion (aka gasoline engine).

Taking all this into considering, I think GM has a home run on their hands with the Volt technology. I have two concerns though regarding the cost and how they are marketing the product.

My Thoughts on Price and Marketing

First is cost. I think the Chevy volt is just too expensive. The price point of 41k (or 33.5k after a federal rebate) is just too high. The Toyota Prius can be had for nearly 10k less than that not even considering any rebates or tax credits. Like Henry Ford 100 years ago, I think GM should take a risk and put a retail price on the Chevy Volt at 22k (before the federal rebate). The risk pricing something for less than it can be produced is risky though. This is how I propose they get to this price point.

  • Remove the extra technology in the car that lets you manage it from your iPhone. – I think it’s cool, but should be an option.
  • Optionally package less batteries in the car – Yes it may limit the car initially to 10-20 miles before the gasoline engine is required, but it would allow for a lower priced Volt.
  • Price the car based on how much battery capacity the user orders – If the buyer wants full 40 mile on one charge, then price the car at 35k before rebate. The idea here is to get the cars selling, which will drive production costs down. The battery capacity, if it’s possible, should be an option, just like in the past a customer would pick between a V6 and a V8.

I also think the Volt technology has a lot of other practical uses which are not being utilized by GM. The biggest is for commercial use. GM should build a Chevy S10 Volt (Chevy Volt-10 🙂 ), with an optional front grill harness so contractors/construction workers can use the truck as an on-site power generator to power tools. It’s a perfect combination, light duty truck that will get great mileage when using the plugin hybrid technology as well as very useful in a commercial setting. GM should also think about creating utility vehicles such as smaller versions of the Chevy Blazer (Chevy Voltzer 🙂 ), specifically for use as a utility vehicle for municipalities, shopping malls, ground keeping, etc… Imagine being able to drive to a location and instantly be able to pull an extension cord out of the front of the grill to power a fibulator or a refrigerator during a power outage.

If I was able to call the shots, this utility vehicle would look more like a modern El Camino (Volt Camino) and Nomad (Volt Nomad) car type truck than a traditional truck/SUV. TV commercials would tie together the concept of the vehicle being “green” (good to the environment) not just because it uses less or no gasoline, but because it can last longer since using electric motors for propulsion should last longer with less maintenance than a more complex gasoline engine, and that the gasoline engine that is packaged in the Volt is not the only option this car will have in the future. I’d even show lots of examples of what the car could do for camping, traveling, emergency uses, etc… Just picture a commercial where the power goes out in the house, mom runs outside, runs back in with a special green power cord from her Chevy Volt  and plugs the frig into it saving all the groceries. Talk about good for the environment, that just saved all that perishable food!

If GM was smart, they would market the Volt car technology not just as a “Green for the planet” product, but as a Swiss army knife automobile that no one should live without.

My Worries

My worry is that GM will destroy this car as fast as they destroyed Pontiac and Saturn (the last 10 years of Saturn and Pontiac set both of those brands up for failure). Hopefully they’ve learned they shouldn’t rename car models from familiar names to letter+numbers  (Pontiac) or from familiar letter+number combination’s to words (Saturn) without the consequence of disconnecting product loyalists with the newest product lines. I hope they learned not to pre-market a retro looking automobile (late model Pontiac GTO) then bring to market a car that looks nothing like a 60’s or 70’s GTO (Did you know Ford mocked Pontiac’s GTO at the 2004 Auto show when they introduced a truly retro looking Ford Mustang).

GM brass, if you’re listening, there was a reason Alfred P. Sloan in the 1930’s created the Pontiac division from the failing Oakland brand and had it share many parts/components with the Chevy division and that there was a reason why Roger B. Smith and  F. James McDonald created Saturn in the 1980’s. Please  don’t forget why you’re creating the Chevy Volt. It’s not to compete with other automakers making hybrids, it’s to create a brand that reflects your customers values.

Stay Tuned for my related blog post where I discuss my thoughts on the demise of Pontiac and Saturn.

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News Podcasting Project Trans Am Technology

Project Pontiac Trans Am

Last week I purchased a 1981 Pontiac Trans Am! If you know me well, you know I’ve wanted a 1978 Trans Am for years. Even though this is not the correct year, it’s very similar to the Trans Am I wanted and with a little effort over the coming years hopefully it will look like a 78′.

This is the first time I bought a car off eBay. The experience was a good one, but I certainly learned a lot in the process. Biggest thing, ask the seller lots of questions. I was not aware that some of the dashboard components were broken including the turn signal. I did, however, anticipate some issues with things like the doors, window gaskets, etc… So even though I was initially shocked by a few of the additional problems, I still feel somewhat satisfied that I got a decent deal on the car.

Important details about this car:

  • Has no rust (came from the West Coast)
  • Any Pontiac engine from 1970-1981 will fit (I’m looking for a Pontiac 400)
  • Car has factory T-tops

When this car was new in 1981, it was originally dark gray with silver interior. It came with the Turbo Pontiac 301 (4.9L) engine, power windows, power door locks, all wheel disc brakes, posi rear end, air conditioning, cruise control, intermittent wipers, and aluminum honeycomb wheels. It currently still has all of these options except the interior has been converted to tan color, the power door locks is no longer present, and the car was repainted black. For those Trans Am enthusiasts, I am sorry to say that it does not have the WS6 performance package.

The car needs a lot of work. So far the engine needs replaced, interior panels need some TLC, drivers door mechanically  needs some TLC, the wipers are not functioning, heater/AC controls are not functioning, broken interior heater core cover, window and T-top gaskets need replaced, turn signal is broken, steering column needs tightened, and heater core molding needs replaced.

The initial plan is to replace the engine with a Pontiac 400, fix the steering column, heater core cover and drivers side door.

I’ve decided to document all the work I do to the car as a podcast. I haven’t yet decided on a name or format for the podcast, but it should be a lot of fun. Anyone who would like to be involved with the podcast and/or help me with restoring this car, please shoot me an email, angelo [at] mandato.com.

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News Podcasting Programming Technology

HTML5 audio / video and mp3 / H.264 is the future of new media but does not replace Flash

HTML5 is the future of new media (also known as downloadable media and podcasting). Anyone who has used an iPad or Google Chrome and watched a video knowing it was through an HTML5 video element knows what I’m talking about. Playback is instant, smoother and is much more responsive than via Flash. It is also very easy to develop in your web pages, removing a level of complexity that was previously much more involved and relied upon Adobe Flash.

The remainder of this post explains everything in detail, why use one format over another, what Flash is still good for, and where the media can end up.

Note: An update to this original post may be found at the bottom of this page.

What is HTML5 and what’s the deal with audio/video?

HTML5 is a new version of HTML (markup that creates web pages that you see in your web browser) that adds a number of new elements (special tags that do things in your HTML, e.g. <p> tag indicates a paragraph of text). HTML5 adds two new elements called audio and video. These new elements allow for web developers like myself to easily add an audio/video player in a web page. Without the HTML5 audio/video element, a web developer needs to implement more complicated HTML utilizing the “embed” tags to include a Flash developed player in the web page. In this case, the Flash player is required to be installed on the end user’s computer in order for the audio/video to playback.

What audio and video formats should I use?

Audio: mpeg3/MP3 (.mp3 file extension) is, for the most part, the most ideal audio format. As of current, all but Firefox have/will have support for mpeg3 audio. AAC audio (.m4a) may also work, but if you are looking for a format that will work in absolutely every situation, mp3 is the best bet.

Video: H.264 (.mp4 or .m4v file extensions) is the most ideal video format. As of current, all but Firefox have/will have support for H.264 video.

Why is MP3 and H.264 recommended for audio/video?

MP3 is the audio format of choice because it is the most widely playable audio format. Nearly every media player application, portable media player, and automobile/car stereo can play mp3 files.

The MP3 format became widespread in 1997 when the Windows application WinAmp was released. Created by Justin Frankel, WinAmp made it easy for music enthusiasts to exchange and listen to audio on computers. The small size of MP3 files enabled widespread distribution initially via file sharing applications such as Napster and on wide-area networks such as university dormitory networks. It was such a popular format that Apple included support for MP3 in it’s first release of the iPod in 2001.

H.264 is the video format of choice because it is the most widely playable video format. Though not as widespread as the mp3 format, H.264’s common denominator is that it can be played on the most popular portable media players, MAC OSX, Microsoft Windows, Internet connected TV’s and smart phones. You can thank Apple for making H.264 the standard in its portable hardware (iPod/iPhone), which has dominance in the portable media player market.

What can Flash do that HTML5 audio/video cannot?

Live streaming! Many sites such as Qik and UStream.tv provide live online content, their use of Flash will not change due to HTML5 audio/video.

The difference between “downloadable media” and “live streaming” is the “live” part. Downloadable media is not live, which has an advantage to providing the consumer the ability to save the media and play it back at their convenience. Live streaming on the other hand, is real time audio/video playback that cannot be paused/played without the help of a device to record the content. For this reason, Flash may not be as important but still has the purpose of providing a means to stream live content.

As far as downloadable media is concerned, Flash is perceived as dead, but Flash will play a key role on portable devices such as Android phones in providing live streaming content over the coming years.

The Flash Video Secret

Though most know that Flash is used to play audio mp3 files, many web developers are not aware that Flash can play H.264 video. Since Flash version 9 released in the Winter of 2007, Flash has the ability to play .mp4/.m4v video. Before Flash 9, Flash could only play Flash video (.flv file extension) files.

As far as video is concerned, this solidifies the H.264 format as the most widely playable video format. It allows a web developer to alternatively allow its web visitors the ability to play H.264 video in the event the browser itself cannot play the HTML5 video format.

Google Chrome / Apple Safari

Both Google Chrome and Apple Safari web browsers support mpeg3 (.mp3) and H.264 (.mp4/.m4v). Safari has one glitch though, it will auto download the media files linked in the audio/video tags, which does bring up a challenge for web developers to deal with.

Internet Explorer

Currently, Internet Explorer (IE) does not support HTML5, but the signs back in Fall of 2009 were obvious that they were planning on supporting it in the future. With the recent blog post announcement for support for H.264 video in IE9 and past blog post announcing MP3/AAC audio support, it looks like the next version of IE is on its way of being HTML5 audio/video friendly. There is only one problem though, IE9 will only be available for Windows 7 and Vista, Windows XP will not have IE9 as an upgrade option.

Firefox and the OGG format

Firefox supports a niche audio and video format called OGG. The reason for this is simple, it doesn’t cost Firefox anything to support OGG formats. Since Firefox is essentially a free foundation and not a real company selling products/services, it does not have the money or resources to purchase licenses to include support for the H.264 video format. From the last post I read about the subject, Firefox would have to pay a 5 million dollar license fee in order to use the H.264 video format and it would still be limited to which versions of Firefox could include H.264 (source based compiled versions distributed through different versions of Linux would not be included in the license for example). It is a bit more complicated than this, but you get the idea why Firefox doesn’t support H.264. Read why Firefox does not support H.264.

The OGG format is a combination of a number of formats, two of which are supported by Firefox. The OGG audio format, also referred to as Vorbis (.ogg or .oga file extensions) is a truly open source audio format. The OGG video format, also referred to as Theora (.ogg or .ogv file extensions), is a free video format based upon a patent by On2 Technologies. As of current the patent behind Vorbis is not enforced, allowing the format to be used with out paying any royalty or fees. Example of a potential Theora problem.

I should point out that both Google Chrome and Apple Safari support the two OGG audio and video formats mentioned above. Internet Explorer, Apple iPod/iPhone/iPad/TV and most other portable media / TV hardware most likely do not support OGG, limiting this format’s reach in the market.

Firefox, H.264 and MP3

Firefox will most likely not support H.264 without help from Apple/Microsoft/Google. I predict by years end one of those companies will sponsor Firefox’s H.264 five million dollar license to include H.264 support in Firefox. There could also be a plugin for Firefox that provides H.264 functionality. More interestingly, Apple/Microsoft and Google hold patents related to H.264 so it is possible they could come together and influence MPEG LA (folks who enforce the H.264 licenses) to give the Mozilla Foundation (Firefox) a special license for using H.264. Who knows what will really happen, but it is definitely to Google’s best interest with it’s YouTube property that all web browsers can play back its video content.

I have no idea why Firefox does not support mp3. Mp3 and Ogg video are identical as far as having patents that are not enforced (no one is asking for royalties for using these formats). As far as audio is concerned, I think it is hypocritical of Firefox not to support mpeg3 but support OGG Theora.

Apple iPod/iPhone/iPad/TV

All of Apple’s products/hardware support both MP3 audio and H.264 video formats.

Android/Blackberry/Palm WebOS

The other remaining popular smart phone platforms support both mp3 audio and H.264 video formats.

Other Internet Connected TV Hardware

Other Internet Connected TV hardware (also referred to as OTT TV/Over The Top TV, Set-Top boxes, and IPTV) such as the Roku add the icing to the cake as far as picking audio/video standards are concerned. All of the Internet Connected hardware devices that are planned or that are already available support MP3 audio (.mp3) and H.264 video (.mp4/.m4v).

Conclusion

I am sure this post will upset some folks (Flash developers, Linux/open source enthusiasts, etc…) and I apologize. I love Linux and open source, but I’m sorry to say OGG is not going to become the standard for media. As for Flash, there is still a lot of cool stuff you can do with Flash including live streams, but Flash as far as downloadable media (new media/podcasting) is concerned, Flash is dead.

Update on March 25, 2011:

It appears my prediction may have been wrong about H.264 being sponsored by another vendor for inclusion into Firefox. Over the past year, Google has acquired On2 Technologies (OGG Video) and has launched a new project called WebM which is completely royalty free. This is a game changer both for the WebM video format, but also for OGG Vorbis audio. It also means that Flash is not dead in the short term for downloadable media and can be used to fill in the gap for when a specific audio/video format is not supported in a given browser.

WebM the Game Changer

WebM is significant for a number of reasons. First, it’s important to note one of On2’s past clients, Adobe. One of On2’s older video codex is used for Flash video (.flv). With the launch of WebM video format (.webm), Adobe has promised to include WebM support in future versions of Flash, and seeing it’s past relationship with On2, I don’t see how there would be a problem. In addition, Opera, Firefox and Google Chrome web browsers also support WebM playback. Ogg Theora is essentially replaced by WebM, though the OGG Vorbis audio format that is packaged with OGG Theora and WebM may be the other winner in this HTML5 media tug-of-war.

Also important to note that anything Google related will include WebM support, this means future versions of Android, YouTube and the new Google TV video platform.

Google removes H.264 from Chrome, adds WebM and Launches Google TV

Since the Google acquisition of On2, Google has decided to no longer include H.264 (.mp4) support with the Google Chrome browser, opting instead to include WebM as the supported HTML5 video format. Four significant changes have occurred, which warrant noting:

  • Chrome browser can no longer play H.264 video
  • Chrome browser can no longer play AAC (.m4a) audio
  • Chrome browser can now play WebM video
  • Chrome browser can now play OGG Virbis Audio

Along with Firefox and Opera, this now means that 3 of the 5 major web browsers require WebM for video and OGG Vorbis/Mpeg3 for audio. Also important to note Firefox 4 still does not support Mpeg3 (.mp3) audio, which I think is a major letdown.

With this new WebM format, we can assume that the older OGG Theora video format is no longer a player in the HTML5 video wars. OGG audio on the other hand, is another story.

What will be significant is if future versions of Google TV (also packaged in Sony high end TV’s and Blu-ray players) will be WebM exclusive. If this happens, along with adoption on Android based phones may have enough impact that WebM could quickly become an important video format.

M4a Audio growth stalled, OGG Vorbis Audio growth continues

With the HTML5 Video Wars between WebM and H.264, it means that the AAC (.m4a) Audio format growth is now stalled. Looking at AAC last year, I would have thought by now almost every device and hardware out there would support the format. Important to note video hardware vendors include AAC support mainly because it is required for  H.264. As devices come to market that do not have H.264, it is only natural for those devices will also not support AAC (.m4a). AAC almost had the capability to play almost everywhere, but now it seems the Mpeg3 (.mp3) format will continue to still have wider distribution.

Flash will continue to Bridge the Gap

Many of the TV devices like Boxee rely upon Flash for audio and video playback. These devices may be the winner as things play out since Flash can play mpeg3 (.mp3), H.264 (.mp4), AAC (.m4a via the video player) and WebM (.webm). I also suspect that once WebM support is added, it would only be natural for Flash to then also be capable of playing OGG Vorbis (.ogg/.oga) via the WebM player.

What I recommend as of March, 2011

For Video, I recommend creating H.264 (.mp4) and WebM versions of your video. This way you are able to harness HTML5 video on all five web browsers as well as support nearly every video playing device whether it includes one format or the other.

For Audio, I recommend Mpeg3 (.mp3), it still plays on devices and in applications. Though AAC (.m4a) is a close second, if your not using any of the Audiobook features found in m4a (which by the way only work on Apple hardware and software), there’s no real significant advantage to using m4a over mp3.

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Home News

Weber Porcelain-Enamel Cast Iron Cooking Grates #7526 fits Spirit E-320 / S-320

If you are shopping for Cast Iron cooking grates for your Weber Spirit E-320/S-320 grill and found that web sites such as Amazon.com and HomeDepot.com and find the documentation says the Cast Iron Cooking grates #7526 fit only the Genesis Silver B and C and Spirit E-310 gas grills, then this posting is for you.

The Weber Porcelain-Enamel Cast Iron Cooking Grates #7526 fits Weber Spirit E-320/S-320 and E-310 grills as well as all other Spirit 300 and Spirit 700 series grills as noted on the product box.

Weber Grates for E-320

For some reason the information that all of these web sites are using specifically quotes the E-310 model, even though the product box says otherwise. If you’re like me and have an E-320 and were worried about ordering the wrong grates, the #7526 is the right part for your grill.

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baby Home News

Melanie got a Sandbox!

Melanie got a new sandbox! We were going to get the green Turtle Sandbox (I remember having one when I was young) but found this red Clam held twice as much sand! The sandbox barely fit in Heather’s Prius, luckily it did fit! It can hold up to 6 – 50lb bags of sand (The green turtle sandbox holds 3 – 50lb bags).

Heather had the great idea of putting the sandbox on the deck that way he sand doesn’t kill the grass.

For those who may be concerned about animals using the sandbox, it also came with a lid. 🙂

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Current Research PodCamp

Shopping for a new Gas Grill – Weber for the Win!

Heather and I have lived in our home for just over 3 years now and we have yet to purchase a gas grill. Every spring we talk about it but decide to spend our money on other projects. In Summer of 2008 we built the fence for Ty. In 2009, we re-planked the deck. This year finally, we don’t have any major planned home improvements, which means I’m getting a grill! 🙂

Before I jump into the research, I’ll explain my choice.

Weber Spirit E-320

The Weber Spirit E-320 model met all the needs I had for a grill except for the price. I decided it was worth the additional $150 to get a better quality grill.

You can read more about specific features else where. Some of the big items for me was the side burner, solid aluminum construction, enclosed area for the propane, and heavy chassis. In addition, you can find many parts/accessories to customize this grill if you ever wanted to. The grill comes with porcelain coated iron (see note below) grates, but you can purchase 1/4″ thick stainless steel grates as well. I also liked how the drip pans worked. As far as maintenance is concerned, this grill should be rather low compared to most.

Research

I did a lot of research on grills and I sure learned a lot. I used the following factors when I considered each grill: customer reviews, grilling features, quality and priced under $400. I will not waste anytime further in the quality issue, I quickly discovered that if you want a quality grill you’re going to have to pay for it.

As for quality, I judged the construction of the grill chassis (legs, wheels, etc…) to determine the quality. The only grill under $400 I could find that actually felt sturdy are the Weber Spirit E series  models. All the other grills I looked at would easily flex/bend. The grilling surface (also referred to as the grates) was one other factor, which I quickly discovered the quality of the grate wasn’t necessarily associated with the price of the grill.

For grilling features, I primarily want to use the grill for cooking hamburgers, steaks and hot dogs. Chicken, pork, fish and other meats are secondary. Heather also expressed interest in having a side burner in case we wanted to use it for cooking something in a pot or pan. Based on research, either stainless steel or porcelain coated cast iron grates are preferred for grilling. The wider the grill lines the better. Narrow/thin grates will not cook as well or hold the heat for as long as thicker ones. The heat plates are also a factor (I explain these a couple of paragraphs down).

Grills seem to pride themselves on is the number of “burners”. I think this number should be relative to the size of the grill, but many brands sell essentially the same size featuring between 2 to 6 burners. I decided to eliminate this as a feature that improved the grill over another.

Grills do not seem to advertise their heat plates (Weber calls these Flavorizer Bars) very well (this is the metal or porcelain coated iron/steel covers over the burners). When comparing grills, take off the grate and look at the construction that is immediately under the grates. You should be able to easily remove a plate of some shape (usually shaped in an upside down V or oval with the edges running down like a roof). You will need to remove and clean these on occasion. Many of the sub $150 grills don’t even have such plates, which means the flames from you burners could directly hit your grates and food during grilling. I did not include my opinion of the heat plates below since I don’t have any cooking experience on any of these grills to know which design is better/worse. But All of the grills have some sort of heat plate.

Weber

The Weber brand grills had the best customer reviews. The quality of the construction and materials uses in the chassis also topped my list. Price though scared me away from all but the Spirit E-210 model initially.

Spirit E-210 ($400 retail): This grill met my primary requirements, nice grates and quality. This grilldoes not include a side burner.

Spirit E-310 ($500 retail): Essentially a slightly larger version of the E-210 model, it also does not include a side burner.

Spirit E-320 ($550 retail): This grill is perfect for what I am looking for except that the price,  $150 out of my range.

Char Grill

Grillin Pro 3001 ($214 retail): The quality of this grill just fell flat. It does have porcelain covered iron grates, but the thickness of the grates and the quality of the coating is a bit of a disappointment. For a grill in the same price range, the Kenmore and Brinkmann models are better.

Sears Kenmore

Doing some research I found that most all of the Kenmore brand grills are manufactured by Ghar Grill. They are unique however, there are no models that are labeled with both brands that I could find.

4 Burner Gas Grill ($250 retail): A friend of mine owns a similar one to this grill and he loves it. I took a look at a model slightly more expensive and found that the materials for the grill chassis has been rather cheapened compared to my friends older model. I could only find one review online where someone mentioned that the materials used in the Kenmore Grills was cheapened in order to lowre cost. I’m not sure how true that is, but the quality of the grills you can buy today in this price range have rather cheap construction.  Both the chassis and the grates seem to be of a better quality than of their Char Grill counter parts.

There are other variations of this same grill on Sears.com.

Uniflame

I’m not even going to link to the models. These are pretty cheap grills and the grates show that. Main thing that turned me away instantly was the steel coated porcelain grates.

Brinkmann

4 Burner 810-8411-5 ($200 retail): Not a bad grill, quality of the construction was the best out of all of the grills I looked at that were $under $300. Unfortunately, it still was not as rugged. The grill itself felt rather light weight, so light that it could flip over easily in moderate winds. The grill was very large as well, so if you’re interested in the largest grill for your buck, then this grill may be for you.

Ducane

Affinity 3100 ($475 retail): Very similar to the Weber E-310.

Affinity 3200 ($512 retail): Very similar to the Weber E-320.

I was unable to find a retailer in the area that sold this brand grill. I later found on-line that Ducane is a subsidiary of Weber. Customer reviews are about as equal for this brand as they are for Weber. If you can check out a Ducane grill, please leave a comment of your thoughts on them.

Conclusion

There are a lot of grill options out there. Had I not been able to pay the extra $150 for the Weber E-320, I would most likely have gone with either the Kenmore 4 Burner or the Brinkmann 4 Burner grills.

So what kind of gas grill do you have? Do you like/dislike it? Do you recommend a brand or model?

Update on April 29, 2010

The Weber Spirit E-320 grill sold on Amazon.com does not come with porcelain coated “iron” grates. It appears the only Weber Spirit S-320 sold exclusively at Home Depot includes porcelain coated “iron” grates. The special S-320 from Home Depot is only $30 more and comes with both iron grates instead of steel and stainless steel through portion of the grill lid. If you want iron grates, this is the best deal. If you’re like me and saved money on shipping ordering from Amazon.com, you can get a set of Iron grates for $70 online and have 2 sets of grates. From what I read, the iron grates and the steel grates have different advantages. The steel warms up much faster so if you’re doing some quick cooking the steel may be better for you.

Categories
Food

Skyline Chili Connoisseur Club Tweetup Today!

If you’re following my twitter @AngeloMandato, then you may have seen my tweets about going to Skyline Chili Connoisseur Club Tweetups. Today (March 11) is the official March meetup at the Columbus – Bethel Road location (5 minutes from my house!!!). If you’re up for some Skyline, we’re meeting up at 11:30 am. 🙂

What’s Skyline Chili?

If you never herd of Skyline Chili, it’s a restaurant chain out of Cincinnati, Ohio that focuses their menu around Cincinnati style chili. Cincinnati style chili is not at all like your typical chili. It doesn’t have pinto beans, or any beans for that matter and is much thicker in consistency. It is a meat based chili with some spices that give it a very unique flavor. Cinnamon is a key spice, but it doesn’t have your typical sweet cinnamon flavor we’re accustomed to with most cinnamon based foods. You definitely have to try it to appreciate the flavor.

Skyline Chili is one of a number of businesses in Cincinnati that sell Cincinnati style Chili. Skyline is the only chain that I know of that has branched out of the greater Cincinnati area, you can find locations in Northeastern Ohio, throughout Kentucky and in parts of Indiana.

My favorite is called a 3-way which consists of spaghetti with chili and cheese on top. My wife heather loves the coneys with everything (hot dog with chili, cheese, onions and mustard. They also have chili cheese fries, burritos and a number of other combination.

My favorite Skyline Chili location is the one on the corner of Clifton and Ludlow Avenue near The University of Cincinnati. Awesome atmosphere, chili is consistent in flavor every time we visit, and it’s located in na pretty cool spot of town.

The Connoisseur Club

Since August of 2009, every 2nd Thursday social media fans of Skyline Chili meet at the Skyline Chili Columbus Bethel Road location for lunch. For most, this is no big deal, but for me this is great! Ever since I started working from home I rarely leave the house during the day. I typically work through lunch and never really socialize with anyone until Heather and Melanie come home. Now once a month I have an opportunity to go out, get some Skyline and talk shop!!!

The 3 Skyline meet-ups that I’ve attended have at least 20 attendees. There is a good combination of folks who come just to have lunch and talk about what they are doing and some folks who come to exchange business cards and network.

Thanks Rocky (Rockson) for organizing the meetup!

Categories
Programming Technology

Firefox Extensions I Use

I’m often asked what Firefox extensions I use in my web browser. For those who ask, here you go.

Basic plugins that anyone may like:

  • Gmail Manager – check and manage multiple Gmail accounts
  • History block – prevent some sites from crowding your web browser history
  • Echofon – Twitter client (formally known as TwitterFox)
    • I’m looking for a better Firefox Twitter client, please comment if you know of one.
  • PDF Download – Decide whether you rather download or view PDF
  • Tabs Open Relative – Open new tabs to the right of your current tab

Plugins specific to web development: