Archives For Diversions

I have another addiction beyond digital media – BBQ and Grilling and yes, there’s a difference.  BBQ is generally speaking cooked “slow and low” over smoke with chicken, pork, ribs, and brisket being the most popular types/cuts of meat.  Grilling is done fast and over direct or indirect heat and cook time is generally measured in minutes vs. hours for BBQ.  Both are experiencing a renaissance in interest as well as technology. From BBQs that tweet on Twitter, to decidedly low-tech solutions with big taste results for the casual gas grill owner.


Hello, my name is Sean, and I’m a BBQ addict.  My journey started in college when I learned what good BBQ is about going to school in-between Kansas City and Texas.  Then, in 1998 after finding mass-market BBQ in Seattle, I started buying Lloyds vac-packed, pre-cooked and sauced ribs and bringing them to friends’ parties (cringe).  This was the low point in my addiction. From there in 2000, I started reading up and playing around with an electric smoker.  After seeing my electric bill, I moved on through multiple smokers and grills – propane, natural gas, charcoal, and lump all have seen time in my “pit”.  In the past four years, I’ve really taken delight from feeding our friends throughout BBQ season from Memorial Day to Labor Day here in the states and have helped to organize a local event.  But the reality is I grill and BBQ year round – Prime Rib roasts for Christmas, Turkey for Thanksgiving and everything in-between.

My Outdoor LabA few friends have suggested I compete in local BBQ competitions and I’m flattered.  These weekend-long events often involve cash purses up to $10,000 – not bad for a weekend of camping and cooking in a parking lot.  I’m not really equipped to do this and figure I’m still backyard quality.  Then a few weeks ago, a friend signed up to become a Kansas City Barbecue Society certified Judge and suggested I do the same.  There we met 75 other people like us, all looking for the best BBQ the area has to offer.  As a result, I ended up judging the NW barbecue Championship last weekend, ate some great BBQ, and learned a lot throughout the experience.  I’m still learning, but have set my sights on a new prize – judging in the Kansas City American Royal Invitational with a $30,000 purse which draws over 300 teams and 60,000 people each year.

Grill Tech Essentials

Here’s my list, just in time for Father’s Day and open grilling season.  I’ve also included links to some of my favorite products to aid in discoverability.  Many of these items you can find at local outlets as well.

Outset QS77 Stainless Steel Wood Chip Smoker Box
Aluminum foil will work in a pinch, but the best approach is a dedicated smoker box.  Fill with wood chips (not chunks) that you’ve soaked in water for roughly 30 mins.  Then put this on your grate or directly on the burner of your Gas grill and infuse chicken, ribs, steaks etc. with great taste.
Charcoal Companion Cabernet Wine Soaked Oakwood Chips
Smoke imparts a distinctive taste and can really open up the flavor of any meat.  The challenge is pairing the right wood smoke with the right meat/marinade/rub. One of my favorites and most versatile is oak wood.  It’s not overpowering and you can find wineries and distilleries that run their oak wood casks for aging through a wood chipper.  Wine barrels impart a stronger secondary “flavor profile” than Jack Daniels or others.
Splash-Proof Thermapen Instant Read Thermometer
This one is a must-have and worth every dollar for any cook who takes food safety seriously (and you should).  NSF-certified and calibrated, it instant reads the temperature of just about anything.  I use it for testing doneness of chicken, pork, tri-tip and even boiling water and grate temperatures on the grill.
Pre-Seasoned 15 Inch Cast-Iron Skillet
Cast iron is incredibly easy to use on the grill or campground and get a bad rap for being difficult to clean. I’ve been really happy with the Lodge Logic pre-seasoned skillets and found them to be the opposite – just scrub with water and once dry, throw a little cooking oil on a paper towel to re-season. Awesome for fajitas, veggies, bubbling cheese dips in a smaller skillet and everything in-between.
Hot Handle Holders/Mitts
If you’re getting the skillet, be sure to get these.  I made that mistake only once grabbing a hot handle.  Easy to use, not much more to say about this one.
Weber’s Way to Grill: The Step-by-Step Guide to Expert Grilling
A great how-to guide and cookbook, you don’t need to own a Weber in order to learn from this book and time-tested recipes. 

These are just a few suggestions, and don’t forget the fire extinguisher.

The Next Stage: Improving the Outdoor Kitchen and BBQs on Twitter

This summer I’ll be working on improving my outdoor kitchen, getting more organized and trying new products and recipes. In my next piece I’ll go to the extreme end of the geek BBQ spectrum with the latest rage – a computer-controlled BBQ system that tweets status of your cook on the Web.

Also if you’re in the area, be sure to check out the PNW Eggfest happening next weekend, stop by and say hello.

Ed. Note: This is a departure from my usual sporadic musings.  Please feel free to share topics, questions, or feedback on whether this is of interest as a topic here or a separate blog.

Microsoft Tag is an interesting barcoding technology that works with your mobile phone for instant access to information, websites, videos, phone numbers, and more.  Smaller than QR codes and capable of embedding more information into a branded image. All you need is a small client app available for many major cameraphones on the market (yes, even Android & iPhone). To-date, over 20M magazines in the US have been printed with tags and in publications including Entertainment Weekly, Chicago Tribune, and TV Guide to name a few.  Worldwide, over 1 Billion tags have been printed!

While I’m not directly affiliated with the Tag team, we’ve seen great response as an implementer of Microsoft Tag. My team has used Microsoft Tag with clients on campaigns on Xbox LIVE, in-store, and around the Web including big names such as Wal-Mart and Porsche for the launch of the Panamera 4-door sedan.  In fact, some of you may have found Microsoft Tag graffiti inside the new hit-game, Alan Wake.  The goal behind Microsoft Tag is simple – remove the steps to get at the content you want, where you want it.  In our cases, we’ve focused on free downloads – wallpaper, ringtones, videos and similar mobile add-ons.  In a recent campaign, over 85% of those snapping the tag engaged with the mobile site and downloaded content to personalize their phone.

Here’s an overview video:

The new release also adds new features, including improvements to the Tag Reader, a new Heat Map report, and availability of the Tag Reader in Italian, French, Spanish, Turkish and Simplified Chinese. Also, Tag’s basic services will now be offered free of charge. Anyone can build a tag, and embed it in your business card, your website, or however you like.

Congratulations to the Microsoft Tag team on their launch – you can get it for yourself at or via mobile at

Update 1: Updated # of printed tags to $1B worldwide based on video.

Update 2: Additional coverage on the Microsoft Blog here.  Techflash has also covered here.

(Ed. Note: Thanks to Techradar for naming our Yule Log Visualization for Windows Media Player one of the Top 60 free apps for Windows at #4)

If you know me, you know I can go a little Clark Griswold this time of year.  I love the holidays and spreading a little Christmas cheer.  So here are a few of my favorite downloads, dusted off and repackaged for Windows 7.    With apologies to my friends in the southern hemisphere, I’m keeping the Winter Fun Pack naming convention ;).  So this year I’m super-sizing my blog post on fun PC projects with features that are simplified by Windows 7.  Please note that this is not an official release from Microsoft, rather something I like to do for fun.  So here goes:

#1 NEW: Add a Winter Desktop Theme to Windows 7

imageThis combination of Winter wallpapers and sound effects are sure to warm your heart and will be familiar to those who installed the Windows XP Winter Fun Pack back in 2003 as this is a re-release, simplified by Windows 7.  I tried to take care not to overdo with the sound effects but you’ll find a few little additions I think you’ll enjoy.  To install, just run the .themepack file on your Windows 7 desktop.  The wallpapers are set to change every 30 minutes, but feel free to choose your own.

Download Winter Desktop Theme for Windows 7 via Skydrive (5MB):

#2 Add a Yule Log Visualization for Windows Media Player to Windows 7

This was one of my favorites and the good news is that it’s been tested and works great with Windows 7.  Watch as the Yule log flares along to your favorite holiday music in Windows Media Player.  A bit of trivia – we commissioned Frog Design to create this back in 2003, inspired by years of the 24 hour Yule Log on WPIX 11 in New York on Christmas Eve/Day.   Little did we know then what a classic it would become.

Download Yule Log Viz for Windows Media Player via Skydrive (1.9MB)

#3 Quickly get to Holiday Autoplaylists with Windows 7

image Another oldie but goodie – unzip these playlists to your default folder (e.g. My Music) and Windows Media Player will create playlists based on holiday music in your library.  Not only good for finding the music based on common keywords, but also for removing those tracks from your library after the holidays.  In music mixology, nothing is worse than “Jingle Bells” in the middle of a 4th of July party.  You’ll find playlist selections including “All”, “Fresh Tracks” for music added in last 7 days,  “One Audio CD Worth” and “One Data CD-R Worth” in the mix for holidays of multiple denominations.  To install, just unzip into your My Music\Playlists folder.

Download WMP Holiday Autoplaylists via Skydrive (15.5KB)

#4: Create a Holiday Trivia Slideshow with Windows Media Center and Windows 7

A few years back, I built a pack of trivia questions as slideshow images that could be used as a slideshow on Xbox 360 or Windows Media Center.  Organization is now simplified with the Slideshow creator built into the Windows 7 Media Center – Pictures feature – just pick your Pictures, add the trivia questions and music, and you’re set for your next holiday party.  Trust me, friends will ask how you did it.  You can learn more here at my original post.

Download Christmas Trivia Pack #1 (.zip, 3MB)

Except for the Desktop Theme, most if not all of the above should work on earlier versions (XP, Vista) but some of the features are easier/more intuitive on Windows 7.  In the coming week, I’ll post additional clips here as well as my own How To for a cool Holiday outdoor display I’m doing this year created with Windows Live Movie Maker and powered by Windows 7.

If you like the Holiday add-ons, please let me know in comments here and tell your friends.  Happy Holidays everyone!