Category Archives: Torque

Thanks to Pema Chodron

I never took a serious interest in Buddhism. Maybe because it never did anything for me, I never did anything for it. Yesterday that changed.

Zoe and I were on a flight when I got furious at a flight attendant. Mean thoughts dominated my mind and shaped my attitude. I pulled out my iPod hoping to find something with the power to calm me. I found Pema Chödrön‘s lecture, Getting Unstuck, and started at around the 35 minute mark.

Within five minutes my emotional situation was explained and my rage subsided. She had begun to explain shenpa and I saw how I had become attached to my angry feelings for the flight attendant. At that moment it was easy to let go of the anger.

Today the lesson resonates like a gong. A few minutes ago I unsubscribed myself from a blog that stokes my rage and fails to provide great enough value to offset the time spent reading. I get attached to things for the nuttiest reasons.

Paid Straight

There is so much talk about how the government must fix the economy. The teetering corporate giants loom over our vulnerable cities, foretelling the doom of everyone who lives in their shadow. Woe is us, brother. We put too many eggs in too few baskets and now look where we are: proving once again that we would sooner repeat our mistakes than take the consequences and learn something. Are we really too far advanced to learn anything?

I’ll tell you the truth in the next paragraph. First let me tell some lies. Nobody is happy with the situation. Nobody is immune to it. Nobody wants to see good people take the fall. Nobody is seeking to profit from disaster. Nobody elected to their office would take this opportunity to suck federal money into their local communities to guarantee their election for another term. Nobody on the public payroll would take a bribe. Never forget those lies.

Now the truth. To get your way in this country you have to pay for it. To get your way in this country you have to pay for it. To get your way in this country you have to pay for it. To get your way in this country you have to pay for it. To get your way in this country you have to pay for it. To get your way in this country you have to pay for it. Always remember that truth.

Now a fresh idea. Let’s start bribing our politicians openly. We could take up a collection to pay our representatives to balance the budget, for example. Would that even be a bribe? A reward for the correct performance of a sworn duty… why, that sounds to me like the definition of fairness. But isn’t that why we pay them in the first place?

Swear on Green Eggs and Ham

This nation will fail its mission and slip into theocracy–rule by the irrational–if we allow the few “God” references in our founding documents to become the only parts known to the Executive branch.

Judeo-Christian fascism is the equal and opposite reaction to Islamic fascism. Only intelligence can act other than how physics dictates.

In lieu of a Bible let’s see inauguration’s hand placed on the United States Constitution or a textbook of Mathematics or Logic. Nobody swears on anything they haven’t read or can’t understand or don’t believe.

If we think the Constitution and Amendments need to be modernized we should gather the required majority and amend them. Where is the platform of playing by the rules?

Crime statistics a map, not a compass

This discussion has legs.

Personally, I think that gun ownership is stupid. Guns don’t stop crime and all it takes is looking at other countries with strict gun laws to see what the result is.

You not wish to own a gun. That’s fine. I am a gun owner. Calling gun ownership stupid is a personal affront to all gun owners. Luckily for you, dueling is out of fashion.

It is fashionable to rest an argument entirely on favorable statistical analysis. This trend signals bad times for individualism. To rely solely on aggregated data for governance is to settle on “the greatest good for the greatest number” with the added delusion that causes are known. If anything can be decided from crime statistics it is the question of where one can feel safe without firearms.

Both sides find studies to back up their case. Both sides fund studies to back up their case. In deciding whether to own a gun, I have as much interest in crime statistics as the founders did. They were ready to kill for their beliefs. They understood that when your time comes, statistics are no more vital than table manners.

I don’t care about gun statistics because I am not fundamentally invested in preserving every human life. I am interested in preserving some and I believe that I would use lethal force to do so. Lethal force comes in many varieties. A person who would take away my right to choose a gun is not sensible to me. Such a person is antagonistic to my instinct and to my reason.

We don’t only disagree about gun rights. Heavier things are moved beneath the surface. The underlying disagreement may be somewhere in these statements:

  • I do not value all lives equally.
  • Some things are worth killing for.
  • I would rather kill than be killed.
  • I would rather kill than let a loved one be killed.
  • Individuals are typically good judges of their own circumstances.
  • A collective of toothless individuals is worse than a toothless collective.

Pull out your own teeth but leave me mine. They might help you some day.

Yahoo! I damn thee.

I don’t really damn Yahoo! (YHOO [disclosure: no position]) but I think I’ll go there less now.

Less is really none. I only ever used yahoo.com to test hotel internet connections. Sometimes if I used google.com and the hotel displayed a welcome page the DNS cache would get poisoned and google.com would become inaccessible. Thus I would check the connection with yahoo.com first because it didn’t matter if that domain became inaccessible.

Never mind the recent news about Microsoft (MSFT [no position]) and its spurned attempts to buy Yahoo! out. Never mind how strange it feels to use a word that ends with a punctuation mark, whether in the middle of a sentence or at the end of a non-exclaimed statement.

Yahoo! tricked me into reading part of an article that tells the sad, sad, sad story of a billionaire wife who was refused a divorce on lack of grounds. The assault on my masculinity can not be forgiven. In my defense, I just wanted to know the answer: “In some states, even if you want to divorce, the court won’t let you. Why?”

In some states, even if you want to divorce, the court won't let you. Why?

I clicked “Why?” and read half of the first page before I realized that the answer to my question was on another page and that I was reading Elle. I laughed out loud, took the screenshot and started blogging. Surely nobody will read about it on my blog. My masculinity is safe.

What domain should I use for testing hotel internet connections?

How to buy a coffee grinder

The gift of coffee

For Christmas my girlfriend gave me a Bodum French press and a basic coffee grinder. I love the beautiful and functional Bodum glassware but a blade coffee grinder always produces an uneven grind. The large bean chunks steep too slowly and the fine dust clogs the screen or finds its way into the cup. The result is a cup of insipid coffee with a thick layer mud.

You can find such a machine for under $30 at the supermarket. These “coffee grinders” consisting of a closed chamber with rotating blades are actually coffee choppers and should be outlawed. At least, the misnomer should be corrected. A quick look at the dictionary confirms this:

grind v.tr. 1. a. To crush, pulverize, or reduce to powder by friction, especially by rubbing between two hard surfaces: grind wheat into flour.

The search for an even grind

The way to good coffee is through a burr grinder. The beans are ground between two hard surfaces that can be fixed in a range of positions to achieve a coarser or finer grind. Because these rotate at lower RPMs and the coffee passes through rather than remaining in the chamber, the beans are subjected to less heat and therefore give the brew a superior flavor. They also produce less of the stuff that hurts French press coffee: chunks and dust.

I bought a Saeco Titan burr grinder for $99.99 plus tax at my local Fry’s Electronics. I had seen consumer-grade coffee mills ranging from $50 to $150 and the Titan looked like the best deal. Most online outlets sell it for $130. It has a conical mill which is superior to a flat mill because the grounds are pulled through by gravity as soon as they are sufficiently fine. Flat mills, which can be found for under $50, eject the grounds by rotating more quickly, adding extra heat just like the chopper.

What makes a conical burr grinder so much more expensive than a blade grinder? It’s just a motorized mill with a timer and an adjustment ring. I suspect it has more to do with the quality of the coffee grounds than the cost of producing the machine.

The first time I used my grinder the coffee was much better than the best the chopper could produce. There were no large chunks, so the brew was richer and darker without over-steeping. Still, I was unhappy with the amount of mud in the cup. The Titan is well-designed but when I disassembled it I found that a very important part was poorly made.

Saeco quality

A burr is a type of rotary cutting tool. A less desirable kind of burr is a rough edge left on metal after milling. My Titan’s grinding surface had these in spades, as shown by this photo:

Saeco Titan burr grinder
Click for more detail

The rough, curled-over edges on that milled metal part are a flaw. They reduce the range and accuracy of the adjustment ring by changing the space between the grinding surfaces. There are also several ridges cut much higher or lower than the rest, further hurting the grind. And nobody knows how many of those tiny burrs broke off and wound up in my coffee. It’s good that I don’t drink the mud.

When I saw my grinding wheel up close I thought it must be an anomaly. Even for a mid-range consumer unit made by a company that manufactures multi-thousand-dollar automatic coffee machines, this was a disappointment. I sent the photo to Saeco’s European office and asked whether this was up to their quality standards. They instructed me to email the American branch and I did.

Two weeks later, with no response from Saeco-US and my 30-day return window about to close, I boxed my grinder and headed back to Fry’s. The clerk let me open an identical unit to inspect before exchanging. It had the same flaw so I opted for a refund, which I used to buy a microwave oven for the same price. (Fair trade? Pshaw. No-brainer.)

Selecting a coffee grinder

It’s nice for you to know that the Saeco Titan is carelessly made and not worth buying. What’s better is knowing what to look for when buying a coffee grinder.

The consumer goods market is a mixed bag. The price of a gadget is indexed to its quality in direct proportion to the number of competing products, or in inverse proportion to the market share its manufacturer enjoys. Luckily there are a lot of coffee grinders on the market.

Fry’s selection of coffee grinders peaked with the Saeco Titan so I dashed to the mall to inspect the goods at Williams-Sonoma. There I found the $100 Breville Ikon Burr Grinder and the $200 Baratza Virtuoso Burr Coffee Grinder on display for my inspection. (They don’t stock the $1000 Elektra Espresso Grinder.)

The $100 Ikon is sturdier than the similarly-priced Titan but it suffers from the same flaw: a poor-quality grinding surface. I was pleased to look inside the $200 Baratza Virtuoso and find grinding surfaces with clean, sharp edges. Is that worth an extra hundred bucks? The Baratza has a lot more going for it—the weight alone is impressive—but I didn’t buy it because I felt sure I could have done better on the internet.

Buying the right grinder

Today I am the proud owner of the grinder I got for Christmas. I’m kicking myself because I could have checked online prices with my phone, saving myself a second trip to the mall. I’m also drinking a lot less coffee, even though I still have pods for my Senseo. As imperfect as it was, the burr-ground coffee was the best I’d ever made.

Unless I get other advice by Friday, I will return to Williams-Sonoma and buy the Baratza Virtuoso. My expectations are unreasonably high. You will find my review here next week. Baratza Virtuoso review

Please share your burr grinder experience by leaving a comment below.