Friday, December 19, 2014

Immanuel, especially now

It has seemed to me that lots of things have been happening to people I know, friends and family, that would likely be viewed as tragedies. A child with a chromosomal defect. Kids with serious illnesses. Friends with cancer. The death of loved ones.

I'm a Christian. These things are tragedies to me as well. But there is a difference: These things are not eternal. I and many of my friends and family are owned by Another, one who cares. One who will be with us through these trials; One who left and sent a Comforter; One who will return.

This time of year much of the world, whether it cares or not, thinks at least tangentially about his birth: Jesus of Nazareth, called the Messiah, the Christ, but most importantly for me now, Immanuel: God with us.

I count on that. "God with us" is with us still. The One who cares, cares still and joins us in our sorrows. He listens. He knows. He sends comfort and strength, and through his body on earth, the church, he sends local, corporeal comfort and strength.

The problems of today are not eternal, and we know the end of the story: He and his sheep win, forever. Getting through the problems is easier knowing "God with us" is with us indeed.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Ps. 46:1

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Please don't Keurig

Yes, K-Cups are difficult to recycle and are made of unspecified #7 plastic (which may be bad for humans), so if you're greenish or paranoid-healthy, you won't do Keurig on general principles. If you're cheap, K-Cups are outrageously expensive coffee. An analysis showed that K-Cup coffee runs the equivalent of $50/pound.*

So K-Cups aren't green, healthy, or frugal coffee. Let's get to the important point: K-Cups produce miserable, lousy coffee. I've tried some, we have it available at the office, and I've tried to like it, but most complaints I've heard seem accurate:
  1. It's stale. Ground coffee stays flavorful for minutes, not months, even ground coffee which purports to be stored in nitrogen-flushed, hermetically sealed pods. The oils are off; the taste left weeks before.
  2. It's a fixed amount of grounds, whether you brew 4oz or 12oz. That's just wrong. The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), who just might know a little about good coffee, recommends around 55g of coffee grounds per liter of water. With K-Cups, you get a choice of an overly strong little cup or a watery big cup. (Hint: It's bad either way.)
  3. It's a lousy brewing system. Keurig advertises that they brew at 192F, and they brew a cup in around 40 seconds. That's a bit too cool and way too fast. Citing the SCAA again, a correctly brewed cup will use water between 195 and 205F (actually a bit hotter: the Celsius spec is 92 to 96C, which is 197 to 205F), and brewing will take between 4 and 8 minutes. Less than 4 minutes and you under-extract and get weak coffee, more than 8 and you over-extract and get bitter coffee.
See my article if you're interested in brewing great coffee. Those who sell K-Cups seem to work around the poor brewing system by using over-roasted coffee -- lots of K-Cup coffee tastes vaguely *bux-ish. One amusing review mentioned "burnt and watery."

And to top it all off, Keurig Green Mountain, owner of Green Mountain Roasters, Keurig and the K-Cup patent, is engaged in some interesting revenue enhancement: The original K-Cup patent expired in 2012. Now that they don't get royalties on every K-Cup produced, they're going the route of Digital Rights Management: The new Keurig 2.0 machines will digitally recognize "authorized" K-Cups. No digital signature on your K-Cup? No cup of coffee.

If you disliked this behavior with printer ink, you'll enjoy it even less when you're caffeine-deprived. (The DRM appears to be easy to hack at the moment. Google "keurig drm hack".) Investors aren't all that happy with this either: Keurig Green Mountain's (GMCR) stock price is down quite a bit from the year's peak.

K-Cups: Not green, probably unhealthy, definitely not frugal now and in the future, and just bad coffee. Convenient, like microwave burritos, and as appetizing. 

Please, please don't Keurig.

PS: In May 2015, Keurig announced they were bringing back the "My K-Cup" reusable K-Cup, which allows you to use your own beans, but as far as I can find, they are maintaining the 2.0 DRM. They're now "reaching out" to some brands of non-licensed cups with new easier licensing terms. Meh. Even if they dropped the DRM, it's still a poor way to brew.

* In contrast, Panama's Hacienda Esmerelda Gesha coffee, considered one of the best coffees in the world, runs a little over $90/pound as roasted by a top roaster. (Yes, I know about Finca el Injerto gesha from Guatemala. It's sold out and outrageously priced when available, even for gesha.) If you like gesha (haven't tried it yet, myself) and you're a home roaster, you can get beans from an unnamed Guatemalan farm for under $22/pound, for now.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Speed up your cable internet

Is your internet connection through the cable company? Are you getting the speed you're paying for? Do you know how to improve your speed?

My local cable company, smelling some competition in the wind, sped up my connection from 50Mb/s to 100Mb/s. That's when the trouble began for me. Sometimes I got 100Mb/s, sometimes I got as little as 6Mb/s. After working through the problem, I'm now consistently getting 108Mb/s downloads and about 11Mb/s up.

You can test your speed at among other places. Test at different times of day, as speed can be affected by traffic and temperature. My slowest speeds were in the late afternoon, the hottest part of the day.

Assuming you've tested and found your speed lacking, read on. What follows is what I've learned about debugging an internet connection through a cable modem. You may or may not need the help of the cable company. It depends on how handy you are and who owns your wiring and your modem. My house cable wiring was done by my builder, and I bought my own modem awhile ago to avoid the rental fee.

Friday, December 12, 2014

How to brew great coffee

I roast coffee at home. It's a great hobby, but not without some initial frustrations: I found that my original coffeemaker took my carefully roasted, wonderful smelling home-roasted beans and made them taste like weak Folgers, or worse, K-Cup coffee. (No offense intended if you like these, but I'd hoped for better). Now my coffee tastes pretty spectacular, enough so that even my wife and kids are getting spoiled. To get to this point, I had to learn a lot about brewing coffee.

This is for my friends who have not yet heard the lecture. Below is the condensed form. You're welcome. The full lecture is coffee-geeky to the max; this is easier to stomach, unlike *bux. But, since this is Teh Interwebz, I pull no punches.

To brew great coffee is really quite simple:
  1. Start with good, fresh beans.
  2. Grind an appropriate amount.
  3. Brew using good water and a good method of brewing.
See, it really is simple, at least in outline. Now I'll go back over each of these and fill in some detail.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Heh heh. Chinese IP Lawyers

In the category of "huh?" is this item:

Justice Boyd, recently elected to the Texas Supreme Court, is playing the straight man in this joke, it seems. Anyone who has done business in China feels some cognitive dissonance while contemplating "Chinese Intellectual Property Lawyers," or at least gets a chuckle out of the oxymoron.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

About this blog...

My wife, bless her, puts up with me. Not just that, but she sometimes even agrees that I'm right. So, indeed, I am right. My wife said so. Whether she accepts responsibility or not, she's an encouragement for this blog.

So what will I blog about? Important stuff, certainly. (Humph.) To wit:

  • Political rants: mine and others. (I'm a mostly-conservative guy stuck in a blue, blue, blue city. Living here is frustrating, so there will be some letting off of steam.)
  • Technology. (My day job is more technical than most: I've been involved for decades in scientific programming, specifically for solving large systems of differential-algebraic equations related to semiconductor device design.) This affects how I view the daily news, which often seems written by the technically illiterate.
  • Coffee. (Yes, I'm an unrepentant coffee snob.)
  • Photography. (This is a serious hobby with me, which to date has made me not one cent. But it's fun for me.)
  • Social issues. (I'm Christian. So shoot me. Christians have social responsibilities, but probably not what you think. Further, what is done about those responsibilities is probably not what you'd like, either. Frankly, as a nation we've screwed this up and Christians have helped.)