Tuesday, January 24, 2006

One of those days...

I had the worst day ever just now.

I pretty much couldn't do anything right. First thing, as I get into work, my boss yells at me for stuff I didn't do the previous day. The thing is, I was stressed yesterday because I'm trying to get into a chemistry class, which I thought started Wednesday, but really started yesterday, so I was unexpectedly out until 10:15 instead of 6:00. To top it off, super-busy day, with tons of little things going not quite right. At lunch I got upbraided for not getting chips to go with the chili dogs, and not getting cheese on them.

After work, I get home as my girlfriend leaves for the city for a Swedish class. Then I frantically look for my college transcript for two hours, so I can prove that I took calculus...although I will have to take the placement test for the chemistry pre-requisite. Just now, I got a case of the fuck-its and tried to sneak back around the house to see if there was beer in the neighbor's kegerator -- of course there wasn't, and they caught me in the act. (Full disclosure: they're pretty much cool with the occasional missing pint.)

Still, the suckage level here is way too high. Did I mention that Columbia claims that they will only mail out a transcript within 48 hours of receiving my written, signed request? (In the mail today, but still, wtf?) WHO IS GOING TO REQUEST MY TRANSCRIPT? AL-QAEDA? I don't get it.

Then google video claims that I don't have flash 7. Is there no end to this?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Zassenhaus Turkish Grinder

Yes yes. My dad got me a Zassenhaus Turkish Coffee Mill (Model 175M) for Christmas from Sweet Maria's. I took it to work for a couple of weeks.

Maybe I should explain, if I haven't already. At work we have a Gaggia Classic espresso machine, and on my first day, they told me how to use it. Now, I make all the coffees. The Gaggia is a pretty solid machine, although some sneer at it because of its small aluminum boiler -- the best ones are brass or copper. Despite that, it's totally capable of making great espresso and pretty good steamed milk. The boiler size makes it a bit weak for steaming, I think, but I think it would be alright if I just had a thermometer for the pitcher.

Anyway I usually buy the coffee, and it just seemed a shame to me that we had to get it pre-ground. It always seemed better the first day and then to decline by about the third. Plus, grind was an issue -- if I got it at Peet's, everything was cool, but if that isn't possible, then there's a problem.

Enter the turkish coffee mill, a can of Illy beans, and myself after a two-week vacation. Here's the straight dope: the mill is great. Probably the best damn thing since the espresso machine itself. As long as you've got time, that is.

The long version: I get to work and start weighing out 14-gram double shots. The first day's are far too coarse, and I actually started to worry. Maybe the burrs are off? The Zassenhaus' final burr is actually floating, not secured at all, and it took a few grinds to knock them into place centrally. At the end of the first day, I tried the adjustment nut again and found that I could tighten the burrs substiantially more than I had been able to.

On day 2, it became clear that the mill was going to work out. The setting from the end of the first day was basically dialed-in, producing a tiny rat's tail-like trickle. Everything was ristretto-fine, and it stayed that way for a couple of weeks, through the can of Illy and then a can of Trader Joe's Fair-Trade, Shade-Grown Ethiopian Yirgacheffe (which was damn good.) Then I decided to take it home. It probably doubled the time it took me to make coffees. This isn't a problem on Sunday morning, but it kinda is when your coffee 15 becomes a good half hour.

Does it make a difference? (Co-Worker question, many, I'm sure have no doubts about this one.) Yes, an obvious one -- getting the correct grind size is most definitely an enhancement. Plus the freshness. The Yirgacheffe's spiciness came through, and although it dissipated towards the end of the week, it remained quite tasty and satisfying. It reminded me of nutmeg and clove. Illy preground never works perfectly with our machine, so just getting to use Illy and a good grind is enough for me.

One sorta negative though -- the shots with both coffees seemed more sour than before. I'm not sure whether it's a temperature issue, timing, or something about freshness, but some of the shots were just too sour for me, and I like short, sweet/sour shots.

Oh, and all that grinding. Let's hope it's good excercise.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Quick note

Turns out a couple of my friends are, more or less, avid bloggers who write much more often (and perhaps more interestingly) than I do.

Daphne is a tremendously intelligent music writer and ethnomusicologist grad student at Columbia...Rich is a student of science and technology, a grad student in materials science at USC, and an astute observer of techno-cultural trends. Both totally worth reading.

After the flood...

Yeah...it's been a little while since my last post. A lot of stuff happened. Mostly, the holidays, wherein I had some time off, went back east to see the fam and my friends. Blah blah.

Anyways Napa flooded. Floods are crazy. I'm new to this, having come from the relatively disaster-free northeast. Aside from a couple of hurricanes, none of which caused any major damage, I haven't seen any real FEMA-level disasters firsthand.

Well it seems like we're going to be spared any FEMA intervention, but a lot of Napa flooded. Yountville and St. Helena, towns upvalley of us, are effectively cut off and there's major damage. A lot of the town of Napa, where we live, is flooded near the river...about two blocks from us to the east. There's probably about 10-20 feet of elevation, and the plain flattens out around there, so I think that we're relatively safe, for this one, at least.

Brett took this picture yesterday, when there was some sun between the two storms. This guy was letting his kids play in the floodwaters...I guess that the fact that his were the only kids playing in the water didn't make him stop to think. After they walked out pretty far in the rushing waters, somebody whistled and told them to come back, at which point Dad told everybody that it was OK, he knows what's safe for his kids. For my part, I couldn't stop thinking about this John McPhee story I read in the New Yorker a long time ago about how he was on a canoe trip as a kid and this other kid drowned. The unlucky kid got his foot caught between two rocks so his face was underwater and his lungs were filled with water in seconds. It took two days and a rescue helicopter to recover his body. Luckily, we didn't witness anything like that, despite dad's best efforts.

Those vines behind the kids are underwater. Cameron Stark, my old boss at Unionville Vineyards, said that wine country was slowly reverting to the swampland it was before California was strip-mined in the nineteenth century, thanks in part to global warming. Today as we drove back along highway 29 and looked out over the entire lover valley, completely flooded, it seemed easier to believe than in the dry summer months.

Oh, and I found this when I was looking for flood information earlier. Yeah. Thanks for calling me an idiot because the valley gets flash floods for a couple days every five years. At least my city isn't built on sinking silt from the Mississippi. If you ask me, though, the idiots are still the ones who don't fund river control and levee operations. Napa's flood control construction is, just like New Orleans', years behind schedule because of state and federal budget cuts. Oops.