On That Apocalypse

A few years ago a wrote a blog post with the pretty revealing title, Oh, The Coming Security Apocalypse. In it, I expressed my fears that computer security breaches were only going to get more frequent and damaging in the coming years.

Privately, a friend of a friend expressed his skepticism at my fears, dismissing them and dissing what I wrote.

I think I’m being proven right.

I went on a bike ride today, and the results were not great, but it was basically only day one. I’ve really needed to get into better shape for a while — I can bemoan my current troubles finding companionship all I like, but looking at myself in the mirror doesn’t inspire much confidence. For anything.

It looks like I’m getting a new roommate. A friend is strapped financially, and needs a place cheaper than where he is now. So, sometime soon, and barring any change of plans, he will be moving in soon. It’s been a couple of months since I asked another friend to leave, because he was way too much of a burden to want to deal with. I have some fears. I believe this guy is way, way more of a stand-up, hard-working guy, and would make a much better roommate. It’s also going to be nicer having another person around, and at the same time more awkward.

Tonight I cooked a not-bad riff on goulash:

  • 2 lb grass fed chuck roast, cut into 1 inch cubes.
  • 1 yellow onion, diced.
  • 4 Japanese sweet potatoes, diced.
  • 1 quart beef stock.
  • 3 tbsp Spanish smoked paprika.
  • 1/2 tsp and 1/2 tsp pink Himalayan salt.
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper.
  • 2 tbsp butter.

Salt the cubed beef. Sauté onion in butter and a little salt until it starts to brown. Add paprika and beef, and brown the beef. Once the beef has released juices and fat, simmer the mixture for 40 minutes. Add the sweet potatoes, stock, salt and pepper; bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Serve atop plain brown rice.

I give it a 3 out of 4. Not bad, maybe I’ll try a spicier paprika next time.

csm/snippet.diff

Wherein I cast a sideways, suspicious glance.

Sunday evening, I had driven to Fremont to have dinner with my brother, mother, and my brother’s girlfriend, at a sushi restaurant. Skipping the details of that dinner, its purpose, what we discussed, and what we ate, I found myself feeling ill the entire way home, and eventually had to stop in a turnout on highway 17 to vomit. Food poisoning; squishy chunks of udon noodles falling out into the darkness at my feet.

But anyway, I had finished evacuating that end (the other end would continue to evacuate, periodically over the next couple of days, as it does), and continued driving home. The next morning, to my surprise, I noticed that my car had registered that I’d made far-above-average fuel economy during that trip, given how far it estimated I had left to go. I wonder what technique, in that fugue like state of feeling vomitously ill, I had applied to get such good mileage.

The Nest Protect

First of all, there’s the question: did I hold back on voicing criticisms of the Nest Protect before the news that Google had purchased Nest? And since one of the creepiest American companies has acquired yet something else that I had innocently invited into my life, will only now I mention everything I’ve found wrong with this product in a public forum?

Yes. The answer is yes.

So let’s begin:

When I first received it, I was pretty much overjoyed. The packaging was simple and beautiful, and the industrial design was incredible, especially for a humble smoke and CO detector. Setting up the device was particularly easy, with the aid of an iPhone, at least for someone technically adept (you need to connect your phone to the temporary WiFi access point the device sets up). It also gets novelty point for thus far being the only time I’ve scanned a QR code for something meaningful.

Soon after installing the device, though, some trouble cropped up. I cooked some food on the stove, and the oil smoked a little, and it caused it to signal a “heads up” alert. That was fine. But then it tried to say one of its phrases, but it was truncated and garbled, and then the device started making a high-pitched chirp every minute. Avoiding annoying, high-pitched chirps was one of the reasons I bought the Protect anyway.

I took the device off the ceiling, and made many attempts to search Google and Nest’s website for information about what the heck was wrong with the device. I finally managed to find Nest’s support email form, and sent in my question with plenty of detail — it was about a week before I got any response. I searched, and looked at the device, and it finally woke up and said its batteries were very low, and needed immediate replacing. This wasn’t good news, of course, since I just bought the damn thing and didn’t want to buy a new set of “long lasting” batteries.

The ultimate issue seems to be that the batteries become partially unseated (you don’t install the batteries yourself when you get the device, instead, you pull out a plastic pull tab that sits between the contacts). Enough jostling of the device was apparently enough to reseat the batteries well enough, and the device worked again. Nest’s eventual support reply basically said the same thing: to remove and re-seat the batteries, which arrived in my inbox days after I’d finally jostled them back into place by accident.

But so life with the Nest Protect began with this rocky start. Being a sane person, I cook bacon with some regularity, and cook various things on the stovetop otherwise. My house doesn’t have great ventilation, so the Nest Protect goes off just as often when I cook as any other smoke alarm has. Not a big deal — it’s designed to be able to handle false alarms easily, by letting you “wave to hush” the device.

The trouble is, I haven’t been able to get the wave-to-hush thing to work even once. I’ve tried waving fast, slow, and from various distances, and it is never hushed. One good thing I will say about it, though, is that the big button on its face — which also hushes the device when you press it — is really easy to push with a broom handle.

The Nest Protect also offers integration with your phones and tablets, and uses push notifications to send a notice to your phone when there is an alarm. This seems to work pretty well, in that my phone echoes the false alarm a few tens of seconds after I hear it in the other room. The trouble, though, is that in order for me to take advantage of this feature, my house needs to be on fire while I am away.

In the end, I have to wonder if this is really worth the $129 — a significant premium — for the somewhat lackluster features you get from it. Some of the issues here I can willingly attribute to a 1.0 product, especially one that hadn’t yet gone through the hassle of mass production and shipping. What I’m left wondering about is what benefit I’m actually getting from this device. If you wanted to really shake up the smoke/CO alarm industry, make a device that (1) has a larger battery, that lasts longer than a damn 9-volt, (2) starts out with a quieter alarm, then escalates, and (3) has a big honkin button in the middle of it, that can let you hush false alarms. Make it cost $30, and you’re golden.

Hashtags are so passé. It’s time for 👊smashtags

WODMac.

Working feverishly on this, every spare moment I have. Trying to get what might be the first app in the Mac App Store for tracking CrossFit workouts. Of course, it’s going to be compatible with the iOS app I wrote.

WODMac.

Working feverishly on this, every spare moment I have. Trying to get what might be the first app in the Mac App Store for tracking CrossFit workouts. Of course, it’s going to be compatible with the iOS app I wrote.

Another salad recipe

I seem to wing it doing salads. This was tasty too:

  • 1 package baby spring mix.
  • Half a shallot, finely chopped.
  • 1 small carrot, chopped.
  • A few slices lacto-fermented pickled cucumbers.
  • Pork rinds, roughly chopped (turns out, kind of a nice alternative to croutons).
  • 3 leaves fresh basil, finely chopped.

Dressing:

  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar.
  • 1 tsp whole grain mustard.
  • 1 tsp tamari.
  • 1 tsp sunflower seed butter (or whatever nut butter you prefer).

Mix ingredients into a large bowl. Mix dressing ingredients in a small bowl, and stir until mustard and nut butter are fully incorporated. Toss and serve.

Pod People

Something that coffee nerds say a lot is that it’s not really the brew method that matters in making an enjoyable cup of coffee, but rather the freshness of the beans, and how freshly ground they are. Different methods can bring out different things in coffee, of course, but key to any method of choice are good quality beans, freshly roasted and ground when needed.

If I were to make a personal ranking of coffee brewing methods, espresso would be king, made with a real, high-quality espresso machine. I don’t get to have an espresso machine where I work (not yet, at least; if we see any success whatsoever I’m going to push for one in the break room), so it must be some method you can prepare in a breakroom that has only a filtered hot water dispenser available. Well, the hot water dispenser, or a Keurig . Because like most offices that have small breakrooms/kitchenettes, and like countless hotel rooms, we have a Keurig.

I’m not a fan of the Keurig. The coffee “pods” generally contain old, bad, or (ugh) flavored coffee. The only thing it has going for it is it’s a very quick way to prepare a cup of coffee (making an americano on an espresso machine is probably still faster, and the result is far superior, but that’s beside the point).

So, there are available refillable “pods” that you can fill with your own coffee, and use these in a Keurig. So, with one of those (I tried the Solofill K3 refillable cup ), and some excellent coffee, I guess I should get a quality cup of coffee from the breakroom.


We don’t have a grinder in our breakroom, and I haven’t broken down and bought one to use there, mainly because the cost of the right kind of grinder — a burr grinder — might be a little more than I’m willing to spend for something that’s going to go into a breakroom shared with the people I work with. That leaves getting the beans ground at the store when buying them, which isn’t ideal, since you don’t get the benefits of a fresh grind. It’s also a pain trying to explain what kind of grind you need to the person at the register, who will grind your beans for you; you typically just tell them how you brew your coffee, and they’ll grind it to the correct fineness. The roaster I buy my beans from is a high-end roaster, and they don’t seem to know (or care) much about the Keurig or grinding for it.1

The cup doesn’t hold very much, certainly less ground coffee than I use in my simple, red plastic Melitta pour-over coffee maker. That’s going to be a bad sign, anyway, because I don’t think you can use enough coffee grounds to get a decent cup of coffee — this is probably why the Keurig will only dispense six ounces of hot water at a time. One point here is that you don’t go through your twelve ounces of ground coffee very fast, and you’re left with coffee that is too old.

The brew, for me, has only ever been passable, and only marginally better than a decent pre-filled pod. The brewing process goes something like this: at first you get a ribbon very dark, muddy coffee into your cup, which lightens to an anaemic looking strand as the brew finishes. At the end, you get a 6 ounce cup of under-extracted coffee, with some muddy junk mixed in. The result can be drunk, but the same coffee — same grind, out of the same bag — brewed with a conical pour-over yields a dark, rich cup of coffee. The problems with the brew method are pretty apparent: the metal mesh is not fine enough to strain out all the particles from the coffee, like most metal filters. Once the gritty, fine coffee is pushed through the filter screen, you see the next problem, which is that the water is not in contact with the coffee for very long at all, so the coarser-grained coffee is under-extracted. In the end, you get a watery cup of coffee only made dark at all by the gritty sludge that settles to the bottom of the cup.

 


Cleanup isn’t that difficult, but also isn’t any easier than any other brew method; it’s fairly easy to clean up if you’re using pre-filled coffee pods, though, since you just throw the pod away. One thing I note, though, is that nobody I work with that uses the Keurig with the pre-filled pods ever throws away the pod they just used, instead they just leave it in the machine. So, that probably tells you about the kind of person that prefers using the Keurig. What I do for cleanup is lay down a paper towel on the counter, open the lid of the cup, place the cup upside-down on the paper towel, and give it a tap downwards, and also give it a tap on the bottom of the cup. This should loosen all the grounds from the cup, leaving them in a little sandcastle-like formation on top of the paper towel. Then I rince the cup in the sink, and dry it and my hands with another paper towel. Those of you paying attention might see that I just wasted two paper towels doing this routine, instead of the single paper filter I might throw away with a pour-over coffee maker. So I guess I’m no longer cluttering the environment with a single-use plastic cup, but instead using two paper towels.

 


In the end, I have to conclude that the Keurig is one of the worst ways to brew coffee. The prepackaged coffee pods are gross and wasteful, and refillable solutions, though they make a good effort, just cannot do a good coffee justice.

1. I suppose you could figure out what grind number you need, and just tell them that.

This Turned Out Well

  • 1 cup hearts of romaine, chopped.
  • 1/2 inch piece of salami, cut into small cubes.
  • 2 eggs, poached until set in shell (64° C water bath, about 2 hours)
  • Handful walnuts, chopped
  • Cracked pepper

Dressing:

  • ¼ cup homemade olive oil mayonnaise1
  • 2–3 tbsp homemade ketchup2
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • Chopped chives

Cook eggs in water bath, place in ice bath when cooked. Chop romaine and add to bowl. Chop salami and place on romaine. Crack open eggs carefully to open the shell, and slide the egg out; use a spoon to transfer the yolk and the tight whites to the bowl. Chop walnuts and add to salad. Mix mayonnaise, ketchup, and vinegar and mix well, add chives. Pour dressing onto salad, mix well. Eat while watching the Die Hard movies on Christmas eve day, wearing a bathrobe (optional).

1. Great recipe for this in the cookbookWell Fed 2.
2. Ibid.

Well, I have to admit that things are really starting to look up for me since my life turned to shit.

Ghost World (film, 2001)

Juxtaposition courtesy of my RSS reader.

Juxtaposition courtesy of my RSS reader.

App Review of the Week

From “Machinedrp”:

App was terrible. It is just like a note book that costs money. I downloaded this and deleted it within 5 minutes. Strongly recommend that people should not waste their money on this. I learned by my mistakes.

Because, we all know that $2 is an absurd amount to charge for a notebook.