Two Three new coffee inventions

Coffee invention #1: Regular readers know about my obsession with Aerobie, the “astonishing flying ring” that puts all other frisbees to sad, sad shame. So you can imagine that my interest was piqued when I learned that Aerobie inventor Alan Adler had turned his engineering efforts to the creation of a better coffee maker. I haven’t tried it out, but reading over the product page it appears to have some good points and some bad points.

[Update 12/4/2005: Since writing this post I have been able try the Aeropress out in person. My review of it is available here.]

The AeropressThe Aeropress works similarly to a traditional press, in that water is poured over loose grounds and then forced through a filter with light pressure after a period of steeping. One difference that I like is that, as you can see in the promo picture, coffee in the Aeropress is pushed downward through a filter with light air pressure, rather than the filter pushed through the coffee as in a French press. The advantage here is that if you brew more coffee than you can fit in your mug, the remainder is kept off the grounds so it doesn’t leech out bitter flavors.

Now for some criticism. The Aeropress uses very fine microfilters instead of the more porous steel filters found in most presses. Aerobie claims that this allows the drinker to use finer ground coffee, resulting in shorter steeping times and fewer particles sneaking through to cause the bitterness and grittiness that often haunt the final dregs of a French press. However, the rich body produced by a French press is part of what makes it so delicious and sensual. In contrast, Aeropress coffee is “so pure and particle-free that it can be stored for days as a concentrate.” That doesn’t sound to me like coffee with a good, velvety body.

The Aeropress also boasts of producing coffee with low acidity. That’s a good thing if you’re used to the stomach-turning acidity of the coffee you probably get from your office’s drip maker. But acidity has a good side called brightness. Balanced by body and other flavors, it’s valued in a quality cup. I’d be worried that a bright coffee might come out a bit flat after a thirty second journey through an Aeropress.

Finally, the Aeropress’s advertised ability to make espresso is ridiculous. You can’t get a good shot of espresso unless you’ve got the pressure to extract the lipids and colloids than produce the flavorful and aromatic crema. Absent that, all you’ve got are a few ounces of highly concentrated coffee. It may taste good in milk, but it’s sure as hell not espresso.

It seems that the primary quest behind the Aeropress was to create something better than cheap drip brewers and the trendy and expensive pod machines. I’m willing to believe that this device meets that challenge and produces a smoother, less bitter cup. Unfortunately, from the description it appears it may achieve this at the cost of body and brightness, two very important qualities. If the Aeropress came with the option to use less porous filters that would work with coarser grinds and longer brewing times, then the downward filtering and easy cleaning might give it a legitimate edge over a French press. I suppose the challenge here would be preventing the coffee from filtering through too early.

Coffee invention #2: I wasn’t sure if this was real when I read it, but it’s a kind of neat though not world-shakingly useful idea. Coffee shop owner Nick Bayss has invented “smart” coffee lids for take-away cups that change color with heat. They start out a dark coffee brown, then shift into a bright red when they heat up. A dark band around the rim shows that the lid is on securely, while a red spot on the band would indicate that it has been applied incorrectly and steam is escaping. This indicator would supposedly prevent burn-causing spills. The lids would also give customers a visual signal of their beverage’s temperature.

Like I said, this is not an invention one can’t live without. But at a cost of just a penny extra per lid, they may be worthwhile. Add to this the fact that the new Smart Lid Systems company is looking into making the lids with custom colors or appearing messages and they might just have a marketing winner. Check out the pictures in the article. They look cool.

Coffee Invention #3 [update]: A few minutes after posting, I came across this third coffee invention. Nestle has applied for patents in all major markets for a kind of coffee beer. This isn’t beer flavored with coffee, but rather a beverage fermented from actual roasted coffee beans. Yeasts metabolize coffee and sucrose. Previously extracted coffee oils, nitrogen, and sugar are then added to create a foamy drink.

Alas, Nestle’s coffee beer is fermented at a temperature too low to produce alcohol, so drinkers looking to get drunk and buzzed at the same time will have to settle for Anheuser-Busch’s nasty sounding BE energy beer. It’s not nearly as appealing as this farcical ThinkGeek product.


Smash Corporate Greed!

Ooh, the AFL-CIO has an online video game arcade! Play “Smash Corporate Greed” to vent your anger against the man, or “Shatter the Glass Ceiling” with some Arkanoid-style action. A Teamster version of Frogger that replaces the frog with a CEO and makes the trucks the good guys is in development, I’m sure.

I know what you’re thinking… “If we libertarians had such fun and educational Flash games, perhaps we could finally win the political victories we so richly deserve.”

Oh, but we do! Purge your mind of the anti-capitalist ideas so subtly drawn into the union’s games with “The Tragedy of the Bunnies.” I know I’m partial, but I really do think we’ve got better animation, catchier music, and a sounder economic lesson to teach. And isn’t that what video games are all about?

[Thanks, Renee!]


Brilliant idea for a better world

“The blogosphere is a-buzz about Kiva,” writes Pablo Halkyard on the World Bank’s Private Sector Development blog, though I’d never heard of it until tonight. Kiva combines the development potential of microcredit with direct reporting on the people receiving loans. Interested donors can browse the Kiva website for African businesses in need of small amounts of capital to get started. They can then make loans to specific businesses in increments of $25 and will receive monthly updates on the success of the entrepreneurs to whom they give loans. At the end of the finance period, the loan is repaid and may be withdrawn or loaned out again to another business.

The idea of microcredit isn’t new — it has a successful track record of spurring development among those without access to traditional banks. What is new here is the pairing up of lenders and borrowers on a peer-to-peer basis, allowing lenders to see exactly what their money is used for and to rechannel it when it has been repaid. Kiva currently reports a 100% repayment rate. Though that may not last, microcredit generally boasts very low default rates. In addition, all of the money lent goes directly to the entrepreneurs; Kiva’s operating expenses are paid entirely by interest and outside donations.

The enterprise blurs the distinction between lenders and donors in an appealing way. I wasn’t sure which word to use as I wrote this post. A person lending through the site isn’t just writing a check to charity, for he fully expects to be repaid. On the other hand, he isn’t looking to make money. There’s no reason to use the site except to better others’ lives. Kiva’s identity is also hard to pin down. It’s part microfinance institution, but it also partners with other MFIs and serves as an innovative marketer for that approach to development. The whole concept is a celebration of how entrepreneurship and creativity can help do good in the world. I like that way of thinking.


Coffee revolution?

This is interesting: a new single cup coffee brewer unveiled this weekend at Seattle’s Victrola. It’s called The Clover and it’s got coffee pros salivating. The concept is simple: measure and grind the right amount of coffee, brew it through stainless steel with PID controlled water set at the perfect temperature, et voila! Thirty seconds later you’ve got a freshly brewed cup of coffee made to precise specifications.

If the Clover lives up to the hype, it could bridge the gap between brewing the perfect cup and the commercial demands of putting out a lot of coffee. French presses bring out the subtle flavors of a bean, but they’re messy, require a lot of prep, and take longer to brew than many customers are content to wait for. Drip makers produce more coffee faster, but the taste can be subpar and large portions are often kept on tap beyond the point of freshness. The Clover has been said to match the quality of a press at a speed that’s practical in a commercial setting.

This would be great news for specialty coffee. Once people try an excellent coffee brewed the right way, the standard drip just doesn’t cut it anymore. The Clover could bring that experience to a much bigger customer base, raising the demand for excellent coffees with complexity and subtlety that are lost in today’s brewers.

Sound enticing? Victrola has more details and some photos of the machine in action.


Better than Artifactster

Back in 2003 I had the following idea for a website:

… Perhaps a site like All Consuming [JG: a site for keeping track of one’s books and, later, other media] could become an effective matchmaker by correlating what its users are reading or have in their collections.

Here’s another way to do it, based on the Friendster model: users create the standard profile with personal information and photo, but then instead of linking to other users they link to cultural artifacts (favorite books, music, movies, etc.). The software could then display the other people who have the most shared links, with optional filters for sex, age, location, whatever. There may not be a woman out there who likes libertarian politics, evolutionary biology, Batman, Nietzsche, Meet the Press, and Paul Simon, but if there is I would love to meet her. Such a site would probably be the most viable way to make that happen. even provides an efficient way to identify individual items. Everything they sell already has a unique ASIN number that would cover most books, music, and movies. Links to the various items could generate sales for Amazon, so there’s a quid pro quo for using their data. Associate referral fees could also accrue to the website, possibly making it financially self-sufficient. Standardizing things like TV shows and works of art/artists would be a more difficult task, but a doable one.

If this website (Culturster? Artifactster? Tastester? None of these names has a good ring to it, so let’s dispense with the Napster derivations) is ever made, it would be good for more than just matchmaking. It would also be good for discovering other things a user would be interested in based on the selections of people with similar taste.

A site sort of like this now exists, and with a much better name than Artifactster. Library Thing allows users to catalogue their books, tag them, and find other users with similar libraries (example: my catalogue, my profile). This opens up the potential to find new reading material or, though there is less emphasis on this, get in contact with others who have similar interests. It seems to be doing this well: after adjusting for library size and book obscurity, the second person the site lists with a similar library is my friend and fellow blogger Will Wilkinson.

(Note: Just figuring which users have the “same” books is a challenging task in itself, thanks to variations in how things are titled, American vs. British ISBNs, paperback vs. hardback, and multiple editions. Founder Tim Spalding discusses how he deals with this issue in the About section of the site.)

Library Thing currently only works with books. I don’t know if there are any plans to add music or movie functionality, but it could be an interesting experiment to see how much taste in one area overlaps with taste in another. I’m not complaining though. I really like the site and it’s free for the first 200 books one enters. The cost is only $10 a year if you want to catalogue more than that.

[Via Crooked Timber.]



Back when I first started this weblog with such an immodest URL I cautioned myself against letting the site drop into the narcissism pit. Today we ignore that advice completely and take the plunge…

1) First, from my friend in S.F., here’s me imagined as a South Park character. Double-fisting the coffee and the beer is especially appropriate given the blog’s subject matter of late.

OMG Infinite Crisis LOL I'm ready

2) Second, here’s what I would look like as an East Asian man and as a woman (scary). These come courtesy of David Barzelay, who had way too much fun with the Perception Laboratory’s Face Transformer. It’s a neat application to try out if you’ve got some time to kill or have been considering drastic plastic surgery.

East Asian Jacob Hot!

3) Finally, for no good reason at all I’ve added a Frappr map to the sidebar. Waste some time at work and add yourself with this new Google Maps application.


“Bud Pong” no longer on tap

Court sends in this article about Anheuser-Busch ceasing a promotional campaign focused on getting bar patrons to play a game of “Bud Pong.” The reasons are the predictable appeal to kids, encouragement of underage drinking, irresponsible use of alcohol, blah blah blah. Alas, in this instance MADD comes off as much less lame than the beer marketers, whose feigned ignorance makes me want to slap them for their weakness:

Players on one team try to sink a ball into another team’s liquid-filled cups. If successful, the opposing team must drink. Promotion guidelines specify the use of water in the cups, not beer, Anheuser-Busch (down $0.27 to $42.20, Research) said.

In a statement, the maker of Budweiser said that “it has come to our attention that despite our explicit guidelines, there may have been instances where this promotion was not carried out in the manner it was intended.”

A game identical to beer pong, played with items bearing the Bud logo, in a bar, and college students don’t play the game with H2O? Shocking.


Word processing on Web 2.0

For the past couple weeks I’ve been doing a lot of my writing on Writely, a free Web-based word processor that works entirely within a browser. It’s remarkably fast and is compatible both importing and exporting to Word. A few other pluses are that it saves drafts of each document so you can go back and view changes, it allows real time collaboration with others, and it offers direct publishing to many blog services (I haven’t tried that part out yet). Give it a try if you want to migrate one step further away from Microsoft.


One-star reviews of the best books

TIME recently composed a list of its critics’ choices for the best 100 English novels written since 1923. The magazine also links to the original reviews. Boooooring.

These one-star reviews of the novels culled from are much more fun:

The Great Gatsby (1925)

Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald

“It grieves me deeply that we Americans should take as our classic a book that is no more than a lengthy description of the doings of fops.”

Lord of the Flies (1955)

Author: William Golding

“I am obsessed with Survivor, so I thought it would be fun. WRONG!!! It is incredibly boring and disgusting. I was very much disturbed when I found young children killing each other. I think that anyone with a conscience would agree with me.”

The Sun Also Rises (1926)

Author: Ernest Hemingway

“Here’s the first half of the book: ‘We had dinner and a few drinks. We went to a cafe and talked and had some drinks. We ate dinner and had a few drinks. Dinner. Drinks. More dinner. More drinks. We took a cab here (or there) in Paris and had some drinks, and maybe we danced and flirted and talked sh*t about somebody. More dinner. More drinks. I love you, I hate you, maybe you should come up to my room, no you can’t’… I flipped through the second half of the book a day or two later and saw the words ‘dinner’ and ‘drinks’ on nearly every page and figured it wasn’t worth the risk.”


To save fuel, this Hummer only pours ristrettos

Speaking of my “espresso” feed, tonight I came across an interesting blog called Dutch Barista by Jeroen Veldkamp. His most recent post features photos of a Hummer outfitted to become an all-terrain espresso stand. I usually make fun of Hummers, but in this case I’ll make an exception.

Jeroen also links to the page of Kees van der Westin, a Dutch designer of some very nice espresso machines. Click over to his “old work” for some fantastic modern designs. For pure aesthetic, my hands-down favorite is the Zizi.


Linkonomics: social bookmarking and the decline of the hat tip ethic

Links are said to be the currency of the blogosphere. Throwing social bookmarking into the mix could dramatically alter what kinds of posts earn payment. Should we be worried?

One of the things I find most useful about my new weblog format is the plugin that displays my most recent links in the right sidebar. It works automatically and serves as a pretty effortless way to keep fresh material on the site even when I’m not writing, hopefully giving regular readers a reason to come back when I’m not on a good posting schedule.

(Quick primer for the non-geeks in the audience: is a social bookmarking service. Users bookmark pages they find interesting and tag them with descriptive words. This creates new ways of finding useful content on the Web: you can follow the links of one particular bookmarker, check out the most popular links, or track certain tags. I subscribe via RSS to all bookmarks tagged with “espresso,” “libertarianism,” and a few other words. A lot of garbage comes in but a quick scan each day usually reveals a few sites I wouldn’t have otherwise known about.)

Social bookmarking is an alternative to blogging as a way of sharing information. Blogging has the benefit of adding a personal touch but groups links coarsely by the varied interests of the blogger and a few, perhaps poorly defined, post categories. Social bookmarking is impersonal and unedited but groups links precisely and flexibly by tags. Both methods have their advantages but social bookmarking seems like it may be the most efficient way to share links when no additional commentary is necessary or desired.

Blogging and social bookmarking aren’t only competitors. They complement each other very well and perhaps are at the their best when combined. Integrating one’s links into the sidebar essentially creates a mini-blog, freeing up space on the main page. This means that the blog entries with original content or that generate discussion in the comments section will stay at the top of the page longer, while the entries that would just be saying, “Hey, go look over here,” are relegated to a less prominent part of the blog.

Though I’m obviously a fan of combining social bookmarking and blogging, there is one aspect of it that has given me pause. If this becomes a popular thing to do, it will change the linking ethic of the blogosphere. The evolved norm is for a blogger to give credit to the source where she initially found a site she’s linking to with a “via” or a ” hat tip” acknowledgement. This is a small thing but it can make a big difference in establishing an unknown blog as one worth watching. I know that a few hat tips around the libertarian blogosphere were helpful in raising my site from total obscurity to the state of slightly less obscurity it currently enjoys. For example, sometime in my first year I linked to an unintentionally funny newspaper headline that got picked up by Radley Balko and Jim Henley, both of whom linked back to me. I added absolutely nothing of value to the link, but the hat tip ethic brought me traffic from two blogs far more popular than my own. If they had instead been using a mini-blog for sharing amusing links like that, I wouldn’t have gotten those hat tips becaure there’s no place for acknowledgment there.

If integrating social bookmarking with blogging becomes common, I can see two main effects. The first is that entries that simply link to some place else with no value added will become much less useful for generating traffic. Other bloggers may pick up the link, but they’ll just add it to their sidebars. The days of easy hat tips will vanish and start-up bloggers will find it harder to establish their sites in that manner.

The second effect is that getting recognized for original content will become far easier. Bookmarking a page on takes just a few seconds and plugins display it automatically in a blogger’s sidebar. I’ve personally found that this has led me to link in my sidebar to lots of good entries from other weblogs I read; I was not linking to nearly as many when I could only do so by writing a new post of my own.

In short, integrating blogging and social bookmarking will decrease the benefits of writing posts that link somewhere with no value added while decreasing the costs of others linking to truly interesting pages. The result should be that good original content will be increasingly rewarded and proliferate more easily around the blogosphere. In answer to my own doubts, then, we shouldn’t be worried. The hat tip ethic is imperfect anyway since no one follows the chain back more than one or two sources, and the net effect will be positive for creativity, sound analysis, and good writing. So sign up for, make space on your sidebar for your links, and start bookmarking.

[Update 10/21/05: Djoeke van de Klomp of Blinklist informed me of this brief survey asking users what they think would make social bookmarking better. If you’re a bookmarker with an idea, your input is welcome.]


San Francisco top ten

You know what’s worse than your server getting hacked? When your back-up server gets hacked, too, while you’re waiting for the first server to get cleaned up. Thus the last two days of not posting.

On Monday night I returned from a long weekend vacation in San Francisco to visit a friend recently moved there from the District. This was my first trip to the Golden State and I enjoyed it very much. The weather was perfect, the views were spectacular, and the city has a thriving cafe culture. The people are friendly. They actually make eye contact on the street in passing and, my God, sometimes even vocalize a greeting. On paper, the city has D.C. beat hands down.

And yet… I’m not sure I could live there long before missing the ambition and hustle of the East Coast. For all of D.C.’s faults, I wasn’t quite as tempted to pack my bags for California as I thought I’d be after visiting.

There’s only so much that can be fit into four days of exploring, but we made the most of it and covered a whole lot of ground. In the spirit of Courtney’s S.F. post and in no particular order, here’s a highly subjective list of my ten favorite places from the weekend in San Francisco:

Blue Bottle by camera phone 1) Blue Bottle Coffee — What’s a vacation without a little espresso tourism? Blue Bottle’s roaster is in Oakland, but they’ve got a neat espresso stand tucked away on a side street in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood. It sits in the front of a woodworking shop, just a La Marzocco machine, a few chairs, and a small bar where locals in the know line up for their daily fix. Barista Steve was great, serving up a delicious, super-smooth double shot and a Gibraltar, a small espresso drink just brimming with milky goodness. Check out the enticing Gibraltar photo on the Blue Bottle weblog, then this mind-boggling negative rosetta they posted. I could go on and on about this place, but bottom line: it’s awesome!

2) Dog Eared Books — This used bookstore in the Mission was the perfect place to waste some time and pick up a few books on my last afternoon in town. Eclectic selection, good atmosphere, and near lots of coffee shops and other bookstores.

3) Bombay Ice Creamery — With flavors like cardamom, rose, and chicku, this Indian ice cream shop is an intriguing departure from the usual Western menu. Sample a few, then go with the almond saffron pistachio. I also enjoyed trying a bottle of Thums Up, a strong Indian cola now owned by Coke.

4) Wente Vineyards — Wente is a winery in Livermore, a small suburban town east of Oakland with quite a few wineries. The staff in the tasting room were friendly, down to earth, and enthusiastic. The wines were some of the best we had all weekend and affordable, too. If you’ve got the time, Wente also has a restaurant and golf course.

5) Sonoma by car — On Saturday we rented a car and drove to Sonoma after Livermore. We were lucky to score one with a sunroof, making the drive through the beautiful wine country that much more enjoyable. Highlights here were walking around the grounds at Bartholomew Park Winery and popping into the numerous shops in the town plaza.

Sonoma from the car

6) Sonoma Wine Shop — This was one of our favorite stops in Sonoma. The tasting room in back offers 6 tastes for just $4, making it a good value. Plus their selection of about twenty open bottles to choose from offers the opportunity to try things a bit different from the usual chardonnays and zinfandels, like a California sangiovese or late harvest Riesling. Irresistible free samples from the sausage maker next door made the experience complete.

7) Ti Couz — This Breton-style creperie in the Mission is from Court’s list. It’s not the kind of place I’d usually pick out, but I’m glad we went. I never knew crepes could be so tasty and so satisfying.

8) Sausalito at night — It was a bit late for a visit when we went to Sausalito, but the night couldn’t have been more perfect for seeing the San Francisco skyline, the Bay Bridge fully lit, or the full moon reflected from a clear sky onto the Bay. I’m a sucker for waterfronts.

9) Caffe Trieste — The oldest espresso bar on the West Coast, it’s the most authentic Italian cafe I’ve come across in the U.S. The perfect spot to settle in for a cozy late night cappuccino in Little Italy.

10) Absinthe — We went here for dessert my first night in the city. A bit pricey, but the high quality of the food and drink and the helpful staff make it worthwhile. Rioja, tokaji aszu, and chocolate pot de creme added up as the ideal indulgences for kicking off the weekend.


Who moved their cheese?

From the CBC:

A Quebec cheese company has finally given up on finding $50,000 worth of cheese it sank underwater in an attempt to make it taste better.

Last year, La Fromagerie Boivin dropped 800 kg of cheese into the water of the Saguenay fjord, north of Quebec City.

Letting it sit 50 metres underwater was supposed to produce a cheese that would taste unique, but the company had major trouble finding its sunken cheese.

Divers and high-tech tracking equipment were used to search for the lost fromage.

“It’s a mystery,” said master diver Pierre Dufour, who assisted in the hunt. “All we know is that the cheese is no longer where it was left.”

Am I the only one who didn’t know there were fjords in Quebec? I thought Slartibartfast only put those in Norway. [Via TMN.]


Stupid hackers

Sometime Saturday afternoon the server hosting my site was hacked and recruited for a DOS attack, taking down my site and my ability to receive emails. The site is mostly restored now and some old emails are getting delivered, but if you sent me something in the time since then and I haven’t responded you may want to resend.

Three reasons this was the worst possible time for my site to go down:

1) It happened right after a link from The Agitator, always a nice spike in traffic.

2) It happened right before a magic gig at which I handed out about fifty business cards, all of which sent people to a site that didn’t work. (Actually, given the crappy design and cheesy photo on my magic site, that may not be a bad thing.)

3) It prevented me from blogging about this year’s Ig Nobel Prize for Medicine going to Gregg Miller. For those who don’t remember, Miller is the inventor of Neuticles, the prosthetic dog testicles that led to one of my all time favorite blog entries; Miller himself even left a comment here. Congrats to Miller for his win and his new book Going… Going… NUTS! [And thanks to Nikki for sending me the link. I’m so proud that when she sees a story on prosthetic testicles, she thinks of me.]


Mama’s gonna be so proud

Friends from my more staid days at Vandy and Cato may have joked that getting me to play beer pong would be a newsworthy event. Apparently, they were right. From the Washington City Paper’s “Show and Tell” column about Dr. Dremo’s games being shut down by the evil Virginia ABC:

“It concerned the agents that [the game] would cause people to overconsume,” says [ABC spokesman Betty] Gettings, who thinks the operatives made a sound judgment call. “I happen to know from personal experience—not that I’ve played; I have a son that told me what it is—that it would induce drinking to excess.”

It’s a charge that some Dremo’s beer-pongers dispute. “Given how long it took my friends and I to make our tosses, playing the game probably moderated our alcohol intake,” says 23-year-old Arlington resident Jacob Grier, who confesses to having lost his “Beirut virginity” at Dremo’s on Sept. 10. “We had one pitcher of beer for the entire game, and we didn’t even finish it,” Grier says. “We would have definitely finished a pitcher rather quickly if it was just the five of us sitting around drinking.”

I wouldn’t necessarily extrapolate my own experience to all players, but it’s still a stupid ruling. It was completely discretionary and took away one of the things that made Dremo’s a unique part of the neighborhood. Which is exactly what Chad says, who is also quoted:

“We can sit anywhere and drink beer,” says Arlington brew hound Chad Wilcox, “but Dremo’s allows us to have a different experience by being active and doing something exciting.”

To Wilcox and others, that excitement is called beer pong.

I like that I’m a “resident” and Chad is a “brew hound.” That sounds about right.