Smither update

Remember Bob Smither, the Libertarian running without balloted Republican opposition for Tom DeLay’s seat in TX? He’s polling fairly well coming up on election day, though still trailing considerably. From an average of reported polls:

* Nick Lampson (D)—————-39%
* Bob Smither (L)——————-20%
* Key Write-in Candidate (R)—12%
* Undecided/Other——————29%

Being down 19% isn’t encouraging, but 29% undecided leaves a lot of room for improvement. Write-in voters who can’t remember the Republican’s name may also vote Smither once they’re in the booth.

There’s more info on the Smither campaign site. I like this bit:

In what will sound very ironic to a Libertarian audience, we’ve got to convince enough Republican voters that a write-in vote is nothing but a wasted vote.

[Thanks, Phil!]


Barry’s decision put on hold

No news is no news in the Barry’s Magic Shop case. Barry’s, you’ll remember, is the last remaining magic shop in the DC area and the building it leases was recently coerced from its owner under threat of eminent domain by Montgomery County. If redevelopment officials get their way this unique business will be torn down to make way for a highly dubious sidewalk plan.

On the 9th the County Council held a hearing to discuss the fate of the shop. I wish I’d known about it in time to be there in person. Fortunately, at-large Democrat Steven Silverman continued to defend the shop:

Council members said they were concerned that the plan for the sidewalk has been in the works since 1995, while the county just bought the Barry’s Magic Shop building from Mr. Taylor and his wife in May.

“You could have a situation where they would be displaced and you could end up with a project that doesn’t get approved or built for years, and that’s what I’m having trouble getting my arms around,” said council member Steven A. Silverman, at-large Democrat.

“Why would you demolish a building until you knew exactly what the cost would be or what you want to put in there?”

Full story here. A final decision date has not yet been set.

I’m glad to see Barry’s continue to receive sympathetic press, but the focus is disappointing. The emphasis is on small business losing ground to corporations, which is a tangential point at best here. Contrary to the Home Depot analogy quoted in the article, there’s no Mega Corporate Magic Warehouse moving into the neighborhood and driving little old Barry’s out of business. It’s the government taking Barry’s shop through the abusive threat of eminent domain. That part of the story has been obscured in almost all of the media coverage.

For more background on the case, see my previous post.


Roasting fools

Posts from my Pacific Northwest trip still to come, but first, adventures in roasting. What happens when three baristas think they can cook some beans?

My friend Courtney signed up last week to try out a home roaster for a TV show. She invited a bunch of people over, Counter Culture kindly sent up some green beans, and everything went swimmingly for the cameras. After at least two hours of shooting — which will be cut down to less than two minutes of aired footage — Court was exhausted and the few of us remaining at the party were relaxing in the living room.

David, who had just returned from Berlin, was there as well. He brought with him a bag of green beans he’d bought somewhere in Tanzania this summer. Their sourcing was suspect to begin with, but months of storage in a ziplock bag hadn’t done the beans any favors. They were noticeably spongier and moister than the ones from Counter Culture.

This being perhaps the only time that David’s beans and a home coffee roaster would ever be in the same room, I suggested we roast them up. “It only takes ten minutes,” I said. So while Court curled up on the couch with her dogs and her boyfriend, the three baristas David, Joel, and I ran into the kitchen for our first attempt at roasting.

None of us had actually used the roaster before, and I was the only one who’d even seen it in operation. David poured a bunch of his moist Tanzanian beans into it. “That looks like a little too much coffee,” I said.

“You think?”

“Yeah, Courtney didn’t use that much. Let’s take some out.”

We took some of the beans out and then, feeling a bit unsure of ourselves, went back to the living room to question Court about it. David asked her, “So you just put the beans in and turn it on, right?”

“Right,” she said. “Just check the directions to set the temperatures and times you want.”

Not really believing that changing the settings would do anything good or bad to this particular coffee, and being men, we took this as affirmation that there was no need to read any directions. David pushed some seemingly random buttons and the roasting process was begun.

Lots of things happen to green coffee beans during roasting. Moisture is evaporated, the beans expand drastically in volume, and carbon dioxide (plus very small amounts of carbon monoxide) is released. Contrary to popular belief, the smell of roasting coffee isn’t all that great. Freshly roasted coffee smells delicious; the smoke it produces, not so much. All of these facts were about to conspire against us as we tranformed Courtney’s kitchen into the world’s worst small batch roastery.

Normally, the beans circulate throughout the roasting chamber as the air blows through them. But since we’d used too much coffee, when the beans expanded they had nowhere to move. They were pinned in place, with a small amount of them stuck right at the hottest point in the roaster. Those burnt to a crisp while the rest sent out plumes of smoke and steam.

Smoke pouring into the kitchen was the first sign of things gone wrong.

It’s a good thing the camera crew had left already. People in the kitchen barely show up on film.

I think the carbon monoxide is getting to David in this photo.

At this point the smart thing to do would have been to unplug the roaster. In our defense, it was Court’s idea to have us pose for pictures instead. Perhaps she just wanted evidence for the civil suit?

Nearly two years after Court and I stopped being roommates, I can still find ways to leave a royal mess in her kitchen.


Jacob sightings in Berlin

I claim to be in DC right now, but my friend David thinks he keeps spotting me in Berlin. He even has photographic evidence.

First, an espresso vending machine bearing my name…

Jacob\'s coffee machine

… that dispensed this stuff:

Sweet machine crema

There are a few clues that this machine isn’t really me:

1. I’m not electric.

2. Plastic cup!

3. Where’s the crema?

Perhaps it’s the picture of the guy using coffee to attract a beautiful woman that made David think this machine was me. That is a favorite ploy of mine. But in this case the guy appears to be succeeding, so it’s obviously some other Jacob.

Jacob Kaffe

Jacob’s Kaffee? Wrong Jacob again.

Jacob is not a furry

And what’s this? A man dressed in a bear suit? Damn it David, I’ve told you a million times that’s just a nasty rumor!


What to do in Seattle?

Taking a break between jobs, I’ll be traveling to Seattle this week for a coffee tour (Wednesday – Monday). I’ve been once before, but then I knew nothing about the coffee world and spent most of my time working at a public policy seminar. Now I know the obvious places to go — Vivace, Victrola, and the newly Cloverfied Zoka — but where else should I visit? And what about non-coffee stuff?

Sidetrips to Portland and possibly Vancouver are also likely. Stumptown, the Horse Brass Pub, and Caffe Artigiano would be on my list to of places to see, but what else should be there?

[Cross-posted on Smelling the Coffee.]