Espresso Machine Shopping: The Decision

(Note, I haven’t received my new machine yet, so this isn’t a review yet!)

I used to own a Baby Gaggia. I probably didn’t descale it at the right intervals, and even if I did, it appears that semi-automatic machines in general last about 4 or so years.  This machine worked for several years before it started to leak around the brew head (youtube says this is probably a bad gasket, they wear out). Also, flow dropped to about nothing. It returned after descaling, but then about a week later, no flow again. Forums suggest that this might have been bits of aluminum from the descaling clogging up the downstream holes and pipes.  The internet also says, of the three materials for tanks, aluminum, brass and stainless steel, aluminum corrodes the worst and fastest and is the most difficult to descale without damaging the tank.

Aluminum also accumulates in the brain and is associated with dementia. I’ve already eliminated all other sources of aluminum from my diet and environment, so I can’t really justify repairing this machine if it’s going to be putting aluminum flakes into my coffee. I don’t think I want to repair and sell it either. So with a heavy heart, it’s going to landfill.

What to get instead?

I got a bit of analysis paralysis. In order of complexity, here is what I considered:

Caffeine pills. I got a jar in the cupboard. I really only use them in emergencies.
Instant coffee. Reminds me of Europe, otherwise, not much to report.
Greek coffee. This is cooked in a pan on the stove. Never tried it, seems like it would be gritty.
French press. Too strong. My press is a bit broke and now I have try to filter it or deal with great gobs of grit.
Moka pot. Too strong. I don’t like the powder at the bottom of the cup.
Espresso from a cheap machine (those $50 ones). I used one like this for years. I think it was mostly ruining perfectly good coffee.
Another $400 espresso machine. These give you three or four variables to work with- beans, grind, tamp, pull time and that is about it. You get little feed back about if it is too hot, too cold, over pressure or what have you. These only have one year warranty and seem to have a lot of problems as if corners are being universally cut and the machines are trying to do something their parts are made for.
A step above that, which is something like a Breville BES920XL, which is what I ultimately chose, ~$1200 after discounts.
After that is the superautomatics that grind and brew coffee and steam milk on the press of one button. That’s boring. And those machines break down a lot as witnessed by the large number of superautomatics that are on sale as refurbished.

At the time, I was reading the Self Illusion, a book that reminds me that our brain is less unified than it seems. Parts of our brains make decisions and the conscious, internal monologue part *rationalizes* it, comes up with reasons to support a decision made by the non-rational part of the brain.

My toddler *loves* the coffee machine, especially the numerous steps to make coffee. He is going to really like the BES920XL. So maybe that was the clincher for my unconscious decider.

Rationalizations
People are repairing the machine. This means if it breaks, repair costs are low enough to warrant getting it fixed. One website implied a repair of a semiautomatic could run ballpark $150-$200, or about 1/2 to 1/4 the price of a new machine. So if it’s similar for a BES920XL, then in 3 or 5 years, I’ll just pay $200, get it repaired and it will run for another 5 years.
The machine comes with 2 years warranty. Amex extends that by a year. I ultimately bought it from Seattle Coffee, which also extends the warranty by a year, so I’m sort of double warrantied for the 3rd year.

Who to Buy From

I considered Macy’s, William Sonoma, Amazon, and Seattle Coffee. Macy’s offers Plenti points, which would have been worth around $30, but I couldn’t get a 10% discount. William Sonoma offered a 10% discount if I joined the mailing list.

Amazon offers via 3rd parties and one of them, iDrinkCoffee, was like $300 under the rest. It turns out that iDrinkCoffee is in Canada, which normally is fine, but that means me, an American, would have to pay around $80 in import taxes, $30 in currency conversion fees for Amex, (or $0 with Discover, but Discover doesn’t extend warranties.) Speaking of warranty, machines bought in Canada sometimes (always?) have to be serviced in Canada. And it turns out that electricity is a bit different in the US vs Canada, so the machine might actually be different– I have no idea about that tho. In short, I decided I couldn’t go with Canada.

I also decided to not get a damaged box unit from Amazon– it was $100s less, but was either no warranty or a few month warranty. So that was out.

When 1/5 of the reviews are people discussing breakdowns and repairs (I’m talking about all coffee machines, not just Breville) it follows we should take warranties serious.

I finally chose Seattle Coffee.  I tried to get the 10% discount, but instead got a 5% discount. It felt sort of like haggling with a machine. Seattle Coffee also offered a lot of freebies, like $100 gift card, free shipping, and so on.  Another deciding factor was the Seattle Coffee youtube vids– go watch them, they are obligatory for any modern coffee shopper– this isn’t a bottle of caffeine pills your buying here, there are a bunch of knowledge points you need to pick and use a machine.

Financing.
I’ll be financing it with Amex. I happen to have just opened an Amex account, so I get free credit for 1 year. I wanted to create a sinking fund to pay it off, but the bank is offering 0.01% interest. That isn’t 1 percent, that is 1 percent of 1 percent interest.  So a sinking fund would get me about 12c. Other banks offer 1%, whoo! Fortunately the stockmarket tanked, so maybe I’ll buy $1200 of stocks.

Anyhow, it should arrive in a few days, so I’ll have an excuse to blog again.

Small Donor Charity Strategies

No Charities
As an individual, no donation I make makes a noticeable difference, ie. it’s all rounding errors.

But, if everyone though so, no one would donate and the small donor part of charities funding would evaporate and that would make a difference.

One Charity
Economies of scale and transaction costs favor giving one big chunk of money to one charity, this minimizes the amount of money wasted on administration and marketing.

If charity == uncoordinated wealth redistribution, then it doesn’t matter who gets the money (but by this reasoning, it doesn’t matter how many recipients either)

“Selfish” charities (giving only to your own community, alma matter, family, kids, or donating to the public library or museum that you use) favors giving to fewer charities, the more organizations you give to, the less and less likely that those donations will positively impact you.

Many Charities
Membership == political clout. If I care about chimp rights and voting rights, if I only contribute to chimp rights, congress thinks I don’t care about farm animal rights. I should split up my contributions to give each group head count.

I don’t know which charities are effective, give money to many charities to maximize the odds that one of them is effective.

Some charities are funded mostly by small donors and care what the small donors think, others are funded mostly by large donors and presumably care less about what small donors think.

Fewer Charities
Obviously some charities should be eliminated from consideration because they are too small to make a difference with that money or put it to significant use (the 6 member animal right group at a community college), or because they squander it on administrative and marketing costs.

A point that doesn’t fit in– charities with low “leverage” shouldn’t get as much money. If you give money to feed children, it creates positive effects for their family, siblings, etc. College scholarships for the middle class, generate benefits for one person– the effects don’t spread far.

Tipping points. Smoking is mostly a won battle. Sort of. Gay rights are at a tipping point. In the US, veganism is far from a tipping point, but in England and German, it might be close to a tipping point. Small donations make the best impact on issues near a tipping point, where the whole of society is about to change their mind, and just needs a $20 shove. Or 100,000 $20 shoves.

The first rule of Math Club is you can only talk about it in symbols and notation

I could give a flying f about little league. I care about Robotics and Math club.

First impressions of Math Clubs.
A math class is like a contract. “Student, learn this algorithm for problems of this type and you will get an A.” Importantly, in math class, everyone in theory can get an A. Math club looks like a math class with a different agreement, “Participants, train on problems of increasing difficulty. You will get a test where the last problems are so hard, no one will solve them. This will minimize the chance of ties and the participants will get fame and glory based on their rank, either on a per team basis or a per participant basis”  But otherwise, it looks like a math class.

Second impression of Math Clubs.It looks like a sport.  In sports, everyone can run. Not everyone can run fast. Not everyone can figure out that only about 10 or so of the numbers from 1 to 100 can be written as a non-terminating decimal. Some not at all. So a fair sport in the math sense is like mental math– everyone can do arithmetic, some can do it faster or more accurately that others.  A similar analogy can be made with spelling bees- everyone can spell something, some can spell more words, the winning word is still something that in theory any participant could do. I admit, I haven’t completely rigorously worked out how a speed arithmetic test is like running, but solving increasingly difficult “puzzle” problems isn’t.

Third impression of Math Clubs.It is a game among players and team where there the actions of the other teams do not figure much into your decisions about how you play the game.

Grades 0-5
Arithmetic Club. I have no idea if these exist. If they did, they should be kind of like spelling bees, with round 1 mental math, round 2 calculator math and round 3 historical devices (e.g. abacus)
Kumon. Worksheets with a focus on speed and arithmetic.

[Arithmetic, Pre-calc]
[Typing!]
[Scratch]

Grades 4- 8
Math Olimpiad. The contest for the youngest participants, 4th grade. http://www.moems.org/contests.htm

Grades 6-12
Math Club. Works like a study group, solving problems to practice
e.g. National Math Club/MathCounts
Math Contests. Big sit down tests.
e.g. AMC 8, AMC 10
Mu Alpha Theta National Convention, Log1

Math League- http://www.mathleague.com/

[Pre-Algebra, Algebra, Pre-Calc] — Why so late?
[Python, Ruby, Javascript]

Grades 9-12
Robotics Club. Building robots and programming them in C++ and Java.

[Geometry, Calculus, Discrete Mathematics]

Votes get suppressed. What can you do to replace a vote?

Okay, for the last two elections, lines started to get really long. Now when I changed states, I couldn’t vote because I didn’t have a driver’s license. I take the metro. So apparently, anyone who takes mass transit is liable to commit voter fraud, or more likely, not Republican enough for the corrupt voting boards.

Voter suppression is the rightwing strategy to make voting difficult for women and minorities and city dwellers so that Republicans will remain a viable party.

Unlike the the poor, black, asian and so on that the Republicans really wanted to suppress, this time they suppress the vote of a white guy. I wasn’t going to vote for Republicans anyhow, but now I’m mad. So I’m joining as many progressive political groups as I can, top among those MoveOn and the ACLU, both which are working on voter’s rights. So here are some things I will be doing in my spare time over the next 40 years since voting isn’t a sure thing anymore. I’ve added my rough estimate of how many vote equivalents each is worth, and given that the Electoral College system makes the marginal vote about as important as mouse farts, maybe in the long run this will work out of the better. All the same, better than a successful revolution after a nearly stolen election, I’d rather not have the Sith Lords take over in the first place.

Donate to GA, TX and AR Democratic party. Worth 50 Votes.
Money talks, well, as long as you have an attractive candidate. And the Dems have more attractive candidates. If GA, TX and AR turn blue, the GOP will be excluded from the presidency for generations. There aren’t enough old white men in those states for the GOP to govern without repeal non-white and women franchise and maybe the repeal of voting altogether.

I’m going to read the news Worth 25 votes.
The poor and disenfranchised are getting screwed because they aren’t paying attention. I can read, I read fast and I use RSS and I can amplify the the news that is being ignored. I even have truth on myside– since as a progressive I won’t need to make up material.

I’m going to blog. Worth 6 votes.
My task as a political blogger is much easier than for conservative bloggers as I only need teach people how to resist voter suppression, where as conservatives have to move the opinions of their sole audience of old white men to political la-la land and get them to vote. Despite the barriers.

I’m joining about about 22-25 groups. Worth about 20 votes.
Votes in congress are only one way that policy gets made. I don’t have $300 million for attack ads, but I got a few hundred bucks to fund a variety of lawyers, think tanks, activists, watch groups that help decide what congress will be voting on in the first place.

I organize meetups. Worth about 15 votes.
I’ve organized so many meetups I’ve lost count. I create groups like I sneeze. In this election I saw that right wing literature is outselling progressive books. I suspect that in part that is because a lefty will read the original, say, Darwin’s Descent of Man, which is not the the politics section, while right wingers need to have their books written by ideological hacks, which will end up in the politics section.

I’m taking election day off. Forever. Worth 20 votes.
I’m not working class. I can afford to use my vacation days to vote and to spend the day driving people to the polls.

It’s time to take America back from the corrupt right wing voting boards.

(First posted Nov 12, 2012)

The uncle I never met has moved on

Some free verse my dad wrote on the passing of my uncle:

The Morning Sun

The sun is steaming through my window,
Gods gift of warmth for all people
Be you Jew, Muslim or Follower of Christ
The sun warms the body
His spirit warms our souls
How blessed  we are !

The sun will fade later and night will follow day
So it is in our personal lives
Sorrow follows joy
And then just like sun the coming up again
Joy warms our hearts again
How blessed we are !

I have been blessed all my life with a big brother
Last night his light went out and he is no longer with us
He will not be there in the morning to impart his wisdom
But his memory lives on in my mind’s eye
And in a sense he lives on within me
How blessed I am !

This morning my sister,Ann, called tears in her eyes grief in her heart
She  her self is near death, in constant pain
Yet she puts aside her pain to grieve for her brother
Her beloved husband is nearing his last days
But she has vowed to be there for him until the end
How blessed he is to have her love for him !

The sun is streaming through my window again
Reminding me that in life’s cycle warmth will reappear again
Even now my family grows with the birth of my grandson Tano
 And  my great grandson, Lincoln.
And if that is not enough a new great grandson is due in July
How blessed I am !

So for today grieve over the loss of Franklin Martin
But in the morning, as the sun comes up rejoice with me
As our lives are blessed with new new life !

Measuring myself

I’ve been super excited about my ‘quantified self’ project. I now measure:

Goals –  I use joesgoals.com to track things like brushing teeth, sleep debt/sleep debt paid, doing flash cards

Weight – Usually 145, sometimes up to 155. Measured with Withings scale.

Blood Pressure- Usually 120/70, with BPM 60 to 80. Measured with Withings BP cuff.

Sleep –  Now that I have a fitbit, it says I’ve slept about 7.5 hours the last two nights and slept like a stone.

Steps taken per day-  Anywhere from 4000-10,000, typically 10,000, up to 15,000 if I go hiking.

In fact I now have two pedometers, the Nintendo DS pedometer and the fitbit.

The DS only displays if you hit your goal unless you tranfer the data to your device. The DS appears to be a bit stricter. It stops counting when I take off my cloths in the evening, but the fit bit gets moved to my wrist and keeps counting. And it seems that the Fitbit is just counting more things as a steps.

Flights of stairs. Thanks to the fit bit, but no data yet.

Challenges- Slowly changing metrics

The metris are the same day to day, except steps taken. If I don’t walk enough, I can do something about it, like go to the gym for 20 minutes. If no metrics have changes noticably from yesterday, then all I can do is carry on, since my metric are all in the healthy range (although my weight is chronically a bit on the low side and my blood pressure while in the ‘normal’ low range, could be lower according to some studies about strokes.  If I could get to 110 or 100, then my stroke risk would bottom out.)

 

Zombie Herder’s Almanac

Zombies love brains, so any zombie with a herd of humans will want to pay attention to folate since without enough folate, the humans are born without brains. The relationship between folate intake is strong and linear, and it appears reduce the incidence of neural tube defects all the way up to 700mcg, with most articles recommending at least 400mcg. This article is written from the vegetarian standpoint, since any Zombie farmer is likely to reserve livers for themselves.

So an obvious question is– Is there enough folate in the naive diet? After all, there is some folate in lots of common foods, and most bread and grain products have extra folic acid added to them. Probably not– the average from dietary sources alone is about 470mcg, and 20% of women don’t hit the minimal level from diet alone, probably fewer hit the higher number.

Like my previous article on vegetarian protein, nutrition labels can be full of mathematical traps if you are trying to get to a certain dietary intake of something, in this case 400mcg to 700mcg of folate. The trap is that nutrional facts are listed based either on 100grams, or some other unit of weight disconnected from typical portions. For example, Romaine lettuce has a lot of folate… but no one is going to eat a bucket of Romaine.

Brewers yeast, is packed with B vitamins, including folate. But typically it is consumed in small quantities, e.g. a tablespoonful here and there. Depending on who you read (or maybe brand) it’s a great or lousy strategy for getting folate into the diet, requiring 2 to 33 tbsps to get a days worth of folate.

Here is one better chart with folate quantities matched to plausible portions.

I think the conclusion is that one would want to follow a mixed strategy–no single source can provide a days worth of folate in a typical portion. Or take a pill, but there’s no challenge in that.

I got my Lamy Safari pen and ecosystem notebooks

The pen is just like the reviews. Very smooth to write with, feather-light. The fine nib draws a line that is almost identical up and across, but writes & writes with a thin line if the nib is upside down. The color of my pen is Charcoal, but it looks to me like a very, very dark brown. My handwriting still is blah, but the pen is more interesting to use.

I think a good analogy would be a hypothetical push button car. If you could drive to New York by getting into a car and pushing a button, driving wouldn’t be fun. As you move from that do-nothing car, to a automatic with a steering wheel, to a manual transmission, the driver gets some decisions to make again. At the far extreme would be the cars from right after the invention of combustion engines, which were a challenge to start, required goggles due to spewing bits of hot chemical nastiness, and other driver interventions that we don’t think about anymore.

Pens are like that. There is some point in between designing the user’s participation out of the product and designing a product where the user is doing all the work where you get optimal fun out of using something.

Project Triage

I’m working on too many projects at them moment. 7 meetup groups. Now some of these are 1x a month groups, and half are asleep or half asleep.

Successful Meetups I organize:
Icelandic Language Learner’s study group, 8 meetups/month- My favorite & most successful group, where I feel like I’m doing something for the community that otherwise wouldn’t happen.
Linguistics Book Club, 1/mo- After what feels like two dozen books (probably was only a dozen) this is a very solid group with lots of familiar faces.
Programmer’s book club 1/mo- Brand new, but I think this will follow an even better trajectory than the linguistics book club.

Less Active Groups I organize
Russian study group 4/mo if at all- I mostly organized this so my son would have a place to study. But he’s learning French and school.
Russian book club 1 every 2- 3 months- Can’t find enough in translation that I’d want to read :-( There are about 3 (max!) events I’d like to hold and then call it quits.
Asatru group – A vigorous local group has made mine unnecessary. It was a risky idea and led to 3 events, while individually rewarding show all sorts of unfavorable trends– low signup rates, esp, and low overlap with my other 2 Icelandic groups, even thought I thought they’d be complementary topics.
Icelandic/Scandinavian Fiction book club 1 every 1 or 2 months- This has had it’s up and downs. But it doesn’t have a cohesive core of attendees. This has some modest overlap with my Icelandic study group.

So I’ll probably open the 2 russian groups to member organized events and close the asatru group. That will leave me with 4 groups, which really works out to a biweekly book club and a study group.

And that is just my meetup projects. I’ve got programming projects, amateur linguistics projects, work projects, house projects.

News, if one could call it that

Meetups. The Icelandic meetup continues to be highly successful.  I think the central recipe a good meetup group is being genuinely excited and having an obscure topic.  Well known topics, like French, attract too many people who aren’t very interested.   And I haven’t been excited enough about Swedish recently to post another event, but I will tomorrow.

Moving. I hate where I live–the apartment and its landlord in particular, the neighborhood is okay.  I really want to move and I think the pain of dealing with this landlords business practices has finally motivated me to get serious about moving.