Friday, December 5, 2014

Hacking Coffee

copyright WJ Kowalski, 2014
Hmm, where do I start? A number of years ago I was at Coffee Fest, the international coffee and tea show in Seattle. I wholesale tea, among other things, so I was checking out what was available. Among the cool tech on display was the newly invented Clover, an $11,000 single-cup-of-coffee machine. It made great coffee! But no matter how much tech it included, I wasn't even going to try to sell my wife on the idea that it was a necessity.

Fortunately, an aisle or two over, Alan Adler, inventor of the Aerobie (flying ring for sports) was demonstrating his new Aeropress for making coffee. It was about $25-30, and it too made great coffee - in my opinion, maybe even better than the Clover. I bought a case of his devices (and more afterwards) and shared a great deal on this rig for making excellent coffee with friends, family, and co-workers. Both devices were invented in 2005, so this was probably 2005, but no later than 2006.

Single-serve coffee machines have come to dominate many home counters - the Senseo, the Keurig, the Tassimo, the Nespresso, and others. All offer convenience, but at a price of relatively high cost per cup and not the best coffee.

Fast forward to 2014, and the Kowalskis in Indonesia. I still have my original Aeropress, along with a hand grinder, the Hario Slim. It still makes great coffee, but it's not practical for serving a large group, or so I thought. I wanted (reluctantly - I hate serving coffee that's not incredible) a Nespresso, but they're not yet available in Indonesia in the retail market, they're expensive to buy and to feed - about $0.70/cup for the capsules, and arguably a good regular cup takes a couple of capsules. But if we're having people over, what other game was there? The other similar options offered no improvement in price and were lower in quality.

So I began to ponder doing something with the Aeropress, using it to produce coffee concentrate. I found a number of articles, and settled on this procedure by Marco Arment to make super-concentrated iced coffee or hot, as needed. We're on the island of Java, and Kopi Aroma here in Bandung makes terrific coffee, arabica as well as robusta. It costs under $2 for 250 grams, a bit more than half a pound. That'll produce enough concentrate for 20-25 excellent cups of coffee. I can make the concentrate in advance (it'll keep for a couple weeks in the fridge). I buy ground coffee at the factory, ground just before I walk out the door, and prepare the concentrate right away. When it's time to serve company, the jug comes out, along with our super-fast Kamjove induction kettle, sweetened condensed milk, milk, sugar, and cups. For the purists who demand their coffee straight, that option is of course there. But I find that a lot of Indonesians enjoy a bit of coffee with their sweetener, and the condensed milk is pretty popular. 

Oh yes, see that photo up top? I just made myself a cup of iced concentrated coffee, except it needed no ice. There's a story behind that cute little cup, which is an espresso cup and saucer set from Indo Porcelain (we were able to get our dishes at wholesale from the maker, in Jakarta). I offer folks the option of the cold concentrate, straight or with additives, or I'll put a jigger (an ounce to ounce and a half) of concentrate in a regular cup, add really hot water, and you have instant coffee that does not inhale sharply (suck).  In fact, it's smooth, delicious, and not even the slightest bit bitter.  This coffee has produced nothing but raves. I'm afraid I may have induced some folks to be rather more addicted.

That square on the saucer? Just the best cookie/squares ever - something my darling wife concocted. Maybe I can talk her into sharing the recipe. And for those who believe that this has not enough tech to fit this blog, let me point out that without coffee (or Mountain Dew or the like), precious little programming would get done. It's fuel, baby!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Keeping your iDevice safe, and other observations on life abroad

Greetings from warm and sunny Bandung, Indonesia! In days to come I'll follow up with some more info on staying safe and connected while traveling, as I am now having to actually implement stuff I've studied and taught in sessions like the LEAD seminars. This first overseas post has to do with securing your iPhone, iPad, etc.

The urgency of having a secured iDevice was impressed on us when Rosemarie's purse, including ID and iPhone, were left in a cab and initial attempts to retrieve it didn't work. We now have contact with someone who apparently bought the iPhone 5 from the cab driver, but can't make it work because of the protections I've enabled. We have high hopes of getting it back, but only because of this process.

  • When you get an iPhone or iPad, first enable a passcode. This will be under Settings, and on my 5s it's a tab called Touch Id & Passcode - it may be different on your device. You will basically set a 4-digit PIN here, which you'll have to enter every time you fire up your device unless you have an iPhone 5s with Touch ID (fingerprint authentication). Other settings: Require Passcode Immediately, and Erase Data. You're setting things up to have the passcode mandatory for use of the phone, and also setting things up so that 10 faulty attempts to guess your passcode will erase the phone so that no one can access your data. You can also choose a non-Simple Passcode (longer, not just 4 digits), and this is not a bad idea with a 5s where you'll typically just enter with a touch of your finger anyway. On other devices this may be too much hassle. RESULT: if someone finds your iOS device, they can't just start using it as their own.
  • Next, enable the Find My iPhone service. On my phone this is located under iCloud. Yes, you want an iCloud account. This is linked to your iTunes account (Apple ID) and will enable backups and other goodies that you really do want. Once devices are registered with Find My iPhone, you can locate them on a map. You can also, if they're in the house but not where you thought they should be, play a sound on the device (a kind of sonar ping) that'll help you locate it.
  • Last, make sure your version of iOS (the operating system that runs your device) is up to date. Apple is continually beefing up security and generally improving things, and one of the features of iOS 7 (the current version as of mid-July 2014, with 8 on the horizon) is an activation lock which renders your device useless to thieves and opportunistic "finders" unless they're able to validate your device with your Apple ID.
What happens when your device goes missing? First, you pray: request for retrieval and gratitude for having followed this process. Next, fire up Find My iPhone and see if its location can be determined. Rosemarie's phone was offline (battery was dead) but I set it to relay a message to anyone who found it (Please call xxx-xxx-xxxxx) and notify me when it was back online. I could also set it to erase itself, keeping corporate and personal data secure. In this case I chose not to do that immediately, in hope that the phone would show up. By the way, this erasing of the phone doesn't seriously inconvenience you, the owner, as long as you've backed the phone up with iTunes or to iCloud. Here's another reason to want iCloud: you can have the phone back itself up every time it's connected to power and on wifi - very handy! This makes restoring your data a pleasurable chore (pleasurable compared to the alternatives).

What happened? Rosemarie's phone was offline, so I couldn't track it. In some cases, people have actually been able to track their lost/stolen phones to where they were being held. (Strong hint: let the police apprehend the bad guys - don't do it on your own.) I had a message to call an Indonesian friend on the phone, and when the new "owner" tried and failed to be able to use the phone, that message prompted a call to her and initiated what we hope will be the return of the phone.

In future posts I'll talk about options for data access while traveling (T-Mobile is an excellent partner for this) and about other elements of doing your work and staying safe while in a foreign country. Some of this will be useful also for working outside your home, by the way...

In the meantime, practice safe computing and keep an eye or hand on those valuables!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Getting Connected

A friend recently asked for some advice on how to stay connected on the road, specifically for her Nook. I thought I'd post what I wrote up in response in case anyone else had similar questions.

There are basically two methods for us (consumers) to get internet access without wires: wifi and cellular connections. Wifi is great in the house, at Starbucks, the library, McDonalds, etc., but consumer wifi doesn't go long-distance. For that you need a cellular connection.

You can either buy a device which itself connects to a cellular network (cell phones, of course, but quite a few tablets and laptops can be purchased with this capability as well) or you can create a wifi connection from some cellular devices. Most smartphones can do this (it's called a hotspot), but some cellular providers make this very expensive or severely restrict you.

You can also buy a stand-alone portable hotspot. The best known ones are the MiFi-type devices, but most require a monthly contract of $60 or so. An option I've used quite happily in many parts of the country is a little gizmo called a Karma ( which is inexpensive to buy, requires no contract, and is quite reasonable on its $/GB costs. It can even be free to use under certain circumstances. Its biggest disadvantage is that coverage is not the equal of what you get from Verizon or AT&T, but if it works where you need it to (they have a coverage tab on their website) then it's quite a good solution.

Hope this helps some of you!