Archive for January, 2005


Thai Robusta

On my way to my mom’s house one Christmas, I stopped by Maravonda coffee shop in Minneapolis for a much-needed fortifying espresso. Jim O’Hura, roaster and owner, was working the shop, and we chatted awhile. On my way out, he passed me a bag of Thai robusta. “Tell me what you think,” he said.

There are a few species of coffee, but most often you’ll hear people talking about Coffea arabica and Coffea robusta (Coffea canephora). Arabica beans are what you’ll almost always find in specialty coffee shops, as their flavor is more refined and delicate. They are correspondingly difficult to grow, being sensitive to light, pests, and elevation. Robusta coffees, a hardier plant, are by far more widespread and are the primary component of your typical grocery store canned brands. Robustas taste harsh and rubbery, and have about twice the caffeine that arabicas do. In the world of specialty coffee, at least in the US, to even utter the “R” word is anathema.

Yet they have their uses. Italian roasters are known for including a small percentage of robustas in their espresso, perhaps 10%, to round out the flavor and to add body & mouthfeel that you just cannot get from arabicas alone. Maravonda espresso had a lingering roundness to the mouthfeel that I had tried unsuccessfully to duplicate or even approach in my own arabica-only blends. Someone once told me that Jim had been trained by an Italian roaster, so I had long suspected that he used robustas in his top-secret blend. His pushing a bag of it across the counter confirmed that suspicion for me. Then again, being a coffee roaster affords the opportunity to taste a wide variety of coffees just because you can, so there’s no saying that’s not why he had it on hand.

So what did it taste like? It was wild, harsh, a bit vegetal. Sure enough, it had the characteristic robusta fullness, but without the richness to fill it out that you’ll find in arabicas. The flavor just stopped dead at a certain point instead of fading out. It was like there was a hole dead center in the flavor profile, like a doughnut. Not a pleasant coffee to drink on its own, but it would add character to a blend. Say, an espresso.

All of which means nothing to you. How would I describe the flavor? My friend Adam put it best: “You know when you walk into a room where a lot of pot has just been smoked? You know that smell? That is what this coffee tastes like.”

Thus bringing it full circle for those of you who thought I meant something else entirely by “a bag of Thai robusta.”


I finally got the hang of and have been using it with a vengeance. Not too good at remember to tag entries, though. Now I can build that list of blogmarks, b-links, whatever you want to call it. I’m not sure whether I’ll create a separate list or build it into the day’s posting à la kottke, but either way it will be better than saving up a long list of quick links to post here, and much better than sending bookmarks back and forth between work and home.

And I still have too much to read.


SpongeBob has a home in the UCC

SpongeBob welcomed by the UCC. Good for them.


Owen discovers ska

It turns out that Owen likes ska. In particular, a local ska band, Umbrella Bed, which you used to see playing in places like the Turf Club (they may still play there, I don’t know — it’s been a long time since I’ve been to the Turf Club). Once upon the time I knew the band’s French horn player. Somehow Owen managed to find one of their CDs, and it wasn’t long before he was dancing around. Which would be fun, if the music weren’t just a trifle repetitive.

I was a bit concerned when “King Harold” started playing. Oops. But from the refrain, “You fucking ruled, Harold!” he didn’t start repeating what I expected. Instead he asked, “Who is Harold?” A fine opportunity for a history lesson. I’d share the track with you, but iTunes freezes up when it plays the CD. I’ll take that as a sign.

That, and the fact that Owen’s been throwing up all day. But don’t take that as an editorial comment.

Poor kid.


The Current

I know that Matt and thousands of other St. Olaf grads are probably angry about it, but let me just say that Minnesota Public Radio’s new station kicks ass. I don’t normally listen to music on the radio, but I’ve been listening to this station all week and loving it.

I imagine that the transition from the classical format went something like the first episode of WKRP: a loud screech as the DJ scrapes the needle over the record and screams into (gasp!) rock and roll. I’ve been playing that scene in my head over and over again, giggling like a madman.


Where is he from?

I was talking with a coworker today and a couple times he couldn’t understand me.

Me: … I’d be part of QA.
Him: Huh?
Me: QA
Him: ???
Me (carefully): Q. A.
Him: Oh, I thought you’d say “key way”

Yeah. Not notable, except that at dinner tonight, I pronounced a word strangely, so I related that story to Kiara.

Me: … I’d be part of QA.
Her: Huh?
Me: QA
Her: ???
Me (carefully): Q. A.
Her: Oh, I thought you’d say “key way”

Oh, great.

Then she tells me that I sound really strange on my appearance on First Crack. While listening to it, she kept thinking, “geez, where is this guy from?”

Funny thing is, not an hour before I that was recorded, I was consciously trying to get my accent under control. I’d just been listening to LugRadio and found, while talking to myself, that I had adopted their accent. (Accents, really, but who’s counting?)

The real reason I’ve lived in Minnesota my whole life? I couldn’t stand to listen to myself if I lived anywhere else. I’m too damn linguistically impressionable. It doesn’t take long before I begin to adopt the accent and speech mannerisms of whoever I’m talking with. Honestly, I don’t mind this much, but it tends to annoy the people around me.

Update: for clarification, I do not sound like the LugRadio guys in my conversation on First Crack. I’d at least got that much under control.


A Terrible Thing to Waste

Coleman quotes an article by Stephen Prothero in its entirety, well worth reading. His introduction is spot on:

I’ve often noted that much of what I learned in seminary I should already have known. Our pews are often full of well-educated professionals whose corresponding level of Christian education is that of kindergartners; thus we should not be surprised when this results in our churches being mired in childlike debates. How can congregants move past beliefs in, for example, biblical inerrancy or dispensationalism or understand what the Bible really says about poverty and violence if they have not been provided with solid instruction in biblical interpretation and theology, let alone interact responsibly with people of other religions? If this doesn’t happen, their beliefs will be – and, in fact, are formed by the Christian bookstore – a scary thing.

A Unitarian minister once described her experiences in the ecumenical association in which she participated in White Bear Lake. New priests and ministers, fresh out of seminary, were often the most religiously conservative and resistant to genuine ecumenism, whereas the older ministers were quite willing to openly discuss new ideas and to bridge the gap beyond religious dogma. Her impression was that just starting out in their careers, young ministers were worried about offending their congregations by sharing modern scholarship and thinking about the Bible — what they had just learned in preparation for the ministry. So much for challenging the spirit.

Not that I’m one to talk.


Eclipse Projects

Simon Willison mentions a prototype Eclipse download page, which is a serious improvement over the current one. The new page exposes projects I didn’t know about but that look very interesting and useful, such as Web Tools (which includes Web Standard Tools and J2EE Standard Tools), Web Service Validation Tools, Eclipse Modeling Framework, and UML2. I knew about EMF because I’d seen a book, but everyone I mention it to is surprised to hear of it.

Here’s hoping that new page goes into production soon.


Do you really need a portal?

Janus Boye on CMS Watch: Portal Software: Passing Fad or Real Value?

A few years ago vendors were touting personalization software. A major buzzword of the dot-com age, personalization would ostensibly solve a series of business problems and enable a new IT paradigm. Many personalization projects failed due to lack of adoption, long implementation times, problems with the technology, lack of clearly defined business goals, integration and testing difficulties, and cost overruns.

Today many companies are experiencing the exact same difficulties with a new breed of enterprise software called portal software.

Most visitors of local government sites don’t want to rearrange their own pages and portlets. They just want to know when the next garbage collection will be or what times the local swimming pool opens. If my local council proposed offering me a portal, I would tell them to spend the money on a decent search engine. Forget about the personalized portal experience — just show me the right content and show it to me quickly.

I’m not saying a thing.

Update: I fixed the URL to the article. And no, I’m still not saying a thing except to those who know where to look. I’m not sure why: eventually I’m going to burst out in a huge rant, I might as well just get it over with.


I’m not used to this.

This has been floating around the back of my brain for months and is just dying to get out. Please do not consider it Microsoft bashing: it’s just funny.

During a bit of a crisis last fall, a few of our network and server admins were gathered around the phone on a support call with Microsoft.

“Sorry if we don’t do this right,” I heard one of them say. “We’ve been a Novell shop for 20 years and have never had to call tech support. We don’t know how.”

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