Heihox Manual Coffee Grinder

Back in 2015 when I was first getting into making coffee at home, I purchased a small Hario grinder. For under $50, it worked well for over five years. I dropped it a few years back, and cracked the outer shell, but it still worked just fine.

As I began to experiment making larger batches of coffee, the Hario became more time-consuming that I felt it should. I considered an electric grinder, such as the high-rated Baratza Encore or Virtuoso+. But I decided I like the manual coffee making process too much to go that route, so I began to look for a higher quality manual grinder.

In my search, I came across the YouTube channel by James Hoffman where he compared a number of high-end hand grinders. This introduced me to a few features I hadn’t considered such as burr material, hopper capacity, and grinder size. I really wanted the Comandante grinder, but I didn’t want to pay $250.

I eventually found the Heihox grinder on Amazon for about $100. The review were mostly positive, but I had a hard time finding any review outside of Amazon. I decided to buy it and try it and then return it if it didn’t perform like I wanted. It arrived in a good quality box which was a good first impression. I’ve been using it almost daily for about two months, and it’s a big improvement over the Hario. The grinding motion is much smoother, the grinds are more consistent and the steel burrs make quick work on the coffee beans.

I haven’t come across many downsides. I wish the hopper capacity was a little more than 30 grams of beans, but that’s not a deal breaker. It feels really substantial and balanced in my hand while grinding. The picture above doesn’t show this, but it comes with a textured grip made of rubber which helps you keep a firm grip on the grinder. This grip slides down the grinder, but it’s easy to pull back up before I begin grinding.

I mostly grind my beans for pour over using a Chemex. Sometimes I’ll grind them a bit finer for AeroPress. And lately, I’ve been using the course grind setting to make cold brew coffee using a Frieling French Press. If you’re looking for a grinder for Espresso, I don’t know if this model allows for that fine of grind setting.

Maybe one day I’ll have a Comandante, but until then, this $100 grinder from Heihox punches above its weight class. I’m keeping it.

Book of Mormon Musical

I saw the Book of Mormon Musical at the Smith Center in Las Vegas last night. My brother-in-law saw the musical in Seattle and he enjoyed it, so I decided to give it a chance.

I’m so glad I did because it’s the most fun I’ve had in a long time. My ribs were sore for a few hours afterward from all the laughter. Chicago has been the musical I measure all others by, and the Book of Mormon is as good. I could relate to so many of the absurdities of mission life having served a mission myself in Germany from 1987-89. The few inaccuracies, such as how missionaries are assigned to a country or state, didn’t bother me at all.

This isn’t a musical for children as many of the themes are mature. After all, it was written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame. But it’s not all mature jokes, and that’s what makes it so enjoyable. The musical follows two Mormon missionaries as they attempt to teach the people of Uganda, most of whom have AIDS.

The missionaries bring a message of hope, faith, and tales of Joseph Smith setting up a church in North America, and that message is often juxtaposed with the plight of the Ugandan people who are merely trying to survive to the next day.  The Mormons come off as goofy at times, but also dedicated and passionate about their faith. If this was a story of merely making fun of a group of people, it wouldn’t be as entertaining.  For example, Parker and Stone forgo the cheap jokes about polygamy and instead give us insight into how even these seemingly carefree and clean-cut young men also have doubts about their church.

It’s hard to pick a favorite musical number because they are all fantastic, but I loved “Turn it Off” because it hit home so strongly.

When you start to get confused because of thoughts in your head,
Don’t feel those feelings!
Hold them in instead
Turn it off, like a light switch
Just go click!
It’s a cool little Mormon trick!
We do it all the time
When your feeling certain feels that just don’t feel right
Treat those pesky feelings like a reading light
And turn ’em off…

I like how the writers wove interesting bits of Mormon history throughout the musical, albeit often in a manner I’ve never heard at church. You’ll learn about Joseph Smith and how he came upon the plates of gold. Even Brigham Young makes a brief but hilarious appearance. It might help to understand Mormon history, but the musical provides enough backstory so that even if your understanding of Mormonism is topical, you’ll still enjoy the show.

I’ve probably seen 30 plays over the past 20 years. Until now Chicago was the only musical I would have paid to see again the next day. That I would drive to Vegas tomorrow to see the Book of Mormon again is the highest compliment I can give it.

I enjoyed every single minute of the Book of Mormon Musical.

Wireless Cable Modem Gateway Upgrade

After dealing with a number of problems with Qwest DSL service, we switched to Comcast cable internet about four years ago. Comcast has been a more reliable overall although they too occasionally suffer from services outages. But unlike Qwest, they seldom last longer than a few minutes.

When we switched to Comcast, I purchased my own modem and wireless gateway device. I was surprised how few combo unit were on the market, but found one from Motorola at Fry’s for about a hundred bucks. The admin interface was an absolute mess, but it allowed me to restrict wireless access to the network by MAC address which works well for me without slowing bandwidth.

Over the past four years, we’ve added at least a half dozen wireless devices to our home, most of which are made from Apple and support 802.11n. The older modem/gateway only supported b/g devices which wasn’t a big deal until we began streaming video to our iPads. Lately we noticed slow connection speeds from the rooms furthest away from our modem.

Our current Motorola device an older model that didn’t support the newer 802.11n speeds, so I decided to upgrade to the Motorola SBG6580 Wireless Cable Modem Gateway.

It took a few minutes to convince Comcast to update the modem’s MAC address, but it’s been a great investment so far. While the upload speeds have stayed the same, the download speed has increased on average from 12 Mb/s to over 20. But more importantly, the increased wireless coverage and speed allows everyone to stream video from anywhere in our home.

The only downside I can think of is that the admin panel is still a horrible mess that makes little sense to anyone who isn’t a technonerd.

If you’re still running a b/g wireless router with newer devices you may want to consider an upgrade. The Motorola I bought has a street price of about $125-$135 and is available at Fry’s, Amazon, and NewEgg.

Rdio: Streaming Music Done Right

I haven’t reviewed a product on this blog for some time time. It’s not that I don’t enjoy writing about products, but I find other bloggers do it a lot better. But occasionally, I come across a product that I enjoy and want to tell you about it. That’s the case with rdio.

My short review is this: If you want access (web or iPhone/iPod Touch, Blackberry, and eventually Android) to a lot of music in a simple to understand and easy to use web service, then rdio is well worth the $5 or $10/month subscription fee. 

Rdio was created by the founders of Skype, and their desire to keep the UI clean and simple is apparent the first time you login. I’ve used Napster, Rhapsody, and Zune Pass before, and although each had a feature or two that caught my attention, none of them held my interest for more than a few months.

I’ve been a heavy Last.FM user for the past few years. It’s a great way to discover new music. But there are times when I want to listen to an entire album and Last.FM and Pandora are not able to do that.

My perfect service would combine the deep catalog of rdio and the serendipity of Last.FM and Pandora. But that’s for another post.

Rdio does allow me to follow friends who also subscribe to the service and listen to their playlists as well as leave comments on them. That helps me discover new music, but I hope one day they allow me to add stations based on my collection. For example, if Rdio knows I like Chris Botti, it might create a station of similar artists including Till Bronner. Rdio does show “similar artists” and “inspired by” which helps in discovering new music. For example, when I click on Pink Floyd, rdio suggests I might like The Moody Blues, Yes, Queen or Peter Gabriel. That sounds about right.

I should mention that rdio allows me to create a collaborative playlist. This didn’t sound very useful to me at first. But I recently came across a scenario where I believe this feature would be of great value: Say I like the song “Watercolors” by the Postmarks, yet I don’t know a lot about the group or its influences. I could create a playlist with one song and allow my friends to add their recommendations to that playlist.

When you first login to the service, rdio asks for your permission to scan your iTunes library whereby it will create a collection based on the music you own which can be found on rdio. My music tastes trend toward classic rock and jazz, and rdio was able to match over 90% of it.

To be clear, rdio does not take your collection of mp3s and upload it to their servers. It merely tells you which artists and albums of your current collection can be streamed from rdio. This is a helpful starting point until you’ve created new playlists from the rdio website.

The picture below shows how rdio allows me to see what’s popular among my collection, my friends or all subscribers.

RDIO_Mine

Or you can find an artist, such as the Clash, and play any song or album.

RDIO_Clash

Rdio makes it easy to create a playlist like I’ve done below. Or you can queue up songs to play as you navigate through the service.

 RDIO_Playlist

Again, the focus is on ease of use. Rdio does not include as many tracking metrics found at Zune or Last.FM. I’m sure many of the social features of rdio will be fleshed out over time as the service moves out of beta.

As of today, you’ll need an invite in order to use rdio. I was able to test drive the service for about 20 days before deciding to pay the $5/month subscription fee. Another $5/month allows you to stream to your mobile device.

The service is not perfect. I’d like to see better playlist management and it never hurts to add more artists. I’m certain their library will continue to grow with the service, but it’s already quite good.

But I’m absolutely hooked on rdio. I listen to it while working at the computer at home as well as at work. It’s decreased the amount of money I spend at the Amazon MP3 store and iTunes. Also, I find using iTunes an exercise in frustration, but necessary evil which accompanies my decision to own an iPhone. Yet rdio feels modern and is a lot of fun to use.

Pros:

  • Simple and elegant design
  • Instant access to most any song or album
  • Easy playlist creation
  • Most competitors charge $15/month. Rdio is $5/month for web streaming and $10/month for web + mobile devices.
  • Can scrobble to my Last.FM account

Cons:

  • Obscure music tastes may not be a good match until catalog grows.
  • Occasional service slow downs
  • No way to create “stations”

If you’ve made it this far and would like to test drive rdio, leave a comment and I’ll email an invite to the first three. If I can convince rdio to give me more invites, I’ll hand those out as well.

Update: @kgoyette showed me that rdio does allow one to create stations based on an specific artist. Click on any artist and off to the right you’ll see “Artist Radio” which plays songs from artists in the “similar artist” section. Awesome!

Quick Review of “Rework”

I just finished listening to an audiobook called “Rework” from Jason Friend and David Heinemeier Hansson. Jason and David are the founders of 37 Signals. rework

There is so much valuable advice packed into this book that it’s difficult to pick a couple of favorite topics. Jason and David provided reasons for hiring well-rounded people instead of those with few outside interests who spend every waking hour at work.

I enjoyed the section detailing how worthless most meetings have become, especially conference calls and how long projects kill enthusiasm, especially small companies. 

At 37 Signals, nobody works on a project for more than two weeks. Long projects allow meetings to creep in and milestones to get pushed out. Actual work gets sidelined. I’ve seen this happen over and over.

Take a look at the projects at your company. How many of them have been going on for months yet making essentially no progress? I’ll bet most of them died months ago. Long projects are great for people who enjoy appearing busy.

But the section that made me think the most covered hiring practices. For years, I’ve thought how misleading resumes have become. They tell you very little about how a person will perform or will fit in with your team.

According to Fried and Hansson, if you find two qualified applicants for a job, hire the one possessing better writing skills.

But don’t look to the résumé for help in determining this. Look at the cover letter. Or the applicant’s blog. Ask for an in-person writing sample if you must. Employees who can write well are the creative life-blood of your organization. They can take various thoughts and ideas and organize them into solvable problems and compelling projects.

I’ve hired applicants with impressive resumes only to find out later, they struggled to communicate with clients and colleagues over email. I won’t let that happen again.

I highly recommend “Rework”. It’s available at Amazon or iTunes.

InstaPaper for the iPhone and iTouch

InstaPaper is an app for the iPhone and iTouch that flies under the radar. Occasionally I’ll read a review about it online but few of my friends mention it among their favorite apps. 

But this is one fantastic app, and one of only a handful I use half a dozen times each day or more. If you’re a news junkie, just download it right now. You’ll love it.

 instapaper

In short, InstaPaper allows you to save web pages to your iPhone and iTouch for offline or later viewing. Say you come across an article on Techmeme that looks interesting, but you don’t have time to read it. Just click one button on your browser’s toolbar and, the next time you launch the app on your iPhone, the entire article will be there for you, neatly formatted.

InstaPaper comes in two versions: a free version with a few ads and a Pro version without ads for $4.99. I’m using the free version for now, but plan to purchase the Pro version soon.

InstaPaper doesn’t replace a good RSS reader on the iPhone like Feeds which syncs with Google Reader. InstaPaper is best for those article you find while browsing around the web. Maybe you’re interested in the article but don’t necessarily want to add the site to Google Reader. InstaPaper is perfect for capturing the content you want at the moment you find it with no hassle.

Give it a try.

The $40 Dockers Jacket

I picked up the jacket on a whim while looking for Levi’s at Mervyn’s about 4 years ago. It’s a lightweight Dockers jacket that cost $40. And it’s black which everyone knows is the only color a jacket should be. I wear this thing everywhere. It’s perfect for our mild Seattle climate.

I’ve worn it so much that it’s starting to show its age. I should have the zipper replaced as well as professionally cleaned. It has the lowest CPW (cost per wear) of any item in my closet. Easily. image

But I’m bummed I’ve not been able to find a duplicate jacket. I’ve looked everywhere. I found one with a cotton lining, but that’s too heavy. It must be lightweight. And it must have a pocket on the inside for my cell phone. Next to the pocket is a small logo of a brick phone from the 80’s. Somehow that’s fitting.

It’s the perfect jacket. It can’t be improved upon. I’ll continue to check eBay. I’ve stopped by every Dockers outlet we’ve come across hoping to snag one. I have Ralph Lauren, Nautica and Helly Hansen jackets costing much more that hang in the closet, season after season.

I’ve never spent a better $40.

Lenovo Thinkpad X61

This past week I received a new work laptop: Lenovo Thinkpad X61. The first thing that struck me as I opened the box is how small and lightweight this thing is. I project the screen to a large LCD monitor so I don’t mind the small display since I only use it as a 2nd screen. That means it displays iTunes and Twitter at work.

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Thinkpads have always included some of the best keyboards and this one doesn’t disappoint. It’s not mushy like the Dell keyboards I’ve used. I’m moving from a Toshiba M5 that includes a larger display, but I don’t miss carrying around all that weight.

Pros:

  1. Very thin and lightweight
  2. Very fast, even with Vista
  3. Runs very cool
  4. Very quiet
  5. Lenovo driver utility works well
  6. Fantastic keyboard

Cons:

  1. No finger input pad
  2. No on board DVD (dock or external only)
  3. Price ($3000 fully loaded with 4 GB RAM)
  4. Biometric finger reader awkwardly located

I’ve never been a big fan of laptops till this one. It’s super fast and I’m surprised how well it runs Vista. It flips around so I can run it in tablet mode which I’ve only done a few times. I’m more a keyboard person, but there may be times when it would be helpful to draw a diagram.

But above all I love the size! It’s so thin and lightweight that I can take it anywhere without killing my back. Overall this is a great little machine.

Online Backup with Jungle Disk

I’ve had this recurring dream where I wake up to our house on fire. As I scramble out of bed, I yell to Kim, “You grab the kids and I’ll grab the external hard drive!!”

The point is that as our lives become more digitalized, the more important a backup solution becomes. We now have close to 23 GB of digital pictures on local drives at our home. The bulk of these were taken around the time each of our four children were born.

Tonight I asked Kim, “How much are those pictures worth to you?”

Up until now my backup solution has consisted of keeping a local copy on a hard drive separate from the operating system. Then each week I copy these same files over to a Maxtor Shared Storage that our three computers can easily access over the network. This is an adequate solution as long as at least one of the drives doesn’t fail (15% of external hard drives fail within 5 years) or are damaged or stolen.

I’ve been toying with the idea of adding a Windows Home Server to the mix on account of a friend’s recommendation. I manually handle some of the same tasks that WHS does automatically like imaging all three of my machines. Currently, I use Acronis True Image Home to take a weekly image. But I still run into the issue of having everything stored on a drive or machine at my home. And, although it would suck to have to reinstall Windows and all my applications, I’d be in far worse shape losing my pictures, documents and music.

So I’ve been researching online backup offerings over the past few weeks. I came close to going with Mozy which I still believe would be a good solution if all I wanted was backup and restore functionality. Mozy isn’t the best solution for those that want to share files or access them via web browser.

The Twitter crowd steered me into looking at backup solutions based on Amazon’s S3 Simple Storage Service. I wrote about this service a few weeks ago, but one feature that influenced my decision, was the “pay for what you use” pricing structure. I also like that Amazon is a big company that isn’t going to disappear one night with all my data. I trust they will be around for a long time.

I started by looking over the helpful list of Amazon S3 backup tools that Jeremy Zawodny put together. I asked my followers on Twitter what they use to narrow it down even more. After a number of recommendations from people I trust like Jamie Phelps and Marina Martin I decided to go with Jungle Disk. This is an interesting offering in that Jungle Disk charges $20 for their small and simple backup software that connects to the S3 service. Patience is required to get things setup properly, but I was off and running in ~30 minutes.

I’m currently backing up all my documents which consist mostly of Microsoft Office files. I’m also backing up my Outlook .PST file and all my digital photographs which takes up about 23 GB. Here is a picture of the current backup job:

screen_2008-02-17 17.07.45

The software is very easy to use if not very pretty. I don’t care how it looks as long as it works! As you can see, Jungle Disk estimates it will take another three days for the backup to complete. I am connected to the internet via Qwest DSL line with a 500-600 kb/s upload speed. I hardly notice it’s uploading files in the background even with three computers browsing the net simultaneously.

If you’re familiar with other backup programs you’ll find Jungle Disk very easy to use. On the configuration screen, I tell it which folders to backup. You can also select individual files. Here I’ve selected my Documents, PST file and photos directories:

screen_2008-02-17 17.08.18

One of the primary reasons I chose Jungle Disk was that it gave me access to all my files from a browser. It’s not fancy but it works. Here’s how it looks from within Firefox:

screen_2008-02-18 00.17.26

I hope I never have to do a full restore. But I feel I’ll be a lot better prepared now than I was last week when I was relying on a couple of consumer grade hard drives. That piece of mind is well worth the estimated $7 to $10/month the service will cost. I’ll post an update once I have everything backed up and restore a few directories. I don’t anticipate any problems given how smoothly things have worked so far, but time will tell.

I’m interested to hear what other backup solutions (on and offline) people are using.

Worth the extra cost

Although I enjoy computers and gadgets I seldom buy the latest cutting edge computer parts, cell phones, MP3 players and most other gadgets. One pays a hefty premium to have the latest and greatest gadgets. Ask anyone who stood in line to buy an Apple iPhone the first day it was available if they felt a little ripped off when the price was dropped $200 a short time later. Such items command such a premium when first released that it’s usually wise to hold off till the 2nd generation arrives and the kinks are worked out.

For electronic gadgets, my rule is thumb is to purchase one generation removed from the very latest models. I’ve made a few exceptions, but that rule has served me quite well over the years. There are a few exceptions such as soundcards and the monitor I mention below, but it’s certainly true for the top of line computer chips, video cards and phones.

But there are a few items I’m willing to pay top dollar for even when they cost two or three times as much as other brands I could buy. Here are a few of them items:

Dress Shoes – I hate poorly made shoes. I’d rather have two pairs of great quality shoes than a closet full of shoes from Payless. I started buying casual and dress shoes made by Ecco about ten years ago and they are simply amazing. I was hooked the first time I tried on a pair. They are so comfortable and so well-made that I consider them a bargain at $150-$250/pair. I’ve also had good luck with Timberland, Doc Martin and Cole Haan. But none are as comfortable as my Ecco. I always keep a black and burgundy pair in my closet and they last for years if treated properly. 

ecco

Ecco Berlin Plain Toe Tie

Wallets – I’ve purchased a number of less expense wallets and they fell apart after just a few months. The last thing I want are credit cards or my driver’s license falling out of an old grungy, beat up wallet. My current wallet is one that I bought for Kim about eight years ago at Nordstrom but that I inherited when I bought her a matching Coach wallet to go with her purse.  The wallet is made by Ghurka and cost $150 which still seems like a lot of money to spend on a very simple man’s wallet. But I use it everyday and it gets better with age. Not a single stitch has come loose and I’ll buy another one exactly like it if it ever wears out.

ghurka 

Ghurka Men’s International Wallet

Laptop/Diaper Bag– Another item I use everyday and don’t mind spending extra for is a good laptop bag. This is where I keep my work files, my iPod, wallet, umbrella and laptop. About ten years ago I purchased a travel bag from Andiamo for $350 that traveled with me around the world. I beat the crap out of that bag, and took advantage of its lifetime warranty a few times until the zipper gave out and the store told me it couldn’t be fixed. Luckily they gave me a sizeable store credit which I used to purchase a smaller Tumi laptop bag last summer that I blogged about here. I hope it holds up as well as my Andiamo did. Cost: $250.

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Tumi FXT Ballistic Business Brief

Kim carries around a diaper bag we bought from Timbuk2 and a purse from Coach. We’ve loved the Timbuk2 bag so far and we pack that sucker to the brim everyday. It’s a bag that looks better the more you bang it around.

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Timbuk2 Original Cargo Tote

Strollers – We bought a cheapo Graco stroller from Target when our first baby arrived and it fell apart after about a year. The wheels tore apart and the folding mechanism would constantly jam. We probably got our money’s worth but we decided to spend a bit more on our last two strollers. We recently bought a single Peg Perego stroller from Albee Baby that we like although we haven’t used it much yet. But it’s lightweight and very well made so I’m sure we’ll use it a lot. Peg Perego strollers start in the low $200s.

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Peg Perego Pliko P3 Classico

Nearly four years ago we purchased a Maclaren twin stroller from Albee Baby that’s become one of our favorite kids items. Our three oldest children have been pushed around in that stroller for miles and miles. I never thought we’d get so much use out of a twin stroller but this Maclaren is so awesome we look for opportunities to use it. If you check the Albee Baby website you can find the twin for under $400. That’s a lot of money for a stroller but I believe it’s been well worth it.

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Maclaren Twin Techno Stroller

Computer Monitors – I sit at a computer for over 12 hours most days and my eyes strain unless I’m looking at a very clear, good quality LCD monitor. In fact, I’m much more productive with two monitors that I can’t imagine going back to even a larger single monitor. I’ve used monitors from Samsung, Dell, and Viewsonic and they aren’t bad. But none are in the same ballpark as my two NEC Multisync 90GX monitors. The NECs cost more than the others but are so much better I consider them a bargain given their quality. The prices and models change often but expect to pay a 50-60% premium over a similar sized Dell monitor.

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NEC 90GX2 Pro LCD Monitor

 Headphones – I was hesitant to list this one because I’ve already written about them so much. But don’t spend $300 on an iPod and then expect your music to sound good on the freebie white headphones. Spend $60 and pickup a pair of Sennheiser PX100s and you’ll be blown away at how much better your music sounds. I bought a pair of the black models but they also have white for those who must maintain their hip iPod style. They also fold up and come with a sweet case. 

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Sennheiser PX100 Portable Headphones

When I’m at my computer, I listen to my music on a Soundblaster X-Fi soundcard output to a pair of Grado SR80 headphones. The X-Fi will take most of the digital sound processing off your CPU giving you excellent sound quality without taxing your system. You can’t do better than a pair of Grado SR80 ($100) without spending two or three times as much. They are an amazing value and have become a cult favorite of the audio enthusiasts.

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Grado SR80 Headphones

Socks and Ties – I’ve found that it doesn’t pay to buy cheap ties and socks. I’ll buy less expensive brands of pants and even shirts but not socks or ties. I’ll usually hit the Ralph Lauren Polo outlet for socks and wait for the Nordstrom Men’s sale right after Christmas to pickup a few Robert Talbott ties that run about $50 on sale.

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Robert Talbott Regimental Stripe Tie