Thursday, August 22, 2013

Perfect Coffee at Home by Haft & Suarez - Book review

First batch of cold brew coffee
This was written by a couple of retired U.S. Marines who decided they wanted to learn to make good coffee. And write a book. It turns out to be a wonderful exploration into what electronic publishing can be, and a very good example of how to write about preparing food in general. And it has inspired me to try three forms of preparing coffee other than the kitchen coffee maker that is the workhorse of our household.

First the content. The meat of the book are discussions of various ways of preparing coffee: french press, pour over, Moka pot, Technivorm, cold brew, and Aeropress. For each of these, there is a light-hearted narrative on how they learned the method, and several ways of demonstrating it. A detailed set of instructions with pictures, a video, a discussion on how to scale up or down the recipe, and a short form of the recipe (like you would get on a recipe card). Around these are discussions on various aspects of coffee making, light roast vs. dark roast, grinding the beans, the golden ratio of beans to water, water temperature, all with a discussion on how the different choices interact with each other, the method of preparing coffee, and the taste. And a historical quote and jazz to go with it.

Around the discussions of preparation of coffee are two sets of stories. First is the entire culture around drinking coffee, including the market for coffee and the culture of coffee enthusiasts and connoisseurs (and they discuss the difference!) Second is their story. The nice part about this is that their backgrounds are entirely unpretentious, and their essential story is that they only got good because they were willing to be awful. Because the end goal is to enjoy drinking coffee. And that means trying and experimenting to what you want. Their goal in this book is to provide methods, but also teach you where you can change things, and what the effects will be.

Since we had our son, my wife and I have stagnated in tasting food in general. And I have gone from switching between the french press and kitchen coffee maker to using the coffee maker exclusively. In the week since I started reading this, I've decided to pay much more attention to making coffee. And even pulling up old notes on timing my french press, making cold brew coffee, and even the Moka Pot that I have but don't use. And I've enjoyed my coffee, and even the little changes from brew to brew to make it better. My wife has also enjoyed the results, even passing up on the milk she usually adds because the coffee maker tends to make things burnt. Now, the coffee maker is not going to be retired, it has advantages in ease of setup and cleanup, but every now and then I will be wanting to taste my coffee and I'll pull out other things.
Moka pot on the stove
I think the purpose of a good book about food is not a set of recipes or pretty pictures or passing on knowledge(although these are nice). I think the goal is to inspire you to enhance your enjoyment of eating and drinking. And this book does it in a way that uses the multi-media opportunities of the electronic book format to transmit this in many ways to engage the reader/listener. Oorah!

Note:  This book is currently only available through the Apple iBookstore due to the fact it is the only format the currently allows for the embedding of multiple forms of media.  The book  website is

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Learning Java 4th ed by Niemeyer: Book review

Learning JavaLearning Java by Patrick Niemeyer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I remember using an earlier edition of this book to learn Java many years ago. I even used Java for writing simulations as part of my thesis. Since then, since I generally do scientific and technical computing, I have generally used Python and R linked with C, C++, and Fortran libraries instead of Java. But I have used languages on the Java Virtual Machine (Jython and Clojure) and I probably need a refresher on how the JVM works. This book does give a good overview of all of the scaffolding that goes along with programming in Java, but its focus on the language proper and web and GUI programming in particular leaves me wondering how to get real things done with it.

The first part of the book is what seems to be the standard first chapter of almost all programming books nowadays, a argument of why to use Java. While some things like the safety aspects of the JVM ring true, when he talks about the various dynamic languages he gets some basic facts wrong and mis-characterizes how these languages are used in practice. It would have been better if he did not include these sections at all because he frankly started loosing creditability here. (coming from Python, the general line is that Python is at its best as part of a two language solution, and Java is on the list of likely languages to pair Python with along with C, C++, and Fortran.)

Next are several chapters on setting up your machine to develop and run Java. And several chapters are required. I found many things that I often have to spend several hours looking up whenever I start or deploy a JVM based project so I'm glad that someone realized that this really needs to be in the beginning of an introductory Java book. Things like IDE's, setting up classpath and other environmental variables, and the whole java toolchain. While I applaud that this is required, it somewhat gives a lie to the idea that Java is a simple write one run everywhere tool.

The rest is a tour of the Java language. Data types, statements and expressions, exceptions, assertions, classes and objects. I was specially interested in the discussions on Generics and Threads, as I had not used them before. It could be that I'm spoiled by how Python handles the equivalent of Generics, and both Python and R multi-core libraries, but this seemed very detailed and complex (not helped by Java seeming to require that everything be declared in duplicate).

Despite the title, this felt like more of a reference than a tutorial. Having several chapters on setting up the scaffolding that is needed for every Java project is something that some places seem to gloss over as easy (especially if the IDE does it for you), but makes this book a handy reference. But in the advertise role of learning how to use Java, I'm still skeptical.

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic copy of this book through the OReilly Blogger program.

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Friday, August 02, 2013

Parenting Month 33: So many things for you to talk about, so many ways to sing this song.

I'm going to the museum
'H', 'I', 'S', . . .

One of the side effects of our trip to Chicago to visit a cousin and aunties is that T has become much more verbal.  He has started talking almost constantly (well, except at day care).  There is always something to talk about.  He wants to tell us things.  He tells stories with toys and is generally more expressive.  One cute moment yesterday was he was walking along with a four-year old neighbor and they were trying to compete by reading the letters of road signs.  I think the everyone in one block in every direction could hear them reading off letters.  The other aspect is that he is starting to get a little more creative.  He is starting to make up stories of things that his toys do so he is talking about more than what he wants to have (although he still does that, after all, he is a two year old).

New Fangled (AKA Toddler) Saw Bench
This workbench is just right for me
As grandpa and dad have been building projects around the house, T has been the beneficiary.  The sawbench is just the right height for him to use as a workbench (and there is always a handy tape measure for him to measure things with.  Left over dowel pieces and blocks of wood have turned into a hammer and some wood for him to hammer.  A step stool has given him enough reach that he can get high enough over the sink to reach the faucets and to see what he is doing when washing hands by himself.  And the whole garage is a real life version of his beloved Handy Manny cartoon.

I can wash my hands by myself.
I can wash my hands without any help.
Another thing he has started is singing.  Before it was isolated words that he could get in at about the right time.  Now, he is recognizably singing entire songs.  Not good for a performance yet, but we can tell the melody and tone patterns of what he is trying for even if the lyrics are jumbled.  Of course, he only does this at home, so the day care staff tell us he does not join in.  But what I think is happening is that when the staff are singing, he does not sing, because he is studying them.  He does the same thing when videos are playing, he studies the video, then he can repeat it on his own later.  But someday, he is going to have to learn to perform around others.