Archive for January 2008

Charismatic Caffeine

I have to count myself awfully amused by this article about a supposedly home-use espresso machine that’s going to retail for $7,500:

The La Marzocco GS/3 finally hit the market late last year, and it’s everything they expected except for the price. After telling customers for more than two years that the machine would cost $4,500, U.S. distributor Franke catapulted the price to $7,500.

Franke Coffee Systems North America, based in Seattle, figures 70 to 80 percent of the 247 people on its waiting list will walk.

As I believe I’ve imparted on these pages before, we moved to Seattle before the Starbuck’s-fueled coffee craze was even a glimmer in Juan Valdez’ eye. At that time, there were two, maybe three, places that served a reliable, righteous cup of espresso, and we were intimately familiar with their locations and hours. Starbuck’s actually existed at that time, as a coffee bean retailer in the Pike Place Market, but they only sold beans and coffeenalia.

I’ve been interested in good coffee since I was in college, and one of my first domestic purchases was a good drip maker. There wasn’t much in the way of quality beans available in suburban Ohio at that time, however, but I happened on this dark drip grind from Medaglia D’Oro. I believe I inherited this predilection from my grandparents, who may or may not have remembered what food they ate at a particular restaurant, but recalled with crystal clarity whether the coffee was any good. And held grudges.

After we arrived in Seattle and were able to purchase decent beans, we owned a series of stove-top espresso makers, of which this:

is the only survivor. It’s still in a cupboard above the stove. This may, in fact, be the machine that got vapor-locked one day in the early 80s and launched itself, Challenger-like, over the stove and put a dent in the wall while spewing its inky payload all over the kitchen. I think the dent’s still there. Subliminally, at least, we had been looking for an excuse, and this incident gave us license to move on to a real steam-vapor Gaggia electric. A little later, I added a burr grinder to the suite.

That machine was a work-horse, and we used it until the late 90s when, I think, it actually rusted out like a Pinto that’s been driven too long on corn belt winter highways. There must be a lot of us in Seattle who have home espresso makers, because there’s a dandy little shop on Phinney called Home Espresso Repair that apparently gets sufficient business to have lasted for at least 15 years. When they could not find parts to repair the Gaggia, we bought our current machine from Starbuck’s for somewhere under $300. It reliably provides the 6 - 8 pulls we require of it each day.

It would take a skilled salesperson with a very nice figure to convince me that I could taste the difference between the coffee I make with my machine and the precious excrescences of a $7,500 surrogate. Especially when there’s not an appliance in the kitchen that I’ve paid more than $400 for - the stove and the fridge were both purchased in the 70s, the dishwasher around 1981 when we did our remodel.

Key Issues

I was headed east across the 520 bridge yesterday to visit a client in Kirkland and got a call from my Milwaukee client that something was awry with some sales reports that I wrote and maintain.  (I have a wireless Jabber-a earpiece, so skip the sermon.)  I knew what the problem was, and that I could fix it pretty quickly if I could only get online for a few minutes.

As yesterday was MLK day, the bridge traffic was relatively light, and I arrived in downtown Kirkland about 20 minutes early.  I espied a wi-fi-equipped cafe, and decided to take a shot at repairing my SQL query over a fresh macchiato.

As it turned out, my Milwaukee client’s server was malfunctioning, and my shot at the repair fluttered like a Bret Favre desperation pass.

On top of that, in my rush to grab my laptop from the car and hustle into the cafe, I must have interrupted some subliminal car-driver rhythm, because I realized, after shutting down my laptop, that I’d locked my keys in the car.

Thus began the Talks of Shame: the first, a call to my Kirkland client, who was gracious enough to drive down and pick me up at the cafe (I had 3 hours of parking, and maybe more if there was no enforcement on MLK day); the second, to the freshly-awakened Mrs. Perils to inquire as to her availability to drive over to Kirkland with an extra key, so I could avoid the God-knows-how-much cost of a sarcastic and condescending locksmith.

In retrospect, my attempt at levity when Mrs. Perils asked where my car was (”parked outside my girlfriend’s condo”) could probably have been phrased differently.  Mrs. Perils is, however, a great humanitarian, and she braved the wilds of the Eastside to rescue me.  I didn’t even have to buy her coffee.

16 Tons and Whadda Ya Get?

This article about Google’s new Seattle workspace has generated a bit of discussion. The article leads off with:

It’s amazing that Google employees can get any work done.

Between the three daily catered meals, on-site massage therapist, free gym membership and game room (complete with air hockey, darts and Foosball), Google’s new development center in Fremont boasts amenities that rival some resorts.

Just in case there aren’t enough entertainment options, kayaks are available so staffers can go for a midday paddle on the nearby Lake Washington Ship Canal. There’s even a “quiet room” — complete with lava lamp, massage chair and wonderful views of the water — where Google employees can presumably dream up the next great Internet application while their muscles relax.

The place sounds more like one of those minimum-security federal prisons where they send Republican congressmen and white-collar criminals than a workplace. I’m surprised, actually, at the absence of an X-rated holodeck, but maybe that’s reserved for an elite of some kind, a west coast version of the old executive washroom. This place (Fremont) is just downhill from us to the southwest, and one of our main walking routes takes us right past the building (as does one of my favorite kayak trips). Here’s the setting Click photos to enlarge:

Coincidentally, last week when I was walking home from the sports bar where I watched the BCS NC game, I espied this opulent gameroom in an office building next to the Fremont Bridge, and photographed it (grainy cuz of high ISO). The sign on the building says “Getty Images”, but, in reading the article I’m assuming it belongs to Google.

The workplace has come a long way since I joined the workforce at a CPA firm in Toledo just out of college.  The profession had just recently quit requiring its employees to wear hats, and had just begun to hire women.  We had one in the tax department, where she wouldn’t be all that visible to clients, and one in the audit department, too, but she was always assigned to “girls’ jobs” like United Way and some other non-profits.

Often, an audit team I was on would wind up work at a client’s at 8 pm and we’d all head over to Brenda’s Body Shop for a refreshment involving “live girls” and dead beer.  I don’t think that happens much any more, at least as an organized activity.

I remember one meeting (all guys) where someone made a dumb comment, and the manager running the meeting turned to him and said, “you know, you’ve contributed about as much to this meeting as pantyhose did to fingerf**king.”  Don’t think that happens much any more, either.

I think it’s great that the workplace has achieved some human scale, and I think that women entering the professional workforce in numbers had a lot to do with it.  I’m not sure the Google culture is the climax species, or is even replicable, but it’s an interesting story to bubble out of a week of bleak economic news.  Mrs. Perils was skeptical, however - she’s certain that it’s nothing but a scam to keep their workers from ever leaving the building.  And it’s true that this fairy-tale is not likely to trickle down to the minimum-wage service economy any time soon.

Flotsam

I’m still here, haven’t slit my wrists over the BCS thing.

After not taking my kayak out for months, except for the short, scenic paddle on new year’s, I went out with some folks last Saturday and did 10 miles, a stirring re-introduction. The weather gave us one of everything - rain, 15-knot wind, brilliant sunshine, glass-like calm. I didn’t get many photos, but managed this short video of a quirky, fascinating wind machine that was attached to a floating home on Lake Union:

I’m starting to be unhappy with this bag I bought to protect my camera on the water. Canon makes some really nifty waterproof cases for many of its cameras, but won’t make one for the S3 IS. The bag works fine as a protective device, but it’s nearly impossible to work any of the controls on the camera in a timely fashion and, as you can see from the video, it’s hard to keep the camera oriented properly. Maybe I just need more practice.

On not-so-dry land this week, I headed out to work one morning, pressed for time as usual, and encountered a formidable scraping job on my car windows. Made for a couple of nice photos, though:

That’s all I gots right now.

Snodeus Interruptus

There was enough snow last night to make my evening commute home from Redmond brutal, and then it pretty much stopped as I pulled into the driveway. Still, hearing cars slowly crunching by in the wee hours raised that little-kid hope that I wouldn’t have to leave the house today.

No such luck - I just got an email from a client that I have an appointment with saying that “9:30 is fine”, which means that she’s already at work from a commute no more perilous than mine. So, off I go. So far, my month has been a lot like this:

In The Bleak Midwinter

That was pretty ugly. Some have been saying that, yeah, but it wasn’t as bad as last year. To them I say, what’s the difference if you’re on a plane that crashes and you’re burned alive and your skin melts into the seatcover, whether there were 100 or 300 people on the plane?

Anyway, there were a few moments of fun before all 4 engines failed:

At least, the crew was kind enough to keep serving drinks as the fuselage headed toward dead vertical.

The rain held off, so I had a nice walk home, going up over Queen Anne hill and down through Fremont. When I arrived home, I told Mrs. Perils, “we won’t speak of this again.”

The video above is hosted at a place called vsocial.com. A kayaker that takes lots of video told me about it at the New Year’s Eve party we attended. Advantage: the quality of the video seems to be a lot better. Youtube seems to be pretty random about the quality of its replays, and it doesn’t seem to matter what the quality of your upload is. Lemme know what you think.

In more redeeming news, I seem to have started reading again. Books. Bound books, dead-tree-books. I posted earlier that I finished Middlemarch a couple of weeks ago, and I just finished Ian McEwan’s Atonement over the weekend. And, believe it or not, I carried The Brothers Karamazov with me on the bus to the sports bar last night, and even read a few pages. It’s for a book group discussion due in a couple of weeks. Man, that thing is huge, and dense, like a lead ingot of erudition. It’s my first Dostoevsky. No way I’ll be able to finish it in time to say anything intelligent about it.

I enjoyed Atonement quite a bit. McEwan has a rich prose style, but it’s still clean and translucent. He lingers lovingly on his set-pieces, to the point where I found myself staring around me, trying to see how I could get 3 pages out of mundane street scenes in front of me. And the best part about finishing Atonement is that now I get to see the upcoming film with Keira Knightley. Arrrrgghhhh!! Avast!

Here’s a nice bit about the writing process:

It seemed so obvious…a story was a form of telepathy. By means of inking symbols onto a page,she was able to sent thoughts and feelings from her mind to her reader’s. It was a magical process, so commonplace that no one stopped to wonder at it…You saw the word castle, and it was there, seen from some distance, with woods in high summer spread before it, the air bluish and soft with smoke rising from the blacksmith’s forge, and a cobbled road twisting away into the green shade.

You’ll go away from here, and after a while you’ll forget that I quoted McEwan - you’ll just remember what good writing there is at Perils of Caffeine.

Game? What game?

I am reminded from time to time that there is a football game being played today between Ohio State and Louisiana State, reportedly for the National Championship. Oh, who am I kidding? I’ve been counting the days. Still, I’m nowhere near as ebullient as I was when we played in the NC game last year, when we were undefeated and looked like Team Destiny after beating Michigan to end an undefeated season. As you may remember, Florida handed us our asses in a 41-14 beatdown.

OK, time to gin up some enthusiasm with a clip from my OSU band:

Since the game starts at 5pm PST, I’ll probably cease working about 3:30 and catch a bus down to a sports bar near the Space Needle to meet up with our local alumni group. This isn’t a game I want to watch among infidels.

Later that day…

OK, I’m shutting down the laptop and heading downtown.  Talk to you (hoarsely) tomorrow.

Omen?

As the New Year unfolded Tuesday, with everyone vivisecting goats, reading tea leaves and consulting their Farmers’ Almanacs to try to see what the new year would bring, I was confronted with this ominous portent through my bathroom window as I stood passing my final 2007 imbibations into the first frigid light of 2008:

A bike hanging from a cherry tree in one of the back yards behind us. I mean, I’ve never even seen any people back there in the last 25 years. Whatever this portends, I’m going to keep presuming that its message is not directed at me. Hesitantly, I looked beyond the tree to the house’s foundation, thinking I might see something like this:

But, no, there was only the bike.

Two short weeks makes work a little crazy, especially when so many of my clients are in a frenzy of year-end tasks. Instead of being able to tiptoe quietly into 2008, Wednesday slapped my right upside the head with a flurry of phone calls from people printing W2s, doing year-end procedures and trying to get everything sequenced properly. It’s always an adventure. I guess I shouldn’t have goofed off so assiduously during the long weekend.