How To Make Good Coffee

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COFFEE flickr photo by kendrak shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Ever since I moved to the bay area back in March last year, I’ve been a bit manic about coffee and especially making it at home. Given the amount of independent roasters in the United States that are ready to ship their beans directly to me and even offer subscription services that keep me loaded, it just felt like perfect place to start honing my coffee brewing skills.

In the ~18 months I’ve lived here, I started quite a few mornings by brewing my cuppa joe and tried a few methods but eventually ended up sticking to one that I’m listing out below.

What You Need

Burr Grinder: I have a Baratza Encore which comes highly recommended by coffee snobs, but there are alternatives that are both cheaper and expensive depending on what you’re looking for.

Scale: Precision results in good coffee. Invest in a good scale like this one. Trust me on this.

A Pour-Over Dripper: I personally use a paperless model made by JavaPress which means you don’t have to deal with buying and replacing paper filters every time you brew a cup. Just remember to wash it once you’re done.

Kettle: I highly recommend the Bonavita Pour-Over Electric Kettle with variable temperature controls. I want to be able to control as many variables as I can and this model helps me set the ideal temperature (around 96C or 205F) for coffee.

Brewing Steps

This is where things start getting subjective and there’s no “one size fits all” to getting it right which means you get to tweak the way you brew your cuppa based on how strong/weak you enjoy it. There are few resources on the web I’d recommend based on my tastes, but feel free to do your own research.

— Blue Bottle Coffee has a great set of guides on their website which great pictures for every step and go way beyond simply doing pour overs.

— One of my favourite guides on making coffee without a lot of fuss is by BuzzFeed. You’ll need a Clever Dripper for this, but you’re not going to regret buying one.

— If you decide to go ahead with the same pour over equipment as I did, JavaPresse have a nice guide up on their website you could read through.

Hopefully this gives you a head start into brewing a great cup of coffee yourself. If you’re a caffeine addict like myself, you’ll start seeing the savings almost immediately after you buy all of this equipment.

Thoughts on the HomePod

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I’ve spent a good part of this week reading about the HomePod and considering buying it when it comes out in December but the more I think about this purchase, the more skeptical I become about the value it might add to my daily life. Don’t get me wrong — from the looks of it, Apple has clearly designed a great speaker and it’s nice to know that something good is finally coming out of that Beats acquisition but buying the HomePod, to me, is more than just about great sounding music. It’s about giving up my existing Amazon Echo setup because HomePod, by design, sucks you into the Apple ecosystem which I personally have a love-hate relationship with. Let me explain.

Stagnant Siri

I’ve stopped finding Siri useful sometime around 2014-15. The novelty simply wore off and the fact that Apple didn’t do much to keep it moving with their competitors’ products didn’t help. Last week, when Apple proudly announced that Siri could say the word ‘sunny’ using three separate intonations, I couldn’t help but chuckle. I’d have been a happier man if they announced that Siri would become more capable, or if they opened up deeper integration of third party applications, but no. That isn’t happening for now.

Alexa vs. Siri

Alexa is vastly superior in that there are 1000s of third party skills I can use to get things done. Like waking up in the morning and asking Alexa how much sleep I got and actually getting an accurate answer because Amazon allows their device to work with Fitbit. On the other hand, the HomePod will likely only interact with Apple Watch, a product I refuse to buy at this point because of its price point and the relative value it would add to my life.

I could go on and on about many other examples — HomePods are going to force me to lock into Apple Music when I’m perfectly content with Spotify and Amazon Music (which is part of my Prime subscription). It will also likely speak only to Apple Maps (not that Alexa works with Google Maps, but Google Home does) and other subpar Apple alternatives while ignoring clearly superior products on the market. This is why HomePods don’t appeal to me and likely won’t, until Apple opens up Siri to the extent in which Amazon and Google have done with their respective AI platforms.

For now, I’m perfectly content with my Echo Dot paired to my four year old JBL Flip. Sure, it isn’t an amazing speaker but it gets the job done for a lot less $$ than what Apple would like.

iPhone 6s – First Impressions

I switched over to an iPhone 6s recently and I’ve been really enjoying it and wanted to put up my initial impressions on it somewhere, so here goes. 

Likes: 

  • Touch ID is blazing fast and so much better than it was on my 5s. I barely see my lock screen anymore and I can only imagine this making Apple Pay a lot more efficient (haven’t gotten around to trying Pay out since Ireland doesn’t have it yet). 
  • I was convinced that I wouldn’t enjoy using a bigger phone, but that hasn’t been the case. The bigger display makes it easier to type out texts resulting in lesser typos. Samsung (and others) obviously figured this out way before Apple did, but I’m glad the iPhone is bigger now. That said, I feel like 6s+ is just pushing it a bit too far. No thanks. 
  • The camera is stunning and Live Photos have a lot of potential.
  • Hey Siri. 

Dislikes: 

  • 3D Touch. I don’t particularly dislike this, but this still feels like a gimmick to me and I pretty much never use it except for maybe checking out Live Photos. Maybe developers implementing this will make it more useful? We’ll have to wait.  
  • Battery. It’s not terrible, but nothing groundbreaking for someone coming from a 2013 phone. I was really hoping to see more improvement in this area. 

Tech Habits – 2015

Thomas Ricker from The Verge noted how his tech habits have changed and in some ways, remained the same in the past year and I found the list quite interesting since I’ve gone through a lot of change in the past year in terms of how I use my tech. Without further ado, here’s a rundown of how I’ve fared this year. 

Things that changed: 

  • I started the year with a subscription to Netflix and Hulu. I am currently subscribed to neither because I’ve *mostly* given up on watching TV as and started reading more on my ancient Kindle e-Ink. Was I successful? To an extent, yes. At least, going by my Goodreads page.
  • I’ve almost exclusively stopped making phone calls to my parents because they just got on Facebook and we make voice and video calls over Messenger instead. Win! 
  • I started the year with a subscription to Rdio but now I’m on Apple Music because the former went out of business. 
  • I started the year with absolutely no tracking of my movement for fitness but now I do — with my iPhone’s Health app and it has been glorious. 
  • I started the year with an Evernote account but now I’ve entirely switched over to Simplenote because of it’s simplicity and ease of use. 
  • I had no account on WhatsApp when I started the year and now I do because just being on Messenger is no longer enough to be in touch with my social circle. 
  • I ditched Uber for Hailo because the latter just has a better presence in Ireland. Still fairly dependent on Uber when I’m traveling, though.
  • I find myself using Microsoft Office less and Quip more. 
  • I’d only used a 3G network in 2014 but now my primary phone is on a 4G/LTE network. We’re getting there. 

Things that remain the same: 

  • I made no changes to the hardware I use this year. I started the year with a mid-2013 MacBook Air which is still going strong and an iPhone 5s. I also own an Amazon Fire tablet that gets out of the drawer occasionally to help me out in the kitchen primarily as a recipe reference machine. 
  • I still post more often on Instagram and Twitter than I do on Facebook because Messenger is where I’m most social. 
  • Another year has passed I still live inside Google Chrome. This probably won’t change for awhile.
  • I didn’t have a TV set and I still don’t. Maybe I’ll get one in 2016. Maybe. 
  • My iPhone 5s was and still is my primary and might I add only camera. 
  • Still swear by a JBL Flip. It just works. 

Apple Music — Thoughts

I recently made the jump to Apple Music as my streaming music service of choice from Rdio because they went bankrupt.

Choosing Apple Music wasn’t a tough call especially because I find Spotify’s UI repulsive. Period. That said, I’m not entirely happy with my choice and that’s what I’m addressing in this post with a quick run-down of my likes and dislikes about the service.

Likes:

  1. Curated Playlists – Yes, Rdio had some great stations, but there’s something about the format in which playlists get curated and presented to the user here that is more appealing — especially the ‘For You’ tab. I’ve also discovered a lot of music in the 48 hours I’ve used the service. Win!
  2. Set any song from Apple Music as your iOS Alarm.
  3. Beats 1 – I never thought I’d listen to a radio station this much, but I do. I particularly love that I am listening to tracks that I otherwise won’t and that is expanding my music palette. Maybe this is how our forefathers discovered good music? #fullcircle

Dislikes:

  1. Lack of social features – I can already hear you thinking “why don’t you just use Spotify instead?” While this might never change about Apple Music I find myself being increasingly nostalgic about going over a friend’s Rdio profile and discovering music from their playlists or listening to their “radio. “
  2. Third-Party App support – This is probably my biggest pet peeve about Apple Music. I’m huge on scrobbling music on last.fm – maybe even OCD about it but the lack of support in this area is just plain sad.
  3. Syncing plays between desktop and mobile – I’m starting to think they have not/cannot do this because Apple Music works inside iTunes which even Apple fans might agree, is the worst.
  4. Lack of a Web app – Seriously, it’s 2015. Apple has a great track record of *not* building web apps for most of their services so I’m more or less convinced this might never happen.

A Belfast Itinerary

I visited Belfast last week and spent about four days there. Most of my time there was spent exploring the rest of Antrim (Giant’s Causeway, Carrick-a-rede, Carrickfergus Castle, etc) and I spent about 2-3 days in the city exploring it with all the time I had. 

I have to admit that when I made a four day plan to visit this city, I got some funny looks from friends who were concerned about how I might be bored because there isn’t much to do here. Honestly, that couldn’t be more further away from the truth. If you’re traveling solo, this is just the perfect destination to relax with a book when you don’t feel like doing much and just walk around learning everything that went on in Northern Ireland in the past few decades. 

Without much ado, here’s a quick rundown of what you could do if you’re visiting. 

Day 1 : 

Ulster Museum & Botanical Gardens

This is THE museum to visit if you’re looking to know more about Belfast. They have a lot of documentation about The Troubles, First World War and its repercussions on Ireland through the British. Towards the end, you’ll find that they have a beautiful gallery featuring ceramics, art, and a lot of other stuff as well.

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Once you’re done with the museum, there’s the beautiful Botanical Garden right outside which extends to a greenhouse filled with beautiful little plants you can have a peep at. Walking along this garden was probably the most relaxing thing I did in Belfast.

There’s a cute little restaurant right outside the museum/garden called Maggie Mays. They serve breakfast food all day and if you’re tired from all that walking in the botanic garden, you deserve a nice plate of Ulster Fry. 

City Hall 

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The City Hall is a beautiful building around the downtown area. I believe you can go in and have a look, but being the admirer of great architecture that I am, I ended up just spending a few minutes outside taking pictures like the one you’re seeing here. 

Titanic Museum

Entry to this is not free and you’re probably better off not doing it if you aren’t particularly a marine nerd. It’s a pretty good place to visit if you’ve seen all the Titanic movies and are looking for more material to understand the context of how things went down (quite literally, if I may say so). 

Day 2 : 

Ulster Folk & Transport Museum

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This museum is FUN. They literally have planes, trains, cars, and bunnies (if you end up in the folk part of the museum as well). 

The folk museum is essentially a recreation of the Irish milieu about a hundred years ago to put you in the middle of how things might have been back in the day. The transport museum, on the other hand, is a celebration of all the public transit infrastructure that existed in Northern Ireland and the Republic before they became independent—this might not be for everyone, but hey, the cars are pretty cool! 

If you are really patient and want to explore this museum at  your own pace, I can assure you that you can spend about 4-5 hours just walking around.

Murals

Get yourself to Shankhill Road and you’ll start noticing all the murals one by one. This is just the perfect way to immerse yourself into how things were during The Troubles. 

Crumlin Road Gaol

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This ain’t free, but God it’s worth it! Visiting this facility was like a long History lecture that is actually fun. You get to relive how prisioners were treated in the Victorian Era in addition to a few other things I wouldn’t want to spoil for you. 

Hopefully you’ll find some of these activities interesting while you’re there. If you manage to do all these within a day or don’t have plans to get to all my suggestions, just get a bus tour from Belfast and head over to the Causeway—you will not regret it. 

P.S. The pictures are all from my Instagram if you’re looking for the source.

Resolutions

New year resolutions are fun—even if they last only until February and you’re back to living life on your former terms. That said, the past two years have been very fruitful in terms of the resolutions I made. 2013 was mostly spent traveling across India and 2014 was spent losing weight.

It’s already a month and a half into 2015 and I have mostly been keeping up my end of the resolutions I made this year. Here’s what I had in mind:

  • Always have a book around that you are reading—this is so easy because I read on a Kindle and get to carry 100s of books with me at all times. 
  • Read at least 30 books this year (tracking ‘em here).

Now, I’ve always been a reader albeit an irregular one and the plan here is to simply make me accountable for completing books I start or just read more than I used to. 

I started 2015 with a hint of depression and a few problems in my personal life—mostly around adapting to the changes that usually come with moving to a different country and I’d like to think that I’m doing okay now. Reading, as I am starting to realise is such a great way to keep my mind occupied and focussed on a worthwhile endeavour that is not bingeing on Netflix. 

So yes, that’s pretty much it. I’m going to spend a good amount of time this year doing nothing but reading. When my mind goes overdrive thinking about problems or when I’m just looking for something to hold on to, I know respite is just a few pages away. 

Favourite Albums from 2014

2014 had some pretty amazing music come out, but there are a few albums that stood out for me.

  • Stay Gold — First Aid Kit
  • This Is All Yours — alt-J
  • Morning Phase — Beck
  • My Favourite Faded Fantasy — Damien Rice
  • Lost in the Dream — The War On Drugs
  • Supermodel — Foster The People
  • Lights Out — Ingrid Michaelson

There are a lot more albums I liked, but I’m restricting the list to indicate just the ones that were special/meant something to me. 

The Setup — Tech I Use

Edited August 18, 2018

I love The Setup. If you haven’t read it before, it’s a simple blog that posts real nerdy interviews twice a week about the gadgets people use to get things done. In fact, I love it and the format so much that I decided to list my “tools of the trade” in the form of a self-interview right here.

Who are you, and what do you do?

I’m a Project Manager working on Facebook’s Community Operations team in Menlo Park, California. In my spare time, I enjoy reading on my Kindle, going for long walks, and traveling. I’ve written on a bunch of tech blogs before my stint with Facebook, but I don’t quite find time for that anymore.

What hardware do you use?

My Amazon Echo usually wakes me up in the morning. I start my day with a generous serving of caffeine — preparing this typically features a Baratza Encore burr grinder and this JavaPresse Pour Over Dripper unless I’m in the mood for a French Press in which case I go with my trusty Bodum Chambord.

At work, I use the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga 2. I recently moved back to using a PC at work after using various MacBook Pro/Air models over the last 6 years, but my tipping point was a recent upgrade to the 2017 MacBook Pro 13” model. The new butterfly keyboard was interesting to type on at first, but a few weeks later I started missing keyboards with better travel. About three months in, the laptop stopped working because of overheating just before an important presentation and I decided I needed some time away from whatever is up with Apple’s hardware design in the past couple years.

At home, I use an Asus ZenBook UX330UA powered by an 8th gen Core i5 CPU. I use it for long-drawn video calls with the parents and use for casual web browsing and practically anything that isn’t work-related. It was a pretty good deal at about $700 and I fully understand why Wirecutter loves this machine more than laptops almost twice the cost. It’s usually alongside an inexpensive HP monitor I picked up on Amazon.

When getting around, I carry an iPhone 8 and the Essential PH-1 mostly because I can’t bring myself to be entirely happy with either iOS or Android. I like to use the iPhone during the day at work since it doesn’t contain a lot of apps that tend to distract me and in the evenings, I put the iPhone away and almost exclusively use the Android phone when needed to maintain some sense of work-life balance. This combination has been working out okay although it can get tedious carrying two phones sometimes especially when traveling.

For reading, I own a Kindle Paperwhite and I love it! Of late, I’ve been devouring quite a few paperbacks but I always carry the Kindle on my travels in case I get done reading my current book.

I consciously avoid using my laptops for video streaming and stick to my TCL Roku TV for that — just my way of compartmentalizing work vs. leisure time. I don’t always succeed in doing this, but I try and enforce it as part of my workflow as much as I can.

I track my movements and sleep with a Fitbit Alta HR and it’s also great to compete with my ~50 friends on Fitbit and stay motivated.

I’m mostly plugged into a Bose QC35 when working and/or flying. It’s definitely a bit of an investment and despite buying with the full intention of returning within 30 days, I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it. I also use AirPods when I’m out and don’t exactly want full noise-cancellation — they’re surprisingly great for running and haven’t fallen off my ears yet. When I’m home looking for some background music, I turn to all my Echos and Spotify Connect to do the job.

And what software?

On my phones, I have no surprises — Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and whatever the cool kids are currently on these days. I use Outlook for iOS a lot during my workday and it’s far better than the stock Mail app (especially if you’re having to use Office 365). For work, I use Quip and OneNote a lot. I’ve lately been trying to organize my life with Todoist and pretty impressed with what it can do.

As far as software goes, my list is quite modest with Google Chrome and Outlook open most of the time. I get on a lot of video calls on BlueJeans and Workplace

I travel often for work and use TripIt Pro pretty extensively. The points tracking feature is quite nifty in keeping me sane while still being able to travel hack.

What would be your dream setup?

I’m not very ambitious, but having some of the following aspects around would make me happier than I currently am.

  • Kindle-like battery life on everything.
  • A way to make great espressos at home without splurging on a fancy machine. I occasionally use a Moka Pot but it’s not quite there yet.
  • Being able to live in a world where any USB-C port can deliver power, support thunderbolt, transmit audio, and basically perform anything thrown at it. It doesn’t feel like we’re anywhere close to it.

Jobs – A freakishly long trailer of Walter Issacson’s book

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So I finally got around to watching Jobs, albeit all the negative reception and soon enough, I was disappointed. The movie failed on so many levels although it had a great chance of nailing down things if done right.

The whole thing felt like someone just skimmed through the Jobs’ biography and made a trailer/teaser of it. Everything felt like a dream, things began out of nowhere without context.

I’ve loved Kutcher as Kelso in That ‘70s Show, but this movie is a disaster. It’s just proof that he’s just not that great an actor. Heck, there’s even some Kelso hangover in the scenes based on ’70s and the ’80s.

There was no sign of Xerox, no Bill Gates (except for Jobs yelling at him on the phone) and absolutely no sign of any technical detail that a tech enthusiast or anyone with a little bit of curiosity would come to expect. The movie was entirely about Jobs and his character, but at the end of the day, there’s only so much you can take. While Jobs is an interesting man, most of the conversations about him are driven by the work that he’s done and there’s not much of that being portrayed.

The one thing that I really loved or had an amusing chuckle about was the accent of the dude that played Johny Ive. Good casting there!

Overall? 4/10.

Watch out for Kutcher’s (somehow successful) impression of Jobs’ posture and walking.

P.S. If you’re really interested in a good Jobs movie, might I suggest Pirates of Silicon Valley. It’s a simple TV movie, but just done SO much better than this one.