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Feliz Natal

December 26, 2005

I am having a second cold right on the heels of the previous one. No one told me that you could catch a cold in 28C just by having a fan blowing lukewarm air on you on full blast. Obviously you can.

After 5 years of celebrating Christmas in the southern hemisphere, where there is summer in December instead of the usual winter, I am still not getting used to it. I guess that I never will.

Instead of freezing temperatures and snowball fights there is a scorching sun and some lounging in the pool. It doesn't quite bring on the cosy Christmas feeling but it is oh so much more comfortable.

The local shopping malls try their best with red and fat Santa Clauses, miniature versions of his work shop and white cotton wool laying around that is supposed to look like snow. It all just looks awkward and misplaced but I bet it improves the sales figures.

The local tradition in Brazil is to dig in into the many Christmas delicacies only at midnight on the 24th. This is followed by hugs, best wishings and finally presents. A strategic power nap in the late afternoon is highly recommend as the celebrations seldom finish before 3 am.

Each year there are a few songs that are hot, which means that they are played a lot. These songs often stick with me for the rest of the year as a reminder of good times. This year so far it has been Gasolina by Dady Yankee. A silly song that is played everywhere so it sticks with you.

Having a cold has given me a lot of time in the hammock, catching up on the Dark Tower by Steven King. Currently finishing Song of Susanah and looking forward to the last book in the heptology.

By now I am getting used to listening to audiobooks. While it's is not as easy to "flick back a few pages" it is so much more convenient than to lugg around several books. It is also great while in a moving vehicle or in the sun on the beach. Give it a try.



Rancilio Rocky burr coffee grinder

December 23, 2005

rancilio-rocky.jpgThe Rancilio Rocky grinder weighs in at 8kgs (17lbs) and has a height off 40cm (15") which can be quite over powering in a small kitchen.

The grinder is unusually quite due to a direct drive. While other grinders spin at a higher rate and use gears to convert down to a slower grinding speed, the Rocky is powerful enough to drive the grinder directly.

When you switch the Rocky on there is just a humming noise. Of course, with beans in you get the usual grinding noise but overall it is quieter than other grinders.

You have a choice between two similar models; one with a dosing unit and the other without.

Ground beans lying in the dosing unit get stale after a while so the model with the dosing unit is recommended for when the grinder is used constantly. If you are only going to grind for one or two cups a day, the doser less grinder may serve you better.

Personally I opted for the dosing unit as I get a nice coffee shop feeling from tapping the leveller and dropping the freshly ground coffee straight into the portafilter.

Get a small brush to brush out old ground beans prior to each new grind to be a real coffee aficionado.

Without the dosing unit, the ground coffee simply shoots out of the grinder and you'd better catch it with a suitable container (not your portafilter).

The level of grinding can be set in a whopping 30 steps. This will produce ground coffee for a full range of coffee style: filter coffee, plunger, espressos full of crema and all the way to the thickest of ristrettos.

The first thing you'll want to do with your new Rocky is to find out which level produces the best espresso shots in your set up. Start with level 15 and go down in steps of two. Remember that if you change the type of coffee beans, you may have to readjust the grinding level.

Level 10 works best for me as it produces shots with a wonderful amount of crema. For stronger shots with less crema I go for level 8.

Setting 10 is actually 14 steps above the point where the grinding surfaces touch each other. I am not sure whether -4 is a standard closest point with Rocky grinders but it is something to keep in mind when comparing settings with other Rocky owners online.

There are some reports that oily beans, eg French roast, can occasionally get stuck in the grinder and have to be removed manually. Since I mainly use Brazilian coffee beans I have not experienced this myself.

The price of (home) burr coffee grinders ranges from $10 to $500. The Rocky is around $300 and you really get what you pay for. It is our first grinder that is able to grind fine enough (and more!) for the Rancilio Sylvia espresso machine.
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Life is bloody not fair

December 18, 2005

Rest in peace Rick. Your kind spirit will not be forgottenWe just found out that a friend of ours died recently in a plane crash. He leaves behind a beautiful wife and a 4 year old daughter.

It feels like yesterday when were smoking cigars and drinking fine whiskey together and it feels like earlier today when we attended his and his wife’s very romantic wedding.

What a rude reminder this is that things we take for granted can be abruptly and unjustly taken away.

Our warmest condolences go out to the rest of our late friends family but it makes me wonder just how much of a help words can be.

This is just so damn unfair...



Why you need a good burr coffee grinder for your espresso shots

December 07, 2005

I was told time and time again how a good quality burr grinder will improve the espresso shots produced by an espresso machine. I finally listened to the advice and can say that I am impressed with the improvement.

My grinding adventure started a few years ago with the cheapest blade grinder on the market. I quickly discovered that a blade grinder does not really grind; instead it chops and slashes the coffee beans.

The results are some very coarse and unevenly crushed beans which produce under brewed shots as the hot water is just rushing straight through the coffee.

To get a finer grind the grinder has to be run for a longer period. This will generate a lot of heat from the tiny electric motor and this heat can burn the beans in the grinder. Not at all ideal.

While a blade grinder may be enough for drip coffee where consistency is not critical it is not suitable of other types of coffee like plunger, espresso and "Turkish".

Next step on the grinding ladder was a burr grinder. This type of grinder crushes the beans between a moving wheel and a non-moving part. A finer grind can be achieved my moving the wheel closer to the non-moving part.

The grinder was fairly cheap and from a common high street shop (no names). It improved the espresso shots because the beans were now ground evenly but it was still not great because the grinder was not able to grind finely enough for the powerful Sylvia.

The poor motor of the grinder burned out one fine Sunday morning after only one year of bi-daily usage. It was time to upgrade to a powerful and durable burr grinder.



Firefox 1.5 and Greasemonkey 0.6.4: where is my DOMParser

December 02, 2005

The good news is that Firefox 1.5 is out and for it there is also the newest Greasemonkey 0.6.4.

The bad news is that this combination breaks a lot of existing user scripts. There is a WiKi up that gives a helping hand at upgrading scripts but it is not complete (covers mainly XPCNativeWrappers, you know the unsafeWindow thingy).

I was quite surprised that the IMDB ratings for MyVue.com stopped working. It was specifically the DOMParser that stops working with the cryptic error message 'DOMParser is not a constructor'.

The instinctive thing would be to use responseXML instead of responseText but only until you remind your self that the GM_xmlhttpRequest implementation returns the same string for both functions (instead of the correct DOM object for responseXML).

I was just about to dive into manual parsing of the XML response with regexp and indexOf goodness but was literally saved by boogs from the Greaseblog.

He pointed me to the little known "new XML()" of Mozilla E4X. It can parse XML text strings and provide DOM like interface so it is good enough for the job.

There are some oddities of course. When first using it you will get a xml is a reserved identifier error. Don't ask why but the xml declaration has to be stripped out from the top of your xml document. Achieve this with responseText.replace(/<\?xml version="1.0"\?>/,'').

To get to a node use the following syntax: xmlDoc..foo[0] (for the first instance of foo tag). I found more information on the EX4 syntax at the E4X Expression Tester.

Now get busy fixing those old Greasemonkey scripts!

Update
Turns out that you can use XPCNativeWrapper to instantiate a new DOMParser (and other missing objects like XMLSerializer, HTMLBodyElement, ...) like so:

var dp = new XPCNativeWrapper(window, "DOMParser").DOMParser.

I am not sure about the security implications of doing this.