October 12, 2015
Yesterday I listened to Tim Ferriss’ podcast with Jocko Willink. It’s a great interview (recommended!) and I can’t wait to dig into the references. But there was one question Tim asked in response to Jocko’s concept of “detachment from a situation” that I felt didn’t get a great answer.
The question was: How do you teach a silicon valley tech-jockey the skill of detachment? Jocko’s teaching method is to “put them under extraordinary pressure where to fail to detach from the situation… would result in failure.” This doesn’t seem like something I’ll easily translate to my world. But then I realized: I’ve been practicing and applying a technique for just this kind of detachment for the last 6 months, and it works like a charm.
In March of this year I learned the “6R” technique from Doug Kraft’s pamphlet Beginning the Journey. The practice came from the teachings of the American Buddhist Bhante Vimalaramsi, and it’s known by the name “Tranquil Wisdom Insight Meditation.” But don’t get bogged down in the names — 6R is sufficient.
The power of the 6R method is in its almost NLP-like algorithm: Every time a hindrance comes up (a distraction that grabs your attention, a craving, a song going through your head), you 6R it: recognize, release, relax, resmile, return to the object of meditation, and repeat.
Please notice how trite and ridiculous this sounds. Then bear with me:
Most meditation techniques have the recognize, release and return steps. However in 15 years I’d never encountered a technique that has the “relax” and “resmile” steps. These are the game-changer. Not only does this make for more stable meditation, but it translates directly to life in the real world.
Half a day after my very first 6R session I was in a meeting at work. In the middle of an interchange, I recognized that I was lost in thought… then went on to release the thoughts, relax, resmile… and returned to the conversation. Except that now my mind was cleansed and ready to fully attune with the person I was talking to. Now I was seeing the conversation from more angles – witnessing it from a detached perspective.
Over the past 6 months the same experience has happened thousands of times and gets stronger every day. In a 30-minute meditation you might 6R 20-40 times. Every time you do it, you’re building the habit. Just as lucid dream training creeps from waking life into your dreams, this habit creeps from your meditation into daily life.
Doug Kraft’s book Buddha’s Map is also a great read — it demystifies the esoteric higher states of Buddhism. Imagine Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but interleaved with instructions to duplicate the author’s journey.
October 4, 2015
I just spent the last 2 days at the first Transformative Tech Conference in Palo Alto. It was inspiring and mindblowing to see that many people all engaged, thirsty for knowledge and ready to take action. I can’t wait to see what springs up in its wake.
Many of the talks went lightning fast so I took some rapid-fire notes. Below I’ve pasted them for all to see.
June 14, 2009
For the last 6 months or so, a certain Blueharv and I have been in the grips of the vacuum-brewed siphon coffee obsession. In November the good people at the Blue Bottle siphon bar turned me on to the well-designed Hario coffee siphon and its silky-perfect nectar. Since then it’s been nothing but a whirlwind caffeinated frenzy. At last, in my own kitchen I had everything necessary to extract a perfect cup of coffee, and it was far easier than I’d imagined.
Knowing my pal Blueharv’s penchant for well-brewed coffee and his hardwarehacker instincts, I had to share the gift. Amazon helped me drop-ship a Hario TCA-3 siphon to his address and I followed that with the url of the fine CoffeeGeek Siphon Guide. Fish to water; 2 siphons per day since.
So it was only natural that we’d pit our scrappy kung fu against each other to find out who was the grand coffeebong master (and compare some notes in the process). Blueharv loaded up the Vespa and crossed town to the streets of Lower Haight.
Unpacking his gear we noted a few equipment differences:
1. Grinder: Blueharv’s Capresso vs. my Krup (both measured-dose conical burr grinders)
2. Filter Cloth: Blueharv’s well stained with 6 months of use; mine bright white and freshly replaced
3. Siphon Bulb Stand: Conspicuously absent… oops… didn’t make it into the Vespa. We share.
Aside from that, today we’re working with the same butane burners, same preheated water source (Russel Hobbs electric kettle), and probably most important:
The Same Coffee Beans: Ritual Roasters’ Sumatran “Sidikalang”
Blueharv went first (after a quick scoff at the way my electric kettle brought the water to a full boil before switching off… poppycock). Hot water goes into the bulb, and then he blazed the burner to full-flame under the bulb. It started bubbling in seconds, and here’s where we have our first departure of methods:
While I place grounds into the brew cylinder before attaching it to the bulb, Blueharv attaches the *empty* brew cylinder to the bulb just after the water starts to bubble. Then at the point where water starts creeping into the brew cylinder, he adjusts the flame down and starts the grinder (preset for grind level and portion).
This seems like a good way to do things, but it requires split-second timing. On the plus side, it minimizes the time between grinding and water contact (less oxidation of coffee oils). On the minus side (I think), the longer the water hangs out in the upper cylinder the hotter the water gets, and if either the grinder takes a long time or you can’t transfer the grounds from the grinder bin into the brew cylinder quickly, you’re at best not gaining anything, and at worst you’re giving the grounds different contact times.
In any case, the Capresso grinder wins here: It grinds the full dose in a matter of seconds, and the output bin’s small curved shape allows you to dump straight into the brew cylinder. In fact, this all went by so fast that I barely caught a picture of the operation. Here, the grounds have just hit the water (which has subsequently filled the brew cylinder), and Blueharv’s hand is recoiling with the empty grinder bin.
From here, Blueharv stirs vigorously and lets the grounds dwell for a good 90-120 seconds. I noted at this point that he’s using a very fine grind — no large grains sticking to the stirring rod. I don’t use a grind this fine, fearing that the grounds bed could get overly compacted at the filter, preventing a quick kickdown of the coffee into the bulb… but we’ll see that this doesn’t cause a problem.
At dwell’s end, the grounds get a vigorous stir to establish the vortex that pulls the grounds into a nice tight mound. Here is another difference: Blueharv has no qualms about stirring the crap outta the brewing coffee, while my careful restraint allows no more than 15 turns of the stirring rod, achieving just enough speed to create the mound.
To my surprise, the coffee kicks down into the bulb without issue, quickly and without the need for a cooling towel at the bulb, leaving behind a perfectly-formed mound of dessicated grounds:
And now the true test: How does it taste?
Answer: DELICIOUS. For all the prattle amongst roasting snobs about “tasting the fruit” in the coffee beans, this cup has a wide and even taste profile with lovely light fruity acids. Not heavy yuzu nor cloying lychee, but just a light lemongrass riding above light treacle maple-syrup flavors mingling with the tarry toasty coffee oils. This is a brilliant and unblemished cup of coffee: While I worried about Blueharv’s vigorous stirring, long dwell time and possibly overheated water, this cup has no burn or bitterness in it. If anything it’s on the powdery side of things. This will be hard to beat.
From here, Blueharv demonstrates his brew cylinder emptying technique: invert over the compost bin, release the filter spring hook, and tap the bottom with hand in place to catch the filter on its way out. Voila.
I then went through the brewing process using my methods. It’s amazing: We both learned the process from similar sources, but ended up with a remarkable amount of differences in the way we do things. Here’s a few:
Grind: My grind level is a good 2-3 stops higher, yielding discrete grains of about 0.8mm.
Stirring: At the point where water meets grounds I lightly duck the grounds below the water’s surface with just enough movement to get the grounds underwater and lumps broken up. From there I don’t dare touch it for fear of… bruising the coffee? Hmm.
Dwell time: A strict 30 seconds from grounds ducked underwater to the beginning of the 15-turn vortex stir.
Two aspects of the Krups grinder have caused me to allow a lot of time and trouble at the transfer of grounds into the brew cylinder: The shape of the grounds bin (wide and squarish) prevents a simple dump — a careful pour with scrapes from a spoon is necessary. Additionally, something about this grinder puts a ridiculous amount of static charge on the finished grounds (fast-spinning ceramic burrs, passing through an all-plastic path… recipe for stripped ions). This means very careful handling and touch with a metal spoon is required, otherwise the grounds just leap out of the bin and spread out across the counter. If someone else has encountered this and found a solution, please let me know. While a metal lining of the grounds bin might help this, I can’t think of many ways to make this work well. The chief drawback of this is it’s caused me to transfer the grounds with the brew cylinder in its stand, losing valuable seconds with the grounds oxidizing all the while.
The coarser grind, minimal handling and shorter brew time I’ve been using (30 seconds) may actually have backfired somewhere along the way. It could have been an exhausted palate, but I’d swear my coffee was more sour, bitter and burned than Blueharv’s.
This will not be the last coffee duel…
June 14, 2009
The first taste is a bolt of alum. My tasting buddie didn’t bat an eye with the first sip so I went back for more, figuring it might have hit my tongue wrong. Now, accustomed to the massive sour, my tongue started to pick out some good flavors — berries and rhubarb. But always with a very strong backbone of assertive acid.
After a day corked at room temperature and 3 days vaccuumed in the fridge I tasted again, figuring that would take the edge off anything. But aside from a few new oxidated flavors of port, nearly all of the original sourness is still there! Now the exprience is woody and spicy, with a predominant fresh red rasberry flavor (not sweetened rasberry jam). Alum is still very present.
A food pairing would probably help this wine. Something panfried, then deep-fried, cooled back down, and then prepared as a confit. $16.50 at the Wine House SF.
May 22, 2009
Riding through Napa a few months ago, I was crestfallen. Just after loading a fresh roll of Fuji Pro 400, the focus ring on my Lubitel 166B came off. I pressed it back on, but in the process, realized that… before pressing it back on I’d turned the viewfinder focus ring. This meant the viewfinder focus was no longer locked to the film (objective?) focus – they were out of synch and I didn’t have any way of knowing how much. That means no expensive-retro-Ukrainian picture I’d take would ever be in focus. Ever. I put the camera aside for 6 months.
Last night I started cranking through the film I’d loaded, planning to put it in the hands of someone qualified to tune the focus back in. But after getting the unexposed film out, I thought I’d try a little experiment I’d considered: Place a piece of ground glass in the place where the film would be, and see if I could dial in the focus:
I taped it in place with some vinyl tape and opened the shutter. Sure enough, an upside-down image showed up on the ground glass.
The aperture was small, so no amount of focusing and unfocusing could make much of a difference. So I opened the aperture all the way to f2.3 (the largest), and sure enough, the image got blurry (and much brighter).
Now it was a matter of lining up the focus of the viewfinder with the focus of the exposure lens. And while we’re at it, might as well check that the distance numbers printed on the focus ring line up with those as well. 1.4m (55.1″) was a convenient distance for my room, so I dialed that in, measured that distance from the target, and adjusted the exposure lens focus until the image was clear. Voila.
Now with the focus adjusted, I just slip the focus ring/gear on the exposure lens and mesh its teeth with the viewfinder lens gear. Wow! No need for that “qualified expert” after all!
It sure looks cool without the focus ring. Reattaching it is a matter of tightening the set-screws in the focus ring, just like the globe on a hanging light fixture.
April 7, 2009
Hailing from Costieres de Nimes, I found this one at The Wine House. They’re big on this vineyard, and this wine is a great sub-$15 bottle.
It comes on with a nose of currants and brambles, with maybe a a touch of sweet tarts. The first taste is a light sourness, rhubarbs and blackberries with just enough sweetness to balance it; anise merges with the berries. With aeration, it moves on to show its big and robust structure. There’s a taste at the heart of the Nimes wines that I’m not sure how to describe, but it’s unmistakable here. A nice strong, scratchy wooden backbone. It finishes with a spicy bite at the back of the throat. with bites you right on the tip of the first sip.