Go Juice


Maybe you heard about this discovery about a way to make fuel out of coffee. If you didn’t hear about this discovery about a way to make fuel out of coffee, let me bring you up to speed. So, apparently there’s this way they discovered to make fuel out of coffee. When I put it that way it sounds like that’s all anyone is talking about.

It started out with an accident, when Dr Mano Misra at the University of Nevada, Reno, made coffee one night and didn’t drink it. Now I don’t normally feel envy at the achievements of real academics. I don’t really play that field anymore, and anyway, how many mathematicians do you know have opinions about the plots in Gil Thorp? But here, I realize, I could totally have made this discovery myself. I have a lot of experience in my life not drinking coffee. I used to be limited in discovering things in coffee I didn’t drink by how I didn’t make coffee before I didn’t drink it.

But this past decade? I’ve made a surprising lot of coffee. This is because there’s a complimentary coffee bar at this overgrowing farmer’s market on the west side of town. We go there to get our pet rabbit vegetables and to see what they’ve expanded to doing this week. It’s great. Gourmet popcorn? Sure! Fresh-pressed olive oil? Why not! Gelato? Yeah, they can do that, why not? There’s also a great wall of succulents that gets moved to a new place every time you step in, even if you only stepped out for three minutes and came back in because you’re looking for a lost hat. If you’re ever in town (Lansing) you should stop in. You can find it by looking for the massive parking lots that nobody can escape. Use the one on the west side of town.

Anyway, they have a complementary coffee bar, so for a long while there I started making coffee. What was I going to do, not get coffee just because I don’t much like coffee? Besides, they have all sorts of things to make coffee taste less like coffee. Flavored beans, for a start. Sugars, in real (sugar) and imaginary (Splenda) and complex (cinnamon maple sprinkles) versions. Creams ranging from light to dark to postmodern inquiries of the nature of whitening coffee. Whipped cream. You can put so much stuff in the coffee you don’t even need the coffee. And after seven years of going there nearly weekly I’ve realized: you know, they have some tea I could get instead. It’s boring tea, but then I have a deep, fundamental boringness to myself and so that’s right for me.

So there was this period I was making coffee, although instead of not drinking it I would drink it instead, because what was I going to do, waste coffee? And cinnamon maple sprinkles? I was raised in too big a family to do something like that. But if I had just used the coffee I was making and didn’t drink it, then this is a discovery I totally could have made, if I had noticed anything.

The story then is Dr Misra noticed a layer of oil floating on the coffee. That’s something I didn’t know coffee could do. I thought layers of oil formation were only done by fossils and peanut butter. I mean the peanut butter that’s so good you can’t use it for sandwiches because you’re always stirring the oil back into it. Misra found the oil, though, and didn’t think to stir it in. Using it for motor fuel is a breakthrough, though, and one I wouldn’t have made. I was pretty sure you only put mysterious fluids in cars if you’re in a low-effort Disney movie made between 1958 and 1982. So it’s not enough to observe a thing, you also have to have an idea what to do with it. So that’s something I wouldn’t have though to try.

What gets me is that if you can get oil out of coffee, then there must have been oil in the coffee to start with. Right? I feel like this has to be right. But then that means someone put the oil in. But who goes around injecting oil into coffee beans? I understand it happening once or twice, as a prank. But that wouldn’t stay funny forever. On the other hand, everything I know about this is a couple years old, so maybe someone was playing a nasty prank on the University of Nevada, Reno. Or maybe the oil really comes from the coffee cups, and the coffee is just a red herring. I bet they checked that possibility, though. I don’t know anybody who drinks herring.

Today’s Excuse For Why I’m Running Late On Everything


I’m very sorry but I have been caught up with the momentousness of ordinary days. Like, particularly: there was one day that one person chose to promote the idea that the decaffeinated coffee should be in the pot with the orange handle. And that every place, ever, that has followed that convention is ultimately following that person’s lead. Think, then, of the day that person picked orange handles. Did they have any idea that this was the day they were going to crush the idea of a green handle, or a handle with one red stripe instead, or any of the other many ways that the information could be conveyed? Did they have rivals whose hopes for alternate conventions were crushed? Did their rivals know right away that their ideas were doomed? Was the orange-handle idea promulgated at a morning or an afternoon meeting? With whom? What did that person have for breakfast?

My guess is tea.

Everything There Is To Say About Grinding Coffee Beans


Before I get warmed up you might ask how I know anything about grinding coffee beans. I’m glad you don’t ask the equivalent about every one of these essays. That would hurt my feelings. I affect a quiet, almost stoic pose. But I do have, and use, six feelings. I admit one of them is that feeling of nuisance that my sock is not quite wet enough to justify changing.

But it does not hurt my feelings if you doubt my knowledge of grinding coffee beans. I’m not a coffee drinker. I don’t much like it. I usually get coffee because I’ve misunderstood the question. I prefer tea, which could also use some work but which I’ve been kind of used to for longer. The only time I get coffee on purpose is when I go vegetable-shopping at the farmer’s market on the westside of town. They have this complementary coffee bar with a rotation of eight different flavors. And then what am I going to do, not get coffee because I don’t like it? It’s complementary.

And yes, I could get a complementary tea instead, but they use the same tea bags we already have at home. I’ve paid for those already, out of the household budget. This is a real chain of logic I really follow in reality, for real. Also they always have flavored coffees. And coffee might not be anything much, but coffee-cake flavor coffee? That’s great. I should get something to eat with my cup of coffee-cake flavor coffee, but what?

Nevertheless I do make coffee at home for my love, and for guests we have. And people agree I make good coffee. So I have standing.

Coffee comes in the form of beans. This is great because they make this satisfying rattle when you accidentally spill them on the kitchen floor. It’s a noise like pouring some particularly sugar-glazed cereal into an empty bowl and a good reminder to clean the kitchen floor more often. But to turn this into coffee you need to grind the beans. This creates “grounds”. The name comes from when the Coffee Makers Association heard the naming session was right now, not next week like their calendars said. You can get the coffee ground for you by somebody … somewhere … and buy it like that. But then people who are really, really, really into coffee will stare at you. Again, I only drink coffee when I’m feeling proud for snagging a good-looking bunch of turnips for our pet rabbit. But I know if I were making a cup first thing in the morning, I wouldn’t want the dolorous gaze of coffee enthusiasts coming through the kitchen window.

Anywhere you can buy coffee beans has a machine to ground then on the spot. It’s this terrifying machine with at least four hand-written signs warning about settings you must not used taped to it. There’s a layer of coffee dust on it deep enough to grow half-caff bananas. Best to hide from that scene. You can get a coffee blender for home from any shop that sells coffee-making supplies, or “coffeterium” as they say in the trades. (“Coffeteria” is the plural, for if you need more than one blender.) These are great, though. You take the lid off, pour beans in, plug the machine in, press the button, get a spray of beans in your face, and learn to put the lid back on again next time. It makes a fun sound on the kitchen floor.

If blending fails you can go try other ways. One good way is to set a cupful of beans in a strong plastic bag, tape it to the outside wall, and then summon the Kool-Aid Man. He not only crushes the beans into a fine powder but gets you something you like drinking right away while you’re waiting for coffee. That’s all great, but you can only do it up to four times, plus the landlord gets all tense.

So you have to stop using the Kool-Aid man. But that might not be a bad thing. Grinding beans is when they start to lose flavor, and we didn’t spend years getting kind of used to the flavor of coffee to have less flavorful coffee. But the logical conclusion is there: don’t grind the beans before drinking the coffee. Give in to the sound and eat the beans, like cereal, in a bowl full of chocolate milk instead. You can swallow a modest number of gizzard stones, like birds do, to crush the beans inside your crop and enjoy the perfect coffee experience.

It is possible guests are just being nice when they say I make coffee well.

Buffet Restaurant Scandal!


So last week the local alt weekly published their annual Top Of The Town reader-survey winners, and this week it apologized about the Best Asian Buffet winner. According to the retraction, the Ukai Habachi Grill and Sushi Bar despite being generally quite good and having apparently lots of name recognition, doesn’t have a buffet. They explained they get a lot of reader-submitted entries, which is fair. They have somewhere around 620 categories for the Top of the Town contest. This includes two separate categories for Best Coffee Shop, which isn’t even my joke[1]. But they can’t vet every place nominated for every category. They have a hard enough time rolling their eyes at every politician someone can name being nominated for “Best Comedian” which, again, isn’t even my joke.

They don’t exactly say who told them that Ukai doesn’t have a buffet. The article says the restaurant said people have stopped by asking for the buffet, which suggests the restaurant asked them to do something about people. But it doesn’t quite say that. It might’ve just been someone sidling up to the newspaper office and whispering an awkward, “Um … you know … I don’t want to embarrass you … but … like … before you do next year … uh … ” and never getting to the point.

The most wonderful thing about this? They admit it happened before. Apparently once the Knight Cap, a steakhouse, won for Best Pizza. The Knight Cap rolled with it, briefly adding pizza to their menu. I like to think they got it from Ukai.

[1] Best Coffee Shop is divided between Best Biggby and Best Not-Biggby shop. Biggby is a local chain that’s omnipresent in the same way jokes about Starbuck’s being everywhere used to be. They’re called Biggby because the place used to be called Beaner’s, and they wanted to expand like crazy, and found out there’s places that’s a racial slur so they figured better to fix that problem now rather than later, and they already had a lot of stuff with large B logos.

In Which I Guess I’ll Do Until The Souchong Guy Arrives


“Are you the souchong guy?” It’s not a question I expected to be asked. I doubt I’m alone. If any of you reading this now (or later, I’ll allow it) were expecting to be asked that please write in. I’d like to see how many are. But I wasn’t expecting it, so I was even worse than my average in responding to the guy at the farmers’ market. Not so bad as the whole “do you want to buy this pair of pants” fiasco, but worse than my average.

It’s really a grocery store, maybe a supermarket. It’s also got a garden center. But it styles itself a farmers market and I think there’s farmers involved with it somewhere. They carry the alt-weekly, and plastic bins of candy. And they’ve got a wine bar, so you maybe have the place scoped out now. I was there to get vegetables for our pet rabbit, and candy for our pet us, but I was wandering toward the tea section with the intent of getting tea. It’s the store where I got that scary box of Builders tea that I thought might punch me if I didn’t get it. They haven’t had it since, maybe after customer complaints about being punched by tea.

“Are you the souchong guy?” And the guy, who either worked for the store or was making off with one of their dollies, explained there was a guy with a beard who’d been looking for lapsang souchong tea. I was not that guy. I have a beard, and I drink tea, but that’s as far as things go.

I have a beard for considered reasons. If I didn’t grow a beard, I would have to shave, or have someone else shave me. And I can do that, when directed to by my love, or before that, my mother. Shaving once every two or three months may not be perfect. But it is between 98.3 and 98.9 percent of my ideal state of my face vanishing into a cloud of hair and spilled tea. That’s as much as one can hope for in this fallen world.

I don’t mean to imply beardedness dictates tea-drinking. I could drink coffee. I often get some at the farmers market’s complimentary coffee bar. But most of the time when I get coffee it’s because I didn’t hear the question right. I never drank enough coffee to get over the fact that it tastes like that. Tea, though, I’ve long since drank enough tea to accept that it tastes like that. The souchong guy might usually get coffee, but when he gets tea, he wants a tea that still takes time to get used to, and thus the souchong guy’s question.

The store guy explained that they hadn’t had any souchong, but he made some calls and found the last couple cases of Twinings souchong tea in the area. And they put it up on the shelves, ready for purchase. That’s sweet. The action, I mean. And I figured that since I was open to tea or tea-like products, why not go with this? After all, if it’s good enough for one Lansing-area guy with a beard, why not another?

As I drove home I got to thinking. I’m supposed to just believe a person asked for a specific kind of tea from the tea-selling staff at the store? I have a hard enough time working up the courage to impose on fast-food workers my preferred choice for lunch. To ask for something that isn’t even on sale there would be impossible. Oh, I hear of people going off and asking for things they’d like from stores that might sell these things, but I always took them to be the stuff of fantasy.

At this point my parents would like to point out the time when I was maybe five years old and my aunt asked what I wanted for Christmas. And I described this awesome toy spaceship. This sent my aunt on a crazed search through every toy store in northern New Jersey. The search ended when she realized that she had assumed I was talking about a toy that actually existed in any form anywhere, and I had not. I just answered what I would like, and never mind what exists. My aunt eventually talked to me again.

But! The situation is completely different. My aunt has, so far as I know, never even been in this farmers market and has no responsibility for the tea selection. Why would she have anything to do with souchong guy? I bet they had more souchong than they knew what to do with, and figured I was an easy mark for a little beard-based flattery.

Well, the souchong’s not bad with a bit of cream or milk. I can get used to it and call that liking it.

What Causes People To Sometimes Read About Canada


Let me address the first question about my checking out Christopher Moore’s Three Weeks In Quebec City: The Meeting That Made Canada from the library. No, every other book was not checked out. However, it’s true the book I really wanted, a 288-page book about rust, isn’t due back until mid-October. I concede people might think 262 pages about the 1864 conference which laid down the principles for the British North America Act of 1867 would be a little dry. They’re mistaken. It was very rainy the whole first week. (I haven’t gotten to the second week yet.) And, hey, the meeting had not one but two people named John Hamilton Gray attending. They won’t be confused because John Hamilton Gray was from a completely different part of Maritime Canada than was John Hamilton Gray.

But it’s got me thinking about my reading. The kind way to look at it is I’m broad-minded. If someone’s gone to the trouble of writing a book about the modern pasta technology it’s only decent I read it, right? But I know deep down I go in skeptically, figuring, how could there be a book’s worth of material about this? It turned out well. I got to see baffling pictures of extruded pasta under a microscope, and got to see hundreds of uses of the word “extrude”. Is it a boring topic? Maybe, but at least I only borrowed the book from the university library. I own two books about the history of containerized cargo and have a distinct preference for one of them. And I’m a little sad that neither the city nor the university library have enough books about the sociology of bureaucracy for my tastes.

Am I a boring person? I don’t think so. Of course I have an interest in not thinking so. If I didn’t think I was interesting how could I bear to be with someone who’s sure there’s a snappy 4X video game to be made out of time zones? My love does it, so it can’t be just me. Well, 3X anyway. The best X’s.

But then is anything actually boring? Stare directly at the boring and you’ll find fascination staring back at you. You ever notice those big plastic signs stuck in the ground outside decaying strip malls, that tell you where to find prepaid cell phones? Those were manufactured. Someone made them. So someone either grew up wanting to make those, or else the twists and turns of that person’s life turned “making those things” into the sensible thing to do. Either way that’s a story.

More, someone invented that. Humanity was fine without those things for tens of thousands of years, then suddenly we weren’t. It’s easy to imagine making the first; someone had an odd impulse to make a nylon-or-something sign that would plunge easily into the ground. It needs no explanation to say why someone did that once. People will try all kinds of odd things and most of them don’t amount to worse than an explanation to the clerk at the emergency room admissions. But society was ready to pick up this idea and run with it. How did we get to that point? Again, this boring thing is fascinating.

But we shouldn’t mistake being bored with not finding stuff interesting. Boredom is the state where anything, anything at all, is interesting enough to pay attention to. A clock trudging clockwise? A squirrel berating a flower pot? A TV show about the making of how-to-make-stuff TV shows? That tuft of fur the pet rabbit can’t quite blow off his nose? That’s all it takes to hold your interest when you’re bored.

And bored is the natural state anymore. We aren’t busy on cell phones all day long because it’s all that interesting. We’re there because we’re in a boring room anyway, or bored waiting for the interesting thing to get started. Someone you kind of know who’s a friend of someone you kind of used to know sends around a page of philosophy quotes married to pictures of otters? A list of human tragedies immortalized as restaurant offerings? The surprisingly late date when car license plate sizes were standardized? Movies watched by Jimmy Carter while he was president? That’s as good as organizing the federal government of Canada.

Doubt me? Here’s a 6500-word essay about the history of disposable coffee cup lids. You can insist you’re ignoring it. (It’s got some jumbled text that looks like sidebars were poorly merged into the main.) But if you do, you’ll know there’s stuff someone wrote about the different eras in disposable lid design that you haven’t seen yet. The world may be boring us, but that doesn’t mean we can ever really look away.

Finding the Fun: Caffeine Edition


I was hanging out online, since that’s easier than interacting with people, and the conversation turned to caffeine. One person piped up with this:

Fun fact, Red Bull actually has less caffiene than a regular cup of coffee.

While I was getting ready to have a reaction to that — don’t tell me you could respond to that without some warm-up first — someone else laid this on the group:

Fun fact: the lethal amount of caffeine is equal to 10,000 cups of coffee … at once.

OK, so, even if either or both of those are facts, this is fun? What kind of crowd am I moving in?

This is why I mostly drink coffee only when I misunderstood the question.

Caption This: Getting 80% Of All Voyager Episodes Done


Janeway is leaning forward in front of her 24th-century lost-in-the-delta-quadrant couch.
A still from the Star Trek: Voyagers episode “Hunted”, which I never saw either. I think.

Janeway: “Blah, blah, something, something, coffee, blah blah, tachyon pulse something deflector array, reset button. Done. Next?”

Credits: Special thanks to Jason Brose who had the caption idea right.

The tea lighter side


I wanted to point folks over to A Labor Of Like again, this time because after last week’s big humor piece about tea lights as a non-toy, they went and found the rules for a game of tea lights, so you can go and enjoy that.

That feels like a bit of a skimpy day of writing to me so I felt like I should offer something, like, words of general wisdom about how to make life better. Unfortunately all I’ve really got right now is that you’ll feel a little bit better if you replace the used coffee filter in the drip maker with a fresh one now rather than later. I can’t explain why, but going to make some coffee and finding that there’s already a fresh filter in there instead of moist, cold grounds feels pretty good, even if it means you just deal with the filter when there’s no coffee-related business going on. It’s not much, but it’s there for you to do what you like with. Probably get coffee set a tiny bit sooner.

A Labor of Like

The tea lighter side

Recently, in the blog Joseph Nebus’s Sense of Humor, the redoubtable (from the French redoubtable, “able to be doubted more than once”) Joseph Nebus expressed curiosity about how tea lights could be used as toys.

This concept got stuck in my head like an intellectual earworm (one of those songs you can’t get out of your head).

So I searched Far and Wide (Disclaimer: Mostly Wide. It takes too long to get to Far, especially with rush hour traffic.) until I found a battered, dusty copy of the game Tea Lights from back in the Good Old Days (later than “Yore”, but before “When I Was Your Age”). The instructions are reprinted below, with grateful acknowledgement to the game’s inventors, poet John Milton and Gen. Omar Bradley.

Tea Lights
A Game for 2 to 4000 Players of All Ages (except 31-year olds)

Contents

  • 4000 or more tea lights

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