Friday, March 26, 2010

Reading for the next four years

Came across this reading list which is the backbone of the curriculum at St. John's College with the semester schedule for reading is available here and here. The goal of this reading and listening (Note Bach/Schubert among others) is to connect the student to the development of Western thought both for the purpose of understanding history and also to recognize when others, to use the vernacular, 'remix' the old into the new. (I.e. David Foster Wallace's work Infinite Jest pulls from Hamlet talking to Yorick's skull. This kind of thing matters deeply to the reader where the author is, however obliquely, talking to the reader's skull. If the reader is not aware, or has never encountered, the author has no reason to make the effort.) Also reading in this breadth is to see connections that the author, because of their own limited experience (all experience is limited) was not aware of or had not seen.
Recently, I came across a timely article in entitled Oh, the Humanities! by Rochelle Gurstein. Mz. Gurstein argues for the continued importance of the humanities and their relevance from the same reason that St. John's runs their students through four years of intensive reading/study/discussion. Not that the study needs to be 'relevant' to the student's lives but to engage in study for those "...who wish to make reflective inquiry a vital part of their lives." One of the most difficult things is mustering up the energy just to start this process of inquiry. The other very difficult thing is continuing it but to do so in the company of like-minded individuals is an incomparable opportunity. The humanities keep us from chasing ourselves giving us the tools, the recognitions to know when ideas are being pimped as new and when a really interesting idea is new conglomeration of things and has worth. (Not to say that all new things are good but rather the distinction between the re-packaged-as-new and the-ingested-and-marinated-object-as-new. ) This is the worth of the humanities to strengthen the resolve and increase the depth of that which engenders reflective inquiry-that 'zone of silence'.

In the fall I'm planning on taking a crack at reading through the St. John's lists. You are welcome to join the conversation. Giles and I talked about this already and we may very well end up modifying the schedule a bit to fit with full-time work schedules but these texts will stay constant.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Adventures of Coffee Roasting

I drink a lot of coffee. I have a coffee pot in my office and it gets used on a daily basis. I used to drink Starbucks but they are expensive and why should I pay someone to do something that I can burn myself. For Christmas I was gifted with a whirley-pop, thermometer, timer and green coffee selection from Sweet Mara's. ( If you want an excellent place to begin to gather information and necessary materials on roasting Sweet Maria's is it.) Home roasting with the Whirly-Pop method is actually one of the cheapest and hardest methods. It's really hard to manage the heat and the learning curve is pretty brutal. You basically have to accept off the cuff that the first 6 or so batches of coffee have the distinct potential to be undrinkable as one attempts to nail amount of time necessary, temperature adjustment, how fast to crank, etc.
I am also blessed to be friends with Jon Beall who, by many accounts, is typically a fairly jovial man but very serious and knowledgeable about the process of understanding and roasting coffee. He also uses the Whirly-Pop method, is on his third 'popper' and roasts about 6 lbs. of coffee a week.
FIRST BATCH: (Sat 3/21/10) Roasted 12 oz of . After talking with Jon and looking at the images here I realize that I actually have just about every single color of bean after Full City+ though there were not too many fully burnt but the expresso roast was in evidence. The major reason for this is that I roasted straight through first crack and pulled the beans right as second crack was beginning. Second crack is for really dark roasts which the Whirly Pop doesn't do particularly well. (Click here for a glossary of roasting/coffee terms) Thankfully the coffee is not that terrible actually. It's just not great.
Images follow:

Apologies for the very dumb serious expression. Instead focus on the T-shirt. Yes that is the official gear of the amateur/fanboy coffee roaster.

First roast still green

The setup:

Beans just out of the popper into the colander. If you click on the picture you can zoom in and see the different textures of the beans-bah.Finished Product:
Cracking this jar open for the first time has an uncomparable smell-amazing.

SECOND BATH: Wednesday 3/24/10 Roasted 1 lb. of Columbian. I preheated to 400 degrees but when I poured the beans in the temperature dropped to 250 which is a really big step backwards and I didn't get first crack until about 8-9 minutes and I kept the beans on the heat until about 11 minutes and that was too long. I have a more consistent roast this time as more of the bean fall into the Full City range but there' s a lot more in the Full City+ range and a little beyond.
Need to preheat hotter next time. I definitely did not hit second crack though which is good. I also used a fan to 1) cool the beans and blow the chaff away.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Interview with David Bazan in CT

Interesting interview with David Bazan in CT available here. Also their review of Curse Your Branches.
Both are decently done. Bazan's responses require a bit of (re)reading to get their full gist, not unlike the album.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Broadband changes

Came across this article regarding the changes to broadband speed and two particular items stuck out:
1) "...the FCC would propose in the plan a goal of 100 Mbps speeds to be in place at 100 million American homes in 10 years. The current average is less than 4 Mbps."
This raises questions of cost, how government involvement in our internet speed will affect usage and how this will affect items like bit torrent and file sharing.

2) "The plans could also touch off tensions with television broadcasters, who will be asked to give up spectrum to wireless carriers who desperately need it for their mobile devices, such as the iPhone and Blackberry."

I think that the era of television broadcasting as it has been done for the past 60-70 years is seeing its twilight. Referring to the post below this in regards to laptops in classroom Vaidhyanathan is quoted, I'm paraphrasing here, that our dependence on screens is what is at stake in the classroom. As these screens are more portable, more affordable and more shows stream online there is less of a need to structure schedule around the broadcast's schedule which is in part one of the draws of the show that it is limited in its offering. However with sites like Hulu, and even YouTube, being bound by time to a particular show has been removed by the fact you can port these shows around on an iPod Touch or any other device that has a screen and a browser. AppleTV is another example of this. There is a couple that I know that has cancelled their cable and runs everything through AppleTV. If there is a show they would like, it is purchased through the device. This is cheaper than 'renting' cable. Granted there are some DRM issues involved.
There are very few situations where, I think, television broadcasting is essential that is not being, or can be, duplicated in some way online. While the digital divide still exists for financial, location and age reasons as screens become a directly integral part of the zeitgest and even the bildungsroman there will be less of a reason to flick on your TV.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Professors have attempted to do a decent amount of banning of laptops from their classrooms as per this article. I'm actually a huge fan of the one professor Siva Vaidhyanathan who is quoted in this article. He has the best quote/thinking about this is that the problem is not the laptop it's the screen. "The question 'Laptop or not?' isn't as big a question as the question of a screen or not..." I think he is absolutely right. I am not sure how 'traditional' teaching is going to survive with wired students who are not interested in unplugging themselves. I think that the possibility exists that students are going to start falling into two groups 1) those who are constantly plugged in and refuse to even unplug for class and 2) those who unplug purposefully to learn. This second group raises the bar for professors because they are fully investing themselves as students in the process. The first group is deeply challenging and often ultimately frustrating because there is very little for which they are willing to fully engage w/o being plugged in.

On the David Foster Wallace front, his papers were donated last week to the Ransom Center at the University of Austin. This is just huge and there have been pictures and scans, all kinds of good stuff and wallace-l has lit up like the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center which has been extremely joyous. Wallace-l is also going to be starting up a group read of GWCH which should be awesome.
Wallace's papers going to Austin is another temptation to try to get down to that area for 1) the papers 2) SXSW and 3) the Interactive conference also happening at the first half of SXSW.