First Day With My Baratza Preciso Coffee Grinder

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My new Baratza Preciso grinder arrived today. I’ve been impatiently waiting for it to arrive since Thursday—the day my Rancilio Silvia was delivered. Since Thursday, I’ve been making the most bitter lattes that I have ever made using some pre-ground coffee. It just wasn’t ground quite right to match Miss Silvia, but I did manage to make two or three lattes over the weekend that were at least drinkable.

I was hoping the Preciso would help me out, and it most certainly did. It wasn’t entirely smooth sailing, though. I have a small portion of the Rwanda beans from Central Market that match the coffee I ground in the store. I don’t want to use that right away, because I want to use it to see how my skills and tuning improve over the next few days.

The first shot with the Baratza Preciso

My research on the Internet told me that a setting of 10C might be a good starting point, but the brochure that came with the Preciso grinder suggested settings 2 through 6 for espresso. I decided to trust the manual, and I started at setting 6, and I loaded up the machine with the Ethiopian Harrar Deep Blue Oromia Addison Coffee Roasters.

This was a complete failure. The Rancilio Silvia could barely move any water through the portafilter. I abandoned that attempt pretty quickly. I moved up to setting 10, and I slid the micro adjustment level to the center.

A Beautiful Latte

My second pull went much better. I wasn’t being very scientific at this point. I was pulling the shot directly into the 12-ounce Bodum double-walled glass that I usually drink my lattes out of. It looked like it was about the right volume of espresso, probably in the ballpark of two ounces, and it took about 25 seconds to pull the shot.

This was easily the best latte I’ve made with the Silvia up to this point. It was a little bitter, but things were definitely looking up! I repeated the process an hour later, and produced another similar beverage. I was very excited—I already had repeatability!

Trying to tune out the bitter taste

The espresso troubleshooting guide told me that bitter espresso can be caused by water that is too hot. I’ve been practicing my “temperature surfing” all weekend, and I’ve been pulling my shots about 40 seconds after the boiler shuts off. I thought waiting a full minute might improve things.

It did not improve things. In fact, this time it came out absolutely awful. I decided that it was time to use some science.

Don’t do it this way

I had the brilliant idea to use old, stale, cheap coffee while trying to tune in the grind and my tamping. This seemed like an excellent idea, but I was very wrong.

I brought the grind setting down one notch, filled up the portafilter, and tamped exactly like I have been all day. The water just passed through the coffee like it wasn’t even there. I filled a pair of shot glasses in less than ten seconds—that’s just way too fast.

I set the grinder down at 6, and I got much closer to my goal, but it was still too fast, so I moved that dial down to 5. I was surprised to see another two ounces of coffee flow out of the espresso machine in less than ten seconds.

I pulled two more shots with the grinder set to 5, and the second try took just about 20 seconds. This is when I started thinking that experimenting with old beans was a bad idea.

Back to the fresh Addison Coffee Roasters beans

I swapped out the old beans and managed to get coffee grounds all over the counter. I think I left the settings alone, so the grinder should be at 5 now. I thought for certain that I was going to gum up the machine again.

It wasn’t a perfect pull. One of the shot glasses filled up faster than the other, and I had to stop the pull short so as not to overflow. Even with the uneven shot glasses, I probably pulled just a hair over two ounces of espresso in 22 seconds. That’s a bit shy of my 25-second goal, but I was satisfied enough that I decided to steam some milk.

This was one of the very best lattes that I have ever made. I’d like to tell you that I’m drinking it as I’m writing this, but I would be lying. I finished it almost a dozen paragraphs ago.

I’ve been drinking coffee from Addison Coffee Roasters for a few years now, and I’d say they roast a pretty good bean, but I’ve been spoiled by Craft Coffee. The beans I’ve been getting each month from Craft Coffee have been absolutely stellar.

My batch of Craft Coffee for July shipped today, and it is due to arrive on Thursday. I’ve been worried that I wouldn’t have the espresso machine tuned in well enough by then, but this delicious latte has me thinking otherwise. I’m really looking forward to Thursday!

The First Night With My Racilio Silvia

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My friend Brian is an awesome guy. He wanted to pay me back for many years of various sorts of technical help, blog-related advice, Piwik hosting, and virtual private server hosting, so he decided to buy me an espresso machine. Not just any espresso machine, but one of the best espresso machines you can buy without spending thousands of dollars on an actual commercial machine.

He bought me a Rancilio Silvia. This machine is a HUGE upgrade over my old Mr. Coffee espresso machine. It is big, heavy, and very durable. Almost everything except the water tank is made of steel or brass, and if anything ever does go wrong, almost all of the internal parts can be purchased separately. I expect to be pulling shots with this machine for the next ten or twenty years.

I’m also replacing my cheap burr grinder with a better model. I deliberated on this quite a bit and decided to go with the Baratza Preciso grinder. The other two choices on my list were the Rancilio Rocky and the Gaggia MDF.

The Gaggia was very tempting because the refurbished MDF grinders are half the price of the Baratza Preciso. I didn’t really like what I was reading about it, and it sounds like the doser on the Gaggia is quite messy. I’m expecting the grinder to last as long as the Miss Silvia, so I didn’t mind spending a little more.

Miss Silvia

The Rancilio Rocky sounds like a quality machine, but I was seduced by the vast array of grind sizes of the Preciso. The Preciso has 40 “macro” adjustments that can each be fine-tuned with 11 “micro” adjustments. That is probably a lot more control than I need, but I read that only about three grind settings on the Rocky are suitable for espresso. The Preciso can also grind coarse enough for a French press, while the other two can’t.

The problem with the grinder

I couldn’t order the grinder from Amazon. At least, that’s what I thought. The Baratza Preciso grinders at Amazon with Prime shipping didn’t seem to have the portafilter holder attachment. As I’m writing this, I realize that I was mistaken in that thought.

Since I wasn’t smart the other night, I ended up ordering my grinder from Whole Latte Love. I picked up the Racilio Silvia from Brian’s house tonight, but the grinder won’t arrive for another three days. This was a bit of a conundrum, since my grinder doesn’t have a fine enough grind setting for the Silvia.

We stopped at the Central Market on the way home from dinner, and I picked up some of their in-house roasted coffee. I bought some of their organic coffee from Rwanda. I picked some up last week, and it was pretty good. This time, though, I used their grinder. I figured this would let me play with my new machine before my new grinder arrives on Monday.

Trying out the steam wand

Last night, I watched Gail from Seattle Coffee Gear steam some milk with a Rancilio Silvia on YouTube. She told me about how much weaker the steam wand on the Silvia is compared to the high-end commercial machines, and watching her steam milk didn’t seem very impressive. It seemed to be working better than my little Mr. Coffee machine.

One of the first things I did after priming the machine was test out the steam wand. I pointed it at the sink, and I turned it on. Holy moly! It is SO much more powerful than my old machine. It seemed like it filled the entire sink with steam!

Gail is definitely using a much bigger frothing pitcher than my little 12-ounce pitcher. I filled it up less than half way, and I had to turn the dial way down to keep it from spraying my milk all over the place. I already ordered a 20-ounce pitcher.

I don’t steam my milk to as high a temperature as most people. I stop at around 130 or 140 degrees. The Silvia brought my milk up to temperature in about 20 or 30 seconds. It probably takes two or three times longer with my old machine, and the foam came out so much better. I’m sure that will improve even more once I practice more with the Silvia.

Pulling a good shot is a lot harder

I knew I was going to have trouble pulling a shot without a grinder. The first shot was very problematic. I filled up the portafilter, leveled it off, and tamped it down pretty hard with the weird convex tamper that came with the Silvia. I had trouble getting the portafilter onto the machine.

I took it off to see if I was doing something wrong, and there was an indent in coffee from a bolt on the Silva. This seems to be normal, but I assumed I had too much coffee in there. I muscled the portafilter into place anyway, and I pulled a double shot.

It was very uneven coming out, but it was coming out at close to the correct speed. I combined it with the milk I had just steamed and made myself a latte. I let Chris taste it first, and she made a horrible face. It did not taste good at all.

Then I tried measuring out about 14 grams of coffee. This should be about the right amount, but it didn’t pile up high enough for me to level it off correctly. I did my best, though, and tried pulling another shot. This one was going way too fast, and it tasted terrible.

My understanding is that there are two variables that control the speed at which the water moves through the portafilter: the size of the grind, and the force of the tamp. I can’t control the grind yet, but I can control the tamp, so tamping is what I did. I put in another 14 grams and I tamped it as hard as I could.

I’m a pretty heavy guy, and I put a lot of weight on that tamper. It wasn’t enough. It still passed through the portafilter like there was no coffee in there.

One last try for the night

I gave up on the idea of using 14 grams. Just like the first attempt, I put a big heaping lump of coffee in the portafilter and brushed off the excess. I tamped it down as hard as I could and pulled another shot. I pulled this shot into a 2-ounce demitasse cup.

It filled up in about 22 seconds. That sounds a little fast, but it was the best I could manage for today. I’m finishing up the latte that I made from that shot right now.

It is one of the worst lattes I’ve made this year, but it was good enough that I finished the whole thing. In my opinion, that means I’ve had a most excellent first day with my new Rancilio Silvia!

The new grinder will be here in a few days, and my next Craft Coffee delivery should arrive a few days after that. I have a feeling that next week is going to be a delicious one!

3D-Printed Tablet Stand For an Inexpensive Bluetooth Keyboard

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I ordered an adjustable tablet stand not even two days before I decided to buy a 3D printer. That stand is inexpensive and versatile, but it doesn’t do quite what I wanted. What I really wanted to do was attach my LG G Pad 8.3 to a compact Bluetooth keyboard.

There are plenty of models at thingiverse.com that do this, but they are all designed around Apple’s Bluetooth keyboard. I don’t want to use Apple’s keyboard. I don’t expect to use this setup very often, and I want to use cheap hardware. Cheap enough that I could buy extras so I can keep one in each car. Cheap enough that I won’t care if they get lost or stolen.

I found a pretty good keyboard that fits that description. It is a generic knock-off of an Apple keyboard, and it is sold under a dozen different brand names at Amazon. I ended up buying the SANOXY Wireless Bluetooth Keyboard. It was one of the lowest priced of an array of identical-looking keyboards that were available with Amazon Prime shipping. There is absolutely no branding on this keyboard whatsoever, and I am confident the brackets I designed will work with any of the other identical looking keyboards.

The first attempt was a failure

My box of M3 nuts and bolts arrived shortly after I finished up my very first custom-designed part. I wanted to try designing an object with a captive nut. I figured I could build a nut into the bracket and tighten a bolt to clamp the bracket to the keyboard.

I’m both proud and excited that I was able to model a hex-shaped hole into the bracket for the captive nut. It was a little snug, but it worked just fine! The base of my bracket just wasn’t strong enough. When I tightened the bolt, it would just bend the bracket.

This wasn’t how I originally envisioned this part anyway. That first test piece showed me that I transferred my measurements of the keyboard’s battery compartment into Blender correctly, and the dimensions carved into the top for the tablet were pretty close to correct.

I just needed to expand on that initial design, and I would be all set.

The new clip works great, but there were many failures.

Measure twice and cut once. That’s what they say, and I measured the heck out of this keyboard with my caliper. My dial caliper is SAE, so I spent a lot of time asking Google to convert my measurements to metric. I need to remember to pick up a metric caliper to speed things up.

All my measuring paid off. I was able to get the brackets to snap onto the keyboard on my first try! That was all that worked on the first try, though. As you can see in this YouTube video, I didn’t properly account for the angle of the keyboard.

It seemed like this was going to be easy to fix. I pushed the keyboard into its correct position, and I measured the gap between the desk and the tips of the brackets using my caliper. It was off by about 8 mm, so I adjusted the model accordingly—or so I thought! I repeated this process a few more times, and I still had a wobbly tablet stand.

The finished product

I took one final measurement, and I added about 50% to it. I figured that if that didn’t get me the angle I needed, then nothing would. I also tweaked the depth, width, and angle of the notch for the tablet. I tested one of the earlier pieces with my Nexus 4 phone, and the notch just wasn’t quite wide enough to fit the phone. I don’t know that I’ll ever use this stand with my phone, but it was a simple fix, and I’d like to keep my options open.

I also discovered my new favorite tool in Blender: the bevel tool. Until now, all of my designs have sharp angles. I used my new found knowledge to change two of the sharp corners of this bracket into nice, long, sweeping curves! It looks so much nicer now.

I am very pleased with how they came out. They do their job very nicely, and I learned a lot during the design process. I’m looking forward to taking my keyboard and tablet on a field trip in the near future.

How is the keyboard?

I haven’t typed more than a few paragraphs with this wireless keyboard, but I’m reasonably happy with it. It feels like a laptop keyboard, but the key spacing is almost identical to my big, old IBM Model M mechanical keyboard. I don’t enjoy typing on these short-throw laptop-style keyboards, but proper keyboards and very portable.

It is most definitely worth the $13 that I had to pay for it.

Upgrade from 120 GB Crucial M4 to 480 GB Crucial M500 SSD

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I didn’t really need to upgrade my solid-state drive. The Crucial M4 is a fast and reliable drive, and even at only 120 GB, I still had plenty of free space. We had another machine that needed a replacement drive, though, so I decided to use my Crucial M4 for that machine and buy a new drive for my own workstation.

I had my eye on the new Crucial MX100 drives. I even ordered one from Amazon that was available with Prime shipping. I didn’t notice until the order was complete that the drive was back ordered and wouldn’t ship for almost three weeks. I canceled that order and decided to go with the 480 GB Crucial M500.

The 512 GB Crucial MX100 is a faster, a little bigger, and costs a bit less than the 480 GB M500 drive, but none of that mattered to me at the time. I needed to start moving drives around sooner rather than later.

Better performance just doesn’t matter

I ran some benchmarks on this new drive, and the new SSD is quite a bit faster than the old Crucial M4, but that doesn’t really matter. If it weren’t for the benchmarks, I wouldn’t be able to tell you that the Crucial M500 is any faster. My computer booted up fast before, and it still does. Applications used to open very, very quickly, and they still do.

I’ve been saying for a long time that the biggest value a solid-state drive brings over a traditional hard drive is the much-improved random access. Spinning hard disks have been stuck at around 100 to 200 seeks per second since the late 1990s. Even an SSD from a few years ago can manage several thousand seeks per second.

It is those random I/O operations that count. The maximum sequential throughput that the drive can sustain is almost meaningless. You won’t notice it unless all you’re doing is copying large files around your local machine.

Size matters

In my computer, I have one solid-state drive and a mirrored pair of 1 TB 7200 RPM disks. This has served me quite well. The only thing I didn’t have room for on my SSD were some of my larger games, but it was no big deal keeping those on the 1 TB RAID 1 array.

Upgrading to an SSD that is four times bigger than the old one has been a very pleasant experience. I was able to move a whole bunch of stuff from the slow RAID array over to the SSD, including the “huge” 90GB Steam library. I still have over 150 GB free. That’s five or six times more free space than I had on the old solid-state drive.

It really is wonderful that spacious solid-state drives are finally becoming affordable.

Benchmark caveats

I ran my obligatory Bonnie++ benchmarks on the Crucial M500. There are plenty of other benchmarks available these days, but I’ve been running Bonnie since the late nineties. Somewhere here in my archives I have Bonnie benchmarks of old IDE disks, and benchmarks of my old 8-port 3ware IDE RAID card.

So far, I figure it is best to keep running benchmarks that I can compare to my ancient machines.

I did something very different this time. Bonnie defaults to using a scratch file that is twice the size of your available RAM. I usually reboot and tell the kernel to only use two or four gigabytes of RAM. This helps make sure the benchmark doesn’t take too long to run, that I don’t needlessly waste write cycles of the flash chips, and that I even have enough room to store a 64-gigabyte file.

I just ran the benchmark without rebooting this time. I had almost 400 GB free on the drive, and this drive is pretty fast, so it didn’t take long to run at all!

I am also using full disk encryption, so I am artificially limiting these drives. They’re still much, much faster than they need to be, but don’t be surprised if my numbers come up lower than you expect.

And finally, the obligatory benchmarks

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Version  1.97             ------Sequential Output-------- --Sequential Input-- --Random-
Concurrency   1           -Per Chr- --Block--- -Rewrite-- -Per Chr- --Block--- --Seeks--
Machine              Size K/sec %CP K/sec  %CP K/sec  %CP  K/sec %CP K/sec %CP  /sec %CP
FX-8350 480 GB M500   63G   483  99 406072  55 150005  34  1362  99 309761  38 +++++ +++
FX-8350 120 GB M4      7G   632  99  96865  10  77523   7  3124  99 300500  15  4234 104
FX-8350 120 GB M4      7G   642  99 178581  28  82598  25  3065  97 200485  32  2439 179
Laptop 80 GB X25-M     8G 56415  89  87157  11  39827   9 69707  98 298590  29 16150  45

I included two sets of results for the Crucial M4. I know those benchmarks were both run shortly after I built my new desktop machine, but my notes aren’t giving me a hint as to why the block input and output results are so wildly different between the two. I thought it best to include them both.

I also included the results of one of my old benchmarks of my Intel X25-M G2. That one is cheating a little bit, because it isn’t encrypted. You might also notice that the X25’s “per character” results are orders of magnitude faster. I’m not sure why that is, but all of the Bonnie benchmarks that I’ve run in recent years have resulted in abysmally slow “per character” throughput. It doesn’t matter which drive I test or which machine it’s in.

Analyzing the results

In my tests, all three drives are capable of sustaining about 300 MB/s sequential read speeds. Other people have seen higher read speeds, so I’m assuming encryption is causing this bottleneck for me. I’m not worried. That is plenty fast enough for my purposes.

I was most impressed by the write speeds of the Crucial M500. It is more than twice as fast as my old Crucial M4. What’s more surprising to me is that the encryption isn’t limiting it to 300 MB/s. I’m guessing that writes are easier to encrypt in parallel, so my workstation’s 8 cores are being better utilized during writes.

I had to check the Bonnie++ documentation to find out what it means when the result of a test is a row of plus signs instead of a number. It does this when a test completes in less than 500ms. I have to assume that means the Crucial M500 is beating my old X25’s 16,150 seeks per second.

The drive I chose not to buy

I also looked at the 500 GB Samsung EVO 840. The EVO is comparable in performance to the Crucial MX100, and both are a little faster than my Crucial M500. However, the Samsung EVO was $40 or $50 more. I didn’t see the need to spend more for performance I wouldn’t even notice.

Which drive should you buy?

I combed through all sorts of benchmarks before buying the new drive. That’s what I do. I enjoy reading benchmarks and specifications. It is really a waste of time. Most of the solid-state drives on the market today are extremely fast, especially the ones from all the major makes and models.

You’d have a hard time buying a “bad” drive from any of the popular SSD manufacturers. Intel, Crucial, and Samsung have been making fast and reliable drives for several generations now.

If you’re spending extra money to pick an SSD that makes higher numbers in a benchmark, you’re probably not going to be able to notice your investment without a stopwatch. My wife’s computer still has the hand-me-down 80 GB Intel X25-M, and it still boots up fast and is as quick and snappy as my computer.

That said, had the Crucial MX100 been available, I would have chosen it instead. It is faster, bigger, and costs less than the Crucial M500. I’m not unhappy that I had to choose the lesser drive, because I’ll never notice the difference.

Bulletproof Coffee

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There is a new coffee trend called bulletproof coffee. I can’t avoid reading about it. It has shown up countless times on Twitter, Stumbleupon, and in my RSS feeds. It sounds more than a little strange, but every time I read about it, I want to give it a try.

The most intriguing part of the recipe is the recommendation to use Unsalted Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter, and the shipping cost on this stuff from Amazon is extremely high. This stuff is “grass-fed butter,” and I had absolutely no idea what that does for the butter. I was over at The Allen Wickers last week with my friend Brian, and we talked about this.

  • Me: “It’s grass-fed butter.”
  • Brian: “Grass-fed?”
  • Me: “Grass-fed!”
  • Brian: “Hold on there, Pat. Butter doesn’t eat grass.”

Brian is correct. Butter does not eat grass. I guess most dairy cows are fed some sort of grains. The folks at Kerrygold feed grass to their dairy cows instead of grain. Apparently this leads to a different array of fats being present in their milk. They say these fats are better for you than the fats in plain old butter, but I have absolutely no idea how true that is.

I can say for certain that this Kerrygold butter is different than the other sticks of butter in my refrigerator. It is a lot softer. It takes quite a bit of effort to cut through my store-brand butter when I’m cutting up a few tablespoons’ worth for my home made pizza dough—enough effort that you can hear the clank when the knife breaks through and hits the plate underneath.

At the same temperature, the Kerrygold cuts almost like warm butter. I’m betting it tastes different, too. I’m going to bake up some French bread soon so I can try it out.

My wife, Chris, and I were at our local Sprouts market recently, and I was very excited to go. I was certain they’d have some Kerrygold butter, and I was right, so I picked up a package.

That’s enough talk about butter! Where’s the coffee?

I forgot that we also needed coconut oil for this recipe, and we didn’t have any. The next night we were out at dinner with Brian and his wife, Julia. I mentioned my mistake, and Julia told me she had coconut oil at home. I asked if I could borrow some, and she said yes.

There was no good way to just borrow a couple of tablespoons, so I stole the whole jar. With all the ingredients in hand, we decided to make some bulletproof coffee earlier this afternoon.

I planned on using my little pour-over cone. I don’t use it very often, so I had to ask the Internet how much coffee was required to make the 500 ml of coffee that the recipe calls for. I did the math, and I weighed some water, and I figured out that 500 ml was probably more coffee than we were going to drink. I ended up cutting the recipe in half.

Here’s what I used:

I followed all the directions. I preheated the blender, then I added the butter and coconut oil to the blender, poured all the hot coffee in, put on the lid, and fired up the blender.

Bulletproof coffee

The coffee aerated quite a bit in the blender. It bulked up enough that it nearly filled a pair of my Bodum 12-oz double-walled glasses, so I’m pretty happy that I cut the recipe in half. I didn’t think to take a picture of the coffee until after drinking some, but I came to my senses pretty quickly on that front.

How does it taste?

I like it, and I’m very surprised. I don’t like coconuts or anything coconut flavored, so I was fully expecting to not like bulletproof coffee with coconut oil. I was completely wrong. This has to be the best-tasting coffee drink I have ever made without using my espresso machine.

I added sugar to mine. I used about four teaspoons—the same amount I put in my 12-ounce lattes.

Chris didn’t seem to like hers at all. I don’t think she even finished one quarter of her coffee, whereas I finished my entire coffee. This is completely backwards. I almost never finish my coffee unless it is a latte.

Will I make it again?

We’ll definitely give it one more try. I’d like to swap out the coconut oil with extra butter and see how that tastes. Other than that, I don’t think I’ll make it again.

Making a latte with the espresso machine takes less time and effort than making a bulletproof coffee, and it’s easier to clean up. The lattes taste quite a bit better, too. I might change my mind if I didn’t have access to an espresso machine.

Strike Suit Zero

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I picked up my copy of Strike Suit Zero quite a while ago as part of the Humble Indie Bundle X. When this bundle launched, it wasn’t very exciting for me, but I bought it anyway. I don’t think I’ve missed a Humble Indie Bundle yet. It became much more interesting when they added Strike Suit Zero during the second week.

I had never heard of the game before, but it sure looked like the sort of game I’ve been waiting for. Strike Suit Zero looked like a modern Wing Commander-style game, and I played the heck out of Wing Commander and Wing Commander 2 when I was a kid.

I installed the game as soon as I could and gave it a try. The first two missions most definitely reminded me of Wing Commander. The steering with the mouse is pretty similar, but the aiming is very different. In Wing Commander, you have to line up your shots using the crosshairs in the cockpit—you could only fire directly ahead. Your ship fires towards the mouse pointer in Strike Suit Zero, and the pointer turns red when you have a viable shot lined up.

The strike suit

Things were going so well right up until I unlocked the strike suit. Using the strike suit is absolutely nothing like Wing Commander. When you transform into strike mode, your ship becomes almost stationary. In strike mode, the goal is to lock on to many targets simultaneously with missiles or use the auto targeting with the primary weapon.

I did not adjust to this transition at all. I failed this mission over and over again until I finally gave up.

I was traveling at the time, and I only had my laptop with me. On my laptop, the frame rate would drop considerably when lots of things were exploding. Between that and my inability to pilot the strike suit, I didn’t see much point in playing anymore.

Second chances

I tried the game again a few weeks ago, and I am very glad that I did. You can retry previous missions with the upgrades you’ve earned in the harder missions. I decided to go back to the first mission using the strike suit, and I got as much practice as I could by using strike mode at every possible opportunity.

The practice definitely paid off. I’m not sure how many times I had to retry the mission where you acquire the strike suit, but I know it wasn’t very many! After that, it was relatively smooth sailing.

Strike Suit Zero

I’m having quite a bit of fun now. The entire game is basically what every space combat movie or television show is all about. You’re one of the guys in the small fighter craft. Most of the time you’re in dogfight with other fighter craft. Sometimes you’re strafing in close to huge battleships taking out their big guns so your own battleships can survive.

I’m a bit stuck right now near the end of the tenth or eleventh mission. I just can’t seem to keep my carriers alive! I’m sure I’ll get it, though.

Closing thoughts

I’m disappointed that I took a dislike to the game so early on. I almost bought gift copies of this Humble Indie Bundle for all my Wing Commander loving friends, but I decided against it as soon as I encountered the strike suit. I don’t know if my wallet is deep enough to buy so many copies at full price, though!

I’m looking forward to finishing the game, and I’m definitely considering buying the DLC. Strike Suit Zero runs great on Linux, but I have had an occasional crash when completing a mission. I only lost progress because of this once. I’m having no trouble running the game at 2560x1440 on my computer.

Craft Coffee - June 2014

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My third month with Craft Coffee might be the most delicious yet. As soon as I opened the box, I fired up the Espresso machine and made myself a delicious latte using Oren’s Daily Roast. I knew immediately that this had to be the best coffee of the three—it was just SO smooth and delicious.

I was very wrong. All three coffees this month are on pretty equal footing.

Craft Coffee selection for June 2014

You’ll probably notice that I use the word “delicious” quite a bit. This is why I mostly write about technology and not food or drink. I am apologizing for this in advance.

Oren’s Daily Roast (Sidamo, Ethiopia)

A nose of mixed berry jam introduces a cup bursting with juicy blueberries and strawberries, dark molasses, and a hint of fruity bubblegum, with a sweet and malty finish like a great Belgian ale.

I just had to open this one first. The Ethiopian Yigracheffe from Slate Coffee Roasters in my first package from Craft Coffee was spectacular. That made me decide to buy some Yigracheffe locally from Addison Coffee Roasters. The Yigracheffe from Addison Coffee Roasters was pretty good, and it might even be my new favorite coffee of theirs, but it just isn’t in the same class the beans from Slate Coffee Roasters.

These beans from Oren’s Daily Roast are also from Ethiopia, and they are unwashed beans like the ones from Slate Coffee Roasters. I just couldn’t help myself. I had to try these first.

I’m glad I did. This coffee is fantastic. It is smooth and silky. It doesn’t have the extreme dried strawberry finish that the Slate Coffee Roasters coffee had, but I can easily pick out the blueberry flavor in here.

Irving Farms Coffee Roasters (Cerrado, Brazil)

Rich aromas of raisins and freshly roasted pecans lead into a creamy, full-bodied cup with decadent layers of peanut butter and milk chocolate that fade into a lingering, buttered toast finish.

I don’t know if I goofed up when pulling the first shot, but I had trouble picking up on the flavors mentioned in the summary on the pouch. It tasted great, and I could pick out a bit of a nutty flavor, but that was about it.

The second latte I made was much more flavorful. The smell of raisins was easy to pick out, and the flavor really did remind me of peanut butter. I don’t know that I identified the buttered toast, but the finish and aftertaste were quite pleasant.

There is a chocolate flavor there, but I think I pick up on that in most lattes that I make. I’m always telling people that I know I made a good latte if it reminds me of a hot chocolate.

Willoughby’s Coffee & Tea (Valle Del Cauca, Trujillo, Columbia)

A lush, easy-drinking Columbian with flavors of caramel, black cherries, and rose water, accented by vibrant aromas of oranges and chocolate-covered graham crackers.

I’m definitely picking up the caramel flavor of this coffee from Willoughby’s, but I’m having trouble finding any of the other characteristics listed on the pouch. I might be picking up a hint of black cherry right as I’m finishing each sip, but it vanishes pretty quickly. I’m not sure if it is really there, or if I’m just convincing myself that it is.

This is another smooth and delicious coffee, just like the other two.

The Verdict

This has been another excellent selection from Craft Coffee. Last month’s coffee was very good, too, but this month the flavors are much more interesting. The coffees in this batch are also some of the least expensive coffees they’ve sent me.

Before they arrived, I was a little pessimistic. I thought it looked like they were going to be making a better profit this month by shipping me cheaper, less awesome coffee, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. This is some really awesome coffee, and they’d all be excellent candidates to replace my “go-to” coffee.

This marks the half-way point of the Craft Coffee subscription I received as a gift three months ago. I’m definitely very pleased with it. All the coffee they’ve sent is delicious and freshly roasted. Every pouch has the date of roasting printed right on it—these were roasted on June 10. That’s roughly one week before they arrived at my door.

It was a delicious gift, and I’m very seriously considering extending my subscription. It is a pretty good value. I don’t think I can have 12 ounces of many of their selections shipped to my home for less than Craft Coffee’s monthly subscription fee, and they’re always sending me something new and delicious.

Use my referral code “pat1245” and you’ll get 15% off

If you use my referral code (pat1245) when checking out at Craft Coffee, you will get a 15% discount. Not only will you save money, but they tell me I’ll get a free month of coffee with every order. That sounds like a good deal for both of us!

3D Printable Upgrades for the MakerFarm Prusa i3

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I’ve had my Prusa i3 3D printer for more than a month now, and I’ve been having a blast. Hardly a day went by in the first couple of weeks that I wasn’t printing something. Most of the things I was printing were designed by someone else. Some of those things were parts to improve or upgrade my 3D printer.

My 3D printer in its new home

In fact, I found quite a few very useful additions and upgrades for my printer posted up on thingiverse.com.

Everyone needs a spool holder

There are A LOT of spool holder designs up on thingiverse.com. Most of them are a variation on the same theme: a rod or spindle sitting between a couple of arms. Usually those arms point upwards, but sometimes they hang over the back.

These all seemed pretty crude to me. For the first few days I was using my PVC laptop stand as a makeshift spool holder. It did the job, but it showed me how this kind of design might be problematic, the biggest problem being that you have to lift off the spindle to add or remove a spool. This would likely be a lot less troublesome with a proper spool holder, but it was quite a nuisance with my first makeshift holder.

Then I found Lisa Croxford’s awesome Compact Spool Holder. I think her spool holder is just brilliant. It hangs off the back and holds the spool perpendicular to the printer. Unlike most of the other spool holders that hang off the back, her design doesn’t extend back past the base of the printer.

Spool holder for MakerFarm Prusa i3

This means I can actually fit my printer on its new little table—a table that is actually meant to be a night-stand. It is also more stable than using a spool holder than extends 12” behind or above the printer. I have one hanging on either side of the printer.

She recommended that this spool holder be printed with 80% infill, but I completely forgot to make that adjustment when I was slicing the model. I ended up printing them at my usual 30% infill. They seem quite strong to me, but if you have a better memory than me, it would probably be a good idea to increase that infill.

Filament spool clips

This is a pretty simple idea that came in very handy. I have a spool of bright green filament hanging off the back of my printer, and I have no idea when I’ll use it again. I was using an extra binder clip to keep it from unraveling, but then I saw this handy filament spool clip on thingiverse.com.

A filaments spool clip waiting to be used

I printed off a pair to try them out, and they work great. One of the clips is holding my green filament in place. The other one is clipped onto the printer frame, patiently waiting for the day I need to remove the black filament.

Cooling system for the Magma hot end

My printer happened to come with the Magma hot end, which is an all-metal hot end. These all-metal hot ends can print just about anything, even nylon, but they have some trouble with PLA. Since it is 100% metal, the Magma hot end needs to be cooled continuously.

The printer comes with a 40 mm fan bolted to the extruder assembly for this purpose, but it doesn’t just keep the hot end cool. Most of the air ends up hitting your print, and this can cause warping. When I first started printing, this fan was also messing with temperature readings of the thermistor.

The “Magma cooling system” at thingiverse.com looked like the perfect solution. It draws air in from the top, blows it directly across the Magma hot end’s cooling fins, and then it expels the air back out the top. This keeps heat from traveling up the hot end to the filament without affecting your print. It may even work well enough to print PLA, but I haven’t tried that yet.

MakerFarm Prusa i3 Magma cooling system

I printed this pretty early on. At the time the printer wasn’t very well calibrated, and I was still printing with a 0.3 mm layer height. This made everything a bit snug. It all fits, but I had to muscle it into place. I also had to use a small file to open up the slots the wedge piece slides into. I have no doubt that it would have fit perfectly if I printed at a 0.2 mm layer height.

Don’t break your fan!

When attaching the cooling system, I somehow managed to break two of the blades off of the 40 mm fan. This made the already loud fan even louder. A lot louder.

I’m happy that this happened, though. The replacement fan that I ordered is whisper quiet compared to the fan that MakerFarm ships with these printers. The stock 40 mm fan was the loudest component of this printer. Now you can’t hear it over the sound of the power supply.

The replacement 40 mm fan is almost twice as thick as the original fan. This was good for me, because the machine screws I bought to hold the cooling system in place were way too long.

One-handed bed leveling

This is another very simple, yet very useful upgrade. Adjusting the corners of the heated bed usually requires two hands—one underneath to keep the nut from spinning, and another up top to turn the hex key. This isn’t too bad in the front, but adjusting the height in the back requires some interesting contortions.

These little brackets help out by holding the nut on the bottom in place, so you only need one had to loosen or tighten the bolts. I think this is especially useful, because I can slide a piece of paper around under the print head to test the height as I’m adjusting the screws.

One-handed bed leveling brackets

These seemed much more exciting last month, when it seemed like I was constantly adjusting the bed. Since learning that I can adjust the Z-axis end stop screw, I’ve barely had to touch the bed leveling screws. Even so, this was a very simple and worthwhile upgrade.

Z-axis anti-rattle bushings

I’m not so sure these bushings are doing much, but they were easy to print, easy to install, and they make the printer look a little cleaner.

They keep the threaded rods for the Z-axis from dancing around their giant holes at the top of the machine. This is supposed to make things a bit quieter and maybe make the Z-axis a little more accurate.

I don’t really care how much noise a Z-axis makes—it only makes one minuscule movement for each layer anyway. I don’t know how much it does for my Z-axis accuracy, either, since I haven’t noticed any sort of waves in my layers.

Without bushings With bushings

Mine came out a little on the small side, since these are another thing I printed before calibrating my printer properly. I just wrapped a piece of tape around them, so now they fit very snugly.

Knob for the LCD control panel

There are tons of knobs to choose from to use with your LCD control panel. I chose this one because the edges are knurled, and I wanted to see how the knurling would turn out. It also has an indentation in the top for one fingered spinning.

Knurled LCD knob

The knob does its job admirably, and the knurling came out better than I expected. The knob is HUGE. Much bigger than I would prefer. I’ll probably print something smaller at some point, but this one will do for now.

Improving the Z-axis end stop

Even though it is one of the most important parts on the printer, the end stop for the Z-axis is very poorly designed. The microswitch is attached to the machine with a small zip tie, so it wiggles around quite a bit. I’d like to replace that with some nuts and bolts, but I don’t have anything small enough in my parts bin.

Z-axis end stop upgrade

I found a nice looking Z-axis end stop adapter at thingiverse.com this week. It wraps around the wooden frame of the MakerFarm Prusa i3 and gives the adjustment screw more material to bite on.

I haven’t printed anything yet since installing this part, but I’m already extremely pleased with the result. I don’t think my z-axis adjustment screw was ever straight or secure. It used to hit the switch pretty squarely.

Now that the screw is actually at the correct angle, it just barely touches the edge of the switch. It also feels much more solid, and I actually need to use a screw driver to turn the screw now.

Knobs for the Z-axis rods

I recently learned that you can level out the Z-axis by turning the threaded rods on each side of the machine. It is easy to get a good grip on the rods because they’re so tall, but it is uncomfortable and seems imprecise.

Z-axis Knob

I found nice looking Z-axis knobs on thingiverse.com. They fit nicely and work great. I can even spin the rods with just one finger now.

Upgrades for the future

I haven’t had a chance to print everything I need. I only learned about some of these parts recently.

Extrusion cooling fan

I definitely need to add a second fan for cooling the extruded material. That would improve my overhangs and hopefully make bridging a possibility. I printed quite a few 20 mm calibration pyramids, and the bridges on those all came out droopy.

I really like the design of the “Extrusion cooling fan-holder/cowling for MakerFarm Prusa i3 – Version 3,” but my measurements in Blender say that it is too tall for my Magma hot end. I have no idea how to correct such a complex model, so I’m holding off on this upgrade for now.

I’ve even been wondering if I installed the aluminum mounting plate for the hot end upside down. There’s definitely a groove in there, but I don’t know if it is deep enough to account for the difference in height.

Conclusion

Owning a 3D printer has been a lot of fun so far. I was printing my own custom designed parts in just over a week. I’ve already finished designing and printing tablet stand for my Bluetooth keyboard, and I’m already starting on my third model. I’m very excited about this, because I’m WAY ahead of where I expected to be at this point.

When I got the printer, I’m pretty sure I printed something every single day for almost three weeks. I saw how fast the spool of filament was running down, so I ordered two more. Since then, I’ve slowed down quite a bit. At the time, I was mostly printing things I downloaded from the Internet.

I haven’t printed anything from the Internet in weeks. I’ve only been printing my own designs, so I’ve become the bottleneck. That first two-pound spool will probably last me quite a few months, and I bet the extra four pounds I have will carry me through the beginning of next year.

Monitor Stand for QNIX QX2710 and Other 27 Inch Monitors

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I upgraded my monitors nine months ago. I replaced a pair of 21.5” 1080p TN LCD monitors with a beautiful pair of QNIX QX2710 27” 1440p IPS LCD monitors. These new monitors were too big for my old do-it-yourself LCD monitor stand. These monitors have tons of pixels and vibrant colors, but the quality of their built-in stands is very low. They are quite wobbly, and both monitors lean just a bit to the left.

I knew that building a replacement stand had to be a top priority. That was nine months ago, and in those nine months I didn’t make time to build a new monitor stand. Last month, I bought a 3D printer. I knew this would be a major time sink, and we already have so many other fun projects to work on, so I decided to just give in and buy a dual LCD monitor stand.

Why use a monitor stand or mount?

There are three reasons I like putting my monitors on a mount that is solidly attached to the desk. It significantly reduces the amount of desk surface the monitors physically occupy. The flimsy built-in stands on the QNIX QX2710 monitors are 10” by 6”. With the monitors hung on a mount, I can move things around underneath the monitors with no trouble.

Second, a good stand will let you adjust the height of the monitor. These monitors were much bigger than the ones they replaced, and their built-in stands had them sitting quite low. On those built-in stands, I sure felt like I was looking way down to see the bottom of the screen. I only raised the monitors about two inches higher using the new stand—any higher and the tops of the monitors will be above my head!

And most important of all, it keeps the two monitors from moving around in relation to each other. There is nothing that annoys me more than two monitors shifting, moving, or tilting, and I don’t like having a gap between the displays. That gap is almost impossible to eliminate without a monitor stand. Even if you manage to hide that gap, it will come back the first time you bump one of the monitors.

Choosing the “Mount-It!” articulating dual monitor stand

Picking out a dual monitor mount for a pair of 27” monitors was surprisingly difficult. There are plenty of stands that say two 27” monitors will fit, but I was more than a little apprehensive. I like to have my monitors angled towards each other at about 135 degrees. The arms don’t need to be as quite as long if you just want them to sit side by side with no angle.

I found all sorts of comments on Amazon telling me that their pair of 27” monitors fit on the stand, but none of them mentioned anything about angles. This worried me a bit, but I figured I would give it a try anyway.

The good news is that you can definitely arrange a pair of 27” monitors at a 135-degree angle (or 45-degree depending on how you’re measuring). The only problem is that things are pretty tight. I was hoping to attach this arm to the rear edge of the desk, but the arms just aren’t long enough. If you want to arrange the monitors at an angle, then you’ll have to sit almost directly perpendicular to the mount.

One arm is stretched nearly to its limit The stand is quite sturdy and has no trouble holding up a pair of 27 inch monitors Everything looks good except that half of the built-in stands are permanently attached to the monitors!

I figured this might be problematic before I placed my order, and I knew exactly what I would do if this happened. I put the clamp right through the grommet hole on my desk. This worked surprisingly well, and I was able to position my monitors almost exactly where they were before.

Using your brain

I wasn’t using my brain while I was ordering this stand. After I had this dual monitor mount all set up, I figured out what I could have done. I should have bought a triple monitor stand instead. They come with an extra fixed mount in the center, and their two arms look like they’re quite a bit longer.

I found some diagrams of my dual monitor stand and the triple monitor stand in some auction listings on eBay. If they can be trusted, and I did my metric conversions correctly, then each arm should be about three inches longer on the triple monitor mount. That extra six inches would have added a lot of flexibility in the placement of the stand.

A mount by any other name is probably the same mount

There are at least half a dozen identical monitor stands on Amazon sold under different brand names. They all look the same to me, and the packaging mine came in was completely generic. My method for choosing a brand was very simple: I picked the cheapest one with Amazon Prime shipping. I couldn’t think of a good reason not to choose the least expensive of the identical stands.

All of these seem to be the same mount:

These are their triple monitor siblings:

Build quality

I don’t really have much to complain about here. The entire thing seems to be made of steel. The vertical support is nearly two inches in diameter, and the arms are one-inch square tubes. All the welds look pretty good to me.

There were a lot of complaints on Amazon about how loose all the joints on this monitor stand are. They aren’t exactly wrong. All the joints were pretty easy to move when it arrived, and the monitors would immediately droop down.

There is an Allen bolt at each joint on the arms, and there is a big nut to adjust the tilt tension of each monitor. You have to torque those tilt tensioning nuts down REALLY tight. Don’t be afraid to crank down on them pretty good.

I wanted to make absolutely certain they wouldn’t drift on their own. Once you torque them down tight enough, the monitor will tilt when you turn your wrench. I ended up sticking a long screwdriver between the mounting bracket and the hinge to use as a pry bar to keep the monitor from tilting. I probably tightened it down an extra quarter of a turn that way. It isn’t going anywhere.

Mounting the monitors is a little tricky

There is a somewhat nicer-looking articulating monitor stand sold by Monoprice. Their stand has a removable bracket. You bolt the bracket to the monitor and then just drop the monitor onto the stand. Unfortunately for us, Monoprice says their stand is only big enough for 24” monitors. The stand from Monoprice doesn’t look as sturdy as the “Mount-It!” stand

The stand I bought does not have this handy feature. You have to hold the monitor up with one hand and put the screws in with the other. These monitors only weight about 12 pounds, so this wasn’t all that difficult. I did have to move the desk out from the wall and do some minor gymnastics to get the second monitor up, but even that wasn’t too bad.

Washers to the rescue!

The stand came with two different sets of metric M4 screws for attaching the monitors. The short set of 12 mm screws are a little too long for the QNIX QX2710. I had to put three or four washers on every screw to take up the slack. This isn’t ideal, but it is working for now. I’m sure I’ll remember to pick up some 8 mm screws on a random trip to Home Depot. This is fine in the interim.

I have no room to test monitor rotation

The “Mount-It!” monitor mount allows you to rotate each monitor. This lets you switch from landscape to portrait and back again. I don’t have nearly enough clearance to spin these monitors at the height I’ve chosen for them. They’d just bang off the desk if I try.

I have had to rotate each monitor a hair to get them to line up, though, and it seems to work just fine.

Should I debezel these monitors? Absolutely!

You might notice in the pictures that my monitors have half of the built-in stand hanging down in the back. This is because they are a permanent part of the case. The only way to remove them is to crack the entire case open.

I plan on removing them, but once those shells come off, there is no way I’m going to put them back on. Debezeling the QX2710 looks pretty simple. You just have to attach the box containing the electronics to the back of the screen.

Debezeling a pair of QX2710 monitors will be slightly more complicated. The VESA mounts are built into that box that has to be glued to the screen. I have to be very careful if I want these monitors to line up evenly on the dual monitor mount. I have to make sure those boxes are perfectly level and they need to be at the same position on both monitors.

I don’t think it will be much of a problem, but I will have to survive without monitors while the glue dries. The debezeled QX2710 monitors look very nice when painted a matte black, but there is no way that I have enough patience to wait for the paint to dry!

Cable management

I haven’t rerouted my cables yet, because I know I will be tearing this all down when I remove the bezels from these monitors. I also have a feeling that these DVI cables might be a bit short if I route them through this stand’s built-in cable management.

There is a big hole in the back of the main support pole right where it meets the clamp. To make use of that, you have to run the cables up to the top of the pipe and drop them down the tube.

I’m not sure how impressed I am with this solution. It will definitely hide the cables from my view, but I think it will look pretty silly from behind. We’ll see what happens when I get to that point.

I thought I had a brilliant idea, but I was mistaken

On Friday night, I thought I had a great idea. It looked like I could move the monitor mount out of my desk’s grommet hole and still get the monitors in precisely the position that I want them. My trusty tape measure agreed with me. All I had to do was move the 8” segment from one arm to the other. That would easily allow one monitor to extend way out from the back of the desk.

Removing a segment and reconfiguring the arms was a piece of cake. Unmounting and remounting monitors on their VESA mounts took some more juggling and gymnastics. I get everything put back together, and the monitors had no trouble reaching the positions I was aiming for. There was one huge problem.

The longer arm was sagging over ¼” lower than the shorter arm. This looked very silly, and I couldn’t think of a good way to correct for it. I had to go back through all of the juggling one more time, and I am right back where I started.

I should have anticipated this. I learned during the very first iteration of my do-it-yourself monitor stand that sagging is an issue. I learned pretty quickly that trying to make the monitors level was nearly impossible. Forget level. Straight and even in relation it each other is about the best you’ll ever get.

Even when you’re working with heavy-duty steel pipes or tubing, you’re still going to have a bit of flex. Just one degree is very noticeable over a distance of one or two feet!

The verdict

I think I made a good choice. This stand is definitely roomy enough if you have an average desk. I have a large, almost L-shaped corner desk, and I face my chair almost directly at that corner. That corner is almost 40” away from the “front” of the desk. Unless you are in my situation, the “Mount-It!” dual monitor stand should work just fine, but the cost to upgrade to the bigger triple monitor stand is very reasonable.

It is doing a fine job holding up my QNIX monitors, and it should work just as well with any other 27” 1440p monitor, like the X-Star DP2710, the Yamakasi Catleap, or the ASUS PB278Q.

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

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Continuing on my way through the Discworld Reading Order Guide has brought me to Guards! Guards!, the first book in Terry Pratchett’s series of Watch novels. I almost always eat through Discworld books in a few days. A week at the most. This one took a very long time.

Goodreads sends me a very helpful email each month letting me know if there are any new books by authors I’ve already read, and they also remind me how long I’ve been reading my current book. The first time I noticed this, I had started reading Guards! Guards! 49 days ago. As if that wasn’t embarrassing enough, this month it reminded me that I’ve been reading the same book for 71 days!

The book certainly isn’t to blame. I very much enjoyed it, and I look forward to seeing what else the Night Watch get up to in the future. I’ve just been watching too much television and spending too much time messing around with my 3D printer.

Long believed extinct, a superb specimen of *draco nobilis* (“noble dragon”) has appeared in Discworld’s greatest city. Not only does this unwelcome visitor have a nasty habit of charbroiling everything in its path, in rather short order it is crowned King.

Meanwhile, back at Unseen University, an ancient and long-forgotten volume–The Summoning of Dragons–is missing from the Library’s shelves. To the rescue come Captain Vimes, Constable Carrot, and the rest of the Night Watch who, along with other brave citizens, risk everything, including a good roasting, to dethrone the flying monarch and restore order to Ankh-Morpork (before it’s burned to a crisp).

Terry Pratchett From the Cover of Guards! Guards!

I was intrigued right from the beginning when I learned about Carrot. He’s a rather tall human that was raised by dwarfs. This situation brought back memories of Buddy the Elf, but he showed up in theaters 14 years after Guards! Guards! was published!

It wasn’t only the fresh mountain air that had given Carrot his huge physique. Being brought up in a gold mine run by dwarfs and working a twelve-hour day hauling wagons to the surface must have helped.

He walked with a stoop. What will do that is being brought up in a gold mine run by dwarfs who thought that five feet was a good height for a ceiling.

He’d always known he was different. More bruised for one thing. And then one day his father had come up to him or, rather, come up to his waist, and told him that he was not, in fact, as he had always believed, a dwarf.

Terry Pratchett Guards! Guards!

The only problem I had with this book was the dialog. Most of the members of the Night Watch speak in some sort of colloquial English accent. The pronunciations of some of the more interesting spelling choices come very slowly to me, and sometimes I have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about.

This is probably my own failing for not being born in England.