Craft Coffee - July 2014

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I’m doing things a little differently this month. I’ve only been using my new Rancilio Silvia for less than a week, and I’m still trying to learn how to use it properly and consistently. With my old Mr. Coffee espresso machine, I would rotate through the beans one latte at a time.

The pressurized portafilter on the Mr. Coffee machine was very forgiving. I’ve heard it said that machines with pressurized portafilters pull a consistently mediocre shot of espresso every time, and I am inclined to believe that. Miss Silvia is much less forgiving, but she’s a much more capable machine in the right hands. Those hands aren’t yet mine, though.

The first shot I pulled with my fresh beans from Craft Coffee was a complete failure. My grind was just too fine—it almost completely blocked the machine. Things went much better after that but not perfectly.

This month, I am going to use up each pouch of coffee before starting the next. I am going to write about (and post!) my thoughts as I finish each bag. I am going to wait until all the coffee is gone before I send this post to my wonderful editor, so please excuse any grammatical errors in the mean time!

Caffe Vita, Seattle, WA (South Kivu, DR Of The Congo)

A robust, vegetal bouquet complements full flavors of caramel and dark chocolate with a slightly smoky finish resembling cavendish tobacco and leather.

I have had a lot of trouble with this coffee, and I don’t know if it is my fault or the beans. There are a lot of words in the description that my taste buds won’t be happy about—“vegetal bouquet,” “dark chocolate,” and “tobacco.”

The coffee from Caffe Vita has a strange aftertaste. Some of the lattes I made seem a bit sour at the end, while others seem bitter. I’m drinking the last one right now, and I can’t decide which it is. Whatever this aftertaste is, it is definitely bringing tobacco to mind.

The third or fourth shot I pulled seemed like it was going technically perfect. I got right around 2 ounces of espresso in just shy of 30 seconds. It was quite bitter and far from perfect. I clicked the grinder up one notch, but that double shot only took about 10 seconds. I made a latte out of that shot anyway, and it tasted surprisingly good. Not very flavorful, but there were no offensive sour or bitter tastes.

I split the difference for this final shot—I dialed the Baratza Preciso back to where it was and moved the micro adjustment lever half way. This is probably the best latte I’ve made with the beans from Caffe Vita, but it still has a strange aftertaste. I’m not ready to blame it on the beans, though!

Metropolis, Chicago, IL (Bruselas, Caturra, Columbia)

Leading off with aromas of nougat, honey, and tobacco, this silky brew offers flavors of roasted almonds and candied yams and finishes with butter nots of caramel and milk chocolate.

Forty Weight, Ithaca, NY (Sidama, Ethiopia)

Tangy aromas of raspberry and pineapple lead into flavors of a summer afternoon in the park–peanute butter and jelly sandwiches, strawberry limeade, and chocolate malted milk balls.

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!

Creating a 3D Printed Desk Mount For My FiiO E07K USB DAC using OpenSCAD

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I’d been complaining about headphone wiring and computer audio-quality issues quite a bit recently. Someone must have gotten tired of hearing me complain, because I was given a FiiO E07K Andes headphone amplifier for my birthday. It is a nice little piece of hardware that can be used as a high-quality USB sound device. It sounds excellent, and I can’t hear even the faintest hint of static through my headphones.

FiiO E07K Mount

The trouble was that I needed to put it somewhere within reach of my short headphone cable. My quick and dirty solution was to use some poster tack to stick it to the right-hand side of my desk. It was easy to arrive at this solution, because that’s exactly what I was already doing with the small microphone adapter box that came with my headphones.

This worked, but you can see that it was an ugly solution. I have a 3D printer, so I figured I should be able to come up with a better solution. I wanted to make some sort of case that I could slide the FiiO Andes amplifier right into, and I thought it would be nice if it could also hold on to my microphone extension cable for me.

It took me three iterations to finally print the mount that I am using right now. This seems to be par for the course so far for my attempts at 3D design.

Using OpenSCAD instead of Blender

Blender lets you create shapes and modify them vertex by vertex, so it is very flexible. It is also a pain in the neck to design anything which requires very precise and specific measurements. Good luck adjusting your model if you print a part and learn that an opening is just a fraction of a millimeter too wide.

When you use OpenSCAD, you have to build your model pragmatically from basic shapes, and you can store all your dimensions in variables. It took me longer to get going, but being able to make minute adjustments to your measurements without having to manually manipulate the model is well worth the extra effort up front.

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include <MCAD/boxes.scad>

width=55;
length=90;
height=14.53;

edgeRadius=3;
thickness=4;
tabwidth=2.5;

After my first print, I realized the mount was too loose, and the tabs at the top weren’t quite wide enough to hold the FiiO in place. All I had to was adjust the width and tabwidth variables, and the whole model rebuilt itself based on the new dimensions. In fact, I could easily reuse this OpenSCAD file to build a case or mount for just about anything, like a phone or a tablet.

The first attempt

I was really amazed with how well the first mount came out. It was a little too boxy—I hadn’t figured out how to make bevels like I could in Blender, and it was pretty loose. The FiiO amplifier could slide around quite a bit, and the tabbed overhangs at the top were very narrow. You could just about lift the FiiO right out of the top with a bit of force.

OpenSCAD rendering The first boxy print

I could have stopped right here, though. I had already screwed this mount to the desk, and it was working just fine. The microphone extension holder worked perfectly, which was a huge surprise to me. It is a little snug, but I was able to snap the connector and cable into the slot with just a bit of force.

The channels in the bottom of the mount lined up perfectly with the rubber feet on the bottom of the amplifier, and they were just deep enough. I’m getting pretty good at measuring things accurately with my caliper.

The second attempt

I learned quite a bit from the first print, and I made some significant improvements to the design. I found the MCAD library on GitHub, and it has a handy “rounded box” function. I replaced the biggest “cube” in my design with a combination of two rounded boxes, but it wasn’t as straight-forward as I hoped it would be. It worked out in the end, and now my mount has some nice rounded edges and corners.

OpenSCAD rendering The less boxy second print

I also added two small bump stops to the front of the case. They’re supposed to be the top half of a pair of spheres, but they printed like two tiny cylinders. They still work great, and they keep the FiiO amplifier from sliding out on its own. The mount was still too long, so the amplifier could slide back and forth quite a bit.

I increased the width of the overhangs on the top by quite a bit. I bumped them up to 2.5 mm. This is more than wide enough to keep the FiiO amplifier from falling out, but still narrow enough that the first overhanging layer doesn’t sag too badly. I also carved out a channel in each side for the FiiO’s buttons to pass through. They were rubbing quite a bit on the first mount.

I should have cleaned up the sagging material before trying to slide the FiiO unit into the mount. The combination of this extra material and my impatience caused one of the tabs on the front to snap off. Even without this tab, the case was still a much better fit than the first one.

I also messed up the microphone extension holder. I moved the holder towards the back of the mount to get it out of the way of the beveled edges, but I quite literally only moved the holder. I didn’t move the model of the microphone extension back with it. That meant that when I subtracted the microphone extension from the “cube,” it just didn’t quite line up anymore, and it couldn’t hold the cable nearly as well. This was simple to fix in the final print.

OpenSCAD doesn’t always catch your mistakes

The version of OpenSCAD that I’m using is a few releases behind. The new version lets you specify the diameter or radius of spheres and cylinders. The version I’m running only allows you to specify the radius.

I accidentally supplied a diameter for the cylinders I’m using for the screw holes. OpenSCAD still gave me two cylinders, but they were too narrow. They seemed a bit tight, but they worked, so I assumed that I measured wrong.

I fixed this in the final design, and added some room so I could cleanly countersink my screws. These new screw holes work much better than the broken ones!

OpenSCAD also lets you use misspelled variable names. It will still generate the shape you’re looking for, but it won’t be the correct size. This was difficult to debug on more than one occasion.

The finished product

I only made minor adjustments before the final print. I measured how far the amplifier could side while in the mount, and I subtracted that from the length of the mount. You’ll probably be as surprised as I was to learn that I measured this perfectly. When you push the FiiO unit into place, it goes past the bump stops with a satisfying thump. Once it is in place, it doesn’t move at all!

The final print

I also made the gaps on the sides as narrow as I could. They need to be wide enough so that I can get to the buttons, but I was able to add 3 mm to the fragile front tabs. I hoped this would help, but I ended up breaking the opposite tab on the final version of the mount while I was recording the video.

I’m still using the mount with the broken tab. The FiiO E07K still fits nicely, and it isn’t going to fall out. I won’t be printing a replacement unless I think of a better solution to the problem.

The walls of this mount are already pretty thick—3 mm thick. I did weaken them a little when I made enough room so that the buttons wouldn’t get hung up on the sides, and it would probably help if I compensated for that. I don’t really want to do that, because the screw holes would move.

That would mean that I’d have to put more screw holes into my desk. I’m definitely willing to do that—there are already quite a few holes in the legs—but the mount is still very solid even with the missing tab.

Final thoughts on OpenSCAD and my OpenSCAD source code

I’m extremely happy with OpenSCAD and will probably be using it for every functional 3D model I create in the future. I am unhappy with the state of the source code for my FiiO mount, and it is more than a little embarrassing to share it with you.

Things started off so well. I had nice definitions for the dimensions of the FiiO E07K, and I built up the walls of the mount by adding my “thickness” variable to those dimensions. A few steps later, things started to get more complicated and a little weird. Sometimes I was adding or subtracting that “thickness” variable, or double the “thickness,” or half.

Sometimes it made sense. Sometimes it didn’t. I wasn’t planning ahead. I was just trying things to see how they would render. This made for some very haphazard and ugly math that should definitely be refactored and cleaned up.

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.