The lights are out in Cleveland

Those of us who live in northeast Ohio today experienced the first taste of winter: a sub-40 degree day, complete with a rain/snow/hail mix. I happened to be out on the roads during the worst of it (and truthfully, it wasn’t that bad. Visibility was a tad low sometimes, but the roads weren’t slippery). It was on the roads today that I once again observed a problem with Cleveland traffic.

Of all the cars driving today, maybe 10% were driving without their headlights on, during a visibility-impairing hailstorm. Let me repeat that. 10% of the people driving today were not using their best safeguard against low visibility.

Why would you not turn your headlights on in a hailstorm? Let’s run through some possibilities.

  • Maybe you don’t know where the headlights are. This is something that, if you’ve owned your car for more than fifteen seconds, is probably not a good excuse. I mean, how would you drive at night? And honestly, they don’t make headlights that hard to find these days. (Normally it’s a little switch on the left of the steering column or a knob on the steering column. Just in case.)
  • Maybe you think it’s suddenly not cool to have headlights on. Look, I appreciate being a ninja as much as the next person. But to be fair, most ninjas don’t drive silver mini-vans. In fact, wouldn’t a ninja drive a black car? A black car with no headlights would stand out far more than a silver car with no headlights.
  • Maybe your alternator is so old and inefficient that you doubt its ability to power your headlights. I can excuse this one if you were on the way to an AutoZone. Otherwise, seriously, get a new alternator. Or a bigger battery.
  • Finally, a bit of a compromise: never one to stick out in a crowd, but not wanting to blend in, you put your parking lights on. Good one.

I’ll leave it to you to make the call. Next time: turn your lights on.

Coffee: what you’re doing wrong

As I prepared my morning brew for tomorrow, it occurred to me that I’ve never written a blog about my coffee habit hobby. Why not tonight?

All of you go places daily where coffee is served, whether you drink it or not. Whether it’s Starbucks, your office, your school or your local coffeehouse, there’s a lot of places that coffee is served. But not all coffee is created equally. Here’s some advice on how to make coffee that tastes as good as it can.

  • Use good equipment. A good coffeepot is a necessity. If the best coffeepot you have is more than five years old, you probably need to upgrade. Coffeepots that old can’t be cleaned as well as newer ones can (and that’s not technology, that’s just coffee staining the pot just like it stains your teeth).

    Another necessity that’s less obvious is a coffee grinder. Buying pre-ground coffee is never a good idea, and I’ll elaborate on it later, but a decent coffee grinder is not expensive and requires little to no maintenance. Basically, if you make one improvement to your coffee after reading this blog, it should be this one. It’s that important.

    Coffee filters are another underrated aspect of creating perfect coffee, and should not be overlooked. It’s the last line of defense between the mixture of coffee grounds, the chemicals in the water and your cup of coffee. Make sure your filters are kept dry and clean (and away from any odorous substances – do you really want the smell of rotten meat to be permeating your coffee?).

  • Buy good coffee. The actual coffee you buy is a matter of personal preference, but here are a couple of red flags: if you’re getting it out of a can, or you’re getting it pre-ground, you’re doing it wrong.

    What are my favorites? I find that Starbucks makes a consistently good bag of coffee and that it tends to be fresher if you buy it from a Starbucks coffee shop itself. Dunkin Donuts also makes a very good consistent blend. I’ve found that the best coffee beans are the ones that are roasted locally, such as Schuil Coffee out of Michigan or Daybreak Coffee right here in northeast Ohio. I’ve had both; they’re both outstanding.

  • Keep the equipment clean. At the very least, the carafe and the reservoir should be rinsed out thoroughly after every brew and washed often. Every month or so, run a brew with just vinegar to keep the insides clear (and run a few water brews after that). It’s plain and simple: the cleaner the equipment is, the fresher the coffee will taste. The grinder should be kept clear of coffee particles as much as possible.
  • Grind coffee beans as late as possible before brewing. Why should you grind your own coffee? The answer is simple: no stray chemicals. Coffee that is ground at a factory is ground using blades treated with chemicals to prevent infection. That’s all well and good, but the coffee’s taste suffers for it.

    As for brewing it as late as possible, it’s important because your coffee is freshest in bean form and remains so until you grind it. Once you grind it, the timer starts ticking faster.

  • Use filtered water, if possible. It doesn’t make a huge difference, but its noticeable.
  • Test your coffee. The easiest test of your coffee is simple: does it taste good? I’m not talking about after you put the sugar and creamer in. Before you do that, take a taste of the coffee and see how it compares to what you were making before.

Give it a shot, and let me know what you think. I think you’ll be pretty surprised. If you’re like me, you’ll stop drinking coffee from the office (which normally suffers from unclean parts and bad pre-ground coffee), and you won’t need to go to Starbucks as often (expensive). Since I started brewing my own coffee, I’ve gained a hobby and a newfound appreciation for the stuff that a lot of us just take for granted.

McCain vs. Obama: Part II

I’ll be live-blogging tonight’s debate like I did last time (hopefully), so stay tuned after the debate for my analysis. In the meantime, I whipped up a little program to help me with the live-blogging things I do, and for chuckles I put it up on my website. It’s prerelease, meaning I basically whipped it up in like 20 minutes today so there are probably still bugs. I’ll put code up at some point too. By the way, how awesome is Visual Studio that you can whip up a full Win32-GUI with working controls in less than 20 minutes, and a setup program in less than 10?

  • 8:50 PM: Alright, here we go, live-blogging via NoteTaker. I’ve already had an issue, I compiled this program in .NET 3.5 when I meant to do it in 2.0, meaning I’m having to do this through an RDP session (a .NET 3.5 install takes a long time).
  • 8:50 PM: The CNN panel has agreed on the same thing for the last three days: there will be no hostility at all. Well then, what’s the point?
  • 8:52 PM: “How much do you think the personality thing matters, do you think because of the economic crisis that’s changed somewhat?” Could that be any more of a loaded question? Then again, it is Anderson Cooper.
  • 8:53 PM: They went all the way to Ohio State University, and they couldn’t find a single college student?
  • 8:54 PM: Solidad O’Brien had way too much coffee today.
  • 8:56 PM: Wow, these undecideds seem fairly, uh, decided.
  • 8:57 PM: Oooo, Microsoft Surface for the win. And what is this garbage, are we trying to create another social network on CNN? Why do people still do this? Just build an app for Facebook or Myspace if you have to. What’s next, a Politics MMO brought to you by CNN?
  • 8:59 PM: I wonder how much John King makes per year. He’s probably just one of the IT junkies at CNN who puts on a suit for these broadcasts.
  • 9:00 PM: This town-hall format seems like a dumb idea to me.
  • 9:02 PM: The men disapproved when Tom Brokaw was introduced. That’s awesome. Way to use that technology, CNN. :)
  • 9:03 PM: Wow, could you be more negative, Tom? First question: “The world has changed, and not for the better.”
  • 9:05 PM: No, it hasn’t worked out that way. But what’s the alternative? Communism?
  • 9:08 PM: McCain’s debate skills are really underrated – at least by me. He always looks like he’s old and frail until he starts talking, and then he looks a lot better. His first answer was very good, laying down the specifics of a plan.
  • 9:09 PM: This is what Sarah Palin wasn’t quite able to do last week, rattle off names like this.
  • 9:10 PM: Warren Buffett? Are you kidding me? Someone to “represent the middle class”?
  • 9:10 PM: Obama has attacked twice already, McCain hasn’t attacked at all. And here goes another lie, the famous 95% conundrum.
  • 9:12 PM: BAM. There we go, attack #1.
  • 9:14 PM: Wow, melodramatic much? A million companies affected? That’s garbage.
  • 9:16 PM: Wait, what? “I’m confident about the American economy” from the guy who makes fun of McCain for saying the “fundamentals were strong”?
  • 9:18 PM: This debate is more heated than I thought it would be already.
  • 9:19 PM: Ooo, burn. Teresa Finch hit the nail on the head there: both parties.
  • 9:19 PM: Both parties are responsible, Teresa Finch says, so Obama blames Bush. Nice.
  • 9:21 PM: Obama is really on the defensive tonight… he’s up by 7 points, all he has to do is run out the clock, what’s he doing?
  • 9:21 PM: Bipartisanship = working for the republicans, then the democrats, then the republicans again. :)
  • 9:23 PM: Yeah, John, you both just voted to spend like $900 billion on a bailout.
  • 9:25 PM: McCain is really pushing the phrase “clear record”, returning to the original campaign mantra.
  • 9:26 PM: #1 promise of Democrats entering Congress in 2006: lower gas prices. At the time, it was $2 a gallon. Promise delivered? Way to go, Democrats.
  • 9:27 PM: Obama doesn’t plan on sleeping once he hits the Oval Office, apparently.
  • 9:28 PM: Ooo, burn, Tom Brokaw-style.
  • 9:31 PM: Gosh, how would we get more oil? Anyone? Anyone?
  • 9:33 PM: Shout out to the young people. You know, I feel patriotic without joining the Peace Corps.
  • 9:35 PM: #1 way to get people to contribute: inspiration. How about another space race or something?
  • 9:36 PM: Obama just has this stupid look on this face, like, “What? John? You don’t love me?”
  • 9:40 PM: Answer the question! It’s about social security and we’re talking about taxes again.
  • 9:41 PM: I can’t imagine that Obama is winning this debate right now, although I switched from CNN so I don’t see that bar.
  • 9:41 PM: McCain’s not even answering the question, he’s hitting Obama now.
  • 9:42 PM: Tom Brokaw is taking all this divisiveness personally.
  • 9:44 PM: Environmental issues are stupid. Anyone who isn’t a political moron is of the same opinion: let’s keep our environment. Good plan.
  • 9:47 PM: “Drilling our way out of the problem” isn’t what McCain or Palin suggested. At all.
  • 9:47 PM: Brokaw is really mad about the time limits.
  • 9:50 PM: These are really bad questions by the audience. This is why you have moderators.
  • 9:51 PM: Clearly Barack Obama has never heard of Google Medical.
  • 9:51 PM: Yeah, good luck with that, Barack.
  • 10:15 PM: If you haven’t figured it out already, I gave up the live blog thing. I’m too busy yelling at my TV.

And there you have it. I’ve already voted, I’m getting tired of election season. See you next week for the final debate, the debate to end all debates.