February 26th, 2013

device

Let us sing of cold-brewed nectar...

My relationship with coffee is long-standing.

I'm a second-generation programmer, and Dad has been a foodie since long before anybody used that term. The consequence is that, when I started working for him at age 14 or so, one of the first things I learned was to appreciate (and properly make) good Columbian coffee. It wasn't as fancy as the stuff we get routinely nowadays, but it was the best you could get at the time, strong and tasty: coffee as beverage, rather than simply as a tool.

I never got truly addicted to the stuff as some of my friends did (one of my more vivid memories of Judy in college was of her building a line of coffee cups around the edge of her breakfast tray), but I certainly drank it regularly enough, and thought little of it. I was a programmer, and coffee was practically a ritual requirement. That continued through my 20s and into my 30s without my really thinking about it. But before I was 25, the problems started.

The first time, I was probably all of 23 -- we were in our first apartment, so certainly not more than 25 -- when chest pain sent me to the ER. It was pretty terrifying at the time, not much less so because the doctors could find absolutely nothing wrong. This pattern recurred, once every year or two, for at least ten years: there were a bunch of EKGs that came back utterly normal, and a lot of stress for me.

Finally, we changed insurance companies, and got a new (and vastly more competent) PCP by the name of Mary Brogan. The next time it happened, Dr. Brogan's response was basically, "You've got reflux. This isn't exactly surprising, given your habits. Let's see if some Prilosec deals with this." *Poof*, the problem went away. At which point, she started trying to get me to change my habits. The three likely triggers she identified were orange juice, overeating, and coffee. Of course, I promised myself that I'd work on all three -- but of course, changing habit is hard, and it took years to even start on the OJ.

As for the coffee, it probably took me ten years to really take that seriously, but once I started to experiment, it was screamingly obvious: any coffee at all was taking a significant chance, and anything after noon almost guaranteed me a painful night. Grumpily, I began turning myself into a tea geek, and weaning myself off the stuff.

This year, however, two things have changed. First, I started a serious (and probably permanent) diet -- everything else aside, I need to lose a good deal of weight and keep it off. Monitoring my food has finally gotten my eating under control -- and Dr. Brogan has again been proven correct, in that the reflux (and my need for Prilosec) mostly vanished within a week. This has pretty much given me a new gold standard for the concept of self-inflicted "first world problem".

Second, in idle conversation the other month, dsrtao (I think it was) mentioned the idea of cold-brewed coffee. The concept was very surprising, mostly because I had proven from experience that trying to brew tea with no heat input simply fails. But a little research came up with lots of agreement: you can brew coffee by simply soaking it at room temperature for 10-24 hours. The resulting coffee is very different -- significantly less bitter, but more relevantly to me, 70% less acidic.

Mind, I have no idea if that 70% number has any scientific basis. (It is oft-parroted online, but that proves nothing.) But anecdotally, the important finding is that cold-brewed coffee just plain doesn't set off my reflux, at least in moderation. The results come out super-strong, flavorful but mellow -- it demands dilution, so it makes fabulous iced coffee. And while the process requires a lot of patience, that helps reinforce the moderation: I can't just whip out a batch in ten minutes, so I make about one pot a week and dole it out slowly. It almost becomes a meditation exercise, tending the french press for a day, stirring occasionally as the coffee strengthens.

It's going to supplement the tea, rather than replacing it -- a few cups of coffee a week pales next to the quart of tea a day. But it is delightful to be able to rediscover an old favorite, in a new form that, aside from the patience required, is better in pretty much every respect...
device

Worth keeping a closer eye on Rizzoma

I just got an email with a list of new features in Rizzoma. I think they're starting to hit prime time here.

I've mentioned it before, but a refresher: Rizzoma is basically the successor to Google Wave. I cursed Google when Wave died, since I had killed CommYou on the theory that Wave was going to win. That was aggravating not only because I had given up my project, but even more because I *wanted* that tool. Most online collaboration platforms suck sharp flinty rocks through a straw, and I've been wanting something better for ten years. CommYou was supposed to be that, and Wave promised to be before it died.

Anyway, Rizzoma is by no means identical to Wave, but it's close enough to look very familiar to those who used it. The team there has been working on it for a couple of years, fleshing out the platform, adding features and gradually starting to do a lot of things right that Google got horribly wrong, especially in terms of integration. (The fact that they've been integrated with both Facebook and Google from the beginning was my first sign that they had a clue.)

Lately, they've added a lot of features that are cool, but more importantly useful, such as:
  • Mind Map views of conversations, so that you can easily see the structure of the discussion;

  • Google Drive embedding, so you can build Rizzoma conversations around lots of different document types;

  • A nascent gadget store;

  • Possibly most interesting to me, Chrome integration, so you can use Rizzoma for working around arbitrary pages. (This had been a key part of CommYou's long-term vision.)
Overall, the tool is starting to look pretty neat. Those who are interested in conversation tech, I recommend keeping an eye on it. I may well start to use it more seriously myself...