My favourite Australian decaf beans

Ah decaf. Most famous for being what George drank on Seinfeld, it’s the biggest invitation since mothers told their kids to clean their rooms for unimaginative people to tilt their heads, and ask: yeah, but why?

Screenshot from the first episode of Seinfeld, where George insists on confirming the coffee is, in fact, decaf. WHERE'S THE INDICATOR!?

For years I cut decaf more slack than I would my regular beans. I assumed there’d always be a more limited selection based on demand, and that roasters wouldn’t ever put as much effort into it compared to their flagship brews. I’m glad to say this is no longer true!

My favourite in Australia remains Cassiopia Speciality Coffee’s Colombia Mountain Water Decaf. I first had it in their beautiful little store in the Blue Mountains, and it’s exquisite. Well rounded, tasty, and the smell that permeates out kitchen when I grind it is glorious. Most normal coffee I’ve ever had wasn’t as good as this decaf.

Another contender to enter the ring was one Apothecary Coffee has started selling in their Chatswood coffee shop: ST.ALi Decaf. Clara noted it smelled like chocolate when I first ground it, and those tasty notes come through strong. It’s now my favourite evening coffee to have with a desert biscuit if I’m not in the mood for tea.

And finally, this might sound shocking, but Aldi granulated instant decaf. Granulated coffee is bad, but this is the only granulated decaf I’ve ever had that passes the threshold for being tolerable. Don’t ever drink granulated, but if you’re too tired or lazy, it’s better than a slap in the face with a wet fish. Their marketing department can have that one.

This post, like all my coffee posts, is dedicated to James' Coffee Blog. His reviews, lists, tools, and posts about brews continue to be a source of inspiration for my writing of the aforementioned beverage here.

Number of posts last year

I didn’t do a post retrospective last year. Post as in blog post, not post as in after. Doing an after retrospective would have been redundant. And not that kind of redundant.

According to everyone’s favourite tool wc(1), not to be confused with water closest, this blog had 606 posts last year. That’s a difference of more than 100 compared to 2020, though still fewer than my peak in 2009.

As I always used to say, why have quality over quantity, when you can have both!? Not in this case obviously, I mean more generally. Insert a reference to water closets here again.

For anyone who thinks they need to spam people like me to be a blogger, some of the best writers I’m subscribed to only post once a month, or even annually. They write long form content of a much higher calibre than anything I post. Everyone has their own style, this just happens to be mine.

My style is the bom digi bom di-deng di-deng diggi-diggi. Thank you.

Press and politicians abusing medical terms

I’m seeing a lot of justification for certain policy positions based on the fact Omicron is “mild”. This conflates the medical term with what the general public understands that to mean. Journalists, pundits, politicians, and social media armchair experts doing this are, at best, disingenuously peddling misinformation. At worst, I’d say they’re lying.

It reminds me of those who say elective surgery must be optional, based on the same wilful misunderstanding of the term. My swollen $CENSORED wasn’t life threatening last year, but I sure as hell wouldn’t have considered the surgery for it to be optional!

My incessant whinging about it probably was, though. Can you imagine if I actually got Covid? I think Clara would need to isolate not for medical reasons, but because I’d be listing my symptoms on a regular basis. Have I told you she’s the most patient, caring person I’ve ever met?

I think it’s why I have such a lower tolerance for politicians who can’t communicate these days. It doesn’t matter how intelligent or effective you are in the legislative process if you can’t clearly and unambiguously articulate your positions and unfolding situations to the public. Soft skills are just as important, especially for a population of people who are already on edge.

As I’ve said like a broken record here over the years, being technically accurate isn’t sufficient for being understood. You’d think this would be obvious, but enough people either don’t realise it, or are actively hostile to the idea. Being a human is hard.

Boulevard of Enthusiasts, Naberezhnye Chelny

I was reading about the Republic of Tartarstan on Wikipedia over coffee this morning, like a gentleman, when I saw this photo of the Boulevard of Enthusiasts in Naberezhnye Chelny by Zahidulla:

Photo looking down the Boulevard of Enthusiasts, in Naberezhnye Chelny.

I haven’t been able to stop looking at it! That quintessential skyline, the trees, the landscape in the background… it’s unmistakable what part of the world it is. But I’m most intrigued by the regular square patterns in the plaza, the angular fountains that perfectly align to them, and that building in the upper centre with the glass cone for a roof. I wonder what it is?

Two decades ago, and you would have only seen a photo like this in a travel book, or on slides if you had friends who travelled around Tartar Russia. The fact a schmuck like me can lose himself in that part of the world by clicking a link hasn’t been lost on me. Anyone know what the Tartar word is for schmuck?

Russia has so many fascinating pockets of different culture everywhere. I’d love to visit Kazan in the same republic one day.

Uniforms of the future

One of my favourite ideas is that science fiction is a critique of the present, not the future. It tackles our insecurities, rights what we see are wrongs, or extrapolates our current issues ahead to what we’d see are their natural conclusions. They can be a wish for a utopian future like Star Trek, or a cautionary tale like Star Wars.

At least, I assume that’s what Star Wars is, I’ve only seen one of the movies and it didn’t gel, despite being an insufferable Trekkie. Se a vida é.

I was going to reference some art I saw on a sci-fi forum here, but turns out the source was very much not NSFW! Suffice to say, is a phrase with three words. The character wore a typical Japanese school uniform, only she had green hair highlights and a large gas mask obscuring much of her face.

Had we seen that a few short decades ago, we might have assumed it was a Cold War critique where biological weapons or nuclear fallout might have required it. Come closer in time, and you might feel sorry for the future Earth dwellers needing to wear it on account of us trashing the planet for profits and blockchains. These days, I’ll bet a pandemic is the first thing that comes to mind.

This is why context is so important and interesting when looking at this stuff (even if it does turn out to be an eroge, cough). The image above was constant, but the time in which a viewer lived would inform different conclusions. We project our own views, knowledge, and circumstances onto whatever we analyse.

The good news is, if any future seems scary, we’re still in the present where we can do something about it.

Comestible aromas, via @Georgiecel

I’ve noticed a bunch of changes since I stopped eating red meat a while ago. For all the talk about iron, it wasn’t till I became full blown vegetarian that my blood work went down the drain. A bit of fish and some poultry immediately went a long way, and now all my markers are great. Save for vitamin D, which remains stubbornly low despite sitting most of my working day outside on our apartment balcony on purpose, and slavish addiction to supplements. Vitamin d’oh!

Something else I wasn’t expecting was how my perceptions of smell would change, and how inconsistent it’d be.

Six years after my last beef or kangaroo, and the smell of it cooking is still amazing. I’ve been around people making classic Australian spag bowl, and I want to sit down and tuck in with them. I never liked steak, but it did smell like a feast. And don’t get me started on the aromas emanating from those those democracy sausage sizzles, or the fixtures outside a certain large hardware establishment that begins with B and end with unnings Warehose.

That was a typo, it was supposed to be Warehouse. But now I’m interested in a werewolf firefighter holding a hose. Next installment in the Fire Force manga, perhaps?

Pork is a different story. For one, the words have completely different letters. Pork was a big part of my childhood, owing to my German dad who was always an excellent cook. We’d regularly have pork knuckle, hackbraten, kassler on Oktoberfest, and leberkäse. We’d visit family friends from Munich who’d always have plenty of weißwurst and the appropriate spicy mustards and beers to go with it. I mostly ate Asian food in Singapore, but even then there was always char siu and bak kwa.

(These were somewhat curtailed when we lived in Kuala Lumpur for a couple of years, for obvious reasons! Going into the “forbidden” areas of supermarkets there always felt strange; stranger still was seeing all these Western deli stuff interspersed with Chinese food. I guess it made sense).

But then I began to notice a change after abstaining from it for a year or so. The savoury smell I remember started to be replaced with something I can best describe as gamey and stale. I’ve always hated lamb and mutton for that reason, and smelling it again after an absence was jarring. Even bacon, something I liked the smell of growing up, now smells sickly rich and bloody, almost rotten. Like my fashion sense or a Kubernetes cluster, it’s deeply unpleasant.

I didn’t think twice about it, but a random post last night lead Georgie of Hey Georgie (RSS feed here) to provide some fascinating context:

The last one reminds me of something I learned recently called “boar taint”, the smell of pig meat has always made me want to retch, and it affects 75% of the population! Sometimes associated with low quality meat or environment, but also to do with if the animal was castrated.

It’s really interesting; even the Wikipedia article on boar taint alone is enough to explain why one might be sensitive to the odour. I did read into some more studies about it though, such as whether it’s genetic (because my mum experiences it too).

Turns out that sensitivity to it is associated with a gene, but it may not be the only contributing factor. Either way, it’s really educational, and there are obviously studies that are related to the welfare of the animal in the procedure.

You’ll no doubt find many about the ethics/animal welfare side of things easily but here’s a post in more colloquial language about it: And an article that links to a study about the gene stuff.

I had no idea this was as widespread as it was. I wonder if so many religious aversions to pork could be traced back to something like this? I also appreciate the angle of animal welfare too. I go out of my way to make sure the little bit of meat I do it is ethically sourced, though this isn’t always easy.

The genetic component interests me. It sounds like Georgie and her mum have a much worse reaction to it than me; at worst I just find the smell unpleasant. I’d have expected to show signs of this in my childhood when I was eating pork if there was a genetic component, and not just recently. But who knows; coriander soap mouth is also genetic, and if anything that has been getting better for me over time. It’s probably multiple factors.

Part of me wonders if it’s a defence mechanism at play too. The few times in Japan I accidentally had pork I was sick the following night. Not to get too blue, but my gut biome has probably adapted and changed over time as I’ve eaten less animal protein, and perhaps pork requires something I no longer have (for comparison, accidental beef has been fine).

Now I have the urge to start a pig sanctuary in Minecraft where they can wallow and play :). It also might be time to bump up my monthly RSPCA donations. Thanks again to Georgie for those links and insights.

Dev, system design, and screwdrivers

I read a post on The Bird Site claiming that choosing tech is equivalent to choosing a screwdriver, and therefore he didn’t have strong opinions about it.

This position sounds internally consistent, but I’d challenge anyone to not have a strong opinion if you caught me using a belt sander to attach bolts to a door. What!? Use a wrench!!! That visceral opinion is informed by experience and expertise, which is also what a (good) company is paying you for.

The idea that there are perfectly rational people who make cold, detached decisions about everything is a fantasy. Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality.

I get the appeal of the right tool for the job. But I’d argue there is no one “right tool” for a given circumstance in this industry, and even the scope of job itself can be hard to define during the design phase. Choosing these in IT is as much an art as a science, and is part of why I stay in this industry despite frustrations.

If I can also be a bit cheeky, my experience is that those who claim not to have strong opinions are smokescreening. If you ever want to see this in action, check out the responses on Linux forum posts with screenshots showing a pride wallpaper. I don’t have a strong opinion about your theme, but…!

Trying out the Windows Package Manager

There’s a ton of stuff I miss when I have to use Windows for something, but package managers would be among the biggest. For all the new problems they can introduce, they still make setting up systems so much easier. My Mac and *nix machines are up and running with a few commands.

Windows has had the Chocolatey package manager for years, but like my dance moves I’ve always found it clunky and brittle. Wait, what? Package managers will always give you just enough rope, but Chocolatey also supplies an unlocked Acme supercar, and a handy cliff to drive it off from. Scoop is much nicer, but I’ve also run into integration problems. Not to rag on the developers of these tools, they’re doing the best they can with the toolchains and frameworks available.

The news slipped by me last year that Microsoft released an official Windows Package Manager, so I thought I’d give it a try. I went to the Microsoft Store and downloaded the App Installer, which provides the winget binaries. Hey, it’s better than calling it Windows Console Application Installer Enterprise Corporate for Teams, SP1 RU2.

I did a search for Firefox, and installed:

Screenshot showing winget in operation. I did a search with winget search firefox, then winget install Mozilla.Firefox. The final line shows 'Starting package install...'.

Again, the syntax is just a little bit clunkier than what we have elsewhere, but already it felt like an improvement. It downloaded Firefox and ran the MSI automatically without user interaction, albeit with the mandated installer popups. It even detected and installed the correct version based on my locale.

After installing though, the prompt sat at Starting package install… for the rest of the day until I turned the VM off. The same thing happened with a few other packages, and on two separate machines. Maybe the installers aren’t handing off properly, or the package manager itself isn’t properly detecting when tasks are finished. It is a bit weird using software that the package manger claims it’s still only starting to install. The verbose IDs are also tedious to write out, and these shenanigans sour me on it.

At the end of the day, is a phrase with six words. Maybe if I were a full-time Windows Server sysadmin, I’d invest more time in it. But I can’t shake the feeling that all of these feel like a kludge on top of a system that wasn’t designed to be maintained this way, like attaching turbines and wings to a dump truck. I’ll probably stick with just installing MSIs the old fashioned way.

Tire Evidence by Peter McDonald

Every forensic science show I watch that involves tyre imprint evidence either interviewed or referenced Peter McDonald. He literally wrote the book on tyre evidence, and was also one of those frustrating people who was a technical expert and an artist. Compared to many stone-faced officers and prosecutors, it was also clear how much he cared about the victims he helped investigate.

Cover of Tire Evidence.

Sadly he passed away in 2013, but I only just realised his book is publicly available in print, and not locked away in academia. I’m tempted to find a copy, even if I have to go the paper route.

I love non-fiction, and especially books that explore topics I have no background in whatsoever. As Merlin Mann says, there’s something invigorating about reading or listening to topics from passionate people, regardless of what it is.

Who knows, given how some Sydney Buses drive around pedestrians, I may find this book useful sooner than I think.

iPhone desktop sync has Walken’d away

It seems like an age ago now, but a big part of the appeal of the original iPhone was that it synced easily with the Mac. Other phones had given up on the Mac platform by the mid-2000s, relegating their syncing duties to clunky intermediate applications. More like SINKING, am I right Peter!?

The iPhone slurped up your contacts, calendars, todo list items, and mail with the same ease with which the iPod did for music. It shouldn’t be understated just how brilliant this was; I loved my ageing Palms, and my Symbian Nokia E61i was decent, but having a device that just worked with my computer of choice at the time was game changing.

My computer… computer of choice. You can sync with this, or you can sync with that. You can sync with this, or you can sync with that. You can sync with this, or you sync with that. Or you can sync with us.

Few people sync their phones with their computers anymore, relying instead on remote sync. That’s fine, but I prefer keeping things local under the increasingly misguided belief that it’ll work better. I’ve also only ever synced photos and password manager stores locally, because it’s what I trust. Turns out, that’s was a good bet.

Unfortunately, the decline of this use case has been mirrored in testing and updates. Pulling a stream of photos off a modern iPhone with Image Capture is often an exercise in futility, with the process grinding to a halt and cryptic error messages sput out that wouldn’t look out of place on a 16-bit version of Windows. “Sput?” Performing a restore or an update on a phone works as often as it doesn’t.

I’ve been sitting here waiting for this iPhone 8 to do a factory reset so I can send it to Apple this morning for a new battery. I’ve confirmed at least four times that I want to do the restore, after which the Finder sits there doing absolutely nothing. I rebooted the phone, and now the Finder is telling me to unlock it before proceeding. It’s been unlocked for five minutes. In the words of Scotty from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home: “Hello computer!?”

It shouldn’t be like this. Local sync has fewer moving parts, a guaranteed data channel, and oodles of storage. It feels like I’m back in the 2000s trying to get sync working on another phone through an obtuse, poorly maintained abstraction layer. Probably because I am.

Sync without rhythm, and you won’t attract the worm. Sync without rhythm, and you won’t… attract the worm. Sync without rhythm, and you won’t… attract… the worm. If you sync without rhythm, HAH, you’ll never learn.

Update! I rebooted the Mac and the phone a couple more times each, swapped out the Lightning cable from a USB-C to an older USB-A with an adaptor, force quit the Finder, plugged the phone into another port, burnt some toast, tailed system.log, charged the phone battery from 70% to 100%, and put some refresh essential oil in our Muji diffuser. I can’t tell you what combination fixed it, but now I have a phone that’s restoring. Touch sandalwood.

As I drift off into the night… I’m in flight [… mode]?