Writing from the nation's capital, this blog explores technology, telecommunications, national security, policy, and their impact on people, with an occasional rant.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Bunn Phase Brew: Is this the new standard in home coffee machines?

Bunn Phase Brew HT
My blog doesn't pitch products or link bait, but I recently picked up what might be the next gold standard for home coffee makers: the new Bunn Phase Brew HT. To say I'm very serious about coffee is an understatement. I've studied at Counter Culture Coffee in DC and have an espresso machine bigger than a bread box. But basic coffee is my go-to beverage.

In recent months, my 5 1/2-year old Capresso MT500 was yielding worse and worse coffee. Temps were falling off, and the coffee grounds were sometimes not completely saturated in the basket. I'd started the search for a new way to start my day about a year ago--it ended in frustration. Based on research at CoffeeGeek.com, Home-Barista.com, and elsewhere, three machines were on the short list: Capresso MT500, the legendary Technovorm Moccamaster, and the Newco OCS-8 or -12. The three machines all could brew hot enough (around 200 F), would saturate the grounds effectively, and had insulated carafes (so the coffee doesn't burn). But all had drawbacks: MT500-short lifespan, reports of diminished quality; TVM-about $300 and several design compromises, OCS has a utilitarian design and some detractors. In the end I was ready to buy the TVM but didn't because of the non-brew through lid and some reports of plastic quality.

In October my MT500 performance took a dive. I was effectively wasting money on high-grade coffee being poorly brewed. I resorted to manual pour overs using a Melita cone. But this soon became tedious making 30 oz of coffee for 2 travel mugs each day. Back to my MT500... and bad coffee. Then back to the forums. I had considered a Bunn before, but wasn't crazy about the always on heated water tank. This time I thought I'd compromise.

At CoffeeGeek.com I learned of the new Bunn Phase Brew pair of machines. These were similar in appearance to my all time favorite machine the Capresso model 461 (aka Philips  HD-5400), but operated differently. The Phase Brew has a water tank on top, and circulates water to a heater at the base, then back up to the top. Repeat until water is about 200 F. Then the water begins to drain down into the basket and into the brew-through carafe (glass on the HG, stainless on the HT). I was hooked. But only the glass model seemed available. I watched the online sites for a week or so, and then an unlikely hit at bedbathstore.com. They had the HT machine -- not "pre-order" like most sites. I took a chance and placed my order (with a generous 10% discount offer). I kept reading the posts. People at Bunn and online were saying the HT wouldn't be available until mid Dec or Jan 2011!

Keep in mind that during this time I had very restricted access to coffee in the morning. I needed a solution quick! I emailed BedBathStore.com (great name?) and in two days got a call from Susan, who assured me the HT had just become available and would be shipped soon. The next day I had a shipping notice and in a few more I had one of the first 300 HT machines.

Let me say I could not be happier. [Except for the clock--I wish there weren't one. Or that you could turn it off. Instead, you have to set it or not look at it. Try that while pressing prepping the machine.] The Phase Brew is fun to listen -- it makes lots of sounds heating the water. And it produces a fine cup of coffee, and can keep the pot hot for quite a while. I brewed some water one night during a test and it was still 110F the next morning.

There's been quite a discussion over at CoffeeGeek.com. It may still be too early to tell, but soon coffee geeks everywhere may be adding the Bunn Phase Brew to the short list of automatic coffee brewers. If you know a coffee geek (other than me), there are still 17 days to fill his or her stocking.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Metro Train Arrival Info - FAIL

What's wrong with this picture? Can it really be that difficult to provide accurate train arrival information?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Photo Tour of DC Food Trucks @McPherson Sq, Pt 3

Also on the east side, the two fojol trucks. As I understand it, there are two families which run trucks under he fojol name, each with different cuisine. The closer one had great smelling curry.

Photo Tour of DC Food Trucks @McPherson Sq, Pt 2

On the east side of McPherson sq today was "Eat Wonky".

Photo Tour of DC Food Trucks @McPhereson Sq, Pt 1

Sauca: "world food." Delicious fish taco! Wednesday they were near Metro Center. Recommended! www.eatsauca.com

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Plastic Bottles: they're ok because you can recycle them, right?

How many drinks to you consume in single-use plastic bottles each week?  Five, 10, more?  If you're concerned about eating healthy, maybe you drink bottled water.  But its ok because plastic can be recycled... right?  If you think this way, you might think again.

Plastic shopping bags aren't the only plastic you should think twice about.  Plastic bottles and food containers generally can't be recycled for other food uses. (Glass can) But most of those bottles probably won't ever be recycled.  They will end up in a land fill or in the river and eventually in the ocean.  You've heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, haven't you?  Well all that plastic will stick around for years and years and years.  Though it may break into smaller bits, it never goes away.  It just becomes food for fish, birds, more birds, and even jellyfish. Eventually tiny bits may be eaten by plankton, and start working their way back up the food chain.

Watch a 4 minute TED talk by Dianna Cohen, co-founded the Plastic Pollution Coalition, to learn more about how each single-use plastic bottle you use impacts the environment.  You might think differently about a bottle of soda or water. (the talk has a 1 min Rolex commercial at the end)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Rumors of my death are greatly exadurated, said the Web

Recently a friend cited a Chris Anderson article from Wired about how
everything will be free in the future. To borrow David Pogue's word:
poppycock!  Mr. Anderson (say it like Agent Smith, it just feels
right) seems to have a habit of sensationalizing things based on a
shoddy interpretation of data. Or maybe this just fits the sensational
headlines better....  You may have heard about his article "The Web is
Dead," were he claims other types of Internet traffic are replacing
http/www traffic. I almost believed this, but then I woke up.

David Poge does a great job of setting things straight.  In a
nutshell, Mr. Anderson seems to confuse percentage share with
quantity.  http://pogue.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/20/is-the-web-dead/

Is it bad for Wired that my renewal notice showed up just now?
Probably.  If something is dead, it's more likely to be Wired than the

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What polls say... what certain people think

A recent Congress.org newsletter included a story on how polls are conducted and results used to support political motivations.  A great reminder that citing a poll doesn't necessarily tell you anything but what the author wants you to believe. 

Read the story at Congress.org.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Critics should have a point

There is so much pointless writing on the Internet that it makes me wonder about my blog....   I stumbled upon these recent iPad-related blog posts by Forbes writer Andy Greenberg in his Firewall blog.  On one day he touts the head of the National Security Agency calling the iPad "wonderful."  Two days later he's writing about how insecure the iPad is.   Now I don't know much about the orientation of this "security blog" or the author himself.  Am I supposed to think I shouldn't buy an iPad because it could be hacked?  What computer device would he recommend following that logic? 

Mr Greenberg himself points out that noted Apple-hacker Chris Miller not only owns an iPad, but doesn't seem to be interested in hacking it. What?  Well, at least the mere mention of "iPad" will drive some more traffic to your blog--whether it has a point or not.  Well done!

Full disclosure:  I canceled my subscription to Forbes years ago.  I think its safe to skip Mr Greenberg's "Firewall" blog as well.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Of passwords and online security

Here's something you really should think about.  I know that many people use a simple password--anything from a word to just numbers, or even a word plus a number.  This is common knowledge to security specialist and bad-guy hackers alike. Late last year, tens of thousands of Hotmail, Yahoo, and Gmail users were hacked through phishing attacks.  These break-ins were enabled in part due to easy-to-guess passwords.  There are automated ways bad guys can try to guess your password which take much less time than your log in process. 

What can you do?  First, read this and start applying the recommendations.

Specifically, take the following steps now.   Especially, make these changes if you think you passwords might be compromised or could be.
  1. Change any passwords for sites that access financial info or other sensitive stuff (information you store on line, commercial sites which have your credit card #, etc).  This might include google/gmail, yahoo, amazon, depending on the services you use there.  (look here to see how much google stuff you use https://www.google.com/accounts/ManageAccount
  2. Make sure your bank/investment passwords are STRONG and are not the same as other passwords.
  3. Don't use exactly the same password at each site, especially if they use the same user name.
That's the end of your security triage.  You will likely be safer after these steps, and if you do nothing else, you should be ok. (If you use Wi-Fi, then you need a really strong WPA passphrase too.  Read about this in Security Now episode #13)

You might ask, what is a "strong" password?  Well, in general it should contain 10+ characters and include letters fo both cases, numbers, and symbols.  It should not be a word, name, string of number, or date.  An easy way to develop one is to pick a sentence, phrase, or similar and use the first character of each word.  You could use a line from a movie or book, Bible verse, a quotation, or a saying. Then modify it somehow, perhaps by adding symbols, number, or interchanging letters.  This technique is known to hackers, so if you use a well known sentence and just take the first letter, it may already be in a cracker's list of passwords, just like Pa$$w0rd1 is.  For example, "In the beginning, God created the Heaven and the Earth" could become ItbGctHaE.  Maybe start with 1:1 and replace a with &, but that's pretty simple too. But you'd have to get some numbers and symbols in there too.  That is the basis for a strong password.  Oh, and you can't use this one anymore, because its now out in public.

Now go change your passwords. 

To learn more, the DOD has a pretty good one page summary on protecting computers and your information.  It summarizes the threats which are out there and can effect you.  Stealing passwords and accessing your accounts is just one thing that can happen. You can read it here:

This stuff does really happen.  You must be the first line of defense.  Failing to act is acting to fail. 

Do I really need to worry about this stuff?  Well, if you have no online presence, then probably not.  If you don't bank or have any financial data online, then you might be ok.  If you don't have a bunch of information on your Facebook page which someone could use to impersonate you, guess other passwords, or open accounts in your name.

Right now, many of us are trusting to security through obscurity--there are so many people online, how could someone target me?  An out of the blue attack may be less likely.  But, if some of your information from a W-2, school transcript, or other info were to fall into nefarious hands, it would be all too easy for the wrong-doer to look you up on Facebook.  They might even send you a carefully crafted message to get more info or send you a malicious web link.  Have you ever lost such a document?  Has your school, employer, credit card company, etc ever lost some of your data on a thumb drive, laptop or hacker break-in?  Probably.  But don't just believe me, read more about secure passwords in the links below.

Now go change your passwords. 

Additional Recommended Security Links:

US CERT Cyber Security Tip ST04-002 Choosing and Protecting Passwords

MakeUseOf.com - Create Strong Passwords

GRC.com Perfect Password generator

Password Strength Checkers - to be really safe, you shouldn't put your new password into one of these.  If you do, at least make sure they are a secure page (https).

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Are Apple's iDevices the end of Macs?

Recently there's been discussion about the iPad being the demise of the Mac.  It has been mentioned a few times on TWiT and also notably Sasha Segan's piece over at PCMag (via Digg).  The argument is that Apple cannot or will not long support two different computer platforms.  As evidence, observers say Apple may be maxed out with the launch of the iPad.  Their engineers are consumed developing and translating apps for the iPad/iPhone OS. 

Last month I was reading the book Apple Inc. (Corporations That Changed the World), which I picked up at the library.  The book talks about the early history of Apple products: the Apple II line, Lisa, and the Mac.  Although Apple said it would support the II for the long haul, it was soon discontinued.  The Lisa followed not long after, and that left just the Mac.  So it would seem a compelling case.

The iPhone was said to be a flop before it was released and people stood in line to buy it--days in advance.   And Apple sold 1 million iPhones in 74 days; 1M iPhone 3G and 3GS each took just 3 days.

Now its the same for the iPad: it's no iPhone, they say.  (Just Google it)

All the talk makes me worry about my ability to buy future MacBooks.  But think again.  Mac sales are higher than ever, with no sign of stopping.  And you don't introduce a new product and kill your cash cow.  But you better have a new product before your old one isn't selling.

I think there's less chance that Apple plans to dump the Mac, and more that Apple is starting an evolutionary step with the iPhone/iPad OS.  Or continuing the the path started with the iPhone.  Apple doesn't play by the rules--it makes them.  The iPad is the start of new rules.

I want to like COMCAST, but they don't want me to...

I really want to like COMCAST for the effort they've made improving services, but they seem determined to keep me from being happy.  Not too long ago, COMCAST started a cool service called myDVR.  It lets you access your DVR from the Internet (like Tivo has had for a while).  They even have an iPhone app, which I quickly downloaded.  Initially the app didn't allow me to access the function.  After reading online I found that when "myDVR" service becomes available in your area the function will show up in the app.  At some point it did and I thought I was set. But I could never get it to work.  Instead I got this message. 

I tried to log in via my COMCAST account.  Still nothing.  In desperation I called COMCAST.  A 30 min investment of time got me to someone who confirmed the service is available in my area but that my Cisco DVR is not compatible with myDVR. The very nice rep told me to take the box in to the COMCAST office to swap it out for a compatible model (Motorola, I believe). 

After driving 15 min to wait for 15 min to change out the box, I had to explain to the rep what "myDVR" service was and what I wanted to do.  It took a while to communicate to the rep my wishes--she kept referring to my recorded TV content because the button on the remote is labeled "My DVR".  Ultimately, I learned from the rep that my office will only supply the crappy Cisco RNG200 in my area.  She suggested I contact the Manassas office who might be able to provide further explanation.   I took a replacement box since the hard drive was likely going bad anyway, and in the hopes of trying a different box might help.

When I called the COMCAST number provided, I wound up in the Silver Spring office (not even in the 703 area code...). I went through this My DVR problem again: "Ok, so you cannot record TV programs?"  I asked why COMCAST was telling me about myDVR service online and apparently provisioning the service in a place where they won't give you compatible equipment.  I learned that the Cisco box is not highly regarded, and a better Motorola box is available everywhere else but here. My rep favored that model. But I got no useful answer to my question (though this rep was very patent and friendly). 

Bottom line:  I am out nearly 120 minutes to learn that COMCAST will not provide equipment to make use of services they advertise and apparently have provisioned in my area.  What is up with that? 

Monday, March 22, 2010

This is a strange way to blog

Now I can post directly from mobile devices.

Sent from my iPhone

DoD's Open Internet Policies and USB -- Not so Fast

Air Force web users are still stuck in the Internet of the past. Despite DoD's recently released policy which states unclassified networks will "be configured to provide access to Internet-based capabilities across all DoD components," many Air Force users of base-level networks are still blocked nearly a month later. The Dep SecDef-signed policy was the result of a months-long review of the mishmash of separate policies across the department.  Each service had its own policies, many of which conflicted, allowing sailors to access some sites while airmen were prohibited.  Perhaps the Air Force is still sorting out how to remove its draconian restrictions. 

Meanwhile over at Wired's Danger Room, Nathan Hodge writes about DoD's not-so-fast on allowing USB drives.  There will be many restrictions on the USB drives when they are eventually allowed.  These won't be USB drives ordinary people drive.  Back when the dives were suddenly banned,  there were anecdotal reports of military authorities having confiscated any and all USB drives they rounded up in searches.

Hodge aptly notes this is just the tip of the ice berg.  The real problem is the "heavy-handed" military approach to unclassified networks.  But the problem isn't the "public" networks as Hodge writes, but rather the private unclassified systems soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines use on a daily basis for most all staff work and communications.

The irony is that airmen are banned from following the senior military officer -- the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs -- on twitter.  Admiral Mullen is not alone.  The National Guard Bureau Chief and many official military offices are also on Twitter.  But Air Force network managers don't seem to see the value of modern networking and communictions.  Twitter shouldn't feel singled out though, because the Air Force is blocking Facebook, Linked-In, most blog hosting sites, webmail sites, and much much more.

The Air Force hoped to be the service that led the military's cyberwar efforts. Nice try Air Force.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Opt Out of Pre-screened Offers, or how to minimize crap in your mailbox

Here are some simple instructions to eliminate junk mail and offers of credit.

1. Go to this web site and permanently opt out of pre-screened offers. http://www.optoutprescreen.com

2. You will have to print and mail the form for opt out to be permanent.

3. Opt out of sharing "personal information... with others or used for promotional purposes" with the credit unions. Print and fill out this letter. http://www.ftc.gov/privacy/cred-ltr.shtm
(Download a Word document I created here)

4. Consider registering at https://www.dmachoice.org/ to reduce mailings and offers from members of the Direct Marketing Association.

5. Bonus Round: Reduce unwanted catalogs at www.catalogchoice.org.