Iced Coffee Season

Kurt Soller has an excellent post over at Grub Street explaining why a cup of iced coffee costs so much more than a cup of hot coffee. With the unseasonably warm March temperatures a lot of cities have been having, I think iced coffee season is already in full swing.

(from Teresa Stanton on Flickr)

To me, it's interesting that everything about iced coffee, from the coffee grounds, the cups, and even the ice itself, increases the cost compared to a hot cup of coffee. If you have the patience, iced coffee is easy to make at home, and I strongly recommend the cold-brew method.

I've complained in the past that the coffee scene in DC leans heavily toward the "Japanese method" of iced coffee. Soller's article makes me think that New York leans more toward the cold-brew method, or at least it has a better balance of each method. For reference, Starbucks uses neither of these methods, they just brew hot coffee twice and strong and pour it over ice, which is really the least preferable method of them all.

I always make a point to ask baristas how the iced coffee is made when I visit a new coffee shop. The worst answer is definitely "I don't know" because it means it's either made in a way that they're not proud of, or the barista is completely ignorant to the product that he/she is selling.

Gasoline Politics

Angie Schmitt has been posting about gasoline quite a bit recently over at Streetsblog. Recently, she wrote about the public's disapproval with the president over prices, and how unfair that really is. From the post...
Frustratingly, leading Republicans are doing a pretty good job convincing the American public that the president can dictate prices at the pump, even while they propose a transportation policy that would only further entrench American gasoline dependence.
Well, yes and no. I don't think they're convincing anyone of anything. They're merely confirming an existing belief. Gasoline is the low-hanging fruit of politics, there's much to gain and not much risk in blindly accusing the president of being responsible when it gets expensive. The voting public clearly doesn't understand how this all works.

Media Matters compiled a clip of Bill O'Reiley talking points from 2008 where he defends then president Bush against the exact same attacks that these Republicans are now making against Obama. Frankly, this isn't surprising.

(from basykes on Flickr)

Sometimes I forget that gasoline is such a hot button issue. In DC, it seems to be less ferociously discussed, partly I think because people drive less on average (especially people in my circles); but also because the cost of living is so high that there's not a ton of sticker shock. Everything's expensive - gasoline included.

On the other hand, when I travel to Ohio, gasoline prices are easily the number one "small talk" topic. You can make conversation with just about anyone by opening with "how how about them gas prices, pretty outrageous, eh?" To which they'll usually respond by telling you how much they filled up for last week, and how outrageous it in fact was.

This isn't the first time gasoline prices have spiked. They spiked nearly 4 years ago - and that should have really been a slap-in-the-face, a wake-up call that life, as we know it, can't go on the way it has been. Even Mitt Romney was saying this back before he had to change his belief system in order to run for president. Yet, in many ways it's like we've learned nothing.

The president has made some comments about changing how we live, but generally, he's taking a very moderate position, touting new cars as a "solution" to this dilemma, for example. Republicans, on the other hand, have taken the easy road by blaming the president for everything and promising the world. Newt Gingrich says he can bring $2.50 gasoline back; but I seriously doubt he actually believes it.

But at the end of the day, what can even be done? Better voter education? Politicians will say whatever people want them to say. So long as they believe something, no matter how outrageous it is, politicians will talk about it.

Daisey's Dilemma

After I heard Mike Daisey tell his monologue about Apple on This American Life back in January, I decided that it was one of the most interesting episodes of the show that I've yet listened to. The reason I thought it was so good was because it was a very well told story. Allegations of sweat shop conditions in developing countries are nothing new and frankly, the stuff in Daisey's story passed my smell test.

(from Aaron Webb on Flickr)

Of course, we now know that Daisey's story contained a lot of fiction. But when I listened to Daisey on This American Life's retraction episode last weekend, my interpretation of Daisey's opinion is that his deepest regret is getting caught. He seems to truly feel like his story, even with the fabrications, is justifiable, because it's for the greater good. A logician would probably call Daisey a pious fraud.

What's even more troubling is this clip that I heard on Marketplace yesterday morning - it's a prologue that Daisey is now delivering before his live performances.
I wanted to let you know that This American Life is airing an episode this weekend that calls into question the veracity of the personal experiences in this monologue. I want you to understand that’s what’s being called into question are the personal experiences. The facts of what the situation is in China in manufacturing are undisputed. And they are reinforced by the New York Times, CNN, NPR…
Emphasis mine - and here's what's so bizzarre about this logic... Daisey wrote an op-ed in the New York Times! He appeared on one of the most popular and respected public radio programs (albeit not an NPR program, but a lot of people think it is). So the sources that he uses to justify his story are essentially the same sources that Daisey single-handedly brought a lot of harm to.

At this point it's important to remember that news organizations themselves don't write articles - people, authors write articles. Daisey was one of many writers whose work appears in the New York Times. When someone says somelike like "The New York Times writes that..." that's not really true. The newspaper may have printed it, but there's always some author, or authors, who wrote it.

Of course, the whole Judith Miller affair a few years ago really threw a wrench into the whole idea that news organizations automatically provide credibility coverage to any author whose work they published. After all, Miller essentially lied in the New York Times the same way that Daisey lied on This American Life. Unless you believe in this case that any press is good press, it doesn't seem to have ended well in either situation.

Regression to the Mean

I'm often reminded of the simplistic view that a lot of people have about climate and weather. For example, the belief that "it's snowing therefore global warming must be a hoax" is probably the most egregious example; but it exists nonetheless.

This post over at Capital Weather Gang seeks to answer the question, "since it was unseasonably warm in DC this winter, does it follow that it will be unbearably hot in DC this summer?" The author's answer to the question is: not necessarily. If you look at the scatterplot Ian Livingston created, you'll see that there is a positively sloped relationship between average winter temperature and average summer temperature.

(from afagen on Flickr)

However, the relationship appears statistically weak (they didn't post the r-squared value, so I can only estimate). What I see when I look at the scatterplot is a classic regression toward the mean. In other words, unseasonably warm winters are a data point in a much larger dataset, not necessarily evidence of a trend. Next winter the average temperature could fall anywhere on the scatterplot, but the most likely out come is that it will fall near the regression line.

Now, I'm not a scientist and there may be a legitimate meteorological reason to predict one thing or another for this summer. But it seems like a lot of weather perceptions are based on superstitions and fallacious logic, or driven by agendas.

I still think it's a shame that the term "global warming" is what stuck, rather than "climate change". Very small changes in temperatures are all that it takes to trigger changes in climate; but very small changes in temperature don't pop out on scatterplots and bar charts and other statistical graphics. Small changes in climate look like almost no change.

If DC does have a painfully hot summer, surely there will be people who believe it's karma - the universe's punishment for a mild winter.

Back to the Basics

Dave Conz has an interesting article about Homebrewing over at Slate, along with a nice, short video that gives a basic introduction to how it's done.



I'll now admit that I've got a 5-gallon batch of homebrew porter aging in the other room as I write. This is my first attempt and will probably not be my last.

Why do it? Some people argue cost - that you can get high quality beer for less money than buying craft beer in stores. Others argue that it's a fun activity and nice to say you made something yourself. I'm somewhere in the middle. Yes, it's a little less money (but not a lot) and it's great to be able to say you accomplished it (even if you're not as good at it as your favorite microbrewery).

That said, the reason to homebrew is the same as the reason to roast your own coffee: freshness. Both beer and coffee are best when they're freshest, and the easiest way to guarantee it is to do the work yourself, controlling the process from beginning to end.

More generally though, the increasing popularity of these DIY activities is a reversal of the trend for a long time that convenience should be the priority in life. The popularity of cooking shows on TV, and "foodie" culture seems to indicate that people have realized that if you want really good food and really good drinks, you can achieve it by spending some effort doing it yourself, or spending a lot of money to have someone do it for you. But if you go for what's cheap or what's quick, you pay for it by sacrificing that quality.