Congratulations to Rod Thomson!

huge congratulations to my good friend and sometime collaborator, Rod Thomson, on the launch of his new project The Revolutionary Act.

Rod is an insightful thinker with a strong dedication to principles, which makes discussing topics of all kinds with him a joy. He challenges me to think, and I am always the better for it. Not only is he a veteran journalist and a published author, but he’s makes frequent radio and television appearances to discuss public policy and other issues of the day.

I’ve been bugging him for months to start blogging. I’m excited that he’s finally doing it! Can’t wait to see what comes of this!

Baratza Rescues My Starbucks Grinder… Again!

The Starbucks “Barista” Coffee Grinder, the EL60, is the grinder that just won’t die. It was a present from my beautiful, amazing wife many years ago, and it has truly been a gift that keeps on giving.

Now.. it’s survival isn’t just amazing because it’s really well made. It’s amazing because it continues to chug away despite years of abuse on my part! I’ve written previously about how Baratza helped me replace my broken hopper after the whole grinder took a nasty fall.

This time, it turns out that my fundamental ignorance of how the thing works allowed me to neglect basic maintenance to the point that it became nearly unusable. Here’s what happened.

One day not long ago, I dumped the coffee grounds from the EL60’s bin into my pour over and noticed that it seemed a little light. After years of doing this, I should’ve realized that my instincts were spot on and I was missing some grounds, but I didn’t think too much about it. That cup of coffee brewed up super quick, and was naturally quite weak.

I still didn’t think a whole lot about it until I went on to brew the next cup, and ground up some more beans. This time, the grinder just didn’t seem to ever finish grinding. I’m so in tune with the sound of this thing that the pitch it generates when the RPMs spin up to their max is my aural clue that the grind is complete.

So… I dumped the bin again, and this time I only got a few grounds and some powder.

Powder is a problem. This grinder is known for producing a highly uniform grind… especially for a consumer unit sold en masse by Starbucks.

So… I took the hopper off and peered into the grinder only to discover that there were still nearly untouched coffee beans in the works.

Disassembly from there was a little harder than it should’ve been, mainly due to the aforementioned years of neglect.

But… once I finally got the ring burr to let go of its grip on the holder for the main burr (below), I saw that the entire chamber was full of grinds and shards of beans.

Right away I knew that the motor was fine. It was chugging away just perfectly. The burrs themselves were still sharp—after all, I was getting grinds that were what I expected… plus powder! So that meant that something mechanical was out of whack.

After spending several days cleaning out the grinder chamber with a butter knife after each grind, I decided to completely disassemble the machine and see if I could figure out what was going on.

Here’s what I found:

Starbucks Grinder: Jammed with Coffee Grounds

That little black component is a “door” of sorts, which opens to allow the coffee grinds to escape from the grinding chamber into the little chute which feeds the bin. As you can see, the “doorway” is jammed with grinds… and powdery ones.

Since I’m grinding for a pour-over brewing method and not for espresso, you can imagine that I do not usually grind the beans to powder. So this was all quite mystifying to me.

So… I did what had worked well for me in the past, and reached out via email to Pierce Jens, who has provided outstanding support for me in the past.

Pardon Me While I Rave About Baratza

I’ll get back to the story (and the fix for my grinder) in a moment. But first let me insert a couple of thoughts about Baratza.

Baratza is a company I can get excited about. When I first needed help with my grinder some years ago, I was directed to Baratza by Solis, the European manufacturer that originally built my grinder, with instructions that Baratza was their US distributor and was responsible for support.

It’s unclear to me whether Baratza had anything to do with the original deal that allowed for Starbucks to private label the Solis grinder and distribute it in the US under the “Starbucks Barista” brand when my wife bought this grinder for me many years ago.

What is clear is that Baratza is currently the major supplier for Starbucks grinders, and that those grinders sold by Starbucks wear the Baratza label rather than a Starbucks private label.

So… maybe they made a little money on the original purchase of my grinder, maybe they didn’t. Even if they did, they were a distant 3rd party to the transaction and were completely unknown to consumers like me at the time.

In other words, they could have easily declined to expend any resources on supporting me with my grinder problems. This they did not do.

Additionally, Baratza has advocated quite publicly for keeping grinders out of landfills, a message which, as a jaded marketer, I’ll admit to being a little dubious about. After all, it’s easy to talk about concern for the environment, and it’s another thing entirely to align one’s business practices around it.

In the case of Baratza, I can tell you that they have proven to me through my interactions with them that repairing coffee grinders—whether to keep them out of landfills or to provide outstanding customer service or both—is something that their business practices fully support.

This is impressive.

OK… back to my story.

The Fix for My Jammed Grinder

I found an old email thread from when Pierce Jens, who is a support technician at Baratza, helped me figure out what to do with my broken hopper, and replied to it, including the photo above showing my grinder jammed with coffee grounds.

Ever the master of email support, Pierce waded through the superfluous details I provided and managed to troubleshoot the issue in one round:

Hi David,

Thank you for your kind words! I’m always happy to help troubleshoot, let’s see if we can figure this out. I think you may simply have a worn out paddle wheel. Check out the 3rd picture of the Troubleshoot guide attached. None of the other pictures apply to your machine. You should have an 8 blade paddle, and I suspect yours is worn all the way out. I also have the paddle wheel replacement guide attached and the part is $5 on our Solis parts page.

By the way, your write up about the hopper has made several fellow EL60 owners happy over the years: kudos for that!

What was funny to me was that I had spotted the paddle wheel on the Solis Grinder Parts page on the Baratza website, but assumed that it applied to a different grinder than mine… because I didn’t recognize it!

I knew right away that he was right. So… I placed the order. Within a couple of days, the new part had arrived and I disassembled the grinder once again.

Conical Burr from Starbucks EL60 Grinder
Conical Burr from Starbucks EL60 Grinder

In the photo, there’s the conical burr from my grinder, which I got removed from the machine according to the directions that Pierce provided.

There’s an 8 blade plastic paddle below there… can you see it?

I couldn’t either. Here’s why:

Conical Burr with Worn Paddle Wheel Blades
Conical Burr with Worn Paddle Wheel Blades

Sure enough, the blades were completely worn, which is why I didn’t recognize the part on their website!

The paddle wheel is responsible for sweeping the grounds out of the grinding chamber and through the shoot to the bin. After many years of use (in my case, anyway), the blades had worn down to the point where they just couldn’t push and grinds out!

I got the new one out of the package and attached it to the burr. Check out the worn one in the background!

New paddle wheel attached to the conical burr
New paddle wheel attached to the conical burr

Reassembly was a snap. The PDF guides Pierce sent me had plenty of detailed instructions and the whole repair probably took less than 10 minutes.

With the grinder back together, I’m now getting “good as new” performance from my machine.

A couple of lessons learned:

  1. I probably should take a cleaning brush to the burrs on a regular basis. I will admit to having lost my grinder brush many years ago and then forgetting about this whole maintenance step. Had I been doing this, I probably would have noticed the paddles wearing down. In my case, it had been so long since I had had the grinder apart (even enough to just inspect the burrs), that I had completely forgotten those white paddles had ever been there!
  2. Baratza has won my business. They make virtually nothing from selling me parts like this, because the resources they’ve expended to provide support are far costlier than the revenue they’ve generated from the parts (not to mention the profits). That they still provide support via email in this way, and that there’s someone smart enough to employ Pierce Jens tells me that they’re precisely the sort of company I want to do business with.
  3. The final lesson is that I’m probably going to go ahead and order new burrs for my machine as the supply of parts for my grinder is apparently starting to dwindle. Mine are still performing well, but after inspecting them up close, I could definitely see signs of wear that weren’t visible to me prior to completely disassembling the grinder.

Alas… I won’t be needing a new grinder any time soon. But when I do, I’ll be buying Baratza. I certainly highly recommend you do the same!

Oh… and if you’re having trouble with any Baratza grinders, check out their fantastic YouTube channel, where Pierce shows how to perform any number of repairs!

KidsCamp at WordCamp Tampa 2016

Earlier this week, I mentioned WordCamp to my amazing, talented, brilliant daughter, Grace. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that she seemed interested in going!

So… here we are at the beautiful Marshall Student Center on the USF campus with quite an assortment of WordPress enthusiasts. We opted to check out KidsCamp, and in less than an hour, Grace is already busily crafting her first ever blog post!

Congratulations to TUNG & Brushy Bear!

Another huge milestone for our new favorite cartoon superhero, Brushy Bear. Previously, we noted 2 million views on his Facebook videos, but today we congratulate him along with TUNGBrush, makers of the best-selling tongue cleaner, on hitting 2 million views for a single video!

Check out the announcement for the whole story… and whatever you do, don’t miss the video on Facebook! It’s a riot!

Congrats, Brushy Bear!

A huge congratulations to Brad Gosse and on their huge milestone… videos featuring their new character, Brushy Bear, passed the 2 million views mark on Facebook recently! Awesome!

This is also big news for the TUNG Brush & Gel brand, whose video with Brushy Bear accounts for over a million and a half of those views. Congrats to all!

Preventing Zika Virus in Florida

Recent reporting from Kaiser Health News, WLRN & the Miami Herald reveals that

  • At least 55 pregnant women in Florida have tested positive for Zika Virus, all of whom were apparently infected while traveling outside the US
  • The number of cases of Zika virus transmission from Florida mosquitoes now stands at 15
  • At least one child has been born in Florida with microcephaly, one of the potential birth anomalies that has been tied to Zika virus.

See the article “Zika Is ‘Game-Changer’ For OB-GYN Doctors In Florida” for full details.

Obviously, the presence of Zika in Florida is troubling, and is provoking all sorts of response from the healthcare community as well as public officials.

Ways to Avoid Mosquito-Borne Illnesses

The inherent problem with much of the response being debated is that solutions like a “vaccine” will require significant time for research and trials to run their course, and then can be problematic in and of themselves.

In the absence of preventive measures from medicine, prevention of mosquito-borne illnesses like Zika virus comes down to just a few basic methods.

  1. Avoid Mosquitoes
  2. Repel Mosquitoes
  3. Prevent the Mosquitoes from Biting

The first 2 options are pretty obvious. To avoid mosquitoes, you can stay away from any areas of the State of Florida where standing water may be. In light of our recent weather, this will likely mean leaving the state altogether or just staying indoors. Repelling mosquitoes is a little bit more problematic, as products like DEET, which experts seem to agree is one of the most effective mosquito repellents, are more and more problematic as new research comes to light.

The 3rd option, however, is a new one. And it’s very intriguing.

A Sarasota, Florida company called Penta Five USA, LLC has developed a method that that apparently causes female mosquitoes to be repulsed at the thought of ingesting blood from mammals. Think of it as the mosquito equivalent of having your stomach turn at the thought of certain foods you can’t stand. The company claims that its product will have this affect on any mosquitoes within a certain radius of the location where their product is installed in any outdoor area.

Sarasota-based Good News Pest Solutions is the exclusive service provider for this product. Owner Dean Burnside can now be seen on local television touting the formula as all-natural (“organic” even!) and not harmful to the mosquitoes. It turns out that mosquitoes are natural pollinators (who knew?) and only the females bite mammals or crave blood at all, and then only when they have eggs to lay. When they encounter this product, they are said to be interested only in the fructose that they would normally ingest during pollination.

More details on the Mosquito Protection Program from Good News Pest Solutions can be found here.

No Soliciting: Should Candidates for Office Go Door-to-Door?

He knocked on our door around mid-day on a quiet Saturday—something that almost never happens in our neighborhood.

Thankfully, I had the advantage of being able to see him through the glass panes of our front door. I knew several things about him at once: he wasn’t one of our neighbors or friends (any friends of ours would’ve called first, of course), he was well-groomed and neatly dressed (casual, but put-together), and bore all the outward signs of being a respectable human being.

But… as someone who takes the safety of his family very seriously, I know that outward appearances can be deceiving.

  • Does he have “pals” waiting in the bushes just beyond my view?
  • Is he a sex offender?
  • Is he here to see whether I have kids?
  • He can see through the glass panes just like I can… is he here to case the joint? Should I have a weapon when I approach the door?

Mind you… I live in a solidly middle-class suburban neighborhood. It’s not a gated community, so perhaps if he were here with some sort of evil or malicious intent, he might’ve chosen a different neighborhood.

And he might’ve chosen a weekday when we aren’t likely to be home.

But still… there are types (pedophiles, for example) that are looking for homes with kids when everyone is at home so they can see what conditions might be like.

I made sure I knew the whereabouts of everyone in my family, and then I opened the door and stepped partially out onto the stoop.

He greeted me with a warm smile, “Hi, I’m _______, and I’m running for _______”

I’m dropping the name and the exact local office he’s running for to protect the innocent… or guilty, as the case may be.

He offered me a flyer or brochure, I’m not sure which, because I wasn’t looking at it. My eyes were 100% on him… still trying to accurately assess the situation.

I cut him off mid-sentence. “Did you see the ‘No Soliciting’ sign at the entrance of the neighborhood?”

“Oh no… I didn’t notice that,” he said, almost sheepishly.

Maybe he did… maybe he didn’t. I’m not sure.

I proceeded to let him know that the sign is legally posted at the entrance to the subdivision and that we have it there for a reason.

The rest of the conversation was pretty brief. I don’t think I was rude to him, although I might’ve been. I certainly didn’t take the flyer he was offering.

Good Hustle, My Friend

Look… I appreciate the challenges that candidates for local office face. It’s hard to get the word out about your candidacy, your beliefs, your strengths, and all the other reasons why you believe you should be elected.

And I’ve gotta tell you, I truly respect the effort and the chutzpah that it takes to go door to door and introduce yourself to voters.

I’ve done plenty of cold-calling in my life… for business, for charitable work, for… you name it—face to face, on the phone, and even online.

Any time you approach an unwilling subject and interrupt their life, you know you’re going to get every kind of reaction known to mankind. And most of them will reject you. My hat is off to anyone who knowingly faces that and goes for it anyway.

Seriously… respect, my friend.

Were I in some sort of advisory role for a candidate like him (which I am not, for the record… not at the moment, at least), I might even suggest that door-to-door solicitation would be a smart move. It puts you in front of the voters, lets them see your face, look you in the eye, shake your hand, and hear from you—straight from the horse’s mouth—why you’re running and what you have to offer.

I mean… even if the voters don’t agree with your positions, you will benefit from a simple human dynamic that we know makes a difference on election day: people vote for candidates with which they are familiar.

This guy was a nice enough guy… at least as much as I could gather from the 20-second conversation we had as I eyed him warily on my front porch.

And he was smart enough to walk straight down my driveway, get into his vehicle (yes, I noted the make, model & color—not that I really needed to… after all, he introduced himself by name), and drive right out of the neighborhood.

I looked him up after he left. He’s a family man. He’s got to understand the difficulties faced by someone like me who wonders exactly who it is that has marched right up to my front door.

But all of those factors that are in his favor can’t overcome one simple fact: any subdivision with a “No Soliciting” sign is off limits.

The sign serves as legal notice, so any law enforcement officer (or judge, if it got that far) would not accept the “I didn’t notice it” excuse.

If you’re going door-to-door, it is incumbent upon you to know whether you’re legally allowed to solicit in that neighborhood or not.

“Well I’m Not Selling Anything”

Fair enough. There are specific Florida statutes (501.022, for example), that regulate the behavior of commercial solicitors.

I’m not an attorney, and I haven’t researched any case law where political candidates are concerned. So… I could be wrong about the specific legality of the actions of my unnamed new friend.

However, there are also Florida statutes (102.031, for example) that regulate the behavior of people involved in conducting elections, and that particular subchapter specifically uses the term “solicit” to refer to the action of “soliciting” votes (although it specifically deals with actions that occur at polling places).

So… our “No Soliciting” sign could clearly be construed to apply to people soliciting votes. We don’t, after all, specify the type & nature of the solicitation.

Regardless of whether or not a Court would find that a political candidate soliciting votes had violated the law by ignoring a “No Soliciting” sign, the voters themselves might find it pretty easy to believe that the candidate had broken the law.

And after all… do you want to vote for someone who ignores the law (or at the very least, your stated wishes) in the very act of soliciting your vote?

I don’t think so.

For the record: I may or not find myself casting a vote for this guy on election day. It remains to be seen. I haven’t evaluated him nor his opponent(s), as of yet.

As for the matter of him coming to my door? I’m going to withhold judgment on that particular issue as I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt over whether he actually saw the sign or not. For now. Especially since he did the right thing and immediately left the neighborhood after we spoke.

But if you’re a candidate for office, you would certainly do well to notice the signs at the entrance of any subdivision you enter. Others might not be so kind.

Photo: Marcus Quigmire via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Author Craig Richardson on Triangulation

Recently, I wrote about the book, Learn to Program With Minecraft, and shared my experience getting set up to use the book with Ubuntu instead of with Windows or Mac OSX.

Yesterday I learned that the author of that book, Craig Richardson, appeared on this week’s episode of Triangulation with Leo Laporte. It’s a fun episode… they set up Leo’s Mac to run a local Minecraft server, and test out a bunch of fun stuff from the book. Well worth the watch!