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:

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

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

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

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!

How to Finish the Last 5% of Any Project

I don’t know about you, but I can make massive, rapid progress on projects. I mean, so fast that people’s heads spin.

But that last little bit? The actual finishing? Sometimes… that can drag on forever.

I thought it was just me, until I watched this video from my friend Joey Brannon. Joey runs Axiom Strategic Consulting, and knows how to help people execute, not just plan.

Apparently, other people have the same problem with that last little bit. (Seriously… I thought it was just me.)

If you like this from Joey, follow him on Twitter and YouTube, and check out this interview we did with him on the Grow The Dream Show a few months ago.

New Social Tool

Recently I started experimenting with a new social tool called Known.

Using webmentions and other fun innovations that seem to be originating with IndieWebCamp, Known gives content creators powerful features that allow them to syndicate their content to multiple platforms and pull in interactions (“likes,” “retweets” and so on) back to their own sites in order to maintain a permanent copy that is under their own control.

You can see more of what I’m playing with by checking out my personal Known site: social.thedavidjohnson.com.

Starbucks Android App Finally Has Mobile Tipping

A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from Starbucks letting me know that their Android app was about to get a refresh.

This was good news, because for months now the iOS app has provided users the ability to tip right from inside the app. Since I never carry cash, I almost never leave tips—something I’d be more than happy to do.

The new version of the app was made available a couple of days ago, but today was the first time I’ve made it to a store to test out the tipping function.

The app has a beautiful new UI, which I checked out right away after updating to the new version.

Onboarding inside the app was easy and intuitive. The email a couple of weeks ago had warned that you’d need your password handy upon updating as login would be required. No problem for me, as I’ve been in the habit of reloading from inside the app, which (thankfully) requires the password anyway.

I immediately looked around for the tipping function, but couldn’t find it. It occurred to me after a few minutes of poking around that perhaps it wouldn’t make sense to “tip” until you “pay.”

So today I visited one of my local stores and checked out with the app as usual. This time, a notification appeared offering several options for a tip: $.50, $1.00, and a third option that equaled the balance I had on the card (I was close to needing to reload, so it was under $2). The notification also prompted me that tipping would be available until a time that worked out to be 2 hours after my transaction.

So, I tapped $1 and saw the following:

Screenshot: Starbucks Android App with Mobile Tipping

As you can see, the app also allows you to modify your tip if you accidentally bumped the wrong amount. Nice touch!

All in all, I’m very happy with the new app, although I was a bit wary of the new permissions required. Thankfully, I’m using cyanogenmod, so I have the ability to block permissions at a much more granular level, thanks to Privacy Guard. I’ll take a closer look at those shortly.

One other pleasant surprise, for the first time, updating the Starbucks app didn’t cause the “Default Card” setting in my account to get goofed up. That was a mildly irritating “feature” of virtually every other previous version of the app.

Great job, Starbucks!

Dropbox Pro: More Space, More Features

Dropbox today announced that “Pro” accounts, which pay $9.95/month, will get an automatic bump to 1TB of storage (from 100GB). Nice!

Even better, we’re getting new features like remote wipe for devices, and something I’ve wanted for a long time: expirations for shared links.

Once you send out a shared link, you no longer have any control over how many times it’s shared or used by those to whom you have not intentionally granted permissions.

They’ve also added passwords for shared links, which is nice for when you want to have a little additional control over stuff that gets out in the wild.

Granted, it’s still remarkably easy for a malicious person to push your files out to the world, so these are perhaps small blessings, but nevertheless, I feel they’ll be helpful.

Read the full announcement from Dropbox here.

Wings N Things: My Favorite Meal

Just a little visual to help you start salivating. For the record, these are not from Wings N Things.
Photo: Elkeflorida via BigStock

Note: Recently, I was assigned the task of writing about my favorite meal for a course I am taking. I was so hungry when I finished, I thought I would share.

My favorite meal consists of buffalo chicken wings with curly fries, carrot and celery sticks with ranch dressing, fried cheese cubes with cherry mustard sauce, and a nice cold beer of some imported variety.

If you’ve never tried this particular combination of healthy foods (and yes, I jest here about the healthfulness of this meal), you’re missing out one of the most delectable sensations of taste to ever cross the human palate. In particular, this meal should be enjoyed at a fine establishment (hint: it’s a dive) called “Wings N Things” on Cortez Road West, en route from the city of Bradenton, Florida to the sleepy fishing village known as Cortez.

Note: Yes, there’s another Wings N Things location (on Tallevast at Lockwood Ridge). And yes, I also enjoy that location—especially for its convenience. However, as both locations are no longer under their original ownership, I feel like the Cortez location’s owners have generally stayed more consistent with the practices of the founder. To some, that’s a positive. To others, it’s a strike against it. If it were closer, I’d probably eat at the Cortez location more often, but in practice, I find myself at Tallevast more often.

The reason this restaurant, in particular, should be chosen is that it serves, in my not-so-humble opinion, the quintessential flavor for the sauce that makes fried drumettes and wings qualify for the moniker, “buffalo.” While it’s available in milder forms (e.g. mild, medium, hot, and “TNT”), I recommend that you select the setting with the most “heat.” It’s a wonderful delicacy the founder of this restaurant named, “Napalm.”

Sandy, as she was known, must have been attempting to call to mind the burning sensation elicited by this bizarre substance used in chemical warfare (if that is indeed the correct term for it) as portions of the jungles of Southeast Asia were engulfed in flames during the Viet Nam conflict.

When the portions of fried yardbird are served to you as a patron, they appear on the table in a plastic boat lined with aluminum foil. Pooled in the bottom is a generous helping of this orange, aqueous substance, which has also been lavishly applied to the sticky exterior surfaces of the chicken pieces. Introduced into your mouth, the sauce ignites a veritable firestorm of flavors… simultaneously sweet, salty, vinegary, and — perhaps most importantly — hot. The heat comes from the particular combination of the peppers (mostly cayenne, but undoubtedly comprised of a selection of others which remain the secret of the proprietors) and the vinegar.

The effect is so remarkable that caution is to be advised when breathing the air above the meal because the heat from the freshly fried meat causes the pepper-infused vinegar fumes to become nearly noxious. Coughing and sputtering is normal for those neophytes who fail to recognize this.

In order to be properly enjoyed, the curly fries — long cut and fried to a crisp — should be doused in white vinegar and then heavily salted. The flavor of this accoutrement perfectly complements that of the poultry.

The celery and carrot sticks add an air, slight as it may be, of healthfulness to the meal. The fact that vegetables are being consumed with this fried fiesta is just enough to salve the conscience of the eater. Dipping the sticks in the small plastic containers of ranch dressing help round out the flavor profile of the meal.

As if the sensations crossing your taste buds weren’t yet salacious enough to tantalize, the deep-fried cubes of cheese are there to push everything beyond proper limits of enjoyability. Care must be taken to allow for the proper cooling of these little balls (one can only imagine that the cheese had been arranged in a cube shape before being breaded and deep fried) as the cheese — if it’s too hot — will explode into your mouth and sear the flesh thereof, properly ruining your ability to enjoy flavor for the rest of your meal. I must insist that at least some percentage of these little balls of dairy delicacies be dipped into the accompanying cherry mustard sauce. Having never located a similar sauce anywhere else, I can only speculate as to its origins. It doesn’t seem to be mustard-like or even cherry-like at all. Rather, it is a liquid with a mild reddish color that adds a nice spark of sweet flavor to the whole experience.

Of course, you may choose to wash all of this down with the beverage of your choice. For many years, this establishment served Pepsi products. Thus, a Mountain Dew was the imbibement of choice for those looking to add a non-alcoholic kick to the meal. Once the switch to Coca-Cola products was made, the only logical choice was an imported beer of some sort. I usually find the darkest option available, as I find it pairs best with the rest of the meal.

As my salivary glands are now working overtime just from the writing of this short essay, I feel compelled to submit my response and drive to this establishment post haste.