2009-06-27

Tchibo Cafissimo

I bought recently a Tchibo Cafissimo espresso machine. I had been pondering about Nespresso, Zespresso and some other, but this one finally convinced me. There was preciously little information online about this particular machine, so I thought I could help someone. These are the things I would have liked to know before buying it and/or which helped me decide.

My requirements were coffee capsules and milk frothing. I would have liked to have the option to use non-capsule coffee, but looks like there is no such machine. Also, I preferred having a steam wand for frothing the milk myself instead of the frothing unit of other machines (since I wanted to be as close as possible to "the real thing"). Frothing devices seem to be good-but-not-the-same, from the opinions I have been reading online. Also, they seem to have a tendency to stop working.

Coffee from capsules of course is also "not-the-same", but everyone seems to accept that it is pretty good, and I since I don't have the time to fully investigate the subject, I guess I also don't have the time to make (and to learn how to make) "real" coffee. And anyway you never know when you're just reading a pissing match between coffee snobs. I know I kind-of like coffe, but mostly have it for the caffeine. I DO like frothed milk beverages, though, so that's the reason for the steam wand. Chai latte was in fact more of a target than coffee itself.

The Tchibo machine costs about a third of the Nespresso machine I was considering (one with frothing device). 350 zloty for the Cafissimo, about 1000 for the Nespresso City-whatever. Also (by what I have read) the Nespressos seem to have a tendency to make lukewarm coffee/milk beverages. Not important for me, but I wanted my polish girlfriend to like it, and polish people enjoy hot (scalding for the spanish taste) drinks.

I was very uneasy about the aluminium in the Nespresso capsules; I felt it was too much contamination. I read somewhere that they in fact are quite recyclable, though. Anyway, the Tchibo capsules are plastic, which I hope will be also easy (easier?) to recycle. The Tchibo capsules are compatible with the Lavazza espresso machines, which I haven't seen. Anyway the Lavazzas seem to be quite good, so by extension the capsules should also be good. [UPDATED: see below]. Anyway later I discovered that the capsules are from the Caffitaly system, which is shared by other makers. They are about 1 zloty per capsule, and right now there seem to be not a lot of variety; I'll be visiting the shop from time to time to check for anything new. The caffitaly website offers more types, but I haven't checked if they ship to Poland. Also, Tchibo is a coffee maker. So is Lavazza. Nespresso is DeLonghi, if I have understood correctly. I guess Tchibo should have the upper hand here.

The machine brews coffee in 3 different ways: espresso, crema and filter. Espresso is 50 ml, the others are 125 ml (quantities are configurable). I don't really know the exact difference between them (apart from variations in pressure, temperature and time). The wand pressure is quite good; I don't remember the recommended numbers, but it's in the good margin, and it does feel OK. I had been trying to make cappuccinos before in a fully automatic coffee machine, and I was never sure about how it should end up looking and tasting; sometimes the froth wouldn't even come up. Now I think that machine (a Saeco) was not too good, expensive as it was (underpowered maybe? some part missing in the frothing head? not properly taken care of?...); in the Cafissimo, the froth is very easy to make, and it's easy to see the difference between the dry foam and velvety texture I had been reading about. Really interesting and nice. I haven't yet made more than ten lattes and I think they are turning out better already than the typical cafeteria ones. Of course, part of that can be that now I use a milk thermometer.

Speaking of which, the milk froth is resistant! I thought it was kind of delicate, that it would collapse when mixed with something, for example. But seems to not be the case. The most extreme example up to now is that I prepared a small quantity of very thick drinking chocolate, frothed the corresponding quantity of milk, and mixed both (stirring with a spoon and all). And it was still plenty of velvety. (In fact it was delicious, so I had to drink it just then and there. Dangerous, man.) (I still have to try expressly burning the milk (>70 degrees) or waiting for the froth to collapse, to see which are the margins and the results.)

 The manual comes printed in a number of languages, which don 't include english. (I bought it in Poland, so the languages are east-european). I looked for the english manual on the web: no luck (some other people was looking for it too). The official website is not in english. I sent them a mail asking for the english manual. But in the few days it took them to answer, I translated the german manual with Google Translate. They finally answered, and sent the manual (boasting that they were sending it free of charge; are you joking??).

...and anyway, just then I realized that I had not even tried the DVD that came with the coffee machine. And guess what was there... (apart from a cheesy but useful 8-minute video summarizing everything and subtitled in english). Yep, the manual in a number of languages, like english.

UPDATE: Eventually I found some Lavazza capsules, called "A Modo Mio" or AModoMio , and they are NOT compatible in any way. The Lavazza capsule is shorter, and internally it's totally different, so manually perforating the capsule doesn't help. I guess that's what you get for believing whatever non-official, non-qualified "review" in whatever commentary you come across in the Intharwebs; meta-humor, anyone? ;P

Also, looks like the only way to get capsules in Warsaw is through Tchibo's shops, which only have about 5 varieties (which I fail to distinguish or even appreciate - I definitely am in this for the lattes), or thru some online shops in the UK (not Caffitaly's own webshop, which only seems to ship to Italy; when asked about that, they referred me to some polish dealer, which only carries a couple of varieties and sells in packs of 150 capsules. Bleh.)

Looks like this blog entry is quite popular! Looks like Tchibo should advertise a bit that the manuals are in the DVD...

2009-06-19

Semi-automating piece-wise translating texts through Google Translate

I am having to translate a horribly old program (1992?, DOS' Turbo Pascal)… and in german, to make it funnier… to an only-slightly-less-horribly-old environment (Delphi 4, circa 1999). To think that I was complaining about how outdated Borland's C++ Builder 5 felt… oh my.

I guess/hope/fear that later there will be a more modern target. But that will be easy, given that by then I should understand everything and the program itself is not complicated.

2009-06-12

Quotes

I remembered something like "the eyes still looked like asking if, whatever it was the universe was doing to him, would it please stop doing it". Douglas Adams, but ... where, what exactly? Some googling shows that the correct fragment was from "So long, and thanks for all the fish": "Only the eyes still said that whatever it was the Universe thought it was doing to him, he would still like it please to stop."

 I can't remember why I thought the best book was "Hitch Hiker´s Guide to the Galaxy"; simply thumbing through SLATFATF has made me want to read it again. Perhaps it was the most... humane of the lot. The love story was so touching. The descriptions of the fish bowl, of how Arthur sensed the strangeness of the new Earth. And Fenchurch's disappearance was so… suddenly cruel.

 I love so much Adams' style. Just recenty finished (finally!) "Thief of time" by Pratchett, and tried to stop comparing him to Adams and let him stand by his own rights. He can, he's good, he's funny, even interesting sometimes. But he is also artificial, he feels like he actively wants to be funny and works hard to be, and while usually he manages to… Adams just overwhelms you into awe and submission, as if it just had to happen.

Just remembered I started collecting his quotes years ago. I started with post-its in one of the books; had to switch to pieces of post-its because there were too many of them, usually various in the same page; and finally had to stop before I finished the book, since it made no sense. The whole book needed to be re-read. It was "The Restaurant at the End of The Universe", I think.

 I wonder how much of my own style comes from Adams. After all, he was the most important cause for me to finally learn English. But I wonder how much I absorbed, and how much was already there. Like Faemino y Cansado in spanish, like the Monty Python. The problem is, that style wants to come out even when speaking, or when writing not necessarily humorous prose…

Anyway, there was already a quote from Terry Pratchett that imprinted me hugely:

In the second scroll of Wen the Eternally Surprised a story is written concerning
one day when the apprentice Clodpool, in a rebellious mood, approached Wen and spake thusly: 
"Master, what is the difference between a humanistic, monastic system of belief in which wisdom is sought by means of an apparently nonsensical system of questions and answers, and a lot of mystic gibberish made up on the spur of the moment?" 
Wen considered this for some time, and at last said: "A fish!" 
And Clodpool went away, satisfied.
Interestingly, that quote has already put me on odds (directly or indirectly) with a couple of Aikido teachers. Which validates Pratchett, of course. And makes me want to pay more attention to bullshido.com ...

2009-06-09

stream of consciousness

Finally one day I force myself to get almost 8 solid hours of sleep. Too many things to do, big and small; to many cracks for them to slip through. Enough times of wanting to stop and... think... and... feel. In the morning I find Mail.app crashing. WTF? I remember about haxies, inputmanagers, the works. Should be clean, but recently found and deleted an unwelcome Smart Crash Reporter. Check. There it is again. Trash it. Google for it; how to avoid them in the future? Nothing definite (will try folder actions for alerts + file named "smart crash reporter" so it can't be created; if that trick worked for a trojan, should work for something less evil). But meanwhile I found that in the list of programs using Smart Crash Reporter is Quicksilver, which I am perennialy running. (too easy / out-of-the-blue to be reliable, but Mail is not crashing any more...) Quicksilver. So much time w/o updating, and it never seems to do automatically. (still didn't finish watching their techtalk @ google). Look for it. No updates anyway. Stumble upon Quicksilver's charismatic "about box". Act without doing. Maybe read again Tao Te Ching. Prepare jedzenia for the day. Add egg to the curry recipe which was missing it, try to shortcut by using microwave oven, try to avoid getting food poisoned by raw egg. Try new coffe machine. Microwave tupperware to see how it stands boiling water. A lingering idea which finally surfaces in a disconcertingly, almost uncomfortably clear form: "what would you outsource in your life?" A very good formulation to start thinking on. Google it, double quotes and all. See who else got into that. "The four hour workweek". Funny, stumbled upon that months ago, even thought on buying it. A cursory read of the index and opinions proved enough at the moment. And didn't want to finance the guy's four hour workweek, anyway :P. (will that mention bait him?) But certainly was food for thought. Or better, a bit of flesh for the skeleton I had already began to shape. Intuition that this leads to the big questions. What does it mean to be alive? What is life? What would I like to outsource? What would I like to be outsourced to? Is it really about money, work? (no, of course not. That was easy. Glad.) I am a problem solver. But I don't want to be Sisyphus. (there goes another undercurrent idea of lately. Interesting.) I want to be a enabler. I want to lend my shoulders so others can stand on them. (funny... do I want to be a giant? ...no, not really... but I should, if I want my shoulders to be useful...) Don't I prefer to be the one who sees further instead? ... Well, yes, but... in fact I don't see the options are disjunct... "why aren't you advancing the limits of your field?" - who was that? A nobel... will have to look for that again. http://www.paulgraham.com/hamming.html Quickly going thru it again. Another bingo: "Luck favors the prepared mind". Pasteur, Seagal (chuckle). And Aikido. Again I will have to forsake it today. Well, if I can finish the taxes thingie, it will be acceptable. But Chiba sensei's course is damn close. And Aikido itself is another thing to be examined. Wondering if I have outgrown it already. Does that even make sense? Enough food for thought. Time to ruminate. And to go to work. Sinchronicity: little after writing this, I learn that Google is publishing GoogleSearchBox... which looks like QS... whose creator had been hired by Google time ago. I guess that's the reason he had a techtalk? So glad for him... ... and envious. Ruminate, ruminate. "I have made this one longer only because I have not had the leisure of making it shorter."