My mypressi – Day 1

After weeks of deliberation and a very long week of waiting for delivery, my mypressi hand espresso maker and burmill grinder arrived today and I pulled my very first espresso at home.
 
Here are my new toys:
 
 
You can read a really good review of the mypressi here: http://www.home-barista.com/reviews/mypressi-twist-second-look-t12595.html. It along with many other reviews convinced me that despite the price tag, it was the right espresso maker for me.
 
These were the main convincing features:
  • Small and unobtrusive — less clutter
  • Simple construction means less things that can break, go wrong, need replacing, etc. with extended use
  • Easy to use but capable of producing high quality espresso rivaling machines that are 2-10x the cost
  • Less mess/clean-up than a larger machine
  • Portable.  I *might* consider flying it to nova when I visit my family (but since I can’t bring N2O cartridges on a plane I’m not sure how realistically I’ll do this) but more likely, I’ll bring it to work, or bring to my non-coffee making/drinking friends’ houses so I can make my own lattes
  • It’s so freakin’ cool looking!

The more I read on the mypressi, the more it was impressed upon me the importance of a top notch grinder.  I read a lot of recommendations to put your money into a quality (burr mill) grinder over the espresso maker if you have to choose. Most places were recommending investing $1-300 in a grinder, which honestly feels a bit absurd to me since I’m pretty sure my palette isn’t sensitive or tuned well enough to tell the difference between the minute difference in grind settings.  So, I compromised and spent more than I would have (i.e. I actually bought one as opposed to going w/ pre-ground) but a lot less than what was recommended.

Ok, so how did my virgin pull go?  It started with the grind.  I cranked the thing as far left as it could go — extra fine.  I watched the beans disappear from the funnel and spit out espresso dust.  Next, I disassemble mypressi and line everything up.  Time for assembly:

  1. load N2O cartridge into handle.
  2. start kettle for boiling water.
  3. Fill the filter "basket" with espresso.
  4. Tamp.
  5. pre-heat portafilter.
  6. pre-heat water pod.
  7. load basket into portafilter.
  8. dump water from pod.
  9. reboil water in kettle.
  10. secure water pod onto portafilter.
  11. fill water pod with fresh boiling water.
  12. secure top of water pod.
  13. pull the trigger.

And voila! One drip of espresso.  Um… yeah… that fell sort of flat.

So, I’m thinking… did I load the N2O cartridge right? Maybe it’s a dud.  So I change that out and pull the trigger… 2 drips of espresso. Ok… the 13 steps above was already a lot of work and this whole operation was supposed to be "easy". what was encouraging was the few drips that were eeked out, I could see the coffee oils, which is what the crema of a good espresso is. So… I figure, I’ll just dump everything out and start over.  I guess my virgin expresso pull isn’t too unsimilar to any other virgin "experience"… you’re not sure what you’re doing, you stumble around a little, you hope for the best and ultimately end up confused, disoriented and not completely sure if you did it right, why you went into it in the first place, what the hype was all about and whether you really want to try again.

But again, I did try.  So as I was dumping out the puck (def. the espresso beans in the filter after an espresso has been pulled), I realized something… it was inpenetrable!  I could barely dislodge all the grounds even scraping and digging. It’s no wonder only a couple drips of espresso could be eeked out of it.  Way to go burr mill grinder! Already, I know my grinder out performs the needs of my espresso maker, which is a good thing.  It means I’ll get the most out of my espresso maker and it won’t be the grounds that are holding back the quality of my espresso… just me.  So, I dialed back from extra fine to fine and let the burrs work their magic.

I pack my filter basket with another 2 heaping tbsp of coffee grounds. tamp. pre-heat. fill with water and pulled the trigger!  WHOOSH! "espresso" showers into my cup and splatters all over (Oh, I forgot to mention I’m pulling naked shots… and before you let your imagination go wild, a naked shot is when your portafilter isn’t covered, meaning the spout that directs your espresso to flow perfectly into two little shot glasses is removed).  The extraction was fast… it was all of 7 seconds (give or take) when a full extraction should take 25-ish seconds. The result was kind of watery. It tasted bitter. And most notably lacking was there was no blonde (in the crema of the espresso). 

Ok, so the second time was a little better.  It felt like I knew what I was doing.  I had obviously created espresso… or something close to espresso.  But I didn’t hit the pinnacle of espresso-making… the blonde… crema.  And so… third time’s the charm!  I knock out my puck — which was dry and came cleanly out (just like at a real cafe).  This time, since the extraction happened too fast (as opposed to too slow/nonexistent) I loaded 2 tbsps of coffee, tamped, and loaded an extra tablespoon or so and tamped again.  I would have readjusted my burr mill to give me a finer grind. There are 4 settings between attempt #1 and attempt #2 so there was room for adjustment, but I’d accidentally ground too much at "fine", so I wanted to use it up.  So the only other way to extend the extraction time that I could think of with using the same grounds was to pack in more of it.

Round #3. Pack. Preheat. Fill. Pulled the trigger… et voila! espresso!!!  There was some slight blonding during extraction and a little crema in the end product.  Definitely room for improvement, but a solid extraction of what I’d feel comfortable calling espresso.  My next attempt probably needs a finer grind and/or more grounds packed into the basket.  It was 8:30pm… after a long day attending a conference trying to soak in relevant information for my new job, on an empty stomach and I didn’t have another pull in me.  So I heated up some milk, dumped my espresso in and took a sip of my first latte… it was delicious!!

It took about an hour to pull my first real shot of espresso… let’s hope I get speedier at this.  I’m hoping I can get the routine down to 10 mins or less.  If so, it’s more realistic I can work in a homemade latte to go before work. Rough, back of the envelope math reveals I have to make ~65 double-shot espresso drinks to break even on this investment.  On-going costs will just be coffee grounds and N2O cartridges (which are about .60 a cartridge = .15 per double-shot… so pretty cheap).

I’ll check-in in a month and we’ll see how many grande lattes I’ve got under my belt. 

 

 

 

 

I’m an auntie…

Ok, probably not much of a surprise for those of you who know I have 4 nieces and nephews and a fifth one on the way this year.  But it’s one thing when you’re brothers and sisters make you an auntie. If the circumstances are right, that could happen when  you’re way young and doesn’t have any relation to how old you really are.  It’s another when the general public at large recognizes you as old enough to be an auntie. 
 
I volunteered to help run the VNSF booth at Tet in Seattle and this year we did temporary tattoos for the kids.  So parents would bring their kids over and the more shy kids would need a little coaxing.  All day long, all I heard was moms telling their tots to let auntie (in vietnamese) put the tattoo on for them or "don’t you want a pretty tattoo like the one auntie has" (heart and cross bones).  Geez, when did I get elevated to auntie status?  It’s the equivalent of getting ma’am’ed and I feel far too young for that moniker.  Two years ago when I did this, I was "big sister".  I feel like I have to check a different age bracket box now.  My whole station in life has shifted and with it the vietnamese vernacular.  I’m now too old to be these kids’ sister; I’m old enough to be their mom!  Yikes! 
 
At least one woman thought I was still in school.  Probably thanks to the scrubby t-shirt and jeans. =)

Transition

Well, yesterday was my last day in the office.  I extended my stay there for a week but took two personal days, so really only worked 3 days this week (somehow I think I still managed to put in 40 hrs tho).  It’s pretty hard to leave a good gig.  When I think about my previous career shifts, they’ve had the mix of leaving behind something dysfunctional (for my own self anyhow) and moving towards something shiny, new and healthy.  I’ve never left a job a truly loved, so it’s been a bit difficult to check myself out.  I was conscious of my use of the word "we" as I discussed the future of my project… there I go again, it’s no longer my project anymore.  I guess everything has to end some time, and my next gig is going to be nothing short of… wait for it… AWESOME.
 
I’ve got a healthy dose of excitement, fear and anxiousness all rolled up in a tiny knot just dying to get unraveled.  As soon as I can sink my teeth into my new project (whatever it ends up being – a button or a menu – big or small I’ll take it!), I’ll feel more at ease. My first week, I’ll be spending 2 days at Gamefest learning up on Natal.  It’ll be my 101 crash course on the mystery that is Natal.  I can’t wait! 
 
But for today (pretty much my only day off what w/ Tet in Seattle this weekend and having to work the VNSF booth all day Saturday), I veg on my couch and I catch up on Farscape. =)
 
 

Dollhouse

It’s over. Just like that!  I caught the series finale of Dollhouse on Hulu w/o even realizing it was the series finale until some pretty crazy stuff (i.e. the world nearly destroyed gets miraculously saved) started going down.  I’ll say one thing for commercials… at least they keep you in the loop.  With my work/volunteer hours, it’s rare I’m consistently home in time to watch any show the night it airs.  Even when I am home in time to catch it, I’m usually an ep or 2 behind, so I pretty much watch all my TV on hulu or the network site.  Which means… no commercials reminding me the series finale is coming, no previews, no hype or warning that a show is about to end.
 
Anywho… the ending was very disjoint and probably massively confusing for a lot of people since it picked up from an unaired ep (actually, it was only aired in Europe but was on the DVD) of season 1.  Thankfully, my friend loaned me the ep so I at least wasn’t completely clueless when I saw the finale.  It was a decent ending (which flashes 10 years into the future) but rushed and felt like they were trying too hard to cram in all the Buffy/Angel/Firefly alums (except for Amy Acker… what’s up with that?? Even Summer Glau who was only in a couple of eps this season made a short cameo in the finale) to tie up as many loose ends as possible.  I haven’t decided whether I’d consider it a good wrap up of the series.  Overall, I was entertained (but I’m pretty easily entertained).
 
SPOILER ALERT!
 
I like the Adelle / Topher storyline.  They did a good job of growing & nurturing that relationship from a faux big scary lady boss bent on rising up the evil corporate ladder and the geeky genius who time & time again is betrayed and berated by her as she uses him to climb her way up to a much more humane and likable mother/son relationship.  Topher’s character growth was one of the better (maybe really the only) one out of the complete cast.  You see him gradually realizing that all this tech he helped developed that he was so proud of and hyper geeked out could and was in the plans to be used as a weapon for world domination / destruction.  He begins to realize his own hand and unknowing contribution to this cool technology turned weapon and starts feeling remorseful and resentful of himself.  He’s a tortured soul and completely off his rocker by the finale (he was driven to it by the Rossum folks who killed a person in front of him every day he didn’t deliver them the tech they wanted) but he got his moment of redemption in the end, when he uses his genius for good rather than evil (though, he was never really an "evil" guy) and sacrifices himself to save the world/humankind.  Go Topher! I think he’s my favorite character on the show.
 
Priya/Tony (Sierra/Victor) – There was an interesting twist w/ Tony choosing to implant himself with portable wiping tech so he can download skills on the fly to fight the waging war.  Basically, he chose to be Victor over leading a house on the prarie life as Tony with Priya and their son. I think I would have preferred if he died in the end tho and Priya raises T (Tony Jr.) to finally know who his dad was (it was their agreement to keep the kid in the dark about all the business w/ the wiping tech – daddy dearest included).  This would have been the bitter to the sweet. The Priya/Tony relationship was much better cultivated than the Echo/Paul.  You root for them the entire series, so it would have been WAY more of a heart wrencher if Tony had died.  I also think the guy who plays Tony was one of the better actors on the show.  He displayed quite a bit of range and was decently convincing in most roles.  He does an awesome portrayal of Topher (they imprinted Tony w/ Topher on various occassions towards the end), which is hilarious!  Anyhow, the happily ever after for those three is aight, but a little too sappy go lucky for me.
 
Echo/Paul – I was left with an "eh?" bordering on "creepy!" feeling about how they left this one.  They set the stage with Paul telling Echo that for 10 year’s he’s been trying to connect with her but she just won’t let him in. How she’s got hundreds of personalities in her head but is the loneliest person he knows.  Then he proceeds to get shot in the head and Echo has a massive breakdown when the reality of that finally sets in and she realizes w/o him she’s all alone.  In the 11th hour when they’re about to reset the world (or what’s left of it), Echo finds a package left for her by Alpha. It’s an imprint of Paul… which she proceeds to imprint herself with!! WTF!  She then has a little tete-a-tete with Paul inside her own head (so maybe that’s just a "tete") where he asks her if she’s sure she has room for him in her head… he’s got a lot of baggage afterall.  She tells him she’s sure and they’ve got plenty of time to learn all about each other.  The series ends with her going to take a little nap in her cubby in the floor… presumably so she can start the process of going insane by having conversations between herself and the imprint of Paul in her head. Or will she alternatively flip between herself and Paul and act out their little love story.  Either way, it’s weird and creep!
 
Just about any other ending would have left me more satisfied and a lot less creeped out. I would have preferred Echo and Paul just end up together — cheesy as it is. Or slightly better would be if she decides to stay in the Dollhouse as "Echo" but Paul wants to leave and forget the whole thing ever happened.  Maybe he promises he’ll never forget her and hopefully after a year underground she’ll finally be ready to let him in and she can come find him on the outside.  When the big hard reset happens she has her little breakdown and realizes she never told Paul she loved him and what if he forgets her and she really is all alone.  While sad, that would have been way more satisfying.  Plus, it leaves room for a movie afterwards or something.  =)
 
Anyhow, all criticisms aside, it’s unfortunate the series had to end so quickly.  Technically there were 2 seasons, but just 26 eps, so really just barely more than 1 standard season.  The eps since they knew they’d be canceled really kicked it up a notch.  They expedited the larger, overarching storyline so they could get to the big finale.  I doubt they could have done anything to really change the outcome of the series being cancelled, but I bet it would have done a little better if there was more of that earlier. Season 1, especially, felt so episodic – almost like a showcase of Dushku’s acting range (or lack there of).  If you’re going to be episodic like that, you need to have some combination of likable/believable characters, good writing (which it had), good acting, and intriguing storylines/cases.  There are only so many twists on the rich guy filling out weird fantasy scenario and even one is one too many. 
 
Nevertheless, it sucks another Joss Whedon show is off the air.  =( 
 
 
 

2010 New Year’s Resolutions

 
In no particular order:
  • Learn how to swim – this is going to continue to be on my list until it happens Smile
  • Get back in shape – I’m looking forward to having my ProClub membership again when I start back at MSFT.  Plus, the ProClub is on my way to and from work so I’ll have one less excuse not to go.
  • Better work / life / volunteering balance – read: play more volleyball
  • Read 20 books.
  • Complain less.
  • Eat more veggies.
  • Eat more steak.
  • Add 1 new recipe to my small culinary repertoire.

My Favorite Moments

I spent two weeks with my family over the holidays.  This was probably the longest visit I’ve had since I moved to Seattle.  It was kind of nice because I think I spent good quality time with all my nieces, nephews, siblings and parents.
 
My favorite moments with…
 
Jasmine – I introduced Jazzy to Bella Sara Adventures and bellasara.com (the games/site I work on).  She loves taking care of her horse – feeding it, tucking it in for a nap, etc.  Randomly I decided to "play horsey" with Jazzy as the horse and me walking along beside her holding the panda i bought her for xmas on her back.  Jazzy crawled on all fours back and fourth across the dining and living room panting as she reached one end, pausing a second to turn around and race back across the room.  Her favorite gag was when I dropped panda just like how Prince Phillip gets dropped off his horse in Sleeping Beauty.  But my favorite moment was when on her own, unprompted, Jazzy goes full-on horsey and scratches with her front "paws" (aka arms) and rears on her back legs.  It was adorable!!
 
Vincent – The second night I got into town, my brother went outside the shovel the driveway and brush all the snow off his wife’s car.  While he was out there, he started to build a HUGE snowman.  The thing was probably as tall as I was. I bundled Vincent up and took him outside to play with his dad and he had a blast!  He got a huge kick throwing snowballs all over the place.  When his dad finished the snowman, he went up and gave it a big hug.  It was SOO cute, I ran inside, grabbed my camera, and made him do it again.  =)
 
My second favorite moment, was when I tucked Vinny in one night.  To lure him to bed, I tucked in his favorite toy – Puss the Cat (from Shrek) and a new stuffed cat I bought him for xmas.  He walked into the room, pulled the new cat out of bed, walked outside his room and threw it down!  Apparently, Puss the Cat is a very territorial cat and there’s room for only 1 cat in Vinny’s life.  New cat now belongs to baby brother.
 
Kaitlyn – Katie is a riot.  She’s pretty quiet and can entertain herself — very independent.  One night she was playing with her dollhouse.  The second story flooring was broken on one side and wouldn’t properly attach on one end.  After blowing off many of my attempts to help fix it (Katie was insistent on fixing it herself), she let me install a temporary fix – basically a big book to prop up the second floor.  I return to playing cards w/ my family, when we all hear a exasperated, "Oh, man!".  You could hear the disappointment in her voice.  We all looked over, and Katie took out the book holding up the second floor and it fell.  Sad to witness, but hilarious how adult sounding her "Oh, man!" expression was.  She’s like her daddy.
 
Brandon – My favorite moments with Brandon by far are when he runs up to me and gives me a big hug.  He’s got this huge smile on his face and big doughy eyes full of excitement.  It’s sweet getting hugs from any of nieces and nephews, but Brandon is so enthusiastic every time.  He’s fiesty and a bit of a bully to his older brother, but he’s just so cute!
 
 

Goodbye 2009. Hello 2010

This past year has been fun, stressful, and extremely fulfilling. I was lucky enough to work with an awesome team to create an exciting new game (Bella Sara Adventures). It was hard work, lots of late nights and 60+ hour weeks, but it was all worth it. It was such an ambitious project and I’m very proud of what we created. We built a complete adventure game for little girls in 7 short months and the game just keeps getting better.
 
I’m still very active in my volunteer work with VNSF. Last year was my first year as Treasurer and boy did I learn a lot. My induction into the new office included having to file federal taxes for VNSF *twice*!  As if that wasn’t enough, I’ve taken over managing our Quickbooks accounting files… eek!  We also put on several fun and profitable fundraising events that will help us fund our programs.  VNSF continues help more and more students get the education they deserve.  I feel lucky and proud to be involved with such a meaningful organization.
 
I didn’t get to play as much beach volleyball this summer as I would have liked. At least I stayed in an in-door league throughout the year. I did make up for it a little during my awesome Kona Thanksgiving vacation. I think Hawaiian Thanksgiving should be a new tradition. =)
 
Looking ahead to 2010, I’m excited to share that I accepted a new challenge to work on Project Natal as a PM at Microsoft on the Xbox Shell & Platform team. Yep, I’m goin’ back! I’m sad to leave Hidden City Games and the Bella Sara Adventures Team. I consider myself very fortunate to have worked on something I loved with an amazing group of people and a supportive chain of management. It’s a tough combination to beat. But, the chance to be involved in something so ground-breaking and possibly revolutionizing is just too awesome to pass up. My first day back at Microsoft if February 8th.
 
Here’s to a great 2010!!

By Reason of Insanity

This is a law/crime suspense thriller.  Very Grishom-esque.  It was quite the page-turner for me.  I kept waiting and waiting for the twist and boy did I get one!  One that I didn’t expect at that.  There were some parts that were predictable and a bit too written for the movies, but there were a couple surprises I didn’t expect.  Probably not a book I would pick up for myself in a bookstore but being a free download on the Kindle, I figured, why not?  =)
 

My Sister’s Keeper

My first impulse purchase on the Kindle… I can see the wisdom behind the "download the first chapter(s) for free" business model.  The right book just sucks you in and by the end of their free sample, you don’t think twice to just buy it.  =)
 
This was such a touching story.  It was a little predictable, but very emotional.  It was pretty sad… almost needlessly tragic.  The characters were interesting and well-developed.  What I liked best was that it really makes you think.  Is it right to have a baby for the singular purpose to have "spare parts" for another child?  It feels so cold and calculating.  The mother’s character was so interesting to me.  Here’s a woman doing everything she can to keep one of her daughters alive.  She all but has given up on her son who lives in a mother-in-law apartment and is a serial arsenic developing cancer and alcoholism… and he’s 16.  She concieves a 2nd daughter just to have a built-in donor at her disposal to keep her other daughter who actually does have cancer alive.  On the one hand, her efforts keep this little girl alive 15+ years longer than was ever imagined.  But this comes at the cost of neglecting one child and subjecting the other child to unecessary invasive medical procedures.  What a hard choice… do you let your sick child go and focus on the kids who are healthy and have a standing chance at a long life?  Or do you do everything humanly possible to keep that child alive despite the havoc it’s wrecking on your family?  Tough.  And if you’re in the shoes of the younger daughter, are you more than happy to donate whatever it is your sister needs from you?  Or do you eventually resent being asked to give so much of yourself.  I just pray I’m never in a position to have to make that choice.
 
I do feel as though it was written to be made into a movie though.  Maybe I’m too cynical, but after having read Wuthering Heights, which is a classic, it felt like there were particular scenes that were a bit jolting as a written story but I could see it working cinematically.  The book is structured as a compilation of short chapters
rotating perspective through each of the main characters.  One of them is a flash back so it gives you the whole backstory.  I felt like I was in an ADD fit flip flopping between characters.  And there were some scenes that felt more cinematic than narrative.   I miss the classics.
 
All-in-all, I give it a thumbs up.  I’d be willing to read another Picoult book to see if the "cinematic" feeling is just her "style".  But I have to get back to my regular reading list… I think Jane Eyre is next.  I also want to squeeze in a David Sedaris book for some good laughs. 
 
 

Wuthering Heights… Kindle – yay or nay?

I just finished Wuthering Heights, the first book I read on my Kindle!!  I really enjoyed it.  What I liked most was how complex Heathcliff’s character was and how Bronte successfully makes you feel a wide range of conflicting feelings about him.  I want despise him, but then I also feel sorry for him.  I’m appalled by how cruel and downright mean he is but at the same time admire his devotion, passion and genuine love for Catherine.  Even though the book had an overall sadness and almost depressing tone, it’s also strangely uplifting.  It’s about redemption, growth, forgiveness and love.  Blah blah blah, more importantly… here’s what I think of the Kindle…
 
So… I have to admit, I actually like the Kindle a lot more than I thought I would.  But, as with everything, there are pros and cons:
 
Pros:
 
  • Form factor – I like that it’s easy to hold, turn the page, stuff into a purse, etc.
  • Whispernet – books miraculously zipped to your Kindle at the push of a button (ok, it’s not a miracle, it’s just the wireless network, but hey it’s still pretty damn cool)
  • Free books – there are SOO many classics that are free!  Every now and then, I just go online and look for my staples… Shakespeare, Kafka, Greek & Roman mythology, Jane Austen, King Author, Grimm’s (and other) fairy tales, etc.  Yeah, I have a weird idea of ‘staple’ books, but strangely enough I find comfort in knowing they’re not only on my bookshelf but also on my Kindle.  Not just that, periodically, other more popular and modern books will become free.
  • Samples – all the books have a free sample you can download a sample and try it out before buying

Cons:

  • It’s too easy to buy a butt load of books.  I have 36 books on my Kindle and I have read all of 1.  Actually, I have more than 36 since I buy collections, which typically have a compilation of books so it’s probably more like 50 books.  I’m not only a slow reader, I barely can find time to read.  I could barely keep up w/ the 3-6 books I would buy every few months let alone the 3-6 books I buy every couple weeks now!
  • They’re UI for purchasing sucks… Amazon definitely doesn’t make it obvious how much you’re spending on books (when you’re buying from the Kindle).  Also, it doesn’t make sense to me that you can find the same book at such different prices… $10 vs. free.  In the print version, it makes sense since there’s different print quality – binding, paper, etc.  But in the digital version, it’s all the same.  Shouldn’t the prices be all the same?  I prefer to do all my shopping online, which puts a little kink in the coolness of the wireless instant download, but I’m still pretty sure that feature will come in handy.
  • I miss bookstores.  I went to Border’s today and realized for the first time just how much I miss that experience.  Judging books by their cover, reading the first page, etc.  It’s great!  Bookstores used to be my weakness.  I could never walk into one without buying something and more often than not, I always end up buying 3-4 books.  Now I peruse the books and try to make a mental note to see if I can find it on Kindle later… how unsatisfying.  I also have to admit that I did have my Kindle on me and resisted all urge to whip it out and look up the books then and there (I know myself well enough to know my ‘mental notes’ don’t last long enough to make it into a post-it note). 

Overall, I’d have to say "yay" to the Kindle.  I love it!  Now I get to decide lucky book number two on the Kindle!