How I Make Coffee

By Charles Sutton on January 19, 2013

Pourover is a trendy and delicious way of making coffee. It is possible to make excellent coffee this way. This video by Matt Perger has a great technique for the Hario V60, which the one that I have been playing with since receiving it for my birthday.

Here’s a summary of the video. You will probably need to watch the vide for this to make sense:

12g coffee 200g water brewing time 2:20 total

  1. Add 50g water. Stir. Let bloom.
  2. At 0:30, add 50g water in outward spiral. Make sure no grounds are above water line
  3. At 1:00, add remaining 100g water in spiral pattern, again washing the grounds down the edges.
  4. Around 1:30 or so reseat dripper to even out bed of grounds

How do you know it’s 50g of water? Place your mug on top of a digital scale before pouring.

What kind of kettle do you pour the water from? Unfortunately, this really does matter. It’s important that the grounds be completely saturated with water, and that you pour the water slowly. Otherwise, you will create channels through the grounds through which most of the water will pass, causing part of the grounds to be overextracted and bitter. I am told that the Hario kettle is excellent, because it has a narrow swan neck which allows the water to poured slowly and precisely. But it also costs 50 pounds! It is difficult to find a similar kettle that is reasonably priced, but I have just gotten this Tiamo kettle and so far, so good.

[h/t: Artisan Roast]

Tags: coffee, hobbies

A simple trick to encourage lecture participation

By Charles Sutton on January 12, 2013

It’s the time of year when teaching is very much on my mind. In an essay about his teaching styleMichael Scott says something about encouraging student participation that stuck with me:

I’ve found that the very first class period sets the tone for the whole semester. If I don’t get students to participate on day one, they probably won’t participate at all, and the course ends up dreadfully dull. My first lecture in any class thus begins with a brainstorming exercise, in which I get as many different students as possible to voice a suggestion or opinion. 

Last year I tried something like this in my undergraduate machine learning class. I don’t want to go into details in case I use it again, but it wasn’t a brainstorming exercise (I couldn’t think of one), but a simple quiz question that introduced part of the material. I had the students vote on the correct answer—and everyone voted wrong, because it was of course a trick question. To my delight, I found that year’s class asked many more questions than the one before, even though it was significantly larger. This may be due to random variation, or to the fact that I was better at teaching the course the second time, but it’s enough that I’ll keep trying it.

Tags: lecturing, advice

About to graduate with your PhD? One more tip.

By Charles Sutton on January 8, 2013

A rite of passage for US PhD students is the title page of their dissertation. The way that faculty indicate their approval of the final dissertation is by signing the title page, and students are required to leave space on the title page for this purpose. It’s up to the student to run around to all their committee members (mine had 5) and get them to sign. Holding the final title page, with all the signatures, this bland sheet of acid-free paper that signifies that your hard work has come to something… it’s a heady feeling.

Often people go to a bookbinder to get bound copies made as gifts for their parents and PhD supervisors. I had a copy bound for myself as well (boy was that a mistake). So here’s my tip: Keep a photocopy of your signed title page. Then, when you get your thesis bound, you can include the signed title page with all the bound copies. This looks much nicer than a title page with blank signature lines, which gives the faint impression that you’re trying to pull something over on someone.

Congratulations!

Tags: advice

Happy Pi Day! (belated)

By Charles Sutton on November 10, 2012

Pi Day is an international holiday celebrating the mathematical constant π. It is celebrated on March 14, i.e., 3/14 in month/day notation. It is typically celebrated by telling everyone you know, “Hey, it’s Pi Day!” More enterprising people bake lots of pies, take pictures of them, and then post the pictures on the Internet.

After moving to the UK, where the date would be written 14/3, that choice for Pi Day seemed wrong, reeking of American cultural hegemony. There had to be a better way.

So I came up with one. Why not celebrate Pi Day on the 314th day of the year. In most years, this is November 10. This should be easy for everyone to remember, because it is the day after my birthday. In leap years, like 2012, Pi Day occurs a day earlier, on November 9.

Happy belated Pi Day!

(Those amused by the juxtaposition of this post with the preceding one on this blog are welcome to their amusement.)

A Very British Thanksgiving

By Charles Sutton on October 3, 2012

A humble note to the great British nation:

It has become cliche to say that the UK and the US enjoy a special relationship. Despite the obvious differences in language, size of automobiles, average waist circumference, availability of socialized medicine, and so on, it is undeniable that the two cultures are more similar than they are different. But these two sister countries are still divided by a cultural chasm, one that prevents us from truly having common ground, a chasm deeper than politics, football, or religion. This chasm is nothing less than the holiday of Thanksgiving.

Although you will no doubt be familiar with the holiday from your exposure to American books, films, and television, it is impossible to truly understand the spirit of Thanksgiving without having experienced it. The time has come for a new social movement to celebrate the goals of peace, cultural understanding, and consuming a seven kilogram turkey in one sitting. The time has come for the British people to finally adopt Thanksgiving as a national holiday.

Thanksgiving is an exceedingly simple holiday, celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. Here’s what you do: On Thursday, you prepare a large roast and serve it to your family. On Friday, you skive off work. That’s it. First you eat a big roast, then you skive off work. I ask you, can you imagine a holiday more intrinsically suited to British culture? Frankly, I’m disappointed that you people didn’t think of it first.

Now, as you become more experienced at celebrating Thanksgiving, there are many ways in which you can make the celebration more elaborate, if you prefer a more authentically American experience. For example, for Thanksgiving dinner, it is common to invite members of one’s extended family, some of whom travel long distances to attend. This tradition will no doubt yield the same hilarious results in the UK as it does in the US.

Or you might like to try your hand at the American custom of “Black Friday”. On the Friday after Thanksgiving—the skive day, remember—some people like to spend the day shopping, for their Christmas presents, ostensibly. The shops accommodate this by opening their doors early in the morning and advertising a range of one-day-only special offers, for which people—yes! Americans!—queue as early as 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning. Now, as much as you may welcome the opportunity of queueing, I do not recommend that you attempt to follow this tradition literally in the UK, as at 5am Friday on a British high street, you are likely to find yourself lonely. And, most probably, wet. Instead, I recommend that you wake up at a more reasonable hour, like noon, and do your shopping then.

Whichever of these more advanced Thanksgiving traditions you choose to adopt, it is important to emphasize that whilst all of these traditions can make be a fun way to add spice to the holiday, none of them are essential to the true spirit of Thanksgiving. Anyone to whom these enhanced traditions appear onerous should simply content themselves with the roast, the long lie in, and the knowledge that they are doing their part to increase cultural understanding across the Atlantic.

This year, why not start the festive season off right, with a very British Thanksgiving. Remember: Thursday, you make a roast. Friday, you skive. That’s all there is to it.

In fact, why don’t you try it out this Thursday? You know, for practice.

Notes

1 Thanksgiving would more properly be termed a North American holiday, as it is celebrated in Canada as well. However, I understand from my reading of Wikipedia that in Canada Thanksgiving is celebrated on a Monday rather than a Thursday. This makes no sense at all. For this reason I have made the decision to ignore the existence of Canadian Thanksgiving for the purposes of this essay.