Experiments in Coffee

Experiments into how to make the perfect cup:

A few years ago, I started using house guests as subjects in an experiment.1 My experiment was designed to test what variables in the coffee brewing process produce a perceptible improvement in coffee flavor. A frequent assertion is that numerous variables must be carefully considered to brew a good cup of coffee. I wanted to know if this premise was true as humans are really good at creating their own reality distortion fields.2 My main motivation for this experiment was to determine how I could brew the best coffee with minimal time and monetary investment. I didn’t want to buy a $11,000 Blossom Oneif I could avoid it…

A common belief among coffee pundits is that good coffee depends on good grinding. Specifically, coffee ground with a burr grinder purportedly tastes better because it grinds the beans more uniformly and doesn’t over-heat the grounds like traditional blade grinders…In total, 24 data samples were collected in these experiments. Each of the 3 burr grinder models performed comparably. Surprisingly, 13/24 or ≈54% of subjects actually preferred the blade grinder.

And so on. It’s a little wordy on the statistical tests (which is: good? bad?), but I think the moral of the story is just to buy good beans. And maybe an Aeropress.

Beyond Hemingway: Opulence in Paris

Who were the Americans who followed Hemingway?

Early in the fifties another young generation of American expatriates in Paris became twenty-six years old, but they were not Sad Young Men, nor were they Lost; they were the witty, irreverent sons of a conquering nation and, though they came mostly from wealthy parents and had been graduated from Harvard or Yale, they seemed endlessly delighted in posing as paupers and dodging the bill collectors, possibly because it seemed challenging and distinguished them from American tourists, whom they despised, and also because it was another way of having fun with the French, who despised them…

They now live in New York. And most of the parties are held at George Plimpton’s large bachelor apartment on Seventy-second Street overlooking the East River, an apartment that is also the headquarters for what Elaine Tynan calls “The Quality Lit Set,” or what Candida Donadio, the agent, calls “The East Side Gang,” or what everybody else just calls “The Paris Review Crowd.”

And includes this darkly humorous episode:

Austryn Wainhouse, who had suspected that suicide was very much on Christopher’s mind, had spent the following week sitting outside of Christopher’s hotel each night watching his window, but one afternoon when Christopher was late for a luncheon date with Wainhouse, the latter rushed to the poet’s hotel and there, on the bed, was the painter.

“Where’s Chris?” Wainhouse demanded.

“I am not going to tell you,” the painter said. “You can beat me if you wish; you’re bigger and stronger than I, and. . .”

“I don’t want to beat you,” Wainhouse shouted. It then occurred to him how ridiculous was the painter’s remark since he (Wainhouse) was actually much smaller and hardly stronger than the painter. “Look,” he said, finally, “don’t you leave here,” and then he ran quickly to a café where he knew he would find Trocchi.

Trocchi got the painter to talk and admit that Christopher had left that morning for Perpignan, near the Spanish border twelve hours south of Paris, where he planned to commit suicide in much the same way as the character in the Samuel Beckett story in Merlin entitled “The End”—he would hire a boat and row out to sea, further and further, and then pull up the plugs and slowly sink.

Trocchi, borrowing thirty thousand francs from Wainhouse, hopped on the next train for Perpignan, five hours behind Christopher. It was dark when he arrived, but early the next morning he began his search.

Christopher, meanwhile, had tried to rent a boat, but did not have enough money. He also carried with him, along with some letters from his former girl friend, a tin of poison, but he did not have an opener, nor were there rocks on the beach, and so he wandered about, frustrated and frantic, until he finally came upon a refreshment stand where he hoped to borrow an opener.

It was then that the tall figure of Trocchi spotted him and placed a hand on Christopher’s shoulder. Christopher looked up.

“Alex,” Christopher said, casually handing him the tin of poison, “will you open this for me?”

Trocchi put the tin in his pocket.

”Alex,” Christopher then said, “what are you doing here?”

“Oh,” Trocchi said lightly, “I’ve come down to embarrass you.”

Christopher broke down in tears, and Trocchi helped him off the beach, and then they rode, almost in total silence, back to Paris on the train.

…After the suicide episode, which, according to George Plimpton, sent at least a half-dozen young novelists to their typewriters trying to build a book around it…

Great writing is great writing.

via Longform

The Alaskan nutrient cycle

Paul Klaver has an absolutely breathtaking short film revealing the nutrient cycle spawned (rimshot) by the salmon in Alaska. It’s gorgeous and I just don’t understand how he managed to get some of the shots. Watch it in fullscreen mode.

I have a fond (?) memory of growing up in Portland, Oregon and heading out to “Outdoor School” for a few days, where they attempted to inculcate a love of the outdoors in us city kids. We visited right after spawning season which meant the stream that ran through the camp was surrounded with decaying salmon carcasses, resulting in the entire place smelling of old fish. Lovely, no?

via Explore

Why money matters

I think this is an absolutely fantastic, clear and concise explanation for why money matters in macroeconomics:

In normal times, people receive apples and money from the sky in the form of endowments (i.e. their wealth), and they make decisions about how to balance their cash and apple balances. Apples are transacted, bellies are filled, and life is good.
But suddenly, a recession hits. What does this look like? By definition, a recession is when there is a general glut of goods that aren’t consumed. In this toy economy, this corresponds to a situation in which some people have apples but choose not to eat them! This may seem peculiar, but remember that the market for apples in this model represents a composite of all goods markets. So it could be the case that while everybody has apples, some want Red Delicious while others are looking for the tartness of Granny Smith. In more formal economic models, this is glibly incorporated by requiring that people do not consume their own endowment and instead trade for consumption. In any case, apples aren’t eaten and we have a rotten general glut.

But this seems peculiar — aren’t markets supposed to clear? Not necessarily. Prices don’t always adjust instantly, so we can have excess supplies and excess demands. However, economists do have a way to constrain what this non-clearing state looks like. In particular, according to Walras’ law, assuming everybody spends all of their wealth, if there are excess supplies (i.e. too much produced) in some markets, then they must add up to excess demands (i.e. too little produced) in other markets. In other words, even if supply does not equal demand in each market, supplies must add up to demands across markets.

The requirement that everybody spends their endowment is crucial. It means that Walras’ law doesn’t apply just to the market for apples because not everybody spends all their wealth on apples. Instead, some people may put their wealth in money. But once we include the money market, we do have the condition that everybody spends their endowment, and therefore Walras’ law does apply to the entire macroeconomy of apples and money.

This leads to the most important conclusion from general equilibrium theory as related to monetary economics:

If there is an excess supply of goods, it must be the result of excess demand for money.

Go read the whole thing and follow Yichuan Wang’s blog. He’s one of the best communicators in economics right now.