Scott's Column
Can an iPad Replace a Laptop, The Espresso Ritual

August 2, 2011
By Scott Lewis

I have been very busy lately. I moved into a new apartment and I still don't feel quite settled. With one box of junk at still sitting next to me at my desk. So this month is a little light. But I have a new project coming up and I should have a lot more next month.

Until then, enjoy this months topics. First up is whether a tablet could replace a laptop. Then we start getting into the ritual of making espresso.

Current Topics:

Tablet or a Cheap laptop

Should you buy a tablet or a cheap laptop... if you can only have one. That is a good question. I have heard people getting an iPad instead of a laptop. But is this practical?

For starts... do not get a tablet tied to a contract. Period! Think about it. How much improvement do you expect with regards to tables over the next two years? If you spend money on a product tied to a contract and then something better comes out in 6, 9 or 14 months... you are stuck in a contract.

I will take this a step further... buy the least expensive tablet you can if you get one now. That means the $499 iPad (or better yet, a refurbished one from Apple's web site). Apple will continue to improve the iPad, and others are going to be doing the same. This is going to happen at an alarming rate. Spend as little as possible now as you wait for the market to mature.

Let's start with the reasons not to get a tablet:

1) They are not cheap enough... yet. I am a cheapskate. And if you read the paragraph above... laptops will continue to improve, and eventually this will impact the price, just as it did with laptops. Right now a tablet is a luxury, and so Apple has set the starting price at $500. Not a cheap toy. And you can find plenty of laptops for $500. Remember, laptops use to be well over $1,000 not so long ago.

2) The ecosystem is too closed (for the iPad). I LIKE Apple products... but I don't LOVE them. I like that Apple has an ecosystem for all your media. A tablet with an iPod (or iPhone) makes a great setup. Even with a Windows PC. You can store all your content on your computer, and sync just what each device needs to get the most out of them. BUT... this assumes all your content works with Apple. Mine does not. All of my video content is geared toward either my XBox or Blu-Ray player. I used to use an XBox to stream content to my TV. When I did not have an XBox I used my Blu-Ray player's ability to play content over my network to the TV. I settled on file formats that worked with BOTH of these devices... and it is NOT a format that Apple supports. I HATE file conversions. Each conversion reduces the quality of the material... if it even works. I get so many audio syncing issues when converting files. Plus there is the trouble with trying to find 1 file format that all devices support. You can't. If it works with Apple's products (iPod Touch, iPad, Apple TV, etc.) it doesn't work with my XBox or my Blu-Ray player.

3) Android based tablets show a lot of promise, but it is still just that... a promise. I have high hopes for Android, but right now it seems half baked when it comes to tablets. Honeycomb (Android 3.0) is a big improvement, but it is not as refined as Apple's iOS on the iPad. For the reason I don't like Apple's ecosystem (it does not support much in non-Apple devices), I expect Android based tablets to be better. If you are like me and don't mind managing your own media (and not paying for all of it through iTunes) then Android based tablets will probably be more flexible. Granted, they may be a little too techie for some, but that won't bother me.

4) Downloaded email. This one will apply to less and less people. I get all my email from my ISP and it is downloaded to my computer. If I were to setup a tablet to download my emails, then some emails would be on my computer and some on a tablet. This is not the best way to manager email. However, for all you out there that use web based email this is not an issue.

5) Content creation. This is still the main reason not to get a tablet. Yes, you can create documents on a tablet, but it is not going to be a simple thing if you have to collaborate with anyone using a computer for documents.

So... why would you get a tablet instead of an inexpensive laptop.

1) Size and weight. A tablet is typically 1/2 the weight of the lightest laptops. This makes then very convenient to carry and use.

2) Tablets make great web surfing computers. If you spend most of your time online then a tablet could be just what you need.

3) Casual games. If you are a casual gamer than a tablet is perfect. Can you say Angry Birds. Tablets are going to be the dominant device for portable, casual gaming for years to come.

4) Media absorption. A tablet is a great device for playing video & audio as well as reading books & magazines. As more magazines find ways to improve their content for tablets this will only get better. A tablet can do pretty much all an inexpensive laptop can do with regard to displaying all kinds of content.

Pay close attention to your computing habits. If you are not creating Word and Excel documents, have web based email, or just spend most of your time surfing the web... then a tablet may be the perfect computer for you.

However, I would never get a tablet as my only device, and many people do get laptops as their only computer.

Since I have a desktop... I am seriously thinking about giving up on the idea of finding the perfect laptop and getting a tablet myself.

(Note: Next month we may have a reason to get a laptop and not a tablet. Stay tuned)



What should espresso taste like?

I started to wonder this because I kept reading how espresso should be sweet. But my espresso seems more like burnt coffee. Really strong burnt coffee. At this point I was doing one thing very wrong. I did NOT have a scale to measure how much pressure I was using to tamp the coffee grounds.

I went to a small coffee place to taste their espresso... and I bought a cheap bathroom scale so I could make sure I was tamping my grounds correctly.

The espresso I tasted from Brown Coffee Co. was amazing. (Order it yourself. They roast their own beans. Get the Cottonwood. Highly recommended.) It was so sweet I could not believe it. And no... there were no sweeteners added. This espresso was nirvana. The holy grail that all espresso makers should aspire to. Unfortunately, the guy that made it told me that I should expect to spend upwards of $2,500 for a home espresso setup.

Yikes! I was pretty sure I was going to stay at about $1000-1500 for a setup when I out grow my little Delonghi. But $2500? I don't know if I will ever be able to justify that much money.

I bought a bag of beans from Brown Coffee Co. and went home. I used a bathroom scale and did some more research on the ritual. I started following the Golden Rule... which is that 2-2.5 oz of espresso should take 20-25 second from the moment you turn on the pump. It was taking way too long for my shots to reach that volume.

I adjusted the tamp with the scale and it got better. I slowly reduced the amount of coffee and it got better. But it was still too long. I then adjusted the grind. The barista at Brown gave me some ground coffee to use as a comparison to my own grinder. I found that I was off. I was too coarse. When I made the grind finer to match the sample Brown provided it got better, but I still could not hit the time. I had to take my grind and adjust it 1/6 of a turn coarser than the grind from Brown Cafe. Bingo... 25 seconds for just over 2 oz. And it did not taste burnt.

But it still was not good. Because the beans I was experimenting with were old (about 2-1/2 weeks old... which is too old). I used the beans from Brown Cafe and it was better. Even good. Or at least good enough. But still not sweet like the espresso I had on their premises. But now I am on a mission to make espresso at home that is as good as Brown's.

Since I needed the bathroom scale to measure how much I was compressing the coffee grounds I should add this to the cost of my setup. A $19 scale brings our total for required equipment up to $262. Still well short of the $300 machines I initially was looking at.

I painted marks on my grinder so that I can count the number of turns (in 1/6 turn increments) from completely closed. So far I can get very consisted espresso with a grind of 3 notches... or 3/6 of a turn. I am tamping at 30-35 lbs. I am using 12 grams of coffee for a double shot. And I run the machine for 26-27 seconds. This gives me about 2.0 - 2.25 ounces of espresso... including the crema (or head.. for you beer drinkers).

I have been told that you should weight the espresso. Since the crema is light and fluffy, and settles like the head on a beer, it is not a good indicator to use it for volume measurements. I will get around to that later. Right now I am enjoying my espresso as it is. My scale only goes to whole gram increments. My first upgrade will be to get a scale that does .1 grams. Then I will start weighing my espresso after as well as before pulling the shot.



That's it for this month. I am starting a new computer project. I am trying to see if I can turn it into a two for one project. I will let you know more about it next month.