Those you belittle are always bigger than you

By accident, without thought, or exquisitely crafted. It matters not, and is just as disappointing whichever form it takes. When directed at me it is meaningless. When overheard in conversation towards my friends and those I care about, another matter.

I’m talking about the over developed sense of self-importance of some, who so easily project this over others without so much as a second thought – or so it seems anyway. Whilst the purpose of this blog is certainly far from ranting about aspects of the human condition I find equally saddening and maddening, occasionally you will come across a post on such a topic (there are many written and unpublished which in all likelihood will stay that way).

Of course I am not about to delve into specifics, suffice to say, people performing roles or in occupations judged as “inferior” by some, are more than likely working just as hard, if not harder than those that judge them – again whether the judgement occurs on purpose or without thought. In my experience, something repeatedly done by accident or without thinking, is generally a purposeful action. Or at the very least, indicative of a certain kind of person.

Success can itself be judged internally, by those inching closer to mastering their craft, even if mastery is always a little out of reach. There is something extremely satisfying in working towards a long-term goal. Taking each step with the seriousness and precision required. The sweat and focus which will provide that extra few percent of improvement. The kind of effort (and in some cases risk) that shames a dusty university degree hanging on a wall somewhere as a shrine of achievement, which perhaps peaked when the frame was hung. Yet, we are somehow meant to revere that item on the wall, as though it should somehow afford the holder some right of superiority.

Sorry, actions speak louder than words, and infinitely louder than words written on heavy paper stock, framed and hung on a wall. Congratulations on your achievement, and I mean that sincerely, however that gives you nothing more than the right to work in certain occupations, belong to certain associations, and perhaps add some letters on your business card. Beyond that, nothing. Your treatment of others, and ill-perceived superiority more quickly relegates you to inferiority than you might imagine, as there are certain things in this world that really matter (respect, integrity, empathy and understanding for starters – none of which you need a university degree to exhibit), whereas the bastions you hold on to are the things that really don’t.

So go ahead, belittle those you see as inferior, however as far as I and many others are concerned, they will always be bigger than you.

Wiser Web Wednesday #13

Wiser Web Wednesdaya weekly link to posts of interest from around the web:

Study Hacks
Although specifically referring to mathematical proofs, there are enough hints here for broader applications. My favourite? Idea 1 – sometimes we just need to be specific, have clear aims, and deal with it:
How to Read Proofs Faster: A Summary of Useful Advice

1Password for iOS Tip of the Day
Along came this little gem in my Twitter feed recently – swipe right on 1Password (iOS) entries to copy the password. A cracker. It appears many others needed a little reminding about this great feature I was unaware of:
1Password Status

The Sweet Setup
As someone with less than 12 months Mac experience under my belt, tips like these come in very handy:
Quick Tip: Enable Hot Corners on OS X

Pens! Paper! Pencils!
Nothing wrong with a little tech, but where are the pens and ink? Why here for starters:
Diamine Ochre ink review

Hastily Written
Lately I’ve been drawn to the red/orange/brown spectrum of ink colours, however on the opposite side of the rainbow, am also in need of a new blue. Food for thought here:
Ink Drop: July 2014

Office Supply Geek
If a little colour in a notebook is your thing, Brian takes a look at the turquoise Rhodiarama hard cover. Same Rhodia quality – just a little louder:
Rhodiarama Notebook Review

The Atlantic
Did you read my previous post on penmanship? Maybe a slightly different tangent from such an idea (which by the way wasn’t written this quickly):
How to Write 225 Words Per Minute With a Pen

Still Drinking
Of course punctuation matters, however as much as we think it does? Need I say more:

English is a mutt of a language, inheriting ludicrously contradictory spellings and grammars from other languages.

Nobody. Understands. Punctuation.

Barista Magazine Blog
I’m all for someone having a stab at the often elusive “where did this originate?” – perhaps the Dutch Traders in the South Pacific were the lucky souls that invented out of necessity. Although this low-acidity brew is not new, and something I have written about before, I’m interested to see how the trend has caught on in the modern Cafè scene. This series might be one to follow:
Completely Cold brew: Part 1 of a series

Improving Penmanship: Self-torture or worth the effort?

A few thoughts on penmanship.

The above title originally included the term personality traits, however given I lack a background in psychology, would likely have been a little misleading. Demonstrating certain obsessive traits in relation to pen and paper is a pattern of behaviour many in the pen world are all too familiar with. What follows is perhaps a commentary on human frailty as much as it is on well-formed handwriting. Personally, it is also part of an evolving process, which I may return to in future posts, these being my initial thoughts on the subject. This post is not ten steps to improve your penmanship.

Which brings us to the (dark?) art of penmanship. An interest in pen and paper, along with the large number of sites reviewing such items, exposes one to many styles, types and qualities of the handwritten word – clearly desirable if we are seeking an accurate portrayal of those products being reviewed. A double-edged sword no doubt, which can lead to awe, excitement and envy all at once.

So, what exactly is penmanship, and why does it matter to me?

Defining Penmanship

Here we can simply turn to any dictionary, or in this case Wikipedia, and find something along the lines of:

Penmanship is the technique of writing with the hand using a writing instrument. The various generic and formal historical styles of writing are called “hands” whilst an individual’s style of penmanship is referred to as “handwriting”.

Although no more accurate than any dictionary you may consult, the Wikipedia link above contains a photographic sample of “classic American business cursive handwriting known as Spencerian script from 1884”. Therein lies the problem – or magic depending on your view. Have a look at this sample Spencerian script – it looks fantastic, albeit is not something you will find much in business communication these days.

Irrespective of whether you like this particular style of classic cursive handwriting or not, the point is not the specific style itself, rather, what I believe to be the two characteristics making it attractive to the eye. Uniformity and consistency. Generally, even if a page of handwriting is less than perfect upon closer analysis, to my eye at least, if the letters and words are consistently formed and line after line demonstrates uniformity, what you see is an attractive page of writing. Whether it is legible or not may be another matter.

Motor Control

Interestingly enough, that same Wikipedia page talks about motor control (co-ordination), which is something I do have a background in, having studied this extensively in both my University degrees. Firstly, handwriting is an acquired skill. There are various internal components (posture, grip, speed etc) and external components (pen and paper type, surface etc) that need to be controlled or at least addressed to produce a certain output on the page.

Further, as learning proceeds and a specific style becomes embedded from continued repetition, certain components of the skill require less conscious thought. These become automated, allowing concentration to be diverted to aspects that make a significant difference to the resulting skill output (a key difference for example between how professionals and amateurs in most sports process tasks related to skill performance). Finally, as handwriting is a skill, it can be broken down into various components and re-learned. That is, handwriting is not an innate behaviour, and if we address some key components, the art of producing a stylish handwritten page is achievable – with a certain amount of effort.

Why does penmanship matter to me?

Let’s be clear in what I am saying here, my penmanship matters to me. I do not judge yours, nor I am I saying I believe you owe it to yourself to write better by hand. I will commend lovely script on a page to myself or others, however will not hold anyone to task over a page of chicken scrawl, as I am more than capable of producing exactly that myself.

Why does it matter to me then? As any reader of this site knows – quite simply I love pens. Does this love of pens necessarily require me to have great handwriting? Not really (thankfully), but I sure like it when that is what I see. As my collection of fountain pens (and inks) slowly grows, I feel not making at least some attempt to write well does not do such fine instruments justice. Perhaps a flaw in my thinking or an unnecessary standard, however one I believe in.

I also take pride in what I do, which is where things can become a little obsessive. I will never set the blogging world on fire, nor do Master Penmen or calligraphers have anything to fear, however I put a great deal of effort into what I write – both digitally and by hand. It therefore pleases me when I produce something I believe to be of reasonable quality, commensurate with my ability, that is attractive to read and look at. Even more so if what I have produced closely resembles my initial intention.

It therefore disappoints me when my handwriting misses the mark, whether through a need for speed (often ill-perceived), or simply carelessness, which sometimes I accept, however is mostly cause for a little rumination. The worst kind? When all the stars align, I have the perfect pen, an enticing blank page, all the time in the world, that quote from The Cramped in my head:

The page is blank. Own it.

…and it just. Goes. Wrong.

Finishes writing. Sits back and…wait. What happened there? This is where we enter the world of self-doubt, second guessing and well, a little self-torture. I may tear out the page and try again. A different pen, different paper. Take a break and re-write it later. Often enough, the first version was the best one anyway.

A final word – for now

Far from being a tale of woe, my point here is simply this – for something that does matter to me, with concerted effort I still believe I have the capacity to make significant improvements should I choose to. “Choosing to” is by no means a guarantee of success, as only through a mindful approach to handwriting, sustained focus, a clear aim and much repetition, am I likely to see positive results on a consistent basis.

So, in the end, is making an attempt to improve my penmanship really worth it? Philosophically, my answer is a resounding yes. The reality may be less resounding, however is yes nonetheless.

Wiser Web Wednesday #12

Wiser Web Wednesdaya weekly link to posts of interest from around the web:

The Well Appointed Desk
Whichever pen is regularly in your hand, you will likely need a refill from those listed here. There is an endless amount of Googling required when searching for refills or at least trying to determine compatibility. This post from Ana at the Desk goes a long way towards solving this problem, and is destined to be a classic:
The Epic Pen Refill Guide

Asian Efficiency
This continues a four-part series by Mike Schmitz for AE on the principles and systems of quick capture in the context of a GTD based workflow. A nice integration of nvALT, which is a super fast plain text search and entry Mac application that also supports Markdown. Part 1 is well worth reading also:
Quick Capture, Part 2: nvALT

SBRE Brown YouTube Channel
One of the more experienced fountain pen reviewers out there, and perhaps one of the most prolific as well, presenting us with regular high quality video of various pens, inks and many other things in action. Take it from Stephen, if you’re thinking of doing some reviews yourself – Do it! (whilst reading that, imagine 2 very pointed fingers in your direction straight down the barrel of a HD Webcam). Words from a master that suggest forgoing the second thoughts and writing about what you enjoy – its your duty:
Why aren’t you doing reviews?

The Fountain Pen Quest
With the Nock Co on-line store finally open, no doubt there will be more reviews and views of customers to come, however I thought this was a nice first look of some index cards I will certainly be trying out for myself. Pictures do speak a thousand words, and Ray has put up a great gallery which will give you an excellent idea of what to expect:
Quick Look: Nockco 3 X 5 Dot Dash Note Cards

Whilst at FPQ, also check out Ray’s post looking at the remaining pen cases from Nock Co.’s Kickstarter project, having reviewed The Hightower back in May (a model I have also been enjoying using on a daily basis). No doubt much of this inventory is going up…then down, in Nock Co.’s on-line store:
Review: The rest of the Nock Co Kickstarter Pen Cases

Serious Eats
If you read my previous post, you will know I have a keen interest in learning more about this manual coffee brewing caper. Nick Cho describes many of the principles and processes involved with this method of brewing:
Coffee Science: How To Make the Best Pourover Coffee at Home

Barista Guild of America
A short video (4:46) produced by the author of the article above, demonstrating those very brewing principles. Everyone who watches these videos screenshots the key captions and brew ratios etc right!…er…right?
Kalita Wave Coffee Brewing: Intensive with Nick Cho

Pens! Paper! Pencils!
Now that’s a pen. Ian Hedley’s great review of a gorgeous Franklin-Christoph, with yes, that is correct – 20 different nib options. I’m all for choices though I’m thinking perhaps that’s a paralysing one for some:
Franklin-Christoph Model 02 Intrinsic fountain pen review

Mac Sparky
David Sparks is back with another Field Guide. Although currently for pre-order on the iBooks Store (AUD $11.99) with a release date of 21 July 2014, I’m sure this guide to preparing and giving great presentations will be every bit as good as the previous four Field Guides (of which I own two, Paperless and Markdown):
New MacSparky Field Guide: Presentations

~ PD.

A little coffee and a lot of learning

In thinking a little about independent learning recently, it seemed a good time to put down some thoughts, having myself attended a class on manual coffee brewing at Strauss Cafè & Bar in Brisbane’s CBD a couple of weeks ago. What follows is a brief rundown of the class, along with a few of those thoughts learning.

On Learning

Brew_Class_3Exactly why have I been thinking specifically about learning? Part of my day job involves training new staff in certain areas of the business, and in reviewing and updating these materials, I’ve been considering further improvements to make them more effective. Thinking back, I have also sat in enough university lecture halls, experiencing a wide cross-section of teaching to understand the delivery of information is equally as important as the content itself.

I’m referring to those memorable courses or seminars you attend, regardless of the topic. Where, after attending, you leave with a solid foundation of the topic at hand, yet also a framework for independent experimentation and growth. In cases where you already have a solid foundation, some of the tenets of that foundation are challenged, with alternatives provided that encourage you to seek further information, experiment, or at the very least reassess those facets of the foundation your knowledge is based on.

The great presenters? Those that clearly have knowledge so deep it would be nothing for them to talk all day, entirely unscripted, though remaining somewhat focused on the topic at hand. The best “stuff”? Well, that can often be found in the anecdotes and stories they have to tell, illustrating a point so precisely, it becomes one you won’t forget.

Although occurring in the context of drawing out information from a subject rather than the teachings of a presenter, a similar point made in a recent blog post by author Steven Pressfield, about doing research for his latest book The Lion’s Gate:

They brought out the insights and memories that they had kept in the vault because they deemed them marginal or “not important enough.” It was these stories that turned out to be the most fascinating and revealing.

Time for the coffee, however my point above is simply this, while the brewing ratio’s, numbers and guidelines are important[1], I believe we learn more from the experience (both successes and otherwise) of those more knowledgable than ourselves, who have spent countless hours themselves learning, considering, tweaking and experimenting, so our starting point begins further along the learning curve than it otherwise might. What follows is evidence enough of that.

The Brewing Class

Myself and nine other keen participants were in attendance for the class, run by national level competition barista Adam Metelmann (Twitter, Instagram), of Strauss Cafè & Bar. The contents of the class itself covered the key aspects of brewing (items below in brackets were the focus for the particular topic or the key numbers used on the night), which those interested in coffee would be familiar with:

  • water quality (characteristics, with an emphasis on filtration)
  • brew temperature (standard of 93 degrees)
  • measuring and dosing (28g coffee, 400g water)
  • pouring technique (differences for various brewing methods)
  • coffee (type and roast level; coarse grind/deep coffee bed principle)
  • phases of brewing (Wetting or bloom, Extraction, Hydrolysis)
  • different types of brewing equipment and grinders
  • key components of a home set up (brewer, grinder, temperature probe, scales, timer)
Kalita Wave

Kalita Wave (image courtesy Cup Coffee on-line store)

After gaining some understanding of the level of brewing experience within the group, Adam covered those aspects listed above, and proceeded on to some brewing. To demonstrate the differences in some of the above variables, we sampled coffee brewed using the Kalita Wave filter (which can be purchased from Strauss or through Cup Coffee here in Brisbane). The first round, two brews made from different water sources (both from the Brisbane area); the second, two brews made with water a couple of degrees apart in temperature (93 vs 91 degrees celsius).

The results? Like night and day on both occasions – actually fairly astonishing when tasted side by side. The key here? Knowing. Being aware of the factors that will alter the resulting brew, and being able to measure them, control some and change others, before again assessing the results in the cup.

Other more technical topics came up, including total dissolved solids (TDS), refractometry, agtron levels and the like, however these are for my own further reading and interest, or perhaps a 2nd level brewing class (cc Strauss suggestion box). Great to know about, however the class remained focused on the key fundamentals of brewing as noted above, utilising the tools I have readily available at home or could easily obtain and use should I choose.

Where to Next?

Brew_ClassSimple. For myself, more tweaking, experimentation, a greater willingness to waste a little of the coffee I roast (or buy) in the pursuit of something better in the cup. In addition to more reading, searching, YouTube-ing and pursuit of further background knowledge in these topics.

Since attending the evening a couple of weeks ago, I have monitored my brewing temperatures a little more closely (new temperature probe on the shopping list); ground a little courser and increased my dose a little; brewed sooner after roasting, assessing the changing flavour profiles as the days pass; improved my pour technique; and now tare my scales after the initial bloom pour. Little changes – big difference. My brews (and understanding of them) have improved immensely and I believe this will continue.

The best part of the evening? Over an hour and a half spent with someone who clearly has a passion for all things coffee, has experimented and experienced all aspects of the brewing continuum to present us with a more focused point at which to work from. Sure, what I am looking for might take a little work, however at least I know to head north rather than have to find out east, south and west aren’t where the answer lies.

Finally, I am lucky enough to have my daily filter brew made by that same barista with clinical precision and overarching passion each and every day, for which I am eternally grateful.

Go forth and brew!

(And sign up early for the next class – if you’re not quick I might take your spot).

~ PD.

  1. Were we simply after a recipe, a Google search will provide thousands of these.  ↩