August 21, 2011

The Most Expensive Coffee in the World

It was in 2006 that I first heard about it.  My coworker, Jonathan, told me that there was a variety of coffee that was made from the excrement of monkeys.

"That's nasty," I remember telling him.

How could anyone in their right mind even think about drinking a beverage made from monkey shit.  I honestly barely believed him.  Over the last six years, I've become a bit of coffee connoisseur. My standards for coffee are extremely high now and I will only drink the freshest, most flavorful coffees prepared to perfection. Recently, my friend Patrick wrote a Facebook post about a coffee company called Intelligentsia, which is regarded by some as one of the best coffees in America.  This inspired me to seek out the best coffee money can buy.  Much to my surprise, I found that it was Kopi Luwak, the same variety of coffee my coworker told me about almost six years ago.

Kopi Luwak is actually not made from monkey excrement.  It is made from the excrement of the Asian Palm Civet. But, to Jonathan's credit, the civet does look a lot like a monkey.  According to Wikipedia, the civet ingests coffee cherries and the fruits' fleshy parts are digested by the animal.  What remains are the seeds which are passed through undigested.  These seeds are harvested from the animal's feces, washed, dried, roasted, ground and packaged for sale around the World.  The price for an authentic bag of Kopi Luwak can range from $100 to $600 per pound.  One maker in Vietnam sells his coffee for $3000 per pound!

But, is this coffee worth the money? I had to find out, so I tried searching online for coffee shops that brew it here in the DC metro area.  Much to my disappointment, my search turned up nothing.  So, I decided to do the next best thing, find resellers that sell it so that I could brew it myself at home.  I found a few reputable resellers online that sold the roasted whole beans, complete with a certificate of authenticity.  But, while searching I learned that the University of Florida had come up with a process of imitating the civet's digestive tract (and it's effects on the coffee cherry).  This technology has been licensed to a Gainesville Florida firm, Coffee Primero, which now produces and distributes that product at a price competitive with ordinary quality coffees.

The perfect way to try Kopi Luwak without eating shit... literally.

I decided to buy a bag for $15.99.


June 30, 2010

Coping with GWGS (Graduate Student Withdrawal Syndrome)

I was sitting in chair with my headphones on listening to Mozart reading the book "Guns, Germs & Steel" on my iPad when I looked up. I felt like I just came out of some kind of hypnotic trance.

"Where the hell am I?" I asked myself.

I realized that I was at the "Seattle's Best" cafe at Borders, a frequent stopping ground for me when I was a student at UCLA. As of two weeks ago, I was no longer a student at UCLA, which begged the question: what the hell am I doing here? Shouldn't I be at bar somewhere in Manhattan Beach, or watching TV, or doing anything except reading books at bookstore? Better yet, how the hell did I even get here? I don't even remember driving here!

I suddenly realized that I must be suffering from a debilitating illness known as GSWS or Graduate Student Withdrawal Syndrome. Symptoms include:
  • Insomnia
  • Frequent subconscious trips to Borders, Starbucks, or the Library
  • Sudden cravings for coffee, soda and McDonald's
  • Irritability followed by confusion followed by more irritability
  • Excessive use of Facebook
  • Going to a corner, curling up into a fetal position and crying
  • More crying
  • Needing to want to make senseless and drastic changes in your life
  • A little more crying
I couldn't believe it. Had I really contracted this mythical disease? Was there any hope of recovery? Could I possibly ever give up Caramel Soy Lattes? These were just a sampling of the questions that raced through my head.

I decided that I had to beat this disease. If I didn't, it would consume me... whole, and I'd be destined to a life akin to the man with the orange stapler in the movie "Office Space". But, how?

And then it dawned on me...


September 4, 2008

A Crude Awakening

If you haven't noticed the price of gas going up in recent months, check your pulse, you might be dead! With the exception of a recent drop in oil prices, Americans are paying a lot more than they used to for energy. But, why is the price of oil rising like Dick Cheney's cholesterol? Let's explore a few facts.

Fact #1: There is only a finite amount of oil on Earth
Fact #2: The demand for oil will only increase over time

Facts 1 & 2 combined tells us that gasoline (a product derived from oil) can only increase. Over the last several years, gas prices have increased at an average rate of about 30 cents a year. The first six months of 2008, gas prices spiked to over $4/gal. This was due to speculation by energy traders of a "cooling" US economy and a potential recession. Take a look at this graph.

Today, gas prices have come down from that all time high to more "normal" levels and will likely continue to drop over the next few months. However, this short-term relief is just that: short-term. Facts 1 & 2 will never go away and so we need to do what we can NOW to prepare for rising oil prices in the future.

How do Americans consume energy? We can breakdown energy consumption by consumer classes as follows:
  • Industrial
  • Transportation
  • Residential
  • Commercial
According to the US Department of Energy, most of the energy consumed in the United States is by industry (manufacturing, mining, construction, etc). If we can convert all equipment (i.e. construction vehicles, mechanized assembly lines, drills) to run off electricity and provide this electrical energy by means of clean, renewable energy sources (such as solar, wind and water power) or nuclear power, we can eliminate more than half of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. In addition, we will be more than halfway there on the road to energy independence. The result: lower energy prices for you and me, which leaves more money for our PS3s and plasma TVs.

Unfortunately, today, we are far from achieving that goal. 86% of all energy used in the United States is through the burning of fossil fuels. Over the last eight years, under the Bush administration, U.S. energy policies have been stagnant. However, starting in 2009 under the Obama presidency, U.S. energy policies are expected to undergo a renaissance.

A recent WER poll revealed that roughly 75% of Americans think that the US is too dependent on foreign fossil fuels and foreign oil. Over 80% believe that it's the government's job to eliminate this dependency and bring clean, renewable & efficient methods of power production right here.

September 1, 2008

So, who is paying for that war in Iraq?

Welcome back!

I was sitting at a Starbucks in Long Beach studying for my final exam on the naturally fascinating subject of Channel Coding Theory when inspiration decided to strike again. This time, it's on the subject of the economy. It's no secret that the U.S. economy is in a pretty lame state. Americans are facing inflation, a crashing housing market, a stock market in peril and that's just the tip of the iceberg. What many Americans may not be aware of is our growing national debt. And I'm not talking about personal debts (that's a topic for a different post). I'm talking about the U.S. government's debt. According to the U.S. National Debt Clock, as of September 2, 2008, America owes over 9.6 trillion dollars. With the U.S. population at 300 million, that's about $30k per person (including men, women and children)! Our country's debt increases at nearly two billion dollars a day. But, who does the U.S. government owe? Amazingly, nearly a quarter of our debt is owed to foreign governments (including Japan, China and the UK).

Here is a graph that shows how the debt has grown over time:

As you can see, except for a rise at the end of World War II, the Debt remained constant for nearly forty years. However, with the exception of a brief period between 1998 and 2000, the Debt has since increased steadily at roughly $200B/year.

Obviously, a growing national debt is bad for many reasons. The biggest reason it's bad is because when the government is borrowing money from it's citizens, the citizens have less money to buy stuff. So now it becomes harder for you to buy that new iPod or worse, gas and food. The other reason it's bad is because a large portion of our debt is owed to other countries. This puts the United States in a very weak international position and doesn't make us look good the World's eyes.

What can you do to help us get out of this mess? Vote! Go out and vote for political leaders who will make reducing the national debt a priority. If all else fails, run for office and do it on your own.

My special thanks to Ed Hall who provided me with the data for this blog posting.

Inspiration Strikes!

Greetings loyal readers!

I have returned to the blogging scene. After several false starts, I am confident this will be the first post in a long string of blog postings yet to come. Why the sudden resurgence in blogging energy, you ask? It's definitely not due to an increase in available time. My time is more limited than ever, but there's just so much to write about! And without my saxophone or piano, I have no better way to express myself. Originally, this blog was meant to simply be a travel blog (as the name implies). However, I will use this blog as a venue to write about a variety of topics ranging from government and politics to science and engineering. Check back often! I intend to update this blog frequently. See you at the next post!

Warm regards,