Third wave espresso sucks

by Steve, November 25th, 2015

There, I said it. (And craft beer sucks, too.)

Now before you get your knickers in a knot, hear me out. I’m not a fan of Folgers or Budweiser.

I had my first espresso circa 1990, when second-wave coffee was pretty well on the way to jumping the shark. Starbucks led the way, selling primarily steamed milk flavored with a variety of syrups and espresso. My first double shot was from Captain Beans on Southeast 12th Ave. in Portland, and quickly grew to prefer it to drip coffee. I’m not a milk drinker, so I never bothered with cappuccinos or lattes. I’ve always preferred it straight up, with no sugar or milk.

In the early 2000s the “third wave” came along, with Portland’s Stumptown setting the tone. I grabbed a double shot at their original Division St. store after a dentist appointment once, and remember how awful it tasted. Not so much bitter as sour. Not the well-balanced flavor I had grown accustomed to. They call it Hair Bender. A balanced shot of espresso should not bend your hair. It should warm your soul.

Now in 2015, I find myself working in downtown Portland, trying to find a decent espresso. All the cool places have that awful sour taste. I braved the self-conciously hip Courier (record player on the bar? seriously?) to try their version of the double shot, and literally threw it away after a single sip. Mugshots: same story. Nasty. Ken’s Artisan Bakery? Same story. Spella? Not quite as bad, but definitely a noticeable sour taste. What’s the deal, I wondered.

One idea I had was that there’s some kind psychology in foodies that requires “good” things to be an acquired taste. Just like beer snobs have acclimated to dramatically over-hopped, unbalanced flavor in their beer, third-wave coffee snobs have convinced themselves that “sour” equals good in espresso.

The other thought I had was that most people drink espresso buried under two or three cups of steamed cow’s milk, and without sour espresso, they wouldn’t be able to differentiate “good” espresso without the sour tones cutting through all the lactose and milk fat.

Today I found a blog post about this flavor trend that explains it a little better. It seems in an effort to preserve the individualized flavor of single-source beans, third-wave roasters lightly roast their beans. Unfortunately (for those of us who prefer balance of umami and bitter), the preserved flavor agents are acids that would otherwise be muted in a darker roast. The result is a very unbalanced, acid-forward flavor. Maybe with a ton of sugar and/or milk this would be pleasant to drink. But that doesn’t sound very foodie, now does it?

It turns out that like beer brewing, it’s hard to improve on the Europe’s espresso tradition. Starbucks, for all their sins (and there are a lot) still makes a damn good shot of espresso.

Yes, you can learn to like bitter and sour things, and then pretend people who don’t like it are Budweiser- and Folgers-loving troglodytes. Or you can appreciate a smooth, rich, balanced thing, perfected over generations, in no need of improvement.

Nutria-henge-quinox, autumn 2015

by Steve, September 30th, 2015

On the seventh day after the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, the sun rises above the the highest point in the East, a snow-capped volcano named Wy’east and Hood, when viewed from the ridge named Cooper in the Tualatin Valley on this planet called Earth we are born of.

At first, when we began our residence on this ridge, we were not aware of the icy, brooding peak beyond the green Tualatin Mountains, until the skies cleared that Spring. It may have been the following fall, or the next spring that I first noticed the sun crossing Hood near the equinox. It was another equinox or two later that I discovered the deep and steady rhythm of it.

We live on an astral clock, Mt. Hood the style on a planetary sundial for this particular location. Upon first discovering the division of sunrises, spring and summer north, fall and winter south of Mt. Hood, I dubbed it Nutriahenge, for the furry denizens of the wetlands and streams of the valley (and the triliths of Wiltshire).

The equinoxes mark the points in the earth’s orbit where the its tilted axis is perpendicular to the sun’s rays, and the days and nights are equal. As we swing around the ellipse of our orbit now, the northern half of the planet is tipping away from the sun, sliding us into longer nights and shorter days.

This year, I’ve declared a new sacred festival, in my personal church of the universe, in honor of nutriahenge, a week-long observance of the sun crossing Mt. Hood. Beginning sunrise on the equinox, Nutria-henge-quinox week culminates eight days later with the sun rising over the summit of our nearest volcano.

This first official Nutria-henge-quinox week was marked with a special celestial alignment, the rising of the fully eclipsed super moon above Mt. Hood on the Sunday midway between the two Wednesdays of equinox and nutria-henge-quinox.

The week started with some broken skies and the sun beginning its approach to the northern slopes of Hood.

autumnal light

The universe painted with a full pallette encouraging us to join the celebration of light.

It's complicated

(The universe doesn’t care about you and me, that’s just a literary device. It’s called personification. We humans do a lot of it and shouldn’t take things so literally. This is a basic tenet of my nature church.)

Then, on Sunday, the moon rose red out of the haze, and soared above Hood.

rising full over Mt. Hood

Our planet cast its shadow across its satellite, but the fleet moon was soon revealed in its former brilliance.

Leaving full

In the days before the crossing, the rising sun causes Mt. Hood to cast a shadow in the haze, up and to the south, betraying the sun’s position beneath the horizon.

getting ready to burst

By the morning of nutria-henge-quinox, the moon had regained its brilliance, but was losing its shape to its drifting phase, revealing mountains and crater walls in the shaddows.

morning moon

And then the sun rose, the closing act of the festival, a breathtaking dance of earth, moon and star.

We’re just specks of self-aware stardust, hydrogen and carbon and oxygen, wandering the surface of this wet rock looking for meaning. I say look up. See yourself as an infinitesimal piece of this infinitely beautiful universe. That’s all you need to know. That’s all there is. Peace out.

And the sun went down

by Steve, July 17th, 2015

Lots of jellies have been beaching. I don’t know why.
(Are they really jellies or just some gelatinous goo?)
The sea is a mysterious place, at once inviting
And foreboding.
Jellies in the sun

When the sun hits the water there is a tremendous rumbling hiss
And a spew of steam (no not really; the sun doesn’t actually go into the water,
That would make a really big mess; it just looks like that).

The caps of the waves, lit from behind, bring to mind a wave form,
Electrical energy mapped on a back-lit screen, green flashes of consciousnes
Flitting up down and past me like the hummingbirds in the yard
This afternoon when I watered.
I've always liked backlight

There are angels in the clouds, flying north; the mother reaches out to her child
Sheltering and guiding her with her wings
Like the migrating gray whales in the spring, teaching their calves to feed
In our fertile water. It’s a 3-D painting that changes while you watch it.
ocean waves

The sunset doesn’t end, it just keeps going, a traveling light show
Rolling around the globe.
The big waves are just tiny ripples, out beyond this log I’ve used before.
Drift log

From up above, I see a seal in the surf in the twighlight
And rays fade into being radiating from the source.
The seal feels the wind when she comes up for air
(Does she feel the sun?),
And is pulled on unseen currents below.
There is a bat on the way home, winging crookedly around the chimneys
Capped with conquistador helmets which squeak as the wind swings north.

Ultimate Philip Glass Fanboi

by Steve, April 10th, 2015

musicI’ve liked Philip Glass since I first got exposed to his work in college in the 80s (yes i’ve heard the knock-knock joke; no, I don’t think it’s funny). I think Ben had a record of Einstein on the Beach, and maybe the Kronos Quartet. But it was Godfrey Reggio’s 1983 film Koyaanisqatsi that really blew my mind and got me hooked. In more recent history, I’ve seen Portland Opera’s productions of Orphée (2009) and Galileo Galilei (2012), both brilliant, but not as brilliant as the Met’s televised production of Satyagraha (2012) which Nancy grudgingly admits she liked.

Anyway, Glass has written a memoir, and he’s hitting the airwaves and lecture circuit to promote it. I heard him with Terry Gross on her NPR show Fresh Air the other day. I have a real love/hate attitude toward Gross. She’s actually a really good interviewer, but it’s partly because she so unselfconsiously asks really stupid questions. (She’s famously bad at talking to black people.) Anyway, she plays a kind of clueless everywoman, with just enough book learnin’ to be dangerous. If her guest isn’t completely offended, it makes for pretty good radio. Like this exchange with Glass:

I always think of there being something obsessive about your music because of its repetitions and then variations on the repetitions and the speed of it and the precision of it, and I’m wondering if that’s fair to call… Like, do you think of your composing or your performances as having an obsessive quality to them?

You know, that’s a fair question and I’m wondering would people have said the same thing about Brahms or Chopin? ‘Why is he playing that strange music? Why do we hear those chords over and over again?’

You know why I think of it with you too, because I think, um, pattern is often a part of obsession? Like repeated patterns, shifts in patterns, and…

Well I certainly didn’t invent that, that’s been around for a long time.

Mm hm.

I think it may have been also, not just the music itself, but the way it was presented with the ensemble, you know with amplified music, it could be interpreted as being aggressive, though that would only be true if you didn’t know anything about popular music, and that most popular music was already much more heavily amplified than anything that we did.

So you’re telling me you’re not OCD. (laughs)

(laughs) I’m not saying that either.

Well are you? Are you?

I don’t think so.


But how would I know?


It’s actually a broad-ranging interview, worth listening to all the way through. Later on, Terry returns to her passive aggressive shading of Glass’ music:

Do you ever think, in spite of the body of work that I’m famous for, I feel today like writing a simple song with an easy-to-sing melody and some nice chords behind it?

(Laughter) I feel that all the time.

Do you write it?

I’m always trying to – I’m trying to. I’m writing an opera right now for the Washington Opera, and I’m always looking for clarity and simplicity. It doesn’t come easily to me.


Glass is speaking at the Newmark Theatre in Portland April 14. Admission includes a copy of his new book, Words Without Music.

Embedded quotes

by Steve, April 9th, 2015

Back in the 90s I wrote some skunkworks software for work. Since I find computer languages bland and inexpressive, I included some poetry (Pablo Neruda and Alan Chong Lau) and some quotes. We stopped using the software a few years back, but I found the source code is still out there on an old machine at the data center. Here are the quotes.

  • “The only people worthy of consideration in this world are the unusual ones. For
    the common folks are like the leaves of a tree, and live and die unnoticed.”

    -Scarecrow, The Land of Oz, L. Frank Baum

  • “Your knowledge of what is going on can only be superficial and relative.”

    -William Seward Burroughs

  • “We know only a single science, the science of history. One can look at history
    from two sides and divide it into the history of nature and the history of men.
    However, the two sides are not to be divided off; as long as men exist the
    history of nature and the history of men are mutually conditioned.”

    -Karl Marx

  • “In my life, I have prayed only one prayer in asking for divine favor: ‘O Lord,
    make my enemies ridiculous.’ And God granted it.”

    - Voltaire

  • “If there ever was in the history of humanity an enemy who was truly universal,
    an enemy whose acts and moves trouble the entire world, threaten the entire
    world, attack the entire world in any way or another, that real and really
    universal enemy is precisely Yankee imperialism.”

    -Fidel Castro

  • “Rationalists, like Euclidean geometers, based their case on a few ‘self-evident
    truths.’ But Einstein convinced the world that there was no such thing as a
    self-evident truth. A few things were self-evident all right; but they were not
    true. The shortest way between two points is not the straight line; Time and
    Length are not absolute notions. This seemed to be the death-knell of
    Rationalist philosophy. If there is no self-evident truth, there is no
    Rationalism. But Rationalism refused to lie down and die. Luckily, Rationalism
    was not quite as rational as all that.”

    –George Mikes

  • “A commodity appears at first sight an extremely obvious, trivial thing. But its
    analysis brings out that it is a very strange thing, abounding in metaphysical
    subtleties and theological niceties.”

    -Karl Marx

  • “Everything you’ve learned in school as ‘obvious’ becomes less and less
    obvious as you begin to study the universe. For example, there are no
    solids in the universe. There’s not even a suggestion of a solid. There
    are no absolute continuums. There are no surfaces. There are no straight

    -R. Buckminster Fuller

Hey Hey

by Steve, February 27th, 2015

Another long-distance collaboration between me and Jay:

The Misanthrope’s Field Guide to Noncharismatic Megafauna

by Steve, February 13th, 2015

Wildlife biologists refer to large animals that attract positive human attention for conservation efforts as “charismatic megafauna.” It’s not a scientific classification, just a way to refer to large animals that attract positive human attention. They are rarely the most important organisms in a biosphere, but they get the most human attention for better or worse. Around these parts, we have cougar, wolves, coyotes, bobcats, black bear, deer, beaver, nutria, eagles, osprey, hawks, herons, egrets, whales, sea lions and seals, among others.

But we’ve also got a ton of what I like to call “noncharismatic megafauna,” primarily great apes of the species Homo sapiens sapiens. Yes, the common human, or “house ape,” frequently accompanied by another common type of non-charismatic megafauna, Canis lupus familiaris, the domestic dog. As these non-charismatic species are often noisy, smelly and aggressive, charismatic megafauna flee before them.

Lately, I’ve encountered enough humans and their dogs to become an expert of sorts, and herewith offer my field guide to their behavior when they leave their habitat and interact with other fauna in the wild.


Humans live primarily in what they call the “built environment,” and try to limit contact with the natural environment as much as possible. This habitat consists primarily of enclosed spaces, with artificially controlled environmental conditions. Outdoor spaces are dominated by hard surfaces constructed for the purpose of moving between enclosed spaces in vehicles they construct of metal and plastic. The vehicles are fully enclosed and also feature controlled environmental conditions.

Behavior in the wild

When they leave their built environment, they take with them many tools and accessories that allow them to survive comfortably and remain connected to their built world. Males of the species tend to display these technologies as if in constant mating. (Humans do, in fact, mate year round.) Juveniles of the species tend to be especially noisy and unconcerned with their surroundings, built or natural.

Many house apes travel with captive dog companions, and this species is hyper aggressive toward wildlife and other house apes. Humans often allow the dogs to run untethered, despite signs with pictographs and human language prohibiting it. Dog feces litter the routes they have carved through the natural environment. House apes sometimes pick up feces in plastic bags, and then leave the bags along their routes. It is unclear whether this is some kind of territorial marking ritual, or if it has something to do with parasites from the feces making the humans go mad. Most “wilderness” routes are lined with small plastic bags of dog shit, which pretty much guarantees that charismatic megafauna will avoid these areas.

House apes vocalize loudly in the wild, and when, for example, encountering other humans observing charismatic megafauna, say things like: “Is it dead?” and: “Well I’ve heard they have those around here!” and: “Aren’t they really just pests?” and: “They have to trap them down in the valley on the farms, because they eat everything!” and “Do you think it’ll eat bread? Here, I have some I was going to throw at the ducks!”

House apes will feed human food to any fauna they encounter. Juveniles will often try to capture other fauna, and if that fails, try to injure or kill them with stones, sticks, or other missiles they can find.

Encountering Homo sapiens sapiens in the wild

When exploring natural areas for relaxation, education or spiritual purposes, it is almost certain you will encounter house apes who very little interest in cohabiting with native fauna or other humans. In order to avoid unpleasantness, it is advisable to step well off of trails when you hear or see them coming. Find a large tree or rock to hide behind until they pass. It is unlikely they will notice you, since they will generally be talking loudly and are typically not observant of their surroundings.

WARNING: If you are unable to avoid an encounter with a house ape in the wild, you may be subjected to tedious, inane conversation known as “smalltalk.” Males of the species will preen in the presence of others, proudly displaying branded clothing and accessories. Talking to them only encourages this behavior, so it is generally best to avoid them at all costs. Since most house apes are averse to extended physical exertion and exposure to the elements, they are best avoided in deep wilderness at least 20 miles from trail heads and roads and far from urban centers.

Wait, listen carefully….

by Steve, February 6th, 2015

That’s the sound of Oregon’s Democratic Party faithful discussing the stench of corruption oozing out of Mahonia Hall.

It’s looking more and more like Oregon’s fourth-term governor John Kitzhaber has been up to his neck in his fiance Cylvia Hayes’s influence peddling, and the political hacks and bottom feeders at Blue Oregon have apparently circled the wagons.

Here’s the thing about being a one-party state… I mean… Ah fuck it, didn’t you guys read Animal Farm?

The Democratic Party in this state is a disgrace. A patronage machine that’s done nothing to reform a revenue system devastated by fleeting anti-tax, libertarian fringe in the 90s, and apparently more interested in holding power than funding schools. Sure they’re nominally pro-labor, but that’s all about the money at the end of the day. What does the Democratic Party of Oregon offer working families besides not being Republicans? Not a hell of a lot.

I argue that we need a moderate, viable GOP in this state just to keep the Democratic Party honest and at least nominally progressive. As it stands we have an allegedly corrupt governor and decades of Democratic control of state government with no progress on revenue reform. If state-level Democrats aren’t willing to take a stand for education funding, what good are they?

In other words, what’s the use of a Blue Oregon if we’re all just being played?

Update 2/9/2015:

Kitzhaber has asked his buddy Ellen Rosenblum, Oregon’s attorney general, to investigate. Pulitzer winner Nigel Jaquiss reports in Willamette Week that this might just be a move to delay releasing documents to the press. And of course Willamette Week is owned in part by…. wait for it…. Ellen Rosenblum’s husband Richard Meeker.

Jesus, way to make us look like a fetid little backwater, guys.

When you find a good frame…

by Steve, January 23rd, 2015

…you keep on using it.
Shore Pine Sunset
Framing it
My favorite frame

January Sundown

by Steve, January 20th, 2015