Category Archives: coffee

Cool song, bro

I was in Barriques and “Bra,” by Cymande came on, and I was like, cool song, cool of Barriques to be playing this song that I’m cool for knowing about, maybe I should go say something to show everyone that I already know this cool song, and then I thought, why do I know about this song anyway? and I remembered that it was because sometime last year it was playing in Barriques and I was like, what is this song, it’s cool? and I Shazammed it.

So I guess what I’m saying is, I’m probably going to the right coffee shop.  Also, this song is cool.  I’m sort of fascinated by the long instrumental break that starts around 2:50.  It doesn’t seem like very much is happening; why is it so captivating?  I think my confusion on this point has something to do with my lack of understanding of drums.

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December linkdump

  • I finished White Teeth, and enjoyed it a lot, but didn’t think it had the finished snap of On Beauty. Here’s James Wood’s 2001 review of White Teeth, which I would describe as “impressed but not admiring.” This is the review where he coins the term “hysterical realism” — which is a good term, but not one I think is particuarly appropriate to Zadie Smith. He criticizes White Teeth, fairly, as the type of book in which the author’s hand (in the barely concealing glove of coincidence) gathers all the disparate characters together into a big, brassy finale, where the themes of the novel are reprised in grand chorus. But he should have mentioned John Irving, who I think of as the modern not-quite-literary progenitor of this move.
  • Submissions are now open for an academic volume on the Red Sox and Philosophy.
  • I wish Cosma Shalizi blogged more. I also wish he were at Wisconsin instead of Carnegie-Mellon so I could have sat in on his course on data mining; at least the notes are online.
  • This week, Nature runs an interesting commentary: “Towards responsible use of cognitive-enhancing drugs by the healthy.” I think the questions it asks are hard, and I don’t know what I think the answers are. I do think the state of calm focus in which we do our best mathematics is a physical state; and a pill that could get you to and keep you in that state would be tempting to many of us. On the other hand, I used to find yoga a good way to get my mind in that state, and I don’t do yoga any more. So maybe enhancement isn’t as much of a draw as we think. Also: shouldn’t it be “cognition-enhancing,” not “cognitive-enhancing?” (via MetaFilter)
  • The cover story of the September 6, 1948 issue of Life was “The Good Life in Madison, Wisconsin.” Thanks to Google you can now see all of Alfred Eisenstaedt’s photos from that story, as well as the ones that didn’t make the issue. (via Letters from Here.) Where was this photo shot? The shape of the lakeshore looks like the view from Union Terrace, but the Terrace was already covered in flagstone by the 1930s.
  • And finally: my favorite Superman panel ever, and the source of my favorite expression of dismay: whatthsuperman
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No thank you, but thanks

That’s what I said to the student working the coffee counter when she asked if I wanted my coffee card punched. It seems that I’ve come to take “no thank you” to be so fully synonymous with “no” that it requires the formally redundant “but thanks.” Does anyone else say “No thank you, but thanks?” Or other versions of this kind of redundant politeness?

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Kopi Luwak

I was sitting out on the terrace with some graduate students when the subject turned, as it will, to kopi luwak, a very rare and expensive kind of coffee from Indonesia. The reason it’s rare and expensive is that the beans are extracted from the feces of a certain tree-going marsupial, which eats the beans, cooks them up a bit in its gut, and eventually delivers them to the harvesters down below. The digestive enzymes of the animal, it is said (by those who charge $250/lb for kopi luwak) impart a marvelous and unsynthesizable flavor to the coffee that results.

I’m in the middle of writing a joint paper that’s been in the works for some time. And when I heard this story my first thought was that mathematical collaboration, when it’s working right, is a lot like kopi luwak. One person supplies an idea. Another one chews it up. And when it comes out the other end, it has a flavor that neither coffee plant nor marsupial could have produced alone.

So next time any of you mentions a piece of mathematics to me, I hope you’ll remember that I’m mentally picturing how nice it’ll look once I excrete it.

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Diversity Road

I spent last Wednesday morning working in the profoundly pleasant Prairie Cafe in Middleton Hills. This is the kind of unassuming place that you’d assume would make really first-rate breakfast and soups and maybe a heavily besprouted chicken-salad sandwich, but where you might hesitate to order a hot lunch. In fact, the corned beef hash, while homemade, was just so-so, while the reuben was really first-rate. The cold black-bean and corn salad that came alongside in lieu of coleslaw was even better, a crisp contrast to the thoroughly correct hot goopiness of the reuben.

Middleton Hills, it turns out, is a Duany Plater-Zyberk development in the “New Urbanist” style. Which means mixed retail and housing, walkability, density, stores fronting directly on sidewalks, cheap houses and expensive ones on the same block, and so on. Basically, if you take every feature of America’s soul-killing suburbs that people like to complain about, invert them, and build housing developments based on the result, you get something like New Urbanism.

As for me, I grew up in one of America’s soul-killing suburbs, and I like them! One of the nicest features of the Near West Side of Madison is that you can get on your bike and be in an authentically urban landscape in 15 minutes; or, after a 15-minute drive in the other direction, you can pull up in the oversized parking lot outside the even more oversized grocery store and load your station wagon until it groans.

Anyway, Middleton Hills. My first impression is that it’s charming; the houses all share a mild kind of Prairie style, but no two on the block look exactly alike. The main drag, Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard, winds around a big and agreeably wild pond; lots of cattails, lots of birds, grass not too kempt. The street names do a good job of congratulating you for your participation in sustainable development — John Muir Drive, Aldo Leopold Way, and, best of all, Diversity Road.

My second impression is that it’s completely empty. You can see that the streets are laid out to encourage pedestrianism and unplanned human interaction, as in Princeton, a favorite town of Duany Plater-Zyberk’s, and mine. But at three in the afternoon, the only people I saw were a trickle of kids coming home from school, and a birdwatcher. The birdwatcher and I watched a sandhill crane for a few minutes. Then I sat down to continue revising a long-overdue paper with Michel and Venkatesh about sums of three squares. (Among other things, the paper features a careful explanation of the group structure — more properly, torsor structure — on the set of representations of a squarefree integer n as the sum of three squares. More on this when the paper’s finished.)

What makes Princeton’s streets lively and new-urban, of course, is that it has a big and interesting downtown, whose shops and restaurants serve not just Princetonians but residents of the surrounding towns. Middleton Hills has a grocery store, the Prairie Cafe, a pizza place, and a Starbucks — not enough to draw foot traffic away from Madison, or, for that matter, downtown Middleton. If this post pulls in a throng of reuben-lovers, I guess I’ll have done my bit for the New Urbanism.

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Is Caffe 608 in trouble?

I hope not: I like working here, drinking coffee here, and blogging here, all of which I’ve been doing in various measures this morning. But the hours were recently shortened, the staffing appears to have gotten thinner, and today the coffee prices have been slightly raised. Not signs they’re doing a bang-up business. So if you’ve been meaning to see some movies here but never get around to it, I encourage you to get over here and spend your money now — unless you want me to have to find another new coffeeshop to do math in.

Playing now: Control, the well-reviewed Ian Curtis biopic.

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Caffe 608

While we’re on the subject of the Hilldale “open air shopping and lifestyle center,” I also support Caffe 608, the cafe attached to the new Sundance movie theater. They serve Peet’s coffee, one refill is free, and, most importantly, they make a really nice breakfast sandwich to order. Madison is a great coffeeshop town but a strangely bad town for eating in coffeeshops. And I can’t sit and do math and drink coffee for two hours without getting hungry. Thus the need for a breakfast sandwich, and 608’s is a fine one: bacon, cheddar cheese, and egg on a soft roll, moist without being in any way drippy.

Also, Caffe 608 is big and for the moment uncrowded. Usually it’s just me, a couple of toddler-toting moms, maybe somebody getting interviewed for a job at the open air shopping and lifestyle center, and the slightly crabby manager who resembles a young Frank Black. So I feel quite free to stand up and wander around in circles, very important for getting good math done, but hard to carry off at Espresso Royale at rush time without bumping somebody’s elbow or kicking out their laptop plug.

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