Reflections of a Self-Conscious Twitterer

Personal history, events, choice, and the cultural tools of society among many other things forge the shaping of an identity. The overlay of culture and its creations impinge upon, constrain, challenge, reinforce, or allow to bloom an individual’s conscious identity.

Twitter, a “social media” tool, highlights the imperative to craft an identity. It’s another venue where we can check ourselves within the maelstrom that is the onrushing digital life. And see who’s hot or funny or vulgar. Check all three? “That’s gold, Jerry, gold!”

That just came to me. When I got the impetus to write this I thought about the “Seinfeld” episode in which George says everything he’s done in life is wrong. Jerry says to him, “If everything you’ve done is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right. Do the opposite.” George temporarily takes him up on it.

That’s sort of what I’m doing here. I want to interrogate why I use Twitter, what I hope to get out of it; perhaps start a conversation about why you are here.

The idea that I could have an interaction–however faux–with someone I admired was and still is an attraction of the service. I’ve just lowered my sights after a strange set of events near the beginning of my time on Twitter. But enough of that.

I am not looking for friends here. I am uncomfortable with it, but I would not preclude friendship, were it to develop. I prefer a more organic way to develop camaraderie, but my opportunities for such have dwindled, frankly. I’d like to get what I can take.

I do want to connect, and I crave feedback. Writers want criticism if it’s relevant, fair, and of utility to them.

So how much do we give of ourselves, how much do we divulge? We all struggle with it for one reason or another, or to varying degrees. What is your identity? Is it in flux? Having a hard time? Are you good? What’s your angle? Are you a bot? Could you be a psychopath?

Twitter is so unnatural to our past way of being. Never before have we had a megaphone to the world–a channeled one, to be sure, but this flavor of the internet has made the world a smaller place. I learned I have something in common with a Japanese woman who writes for the New York Times from Tokyo: we like baseball, and have corresponded about a guy who played in Nippon Pro Baseball and the National League.

How unnatural is it? It can be surpassingly novel if you are new to it or you are restless and seek new voices. It can be jarring. Yet it also is a too-familiar simulacrum of the world we inhabit, with its culture of celebrity and hierarchy of authority. So, it’s not too exotic a place. We should rectify that.

Why don’t people engage me, I wonder. Partly it’s because they can’t get a handle on why they should care. What’s the disconnection? Fame, notoriety, or noted expertise. I’m working on that.

Of course, this is why I don’t follow you, and why famous people do not appear in my list of followers. I’m no better than you in this respect. One caveat: I’m a news/baseball junkie, so a lot of my follows are of sources, official or otherwise.

The fact is I have no idea why the people who follow me do so! They don’t say anything to me. They stand as mute observers. It’s odd.

I have not taken the time to see what they are saying to others, to find out if they would interest me. (I can contemplate this since my group is so small.) I think it’s incumbent upon those on the service to have something to say. I will go out on a limb to assert that sitting and monitoring the passing parade isn’t enough. Join the fray. I will resolve to engage them, too.

This is all very obvious and you can call me naive. You can infer that my personal social network is weak and not strong and that I should do something about it. You would be right. There are extenuating circumstances, you see…

But this leads to the paradox referenced above. We sit back saying, “Prove yourself to me. Make me think. Give me news. Above all, entertain me!” Is that right? It can be, but it’s so vaguely, deeply unsatisfying. The same old cliques and mores are reified within yet another space we virtually inhabit.

Perhaps I’m expecting more out of Twitter than it can provide. Somehow, that doesn’t seem right, though. It can be wondrous: the first news of import; links to great stories; ingenious language uses unique to the format; a photo of cute schoolgirls in Haiti, and on and on.

For me, Twitter is a metaphor for how I often feel–that I’m shouting down a well, heard only by myself, frustrated…impotent. Incapable of moving the needle on public opinion or private sentiment.

But I’m not without a voice. I’ve stopped fretting that I got little traction. There was no bait and switch. The meritocracy of the word does not reign supreme. I still wonder…

Here it is: I’m much more interesting than I’m being given credit for. There’s a dearth of evidence that I am appreciated. What was that? “I’m not going to be ignored!” LOL…go fuck yourself.

The virality of the inanity I get, so to speak. It seems that by dumb luck someone should’ve caught something from me by now.

But it’s out there, ephemeral yet permanent, inscribed on the web, topical, and maybe timeless.

Maria Bustillos writes for the New Yorker, often about writing. This week she wrote about how writers, anonymous or infamous, become tied to their work in the public consciousness. She wrote,

“Beyond this…lies the deeper problem for those who imagine that they can write, and yet escape a reckoning. Writers are generally fated to commit the truest parts of themselves to the page, whether they choose to own their work in public or not. That is the ultimate vulnerability, and it is inescapable.”

I choose to, and will continue to do so. I await any applicable reckoning. That’s what I do here On the Top Step.

Consistency In Home Coffee


That’s a bird seed scoop–$3 at PetSmart that serves as my ground coffee receptacle every morning. I had been looking for a funnel or just some cleaner way of transferring coffee from a container to the glass beaker. You slide that guillotine-like hatch with your thumb and the grounds–mostly without fines–slide right out with a few taps into the center of the beaker bottom. A few shakes evens it out and now the unit can be placed on a scale. I weigh the beans and water. I use a 1:15.5 ratio, so 37 grams of beans get 574 grams of water. This comes to two diner-size cups of coffee. The Grindmaster 495 is in the basement. This 1996-vintage behemoth makes a racket, and frankly I enjoy the walk upstairs taking in the aromas of the freshly-ground beans while the water is just about to boil. It’s part of the experience. I outlined the advantages I have with home roasting versus the specialty coffee roaster/retailer in a previous post but neglected to go in-depth on consistency as it relates to brewing and roasting. On brewing, I trust I’ve shown that I can exactly replicate the formula on a daily basis. Your local pourover purveyor cannot. But, I’ll give her that. Let’s assume that she is getting her formula right, every time. Ponder that the next time she’s swirling water around with the gooseneck kettle. This leads us to the consistency of roasting. There they have me beat. With an expensive drum or some type of hybrid air/drum system they can tinker endlessly and go through kilos of coffee, cupping it to find the ideal roast for a particular varietal, changing drying times or air flow introductions to create a “profile” for that coffee. Want it more juicy? Shorten the drying stage. Want the brightness more mid-palate than upfront? Hit it with air sooner. These are crude simplifications but are the sorts of things roasters do. They can dial in a roast and program it. That I can’t do. I alluded previously to the fact that in some ways this is another advantage I enjoy: I get to try coffees myself at different roast levels, featuring various characteristics, without burning through all my coffee in the process. But the real secret is that I have no “profiles” for my coffees, or, I just have one. I roast the same way every time! I should admit that I am loathe to change things that are working, and I probably should experiment more, but after doing this a while and learning that drum profiling just does not translate to hot air popper roasting I found my coffee consistently better when I followed some guidelines. My poppers are not modded. I am not a handyman nor am I good with circuits and electricity. Forget it. It took me months to get up the gumption to simply try roasting this way. What helps are the soup can chimney and a digital thermoprobe affixed to the chimney with high-temperature tape. The probe end angles in from the bottom of the chimney into the roast chamber. The readings help me understand where I am in the roast, along with the use of other senses such as sight, (color of the beans), smell, (changes from grassy to sweet to ashen, if you go that far), and sound, (the onset of the first pops, etc.) In order to guarantee that there’s a chance I will like the end product I make sure to do these things: Chris Schooley of Sweet Maria’s has found that if drying stages are extended especially on high altitude cultivars sweetness can be intensified. This means I do pauses. I turn off the popper for 20 seconds at 40 seconds in and at 1:40 in. When I resume I am watching to hit 400 degrees F while monitoring a timer and the beans. Carl Staub of the SCAA has the science on something called the Best Reaction Ratio. In brief: “The best cup characteristics are produced when the ratio of the degradation of trigonelline to the derivation of nicotinic acid remains linear…Monitoring the bean temperature offers a good method of approximating the reaction distribution during this phase of the roasting. The ideal environmental temperature, ET, for best reaction ratio, BRR, is from -400-424 degrees F…” (SCAA Roast Color Classification System developed by Agtron-SCAA 1995). I don’t have the bean temperature but I do have the ET readings. So I endeavor to hang around a little bit between 405-430 degrees. Through trial and error I have learned how to stay in that zone without unnecessarily delaying the onset of a vigorous first crack. It’s a blunderbuss method, but I use a table fan. If the temperature is rising too fast I can direct blowing air in there, which stabilizes or temporarily drops the temperature slightly. I make sure that I don’t leave that zone too fast or prematurely. You want a vigorous start of first crack. You don’t want to sputter in-or-out of the first crack. Simultaneously, you don’t want to rush through the crack. Here the fan can be used again, sparingly. I determine a hot, on-the-fly end of the first crack. From previous roasts I’ve pre-set how long I will go after the crack is finished. (Always do a roast log). The fan is used at the end for a 20-second burst. ET in air roasters is supposed to be flat at finish, with bean temperature slightly ramping up to meet it near the end of the roast. I have done this with low-grown Brazils to high-grown Guats and Ethiopias. Of course there are surprises. Every roast is different. I had some trouble with two Rwandas–they were both Bourbon; I got them at different times. The Rwanda Kanzu Bourbon had to be stopped no more than 25 seconds post-first crack to salvage a sweet City +. If I stopped there on Rwanda Tumba Cocatu I’d have a City roast and so many quakers I’d barely get a day out of it. I almost gave up on Cocatu, until I went one minute past first crack. Reps, baby. I had it this morning–juicy, complex, then creamy. Love my Cocatu! It’s like tasting the difference between color- and black-and-white television. Your intrepid reporter gave them another shot, just before setting this down. Man, it was good, a light-roasted Kenya. I gotta give it up to them. But it was monochromatic compared to the technicolor hues I experienced earlier today. The rugged car commercials always say “Professional driver–closed course–do not attempt”. This is one area where I went and tried it myself, and the results are better than adequate. I guess I’m lucky to be roasting for only one. That doesn’t sound right! Oh, well. I hope to meet the girl with the demitasse tattoo. I don’t like tattoos…

Who’s On First, or, Who’s Confused Yet?

No, I’m not reworking the old Abbott and Costello bit, just thinking out loud about a conundrum facing the St. Louis Cardinals regarding roster construction as GM John Mozeliak must make some decisions before spring training begins late this winter. The latest information coming out makes unclear the roles of two players in particular–Allen Craig and Matt Adams–both ostensibly first basemen with different profiles and attributes. I’ll delve into that presently.
I should preface this post by noting the oddly disconcerting news that there was a shakeup at the local ESPN sports radio affiliate yesterday. A character in the “Yu Is So Right” post was based on–I wrote “a composite of”–a personality who lost his job. Of course I am not presumptuous enough to claim credit or blame for this circumstance, I just thought it was ironic, and kind of a shame. Listeners will lose the insights of the main Cardinals beat reporter, an indefatigable nerd who knows the club as well as anyone and is good at explaining sabermetrics, and a guy deployed by the station to cover the baseball team full-time and had access to all the principals.
The boss at the station is “Hoss” Neupert. I did not make that up.
What we’ve heard recently are some statements that confuse. Some context: Allen Craig is the de facto first baseman. He is 29, a RH hitter, who just had a very good season and is making $6 million per year for the next four years. He is also injury-prone. He was out from September 4th until the World Series in the third week of October, which is the earliest he could make it back. He has a Lisfranc injury to his left foot. Such an injury can take months from which to recover and often leads to painful arthritis down the line.
Matt Adams is a 23-year-old LH batter whose only position is first base. Although agile, he’s a hulking 260-pounder who already runs like a wounded Matt Stairs. He’d been an effective power bat off the bench who assumed first base after the Craig injury. He hit 17 home runs in just less than half a season’s typical plate appearances, so the Cardinals see him as a legitimate 30+ home run threat given a full season of at-bats.
And this is what the Cardinals need. Their power was down this year. They scored only 26% of their runs by the homer, which was near the bottom of the league; they were extremely dependent upon stringing skeins of hits together, and were amazing with runners in scoring position–but it’s not a skill per se and not something upon which they can rely. See Jon Lester, World Series.
It appears the Cardinals’ best home run hitter the last two seasons, Carlos Beltran, will leave for a multi-year deal. The right fielder has several suitors willing to sacrifice a top draft pick they’d have to give up to pry him away from St. Louis, who offered him a one-year qualifying offer, which prompts draft pick compensation if he rejects the offer and signs somewhere else.
This leaves right field “open”. So put Craig there, right? He’s a good athlete whose bat profiles well in an outfield corner. Give first base to Adams, who will offer the most power on the club and handled defensive chores pretty well.
But the Cardinals have the best hitting prospect in the minor leagues in Oscar Taveras. He was ranked one or two as the best prospect in baseball in 2013. His bat is ready now. They are not so sure about his route-running and arm accuracy in the outfield. Ideally, Taveras could take over in center field, supplanting the mediocre Jon Jay and forcing him to a bench role. But we’re hearing that the Cardinals want Taveras to just worry about mashing the ball and don’t anticipate expecting him to man a premium defensive position in center. So they’ve told reporters Taveras will be in right, and they don’t plan for Adams to be blocked any longer.
What does this mean for Craig? And for center field? They’ve intimated they were dissatisfied with Jay’s performance. Would they go after Jacoby Ellsbury to play center? What about shortstop, the most pressing need of all? Would they sign Stephen Drew? (Two draft picks; both Scott Boras clients. Don’t think so.)
What this all points toward is 1) a trade may be imminent; and/or 2) they could decide to get Stephen Drew, which would make the Cardinals lineup heavily left-handed.
They may move Matt Carpenter to third base, displacing David Freese. Then they could insert the LH-hitting Kolten Wong at second. Drew is a lefty hitter. So is Taveras. That would leave Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina as the only right-handed hitters in the usual lineup.
That’s great on most days when they would be facing right-handers but far less than ideal against lefties. They had tremendous difficulty with lefties this year, even featuring righties such as Craig, Molina, Holliday, Freese, and the switch-hitting slugger Beltran. I think it’s an anomaly but it’s also a fact.
I have to believe that they want their money’s worth from Allen Craig, who has been their best hitter the last two years. Perhaps it’s a smokescreen, (WHY?) they’ll keep everybody and Taveras will go to center.
We know the organization is determined to move on several fronts–shortstop and center, and likely at third, and has hinted that it’s time to go outside the organization to fill these needs.
Could we please have the DH, so we could reasonably keep these guys? Is it time to move pitchers–of which they certainly have a surplus–and package them with Craig to bring Troy Tulowitzki to St. Louis to play short and bring right-handed thump? Did I note that he’s 30, injury-prone and expensive? Oh, my. They’d have to give up some Faberge eggs to get Tulo in the form of premium young, cost-controlled power arms. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports said it would take Craig, Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal to get Tulo from Colorado. No, thanks.
So, this reporter is anxious to see Oscar Taveras. He’s considered the best Cardinals hitting prospect since Albert Pujols. It’s the cascade of related matters providing the tipover into anxiety. Mo, can we talk?

Yu Is So Right

The following story is fiction. Some of the persons are real, one is a composite of local sports radio personalities, and one is named Bob.
Yu Darvish is a star pitcher with the Texas Rangers. He’s just finished his second season in the American League after coming over from Nippon Pro Baseball in Japan. He was invited to Game 1 by Mike Napoli, a former Ranger now on the Red Sox.
So Taguchi played in both leagues, won a championship in Japan on a club with Ichiro, and had some big hits as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals in the early 2000’s. He’s calling the World Series for Japanese television.
Jamey Wright has pitched in the big leagues for 17 years. He’s a journeyman who’s attending the Series in Boston.
Cryin Dull is a St Louis “insider” on the Cardinals who works for the local FM ESPN radio affiliate.
Bob is a smarty-pants wanna-be interlocutor/assistant/conscience for and of Mr. Dull.
They’ve convened at Fenway Park in Boston hours before Game 1 of the World Series between the Cardinals and Red Sox. Players from both teams are taking turns on the field. The group is sitting together halfway up the stands on a cool but sunny New England afternoon.
This is what was overheard…
Dull: Yu, So, Mr. Wright, how ya doin’?
In unison: Great, you?
(Darvish snaps his head around).
Dull: Great. Say Yu, how good is that arm?
Darvish: My right arm is fine.
Dull: So, (Taguchi snaps his head), you enjoying the AL?
Darvish: I am.
Dull: He’s really been impactful, right Jamey?
Wright: Um, yes.
Dull: Hey, is that Saltyamacchia?
Bob: It’s Saltalamacchia. (Whispering).
Dull: Irregardless, that guy’s playing tonight.
Bob shakes his head.
Dull: So, (Taguchi…) in regards to your career Mr. Wright, or Jamey, did you feel like you had a good season?
Wright: I would have liked a better ending.
Dull: Well, there was a lot of reasons the wheels came off, right?
Wright: Sort of.
Dull: Talk about it.
Wright: Well, I thought my role would be a bigger one than it was.
Dull: Don’t you mean than WHAT it was?
Wright: I’m not sure…
Dull: Nevermind. So, (Taguchi…) you know, (Darvish…) you literally came a long way over the years.
Wright: Yeah, a lot of riding buses. In the Carolina League our uniforms would get torn and we had nobody to repair ’em. I had to learn to sew. Found a kit at a Rite-Aid.
(Bob shares a smirk with Wright. Bob’s pretending not to be listening to the conclave but he can’t help himself.)

Allen Craig limps onto the field to attempt some light running. The Cardinals slugger suffered a Lisfranc injury to his left foot after rounding first base in a game at Cincinnati on September 4th. He’s only now become available to play in the World Series. Taguchi is intrigued.
Taguchi: Why is he limping?
Dull: It’s the foot.
Taguchi: Which foot?
Dull: Craig’s foot. It’s that foot that he’s fighting.
Taguchi: Left or right? (Exasperation mounts. Darvish is starting to sweat, even though the air is crisp and he’s just sitting there. Wright is looking anywhere but at Dull, because he’s fuming.)
Dull: It’s the foot that is in front when he bats–the front foot.
(Taguchi starts to frown).
Taguchi: So he hasn’t been playing?
Dull: Yeah, no. So he’s being ginger with it, right (uprise, question mark, I don’t know.) He’s taking care of it, right.
Taguchi: Do they think he’ll be alright?
Dull: So (pause) they’re trying to see where he’s at, and that. Right? He’s running better than what he was. In fact, recently he made a play that looked harder than it wa…then what it wa…um…it is what it is.
(Groans are now emanating from all around. Eyes are rolling in their sockets. A very uncomfortable air sets in).
Darvish: Craig’s a very good hitter.
Dull: He led the majors in hitting with runners in scoring position. He’s very unique.
Wright: When did he get injured?
Dull: So, (Taguchi…) I feel like I want to say the end of August.
Bob, in Dull’s ear: September 4th, Cincy, remember?
Dull: At the end of the day it doesn’t matter. See, look, he’s ran a lot. He’s running good.

Darvish bolts upright and takes his leave. He’s exhausted by Dull’s inane patter. Taguchi and Wright are hanging in there.
Taguchi: Who will win tonight, Mr. Dull?
Dull: I tell you what, you know, maybe if you were still with the Cardinals..
Taguchi: (Smiling) They’d have a chance?
Dull: Right, so you would be the difference-maker.
Taguchi: Come on, Mr. Dull!
Dull: You hit ’em in the huevos rancheros a few years ago, right? I’m right, right?

The assembled group disperses. Bob and Dull grab their sacks and start trudging up the steps. Dull turns to Bob and says,
Anyway, I can’t wait to see Tavares!
It’s Taveras. Why do all you guys pronounce it wrong?
I’m not wrong. He’s gonna burn down the house. Don’t you know that “Disco Inferno” song? Who did that?
You are so right…

Avoiding the Push Down the Rabbit Hole

I’ve been hanging around coffee forums again, and realized my dander was rising to levels requiring a post here, away from the proscribed topics and heat of the public fray. Frequently, a new member will pop into the forums to ask about using an air popper to roast coffee. Around and around we go about how inadequate this method is; do it some other way; why put yourself through it? Maybe because it’s the best coffee has tasted. Maybe it’s a lot of fun–the act of roasting–and you learn a lot about coffee. It could be because it’s so fresh. It’s cheaper, too.
Risking the curmudgeon tag, there’s a trend in coffee shops today, a phase in which the apex of coffee roasting is to take the roast just to the end of first crack. This is called a City roast. One is supposed to be able to divine origin flavors and characteristics of a particular varietal. If you roast too far you burn up the sugars and burn off the flavors unlocked by the roasting process. That’s all good and sensible. But often sweetness is left on the table, as the gods of the roast are in thrall to acidity above all other qualities of a high end cultivar. If they roasted anywhere from 15 to 50 seconds longer sweetness would be increased.
It’s iron law right now. I’d been waiting for months for the newest emporium to open, and since the proprietors all migrated from an old-line, mainstream roaster I anticipated a more flexible take on roasting. Nope, it’s all City, all pourover, all the time. Putting a medium roast on a coffee is verboten.
I have bought brewed coffee at all the best shops in town. I have had a vacpot of the same coffee I roast and brew at home using a popper and French Press. I have had V60 pourovers of Ethiopias, Kenyas, and a Sulawesi. They were uniformly better than anything one might get at a restaurant or hotel, but none were nearly as good as what I do at home, while kneeling and shaking a popper loaded with 68 grams of gray-green seeds. They are not “beans”.
The owners

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