December 30, 2008

The Computing Cheese Cutter

Computing Cheese Cutter Some time ago I visited Everybody’s Store, in tiny Van Zandt, Washington. Everybody’s is an exotic grocery store and temple to the hand-made sandwich, located outside Bellingham in a town so small it has no Wikipedia article (!).

I ordered some Havarti Dill cheese, which is a bear to slice. But it was no problem for the 100-year-old hoop cheese cutter they were using.

“I’ve got to get one of those,” I exclaimed.

“Good luck,” the owner replied.

And sure enough, even the Internet failed me. I couldn’t find one for sale anywhere.

Cheese Wheel Cutter Persistence paid off, though, and I eventually found one on a local classifieds site. The picture above shows it as delivered; below after a lot of elbow grease and some mineral oil, still on the workbench.

I’m happy that I found one with all the original parts; after a shot of lubricant we were even able to get the lever to turn the wheel (in precise regular increments, for honest cheese dealing).

My long season of searching helped me learn more than anyone could want to know about cheese cutters. A century ago they were the subject of frequent innovation, a wide spectrum of design, and cutthroat competition and lawsuits. (I found one of the patents for this model.)

Computing Cheese Cutter, Co. What makes a cheese cutter a computer? Integrated scales and measuring controls that could cut consistent-price wedges from wheels of varying weight.

In fact, the company that made my cheese cutter stayed with computing longer than cheese: you know it today as IBM.

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December 29, 2008

Read for Cash

Every year I run a “Read for Cash” program to encourage employees to read about business. Employees choose a book from a huge pile in the conference room, read it, then email a short review to the whole company. We pay 15 cents a page, up to $175.

The program lasts 5-6 weeks, and every day new book reports arrive. I read them all, and they are fantastic. Many employees report enjoying books they otherwise would never have picked up, we get multiple perspectives on new books and ideas, and the whole company spends a month thinking and reading about how to improve our business.

The best part? When the reading inspires a sharp insight on one part of our business from someone who works in a completely different area.

(I previously posted other details on the program.)

December 26, 2008

Everyone can read your private email

image Someday.

All your email will eventually be online in an easily searched database. Just ask JB at Enron, who at 7:42 pm on April 6, 2001 asked CG to “serve me lunch in bed and sing me a lala bye before I start the night shift.”

How do I know? I searched the Enron Explorer for “lunch”.

Every new employee at Logos Bible Software goes through an email training class that covers style, etiquette, and the fact that your business email isn’t private. You can preview it online and download it for adapting to your organization. (There are notes for the presenter on most of the slides.)

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December 24, 2008

Subtle improvements

When we started Logos, my partner and I used a floppy disk to share code changes. Today I’ve got an internal RSS feed that lets me see everything that’s checked into our code base.

I’m amazed at how many things we’re working on, and how many subtle improvements go live every week.

For example, try the “Search” box at www.logos.com (in the upper left). The results are incredibly improved. And Bible.Logos.com now searches for you: it automatically finds sermons related to the passage, from Sermons.Logos.com, placing links over on the right.

Our installable applications are advancing daily, and it’ll be fun to have a “big splash” release. But I am enjoying the immediacy of web improvements, too.

December 21, 2008

Kitchen gadgets I don’t regret

image Is there any richer mine of innovation than the kitchen? Is there any more prodigious fount of useless stuff than a kitchen gadget blog?

And why do I have to have it all?

In the spirit of giving, I present some purchases that actually worked out:

Garlic Press

image I’ve tried everything. Then at the local Cash & Carry I found the Browne-Halco (1777WP) Heavy-Duty Garlic Press. Huge capacity, plenty of leverage, and the self-cleaning works. Yes, it’s bulky, but it just works, and handles almost any recipe in one press. Under $10. (Just don’t put it in the dishwasher. The aluminum turns nasty.)

Knives

imageI used to hate sharpening my knives. I didn’t have the confidence to do it manually (maintaining a perfect angle), and my electric sharpener was heavy and bulky and a pain to get out. So I kept looking for knives that held an edge. My favorite solution was a Kyocera ceramic knife. It stayed sharp, but the fine ceramic edge needed to be protected in a case, and I only used it for delicate slicing.

imageThen my dad put me on to the inexpensive  Forschner (by Victorinox) knives, also at the local Cash & Carry, and Amazon. An 8-inch chef’s knife for $21.99. It’s not heavy, it’s not fancy, and it’s not even forged. But this stamped blade will serve you well for almost everything if you keep it sharp. imageWhich I was too lazy to do until I got a Fiskars Knife Sharpener. No fussy angles, no heavy equipment. Just run the blade though a few times, straight up and down. (I then wipe it with a damp paper towel to remove fine metal dust.) It’s light weight and tiny.

While on my ceramic sharpening kick I found the $6.99 W├╝sthof Pocket Sharpener. The small size makes it possible to sharpen the blades on my Swiss Army knife.

imageJuicer

Yes, I can juice a lemon by hand. But when I’m facing a whole bag of citrus (fresh limeade!), it’s worth pulling out the Black & Decker CitrusMate Plus. Easy to use, easy to clean, and ingenious right down to the way you can wrap the cord right into the base. At $18, I haven’t regretted it once.

 Vita-Mix Blender

imageEven after both my parents and my in-laws got a Vita-Mix, I couldn’t understand why anyone would spend $400 on a blender. “It doesn’t matter how great a blender it is, I just don’t blend enough to be worth it.”

Turns out I didn’t blend much because I had a stirrer, not a blender. Once I succumbed and bought the Vita-Mix, everything changed. Expensive, yes. Regrets, none.

image Pickle Fork

I had to get a deal on something at the Linens-N-Things bankruptcy. The super-thin prongs make it easy to spear a pickle, and having the fork on the jar with its own drip-catcher promotes pickles from a “needs utensils and cleanup” snack to an “eat standing at the fridge” snack. A surprisingly important distinction.

December 18, 2008

Fire Someone Today in Russian

FSTRussian

Fire Someone Today is out in Russian… and with a five star rating, too! Now if I can just figure out how to order a copy…

(FST is also available in Korean… and even English!)

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