What is Whole Wheat?

I recently began reading Chef Dan Barber’s provocative book The Third Plate and it is already blowing my mind. The book postulates that the Farm-to-Table movement of seeking marquee locally-grown delicacies to feature on restaurant tables has not go far enough in changing the way we eat. By placing an economic burden on local farmers to produce one or two celebrated crops (or meats or cheeses or breads), chefs have not fully embraced a farmer’s role. Only by incorporating entire ecosystems into their cuisine can chefs make a meaningful change to eating habits and, hopefully, to modern agricultural practices. Eating local is eating the whole farm.

Barber also talks about how native grasses, so called weeds, tell a farmer the condition of his soil, how pests only attack sick plants and therefore pesticides are largely unnecessary, and how corn is one of the worst uses of farmable land. And this is just in the first 3 chapters!

Most interesting to me (so far) was his discussion of wheat, specifically whole wheat flour. A wheat kernel contains three parts: the vitamin-rich germ or seed, the starchy endosperm which provides food for the seed, and a husky, fibrous outer shell called the bran. Early stone milling crushed this entire kernel into what we now refer to as “whole” wheat flour. By the early 1800s, European wheat had been adapted to grow in New England and local varieties flourished in New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.

There was one problem: because it contained oil from the kernel’s germ, whole wheat flour would go rancid quickly, usually within a week or two. Fluffy, white flour made from only the starchy endosperm did not have this problem and was often preferred for cooking due to lighter characteristics, but it was expensive to produce. That all changed with the invention of the roller mill. Suddenly, the carb-packed endosperm could be quickly separated from the germ. As Western expansion moved farms further away from the masses, the popularity of white flour exploded.

White flour has two major disadvantages: it does not contain the vitamins, fiber and healthy fats of whole wheat flour and it is mostly devoid of flavor. In fact, modern white flour is typically enriched, meaning some of the natural vitamins are artificially added back in. So you should run out and buy whole wheat flour and never look back, right? One complication is that modern whole wheat flour is still separated like normal white flour. The crushed germ and bran is added back afterward, but some of the healthy fats are lost. I’ll be checking out stone-ground whole wheat flour on my next trip to Whole Foods. I’m sure I’ll get sticker shock, but hopefully I’ll be able to taste the difference.

*All of this discussion does not consider the higher amount of gluten in whole wheat flour due to the increased amount of protein.

The Secret Life of Passwords

This incredible piece from the New York Times made the rounds this week. Ian Urbina dives deep into one of the most private, yet telling details of modern life: our passwords. In our attempt to make an increasing tangle of passwords memorable to us and only us, we construct them full of meaning.

These special passwords are a bit like origami: small and often impromptu acts of creativity, sometimes found in the most banal of places.
Keepsake passwords ritualize a daily encounter with personal memories that often have no place else to be recalled. We engage with them more frequently and more actively than we do, say, with the framed photo on our desk.

I thought about what my own passwords say about me. Some are jokes based on the very first password I was assigned by a Sysadmin back in college. That original password was itself a subtle joke. Another password, created with a fellow employee, commemorated the date a dispised boss of ours was fired. I also thought of what my passwords don’t say. Mine never contain truly personal information, like the names of loved ones. And most telling, my passwords are always pragmatic in structure. I never settle on a password without making sure it can be quickly typed, that it has a nice mixture of characters and symbols for the left and right-hand fingers. It must have a nice rhythm on the keyboard. I’ll be typing this password many times a day, the thinking goes. I can’t risk my fingers getting tied in a knot.

How do CEOs function on 4-5 hours of sleep?

This question on Quora elicited an enormous amount of feedback. Can a person function normally on 4-5 hours of sleep per night, and should they? Many contended that being able to sleep 4 hours per night is a genetic gift (hypo-sleepers) that can be aided by various techniques, such as finding the right time of the night to sleep, avoiding boring meetings and TV, or short-changing your carb load. Others argued that those that think they can function on little sleep are fooling themselves and jeopardizing long term health.

Some may think they’re special, and are performing optimally on a 4h sleep schedule. No, they’re not. You may think you are, and even feel good for “hacking” your body and extending the day by 15%. But the problem is: it’ll cost you a price, as it has been proven again and again… Like someone who’s had two drinks, and still thinks [they are] perfectly capable of driving.

I think we need our sleep. It’s admirable to think we can function normally on little rest. I experimented with this myself in my twenties until a much older friend advised that one of the things he’d learned in his long life was to get plenty of sleep, ideally 8 hours. He found that he was a better version of himself: less irritable, more careful and considerate, and capable of deeper thought. I took his advice and immediately found his findings to hold true with my own life. Since then, even in stressful times with busy schedules, I’ve given myself permission to get a full night’s sleep.

Macminicolo breaks down the new Mini

Macminicolo has a great blog post about the changes in the new Mac Mini and what they mean for users. These guys know too, as their Mac Mini data center in Las Vegas hosts over 1400 Minis. They also sell off their older machines and follow the value of past Mini versions.

The 2012 Mac mini will still be very popular, keeping the prices of used Mac minis high. That machine offers the SSD/RAM upgrade options, the quad-core processor, and can also run a number of past versions of OS X.

UPDATE: And here’s the MacFixit teardown.

Will we build R2-D2s or C-3POs?

Interesting read by Rex Sorgatz on the future of robotics. Will we create R2-D2s, selfless robots that excel in areas where humans are deficient like deep computation and endurance in extreme conditions, or C-3POs, personified facsimiles of humans, complete with our foibles?

It’s simple:
R2-D2 aspires to be a great computer.
C-3PO aspires to be a mediocre human.
We need great computers, not mediocre humans.

Or as Sorgatz puts it in a nice info chart: R2-D2 is Wall-E, C-3PO is HAL. I think this debate will continue for a long time, with R2-D2 always the safe choice and C-3PO designs continuing to annoy us, or just plain creep us out – until we reach the Scarlett Johanson AI stage from Her. Then we’ll gleefully welcome our new robot overlords.

Siracusa Reviews Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite

Brew a pot of coffee and turn off your phone, it’s time to settle in for a long read. John Siracusa’s exhaustive, entertaining and technically rich review of Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite is here. Siracusa’s yearly reviews of the Mac operating system have become an annual treat since he first began with Mac OS X 10.0. This year’s review spends a lot of time on Yosemite’s marquee feature:

In last year’s OS X release, Apple tore down the old. This year, finally, Apple is ready with the new. To signal the Mac’s newfound confidence, Apple has traded 10.9’s obscure surfing location for one of the best known and most beautiful national parks: Yosemite. The new OS’s headline feature is one that’s sure to make for a noteworthy chapter in the annals of OS X: an all-new user interface appearance.

Siracusa’s insight into the UI and technical design of Mac OS X is enriched by 30 years of Mac experience and a little OCD. Who else can lament on the move from pulsating default buttons, or wax nostalgic about Kaleidoscope schemes? His reviews have become so legendary, there are reviews of his reviews. Sadly, as listener’s of John’s Accidental Tech Podcast know, this may be the last year he writes his 25,000+ word review. Kick back and enjoy one last labor of love.

Hoorah for the Mac Mini!

There was an Apple event today where new iPads were introduced (the iPad Air 2 & iPad mini 3) along with a new iMac sporting an amazing 5K retina screen (5120-by-2880 pixels). Holy cow!

That said, I was just as excited about the newly updated Mac Mini. Apple’s diminutive desktop computer hadn’t been updated in two years and has always seemed on the brink of cancellation. Yet here we are, closing in on the Mini’s 10th birthday next year, and Apple gives us an updated Mini starting at just $499. Granted, this will only get you an i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 500GB spinning hard drive, but you can configure this little badass all the way up to a 3.0GHz i7 with 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. ($2,199 if that’s your thing.) I’ve owned several Minis over the years and they’re great as workstations, media servers, and even rack-mounted network servers. I’m glad Apple continues to keep the Mac Mini on the roster.

Superhero Draft

On the latest episode of the Incomparable Podcast, a draft was held to build ultimate superhero teams. Not a single person drafted Superman OR Batman! I get that everyone is over Wolverine, but no caped crusader? Was the latest film that off-putting? My ultimate 7-person superhero team would be:

Superman – Every team needs a heavy and the last son of Krypton is the ultimate one.

Batman – Known as the World’s Greatest Detective, he’s also good with gadgets, rich, and has a ready-to-move-in hideout.

Professor X – He also has a great HQ, but it’s his near omnipotent telepathy that we’ll need to save the world.

Forge (X-Men) – I’ve always loved his ability to build really awesome guns to shoot at people. Plus, Cable is too moody.

Hulk – Smash. Hulk smash.

Spiderman – He may not be the most powerful, but he’s smart and will bring some levity to the morning status meetings.

Black Widow – My team needs some feminine charm and who better than a top-secret spy that looks like Scarlett Johanson? TEAM COMPLETE!

More TV Premieres

The sixth season of Mad Men started last Sunday and for big fans of the show, it was like a big juicy cheeseburger. So good. This Sunday HBO’s Veep, one of the funniest shows on TV, starts its second season. I’m also intrigued by NBC’s Hannibal which started a few weeks ago. A couple shows I need to catch up on are Netflix’s House of Cards and the Sundance Channel’s Top of the Lake starring Elizabeth Moss of Mad Men. Full circle!

2013 Tech Podcasts

My three favorite tech podcasts from last fall have been taken from me. John Siracusa shuttered his geek-minded podcast Hypercritical in December and Marco Arment did the same with Build & Analyze. Earlier in the fall, John Gruber moved his podcast The Talk Show away from the 5by5 network and host Dan Benjamin to go it alone. In a great example of how chemistry and tastes can change on a dime, I’ve never found his new podcast, where he is the main host with a rotating sidekick, to be as good.

I tried Andy Inhatko’s podcast for a while, but as much as I like Andy as a guest on other shows, his own show didn’t hold my attention. I also tried going back to Leo Laporte and the TWiT network, but those shows feel too produced and shiny to me now.

One podcast I’m enjoying now is the Accidental Tech Podcast with Siracusa and Marco. It’s no surprise I’d like it with those guys. In fact, I’ll check out anything with Siracusa (except Anime!). Marco runs the discussion, Siracusa talks off the cuff, and there is a third guy who chimes in occasionally (and I guess is running the equipment?). The three cover what’s new every week in tech and it scratches the itch. I’ve also recently started listening to Debug with Renee Ritchie and Guy English. The production values aren’t great but the conversation with iOS and web developers is fascinating. At first I was a little off-put by Guy’s obvious lack of podcast experience, but he has a degree of charm and does the most important thing an interviewer can do: he stays out of the way.

I also enjoy occasional episodes of Jason Snell’s The Incomparable geek podcast. Add into the rotation the hilarious Flop House bad movie review podcast with Dan McCoy, Stuart Wellington, and Elliot Kallan and you’ve got a solid slate of replacements.