Leaving Microsoft to Change the World – Room To Read

November 27, 2007

Reading has had a profound impact on my life. From early on, to when my mother would walk us to the library where we would sit and read and discover for hours on end, to teaching myself about computers, programming, networking, and more. It has formed my foundation, given me escape, allowed me to see places that would have otherwise been dark, laugh, cry, go to college and start a life. It has been one of the most important parts of my life, and me. I still devour technical and computer books weekly and just about any other book I can get my hands on. I also still find an evening at Borders in a leather chair, a terrible cup of tea from Seattle’s Best, and a stack of books to be pretty close to heaven.

I have a “system” where occasionally I’ll buy a totally random book based simply on title, cover art/photo, or some other gravitational pull. Running With Scissors was one of these, and opened me up to Augusten Burroughs’ other work like Magical Thinking. But this one hit on multiple levels. The title: Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, which appeals to me and my dislike for the company. And the cover: A man standing next to a heavily burdened yak. Undeniable.

The book is written by a man named John Wood who decides to leave a high paying job in the heady bubble days of technology to start a non-profit organization which builds schools and libraries in poor countries such as Nepal. He’s no professional writer, but the book does a great job of following his trajectory and the high and low points of his journey. One particular part that stuck with me was a piece about one of his initial trips to Nepal where he was taken to a school “library.” The room was barren with an outdated map and a locked cabinet. When the locked cabinet was opened it contained a few castoffs from travelers and hikers like Danielle Steele romance novels and other English literary masterpieces of the same ilk. Totally inappropriate for the children in both reading level and content… not to mention quite an introduction to reading. He then decided, somehow, he would have an impact in these kids lives and give them a chance to succeed.

A great book and certainly a Good Read. The organization is called Room to Read and can be found online at: http://www.roomtoread.org/

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Gaiwans

November 20, 2007

Today’s “In Cup” post is actually about the cup itself. Since, like most, I spend most of my waking hours at work I tend to do much of my tea drinking there. I have tried all manner of approach to good tea at my desk, and many have worked well but always had a drawback or two. I’ve gone from three piece ceramic tea brewing mugs (which were a pain to clean), to People’s Brew Baskets in regular white coffee mugs (again a pain to clean and wear out/break quickly), and a few other failed experiments in between… but I never seriously thought of using a gaiwan at work. I always thought them too fragile. I was dead wrong. While I wouldn’t bring a very high-end gaiwan, I have only had one incident in two years, a nice regular quality $10-20 gaiwan is perfect. I’ve been using a very inexpensive one I bought at Kam Man in NYC for about a buck or two for almost all of those two years daily. Here she is:

My Work Gaiwan

I had initially thought them to be a bit clunky and formal but the great folks at Rec.Food.Drink.Tea (Usenet group) finally wore me down, and I’m glad they did. I quickly realized that the lack of a basket/infuser meant one less thing to clean which was perfect for work. Except for my one slip up while drying one out at the sink at work where I spent a good half hour cleaning up ceramic shards, they are extremely capable and resistant to the occasional flub. A good rinse and wipe out can keep one in service for some time before taking it home for a full cleaning.

I tailor my teas to the water cooler/heater temps in my office rather than add another piece to the equation for hotter temps. I’m lucky in that we have two water coolers with two different temps so I have some variety. Greens, some oolongs, and yellows do very well and that is fine with me. I enjoy the more serious teas when I can relax and put forth the proper effort at home. I get between 130 and 175 degrees and in between by going to the hotter one and letting it cool to the desired temp. Bi Lo Chun, Huang Shan Yellow, and occasionally a Shui Xian I have that responds well to 175 degrees are my mainstays, but any and all of my work teas get brewed in this manner in my gaiwan. It takes some trial and error but totally worth it. I had used a Hot Shot personal water heater to get hotter temps, but I’ve given it up and just go with what works.

The smaller size is perfect for work since I find I can actually get through the whole cup without being called away for some reason and coming back to ruined tea. I can make multiple infusions or change up teas in the course of a day with no fuss. The only downside is having to explain it to coworkers, but even that can be a good chance to open a dialog.


Ti Kuan Yin – Hsin Tung Yang Co.

November 16, 2007

This was an inexpensive Asian store buy the other day. I took a co-worker to get some lower priced teas since I’ve got him hooked, and I always buy at least three or four cheaper teas that are brands I’ve never seen or tried before. This was a bit of a stretch for me since I’m not a big TGY fan or flowery oolongs for that matter. It cost about $2.50 for 60g in a cardboard/tin canister.

Ti Kuan Yin - Hsin Tung Yang Co.

It has a nice smell and look, but a bit overly dry/brown, very reminiscent of raisins in both regards. I’ve only had a few cups of it in my gaiwan but it is fairly enjoyable. The flowery notes are pretty tame, which suits me fine. It’s not a favorite for sure, but it was a shot at breaking up my Shui Xian addiction of late. I can see a cup every now and then, but I’d imagine this one will go stale or be discarded long before 60g’s is consumed. I will say that, in it’s defense, it seems to be pretty decent quality leaf and not augmented with any colorings or flavorings to try to make it overly green or flowery. It’s probably $5-8 tea for $2.50 based on other lower-to-mid quality TGY’s I’ve had.


Sweet Chamomile – Leaves Pure Teas

November 15, 2007

Well, there had to be a bad egg at some point, it’s just unfortunate that it had to be with something I love as much as chamomile. My sister offered me two bright yellow packets of “Sweet Chamomile” teabags by Leaves pure teas. The ingredient list is: “Finest chamomile flowers, licorice root, spearmint and peppermint leaves.” The smell of the teabag was very nice, you could catch hints of all of those ingredients but in a nice balance and subtle to the chamomile scent. I brewed it in near boiling water for about 3 minutes and the aroma was phenomenal! I took the first sip and the flavor was actually incredible, and then the strangest thing happened. From my throat up came a sweet taste that only lingered in the throat and very back of the tongue. It’s strange in that it is an intense sweetness but not in the proper area of the tongue for sweet and really not the tongue at all but the back of the throat almost like a coating. Apparently this sensation is what she enjoys, and to some it may either come across as a different sensation altogether or else it is actually enjoyable to others. I didn’t like it.

The terrible thing is that I love the flavor of the tea and the mixture of herbs, but a second or two later the hit of sweetness in such an odd way ruins it all for me. It is the licorice root doing it since licorice root’s name is derived from Greek for “Sweet Root,” So I think I’m going to have to try to blend my own spearmint/peppermint/chamomile minus the licorice root from my fresh chamomile flowers. Stay tuned there’s been some newcomer’s to my cup lately… although truthfully it has mainly been Huang Shan Yellow, Bi Lo chun, and Shui Xian daily for weeks with no end in sight.