A Plea for Openness

Offer your ideas on how to improve the site or report problems.
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luca
Team HB

#1: Post by luca »

Following on from some questions that I asked boar_d_laze in another thread, I thought that I really should make this point a general one and a separate thread.

HB has developed into quite a good forum, with a great signal to noise ratio. Over the past few months, it seems to me that we have been getting more and responses that just assert things as universal truths and I struggle to believe that everyone posting these statements actually has the requisite experience to make such broad generalisations. In particular, I'm getting really sick of reading about the evils of HX machines, all of which are apparently fire-breathing dragons that require a sacrifice of many litres of water before they will condescend to put out anything other than molten-hot ash.

I think that HB's unique value as a discussion forum stems from the members' massive pool of knowledge and experience. In keeping in the spirit of that theme, I think that we owe it to one another to make the basis for our statements clear, whether that be personal experience or someone else's comments. In doing so, we'll allow readers to be able to make an informed decision about how useful our comments are likely to be. So rather than reading "don't buy a HX machine because all of them will invariably incinerate your coffee and all those that you hold dear," I think that we would all much rather read "I have owned machine X for Y months and find that I need to flush Z ounces of water through the group before making a shot," or "person X thinks Y (link)."

I don't think that this is a huge problem; the discussions on this webpage tend to be very fact-centric. But let's just keep it in mind.

Cheers,

Luca
LMWDP #034 | 2011: Q Exam, WBrC #3, Aus Cup Tasting #1 | Insta: @lucacoffeenotes

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HB
Admin

#2: Post by HB »

luca wrote:In particular, I'm getting really sick of reading about the evils of HX machines, all of which are apparently fire-breathing dragons that require a sacrifice of many litres of water before they will condescend to put out anything other than molten-hot ash.
I dunno, that seems pretty accurate:

Image

Sorry, I could not resist. :lol:

Seriously, thanks for bringing this up. I agree that members should make it clear whether they speak from first hand experience or are reporting what they've read elsewhere, especially because many people rely on forums for gathering information before making a large purchase. However, I think it is indelicate to explicitly "call out" someone - it is just short of calling them a liar. Instead I recommend politely querying the basis of their opinion (e.g., "How long have you owned XXX?", "Have you had the opportunity to compare XXX with YYY?").

The site's Guidelines for productive online discussion offer general advice on getting along. Do you think it needs updating to include "openness"? If you hadn't already surmised, I'm desperately trying to avoid a list of forum "don't do this, don't do that" rules.
Dan Kehn

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luca (original poster)
Team HB

#3: Post by luca (original poster) »

I dunno, that seems pretty accurate:
Sorry, I could not resist. :lol:
Damn you and your immense library of stock images! ;P
I think it is indelicate to explicitly "call out" someone - it is just short of calling them a liar. Instead I recommend politely querying the basis of their opinion (e.g., "How long have you owned XXX?", "Have you had the opportunity to compare XXX with YYY?").
A few thoughts:

*That was my strategy in the original thread. If the person is speaking from experience, we get an enlightening discussion. If they are not, how "indelicate" the situation becomes is up to them in how they respond. I think that it would be preferable to head this off.

*Some cultural sensitivity is probably required on my part. "That's a load of bull$#!t" is probably one of the top ten most common phrases that I hear ;P

*If "calling out" someone is just short of calling them a liar, surely making ungrounded assertions is just short of lying?
The site's Guidelines for productive online discussion offer general advice on getting along. Do you think it needs updating to include "openness"? If you hadn't already surmised, I'm desperately trying to avoid a list of forum "don't do this, don't do that" rules.
I haven't signed up for a while, so I don't know what new members see, but does anyone actually look at that?

I don't think that rules are what is required. A more elegant way of doing it might be to refine this site's mission statement. I think that "your guide to exceptional espresso" has developed to mean, or at least to encompass, "no BS; just the facts." Why not create a statement of what it is that this site hopes to achieve and how we go about it? That way you have something that offers some "do/don'ts" as well as inspiring people to sign up, rather than tagging on some terms and conditions after people have already decided to sign up.

Cheers,

Luca
LMWDP #034 | 2011: Q Exam, WBrC #3, Aus Cup Tasting #1 | Insta: @lucacoffeenotes

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HB
Admin

#4: Post by HB »

Sorry Luca for the slow response, I have been mulling over a response for several days...
luca wrote:Some cultural sensitivity is probably required on my part. "That's a load of bull$#!t" is probably one of the top ten most common phrases that I hear ;
That reminds me of a joke. Sorry, I don't recall the setup, but the gist of it was that a manager was tired of hearing his programmers saying "That's a load of bull$#!t" and informed his employees cussing would no longer be tolerated. So they coded their replies. For example, "That's a load of bull$#!t" = "That's a very interesting idea."

I heard the joke at work many years ago and for a long time thereafter, "That's a very interesting idea" became the catch phrase when someone expressed a particularly bad idea. :lol:
luca wrote:I don't think that rules are what is required. A more elegant way of doing it might be to refine this site's mission statement. I think that "your guide to exceptional espresso" has developed to mean, or at least to encompass, "no BS; just the facts." Why not create a statement of what it is that this site hopes to achieve and how we go about it?
I'm a believer in the Fixing Broken Windows theory applied to online communities:
A successful strategy for preventing vandalism, say the book's authors, is to fix the problems when they are small. Repair the broken windows within a short time, say, a day or a week, and the tendency is that vandals are much less likely to break more windows or do further damage. Clean up the sidewalk every day, and the tendency is for litter not to accumulate (or for the rate of littering to be much less). Problems do not escalate and thus respectable residents do not flee a neighborhood.

The theory thus makes two major claims: that further petty crime and low-level anti-social behavior will be deterred, and that major crime will, as a result, be prevented. Criticism of the theory has tended to focus only on the latter claim.
The site guidelines really aren't meant for new signups. They're formal statements of the "rules of engagement" written for the benefit of the moderators, and new members in the odd case where someone needs a reminder. But the day-to-day social norms are enforced subtly by the site's structure, member behavior, and Team HB leadership. For example, the site intentionally has very few forums to better focus on the site's mission statement, and each forum has a named "Lead Barista" to reinforce the team leadership. It's a symbolic gesture since anyone is free to reply to any thread wherever it appears, but I believe it's an important part of putting the "no broken windows" philosophy into action.

That said, I do believe your point is worth explicitly stating, if only as a reference should the question arise. I've added this to the guidelines and comments are welcome:
  • Be open and honest. Many people rely on opinions presented in these forums as part of their purchase decision. The basis of the information you present or opinions you express are as important as the statements themselves. For example, you should make it clear whether you speak from first hand experience or are reporting what you read elsewhere (and if appropriate, cite the source of this information).
The wording is a bit rough, but I think it gets the idea across.
Dan Kehn

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another_jim
Team HB

#5: Post by another_jim »

HB wrote:Be open and honest. Many people rely on opinions presented in these forums as part of their purchase decision. The basis of the information you present or opinions you express are as important at the statements themselves. For example, you should make it clear whether you speak from first hand experience or are reporting what you read elsewhere (and if appropriate, cite the source of this information).
That's pretty good. You might also remind them to list conventional wisdom, i.e. stuff everybody knows, as such. For instance, "Get a grinder" is for most people conventional wisdom. I haven't bought pre-ground coffee in about 35 years, long before I worried about anything else in coffee. So I have no clue how bad preground really is. Oddly, one of the demos at Terroir is that coffee ground 48 hours before tastes better than a roast from green beans stored a few years before roasting. Italians grind coffee and let it stale a day (or a few hours in a doser) to stabilize the taste. So even something as totally slam dunk as "get a grinder" may admit to exceptions or qualifications that are unknown to us.
Jim Schulman

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Marshall

#6: Post by Marshall »

luca wrote:In particular, I'm getting really sick of reading about the evils of HX machines, all of which are apparently fire-breathing dragons that require a sacrifice of many litres of water before they will condescend to put out anything other than molten-hot ash.
Since this is a sore point for you, Luca, and I am one of the HX Doubting Thomas's, I thought I would respond.

I am fairly certain that the "joys of HX machines" posts outnumber the "evils" posts by a goodly margin, if not a goodly multiple. Part of the reason I like to respond to this topic is that Silvia-(or equivalent)-to-HX upgrade has become the normal upgrade path that serious consumers aspire to, while I think they should pause first and consider the pros and cons.

My discussions with other enthusiasts and observation of posts on the Internet indicate a high pre-occupation with milk foaming and a general preference for milk drinks. When people say they always or nearly always have milk drinks and that efficient steaming capacity is a high priority, that indicates to me that they have given up on making great tasting espresso. I do not profess to know why this is, but I am fairly confident that, if they can't make good espresso with a decent single boiler, they are even less likely to make it on an HX.

What I would hope home baristas aim for is not to reproduce the hot milkshake emporiums that pass for coffee bars in the U.S., but to make great shots at home. So, I stand up for single (and double) boilers as part of that effort.

The second issue is water treatment. My wife is a water treatment chemist. I have been through the Cirqua demonstration of the same coffee brewed with three different levels of mineral content. So I am sensitive to water issues. Water makes an enormous difference in brew quality. I like the fact that I can easily control my water quality with a pourover. I do not think most consumers give proper consideration to the impact that plumbing in to the local water supply may have on their coffee and what they will need to do to correct it.

As Dan, Ken Fox and others on this board know, I came within a hair's breadth of pulling the trigger on a Cimbali Jr. purchase before stepping back and considering the issues above. That is why I am waiting for a GS3 (fool that I may be).

Yes, I have tried several HX machines, and I am sure I could master them. I just came out differently on the decision than most people.
Marshall
Los Angeles

jgriff

#7: Post by jgriff »

I thought I would add my two cents, somewhat in reply to Marshall. I didn't have a Silvia before getting my HX machine; I didn't have anything of any kind of quality, just an old Gran Gaggia that isn't even in the same league as the cheapest Gaggias available now. Before that, it was a steam-toy Krups. (I know this is a little off-topic, sorry.)

The point is I chose an HX not to make huge milky drinks but because I do enjoy a regular cappa without waiting and I like to be able to easily change brew temperature on the fly. Also, it's nice to have super-hot water for tea or Americanos. I am definitely in pursuit of better and better shots, but that's not always what I want. First thing in the morning I like to have something with a bit more liquid and not quite so strong.

I didn't make good espresso on my Gaggia. After nine months with my Anita I can (not always) pull shots as good, if a bit different than, those served in Stumptown's cafes. Also, don't forget that there are plenty of pourover HX machines, so your water issue is a non-issue.

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Marshall

#8: Post by Marshall »

jgriff wrote:Also, don't forget that there are plenty of pourover HX machines, so your water issue is a non-issue.
I know, but the typical flushing routine usually leads people to plumb their machines in sooner or later.
Marshall
Los Angeles

gscace

#9: Post by gscace replying to Marshall »

Getting back to one of the original problems of online forums - people often perpetuate myths as fact. When we examine conventional wisdom critically we occasionally learn something (like the conventional wisdom is not fact-based) and advance the art. We ought to be quite sensitive to that here since this is currently one of the best forums. When people make blanket statements, we should politely ask them to produce the facts on which they base their assertion.

-Greg

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Marshall

#10: Post by Marshall replying to gscace »

No, we shouldn't. That would be a rhetorical question, when questioner already knows the facts were not tested by a formal survey. But, we could run a survey here. Dan?
Marshall
Los Angeles