Simpler Is Better

The Case of the Clam-Shell Phone

Many of my conversations of cosmic importance take place when we and The Levines are sitting around a table, and quite often one of the main topics to be discussed is Barbara Levine’s vintage cell phone and its presumed limitations. Richard can be accurately described as a gear guy and, more precisely, as an i-Gear guy. Yes, he has a Windows machine at home, but when he comes our way, he travels with a Macbook, an iPad, and an iPhone. Let us not forget the iWatch on his wrist, a farewell present when he retired a few years ago.

Barbara Levine does bring a small iPad with her, with which she follows all the feeds and posts of interest to her. But there by her side, for as long as we’ve known her, is a little clam-shell phone, vintage 1874. There are lots of things one can’t do with this device, but one can make and receive phone calls as proficiently as with a more feature-laden phone, and with a little effort, one can even do text messages, which is all she needs or wants from a phone. Plus, anyone can make necessary repairs to it with little or no training. All that needs to be done is use a fresh batch of ‘Scotch tape’ to make sure the case doesn’t fall apart.

Barbara, being the engineer that she is, will explain that the more features, the more functions, the more parts, a device has, the more likely it will prematurely shuffle off this mortal coil. If you don’t believe it, just wander over to your local landfill, a cemetery for shiny toys that have met an early demise. The point being that simpler is better, which is the topic of this article, for you to enjoy and me to vent my frustrations. So here goes.

Sometimes, we are urged, pressured even, to join the party and upgrade to a newer contraption. When Richard purchased his new iPhone recently, he bequeathed his older model to Barbara, which she accepted grudgingly, muttering under her breath all the while. She may be using it, but she still carries her clam shell with the tape around it. Even I felt the urge to do an upgrade. My iPhone 6, which I purchased six and a half years ago, worked just fine, but it was becoming less and less compatible with a newer generation of apps and the annual upgrade of IOS. As friend Ezra was heading down to Eilat – where they don’t charge the 17% VAT – I figured it would be a good time to move on to a more current iteration.  He came back with an iPhone 12 for me, and we spent a few hours moving over the data and setting up the phone to do all the newer and better things I couldn’t do before, one of which was being able to load my rav kav from the comfort of our home.

We’ve come a long way from how you paid for your bus ride back in 2007 when we were newbies here in The Land. The driver no longer has to make change while he’s driving – not the safest way to conduct business – nor would we have to go all the way to the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem to renew our monthly pass. Just use the app on your phone.

Simple? Not so simple. Downloading the app is not the problem; using it is. You have to hold your rav kav next to the phone in a certain way so the app and the card are talking to each other. But the real difficulty has to do with attaching your credit cards. Using the method we started with, we started adding them to Apple Pay. Easy enough, except that you need to receive and enter an access code to validate the transaction. Let’s try our Capital One Card. OK, it’s sending the code to….. an American land line. (As we all know, land lines are not the preferred way to handle text messages.) I’ll have to call the phone number on the card to straighten out the problem. I’ll do it tomorrow; except that ‘tomorrow’ is always tomorrow – if you get my drift. With a phone call or two and a little effort, we were, however, able to validate my two Israeli cards. I should have been good to go; wrong!

Somewhere in the ether, in that part of virtual reality that deals with petty cash, are floating several hundred shekels of mine, meant to pay for my transportation throughout The Land, but never accomplishing that task. In simple English, I wound up taking money out of my Bank Leumi account but never transferring the shekels onto my rav kav, which is why I wound up stranded in Jerusalem, unable to pay my way back home. You can see why I’m a bit leery of this pay-your-way-by phone business. Ezra was explaining to me how he’s started to do just that, flashing his phone to buy things. I had to ask him, OK, you’re a gear guy, and I understand the temptation to strut your stuff, but you’re taking the credit card you already have, adding it to your phone, and using that instead of the card. That’s simply an additional step. How does that make life any better, any easier? Understand, that was a rhetorical question; I didn’t expect an answer, and I didn’t get one.

Male Chauvinist Alert

It’s not easy to attribute motives to mechanical devices, and I know I’m on thin ice here, but I have to believe our new washing machine was put together by male chauvinists. When our Zanussi, after fourteen years of faithful service, finally made its way to appliance heaven, we purchased a Constructa – built apparently in Poland, where there must be a lot of let-the-women-do-the-housework types. Like a lot of modern appliances, it is, shall, we say, over-programmed. There are fourteen, count ‘em, fourteen different settings to do laundry, thirteen of which we don’t use. The one we do use runs for thirty minutes and allows 3.5 kg of laundry. And it has a sensor that tells you if you’ve put in a nanogram more than you’re supposed to. That is the problem. The Constructa is built like a tank, but if that sensor is having a bad hair day, nothing will get laundered, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Well, almost nothing. We can try ‘rebooting,’ turning the machine on and off or disconnecting it; that sometimes works. But I have another solution: BARBARA!!!!

The other day, I started filling the washing machine, and, sure enough, the little screen blinked ‘3.5,’ meaning I had over-loaded it. OK, take something out. Still too much. Take out something else. Still too much. I summoned my helpmate. Here, you try. She put back everything I had taken out and added a few other items that I had been reluctant to stuff in. Sure enough, Constructa started up without a complaint. I must assume that it wants her to do the laundry, not me.

I was reminiscing with Iris, our house guest. You remember the Maytag or Whirlpool washers and dryers we used to have in days of yore? They were the latest in technological advancement at the time: you load the clothes and the soap and turn the dial to ‘on.’ The machine would turn itself off when it was done. After performing this complicated task for twenty or thirty years, the washer or dryer would announce its retirement, and you’d have to replace it with a similar model. But until then, except for replacing a belt or a knob every once in a while, it would work flawlessly – without giving you an argument. Imagine that, an appliance that didn’t assume it was in charge, that it knew better how you should do your laundry! That it didn’t expect you to separate your towels from your jeans. Whatever you threw in was OK. Remember our slogan.

Simpler Is Better

Confession of a sort: I wasn’t always a coffee geek, not even a wine maven. We always did our best back in The States given the limits of our resources, but it was only when we arrived in The Land in 2007 that we were able to up our gustatory game and gain a toehold into the world of the feinschmeckers. But that was a process of discovery. (The coffee at Aroma is better than that at Café Ne’eman; the coffee at Roladin is better than Café Gregg; and so on…) At some point, I realized that it was possible to obtain specialty coffee in Israel – not just to have a cup in situ, but to brew it myself at home. And then one day, a gamechanger, I stumbled into Power Coffeeworks, which is in a whole ‘nother league. Now I was really getting ready to up my coffee game.

If I was going to get the best beans under the sun, then the least I should do is grind it myself when I use it, the way they do it in any coffee shop east or west of the Andes. Start with one of the ubiquitous little blade grinders. Simple, easy to use, but their grind quality is, shall we say, a little uneven, and, as I have learned, consistency is the name of the game.

Brandon was able to get me a little hand grinder with ceramic burrs made by a company called Hario, and I used that one for a while. The results were better than with the blade grinder, but it was taking me 90 seconds to prepare enough coffee to make one cup, and that can become very wearisome very quickly. (When I say, ‘the results were better,’ I mean that an objective taster, my charming wife for instance, could taste the difference.)

What to do? Split the difference: get a third grinder, one that would be easy to use and would produce a swell cup of coffee. Lots of research, lots of YouTube videos watched. I wound up buying an entry-level Wilfa grinder from a company in Finland. The grinder itself wasn’t that expensive, but throw in the shipping charge and the customs and the tax on the shipping charge. I had no choice; if I wanted to grind the coffee, I had to pay the piper.

But I was pleased. Using the grinder couldn’t have been easier. Change the grind setting for whatever brewing method I was using; weigh the beans; fill the hopper; press the ‘on’ button. That’s it; no muss, no fuss, no regrets.

And then ten months later, the thing stopped working – as in, the parts would no longer fit together. Again, what to do? Send an e-mail to Crema in Finland. And their response: in effect, Screw you buddy, you don’t live in the E.U. We’re not responsible. Na-na-na-na-na-na. I had a machine with a five-year warranty with no one to honor it. Was there anyone in The Land who could fix my Wilfa? Otherwise…

I wound up dealing with DD, one of the regulars at Power Coffeeworks. He figured out in no time flat that the problem was caused by a crack in the plastic casing. After several failed efforts, he latched onto an industrial strength epoxy to repair the damage, and that seemed to work. For a while; a very short while. The parts fit together, but the motor was on its last leg. (Imagine a very old car trying to start on a very cold day.) I’d better start looking for a fourth grinder.

Back to the drawing board, otherwise known as YouTube. Dozens of videos, dozens of comparisons, dozens of price points, dozens of suggestions. The one thing I was not going to do was make the same mistake twice. I am not going to buy anything – not just a coffee grinder – that’d not sold in Israel and isn’t under warrantee here.

Yes, there are grinders – the kind with motors – that are sold here, but, for a bunch of reasons, there was no model that I was happy with. And so, if there was nothing sold here that I wanted, and I wasn’t going to buy one from abroad, yet I had to have something to grind my beans, what was I to do? Back to the drawing board (a/k/a YouTube). Let’s consider some of the really good hand grinders out there. After all, what’s the difference in performance and price between a grinder that you turn on and off with the flip of a switch and one you power with elbow grease? It’s not the metal burrs that grind the coffee; they’re the same. It’s the electrical parts. You’re paying extra to avoid getting tennis elbow. But, while your arm will respond to a little bed rest, as I discovered, it’s a lot harder to deal with a bum motor – the point being that I needn’t worry about warrantees and repairs for an all-metal mechanical device, one that might well out-last me.

Dozens of YouTube videos later, after a lot of back-and-forthing, I finally decided which hand grinder I wanted. When I googled the model to find out where it’s sold, lo and behold, up popped information from Amazon. I’m not known as a partisan of this over-large operation that does poorly by its employees, but there it was. They would send it to me with no shipping charge, with an option to get it to me lickety-split for a nominal fee. And they were as good as their word. It was supposed to arrive the following Thurs.; the DHL guy showed up bright and early on Tues. morning. Remove the manila wrapper, and look, right there are the carton that the 1zpresso K-Max came in, it says, ‘Simpler is better,’ proving, once and for all, that great minds think alike. Well, almost.

Inside the carton, inside the traveling case the company provides, is….. no instruction sheet. Wait; there is something written on a little card: ‘To reduce paper waste, please scan the QR Code for online manuals.’ How is that simpler; how is that better?

I had an app to do just that on my iPhone, but it was a version that worked with my old phone. Remove that app, reinstall a new version, one that actually works, and, sure enough, there was a manual – actually several – except it was for all of their grinders, not just the version I had purchased. Transfer everything from my phone to my computer, print out one manual (16 pages), save two others. How is this simpler; how is this saving paper?

I am proud of myself. I was able to decipher the instructions and calibrate my new device – not a given, considering my low-level of mechanical ability. And yes, the grinder meets and exceeds my expectations.

Did I have any choice? No, I did not. I was compelled to pack up the grinder in its case and bring it in to Power Coffeeworks. There were a number of serious caffeine afficionados on hand, each of whom gave an appreciative ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ to my little grinder. Not to be outdone, Brandon took some of his own coffee and ground enough to make himself an espresso. Now we’re talking! One more thing: a few days ago, I received an email from Amazon, informing me that I would be receiving an ‘import fee deposit refund’ of $1.30. That would cover the cost of 25g. of house blend, or two medium size cups of coffee, which I can grind in 35-40 seconds. As long as I don’t get tennis elbow, I’m in business. Just remember the motto….

Postscript

The folks who went to Egypt are back in the Land. Before they left The Land of the Pharaohs, they all took the required PCR test and were negative. Upon landing at Ben-Gurion, they all took another PCR test, also required. Whereupon, almost all of them tested positive. As I said previously, a bunch of Johnny-come-latelies, waiting to the last minute to contract COVID – unlike us, who were at the front of the line, no waiting. Don’t delay and keep it simple; that’s the ticket.

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