Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

Still in the oven

Last week I splurged and bought Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. This is quite possibly the best book I have ever purchased.

My wife and I are both familiar with making bread. She has a recipe for bread she loves, and I’ve made bread following several different recipes online. It always turns out good, but takes a lot of work and a ton of time to make. A book that claimed to let us make even better bread with just a few minutes of work made us both a little skeptical.

The book includes several different base recipes, and for each recipe there are many additional recipes that take a little more work. For example, you might take a base recipe and cook the dough a little differently and get pita bread or naan. To start, I did the easiest and simplest recipe in the book.

I was surprised at the ingredient list: water, yeast, salt, and flour. I had always been told that you had to add sugar to give the yeast something to eat, but it turns out this isn’t needed.

I was also surprised at the process: put the water, yeast, and salt in a bowl. Dump in all the flour. Mix it up. That is it. No waiting for the yeast to “wake up” and start doing its thing. No kneading the dough. I didn’t even have to pay attention to how wet the dough was. My first batch was very wet and my second batch was much drier, but both turned out awesome with literally no more than 5 minutes of effort.

Ready to eat!

Once everything is mixed up, you let it sit on the counter for a few hours, and then it is ready to either turn into a loaf of bread or stick in the fridge to use later (or both).

Creating the loaf was easy, too. Grab a ball of dough, let it sit for 40 minutes, slice the top however you want, then put it in the oven for 30. I’ve made 5 loaves so far and each turned out perfect without having to pay careful attention to timing.

You also don’t need much equipment. The bare minimum is a cooking stone (easily obtained at Walmart or Target) and a cutting board. If you want to go all out, you can make your life a little easier by using a pizza peel, a cooling rack, and a kitchen scale.

For our most recent loaf, Becca and I looked up a honey butter recipe (3/4 cup butter, 1/4 cup honey, drop of vanilla) and had the most amazing fresh homemade bread ever!

Anyways, buy the book. It is only $14.81 on Amazon, and definitely worth it.

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LastPass Really Works

I’ve always hated password managers. They’ve always seemed klunky, inconvenient, and poorly thought out. This all changed with LastPass.

LastPass, like other passwords manager, lets you save your passwords. So what makes it better?

  • It is free. They have a paid version, but it doesn’t give any extra functionality that I need.
  • It works directly in your browser (Chrome, Safari, Firefox, your phone, etc…).
  • It can auto-login to websites.
  • It can generate passwords automatically.
  • It knows when you log into a website, and asks if you want to save your username and password with almost no effort on your part.
  • Your passwords are saved, encrypted, in the cloud (no more worries about losing your only copy!).
  • Passwords are cached in your client so you don’t have to worry about not being able to log in if their server goes down.

And best of all, it simply works. I was up and running in minutes, and got so addicted to it the first day that I installed it on all my computers.

Download it at LastPass.com.

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Open Atrium

I’ve recently discovered Open Atrium. I love it!

Built on Drupal, this “intranet in a box” is the perfect solution for my company.

These are the things I love about it:

  1. Works without a lot of configuration, but is still highly configurable in case you need it to do something special.
  2. Allows you to define groups and limit access to each group. This means I can have a “The Awkward Turtle” group and only allow myself and my wife (we’re the only ones working on it) to even know the group exists, and I can also have a “Creative Barcodes” group and allow myself, my wife, and our graphic designer Anthony to see it.
  3. Gives you a dashboard with all of the pertinent information from all of the groups that you are a member of. You also have a group dashboard that only shows you the important information for that specific group.
  4. You can, on a group-by-group basis, enable several awesome included features:
    1. A blog
    2. A notebook (sort of like a wiki)
    3. A calendar (even supports iCal)
    4. A case tracker (for keeping track of feature requests and bugs)
    5. A shoutbox (good for microblogging)
  5. It looks great and is very easy for an end-user (or an admin) to figure it out.

There are, however, a few things I’m not terribly excited about:

  1. Documentation is a bit lacking, but that isn’t unexpected for beta software.
  2. Doesn’t work on PHP 5.3. I had to setup Apache to run both 5.3 and 5.2 to get it working. This wasn’t really surprising though, as a lot of Drupal stuff has problems with PHP 5.3.

Is it perfect? Not yet, but I think someday soon it will be.

For an example Open Atrium site, check out their own community pages.

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Save money AND make your site faster using a CDN

My most popular website, the Fake Name Generator, recently ran into two major problems:

  1. It was using too many server resources.
  2. It wasn’t as fast as I wanted it.

To solve these issues, I turned to SimpleCDN and their awesome “mirror buckets”. Basically you setup a bucket, point it at your base URL (in my case, http://www.fakenamegenerator.com), then update a few links on your website. Instead of linking to something like http://www.fakenamegenerator.com/images/logo.png, I link to http://fake.name.generator.lg1x8.simplecdn.net/images/logo.png. When the visitor pulls up the new SimpleCDN URL, SimpleCDN will see if they have a cached copy of my image. If they don’t, they download it from my server then serve it to the visitor.

How does this help?

First, the website is faster for the visitor. The images are served up from a server that is geographically near them and that is guaranteed to handle all the headers related to caching properly.

Second, my server doesn’t have to handle images or CSS for that site anymore. For the Fake Name Generator, that is 260,000 requests per day that Apache doesn’t have to handle. This makes my server capable of doing more without having to buy more memory or get a faster CPU.

So the big question: how much does it cost? $0.039 per GB. For me, that means for the low low price $7.31 per year, they’ll handle 94,900,000 requests totaling 187 GB.

The best part? They give you a free $15 account credit when you sign up, so I won’t pay a penny until 2012.

Check it out at SimpleCDN.

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Songbird

I have recently become a huge fan of Songbird, a free multi-platform media player based on Mozilla’s XULRunner.

If you are anything like me, you may be asking yourself what makes Songbird special or worth your time. Why not just keep using iTunes, VLC, or Windows Media Player? Here are my reasons for choosing Songbird over the competition:

  • It runs on my Windows 7 and Ubuntu 9.10 computers with the exact same interface and feature set.
  • Highly configurable playlists. For example, I can make a dynamic playlist that only shows songs that: have been rated 3 or more stars, haven’t been skipped more than 5 times, are at least 3.5 minutes long, and were produced between 1990 and 2000.
  • With a minor tweak, Songbird will save my song ratings in the MP3 file itself. This means I can put a song in my Dropbox, rate it at work, and by the time I get home the rating will be there, too.
  • Speaking of tweaks, Songbird is as tweakable and configurable as Firefox. You can get extensions, themes, adjust internal settings that most people don’t care about, change how the title bar works.
  • Has an internal web browser that knows when you’re on a page with music. This means you can quickly and easily download free music from places like Last.fm and have your new songs instantly imported into your music library.
  • Also because it has an internal web browser, I can open Slacker or Pandora in Songbird and save myself having an extra tab in Firefox. (Bonus: If Flash starts acting up in Ubuntu, I just have to restart Songbird and not my whole browser)
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Buying glasses online

Recently, I’ve been having some trouble reading small print on my monitor. After talking to my wife, I realized that my vision just isn’t what it used to be.

After getting my prescription, we hit up Sam’s Club and found a nice pair that would cost $127 plus 5% sales tax. Yikes! I just need a pair for when I’m at the computer.

So I took my search online and found Glasses Shop. I checked out their cheapest glasses and, with my wife’s help, picked a pair.

12 days later and I am wearing my brand new pair of glasses! For $27.40 I have a decent looking pair of glasses, a hard case, a soft bag, a cleaning cloth, and one of those little key chain eyeglass tools. They aren’t quite as good looking as the pair we found at Sam’s, but they cost $105.95 less and it isn’t like I’m trying to impress any girls where I work (except on days that I work from home).

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