Fail fast.

This is a common phrase at start-ups.  The idea has been around for a while, but the jist is that it’s better to get some data and feed it back into your plan, rather than working out the plan in full before taking the first step.  At a company, that means getting the customer involved to define their needs before you have your product ready to sell them – they are more likely to buy the product if it actually does what they want.  In science (or at a company), that can mean making a hypothesis and testing it quickly, rather than spending time refining the hypothesis before taking data.  If the data disproves the hypothesis quickly, you’re better off since you can already move on to the second hypothesis.

But, there is always a balance.  The old adage ‘measure twice, cut once’ reminds us of the value of planning ahead before diving into an idea.  And, if you dove into your idea above too quickly, you’re often left with a pile of uninterpretable data and the necessity of repeating the experiment (but hopefully you failed so fast that the experiment can be repeated in less time than it would’ve taken to plan it perfectly anyway!).

My natural tendency is to fail fast.  I’ll even measure once and cut twice – I know someone will read that and shudder.  The good news is that after 22 years of school and even more years of life, I’m well-practiced at learning from mistakes.  I constant looking out for ways that something can be done more efficiently or just faster.  (And the corollary is that I suspect my own judgement on my initial pass is pretty harsh after the fact.)

So, if you’re reading about my home improvement experiences, you’ll find a lot of tips from me on the mistakes which I made and how you can avoid them (and how I recover from them).  My first-time projects at home often don’t go according to plan because I’ve learned along the way and can improve the plan – or I’ve just learn along the way that the plan was bad and I need to stop and regroup.  Our kitchen was unique since I’m pleased with most of the major decisions, but even then my hindsight was clearer than my plan…I did not consider that it’s tough to open a pull out garbage that has a knob (not a handle) with your pinky finger if you happen to be in the midst of onion chopping.  Our bathroom countertop is one great example of a fast failure turning into a nice final result. I’ll likely be one of the few bloggers who can tell you that you can erase tiling mistakes with a rubber mallet and a small chisel.  And I appreciate most store’s return policies since I almost never like the first incarnation of any of my decorating plans.

Here’s to hoping that fast failures can help us all move toward high quality results more quickly and efficiently.  My mistakes are most valuable if even one person out there on the internet can skip directly to plan B because I’ve demonstrated that plan A is insufficient.

Advertisements

Physics in the kitchen – our induction stove and other appliances

Our kitchen is finished.  And it’s awesome.  And a lot of that awesome is our induction range!

Before and after:

2014-01-22 08.26.42 photo 5

Yes, it looks much cooler, but it is also way more practical.  A big part of that is the appliances that we bought.  We actually had to buy these before the cabinets.  Although we ordered fairly standard-sized appliances anyway, the cabinets have to fit around them.  Our priorities were:

  1. Saving energy (more of that whole I-lived-in Berkeley)
  2. Increasing cooking speed (we weren’t sure this was actually possible with appliances.  Spoiler: it is.)
  3. Fitting a turkey in the oven come Thanksgiving.
  4. Supporting American companies when possible.

Our most exciting appliance purchase was our GE induction range.  In fact, if it wasn’t for the range, this post would be a waste of time.  Induction cooking is really fun: instead of applying thermal energy (aka heat), the stove has AC current in a coil below a ferromagnetic (think iron, steel NOT copper) pot.  Through induction, the magnetic pot begins to have eddy (or swirling) currents within the sides, which heat up the pot.  The stove itself only heats up because it is in contact with the pot.  While I like physics, equations have never been my thing so we will stop here before the math…sorry Maxwell.  Induction stoves used to be very expensive but have gotten much cheaper over the last few years.

photo 4There she is – right in the middle!  Note that a glass top electric range looks pretty much the same from this angle.

This induction stove means FAST cooking – this I can say firsthand.  It now takes us literally 2 minutes to boil a dutch oven full of water for pasta.  This cuts off at least 10 minutes from dinner if we are boiling anything!  In terms of energy efficiency, induction stoves are even more responsive than gas, but over twice as energy efficient (government’s evaluation here) coming in at 84% vs. 40% for gas.  I have had no problems getting high enough heat for stir frying.   It was also convenient that we didn’t have to plumb gas into our kitchen (previously an electric stove).

It is much more difficult to burn hands on the stove since the surface itself barely gets hot.  I actually moved a boiling pot off of the surface to see how hot is is.  I can actually touch the surface quickly without burning myself within 5 seconds of moving the pot.  That said, I still wouldn’t want to sit on it or anything at this point.

All of our pots worked except for one cheap saucepan and two Calphalon non-stick frying pans.  We didn’t have any copper, aluminum or ceramic pots.  Most interestingly though was that a cheap $20 stockpot from Target in 2007 works just fine.  All-clad and Rachel Ray non-stick pans (and likely others, but these are the replacements we bought) work great with the stove.  The trick is to look for heavy stainless steel bottoms.  Cast iron is maybe the best choice of all, but I cannot tell a difference in heating rates between all of these pots.

Finally there is space for three racks inside of the range oven – plenty of room for a turkey and side dishes!  Our range fulfilled all 4 conditions of appliance shopping.

After picking the range, we kind of went with the flow (GE profile series) for the rest of the appliances.   I report about them here, but we were pretty ambivalent in comparison to the range.  Like I mentioned before, the microwave range hood power is a little low (although I think all microwave hoods are), but we would buy it again because our kitchen is so small.  The refrigerator is counter depth, again because of our tiny kitchen.  French doors with freezer below seem to be all the rage these days…so far so good.  The ice dispenser seems very sophisticated.  The previous side-by-side fridge was annoying since we couldn’t fit a casserole dish in it very well.  Our dishwasher is a Bosch because the nice lady at the local appliance store said it was less likely to break…  This sounded like a good reason to change up brands.  It’s actually so quiet that it has a little red light to prove that it is a running.

photo 3

Faucet, sink and dishwasher.  The sink seems twice as deep as the old 1950’s sink!  That banana hook is pretty cool too.  And yes, we have a vent cover now.

We also needed a faucet and a sink.  My father (hi dad), who has replaced more than his fair share of faucets, recommends Moen or Delta.  There are a ton of faucet options, but Moen, Groehe and Hans Groehe were the recommended faucet brands by the fancy faucet store that our contractor sent us to (in the end, we bought from Amazon).  Of these three, Moen is made in the US – there is a nice list of American-made faucets here.  Interestingly, Moen and some other brands seems to have big-box store models and order-only models.  Sometimes the big box store models are made in China and sometimes they aren’t – just something to consider.  After our rather sketchy experience with Delta, we opted for a Moen kitchen faucet as well, namely the pull-out Moen Arbor.  We like the pull out feature for easy rinsing.  In CA, it is actually law that new faucets must be low flow – without the sprayer head, I don’t think we could actually get enough water flowing to rinse off dishes.  With the sprayer head, it seems to work great.

The sink is a Franke sink, which we did buy from the fancy faucet store.  We learned that cheap sinks kind of echo when you hit them, but this sink sounds nice and sturdy.  Shopping for sinks is similar to shopping for watermelons but it seems that a good sink sounds like an underripe melon.  We like having a big, deep, under counter sink to fit everything  (no more holding baking pans at weird angles to clean them off!).  We also got a sink that holds a wire shelf.  I like to use it to set the pasta strainer on it.

Buy induction!  It’s awesome.  For the first time in our kitchen, watched pots do boil.

Pineapples – solved

Pineapples are delicious and really everyone likes them.  In fact, when asked “what type of fruit would you be?” the largest fraction of responders in my sorority(myself included) answered that they would be a pineapple.  Either we all wanted to be delicious and golden yellow, or we knew that we would be safe from an lazy kitchen chefs.  Probably explaining why this fruit is so tasty, cutting pineapples sucks!  Then this thingy came along:

This gadget is surprisingly awesome.  Until I sat down to write this, I wondered what about it fascinated me.

Let’s start with that it’s really humbling something so simple works so well.  However, I also note that this is not obvious.  And it has its own wikipedia page, no inventor credited.  It’s the perfect symbol for a successful engineering result: simple, non-obvious and works well.