Steven Levy, Editor at Large at WIRED


Cool Tools Show 141: Steven Levy

Our guest this week is Steven Levy. Steven writes about technology. He’s editor at large at Wired and his books include Hackers, Crypto, Artificial Life and In the Plex.

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Show notes:

Big Green Egg and
Weber iGrill Thermometer
“The grill that I find that is the best is a thing called The Big Green Egg. It’s the variety of grill that’s called the Kamado grill. It’s a ceramic thing. It’s unlike the Weber things, which are made of metal and basically just cook things over the coals. It has the convection angle as well. When you close the big ceramic thing, the temperature as well as the charcoal and the grill cooks it up there. So you can kind of control the temperature within the egg. The thing’s shaped like a big green egg, as the name implies. There’s a cult of The Big Green Egg. There are Big Green Egg nerds that, you know, share secrets and endless accessories you can buy. And so I find that The Big Green Egg is best used when you have a way not only to monitor the temperature inside the egg, which it comes with a thermometer that enables you to do that, but to monitor the internal temperature of whatever you’re cooking. ..I use this thing called iGrill. It’s made by Weber. And basically it’s a device that sits outside the grill with a bunch of probes that would go on the meat. You close the cover over it and you can monitor up to four different pieces of meat or fish or whatever you’re measuring there. … it’s USB, so it goes to your phone or even to your watch, so you’re walking around and your watch might buzz and tell you it’s got five minutes to go.
You can monitor there. It’s foul proof, especially with something like fish were you don’t want to overcook. It’s really great to monitor it. So I’ve never really screwed anything up with this combination.”

“This is an app that I’ve been using the past few months. I think that e-books cost too much. The value proposition isn’t any where near what you can get for a hardback book that you keep for life and you can read it without a light source, and there’s the physical pleasure of it. Though e-books certainly have their virtues, it’s great to have and I love traveling with my Kindle or my iPad, I use both, full of books. So I’m never worried about not having something to read. A BookBub sort of plugs into that idea, maybe a model where books are so cheap, you’ll buy one on impulse and just have it around whether you read it or not, turns out to everyone’s benefit there. As it turns out, every so often, even the books you want to read, get on sale at Amazon and other e-book purveyors, and I’m talking about costing $2 instead of $12 or $10. So BookBub keeps track of all this stuff and first, you fill out some forms or say what kind of books you like, and it figures out the kinds of books you might be interested in and it reports to you when books are on sale. So everyday you get an email with about five books that you may want to read that cost between one and three dollars. And I find maybe once a week, I’ll buy a book. I’ll say ‘Oh, that’s cheap. I’ve always wanted to read that.’ Or here’s a great version of Don Quixote or here’s a thriller by an author I really like or here’s Joan Didion’s ‘Slouching Towards Bethlehem.’ Wow, I have that on my book shelf, but I’d love to carry it around with me in case I want to read her essay about Jim Morrison on a plane ride. So I use this and I have probably 50 books now, some of which I’ll probably read, some of which I won’t read, but I’m happy just to have them. So I think that it’s a great model. Some of my books have been on sale for a couple of bucks, and I’ve bought them on there too.”

AeroPress Coffee and Espresso Maker
“I actually met the inventor and his name’s Alan Adler, and he’s a guy up in years. …He got interested in coffee and tried to figure out what the best way to do a cup of coffee is, and he invented this thing, this vacuum tube. It looks like something you might give an enema with really, and you put some ground coffee into one end and it comes with this little round filter, you get like a thousand for $7, and you heat it up. Adler is very specific in saying, don’t do it to boiling, 175 is the perfect temperature. But I find, you don’t have to be that precise. You pour in the water, you give it a little stir, and then just push the tube down there, push the plunger in, and it gives you an amazing cup of coffee. And as it turns out, the Coffee Geeks have rated this on a level with $4,000 espresso machines, and some boutique coffee shops actually have rows of AeroPresses. That’s the way they make your coffee. They have annual AeroPress contests. For me, it’s just a great cup of coffee and it’s super portable. I have AeroPresses in three different locations … My personal advice is three full scoops, don’t skimp on the coffee. And it’s fantastic. …The other great thing about the AeroPress is it’s self-cleaning. When you push the plunger down, it cleans itself. All you have to do is give it a quick one-second rinse, and pow, there it is. You don’t have to worry about scrubbing it out.”

“I had a period where my transcriber was gone, I needed to get transcription. … Temi is done by AI and it’s 10 cents a minute and it turns it around within a minute … they give you the transcript, and then you edit the transcript, you’re encouraged to edit the transcript to fix it online and they’re watching what you do. So they’re getting better and better and better. So over the past few months, the thing has gone to virtually unusable to pretty good, like about 70 percent, I’d say, of normal transcribers. More than enough to figure out what in the interview you want to use, and then you can click on that part of it online, and play it back right there and just get that one part of it perfect there. So I’m finding it better and better and better, and it is so incredibly cheap and fast that I’m pretty much taping now, just to get a raw transcript … Like an hour interview is 60 cents.”

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