Still Life

A Series of Mental Snapshots

Adventures With An Espresso Machine

Posted by Steve on May 23, 2008

The kitchen near my desk had a new coffee machine put in yesterday (May 22nd) and I decided to give it a whirl. I place my cup under the dispenser a see that there are four buttons to press, I was able to ascertain that one was for steam, one for an espresso, one for a full cup and one where it will fill until you tell it to stop. I decided that I wanted a full cup, so I press the full cup button… but a full cup does not come out, I get about a half cup of coffee; I was a little disappointed to say the least. Since the cup was still only half full I decided to try the fill until you stop button. I grab another cup just in case my first one overflows. So the machine starts piping out the coffee, and of course it does overflow, but not very much, maybe by an ounce or so. From this I ascertain that this button won’t give me a full cup either. Now I have used espresso machines before, in fact my parents own one and I used it consistently for 2 years before going off to University, and I KNOW there is a way to set the amount of liquid that comes out on any decent machine, but at this point I don’t know how, there does not seem to be an menu button.

Since I was stuck at the machine, I decide to check the internet, after a few pages, I find out that the amount of water that comes out can range from 2-12 ounces, but it doesn’t tell me how! So I start searching some more and low and behold I find an 2 page PDF of instructions, it tells me that I can access the menu by holding the large coffee button when the machine is turning on, Perfect! So I race back to the machine, after finishing the first coffee of course, eager to try to get a full cup of coffee out. I go into the menu, I get to the doses menu, and access the alrge coffee, the level is set at 425… I think to myself 425 whats? My first thought is that it is 4.25 ounces, so I try to set it to 800, but when I confirm that, it flips back to 425; hmmm seems I have hit a maximum. So I try 550, that works so I decide to see how much coffee comes out now. I take my cup hit the button… still only 3/5 of a cup.

I decided at this point I must have missed something in the instructions, so I go back to it a notice something peculiar under the instructions for setting the doses, it stated “Note: Dose values don’t refer to any measurement unit but the counts of the flowmeter”. I thought to myself, this machine has a computer in it, why could they not have converted this to Milliliters, or ounces!!! I really get riled up about this, especially because I have just finished that second, well third, (because the first one had 2 coffees in it) cup of coffee, knowing that the units are meaningless to me I decide to go back to the machine and do a few more tests. The first was to find the maximum, I did so by going up in increments of 100 and seeing if it would accept the value, I got to 725, and then started going up by 10s (knowing already that 800 was too much) I eventually find the max is 750 flowmeter counts of course. I place the cup, and press the button in anticipation, the coffee starts coming out, and keeps coming, and coming, and coming… It gets within a centimeter from the top and is STILL coming out, I realize I have definitely set it too high, I press the cancel button to avoid a mess. I have at last succeeded in getting a large cup, but one that is a little too large, therefore I go back to the menu and set the value to 700, this is my final adjustment!

I actually didnt test the 700 counts because I felt if I had another coffee I might be awake until the next day, so I left that till this morning, where when I got a coffee, the cup was filled right to the brim, which was a little bit too much. So I set it down another 50 counts, and there we have it the perfect cup of coffee, the cup fills to 7/8 the way, leaving just enough room if I want an extra shot of espresso.

So this may seem like just a mildly entertaining story, but in fact it reveals a lot about my thought process and how I approach problems.
My first attempt was to try all of the buttons to see if they would give me the desired volume
I then went on to trying to set the volume myself without instruction, since I couldn’t do that…
I then tried to find instructions, and once I did I looked for the key piece of information
I went to set the volume, but I was confronted with the unknown units
I then dug deeper into the instructions to find out the units were meaningless
I finally got the desired volume through a series of tests

This is in fact how I approach most problems, I first see if there is a solution already, I then try to find the solution myself. If that fails I go onto documentation, and if that fails I proceed to trial and error. Now if I could only find the person who set the units to flowmeter count and them just what they were thinking, my adventure would be complete.



3 Responses to “Adventures With An Espresso Machine”

  1. catchthevision said

    I enjoyed this meandering through logic, problem solving, with a dash of unpredictability!

    One thing I have found is that some people go to instructions, some just get on and do it. A few years ago I was working with a builder, and we had to assemble a number of flat pack chairs. I opened the box, took out the instructions, studied them, and constructed the chair. The builder opened the box, put the instructions to one side, and constructed the chair.

    We were fascinated to find that we took the same time to complete our tasks. Ain’t it great that we’re different?

    For some of my musings on problem solving and creativity, feel free to check out the catchthevision blog.

  2. Steve said

    Hi There,

    Thanks for your reply, I actually had quite a bit of fun writing this post up. I checked out your blog, and you seem to have a lot of interesting posts!

  3. catchthevision said

    You’re very kind Steve, I just try to nail down some of the ideas which float into my mind, in the hope that this will help me understand things better.

    I’ve just blogged about what the next big challenge might be for technology – I guess whether we can achieve more for humanity than just a plethora of coffee machine! But perhaps the most interesting thing about coffee machines is not that they produce coffee, but that they get people together sharing ideas . . . . . . A really useful technical application with a social outcome!

    As someone with an interest in technology, I wonder what you’ll make of my latest blog?

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