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Interview: Ask Alan Adler About Flying Toys and the Perfect Cup of Coffee 76

When he's not lecturing at Stanford or NASA, Alan Adler is working on brewing the perfect cup of coffee and engineering flying toys. His AeroPress is one of the most popular coffee brewing systems available and one of his Aerobie Pro Rings set the world record for the farthest thrown object at 1,333 feet. Alan has agreed to sit down and answer any questions you may have. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one question per post.
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Interview: Ask Alan Adler About Flying Toys and the Perfect Cup of Coffee

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  • Aerobie Drones? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by CanHasDIY ( 1672858 ) on Monday December 16, 2013 @01:46PM (#45705363) Homepage Journal

    After reading the article about the Aerobie setting a world record as the farthest flying thrown object in human history (uber-neat, BTW), I wondered: Do you think there's any way that such a design would work as a small drone platform? Perhaps something that can be thrown from the hand, then perpetuate flight at least semi-autonomously?

    • by TheLink ( 130905 )
      I think a boomerang was thrown further.

      So my question is: what roughly is the maximum theoretical distance an unpowered flying object can be thrown by a top athlete? Assuming no wind, level ground and the usual stuff for a record.

      If I were allowed one more question I'd ask what might be the optimum shape of that object, but nevermind :).
      • I think a boomerang was thrown further.

        While this article [] from 2007 begs to differ, the folks at Guinness are on your side, it seems. []

        So my question is: what roughly is the maximum theoretical distance an unpowered flying object can be thrown by a top athlete? Assuming no wind, level ground and the usual stuff for a record.

        That seems more appropriate to ask of xkcd's "What if" section.

      • I think a boomerang was thrown further.


        • by Anonymous Coward

          Where I'm from, further can be used for distance:

          Usage note
          Although some usage guides insist that only farther should be used for physical distance (We walked farther than we planned), farther and further have been used interchangeably throughout much of their histories. However, only further is used in the adverbial sense "moreover" (Further, you hurt my feelings) and in the adjectival senses "more extended" (no further comment) and "additional" (Further bulletins came in).
          The expression all the farther (or further) in place of as far as occurs chiefly in informal speech: This is all the farther the train goes.

          See also: []

          • Where I'm from, further can be used for distance:

            By informal (read: idiot) speakers, yes.

    • I'm guessing the answer is probably no, because it's not something that's easy to do in plastic, and in a hotel room you can get by with heating the milk in a microwave, while there are other devices out there for stove tops or camping stoves. But I'd love to see one if there's a practical way to do it.

    • Bah! If you want the best coffee, you roast your own beans. I buy my green coffee beans from Sweet Maria's. Roasting takes only about 12 - 15 minutes, and you'll never go back to beans that somebody else roasted.

      And spend some $$ on a good burr grinder!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Coffee seems harmless, so EVERYONE uses it, EXPECTS you to use it. We'll even eat it out of a cat's ass. That's true horror.

    Tell me again how 'drugs' are bad. That's always funny.

  • Cafestol? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Monday December 16, 2013 @01:59PM (#45705483) Journal

    I love french press coffee, but drink paper filtered drip because cafestol [] present in coffee oils increases blood cholesterol. Unfortunately, those coffee oils are delicous so I lose a lot of the flavor as well.

    I see the Aeropress is a french press like device, but uses paper filters. Doesn't using a paper filter remove most of the flavorful coffee oils you'd get from using a french press? If the Aeropress lets more of those oils through, does it also let more cafestol through?

    Graphs with scales labeled in the appropriate units and measures of uncertainty(error bars) would be highly appreciated.

    • I'm not quite as up on the oils part, but there does exist a reusable steel mesh filter for the Aeropress as well, from Kaffeologie. I just got one and it seems to work pretty well.
    • The whole cholesterol thing is bogus- they haven't proven that high blood levels cause disease.

      • by Hatta ( 162192 )

        It's true that hypercholesterolemia may be a consequence and not a cause of cardiovascular disease. But that doesn't mean that ingesting substances that disrupt cholesterol homeostasis are safe.

        Look at it this way. Assume that cholesterol is a consequence of cardiovascular disease. Cholesterol is then not a cause, but a warning sign that something bad may be happening. CVD increases serum cholesterol. Cafestol increases serum cholesterol. Could cafestol be a CVD mimetic drug? It's quite possible, an

  • by MonkeyDancer ( 797523 ) on Monday December 16, 2013 @02:04PM (#45705533)

    The Aerobie Pro Ring is one of the best skill toy inventions ever created.
    Can you tell us about the physics and engineering challenges that you had to overcome to break the world record?

    • I met Adler a few years ago at a design thing at Stanford. I forget if it was after I'd bought my Aeropress. The press isn't the same as a high-pressure espresso machine, but it's pretty good, and really convenient.

      Aerobie's dog frisbees seemed like they'd be fun also, if you've got an appropriate dog. (I've got cats; flying catnip mice are only interesting to the cats if they're throwing them around themselves.)

  • LOL .... (Score:5, Funny)

    by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Monday December 16, 2013 @02:08PM (#45705597) Homepage

    set the world record for the farthest thrown object at 1,333 feet

    Oh, for just 4 more feet, that would have been awesome. ;-)

  • How hot is Major Margaret Houlihan in person?

  • Do you play disc golf, and if so, what is your long-distance driver?
  • What are your thoughts regarding pre roasted coffee versus roasting at home? (I personally roast at home with a popcorn popper and find that it produces better results at a lower price. The founding belief being that coffee being a chemically active substance after it is roasted makes it theoretically impossible to store roasted coffee and retain the original flavor since it can't be stored at absolute zero.)
    • The founding belief being that coffee being a chemically active substance after it is roasted makes it theoretically impossible to store roasted coffee and retain the original flavor since it can't be stored at absolute zero.

      That is too simplistic of an explaination, because by that logic, no food could every be stored and retain the original flavor, ever. I'd love to see some analysis on how stable the flavenoids (-is that even the right word?) are in roasted coffee, vs our ability to taste the difference.

      This is similiar to, I can up the resolution on my screen to 1 Terrapixel per square in., but, if my shitty human eyes can't perceieve the difference, does it really make a difference?

      • by Cow007 ( 735705 )
        Invalid argument. The coffee is chemically active so the flavor CHANGES after a short amount of time. If you have not had coffee just roasted and tried it over a period of days you would not know the difference. The easiest way to describe is that it gets mellower and less sweet. As to weather it really makes a difference that is subjective. If trying to brew the PERFECT cup of coffee however then it definitely makes a difference. Coffee being discovered in Ethiopia tends to give enormous credibility to the
  • So, are you now working on a flying coffee maker?

  • Hello Alan, I remember you having a VW Bug with Aerobie plates. I saw it frequently at Los Altos High school when you would come out and throw. Do you still have it? What ever became of it?
  • I've long enjoyed my Aeropress for travel. But for the office/cube I've usually used the Clever Coffee Dripper ( as it produces as good (or better IMHO) results with a little less excitement (misalignment of the Aeropress considered harmful ;>). At home I alternate between espresso and various other techniques.

    Do you consider the Aeropress the pinnacle of coffee brewing, or just a really good portable approach? Are you working on any further im

  • by hawkinspeter ( 831501 ) on Monday December 16, 2013 @03:31PM (#45706597)
    I've been using a metal filter with my Aeropress(es) for a few years now and was wondering if you're ever going to sell a version with a permanent filter? Also, how about a redesign to make the upside-down method a bit easier? (The upside-down method allows for better control over the steep time).
    • I've given up on the upside-down method.

      Instead, I just barely insert the plunger immediately after stirring and topping off the water. A bit of coffee drips out, but for the most part the plunger forms a vacuum that holds the coffee in the chamber.

      With it like this, I can leave it to steep for a decent amount of time without having to bother with the inverted method.

      • The metal filter I used to use was a home made one (from a SwissGold drip filter basket) that allowed too quick a flow, so inverted was the only way to keep the water in contact long enough. I've since upgraded to an Able Brewing filter disk that works a bit better. The inverted method also allows you to slowly pour on the water and give it a really good stir - it's slightly trickier, but gives a lot more control over the whole process.
        • by dwpro ( 520418 )

          I typically use a fine grind and a bit of tamp on the coffee grinds so that it requires pressure to push down the coffee, somewhat more like espresso. I really like the results.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I love my Aeropress, in fact I'm on my second one. However my experience has been that they only last about 2 years. Your company was kind enough to supply me with a replacement when I noticed vertical cracking in the brew chamber, which I thought was causing slippage of the plunger as the gasket entered the weakened chamber.

    But the replacement suffers from the same problem, so I'm guessing the gasket has worn down over time too.

    Even at two years, the Aeropress represents a great value for making great ta

    • I've been using the same Aeropress for more than a couple of years without any cracking in the plastic. The only problem I had is when the rubber plunger started to breakdown after being left on sunny window-sills for too long. Luckily, it's possible to buy the rubber bung separately now, although I just bought another Aeropress so that I've got spares for the other bits.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Who is Satoshi Nakamoto?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I believe before this decade is out America should produce a device that shoots water through coffee at a controlled temperature and pressure. I believe it should be possible to disassemble and clean it much as you would a firearm. I believe it should cost less than $100, and be manufactured here. I don't care if the robots that manufacture it are made in China; but I want it made here for quality control purposes and I want the beverage contact surfaces to be stainless steel or some other metallic surfa

  • by Anonymous Coward

    What do you feel will be the next great leap in technology?

    Will it be an advance to something we currently have, such as advances in automotive tech, air travel, space travel, AI?

    (safety, aerodynamics, more efficient propulsion)

    Or, something completely different and new? Teleportation? Genetic engineering for greater physical and/or mental abilities?

    Or, have we plateaued, with no great leaps ahead, just small improvements to what we've already achieved?

    Thank you.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Question: Have you considered a modified Aeropress that uses a lever to press the hot water through such that a true espresso extraction with real crema would be possible. Would a stock Aeropress be able to with stand the 12 bars of pressure .....any thoughts or research you've done on this topic would be interesting. Thanks!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Do you think there's a possibility of making a version of the Aeropress out of something other than plastic? I love my Aeropress but often wonder whether pouring near-boiling water into a plastic tube every day is all that healthy for me. (I've got one of the old blue-tinted ones; I suppose I should look into whether the colour change in the newer models was due to a move away from BPA plastic...)

  • by t0qer ( 230538 ) on Monday December 16, 2013 @06:36PM (#45708747) Homepage Journal

    For those that don't know, the record was done at Fort Funston. A lot of us that fly RC gliders in the bay area go to FF because of the unique topography there. It's basically a seaside cliff.

    Wind rushes off the pacific, hits the cliff, and with no other place to go heads up, creating lift. (Sometimes called slope effect)

  • From a design standpoint, do you think the Aerobie's 'flying ring' shape is optimal for the task of longest throw by a human?
  • I've bought a few Aero Presses over the years, for myself and as gifts; I think they're ingenious. I mostly use them as directed -- but I'm intrigued by the possibilities for creative, "off-label use," as in these videos: []

    I've done the upside down method a few times, and I also used my Aeropress to filter the coffee from some homemade coffee liqueur a few summers ago -- did a great job of that.

    So: You have all the chance in the world to experiment; do you have any s

  • by chriskenrick ( 89693 ) on Monday December 16, 2013 @09:05PM (#45710145)
    Loving my Aeropresses (office and home), but one thing bugs me slightly. If you lock the end cap on for storage, the rubber bung part can only be stored inside the tube, which causes it to degrade more quickly. If you have the rubber bung protruding past the end of the tube, the end cap obviously doesn't fit on. Could the design be slightly tweaked in some way to allow storage as a single piece without degrading the bung?
  • As a credentialed geek who loves coffee, I of course purchased an Aeropress straight away upon hearing about it. I used it every day for about a month, experimenting with type of coffee, grind, water temperature, and pressure/amount of time pushing the water through. PROS: It's easy, and the coffee is good. No reason you can't make a delicious cup of coffee with this once you nail down the perfect combination of the above 4 things. CONS: (And this is the reason I stopped using it.) It uses a LOT of coffee t
    • by dwpro ( 520418 )

      I found that by getting a metal filter [] and tamping a fine espresso grind down I can use far less coffee and get a very good cup, thought it takes a bit of elbow grease to push it down. I've also found the metal filter to be even easier to clean:

      • run the cap and filter under the sink after pressing out coffee while press cap still attached to clean the filter and cap and to mostly separate the metal filter from the grinds
      • remove the cap and metal filter. Rinse, leaving the filter inside the cap and set it asi
  • Both the Aerobie and the AeroPress embody design traits I really like: they're durable, have few pieces, and work simply by dint of ordinary (vs. extraordinary) human-muscle power. Basically, they remind me of simple machines. (As in the wedge, the lever, etc.) What are your favorite likely areas for further improvement?

    Will you come up with good improvements on ...
    - Flashlights? (Muscle-powered flashlights have gotten much better, thanks to LEDs, but they still mostly suck.)
    - Sailboats or kayaks? (What cou

  • What do you think of all the complex recipes people come up with on the aeropress [], and what technique do you use? Normal or inverted method?
  • I need to brew enough coffee to fill an Olympic-length pool. I was planning on inviting the Paris metro area over for a cuppa, if you must know. I know that I'll need about 105 metric tons of coffee (~$200k) for this adventure, but the coffee pot I have is a bit undersized for the task. Any idea how one would go about generating that much java?

    Say! I'll need somewhere to keep it, too! It may take quite some time to serve coffee to that many Frenchmen. I am sure there would be time for high society to snub t

"If you lived today as if it were your last, you'd buy up a box of rockets and fire them all off, wouldn't you?" -- Garrison Keillor