DiskWarrior 5 Review

We’ve all been there at one time or another.  Faced with our own or a friend/family member/client’s computer that won’t boot and a hard drive that’s inexplicably borked itself, you scroll down your mental list of magical fix-it utilities looking for a piece of recovery software that will save the day and get back that huge not-backed-up-anywhere 20 year old photo library.  If you’re sitting in front of a Mac at this stage, you’ll hopefully have a copy of DiskWarrior somewhere in your armoury.  It’s been one of the most well known and respected HFS and HFS Plus (aka Mac OS Extended) directory recovery and optimisation utilities since the first version in 1998 and it’s pulled enough magic tricks out of its hat on occasion to have impressed me enough to part with the USD 130 (after taxes) price tag for a download licence and plus a physical copy from Alsoft.

That’s a huge amount of money for a utility, especially one that doesn’t purport to be a general disk repair utility.  DiskWarrior solves a very specific kind of problem, and that’s HFS directory damage.  On the other hand, that kind of problem is by far the most common kind of issue that comes up on Mac drives.  And to be honest I’m sure that they shift enough copies at that price – when faced with losing all their files people are suddenly a lot more willing to part with what is a small amount of cash compared to paying a data recovery specialist in the hopes that they might be able to recover their data.  If the data loss is due to directory damage, then there’s a very good chance that DiskWarrior can rebuild the damaged directory and replace it with a working and optimised one.

The kinds of errors that DiskWarrior fixes tend to be the ones that present the most bizarre and cryptic messages in Disk Utility, like “The underlying task reported failure on exit”, “Invalid node structure” or something about keys being out of order or the wrong length.  Alsoft list a whole page of examples of the kinds of messages that roughly translate to ‘directory damage’ that DiskWarrior should be able to resolve, and it’s a pretty long list.

DiskWarrior is also a pretty great preventative utility.  It can be configured to monitor drives for impending failure up to hourly and perform a number of configurable actions, ranging from an on-screen message to an e-mail/SMS to running a custom AppleScript – the remote alerts are a really great feature for always-on systems or servers.

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DiskWarrior is also the kind of program you can and should run on all your machines, regardless of whether you have known directory issues.  When you open the utility it runs a directory optimisation algorithm to work out how efficient your current directory is, giving it a score out of 10 and suggesting whether rebuilding the directory from scratch could make it more efficient and improve performance.  Often you’ll also get a bit of usable disk space back after the rebuild too, on my MacBook Pro’s built in 256GB SSD I got 1 GB of usable space back just from rebuilding the directory.Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 00.19.00

It’s also has built-in disk permissions and a file scanner, although I’m not sure whether these particular components actually do a better job than Disk Utility for those fairly generic tasks.

Using DiskWarrior

You can use DiskWarrior by installing it on your main startup drive and then attaching drives to repair (it won’t run on the startup disk while you are booted into it) or to repair the startup disk itself, you can create a recovery USB drive using the bundled Recovery Maker utility which will take the recovery partition of your Mac and create a custom bootable disk with DiskWarrior included that is guaranteed to run on your machine.  It also supports Target Disk mode.Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 00.28.31

Note that you will most likely have to recreate the recovery partition when moving between machines.  For example, I could create a recovery partition like the one shown above on my 2015 MacBook which I am 100% sure won’t boot on my ageing 2008 MacBook which maxes out at Mac OS X 10.7.

When you run DiskWarrior on a disk, it will scan the disk and then prepare a rebuilt directory and record any file or folder differences between the existing directory and the newly rebuilt one before writing it to the disk, presenting you with a detailed report.

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It even allows you to preview the directory with its own built-in two panel browser and mounting both directories in the Finder if you are running from your startup disk! Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 00.33.05 Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 00.36.18

It goes out of its way to make you confident that the repaired directory works and gives you very clear and detailed information before committing anything to disk – something which will make you feel much more comfortable before overwriting the directory on a sensitive client’s machine!

If you’ve read this far and have been on the fence about picking up a copy of DiskWarrior I would strongly recommend that you bite the bullet and get yourself a copy.  It has more than repaid itself in peace of mind and bailing me out of one or two dicey situations that it was able to magically fix when all other solutions failed.

If I have to find faults in the program, I would say that for $130 I would personally expect lifetime updates, which you don’t get – although there is an upgrade price which applies from all previous versions.  You could theoretically upgrade version 1.0 from 1998 to the current version at a reduced price.  It would also be nice if the e-mail notifications could automatically populate the SMTP settings from the system’s mail accounts, rather than having you manually copy the server and port settings yourself – although this is a minor gripe.  The program itself is well built and the documentation is thorough and complete – I recommend spending some time with the well written manual which explains a lot of the concepts and repair methods that the program employs.

Score: 9.5/10

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Refining the roast

Since I’ve last written here I’ve moved house, changed jobs and had a few adventures, all fuelled by a certain healthy addiction. On that front, I’ve done a lot more roasting, although less than I would have liked to (all of the above can have that effect), and I’ve also finally gotten around to buying an Aeropress and falling in love with it as a way to make coffee at work. I still haven’t got one for home and I occasionally shuttle it back for the weekend, but I like to get the V60 or the Cona out when I’ve got a bit more time to brew.

On to roasting – I’ve settled on a fairly simple roast formula that I know I can follow consistently and achieve good results with most coffees on the Quest, and with that as an anchor I’m experimenting to learn how different coffees respond to various roasting inputs (temperature, airflow, time). I’m using my home-grown Excel-based roast monitoring system which is about as bare bones as it gets but gives me all of the information I need at this point, sampling the two thermocouples I’ve got connected to the roaster (in the drum and bean mass) and plotting the temperatures on a live graph. On top of that I record roast time, charge weight and roasted weight and I can work out a lot of other information from there. I had some issues with Artisan and my temperature sensor but it’s been a while, I ought to get around to either trying Artisan again or fixing the issue. Let’s make that a 2016 goal.

I’ve also been reading Scott Rao‘s excellent and concise Coffee Roaster’s Companion, which is a great resource for anyone looking to get into roasting – it’s pitched at a great level for beginner to intermediate roasters and I feel that even seasoned roasters would be able to get some  meaningful insights from Scott’s years of experience, experimentation and research.  There is a lot of debate around his conclusions online, but in any case it’s helpful to have someone present their theory and justifications for it to spark debate and experimentation.

IMG_1535

My simple roast formula at the moment looks a bit like this:

  1. Preheat the roaster to about 220 degrees Celsius and allow the temperature to stabilise – usually about 10 mins or so from cold
  2. Reduce the power to about 4 amps (low-medium power) and charge the coffee
  3. Watch the bean mass temperature and allow to stabilise – when it starts to level off, raise the power level
  4. Watch the coffee closely, as the beans start to yellow start raising the fan speed and tapering the power to slow the rate of rise in the drum temperature
  5. By the time first crack starts, the fan should be on full and the power somewhere around the 4-5 (medium power) mark – when first crack is in full swing, the power should be on the lower end of that range as the beans will carry themselves exothermically through the crack
  6. Aim to dump at around end of first crack just before the start of second, depending on the coffee

I’ve been able to get great results with very few roast defects with the above formula in the back of my mind, and a fairly close eye on the graphs to make sure the temperature doesn’t stall or shoot up too quickly with different beans (i.e. too much power on naturals or relatively low water content beans, and vice versa). I’d love to know what other people’s mileage has been with the Quest to see how their experience has varied over time after getting a good number of roasts under their belt.

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(A Tribe Called) Quest

It’s been a while since I’ve written about roasting (or anything).  I’m glad to say this is more a factor of busyness than anything else; I’ve been roasting pretty much constantly since I found the replacement for my old Whirley-pop.

My new chosen roaster to dip my toes into more controlled and scientific roasting is the Quest M3 – a drum-style electric roaster with an ideal batch size of around 120g (though I frequently roast closer to the maximum 200g):

The Quest M3 roaster

The manufacturer in Taiwan makes them to order, and with a few customisable options (like the dual thermometers shown above, or K-type thermocouples).

I got this just before Christmas and I’ve averaged around 2.5 roasts a week since then –  the results have been fantastic.  I’ve been able to record my roasts extremely accurately using a pair of thermocouple probes in place of the thermometers shown above and some VBA jerry-rigging to get the roast results directly into Excel – very work in progress, haven’t even implemented smoothing out the error samples seen below for one:

Roast curve

 

And here’s a picture of the roasting setup with the thermocouples:

Roasting setup

With my set-up pretty much nailed for now, my next challenge is going to be to roast as often as possible, be methodical with storing and recording my results and develop my cupping skills to start being able to make some objective judgements about the kind of coffee I’m brewing, and compare it to some of my favourite roasters’ coffee (hello Square Mile, Workshop, Nude…)

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Brewing with the Cona

A friend was kind enough to lend me his Cona coffee maker, and I fell in love with it so much that I ordered one of my own.

Cona

This coffee maker works on the vacuum principle.  Water heated in the lower chamber turns into steam, and the increased pressure forces it up a column topped with a glass counterweight into the upper chamber, where it cools enough to condense back into water.  At this stage you add the coffee.  If we continue to apply heat this creates a balanced system where the vapour pressure is high enough to keep the water in the top chamber and at a very constant temperature, until the heat is removed.  At that point, atmospheric pressure and gravity overcome the now diminished force of the water vapour from below, and the water, now hopefully infused with coffee, falls back into the lower chamber, gently pulled down by the relative low pressure below (hence the ‘vacuum’ or ‘siphon’ method).  At this point the glass counterweight now serves an ingenious second purpose, helping to keep the grounds descending into the lower chamber.

The beauty of this method is in its consistency – the temperature of the water remains very constant, and in contrast with other methods like pourover there’s very little to the technique and out-gassing of very freshly roasted coffee is less of a problem, so you can count on great results every time.  The coffee that comes out is very clean-tasting.

Cona

My preferred method is as follows (for the Size C 900ml model):

  1. Boil 1L water in a filtered water kettle (or use filtered water in an ordinary kettle).
  2. A little while before the water finishes boiling, light the spirit burner and place it under the bottom chamber of the Cona.
  3. Pour boiling water into the bottom chamber, filling it about 90% of the way.
  4. Very gently place the step of the top chamber with the glass counterweight inserted into the neck of the bottom chamber and give it a half-turn to create an air-tight seal.  Do not press down or force the top chamber.
  5. Weigh out about 50-60g of coffee, medium ground.  This should give a water to coffee ratio of roughly 16:1.  Avoid fine ‘espresso-ground’ coffee.
  6. Once the water has finished rising into the top chamber, the little glass counterweight should start rattling gently against the glass in the top chamber (there should still be some water left at the bottom of the lower chamber).
  7. Set a 3-minute timer, pour the coffee into the top chamber and use a flat spatula-like object (like a regular table knife) to gently stir the coffee in a circular motion, making sure to avoid the centre of the top chamber (don’t knock the glass counterweight!)
  8. After the first and second minute, give the coffee a stir to break the crust and keep some turbulence in the water.  Take care not to overstir or you risk over-extracting the coffee.
  9. When the 3-minute timer is up, pull the heat away and watch the magic happen.  The coffee will be drawn down into the lower chamber.
  10. Once the pressure equalises, gently remove the top section by twisting it another half-turn and lifting, and rest it on the special slot built into the stand.
  11. Let the coffee in the bottom chamber cool for a couple of minutes – this method results in the coffee being very hot straight after brewing, and it’ll need a few minutes to cool down before it’s at an optimum drinking temperature.

For more info, take a look at: http://www.cona.co.uk/cona-products-dining.php

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Kaput

I’m looking for a new roasting method!  I’ve been learning a lot and getting some great results from the stovetop roaster but it’s finally given up the ghost:

Gears

I’ve been sticking to 250g roasts each time, and unfortunately the tiny plastic gears just couldn’t handle the strain.  I guess green coffee is a fair bit heavier than popping corn, and I’m using quite a lot of it each time!

I’ve some ideas for alternatives, and I think it may be time to graduate to a more fit for purpose device.  I’ll share some news as soon as I’ve decided exactly what that might be.

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