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March 10, 2012

SF Pho for @triciawang @softservegirl #TurtleTower

SF Pho for @triciawang @softservegirl #TurtleTower

Build This: A New Kind of Review Site

Last night I wanted to watch a movie so I went to iTunes and started sorting by stars when I realized something: I don’t generally like the most popular films in theaters, so why am I using everyone else’s star ratings to find good movies?

What does a four out of five star ranking actually mean?

Then I remembered an old idea I kicked around a bit before MLKSHK that I hope someone will someday make.

I originally registered the name dropsort.com which describes how I think it would work on the front-end.

The one sentence way to describe it is this: Drag and drop movies* to order them from left to right, ranking them as good to bad. The data generated from these, what I call “taste fingerprints”, would be used to help find other movies that people have ranked above identical taste fingerprints of others.

That is, if I ranked some heist movies like this:


And you ranked some heist movies like this:


The service would possibly suggest Sneakers as a movie you might enjoy because we ranked The Getaway and Reservoir Dogs the same. (I say possibly because it should rely on a larger set of data, not just my single ranking.)

The assumption here is if people rank movies in a certain order relative to each other as you rank the same movies in a similar order, then there is a likelihood you might enjoy a movie they ranked higher than that match.

You could do this with genres, but also arbitrary categories like Woody Allen films or films shot in a certain location. As long as someone creates a set and enough people contribute rankings there would be enough data to make guesses for you.

I will build this someday if you don‘t.

* or books, or video games, or iOS apps.

Hangover Helper: Spicy Potato, Bok Choy, and Shallot Hash

From Drinks


[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

This is the kind of breakfast that happens when I plan to go grocery shopping on a Friday night. This is never a good idea. Let me give you an idea of how it works:

The Plan: I wake up Friday morning fresh and dewy-faced, ready for a full day of work, followed by a trip to New York Mart for some produce, a quick subway ride home, and a few hours of cooking. My wife gets home, we enjoy dinner, play a couple rounds of online Jeopardy!, catch an episode of How I Met Your Mother, and hit the sack early, ready to face a hearty breakfast in the morning.

The Reality: I wake up Friday morning barely getting over a cold from earlier in the week, head in for a day at work, get caught in meetings all morning before finally getting to start my real work in the late afternoon, don't get as much done as I hoped, and decide to say, "screw it, it's Friday, time for happy hour." Rather than grocery shopping, I get a cocktail, realize that New York Mart is now closed, acknowledge the grave error I've made in my meal planning, and send down another cocktail to keep the first one company. My wife ends up meeting me downtown for another cocktail, followed by dinner out (that's a bottle of wine and an after dinner drink), and since we've already decided to make a night of it, we might as well really make a night of it. Next thing I know, it's noon on Saturday, the dog needs to be walked, and I've got nothing but a bag of bok choy, a shallot, a few potatoes and a couple of eggs in my pantry to nurse us back to good health.

Thank god for hash, right?

Hash is the ultimate leftover-consumer. All you need is a starchy root vegetable to form the base (potatoes are the usual choice, sweet potatoes or beets are great too), whatever leftovers you have on hand—cooked meat, greens, vegetables, whatever—a good cast iron skillet, and a couple of eggs and you've got on hand the makings of a breakfast that will frighten any hangover into quiet submission.

The best way to get good fluffy/crisp texture out of your potatoes is to boil them, dry them, then fry them, but who's got time for all that when there's a headache that needs tending to?

Instead, it's much easier to just slice the potatoes, put them on a plate, and microwave them for the initial cooking step. This'll let you soften them and cook them through without having to worry about them getting waterlogged or too wet on their exterior, and what takes 10 minutes in a pot takes under 3 minutes in the nuker. Once par-cooked, I add the potatoes to a hot skillet to begin the crisping/charring process while I roughly chop up some baby bok choy (brussels sprouts or cabbage would do great in its place) and slice a shallot (yes, you can use an onion if you prefer). With the potatoes half cooked, the other vegetables hit the pan.

Cabbages (like bok choy) develop an awesomely nutty, sweet flavor when they char. By the time the potatoes are completely crisp, the bok choy is perfectly wilted, nutty, and crisp in spots, the shallots are soft and sweet, and the hangover has begun to let out a faint, high-pitched whimper of fear.

The nail in the coffin? A small handful of chopped chilis (I use ultra-hot Thai bird chilis because New York Mart sells them in unreasonably large packages and thus I constantly need to find uses for them—you can use serrano or jalapeño), and a dash of hot sauce for the vinegar and the heat.

I like to serve it directly in the hot skillet, topped with a runny egg or two for oozing and a little spoonful of hot pepper relish (I used Pastene brand Hot Crushed Pepper). Start to finish, it takes under 15 minutes, which means it's hot and on the table all before my wife is even back with the dog.

A great way to start your Saturday afternoon bright and early.

Get The Recipe!

Spicy Potato, Bok Choy, and Shallot Hash »

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Managing Editor of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

Get the Recipe!

“nice problem to have” (tecznotes)

nice problem to have: OpenStreetMap itself has been much more polite about the whole thing. ‘It’s really positive for us,’ OSM founder Steve Coast told Talking Points Memo, ‘It’s great to see more people in the industry using OSM. We do have concerns that there wasn’t attribution.’ As predicted well, everywhere, Apple is methodically removing it's dependency on Google throughout their stack. Most recently, this comes in the form of them rolling out some new maps (although not their core maps app and API) with data from the OpenStreetMap project. I've blogged a couple times about my admiration for the OpenStreetMap project, and it's great to see validation of the project.

March 9, 2012

‘Ultimate Spider-Man’: Joe Quesada says keep an eye out for Nova

A scene from "Ultimate Spider-Man." (Disney XD/Marvel)

A scene from "Ultimate Spider-Man." (Disney XD/Marvel)

This is the 50th anniversary of Spider-Man and the webslinger seems to be everywhere — a record-breaking Broadway show, the upcoming feature film, a new video game this summer, etc. You can add an animated television series to that list with Disney XD’s April 1 premiere of “Ultimate Spider-Man.” The promising new series will be spotlighted in a March 17 panel at WonderCon in Anaheim but Hero Complex contributor Jevon Phillips caught up with Marvel Entertainment’s chief creative officer, Joe Quesada, for some early insights.

JP: What’s the new “Ultimate Spider-Man” animated show about, and will it follow the comic book exactly?

JQ: Well, it won’t follow the comic book exactly. The goal really is to show Spider-Man to a new audience and demonstrate to them what’s wonderful about Spider-Man and add a little twist to the story. Something obvious to anyone who’s followed Spider-Man is that there have been many many animated shows. Most of them took the same route: here’s Peter Parker’s origins, and here’s how he got his powers, and he’s got an aunt named May and he’s got Mary Jane … all those things. We decided to amp that up a little bit by giving him much more responsibility — he has that great mantra ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ –  so what happens when you give him more responsibility than he’s accustomed to? We introduce him to SHIELD. While SHIELD has been in the Marvel Universe for decades, it’s become something of a character unto itself as this sort of secret spy organization because of the Marvel movies, and I think that it’s only going to get bigger as you see more Marvel movies made over the years. So Peter Parker and Spider-Man are going to be a part of SHIELD, which gives him access to really cool tech. That’s a real twist to the Spider-Man mythos. Most of the tech that you’ve seen with Spidey are his web shooters, or in the comics he was given this sort of iron spider suit by Tony Stark, but it was not something he used on a regular basis. But in the cartoons, Spider-Man will have a lot of really cool toys that he uses, as well as his new teammates.

JP: Who’s writing on the show?

JQ: It’s a large group of us.  There’s Paul Dini — the legendary Paul Dini; Man of Action, who you probably know from “Ben 10;” Brian Michael Bendis, arguably the greatest writer of Spider-Man comics since Stan Lee — he’s probably written as many books as Stan and could be the greatest writer in comics today; and Jeph Loeb, of course, who’s the head of Marvel TV and is also a great writer in his own right. It’s a pretty fun group of guys and a very very talented pool of writers.

"Ultimate Spider-Man." (Disney Junior)

"Ultimate Spider-Man." (Disney Junior)

JP: So you’ve had some time to evaluate now…  Really tell us how has it been being part of the Disney family?

JQ: This may sound hard to believe, but it has been fantastic. Coming from the world of Marvel, say three years ago, we were a decent-sized company, but we didn’t have quite the reach, or the muscle, that we do now by being part of the Disney family. This enables us to do shows like “Ultimate Spider-Man,” ’cause in the past we couldn’t do our own animation. This is really the first Marvel-produced Spider-Man animated show — which is a hallmark for us… And working with XD has been fantastic. They trust Marvel… It’s going to feel like a Marvel-produced thing, much like the movies do now with “Iron Man,” “Thor” “Captain America” and the upcoming “Avengers.” Those movies distinctly feel like Marvel movies because they were produced by us, and for Marvel animation, “Ultimate Spider-Man” is sort of the kick-off for that [on TV].

JP: And any TV plans after “Ultimate Spider-Man?”

JQ: Well, we haven’t announced anything to this point, so I can’t get into that — but I can tell you that we do have other shows in the works. We are planning a wonderful slate, and every show has Marvel people working on them. Like Steve Wacker, a senior editor who I wanted to mention for “Ultimate Spider-Man.” I think it’s important for the beginning of Spider-Man to have the guy who’s editing the books be in the room.

JP: Fans were giddy with all of the epilogue drops that were done for the movies leading up to “The Avengers.”  How long did it take for you to think those up and tie them together?

[labrightcove id="68618800" width="600" height="338"]

JQ: Many, many years of planning before the ball really started rolling. The idea was, in a perfect world, if “Iron Man” was a success, then we’d be on the road to “Avengers.” And luckily we’ve had some great success with our solo character movies building towards “Avengers” — and there’s even a plan to go beyond that… But that’s always been a part of Marvel. It’s something that we started in publishing, to always have a long-reaching plan. We’re doing that in the cinematic universe, and starting to in the animated universe and beyond that…. And I don’t want to confuse it by saying the animated universe is going to be the same as the comic book universe or movie universe. They’re going to be completely different. Just that within the different mediums, there will be some consistency.

JP: So, you don’t think that anything will come back to the book from the show?

JQ: In my world, I like to look at the comic book as the source material. What you’ll see is that things that originate in the comic books will eventually bleed into the show. Obviously we can’t get as edgy in animation as we can in the comic books…. But there are some wonderful Easter eggs for longtime followers of Spider-Man, though.  It’s no different than our movies.

JP: Are there any particular characters that you like in “Ultimate Spider-Man” that we may want to know about?

JQ: I think my favorite character is going to be Nova. Nova is a character that will hopefully break out. He’s a lot of fun and sort of the yin to Peter Parker’s yang. And I will give you one little hint: If you’ve liked the Marvel movies, I think you’re going to see a character that’s really going to make you smile.

– Jevon Phillips


'Avengers': Hulk (Marvel)‘The Avengers’ gallery: Marvel’s heroes assemble

Spider-Man at 50: Darwyn Cooke’s career find

‘Avengers’: Marvel’s new approach to Hulk

‘The Avengers’: Whedon’s evil giggles

‘Iron Man 3 and Downey start Shane Black era

‘Cap’ writers: Today Cap would be on watch list

‘Thor 2’: Hemsworth praises Patty Jenkins

Ed Brubaker and the salvation of Bucky

Joss Whedon talks ‘Avengers’ and more

‘Avengers’: Downey Jr. on Joss Whedon

10 years and 37signals

Every year on March 9th, as SXSW is getting started, I like to mark the anniversary of this blog. This time it's the 10th year.

My second post back in 2002 was about a panel run by 37signals. I wrote:

"Ernest and Jason really get it -- I hope they inspire some designers to think about web sites in a new way, and finally start focusing on usability and page load time and cut the fancy graphics, roll-overs, and animations."

This was a couple years before they reinvented themselves as a software company with Basecamp. As the new Basecamp launches this week, it's fascinating to think back on how far 37signals has come. The web is bigger now and more complex. Subscription web apps are everywhere. But I think the focus on performance that drove Jason Fried and his original co-founders to promote simple design in that SXSW panel a decade ago is still very much at the heart of what 37signals does.

What I love about Hype: From a designer and a developer’s perspective

From the Designer’s perspective (Kat):

Since Apple’s excommunication of Adobe Flash on their iOS platform, the web has seen an interesting trend: Flash is out, Javascript is in. Okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration. Flash has seen a downward trend even before Apple’s cast-off. With its limitations in Google search, load time, selectable text, updatability… must I go on?

So what’s a poor designer/animator to do? Continue to insist on our beloved Flash that we love and hate all at the same time? Learn Javascript? Sit in the corner and cry? Well, I’ve done 2 out of the 3, and it’s just not pretty. Fortunately, I was introduced to a better solution: Tumult Hype app for Mac OS X.

Here is what is so flippin’ great about Hype:

1. Jump right in, the water is fine

After watching less that 2 minutes of Hype tutorials, I jumped in guns blazing and I never looked back. I have prior experience with Adobe Flash and Adobe After Effects and Hype uses keyframe-based animation so I had a bit of a stepping stone of knowledge before I started. However, I was rarely stumped.

2. Cheap!

$29.99! However, this is a limited time pricing for version 1.0.

3. Record button

This thing is a bit of a love and hate feature. You turn on the record button and Hype will automatically keyframe size, opacity, location, etc. This is great, but if you forget it’s turned on, it can be annoying. But that’s more user error.

What I don’t like about Hype:

Keep in mind, this is still a new product, so of course they are working to get the kinks out, but the layer functionality is lacking. There is no way to lock layers so trying to animate a buried layer can be difficult. What’s more is ordering layers is buggy. Fortunately another pro about hype is the customer service. I’ve reported both of these cons and they were quick to respond. We’ll see if they’re also quick to fix.

From the Developer’s perspective (Casey):

1. It looks great on mobile devices

Unlike Flash, Hype pieces actually render on mobile devices — and they look fantastic. More than once we’ve seen a Hype piece look better on an iPhone than on a Mac. No joke.

2. Drop-in replacement

As Flash becomes more and more passé, we’re often asked to replace Flash pieces with a non-Flash equivalent. From a development perspective, Hype is great for this. Most of the time we can drop in Hype to replace Flash with no changes to the stylesheet or surrounding markup.

3. Open code

Though the JavaScriot code generated by Hype is compressed, if we need to open it up and make changes me can. This grants us the opportunity to hook up Hype to other services right on the front end. This is something that was much harder to accomplish in the Flash days.

Introducing The Curator’s Code: A Standard for Honoring Attribution of Discovery Across the Web

Keeping the whimsical rabbit hole of the Internet open by honoring discovery.

Ours is a culture and a time immensely rich in trash as it is in treasures.” ~ Ray Bradbury

You are a mashup of what you let into your life.” ~ Austin Kleon

Chance favors the connected mind.” ~ Steven Johnson

As both a consumer and curator of information, I spend a great deal of time thinking about the architecture of knowledge. Over the past year, I’ve grown increasingly concerned about a fundamental disconnect in the “information economy”: In an age of information overload, information discovery — the service of bringing to the public’s attention that which is interesting, meaningful, important, and otherwise worthy of our time and thought — is a form of creative and intellectual labor, and one of increasing importance and urgency. A form of authorship, if you will. Yet we don’t have a standardized system for honoring discovery the way we honor other forms of authorship and other modalities of creative and intellectual investment, from literary citations to Creative Commons image rights.

Until today.

I’m thrilled to introduce The Curator’s Code — a movement to honor and standardize attribution of discovery across the web.

One of the most magical things about the Internet is that it’s a whimsical rabbit hole of discovery — we start somewhere familiar and click our way to a wonderland of curiosity and fascination we never knew existed. What makes this contagion of semi-serendipity possible is an intricate ecosystem of “link love” — a via-chain of attribution that allows us to discover new wonderlands through those we already know and trust.

The Curator’s Code is an effort to keep this whimsical rabbit hole open by honoring discovery through an actionable code of ethics — first, understanding why attribution matters, and then, implementing it across the web in a codified common standard, doing for attribution of discovery what Creative Commons has done for image attribution.

Together with my design and thought partner on the project, the infinitely brilliant and hard-working Kelli Anderson, and with invaluable input from my wonderful studiomate Tina of Swiss Miss fame, we’ve devised a simple system that any publisher and curator of information can use across the social web and on any publishing platform.

The system is based on two basic types of attribution, each shorthanded by a special unicode character, much like ™ for “trademark” and for © “copyright.” And while the symbols are a cleaner way to do it, you may still choose to credit the “old-fashioned” way, using “via” and “HT” – the important thing is that you do.

stands for “via” and signifies a direct link of discovery, to be used when you simply repost a piece of content you found elsewhere, with little or no modification or addition. This type of attribution looks something like this:

stands for the common “HT” or “hat tip,” signifying an indirect link of discovery, to be used for content you significantly modify or expand upon compared to your source, for story leads, or for indirect inspiration encountered elsewhere that led you to create your own original content. For example:

In both cases, just like the words “via” and “HT,” the respective unicode character would be followed by the actual hotlink to your source. For example:

Brain Pickings

One reason we’re using unicode characters is that we we wanted the symbols themselves to be a kind of messenger for the ethos of the code — the character is hotlinked to the Curator’s Code site, which allows the ethos of attribution to spread as curious readers click the symbol to find out what it stands for.

This is where it gets interesting. With generous help from my studiomates Cameron and Jonnie, we’re offering a bookmarklet that lets you easily copy-paste the unicode characters for use in any text field, from a tweet to your blog CMS. Just drag the bookmarklet to your bookmarks bar and click it every time you want to attribute discovery, then click your preferred type of attribution and watch the unicode magically appear wherever your cursor is in a text field. Add the actual hotlink to your source after it like you normally would.

See it in action:

If you’re a publisher, you can also grab the Curator’s Code badge pack to display your support, and sign the public pledge to join the ranks of supporting sites.

As for the design, Kelli — as much a designer as a visual philosopher — came up with this beautifully meta concept, where we display famous quotes related to attribution in a parallax rabbit hole of sites on which they actually occur, layered in the order of source attribution. Hovering over the hole makes the parallax shift before your eyes, as if the Internet is burning a hole of discovery through your very screen. In Kelli’s words:

Maria spoke about attribution less as an obligation and more as an enabler of deep, surprising (and perhaps infinite) voyages through information. Through linking, the Internet connects disparate sources in a way that no other medium has before — effectively creating these meta-narratives of discovery. Maria called them ‘rabbit holes.’ With that one phrase, I knew that the site should demonstrate pathways of attribution by (literally) poking a hole in the Internet to glimpse the pathways of attribution beyond.”

Here’s to a new dawn of keeping the Internet’s whimsical rabbit hole of information open by honoring discovery like the creative and intellectual labor that it is.

Questions? See the FAQ section.

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Announcing Simpler Tiles

A few weeks ago we announced Simple Tiles a mapping library for the web. Today, we're releasing Ruby bindings for the library, so you can generate tiles from Ruby.

You can check out the source over on Github. The documentation is here.

Please let us know if you have issues, questions, or bug reports either on the issues page or over on Freenode in the #propublica or #newsapps chat rooms.

If Ruby is not your thing, there are two people building Python bindings, python-simple-tiles by Sasha Hart, and simpyl_tiles by Albert Sun.

If you'd like to contribute bindings for other languages please let Jeff Larson know.

Can Staten Island’s North Shore Become NYC’s Next Great Neighborhood?

Corridors and intersections slated for mixed-use development by DCP and EDC.

Staten Island’s North Shore is one of the city’s great sites of opportunity. The neighborhoods along the Kill Van Kull are twice as dense as the rest of Staten Island, but lack any transit option beyond the bus. There are historic town centers at St. George and Port Richmond, but car-centric planning deadens street life. The waterfront, much of which still hosts a vibrant maritime industry, is only accessible to the public at three locations in six miles.

The opportunities aren’t lost on the city. With the release of North Shore 2030, a plan put out in December by the New York City Economic Development Corporation and the Department of City Planning, the stage has been set for opening up the waterfront, fostering mixed-use development, and making streets safe and friendly for pedestrians and cyclists. Realizing the full extent of that vision, however, largely hinges on the success of plans to restore rapid transit to the North Shore.

To learn more about the plan, this Wednesday I headed over to the North Shore, where Staten Islanders Meredith Sladek and Nick Rozak took me on a half-day bike tour of the area. North Shore 2030 is a broad planning effort, looking at everything from transportation to bolstering the North Shore’s significant maritime industry. At the center of the plan is a proposal to encourage traditional mixed-use developments, with residences on top of retail, along certain corridors, including Richmond Terrace, Castleton Avenue, and Victory Boulevard.

The economically depressed intersection of Richmond Terrace and Port Richmond Avenue. Photo: Noah Kazis

Pedestrian-oriented housing and commerce would be clustered in four “neighborhood centers.” Along the North Shore, there are a number of older neighborhoods with walkable bones, especially where rail and ferry stations existed prior to the opening of the Verrazano Bridge. As Staten Island has shifted toward the automobile, however, those areas have fallen on harder times, with commercial activity moving into malls and shopping centers. At the corner of Port Richmond Avenue and Richmond Terrace, for example, one block from a former rail station and ferry terminal, older pedestrian-oriented buildings have shuttered windows and “for rent” signs. North Shore 2030 reimagines the intersection full of pedestrians walking between the waterfront, shops, and their apartments.

The city imagines the intersection of Port Richmond Ave. and Richmond Terrace as a bustling pedestrian center.

Revitalizing these areas will take more than zoning, though: The key will be restoring rapid transit service. Rail used to run along the North Shore and the tracks are still in place. In some locations, the right-of-way is still being used for freight transport; in others, they’re overgrown with trees, or even underwater.

Train tracks are still in place along the North Shore waterfront, but overgrown with trees. Photo: Noah Kazis

Currently, only buses run through the area. Despite the paltry transit options, 35 percent of people living west of the ferry terminal take transit to work: a number that’s low for New York City but high considering the infrastructure in place, and indicative of the untapped potential to boost transit ridership. The MTA is studying plans to bring a half-billion dollar transit line back to the North Shore — either light rail or bus rapid transit — but with the evaluation incomplete and the agency’s budget ever more strained, there’s no guarantee the North Shore will actually see rapid transit and the development it can foster.

The beginning of the North Shore rail line, here in good condition, heading west from the ferry terminal. Photo: Noah Kazis

If built, the new routes would make transit a much more attractive option, cutting travel times in half or even up to two-thirds, according to the MTA, a potentially transformative effect. Feeding directly into the ferry terminal, the rail right-of-way would make it easy for North Shore residents to get into Manhattan. The very beginning of the rail line is already used for passenger service on days when the Staten Island Yankees are playing a home game.

There's no park-and-ride next to the Stapleton SIRR station, just a pedestrian-oriented retail strip. Photo: Noah Kazis

One downside: The DCP/EDC report calls for new park-and-rides at the future transit stations. Those lots could turn the planned transit line from one that facilitates growth and revitalization around stations to something meant only to shuttle motorists more quickly to the ferry. Even on the Staten Island Railroad, which runs down the more suburban South Shore, only five stations have park-and-rides.

Luxury apartments are slated for the Homeport site, on the far side of the street, where there currently aren't any sidewalks. Photo: Noah Kazis

Even if rapid transit doesn’t materialize on the North Shore, the bicycle and pedestrian improvements planned for the area should help people get around their neighborhoods safely without a car. Right now, the area’s pedestrian infrastructure varies dramatically in quality. The Homeport site, a former Navy base shown above, is being redeveloped as a $150 million project with luxury apartments and retail. Right now, there aren’t even sidewalks on that wide section of Front Street, which is just outside the North Shore study area. The 2030 plan calls not only for building sidewalks where they’re missing, but also installing bulb-outs to extend existing sidewalks where traffic calming is needed for pedestrian safety.

A bus stop in front of the Snug Harbor historical site lacks both a shelter and a crosswalk. Photo: Noah Kazis

Bus stops, in particular, are slated for improvements. This bus stop, located across from the historic mansions of Snug Harbor, is one of the more popular on the North Shore. There isn’t even a crosswalk connecting the stop to the park across the street, however, much less a bus shelter to allow riders to wait in comfort. The blind curve of Richmond Terrace makes the crossing that much more dangerous.

DCP and EDC specifically identify this location as in need of a safe pedestrian crossing. In general bus stops are slated to get improved infrastructure, including new shelters.

On the current North Shore "greenway," cyclists share space with trucks. Photo: Noah Kazis

Bicycle infrastructure, too, would get an upgrade under the North Shore 2030 plan. Currently, cyclists heading between the North Shore and the ferry terminal have very inadequate infrastructure. Just west of the terminal, there’s a stretch of road labeled as greenway. Unlike the city’s other greenways, however, cyclists here have to share the road with cars and trucks. “Vehicle priority” read the greenway signs.

This isn't a sign you should see on a greenway. Photo: Noah Kazis

After about a mile, the “greenway” turns inland and becomes an on-street bike lane for another half-mile before disappearing altogether. The city’s plan calls for extending the bike infrastructure much further west, with a “multi-purpose pathway” extending nearly to the end of the island. The exact form of that pathway is unclear, but it would seem to be a significant improvement for cyclists riding in the area.

Bike parking at the Staten Island ferry terminal. Secure parking would be provided under the North Shore 2030 plan. Photo: Noah Kazis

At the ferry terminal itself, the 2030 plan recommends creating a secure area for bicycle parking. Currently, outdoor racks are the best option for commuters who want to leave their bike on the Staten Island side of the harbor, and they aren’t popular with many regular riders. With its heavy commuter traffic, the ferry terminal would be the perfect place to build a Chicago-style bike station. A small satellite bike-share system could also be set up around the ferry.

The roadway in front of the St. George terminal is hardly inviting to pedestrians exiting the ferry. Photo: Noah Kazis

The city also wants to improve the pedestrian connection between the ferry terminal and the surrounding St. George area. The key will be improving the complicated and hostile intersection immediately in front of the terminal.

Staten Island is a borough of almost half a million people, more than Atlanta, Miami, or Minneapolis. There’s no reason it can’t have revitalized pedestrian neighborhoods built around a strengthened transit backbone, and the North Shore is the place to start. DCP and EDC’s plans — if they ever become reality, and if North Shore transit ever gets built — would put it on the right track.

“nice problem to have”

A mail from OSM Board member Richard Fairhurst, to the OSM-Talk mailing list about Apple’s recent use of our data, with links added for posterity:

  • 3500 tiles per second. Seriously. In Grant’s words on Twitter: “Massive jump in #OpenStreetMap traffic due 2 Apple news: t.co/nB4ffgYy Fighting fires 2 keep systems up”

  • switch2osm.org fell over. Yep, so many people wanting to find out about switching to OpenStreetMap that WordPress crapped itself (ok, not the hardest target but hey ;) ).

  • More contributors. We’ve had people come into IRC saying “I want to fix this park name, how do I do it?”. Regular IRCers have been reporting a noticeably greater number of new editors in their areas. Or as someone just asked on IRC: “hmm did the apple fanbois drink the OSM koolaid and crash our servers with zealous mapping?”

  • I think we’ve had a higher peak of publicity today than we’ve ever had —higher than the Foursquare switch even, or the Google vandalism incident. We’ve been Slashdotted; we’re #6 on Hacker News. We’ve been on The Verge, Forbes, Wired, Ars, Gizmodo, and all the Mac sites—that’s taking OSM to people who’ve not heard of us before. We might not be the front page of the New York Times yet, but we’re getting there!

  • And one of the best things has been that people like how we’ve handled it. From Forbes: “OpenStreetMap itself has been much more polite about the whole thing. ‘It’s really positive for us,’ OSM founder Steve Coast told Talking Points Memo, ‘It’s great to see more people in the industry using OSM. We do have concerns that there wasn’t attribution.’.”

    From a comment at Hacker News: “While I think it’s quite messed up that a company as rich as Apple can’t abide putting credits for people who have put some really good work in (I’ve even made small updates to OSM in my time) I do think that this is a very classy move by the OSM people, no ranting blog post or ‘Apple stole our stuff’, welcoming people presents a much better image of the project.”

    Or The Verge: “Granted, OSM took this as an opportunity to get in the public eye by piggybacking on the iPad’s media fanfare; I applaud them for their maturity in their statement though. Many companies would’ve latched onto this and unleashed the lawyers threatening this and that, but they chose to be civil, point out the missing attributions, and say they are ‘we look forward to working with Apple to get that on there.’ A little civility goes a long way (in my book). I’m quite sick of the mudslinging in this space.”

  • Thanks to everyone who’s put the hours in today, to all the coders and sysadmins who sweat blood to not only keep OSM running but make it easier and faster... and to every single mapper making a map so amazing that everyone wants to use it.



Great American Losers

Elaine Blair

David Foster Wallace; drawing by David Levine

While spending several weeks reading and writing about Michel Houellebecq, a loose thought kept rattling around in my mind. In American novels, we have a tacit set of conventions for writing about romantic losers. Houellebecq squarely violates them. This is one reason that The Elementary Particles (2000), his first novel published in the US, seemed (to some) so exciting and revelatory or (to others) completely repellent. We American readers immediately notice that he is covering familiar territory, but in a crucially different way from our own youngish novelists.

Houellebecq, in his first four novels, writes a lot about men who suffer because they are—or perceive themselves to be—unloved by women. Some characters are rejected by women pretty much every time they venture into a bar. Others are rejected only once or twice, but with catastrophic psychic consequences. Some hardly even bother trying to meet women, so paralyzing is their fear of the kind of intimate scrutiny that most of us take for granted as part of “dating.”

The man who feels himself unloved and unlovable—this is a character that we know well from the latest generation or two of American novels. His trials are often played for sympathetic laughs. His loserdom is total: it extends to his stunted career, his squalid living quarters, his deep unease in the world. Take Lewis Miner, of Sam Lipsyte’s Home Land (2004). Miner is a barely employed copywriter and prodigious masturbator who tells his story in the form of updates to his high school alumni newsletter:

I rent some rooms in a house near the depot. I rarely leave them, too. When you work at home, fellow alums, discipline is the supreme virtue. Suicidal self-loathing lurks behind every coffee break. Activities must be expertly scheduled, from shopping to showers to panic attacks. Meanwhile I must make time to pine for Gwendolyn, decamped three years this June, the month we were to wed.

Yes, the loser’s worst—that is to say, most important—problems are with women. His relationships are either unrequited or, at best, doomed. He is the opposite of entitled: he approaches women cringingly, bracing for a slap. Think of the way Gary Shteyngart’s characters love to tell us how unattractive they are. Here is Lenny, of Super Sad True Love Story (2010), who will have his heart broken by a woman sixteen years younger, describing himself in his diary:

A slight man with a gray, sunken battleship of a face, curious wet eyes, a giant gleaming forehead on which a dozen cavemen could have painted something nice, a sickle of a nose perched atop a tiny puckered mouth, and from the back, a growing bald spot whose shape perfectly replicates the great state of Ohio, with its capital city, Columbus, marked by a deep-brown mole. Slight. Slightness is my curse in every sense. A so-so body in a world where only an incredible one will do. A body at the chronological age of thirty-nine already racked with too much LDL cholesterol, too much ACTH hormone, too much of everything that dooms the heart, sunders the liver, explodes all hope.

Richard Price

But loserdom is not limited to the physically unattractive—it can be even funnier when the schmuck in question is vain about his good looks. Richard Price’s 1978 novel Ladies’ Man (one of the earliest iterations of the hapless American bachelor) describes a week in the life of thirty-year-old Kenny. The novel’s ironic title gives a hint of its hero’s travails. At the beginning of the novel we learn that his girlfriend, La Donna, has lost interest in sex with him. Then he walks in on her masturbating with her vibrator, which sends him into a tailspin of sexual jealousy—of the battery-operated appliance. He runs to the local bar, and is now giving himself a semi-drunk pep talk:

I was worried about some guy screwing La Donna and my real competition was Everready. Fuck it. She wanted to play around? Then me too. I was wasting my time with her. I was at the peak of my manhood. And I was good. And I wasn’t just saying that the way every guy says it. I was goddamn good. And I was big. I was good, big and the best. And I was wasting it with her. Everyone said it. Every woman I was ever with told me I was the best. I knew how to move, how to groove and I was a handsome bastard too. I had a nice frame, about six feet even. Hundred and sixty-five. Straight hair, dark skin, dark eyes, sensuous mouth, so I heard.

Lipsyte, Shteyngart, and Price are, of course, writing about some of the same social conditions that Houellebecq also identifies (and rails against): the decade or two of post-college bachelorhood that has become standard among the educated middle class during which men (and women) continually risk romantic rejection and size themselves up in relation to their peers. And with the possibility of easy divorce, bachelorhood can be revisited at any age.

In 1997, Jonathan Franzen wrote an essay on sex advice books for The New Yorker. By coincidence, apparently, Franzen puts forward the same thesis that drives Houellebecq’s first novel, Extension du domaine de la lutte (1994) using the same economic metaphor. If Americans seem to have an especially acute case of sexual anxiety, Franzen writes, it’s because

we’re simply experiencing the anxiety of a free market. Contraception and the ease of divorce have removed the fetters from the economy of sex, and, like the citizens of present-day Dresden and Leipzig, we all want to believe we’re better off under a regime in which even the poorest man can dream of wealth. But as the old walls of repression tumble down, many Americans—discarded first wives, who are like the workers displaced from a Trabant factory; or sexually inept men, who are the equivalent of command-economy bureaucrats—have grown nostalgic for the old state monopolies.

The sexual free market is hardly all bad, as Franzen notes. And no one is wishing, in these novels, for fewer choices and irreversible marriage contracts. Yet the authors keep returning us to a certain kind of scene—the scene of romantic rejection—and a certain kind of feeling: the embarrassment of having been examined and found wanting. This is the heroes’ signal experience of sexually liberated adult life.

But there’s a reason that the characters must be losers on other, non-sexual fronts as well—professional, financial, social. The authors are saturating the novel in the hero’s sense of humiliation—a humiliation that, we learn, precedes any actual romantic experience. The hero finds himself wanting, and getting turned down by a girl is confirmation of what he’s always suspected. He is, in fact, pretty deft at anticipating any possible criticism of himself; he usually tries to get there first, with a piercingly funny joke at his own expense. Where he fails to understand his own folly, the author is quick to signal to us over the hero’s head; the poor fellow’s monologue gets a shade more florid, a shade more defensive, and we know we are witnessing a moment of self-deceptive bluster. Between the rueful self-knowledge of the hero and the ironizing impulse of the author, no vanity goes unpunctured.

Norman Mailer

This is about more than contemporary sexual manners, and about more, even, than urban middle class status anxieties. Our American male novelists, I suspect, are worried about being unloved as writers—specifically by the female reader. This is the larger humiliation looming behind the many smaller fictional humiliations of their heroes, and we can see it in the way the characters’ rituals of self-loathing are tacitly performed for the benefit of an imagined female audience.

In a 1998 review of John Updike’s novel Toward the End of Time, David Foster Wallace identified Updike, along with Norman Mailer and Philip Roth, as the “Great Male Narcissists” of mid-twentieth-century letters, characterized by their “radical self-absorption,” and “their uncritical celebration of this self-absorption both in themselves and in their characters.” Wallace observes that the GMNs, especially Updike, have been significantly less appreciated by younger generations of readers than they were by their own, and he puts forward a hypothesis:

I’m guessing that for the young educated adults of the sixties and seventies, for whom the ultimate horror was the hypocritical conformity and repression of their own parents’ generation, Updike’s evection of the libidinous self appeared refreshing and even heroic. But young adults of the nineties—many of whom are, of course, the children of all the impassioned infidelities and divorces Updike wrote about so beautifully, and who got to watch all this brave new individualism and sexual freedom deteriorate into the joyless and anomic self-indulgence of the Me Generation—today’s subforties have very different horrors, prominent among which are anomie and solipsism and a peculiarly American loneliness: the prospect of dying without even once having loved something more than yourself.

Whether you accept this view (or indeed, his characterization of Updike and the GMNs) or not, the important thing about Wallace’s essay, for our purposes, is the way in which he goes about building his case:

Most of the literary readers I know personally are under forty, and a fair number are female, and none of them are big admirers of the postwar GMNs. But it’s John Updike in particular that a lot of them seem to hate. And not merely his books, for some reason—mention the poor man himself and you have to jump back:

“Just a penis with a thesaurus.”

“Has the son of a bitch ever had one unpublished thought?”

“Makes misogyny seem literary the same way Rush [Limbaugh] makes fascism seem funny.”

And trust me: these are actual quotations, and I’ve heard even worse ones, and they’re all usually accompanied by the sort of facial expressions where you can tell there’s not going to be any profit in appealing to the intentional fallacy or talking about the sheer aesthetic pleasure of Updike’s prose.

Gary Shteyngart

Put aside for a moment the blatant condescension of that last bit, and you can see an amazingly frank expression of anxiety about female readers. No one wants to be called a penis with a thesaurus. For an English-language novelist, raised and educated and self-consciously steeped in the tradition of the Anglo-American novel, in which female characters, female writers, and female readers have had a huge part, the prospect of not being able to write for female readers is a crisis. What kind of novelist are you if women aren’t reading your books? This is a crisis that the GMNs themselves did not face (their own female contemporaries read their books avidly). Wallace is identifying a sea change in the next generation of female readers. These women are not only children of divorce, but children of a feminist movement that had an especially profound influence on cultural criticism.

Wallace’s only reference to feminism (if you could call it that) is an aside about a “PC backlash” against Updike, but his depiction of the composite female reader suggests a real fear of her articulate scorn. He devotes the rest of the essay to explaining and justifying her point of view. In reality, of course, women have a variety of opinions, but for Wallace there exists a single under-forty female judgment on Updike—and, potentially, on other novelists as well. What is it, exactly, that Wallace thinks has the women so worked up?

Here is how he describes the problem with Updike’s characters: “Though family men, they never really love anybody—and, though always heterosexual to the point of satyriasis, they especially don’t love women.” Wallace writes that the hero of Toward the End of Time is “such a broad caricature of an Updike protagonist that he helps clarify what’s been so unpleasant and frustrating about this author’s recent characters”: It’s not simply that they “persist in the bizarre, adolescent belief that getting to have sex with whomever one wants whenever one wants to is a cure for human despair.” It’s that “the author, so far as I can figure out, believes it too. Updike makes it plain that he views the narrator’s final impotence as catastrophic.” The problem, in short, is that the heroes continue, all the way to the end of their lives, to view sex, apart from love, as a solution for extra-sexual problems—as a balm for everything wrong with life, especially the looming fact of death.

John Updike

This view of sex is of course not at all “bizarre” but common. Wallace’s point is that while we might all sometimes feel this way about sex, it is naive to believe in the liberating powers of the unconstrained sexual impulse. A novelist writing in our disillusioned age has no business being sentimental about free love. And when he persists in unqualified celebration of his male characters’ sexual responses, it is somehow a slight to women. or at least women readers are liable to perceive it that way. Why? And which is it—a real or imagined slight? This part is murky. With his assemblage of female quotes, Wallace creates a kind of suggestive collage (“misogyny” “penis” “son of a bitch”) that indicts Updike while also leaving open the possibility that the female reader, though she is on to something fraudulent in Updike’s writing, might not be reading him very carefully or fairly. This is what makes her so frightening. If the male novelist writes with undue fondness about his penis, the female reader might rashly close the book.

I submit that Wallace’s thesis, and its accompanying fears and assumptions about the female reader, is also held by other male novelists, including those mentioned above. When you see the loser-figure in a novel, what you are seeing is a complicated bargain that goes something like this: yes, it is kind of immature and boorish to be thinking about sex all the time and ogling and objectifying women, but this is what we men sometimes do and we have to write about it. We fervently promise, however, to avoid the mistake of the late Updike novels: we will always, always, call our characters out when they’re being self-absorbed jerks and louts. We will make them comically pathetic, and punish them for their infractions a priori by making them undesirable to women, thus anticipating what we imagine will be your judgments, female reader. Then you and I, female reader, can share a laugh at the characters’ expense, and this will bring us closer together and forestall the dreaded possibility of your leaving me.

Jonathan Franzen

There’s a very funny scene in Jonathan Franzen’s novel The Corrections (2001) that is a kind of fictional analog to Wallace’s argument. In a chapter called “The Failure,” Chip Lambert, one of the novel’s five main characters, is being dumped by his girlfriend, Julia. Chip, who is thirty-seven and recently lost his academic teaching job after an affair with a student, has written a commercial potboiler-type screenplay about a persecuted academic that he’s hoping will make him a lot of money. As she’s making her awkward exit from his apartment and their relationship, Julia, who works for a film producer, breaks the news to Chip that his screenplay is very, very bad. Her critique is wide-ranging (there is, for instance, the problem that the screenplay starts with a six-page lecture on “the anxieties of the phallus” in Tudor drama), but she emphasizes the “creepy” way that Chip keeps mentioning the female lead’s breasts. “For a woman reading it,” she says, “it’s sort of like the poultry department. Breast, breast, breast, thigh, leg.”

Chip starts to defend himself, but as he’s chasing Julia out of the apartment building he mentally reviews his script and remembers that it is indeed full of lines and stage directions like “eyeing and eyeing her perfect adolescent breasts” and “absolutely adore your honeyed, heavy breasts” and “drowned headlights fading like two milk-white breasts.”

It seemed to Chip that Julia was leaving him because “The Academy Purple” had too many breast references and a draggy opening, and that if he could correct these few obvious problems, both on Julia’s copy of the script and, more important, on the copy he’d specially laser-printed on 24-pound ivory bond paper for [the film producer] Eden Procuro, there might be hope not only for his finances but also for his chances of ever again unfettering and fondling Julia’s own guileless, milk-white breasts. Which by this point in the day, as by late morning of almost every day in recent months, was one of the last activities on earth in which he could still reasonably expect to take solace for his failures.

It’s not just that Chip can’t get his life together and seeks refuge in sex. Chip’s problem is also the problem that haunts the male novelist: in his art, as in his life, Chip has completely failed to understand the female point of view. His humiliations will be many.

Into this theater of struggle, in 2000, arrived The Elementary Particles. Houellebecq’s loser characters have thoughts like “her big, sagging breasts were perfect for a tit-job; it had been three years since his last time.” And he doesn’t call them on it. Except occasionally he does. Houellebecq has a relaxed looseness about the whole matter of whose point of view (author’s or character’s) is being expressed in a given moment. He is happy to keep readers guessing about what he actually believes and what he’s satirizing. He’ll sometimes make a joke at the expense of his self-involved male characters, opening up a gap between himself and his character just long enough to show us that he knows perfectly well that the character is being an obnoxious jerk.

Michel Houellebecq

Bruno, one of the heroes of The Elementary Particles, is essentially a Chip-like character: an unconfident, irritable beta male (Houellebecq actually deems him an omega male) fruitlessly and comically preoccupied with chasing women. He too is both ridiculous and sympathetic, though he is illuminated by a harsher light than Chip. Here is a scene at a New Age retreat, where Bruno has gone to meet women. A female guest called Sophie has just told him that she really likes Brazilian dance. Bruno “was starting to get pissed off about the world’s stupid obsession with Brazil.”

“Sophie,” announced Bruno, “I could go on vacation to Brazil tomorrow. I’d look around a favela. The windows of the minibus would be bulletproof. In the morning, I’d go sightseeing. Check out eight-year-old murderers who dream of growing up to be gangsters; thirteen-year-old prostitutes dying of AIDS. I’d spend the afternoon at the beach surrounded by filthy-rich drug barons and pimps. I’m sure that in such a passionate, not to mention liberal, society I could shake off the malaise of Western civilization. You’re right, Sophie: I’ll go straight to a travel agent as soon as I get home.

Sophie considered him for a moment, her expression thoughtful, her brow lined with concern. Eventually she said sadly, “You must have really suffered….”

“You know what Nietzsche said about Shakespeare, Sophie?” said Bruno. “‘The man must have suffered greatly to have such passion for playing the fool!’ Personally, I’ve always thought that Shakespeare was overrated, but now that I think about it, he is a fool.” He stopped and realized to his surprise that he was beginning to suffer. Sometimes women were so compassionate; they met aggression with empathy, cynicism with tenderness. No man would do any such thing. “Sophie,” he said with heartfelt emotion, “I’d like to lick your pussy….”

Sophie is a version of Julia—she offers the corrective female perspective—but her time onstage is brief, and Bruno remains unchastened. A page later Bruno will be muttering that some woman in a see-through blouse must be a slut, and his author will not rebuke him. This offhand sexism is doubly infuriating to an American female reader (even one who also admires the book): not only are the characters casually misogynistic, but their author is casual about the whole question of misogyny. We are used to more solicitous novelists.

Houellebecq would never put a fine point, in the painstaking way of Franzen, on the fact that his hero is benighted when it comes to women. Of course not. Houellebecq’s mode is to shock and provoke, and offending female sensibilities is fair game, but it’s also the least of his ambitions. He is willing—indeed, eager—to be unlikable in order to get under our skin, and therefore make his social criticisms more forcefully than a likable narrator can.

The younger American novelists, they want to be liked. And their novels are, in fact, irresistible, among the best novels around, in my opinion—ingeniously funny, buoyant, true. The authors have exquisite control over point of view and tone. Their narrative voices are sexy. Which makes you realize that an entire realm of erotic experience goes unrepresented in most of these novels: the authors so scrupulously deflate any sexual confidence or self-regard on the part of their characters that they avoid dramatizing the fact that men, in the real world, can actually channel their libidinal energies into seductive power.

Philip Roth

This is, in part, a legacy of the GMNs. Mailer, Roth, and Updike write about successful seductions quite a lot—and tend toward a condescending view of the women being seduced, in the sense that the male characters rarely seem to meet their match (in wit, brains, fineness of perception, or vitality) in their female counterparts. Because of the GMNs, these two tendencies—heroic virility and sexist condescension—have lingered in our minds as somehow yoked together, and the succeeding generations of American male novelists have to some degree accepted the dyad as truth. Behind their skittishness is a fearful suspicion that if a man gets what he wants, sexually speaking, he is probably exploiting someone.

If there is something disingenuous about the American loser, it’s that in telling his story the writers substitute a kind of burlesque of total humiliation for a more measured sense of the character’s humility. Which is to say that the new generation of characters is, in its own way, also self-absorbed. How else to describe their loving scrutiny of all their faults? While their self-absorption is sharply criticized by author and fellow characters, it is reinforced by the very structure of the novels (with the exception of Franzen’s). Female characters get to remind the hero that he’s a navel-gazing jerk, but most of the good lines, and certainly the brilliant social and psychological observations, still go to the hero. The problem is not that he doesn’t share the spotlight, per se, but the subtle sense that a transaction is taking place: the hero is entitled to the spotlight because he has been appropriately self-critical—it’s his novel, bought and paid for with all those jokes at his own expense. The male novelists performing elaborate genuflections toward female readers are perhaps not exactly bargaining so much as trying to draw us into a new contract: I, the author, promise always to acknowledge my characters’ narcissism, and you, in return, will continue to take an interest in it. Okay? Agreed? Sign on the dotted line please, Ms., and I will countersign my book for you.

Jaya Saxena, What's in Your Bag?

Jaya, when you finish that Qream Qasserole, please show us.

1. Personalized silly straw: hands down the best Christmas gift I have ever received.

2. Cell phone: I am the only person left on the planet without a smartphone.

3. Veet wax strips.

4. Work ID.

5. A recipe for Goulash from Smitten Kitchen: on Monday I thought my boyfriend and I were gonna cook, but we got takeout chicken curry instead.

6. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot: really good read about human cells that have contributed to tons of modern science research and the woman they were stolen from.

7. iPod engraved with the Weezer lyric "I'll bring home the turkey if you bring home the bacon."

8. 39 cents.

9. Gloves.

10. Keys to my apartment, office, mom's apartment, and a bike I never use.

11. Gum wrapper.

12. Birth control.

13. Wallet, complete with hot dogs. In there is a card that says I'm two sandwiches away from getting a free sandwich at Luke's Lobster.

14. Bare Minerals lip gloss in Rose. This is my go-to gloss. Pretty much the exact color of my lips, just makes them shiny with a bit of sparkle. Absolutely perfect for anything.

15. Strawberry Chapstick: because Cherry is for suckers.

Jaya Saxena has not yet made a Qream Qasserole, sadly.


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Universal Principles of Design

This is a fantastic catalog of design guidelines that apply to almost anything you might want to design. These 125 principles are not infallible rules, but rather recurring patterns that are found in the best designs. This tome is sort of a "pattern language" for industrial, graphic, and system designers. The different patterns can be combined and recombined in many ways. It will be most useful for engineers, architects, product designers, inventors and prototypers. It can be used in tandem with the previously reviewed 40 Principles, which is a "pattern language" of engineering principles.

-- KK

Universal Principles of Design
William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, Jill Butler
2010, 272 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Contour Bias: A tendency to favor objects with contours over objects with sharp angles or points.

…This seems consistent with the kind of innate response one would expect from potential threats and suggests a tradeoff between angular and contoured features: Angular objects are more effective at attracting and engaging thought; contoured objects are more effective at making a positive emotional and aesthetic impression.

From the top left to bottom right, the Alessi il Conico, 9093, 9091, and Mami kettles arranged form most angular to most contoured. At the extremes of this continuum, the il Conico will be most effective at grabbing attention, and the Mami will be most liked generally. The 9093 and 9091 incorporate both angular and contoured features, balancing attention-getting with likeability. Historically, the il Conico and 9093 are Alessi's best-selling kettles.

Interference Effects: A phenomenon in which mental processing is made slower and less accurate by competing mental processes.

designer 3.jpeg
In populations that have learned that a traffic arrow always means go, the introduction of a red arrow in new traffic lights creates potentially dangerous interference.


Law of Pragnanz: A tendency to interpret ambiguous images as simple and complete, versus complex and incomplete.

The law of Pragnanz is one of several principles referred to as Gestalt principles of perception. It asserts that when people are presented with a set of ambiguous elements (elements that can be interpreted in different ways), they interpret the elements in the simplest way. Here, "simplest" refers to arrangements having fewer rather than more elements, having symmetrical rather than asymmetrical compositions, and generally observing the other Gestalt principles of perception.

Therefore, minimize the number of elements in a design. Note that symmetrical compositions are perceived as simpler and more stable than asymmetrical compositions, but symmetrical compositions are also perceived to be less interesting. Favor symmetrical compositions when efficiency of use is the priority, and asymmetrical compositions when interestingness is the priority.

designer 4.jpeg
Low resolution images (let) of a rock formation on Mars led many to conclude that intelligent life once existed there. Higher-resolution images (right) taken some years later suggest a more EArth-based explanation: Humans tend to add order and meaning to patterns and formations that do not exist outside their perception.


Mapping: A relationship between controls and their movements or effects. Good mapping between controls and their effects results in greater ease of use.

designer 5.jpeg
The relationship between the window control and the raising and lowering of the window is obvious when it is mounted on the wall of the door (good mapping), but ambiguous when mounted on the surface of the armrest (poor mapping).


Recognition Over Recall: Memory for recognizing things is better than memory for recalling things.

The advantages of recognition over recall are often exploited in the design of interfaces for complex systems. For example, early computer systems used a command line interface, which required recall memory for hundres of commands. The effort associated with learning the commands made computers difficult to use. The contemporary graphical user interface, which presents commands in menus, allows users to browse the possible options, and select from them accordingly. This eliminates the need to have the commands in recall memory, and greatly simplifies the usability of computers.

Friday Open Thread

[The sound of hair whipping in the wind]

Photo by white coast art, via Shutterstock


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Domestic Adventures: Cat 6 Ethernet and Daily Calendars

Things have been quieter over here lately, but busy on Kellbot’s Domestic Adventures, the part of my blog dedicated to home and personal posts. It’s a little tricky to balance what goes where, so for overlap posts I’ll provide a summary. If you’re not reading it, here’s some of what you’ve missed:

Wiring for Cat 6 Ethernet

It’s been a little tricky to balance what posts go where, especially when they’re home improvement hacks. The second post in the series about our home network is now up!

A script to generate a daily chore calendar

Cleaning Calendar

Because I’m a slob, I have to have a daily check list every day to tell me to clean up. I converted an old page-a-day calendar into a daily chore checklist, with help from Ruby and ImageMagick.


Welcome Our New Editors!


Serious Eats is bustin' out all over. In the last year we've added Sweets, Drinks, and Chicago to our family of blogs. And as good as Carey, Erin, Kenji, Maggie, Robyn, Nick, and Meredith are, even they cry uncle once in awhile. So we've added a couple of amazing full-time Serious Eaters to the crew, and we wanted to officially welcome them.

Don't worry. They're hardly strangers to our wonderful community, as you're about to find out. Max Falkowitz and Carrie Vasios are longtime Serious Eaters, and we're thrilled that they're joining us. We're also thrilled that Carey Jones and Erin Zimmer are stepping up to new, exciting roles.

But rather than talk too much, I'll let each of the editors tell you what they'll be doing now. In their own words.

Max Falkowitz, New York Editor

Hi everyone, I'm Max, and I've been writing for Serious Eats for two years as the author of Spice Hunting and Scooped. I couldn't be more excited to take the reins as editor of Serious Eats: New York. In addition to all our wonderful features, we'll explore ways to make the site even more of a go-to destination for every New Yorker who loves to eat. You can expect even more dispatches from the city's ethic dining capitals and stories from the amazing people who work so hard to bring us our daily meals.

Carrie Vasios, Sweets Editor

I'm Carrie, and I've been with SE since January of 2011. I write three columns (Serious Entertaining, Wake and Bake, and Cookie Monster) and act as Community Manager for the site. I've recently taken over as editor of Sweets, which is a sugar-filled dream come true. I can't wait to expand our Sweets coverage, focusing on everything from new candies to behind-the-scenes baking.

Carey Jones, Senior Managing Editor

Serious Eats has been part of my life since I was Ed's first intern, before the site launched in 2006; for the last three years, I've been the editor of Serious Eats: New York, with a little work helping Maggie out on Sweets.

Now, I'll be the Senior Managing Editor—coordinating the many sites that make up the wide world of Serious Eats, assisting editors on new site launches, and generally making sure that every little corner of the site lives up to the standards we set for ourselves at Serious Eats. I'll still be chiming in on all things New York, with reviews, roundups, and more. But my main goal from here on out is to help all the other all-star editors make their sites as great as they can be. We couldn't have a better team to do it.

Erin Zimmer, National Managing Editor

It was back in 2007 that I first emailed Ed as a fangirl, telling him how much I loved Serious Eats; the next thing I knew, he was hiring me as the SE: Washington Bureau Chief (still the most official-sounding title on my resume). In 2008, I moved up to New York from D.C. to work at the storied SEHQ, and boy has it been an amazing ride watching the sites grow in so many dynamic directions. As the National Managing Editor, I'm eager to continue working with our enormously talented team of writers and editors (you already know and love them as much as I do) while developing more editorial partnerships and community events.

J. Kenji Lopéz-Alt, Chief Creative Officer

I've been writing my Food Lab column for Serious Eats since 2009 and have been the Managing Editor of the site since 2010. As the new Chief Creative Officer (a title we completely made up), I'll now be working exclusively on improving our recipe, technique, taste test, and equipment columns, as well as continuing to manage all of our video content. We've always had an extremely strong recipes program, thanks to our amazing lineup of recipe writers and testers. My goal is to make Serious Eats your first and only stop for finding the best, most fun, most interesting, and—most important of all—most reliable free recipes on-line. I'll also be working with Jessica, our outstanding videographer on bringing you more unique and original video content. Want to see more of a particular type of recipe? Want to know what's the best jarred salsa? Feel free to contact me any time at kenji@seriouseats.com with questions, comments or ideas about our recipes, techniques, taste tests, and equipment columns!

Maggie Hoffman, Drinks Editor

I'm Maggie, Drinks editor (and founder) and I started out writing about craft beer for SE back in 2009 (and we launched Drinks about a year ago as a dedicated site). I edited SE: Sweets with Carey Jones for the last 7 months, but now I'm pumped to hand the reins over to the fabulous Carrie V, so I can focus on my awesome drinks contributors and explore the world of sippable deliciousness full time.

Nick Kindelsperger, Chicago Editor

I'm Nick, the editor of Serious Eats Chicago. Though the site only launched back in November of 2011, I've actually been writing for SE since way back in 2007, when I first started the Dinner Tonight column. You can usually find me on the hunt for the most delicious foods in Chicago, including my never ending quest for the best taco.

Meredith Smith, Slice Editor

Hey Serious Eaters, I'm Meredith. I started writing for Slice last January, and I'm quickly approaching a full year as the editor. I'm looking forward to keeping you up to speed on all the saucy, cheesy happenings while continuing to collaborate with contributors to bring you better and better pizza-filled original content.

Robyn Lee, A Hamburger Today and Photo Editor

I'm Robyn, AHT editor and overall Serious Eats photographer and photo editor. I started interning at SE in January of 2007, and by the end of the year I was part of the full-time staff. Unlike everyone else, my role isn't really changing; my goals are to continue pumping up our burger content, improving photos, and, if I have spare time, drawing more doodles.

So let's give a warm Serious Eats welcome to Carrie Vasios and Max Falkowitz, and a round of applause for all our fine editors. Welcome to the fray, Carrie and Max. We're thrilled to have you.

March 8, 2012

Letters & Stone

Based near Burford, Oxfordshire, Fergus Wessel is a letter cutter producing fine memorials that can be seen throughout the UK, including St Paul’s Cathedral. Naomi Chapple interviews him in his workshop on his love of lettering and, in particular, the relevance of good typography in his work.

Why did you decide to become a letter cutter?

My introduction to the elegance of letters and typography began at the Whittington Press in Gloucestershire where my mother worked as a typesetter and wood-engraver. An early love of stone carving and an interest in lettering led me to the Kindersley Workshop in Cambridge, where I trained as an apprentice.

Since 2003 I’ve had my own workshop where I have so enjoyed meeting people, working with them, and understanding their needs. My work tends to be quite traditional and my conviction is that finely carved lettering and pleasing spacing are fundamental; simplicity is the key.

Why a particular interest in good typography?

An inscription on paper or stone can be a beautiful thing to look at, a work of art. It is not the content which interests me most, but the shape and rhythm of the lettering. An inscription must be pleasing and well balanced to the eye. This requires an in-depth knowledge of sound typographic principles.

Rhythm in riven slate.

Your lettering is entirely hand-cut. Is typography more relevant and important in hand-carved lettering than in sandblasted lettering?

Unfortunately, it does have more relevance in hand-carved lettering, though it shouldn’t. There is no reason why sandblasted lettering can’t be well spaced and laid out. Sadly, however, there is a general lack of care and love with machine-cut lettering. Those who produce hand-carved lettering tend to take more time and give their work more love and attention. It’s not the technique that’s the problem, but the layout. This is more important than the way a letter is cut; for example, finely carved lettering with poor spacing and layout will still look awful.

Left: Carving robust letters in relatively soft Portland stone. Right: This slate was carved by an apprentice as an exercise in good rhythm & spacing.

Do the principles of good typography on paper translate well to, say, headstones? How do you adapt a typeface for use in stone?

In order to achieve a good design on stone, the lettering needs to be adapted to the type of stone. For example, if one is carving in slate, there is little difference in the lettering one might use on paper. However, in limestone the letter needs to be chunkier and more deeply cut, as we rely on the shadow of the v-cut and not colour to see the letters.

What are the limitations of lettering in stone?

When cut by hand, lettering in stone has few limitations, unlike sandblasted lettering, which is restricted by the technology that produces it (although this is improving all the time). In many ways, with lettering in stone there is more flexibility than in type, where one is restricted by the piece of type. Again it depends on the material; a coarse and open limestone only really lends itself to big, bold lettering. Slate, on the other hand, is very fine to cut and one has complete control over the material — one’s chisel being like an extension of the hand.

Left: The beauty of slate is that it permits such fine carving. Right: An experiment using a type designed for paper on slate.

How do you achieve good letter spacing? Do you use a ruler?

By eye, I never use a ruler! With a ruler one is limited to set measurements and sometimes a letter needs to be moved “by a nothing.” I judge good letter-spacing by visualizing an equal volume between letters. This skill is achieved by having the patience to start drawing out an inscription all over again if it doesn’t look perfect. We call this “killing one’s darlings” and it takes a lot of self discipline.

Are there any typefaces you particularly like using in stone?

I don’t really use typefaces in their pure form; they are mainly designed for paper, so, as a letter cutter, one has to adapt them or design one’s own based loosely on a typeface. For example, one of my favorites is the lowercase alphabet from Caslon; but I would only ever adapt this to slate, as the forms are quite delicate. While the letterform is carved by hand, each will be slightly different and will always be an interpretation of the type.

Do you have a favorite letter, and why?

It would probably be the “S”. I like the challenge involved in getting the balance between the top and bottom spaces just right. They should look the same to the eye, but if you ever turn an “S” upside-down you’ll see that it looks completely top heavy. The bottom space must always be larger than the top to give the illusion of balance.

Do you give yourself much artistic license when laying out an inscription in stone?

Yes, of course; but this stage is incredibly disciplined, and it is a design issue, not one of free expression. It is not only about individual letter spacing but also about the interlinear spacing and the inscription as a whole. When marking out the lines on stone, I don’t use a ruler but a ticker. Again, this is because the distances involved are so precise that a ruler is simply not accurate enough.

Gilding an opening plaque in Welsh Slate.

What do you think of Eric Gill & his lettering? Has this tradition has been lost to modern-day letter cutters?

Eric Gill is my hero! His lettering, in my opinion, remains unsurpassed, partly because of its honesty. We are all striving for perfection, but there really is no such thing of course. If we try to control it and attempt to be too artistic, we are in danger of losing that honesty. One has to let the letters flow a little.

There are certainly strict rules of good layout and lettering, but rules are there to be broken. But in order to bend the rules, one has to know them in the first place, and attain that initial discipline. This requires years of experience and practice; it is something that evolves and it is during this evolution that you develop your own individual style and form.

Carving readable, chunky letters in Cotswold stone.

Do you consider lettering more challenging than relief carving or sculpture?

It is very different; there is no margin for error. If lettering is slightly wrong, the eye is immediately drawn to the problem. Poor spacing can break up a whole inscription; in fact, good letter spacing is more important than the individual letters themselves. There is a big difference between lettering that has been drawn out on stone and lettering that has been carved. If you draw out an inscription and then adhere rigidly to the lines, the spacing cannot be expected to be perfect. In order to achieve good letter spacing I always work on a block of four to five letters at a time. If, when carving some letters, I see the spacing is not perfect, I adjust the width of the letters by a fraction; but this takes practice to see.

Which factors are most important when lettering in stone?

Patience above all! Balance, good layout, unity, and timelessness. I don’t like to follow fashions in lettering, as they don’t endure. Often, I believe, the simplest headstones are the best.

You can learn more about Fergus & his work at Fergus Wessel’s Stone Workshop.

Interviewer: Naomi Chapple is a literacy expert and educationalist who runs a charity helping children in Nigeria. She is also a freelance writer and phonics teacher.

Sponsored by H&FJ.

Letters & Stone

Redis Guide: What Each Redis Data Type Should Be Used For

Salvatore Sanfilippo offers a very detailed answer to this question on StackOverflow. Just to give you a glimpse.

  • strings:
    • to avoid converting your already encoded data (JSON, HTML)
    • bitmaps and in general random access arrays of bytes
  • lists:
    • when you are likely to touch only the extremes of the list: near tail, or near head
    • capped collection of N items where usually we access just the top or bottom items, or when N is small
  • sets:
    • to check for existence or size of the collection in a very fast way
    • random elements peeking or popping
    • to represent relations (nb: sotrted sets might be more interesting)
  • hashes:
    • to represent objects, composed of fields and values
    • to represent linked data structures, using references
  • sorted sets:
    • maintain ordered lists of unique elements
    • describe relations
    • paginate the list of items and to remember the ordering
    • priority queues

In the list of top 5 mistakes to avoid when using Redis, I’ve listed not knowing all data types and their corresponding operations as being the top one. So I expect the examples above to come in very handy for a lot of new Redis users.

Original title and link: Redis Guide: What Each Redis Data Type Should Be Used For (NoSQL database©myNoSQL)

A Hackday Project: What neighborhood is the ‘East Village’ of San Francisco?

Have you ever wondered what’s the equivalent of your neighborhood in another city? How you’d find the Times Square of Tokyo? The Beverly Hills of Dallas? Or the East Village of San Francisco? For a hackday project this January, we mapped our 1,500,000,000 check-ins to 140,000 neighborhoods all over the world to better understand and compare the different places we live, work, and play. Here is a brief account of our hack.

First, to collect data about neighborhoods, we built some Hive queries to access our large collection of check-ins (stored in S3) and count the number of check-ins per category for every neighborhood in the world. For example, the East Village of New York has 230k check-ins at bars, 57k check-ins at pizza places, 18k check-ins at yoga studios, and 34k check-ins at karaoke places (hipsters like to sing!).

We then used MATLAB to represent each neighborhood by a 400 dimensional vector which specifies the normalized probability distribution of checking in to a place in each category relative to the baseline distribution of the city. This approach allows us to compare neighborhoods with each other using a similarity metric such as cosine similarity, or KL divergence.

Here is a visualization of the similarity matrix for NYC neighborhoods. The blue entries indicate two neighborhoods are very similar, and the red entries indicate neighborhoods most different. The ordering is determined by a k-means clustering on the data, meaning similar neighborhoods will be ordered close to each other. Looking along the diagonal of this matrix we see groups of places which are very similar to each other such as the east village, the lower east side, and alphabet city.

(click the image for full-size)

It turns out that a good proxy for describing a neighborhood is the proportion of activities that go on inside it. For example, imagine if two neighborhoods both have lots of check-ins at apartments, colleges, and food trucks (think college towns). Those two neighborhoods are more similar than a neighborhood that has tons of check-ins at offices and retail stores.

Here are some top categories based on neighborhoods:
Soho, New York: clothing stores, offices, electronics stores, coffee shops, French restaurants
Mission, San Francisco: Mexican restaurants, bars, coffee shops, burrito places
Kendall Square, Boston: offices, food trucks, tech startups, college academic buildings, sandwich places
Hollywood, LA: nightclubs, multiplexes, burger joints, hotels, bars

At this point in the hack day, we shared this data with the rest of the company so people could explore their own neighborhoods. foursquare HQ had just moved from the East Village to Soho, and the whole office was eager to see a heads-up comparison. So we put together a quick website using Ruby, Sinatra, Twitter Bootstrap, and the d3.js library for visualization. This allowed us to better visualize pairwise comparisons of neighborhoods and to easily click through the whole dataset.

Here is a visualization of the differences between the East Village to Soho:

We see that Soho has a lot of activity at offices and clothing stores, whereas the East Village has a lot of activity at bars and pizza places.

We also can now algorithmically compare neighborhoods across different cities:

Most similar to NY’s East Village in San Francisco:
Mission Dolores
Cow Hollow
Telegraph Hill

Most similar to SF’s Chinatown in NY:
Chinatown — obviously :)
Downtown Flushing
Long Island City

Most similar to Seattle’s Capitol Hill in SF:
Mission Dolores
Hayes Valley

Most similar to NY’s Coney Island in Orlando:
Walt Disney World Resort
Florida Center
Sea World Theme Park

Inherent in Foursquare’s 1,500,000,000 check-ins is a staggering amount of information about the characteristics of cities. It is now possible to quantify and measure the ways people interact with neighborhoods at a higher resolution than ever before. This whole hackday project was achievable in just a day and a half by two engineers because of the amazing data, infrastructure, and tools provided at Foursquare. There are many possible directions this project can go; for example, we’re looking forward to including user demographics and time-based information into the model. If you have some good ideas for what to try next, please leave them in the comments, or better yet, join us and try them yourself!

- @metablake and @rathboma

French in a Flash: Fresh Olive Oil and Sea Salt Palmiers


[Photograph: Kerry Saretsky]

Palmiers, or elephant ears, are a family tradition. When I was young and would go to Paris with my mom, we would always buy one giant palmier. It was as though if we didn't buy a giant palmier, we somehow had not yet arrived. We would each hold a side and try to snap it, like a wishbone. The bigger half was, of course, the reward in and of itself.

Over the years, I think I've made a hundred different palmiers. Simple sweet ones with just sugar, lavender sugar, citrus zest and sugar, or cinnamon sugar. Chocolate-dipped ones. Savory ones rolled with prosciutto and Gruyère, with tapenade, with pesto, with sundried tomatoes, with Roquefort. They're so easy to make The sweet ones are the perfect accompaniment to ice cream, chocolate fondue, or a plate of fruit, and the savory ones are the best hors d'oeuvre ever. Crisp, flaky, and salty—like a very posh potato chip.

The French do serve fresh potato chips with a glass of wine if you sit in a café before dinner and watch the crowds walk by. These are my potato chip variety of palmier, flavored with nothing but fruity olive oil and crunchy, flaky sea salt. The two flavors mix with the buttery, crisp pastry flavors of the palmiers to make something simple and sophisticated. It's perfect with a glass of wine by yourself, or, if you must, with others.

Get the Recipe

Fresh Olive Oil and Sea Salt Palmiers »

About the author: Kerry Saretsky is the creator of French Revolution Food, where she reinvents her family's classic French recipes in a fresh, chic, modern way.

Get the Recipe!

Me On the Road

You’ve read my blog, now see the road show. In the coming days and weeks, I’ll be making a number of appearances, not just in New York, but all across the country: Austin, Minneapolis and San Francisco, too. Here’s a roundup of what’s happening.

SXSW 2012, Austin TX

First up, of course, is SXSW, starting this weekend. On Saturday night, Mixel will be co-hosting a big bash with our friends at the hotly-tipped startup Cameo and several other mobile companies. In addition to drinks and music, we’ll be projecting hundreds of user-made mixels big and bold at the venue, and the whole Mixel staff will be there. Sadly the early response was so tremendous that the party is oversubscribed already, but stay tuned here and on my Twitter feed as we may open it up further that evening.

The next day, Sunday, I’ll be giving a solo talk all about Mixel at 12:30 over at the Hyatt Regency campus of the festival. (A free shuttle gets you there.) This is my first big lecture about some of the big ideas that went into Mixel: how we’re tackling the challenge of lowering creative inhibition for people from all walks of life, some thoughts on tablets in general, plus a sneak peek at some of what we’re planning in the near future. You can get all the details about the talk at the Mixel blog.

Right after that talk, we’ll be gathering up all the Mixel users at SXSW and walking a short distance over to Dominican Joe’s for the first ever Austin Mixel Meetup. Everyone is free to join us; it’s an informal hangout where you can meet members of the team and plenty of other users whom you might know only through the app. Bring your iPad!

Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN

I’ll be in Austin until early Tuesday morning, when I head to Minneapolis for an appearance at the Walker Art Center, one of the country’s most prestigious contemporary art and design museums. The folks there were kind enough to invite me to give a lecture on Tuesday evening, a very humbling honor. If you’re in the area please pick up a ticket and come on by.

Pratt University, New York, NY

At the end of the month, I’ll be appearing closer to home at Pratt Institute, where I’ll be giving a talk the evening 27 Mar as part of their Spring 2012 lecture series. I’m very much looking forward to that, as I’ll be appearing on stage with Ali Madad of SCTY. (However, I’m a little sad that it will take place on Pratt’s Manhattan campus; it’s conveniently located on 14th St, but I live very close to the school’s Brooklyn campus and really liked the idea of just walking home after the talk. Oh well.)

TYPO 2012, San Francisco, CA

That’s pretty much it for March, but in early April I’ll be in San Francisco to appear at the first ever Typo International Design Talks conference held in that city. The list of speakers is pretty fantastic, filled both with friends and folks I’ve been wanting to meet for a long time, so I can’t wait. Tickets are still available, so grab one before they sell out.

More to Come

If you can’t make it to any of these events, not to worry, I’ll be doing several more as the year progresses. We spent most of last year building the foundation for Mixel, and we’re busy iterating on the product this year, but part of my job in 2012 is to get in front of as many people as I can to tell them about all the amazing things that the app makes possible. Sooner or later, I’ll probably make it to somewhere near you.

To follow me on Twitter click here.

––thursday #1: screen

I’m trying something new: every Thursday I’ll go over how to do something with the command line. Let me know what you think.

If you are using a modern-ish browser, you probably use tabs to keep multiple things open at once: your email, your calendar, whatever you’re actually doing, etc. You can do the same thing with the shell using screen: in a single terminal, you can compile a program while you’re editing a file and watching another process out of the corner of your eye.

Note that screen is super handy when SSH’d into a box. SSH in once, then start screen and open up all of the windows you need.

Using screen

To start up screen, run:

$ screen

Now your shell will clear and screen will give you a welcome message.

Screen version 4.00.03jw4 (FAU) 2-May-06
Copyright (c) 1993-2002 Juergen Weigert, Michael Schroeder
Copyright (c) 1987 Oliver Laumann
                          [Press Space or Return to end.]

As it says at the bottom, just hit Return to clear the welcome message. Now you’ll see an empty prompt and you can start working normally.

Let’s say we have three things we want to do:

  1. Run top
  2. Edit a file
  3. Tail a log

Go ahead and start up top:

$ top

Well, now we need to edit a file but top‘s using the shell. What to do now? Just create a new window. While top is still running, hit ^A c (I’m using ^A as shorthand for Control-a, so this means “hit Control-a, then hit c”) to create a new window. The new window gets put right on top of the old one, so you’ll see a fresh shell and be at the prompt again. But where did top go? Not to worry, it’s still there. We can switch back to it with ^A n or ^A p (next or previous window).

Now we can start up our editor and begin editing a file. But now we want to tail a file, so we create another new window with ^A c and run our tail -f filename. We can continue to use ^A n and ^A p to switch between the three things we’re doing (and open more windows as necessary).


screen seems pretty ubiquitous, it has been on every Linux machine I’ve ever tried running it on and even OS X (although it may be part of XCode, I haven’t checked).

Note for Emacs Users

^A is an annoying escape key, as it is also go-to-beginning-of-line shortcut in Emacs (and the shell). To fix this, create a .screenrc file and add one line to change this to something else:

# use ^T
escape ^Tt
# or ^Y
escape ^Yy

The escape sequence is 3 characters: carat, T, and t. (It is not using the single special character “^T”.) The traditional escape key is actually Ctrl-^, as the carat is the one character Emacs doesn’t use for anything. In a .screenrc file, this results in the rather bizarre string:

escape ^^^^

…which makes sense when you think about it, but looks a bit weird.

Odds and Ends

As long as you’re poking at the .screenrc file, you might want to turn off the welcome message, too:

startup_message off

Run ^A ? anytime for help, or check out the manual’s list of default bindings.

Did I miss anything? Get anything wrong? Got a suggestion for next week? Leave a comment below and let me know!

The history of the animated GIF

(via the awl)

Tags: video

The Food Lab, Ramen Edition: How to Make Chashu Pork Belly


[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

It's time for another round of The Food Lab. Got a suggestion for an upcoming topic? Email Kenji here, and he'll do his best to answer your queries in a future post. Become a fan of The Food Lab on Facebook or follow it on Twitter for play-by-plays on future kitchen tests and recipe experiments.

We've talked about Tonkotsu Ramen Broth and Marinated Soft Boiled Eggs. Today's short installment of The Food Lab is all about what is perhaps my favorite part of a bowl of ramen: the tender, salty, sweet, fatty, melt-in-your-mouth slices of braised pork belly known as chashu. It's a component of a perfect bowl of ramen that's all-to-often overlooked at restaurants. Dry, stringy, or chalky chashu tends to be the norm, but when a place really nails it, it can elevate a great bowl of ramen to a transcendent one. Transcendent is what we're after here.

Japanese chashu gets its name from the bright red Chinese barbecued pork known as char siu—you know, the stuff you see hanging in windows or stuffed into steamed bao?—and it probably came to Japan from China around the same time that ramen itself did. But like ramen, it's undergone some major alterations over the centuries. Unlike char siu, which is made by painting slices of pork shoulder with a thick, sweet marinade and roasting it, Japanese chashu is a simmered dish made with pork belly.

The question: What separates the bad chashu from the good, the good chashu from the great, and how do we recreate the best at home?

Basic Shaping

The first question is how to shape our pork belly before simmering it. Many home recipes for chashu are simplified and just cook the pork belly as a flat slab rather than rolling it. Indeed, many restaurants serve slabs of chashu instead or rolls. If you eat a lot of ramen, you've probably also noticed that rolled chashu is usually (but not always) moister and juicier than its more slabby counterpart.


This is no coincidence. See, when braising meats, there are a few different elements at play. Time and temperature are the most important, and we'll get to those in a moment, but surface area-to-volume ratio also plays a role. The more exposed surface a piece of meat has, the faster it cooks, and the more easily it loses moisture. And of course, the more moisture it loses, the dryer it becomes.

You might ask, "But doesn't cooking it in a moist environment keep it, well moist?" In fact, no. The amount of moisture a piece of meat loses is almost entirely depended on the final temperature to which it's cooked to. With a flat slab of meat, there's simply more meat getting cooked to a higher temperature than in a rolled piece of meat.


With two identical pieces of pork belly, I found that cooking flat vs. rolled led to a good 18% more moisture loss. That's a significant difference!


What about rind on vs. off? It's up to you, but given enough cooking time, pork rind gets delightfully soft and gelatinous. It's also worth noting that skin is an insulator—that's one of its primary biological functions, after all—and it does an equally good job of it on a live pig as it does on a piece or rolled pork belly, making sure that the meat inside receives even, gentle heat.

TL/DR: Roll your rind-on pork belly. Secure with string. Good to go.

On Simmering

When simmering or braising meats, the goal is for your final product to be both moist and tender. Unfortunately, the cooking processes that lead to these ultimate goals are at odds with each other. See, the moistness of meat is dependent upon the final temperature it is cooked to. The hotter you cook it, the dryer it becomes. Take a look at this chart.

20110304-corned beef-weight loss.png

Moisture loss in meat is a nearly instantaneous process that's dependent on how much muscle fibers contract, which in turn is dependent on the temperature they are heated to. Heat a piece of meat up to 205°F, and moisture will get squeezed out like a tube of toothpaste. Just like a tube of toothpaste, that moisture is very very difficult to get back in once it's been squeezed out.

At the same time, tenderness is dependent upon cooking time. See, to turn tough cuts like pork belly tender, you have to break down connective tissue—mainly collagen—into softer molecules—mainly gelatin. This takes time.

The key is that the time it takes is also dependent upon cooking temperature. So keep your meat at 200°F, and it might take only a couple hours to reach tenderness. But of course, it'll also be hopelessly dry by then.


Meat cooked in a sous-vide bag will be moister, but you've got to have a sous-vide cooker for this to work

Cook your meat at, say, 155°F, and you'll get extraordinarily moist meat, but it'll take up to 36 hours to tenderize. If you happen to have a sous-vide water cooker, this is, indeed, the best way to cook pork belly (see my post on Deep-Fried Sous-Vide 36-Hour All-Belly Porchetta for a discussion of the process). If you don't have one, you're best bet is to use heat up your cooking liquid on the stovetop, but do the actual cooking in a low temperature oven, which provides a more even, gentler form of heat.

275°F is about the lowest temperature my oven can reliably keep, which translates to an in-the-pot liquid temperature of between 180°F and 190°F so long as the lid is kept ever-so-slightly ajar (this reduces vapor pressure on the liquid, letting it steam and cool down—liquid will stay about 10°F cooler in a cracked pot vs. a tightly lidded one). At this temperature, the pork takes about 3 1/2 hours to get as tender as I like it.



Flavorings are pretty straightforward and classic. I use a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, sake, and sugar, with garlic, ginger, scallions, and a shallot or two thrown in. I heat it over the stovetop, add the pork, then finish it all in the oven.

What emerges a few hours later is this:


Looks ridiculous, right? And it is. But wait! Don't try to cut into it straight away! Not only will you end up mangling your pork (if you cooked it right, it'll be soft enough to cut with a spoon and impossible to slice into even pieces), but you'll be robbing yourself of both moisture and flavor.

I know. The temptation to dig in right when it comes out of the oven is overwhelming. But good pork comes to those who wait. Let the pork cool down in its own cooking liquid in the fridge overnight and it'll not only come out more intensely flavored and moister, but chilled pork is also much easier to slice.


See how pretty those look?

The Best Way To Reheat It

Only thing left to do is to warm up those slices before serving them in your ramen. There are a few approaches you can take.

Method 1: In The Soup

The lazy man's method, and a perfectly legitimate one. Just lay the slices in the hot soup just before serving, and in the time it takes to get the bowl from the kitchen to the table, it'll be hot, soft, and ready to eat.

Method 2: In The Cooking Liquid


An improved method which will add some great flavor to your slices. You may have noticed that after your pork is cooked, you end up with a ton of tasty liquid. You can, of course, use this liquid to marinate soft boiled eggs. It's also a tasty way to reheat your pork. Simmering the slices in the liquid for just a few seconds will heat them up and allow the liquid to soak into the inner surfaces, giving them more flavor all around.

Method 3: With A Torch


If you really want to go all-out, after simmering the slices, you can take a blowtorch to them (don't use those sissy kitchen crème brûlée torches, go for an actual propane torch from a hardware store) to add charred flavor and crisp, crackly bits. This is the trick you pull out to seal the deal when that really cute Iron Chef-obsessed girl/guy finally agrees to let you cook them dinner.

Mmmmm... charred pork...

Now would you please excuse me while I go off in the corner to salivate in peace? Arigato.


The only question remaining is what to do with leftover chashu, and it's an easy one to answer: Make pork belly buns. Yep, there'll be a recipe coming tomorrow!

Get The Recipe!

Japanese-style Chashu Pork (Marinated Braised Pork Belly For Ramen)»

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Managing Editor of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

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Biologic by Bloom

free iPad app visualizes your social network as cells  

5 Quick Fixes: Clever Camouflage for the Washer/Dryer

Here are some inspiring ways to integrate that new (or old) washer and dryer set—especially useful for those of us who live in small spaces.

Above: Colorful barn doors hide the laundry, via House Beautiful.

Above: In the laundry room of Tricia Foley, the washer and dryer are concealed behind cabinet doors made from reclaimed pine. Photograph by Eric Piasecki for Martha Stewart.

Above: Eric Pike's NYC kitchen features a stacked washer and dryer next to a refrigerator, via Martha Stewart.

Above: In this traditional UK laundry room, the small-scale washer and dryer are concealed behind curtains; see Steal This Look: Traditional English Laundry Room.

Above: Julie's stackable washer/dryer is concealed behind retractable plywood cabinetry designed by architect Jerome Buttrick; photograph by David Duncan Livingston, via Elle Decor.

Buzz Interview

Pixel Union interviews Buzz Andersen:

I think people have a tendency to internalize successes like Apple’s in a somewhat shallow way, and it seems to me that the conversation in the startup community increasingly equates novelty and visual flair with good design.

Good interview.

Desperate times call for desperate measures

On my desk is about a dozen random piles of stuff that I need to package and mail out. There's also a half dozen sketch cards/various art pieces that need to be completed and sent and another half dozen ideas in my head that need to get crystallized onto paper. By my accounting, these people are waiting for stuff from me:

Sean Langon
Edgar Galvan
Scott Crawford
James Rosenthal
Andrew Kamholtz
Max Meyer
Matt Flaten
Tom Olson
Paul Browning
Jeremy Scott
Jeff Carlson
Rod Richards
Paul Ember
Marck Bacontowne
Brian Rozah- Rosaghy Rzzaggah Captain Canuck
The Dimwit

There's probably some more if I double check my e-mail. I gotta get offa my ass and outta my funk and get shit done. Therefore I decree:


I know, it's a terrible thing, but it has to be done.

The ruins of a massive Bulgarian monument to Communism

This is the Buzludzha monument in Bulgaria, built in 1981 in honor of Communism. After Bulgaria turned away from Communism in 1989, it fell to ruin.


I first heard about the Buzludzha monument (pronounced Buz'ol'ja) last summer when I was attending a photo festival in Bulgaria. Alongside me judging a photography competition was Alexander Ivanov, a Bulgarian photographer who had gained national notoriety after spending the last 10 years shooting 'Bulgaria from the Air'. Back then he showed me some pictures of what looked to me like a cross between a flying saucer and Doctor Evil's hideout perched atop a glorious mountain range.

Tags: architecture   Bulgaria   photography

On Female Desire, Part Two: Pornography

I think I'm interested in watching porn. Specifically, I'm interested in watching nice, non-violent, non-exploitative videos of men and women having consensual sex in a way that does not give false expectations about what sex should and shouldn't be. Does this exist? Where can I find it? I realize the internet is full of porn, but I don't think just Googling "porn" will get me what I'm looking for. Can I Google "nice, non-violent, non-exploitative videos of men and women having consensual sex in a way that does not give false expectations about what sex should and shouldn't be"? I feel like that won't work either. Also, I'm worried about computer viruses.

Fun question!

A Queer Chick had some good recommendations earlier this week. Also, and this isn't a direct answer, but Nitasha Tiku's piece on porn star and "not-so-nice Jewish boy" James Deen is a great read that opens a lot of porn portals (porntals?). I also threw the question over to Victoria Floethe, of the recently launched Desire Project. Victoria?

Victoria: I actually did a piece about this last week! And Cindy Gallop, founder of Make Love Not Porn.com, who we interviewed for the website (see below), is soon launching Make Love Not Porn TV, which may be a really good answer to this question.

A young married couple from Brooklyn who make artful sex videos and seem to be on to something have reached out to us as well. And they wrote about what "good porn" is on their site Uncommon Appetites last week. My co-editor Kate and I recently found some hilarious vintage porn on Wikimedia, although it's not exactly erotic. The fashion-y Richardson Mag and Purple TV are putting out what I'd call "porn art." Again, interesting, although perhaps not exactly what your reader is looking for.

Previously: Part One, Plus Sheets, But Not Sheets Like This Morning.

Anyone else? It's officially Ask Everyone Thursday around here today.


See more posts by Edith Zimmerman


Bound for Anything

Little by little, we’re getting to the point where most consumer goods will be customizable. We have a long way to go, but the site Bound for Anything gets us a step closer: they let you customize your own journals and notebooks, meaning you can specify whether the pages are pre-printed with lines, grids, calendars, even storyboard boxes and simple games. Not only that, but you’re not limited to one type; the service lets mix and match as many sections as you like, so you can create a notebook that meets your specific criteria. My friend Jared, who first brought Bound for Anything to my attention, ordered one of these and said he it was shipped to him in about a week. Find out more here.

To follow me on Twitter click here.

A Timing Utility

Sundial with apple, found by the Loudoun Museum in Leesburg, VA Timing how long a block of code takes is a useful tool. Maybe you’re choosing between two different calls that do similar things and you’re wondering which one is faster. If one is faster, is it faster-enough to make any difference? The usual techniques involve using a profiler like Instruments, or calling a time function like gettimeofday() before and after your code and calculating the delta. Those of us on mach-based systems like iOS and OS X can use mach_absolute_time(), which is the finest-grained timepiece available on the system.

mach_absolute_time() returns a count. But you don’t know what units that count is in. How do you figure out the units? mach_timebase_info() will fill in a structure with the values you can use to scale mach_absolute_time()‘s counter, yielding nanoseconds – billionths of a second. If you want seconds, you can divide nanoseconds by the constant NSEC_PER_SEC (one billion). NSEC_PER_SEC is easier to read than making sure that a division by 100000000 has enough zeroes in it.

That’s all well and good, but kind of tedious. Wouldn’t it be great if you could say “yo, time this block for me”, then you put your interesting code in the block. Here is a little utility, based on some code from a couple of years ago that does just that.

So how do you use it? Say you were timing to see which takes longer, isEqual: or isEqualToString:. Put a loop that makes the call inside of a block, and time it:

Running gives you some timings:

% ./compare-time
isEqual: time: 0.635283
isEqualToString: time: 0.593058

As you’ll see in a later post, you can start making informed decisions from this test, and from other tests.

Edit: Advanced iOS Instructor Jonathan Blocksom has put the code into a gist: https://gist.github.com/2006587.

Have a passion for profiling and performance? Our Advanced Mac OS X and Advanced iOS Bootcamps feature sections on performance tuning and Apple’s Instruments performance tools.

Creating a “Fourth Culture” of Knowledge: Jonah Lehrer on Why Science and Art Need Each Other

From Gertrude Stein to Karl Popper, or how to architect “negative capability” and live with mystery.

One of my favorite books of all time is Jonah Lehrer’s Proust Was a Neuroscientist, which tells the story of how a handful of iconic creators each discovered an essential truth about the mind long before modern science was able to label and pinpoint it — for instance, George Eliot detected neuroplasticity, Gertrude Stein uncovered the deep structure of language, Cézanne fathomed how vision works, and Proust demonstrated the imperfections of memory. I was recently reminded of this powerful passage, in which Lehrer makes a case for the extraordinary importance of the cross-pollination of disciplines, the essence of Brain Pickings’ founding philosophy, particularly of art and science — a convergence Lehrer calls a “fourth culture” that empowers us to “freely transplant knowledge between the sciences and the humanities, and focus on connecting the reductionist fact to our actual experience.”

We now know enough to know that we will never know everything. This is why we need art: it teaches us how to live with mystery. Only the artist can explore the ineffable without offering us an answer, for sometimes there is no answer. John Keats called this romantic impulse ‘negative capability.’ He said that certain poets, like Shakespeare, had ‘the ability to remain in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.’ Keats realized that just because something can’t be solved, or reduced into the laws of physics, doesn’t mean it isn’t real. When we venture beyond the edge of our knowledge, all we have is art.

But before we can get a fourth culture, our two existing cultures must modify their habits. First of all, the humanities must sincerely engage with the sciences. Henry James defined the writer as someone on whom nothing is lost; artists must heed his call and not ignore science’s inspiring descriptions of reality. Every humanist should read Nature.

At the same time, the sciences must recognize that their truths are not the only truths. No knowledge has a monopoly on knowledge. That simple idea will be the starting premise of any fourth culture. As Karl Popper, an eminent defender of science, wrote, ‘It is imperative that we give up the idea of ultimate sources of knowledge, and admit that all knowledge is human; that it is mixed with our errors, our prejudices, our dreams, and our hopes; that all we can do is to grope for truth even though it is beyond our reach. There is no authority beyond the reach of criticism.”

Lehrer’s new book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, comes out later this month.

HT Wired

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MIT Sloan Analytics: Dean Oliver on WAR

The sixth annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference was held in Boston last weekend, and it was bigger and better than ever. Over 2,200 people were in attendance and the list of panelists included team owners, general managers, coaches, and more. According to conference organizers, 73 teams were represented among MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, MLS and EPL. Notably, the Baseball Analytics Panel was moderated by Rob Neyer and consisted of Rocco Baldelli, Scott Boras, Bill James, Jeff Luhnow and Mark Shapiro.

This article won’t be a recap of the conference, but rather part one of a series of conversations I had over the two days. First up is Dean Oliver and in the weeks to come we’ll hear from Baldelli [hitting], John Dewan [defensive metrics], Dan Rosenheck and Adam Jonas [the ramifications of an international draft] and Jon “Boog” Sciambi [advanced stats and broadcasting].


During the conference’s Box Score Rebooted panel, Oliver suggested that he had a lot of opinions on Wins Above Replacement. He didn’t address them, so I caught up to him later in the day to hear his thoughts. A respected voice in basketball analytics, Oliver is currently the director of production analytics at ESPN.

Dean Oliver on defining replacement level: “I think we need some sort of consensus discussion on replacement level. Wins Above Replacement is very much defined by how you set replacement level.

“In one way, replacement level is related to how much you pay players, because minimum salary does define something about replacement quality. There are methods for setting replacement level based on who is getting that minimum, including rookie salary caps and restraints along those lines. That is valid.

“But there are so many ways to define what replacement level is, and many of them have validity. Some are very sport specific. For instance, how you set replacement level for quarterbacks is very tricky. You can have a Peyton Manning or a Tom Brady for many years, and maybe they have a good backup and maybe they don’t. Matt Cassel isn’t replacement level, but who would have ever known if he could really play had Brady not gotten hurt? Defining replacement level for a quarterback is very difficult.

“Defining replacement level for NBA players is different. No one player plays an entire game and keeps others completely off the court. Baseball is somewhat similar.

“Another relevant issue is that people often talk about replacement level as though it is one line. I think there are different lines for different teams — what one team’s replacement level is might be well below another team’s replacement level. It depends on what your assets are and what is available to you given your resources. Replacement implies that you can get them fairly easily, and it’s easier for some teams to get those players than it is for others. We need a better understanding of how to define one team’s line versus another team‘s line, versus an average line. You need to define the league overall.

“In basketball, you have players whose Wins Above Replacement are high, but they also use so many possessions that they can bring you down to average as a team because they’re not the type of player who will take you to an elite level. I’m not sure how much that exists in baseball, because the opportunities are more equal. You can’t have Barry Bonds hitting every time, where as in basketball, you can have Carmelo Anthony shooting every time.

“Allen Iverson and Maurice Cheeks can grade out fairly equally in a stat like Wins Above Replacement. Cheeks was a more efficient player and A.I. took a lot of shots, and while they may be the same in Wins Above Replacement, they clearly weren’t the same player. Style-wise, they weren’t even close. That’s an example of how Wins Above Replacement is just one metric, and another example of how baseball and basketball differ.

“In basketball, it’s about possessions. If A.I. doesn’t use them, someone else has to. If the players using them are replacement level, then A.I is better. If it’s good players, Mo Cheeks is better. So the stat isn’t telling the whole story. Wins Above Replacement is viewed as a good way to evaluate players, but it can’t tell you how you optimize the team.

“I have a lot of thoughts on Wins Above Replacement, but I don’t have the answers. I think we need to put together a panel and work toward a consensus, because it’s a meaningful stat.”


MIT Sloan tidbits:

* Speaking on the Baseball Analytics panel, Jeff Luhnow said, “The frontier, from my perspective, is turning player evaluation into player valuation. That’s what I care about. When Scott [Boras] and I have a conversation about a player, this player may be 12 runs above average, and another player may be 10 runs above average, but there are so many other factors that go into whether I’m going to be willing to pay more, or pay less, for that player. Here’s the most likely outcome for this player, plus 12 runs, but what does the distribution look like? Is there a 10 percent chance that he’s below replacement level? Is there a 50 percent chance that he’s well above superstar level? What does that distribution look like? Two players with the same average can be very, very different in terms of how I value him, and how Scott might value him.”

* Tom Kelly, a conference attendee, had an interesting idea. In an impromptu discussion with John Dewan and myself, Kelly, a V.P. at Lockheed Martin, suggested that the post-free-agency portion of a player’s salary not count against the payroll tax. This would give teams more incentive to keep players they signed and developed, as they wouldn’t risk being penalized for paying them fair-market value.

* Speaking on the Box Score Rebooted panel, Bill James said that the analytics community should work to “make rational adjustments to [statistics] that are wrong.” An example he gave was the blown save win. On the subject of analytical arguments in general, he uttered the line, “An unloaded gun always loses a gun battle.”

Radiation and Man


The fellow on the front cover looks familiar as well.

The Importance of Having a Job

The triumph of women in the workplace has been one of the great success stories of last 100 years. ... The triumph of female employment and opportunity is quite possibly the most important economic story in the world.

The Atlantic has an interesting (and triumphant!) piece about working, women, wages, and the world.


See more posts by Edith Zimmerman


March 7, 2012

The Feast of Carter the World Series Hero

Today, Joe Carter was in our thoughts. And so, tonight, we resurrect, as we are prone to do, our celebrated feast-days series.

Carter the World Series Hero

Life: Joe Carter was, for the most part, an average baseball player. He hit a lot of home runs. Year in and year out, he was good for 30 dingers, a hundred ribbies, and a hundred strikeouts — give or take a few. Once upon a time, he even stole bases. In my youth, had I known anything about on-base percentage, I would have likely hated Joe Carter. I would have gladly taken the home runs, and the RBIs, especially on those deeper Toronto Blue Jays clubs, but I wouldn’t have been too happy about it. Yet I remember Carter most fondly. Everyone in Toronto does. Because of one catch, one walk-off home run, and two jumps for joy.

Spiritual Exercise: Joe Carter ended back-to-back World Series a winner. Literally. Ask yourself: Would you rather have a Hall of Fame career, and never win a title? Or would you rather be slightly above average, with power, and hit a walk-off home run to win the World Series?

A Prayer for Joe Carter

Joe Carter!
You’re one of the
lucky ones.
So many are remembered by the
sum total of their numbers.
Not you.

Why the hell did Otis Nixon
He gave away the final bloody out.

I’ll never forget the way you hopped
to the mound, after you made the catch.
And then leapt!
Eyes closed,
into Pat Borders’ arms.
I’d never jumped so high,
Until a year later.

You were 0-for-4
when you stepped into the box
to face Mitch Williams.
Wild Thing.
You finished 1-for-5.
“Touch ‘em all Joe,
you’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life.”
I haven’t jumped as high,

Joe Carter!
Your stats and
your legacy
are two different things.

Thanks for
the memories.
They’re two of the best
I’ve got.
I wish I’d been old enough to get drunk.

Image courtesy the Toronto Star. I think. I can’t remember.

Wiha Quality Tools

Manufacturers sometimes deliberately make it difficult to open their products. A common method is to use odd-shaped specialty screws. Without the right driver, the unit remains sealed. Wiha makes very high quality hand tools, and likes to offer them in great variety. They are a great source for premium versions of specialty screwdriver and screwdriver tips. This table gives a sense of what you can find. Of course they carry a great variety of premium tools in "ordinary" styles (Phillips, slotted, etc.) as well.

-- KK



109. Chick Gandil: After The Black Sox

For better or for worse, the story of the 1919 World Series and the 8 Chicago White Sox banished from the game has taken on a mythical quality in the last 90 some-odd years. Countless books have been written about every angle of the scandal, major movies feature the eight in all their glory and even a few misguided congressmen have wasted the taxpayer's time trying to somehow use the laws of the country to reinstate Shoeless Joe Jackson half a century after his death. For me, I never had any romantic misconceptions regarding the Black Sox. With the exception of Buck Weaver, those remaining seven were dirty ball players who sold their souls for cash. To me, banishment from the game was a just punishment.

But that's not what I want to write about. Authors much more talented than me have already covered the scandal. What I am more interested in is what happened to those eight after they were thrown out of the game in 1920. Earlier I featured stories on Happy Felsch and Eddie Cicotte's post Black Sox careers and to continue with that series I bring to you the infamous leader of the scandal, Chick Gandil...

Chick Gandil was the mastermind behind the fixing of the 1919 World Series. Described by his contemporaries as a “professional malcontent”, Chick was a thug of a ball player, even being suspended during the 1919 season for punching an umpire. He was a juvenile delinquent and after dropping out of high school he ran away from home, working his way south and west, all the while scratching out a living as an itinerant ball player and boxer. By 1907 the 20 year-old found himself in Cananea, Mexico working as a boilermaker in a copper mine and playing first base for the company team. Entering professional ball the following season, Gandil had 9 years of big league experience under his belt at the time of the fix.

He made the most money out of all the players, pocketing some $35,000, nine times his regular salary. After being turned down for a raise in 1920 he left the game and went west, spending most of his earnings. Later he and a few of the other Black Sox formed a touring team called "The Ex-Major League Stars" which disbanded after Gandil knocked out a few of Eddie Cicotte's teeth in an argument over money.

Since playing against any of the banned players would jeopardize a ball player's standing with organized baseball, Gandil and the other Black Sox had to look far and wide for a league that would let them play. The Copper League in Southern Arizona and New Mexico was one such haven.

Formed in the early 1920's, The Copper League was made up of rough and tumble mining towns and the play as well as the fans were as rowdy as could be expected from frontier wild west towns. The infamous Hal Chase, generally described as the greatest first baseman of all time, migrated to the league after his forced retirement from the majors. It was in his capacity as manager of the Douglas Blues in 1925 that he extended offers to all of the out of work Black Sox players. Lefty Williams, Buck Weaver and Chick Gandil accepted offers to play. Along side those three who were implicated in the 1919 world series fix was former New York Giant Jimmy O'Connell who was thrown out of baseball for trying to bribe members of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1924.

Gandil began his Copper League career as the second baseman of the Douglas Blues. A first baseman in the majors, Gandil moved over to second because Hal Chase was holding down the position in addition to his role as team manager. From the start Gandil brought his agitating and combative attitude to the team. Near the conclusion of the season he abruptly left the Blues and joined the Fort Bayard Veterans team. The following season he signed with the Veterans again and was joined by Jimmy O'Connell. The two black-listed ballplayers were constantly at odds with each other , apparently mostly instigated by the bully Gandil who rode O'Connell about the quality of his outfield work. By the end of June Gandil was forced to leave the team after O'Connell, fed up with the tough older man's bullying, chased the former boxer out of the Fort Bayard ballpark with a baseball bat.

Chick landed on his feet however and was quickly snapped up by the Chino Twins. Chino was actually an amalgamation of two towns, Santa Rita and Hurley, hence the name "Twins." Chino was the name of the mining concern that employed most of the people in the region, the Chino Copper Company.

Gandil soon became the Twins' manager as well as first baseman. When the season ended he stayed on in Chino working for the copper mine. It was also during the off-season that Chick traveled back to Chicago to give further testimony about fixing games during the 1917 season.

For 1927 the Twins were supposed to be featuring Buck Weaver and Happy Felsch but neither former Black Sox joined the team by the time the season began. Rumors circulated that Gandil had forced the popular Weaver out of the league because of his testimony which was counter to what he and Swede Risberg had said regarding the '17 season. What ever the reasons, the Twins had a terrible first half of the split-season, managing just 8 wins against 18 losses. Chick batted a lofty .481 and somehow was able to turn the ball club around in the second-half and finished up 21-10, gaining them a seat in the championship series against Fort Bayard.

But then just as the series was to begin, Chick disappeared. For unknown reasons he left not only the team but the whole region of the country. After giving up on the game Gandil began working as plumber and settled in the Napa Valley of California. He spent the rest of his life denying the White Sox threw the World Series saying that the team played their best to win.

Stay tuned because I will be featuring the remaining 5 Black Sox ball players and their post-pro ball careers. I would like to give credit where credit is due for some of the sources I will be using in this series. Besides first hand contemporary newspaper articles, the following 3 sources were indispensable:

After The Black Sox: The Swede Risberg Story by Alan Muchlinski. Simply excellent chunk of research that shines a light onto the later years of Swede and his former teammates who he played against.

Outlaw Baseball Players in the Copper League: 1925-1927 by Lynn Bevill. A M.A. thesis published online that is the best source I've found that really explains the role of the Black Sox in the Copper League but also does a great job at telling the story of the towns and how the league operated.

Blacksoxfan.com No list of sources would be complete without a big thanks to this site dedicated to the Black Sox. The authors downloadable pdf of every existing outlaw and semi-pro game featuring a member of the Black Sox is just a monumental achievement and unbelievably helpful in tracking the movements of the eight men.

Fantasy Kindle

I have had a fairly unproductive day, which entirely normal because it is Shitty Wednesday, the day that ends for all practical purposes at 1h30 when I must remove the children from the gulag and set them off on their circuit of, ahem, improving activities, which I do with total good humour, of course, especially on a day like today when it is enhanced by sleet. Mmmmm, sleet. Satan made a special point of sitting out in it to make me feel bad. Or maybe he just likes the feel of sleet on his gigantic furry back? It is Not All About Me.

I am uncomfortably aware that in the time it has taken my Twitter stream to write 43 new books and 8900 articles, go on the telly and the radio and get 2893 new important and influential jobs, I have bought a cucumber and some dog shit bags, written 148 bad words, and nagged approximately 7 people until they hate me. I also lay on the floor for a while and consumed 3 Nurofen Plus (my back is buggered, I think from squirming away from the dentist). Just think, if I gave up Twitter I wouldn't know about all the people out there doing stuff and I could maintain the fiction that my days contain a perfectly reasonable quantity of achievement. Not to mention all the time I would save not reading about brilliant stuff other people have done might actually come in handy for, you know, achieving stuff. Anyway. We all knew that already, didn't we. First world problems, volume 800000.

In better news, I have been amusing myself with a new form of modern parlour game: it is called "pretend you are loading an imaginary Kindle for members of your family'.

Family Member 1

Bad Things: A Monograph

Anthrax for Dummies

Enormously Big Numbers and The Men Who Love Them

Some Really Horrible Periods in History In Eyeball-Rupturing Detail

When No One Understands You: How to Communicate With Idiots

The Grave Scenarios Handbook

Further Grave Scenarios

Family Member 2

A Depressing Abstract Idea Deconstructed by Mary Midgley or Similar

Огромный, темный девятнадцатого века русская вещь

Densely Printed Monograph That Was Well Reviewed in Le Monde Diplomatique.

100 Ways With A Bag of Sainsbury's Budget Lentils

Multi-Volume Biography of Someone You Have Never Heard Of But Undoubtedly Should Have

Etwas schräg, in einem Heinrich-Böll-Novelle bezeichnet.

Family Member 3

Who Moved (All) My Stuff? A Memoir of Confusion

How To Fake It Convincingly When The Chips Are Down

The Minimum Effort Handbook

World of Lizards

The Improbable Encyclopaedia of Made Up Scientific "Facts"

101 Activities Without Leaving Your Pyjamas

A Primer of Plausible Duplicity

Big Eyed Japanese Cartoons About Stuff Adults Don't Get

Family Member 4

Stationery: A Love Affair

All the Moustaches, Ever

The Biscuit Encyclopaedia

An A-Z of Secrecy

The Best Places for Hiding Stuff in Western Europe and beyond

Brains That Remember Too Much

Coffee Table Facial Hair

A Brief History of Snacks

Family Member 5

Scandinavian Misery 1-300

People in Islington having Marital Issues

Murder Mysteries With A Greater Emphasis on Food Than Plot

Grotesque Forensic Procedurals

Middlebrow Literary Fiction Probably Recommended in the Guardian or Similar

History With Loads of Anecdotes Not The Dry Kind With Battles And Queen Anne's Governments

Escapist Nonsense With Nice Descriptions of Clothes

Family Member 6

Back Issues of The Economist, 2008-2010

What would you put on your family members' imaginary Kindles?

Kickstarter Project to Raise Money for PBS Food Show


There's no shortage of worthy food-related projects waiting to be funded on Kickstarter, but I'd like to give a shout-out to the good folks at Foster Harris House in Washington Virginia, just down the road from the Inn at Little Washington.

Chef-owner John MacPherson is a really good cook who's committed to sustainable agriculture in an inclusive way, as my wife and I found out when we stayed there last year. The dude's also a serious bicyclist who leads Tour de Foods in beautiful Rapahonack County. We even bought a copy of their self-published cookbook, which we have used successfully on a number of occasions.

John and his wife Diane are trying to raise money to do their own PBS food show, In Season. Good cooks, good people trying to do righteous things are certainly the kinds of things serious eaters can get behind.

Read more about the Kickstarter project here »

Watch a Promo for 'In Season'

Fantasy Fantasy Baseball

Presenting Fantasy Fantasy Baseball: Because you’re more than an expert!

Fantasy baseball getting boring? Too easy? Feel like you’ve mastered the strategy and if only the players would stop getting injured… well, look, we’re all with you, and we know it’s time for an even bigger challenge. Presenting Fantasy Fantasy Baseball, the game where you manage an imaginary roster of other people’s fantasy baseball teams and compete against opponents to see who can best predict the performance of other fantasy players.

That’s right: you and your fellow owners each draft eight fantasy teams, following these strict positional requirements:

(1) At least one team on every roster must be owned by someone who does not subscribe to either MLB.TV or Extra Innings
(2) At least one team must be owned by a minor (under age 12 as of April 1)
(3) At least one team must be owned by a bickering partnership of no fewer than 4 people who can never agree on anything
(4) At least one team must be owned by someone who still has an AOL e-mail address
(5) At least one team must be owned by someone who is scheduled to go on an Internet-free vacation at some point during the season
(6) At least one team must be owned by you
(7) At least one team must be owned by someone you are competing with in a plain-old regular fantasy league
(8) At least one team must be owned by a Pirates fan who can’t resist owning at least 5 of his “favorite players” on his sad, sad team

Your roster will be ranked against your opponents in the standard Fantasy Fantasy Baseball categories:

(A) Overall league position– hitting categories
(B) Overall league position– pitching categories
(C) Quality of trash talking
(D) Quantity of trash talking
(E) Fewest number of days missed adjusting lineups
(F) The all-important BP-MRC (Beneficial Pickups minus Meaningless Roster Churn)
(G) The even-more-important Ratio stat: how many times a player’s family demands his time versus how many times the player actually closes the web browser and stops researching minor league translation coefficients

Where Fantasy Fantasy Baseball truly tests your skill is in uncovering “sleeper” fantasy players who no one expects to bring home the prize. It’s impossible to emerge from the draft with an All-Star roster, exclusively filled with stars like Ron Shandler’s “Shandler Bings” or Nate Silver’s “Five-Thirty-Greights.” Sometimes you end up with your Uncle Hank’s “Hapless Happs,” and it’s only if you’ve done your research that you know if this will finally be the year Hank realizes that A.J. Burnett hasn’t been good in half a decade, and Rickey Henderson is no longer in the major leagues.

Some off-season tips for putting together your fantasy fantasy draft list:

(1) Watch your friends carefully. Even if they’ve proven themselves to be lazy owners in the past, ignoring trade requests, punting on the season in May, and drafting Brett Cecil just because they know someone who went to high school with his third cousin, maybe this will finally be the year they rededicate themselves and put it all together. Watch for stacks of pre-season fantasy magazines, check for fantasy websites in their browser cookies, see if they’ve recently created any new documents in Excel. Maybe they’ve been laying on the couch, watching the MLB Network, tracking off-season trades… or as we like to call it, playing winter ball. You may know a sleeper candidate without even realizing it.

(2) Check message boards. No one ever said you had to know the owners of the teams you’ll be drafting. Maybe someone asks a particularly incisive question in a fantasy chat, or demonstrates some clear trash talk potential. Add them to your list, even if it’s just for the minor league rounds of your reserve fantasy fantasy draft.

(3) Careful with your keeper decisions. Did you ask to see your friend’s medical records before you gave out your fantasy fantasy contracts? In most leagues, you’re out of luck if he dies — that’s a row of zeroes, week after week, for years. Even worse if he gives up his team and you’re stuck with the twenty-yard penalty (expert leagues only). Choosing keepers in fantasy fantasy baseball requires only slightly less information than choosing a surrogate to carry your child– and, of course, the variation between the best fantasy team and the worst makes the difference between potential homes for a growing fetus seem extraordinarily tiny.

(4) Recognize that we’re all still learning. The appeal, of course, of fantasy fantasy baseball is that strategies are still being developed. Don’t forget about the International Plan (pick foreigners, likely to be cheap in your auction, due to your opponents’ lack of familiarity, combined with current exchange rates), or the No Mustache Plan. Some strategies will work, and some will prove to offer no significant gain– but that’s the fun of Fantasy Fantasy. If we wanted to already know how to optimize our draft selections, we’d still be playing plain old fantasy!

Above all, as you enter the 2012 season, remember what we all love about Fantasy Fantasy baseball — there’s simply nothing like the awkward rooting situation when you want your fantasy team to move into first place, but realize that if it does, it will displace the team you own in your fantasy fantasy league, and drop you out of the lead. Especially in head-to-head leagues, when your fantasy team is up against a team you own in fantasy fantasy– and most especially if your fantasy fantasy opponent owns your fantasy team at the same time as you own his. It can almost cause a tear in the space-time continuum.

And by the time we wrap our heads around that one… Fantasy Fantasy Fantasy Baseball, coming soon!

Ode To Shea Stadium

Great post over at MetsHotCorner.com about our favorite subject, Shea Stadium.

Definitely go over and read the entire homage to Shea. This graf especially rang true:

"It was a treat to sit in field level and all the good eats were down there - yet I still preferred a hot dog. You felt special in the Loge, but Mezz was just as good. You always found yourself in the Uppers with your second family, but that was the best spot in the park. You saw everything from up there and with your people."

Shea always was a tiered community, united by everyone's love for the Mets. In the new ballpark, thanks to endless promotions and corporate boxes, many in attendance are barely aware a game is going on. Fans migrate from restaurant to bar to center field to stores, occasionally glancing at TV's to check the score. Shea was where people came to see a game, because there wasn't much else to do (especially after they closed Casey's Pub!).

Sauced: Gremolata


After many, many weeks of long and labor-intensive sauces (ahem, from-scratch Sriracha), I've been left wanting something quick, simple, but no less delicious. I found this in gremolata: a mixture of chopped parsley, lemon zest, garlic, and sometimes anchovies.

Gremolata's exact origins aren't clear, but it's most prevalent in Milan, Italy, where it can often be found topping braised ossobucco. The freshening power doesn't need to stop there though; an uncomplicated set of flavors like this can do good on a wide range of dishes such as grilled meats, seared fish, roasted spring veggies, and so much more.

It livened up my chicken schnitzel last Friday night, replacing the usual squeeze of lemon juice. The gremolata added a new element of freshness to an otherwise heavy piece of fried chicken.

Get the Recipe

Gremolata >>

About the author: Joshua Bousel brings you new, tasty condiment each Wednesday and a recipe for weekend grilling every Friday. He also writes about grilling and barbecue on his blog The Meatwave whenever he can be pulled away from his grill.

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Espro Press: For Better Tasting French Press Coffee

From Drinks


[Photos: Liz Clayton]

The recent hand-brewed coffee renaissance has, without a doubt, transformed the potential we see in making coffee at home—or anywhere. But one method of brewing that's fallen by the wayside is the French press, that familiar, rich and silty mode of brewing whose popularity has somewhat plunged.

Even those who don't make French press probably still have one clanging around their kitchen somewhere: it's a reliable, affordable, entry point into home brewing that most of us have fooled around with. And in a restaurant environment, there's almost no better way to serve coffee after a meal. But in the era of fancy kettles and pourover madness, the good ol' French press has lost prominence on kitchen counters—indeed, it's even been accused of being worse for your heart than paper-filtered methods. Can't French press catch a break?

If the real question is taste, the people at Espro, a Canadian coffee equipment manufacturer, have reinvented the classic device with a sexy, double-filtered twist that focuses on just that.

The stainless-steel, double-walled, multi-stage-micro-filtered Espro Press (from about $70) is designed to bring out the best of a French press brew—its highly aromatic, richly flavored cup—while minimizing that sludge factor people either love or hate. The durable construction (no glass carafes to shatter in the sink) makes it a no-brainer for travel or sleepy mornings, while the sophisticated filter technology inside makes it a contender amongst the best methods reigning right now in terms of delivering flavor.

New York City barista Jordan Barber won the 2012 North East Regional Brewer's Cup competition using the Espro Press, which he employed to bring out the maximum sweetness and flavor of his coffee, a Kenyan coffee from the Kieni region, roasted by Denmark roaster The Coffee Collective.

"I'm a huge fan of full immersion brewing," said Barber, referring to the most basic mode of brewing in which you simply place coffee grounds in water—just like in the coffee "cuppings" professional tasters perform to evaluate quality.

"To maximize sweetness in a coffee, especially as it cools, full immersion is the way to go," continued Barber. "Really it's just clarity of cup."

A longtime fan of French press, Barber preferred the Espro for its ability to brew a clean cup that preserved the coffee's natural sweetness and acidity. "It is substantially cleaner. You get less silt in the bottom, so you don't have that chalky French press taste, but you do have the benefits of full immersion, which is awesome." In the Espro, once coffee is steeped it is poured out through a sequence of finely woven filters, first entering a basket-shaped chamber and then being passed through a second, disk-shaped screen, before leaving the spout.


Barber prefers to use his Espro in a method similar to coffee cupping—23 grams of coarsely ground coffee with about 14 ounces of water, steeped for four minutes in the Espro Press. At four minutes, Barber breaks the crust that has formed on top of the coffee, skims the floating grounds off the top, and lets it sit for a minute or two longer, then plunges the press and pours the coffee out through the double-microfilter, minimizing any remaining silty grounds from entering that final cup. And if the judges' final say is right—it's inarguably delicious.

About the author: Liz Clayton drinks, photographs and writes about coffee and tea all over the world, though she pretends to live in Brooklyn, New York. She is currently compiling photographs of the best coffee in the world to be published by Presspop later this year.

Let's All Make...

...pies baked in tiny jars! You can prepare them ahead of time and refrigerate or freeze them until the right moment comes along. (Right now?) It seems obvious, but containers made out of freezer and ovenproof glass — or really any material that is super laid back about temperatures — open up a whole new world of culinary possibilities. What other tiny things could you make ahead time, freeze, stick adorable gift tags to, shove in people's faces, and swagger out of your next ____ shower the MVP having spent less than $10?


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March 6, 2012

Rdio blog

The best new blog I've followed in many months is the blog for the music streaming service Rdio. I've been a paid member of Rdio since they launched, but I only occasionally use the service, since most of my music playing is in the car where controlling it via an iPhone app is problematic (for safety reasons, I'd rather use my car's integrated steering controls to advance songs).

Then I found their blog. Every Tuesday, new music that is one click away to play, plus posts on the best music of the previous month in case you missed them, and plenty of posts about exclusive new albums (also freely playable in just a click). If you're a user of Rdio, by all means sign up for their blog, in the few weeks I've followed it I've fell in love with three albums I wouldn't otherwise have known were even released.

iWitness Aims to Aggregate News By Time and Place

Let's face it: The great promise of citizen media has not really been fulfilled. News organizations have struggled to find ways to supplement their coverage of news events with contributions from citizens. And finding citizen media related to a news event is currently difficult at best.

Keyword searches and hashtags provide partial solutions, but still do not differentiate between first-person accounts and other kinds of content. And although more and more services allow their content to be geotagged, few tools take advantage of this data in meaningful ways.

That's where we come in. With funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation through the Knight News Challenge, we're building a tool that we call iWitness. 

iWitness is a Web-based software tool that will enable individuals and news organizations to aggregate and cross-reference news events with user-generated online content related by time and place. If you know when and where something happened, iWitness will show you first-person photos, videos, and messages from people who were there, integrating diverse media types in a unified interface.

By leveraging the time and location data that is already automatically generated by online services, iWitness will simplify the process of finding this content and enable new connections between content from different sources. If it happened in public, iWitness can connect you to citizen media from people at the scene.

Over the course of the project, we'll be giving you a look behind the scenes of how an application like this gets built, from design through technical development to testing with real users. We're excited to have the opportunity to work on the project, and we look forward to having you along for the ride.

iWitness Aims to Aggregate News By Time and Place

Let's face it: The great promise of citizen media has not really been fulfilled. News organizations have struggled to find ways to supplement their coverage of news events with contributions from citizens. And finding citizen media related to a news event is currently difficult at best.

Keyword searches and hashtags provide partial solutions, but still do not differentiate between first-person accounts and other kinds of content. And although more and more services allow their content to be geotagged, few tools take advantage of this data in meaningful ways.

That's where we come in. With funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation through the Knight News Challenge, we're building a tool that we call iWitness. 

iWitness is a Web-based software tool that will enable individuals and news organizations to aggregate and cross-reference news events with user-generated online content related by time and place. If you know when and where something happened, iWitness will show you first-person photos, videos, and messages from people who were there, integrating diverse media types in a unified interface.

By leveraging the time and location data that is already automatically generated by online services, iWitness will simplify the process of finding this content and enable new connections between content from different sources. If it happened in public, iWitness can connect you to citizen media from people at the scene.

Over the course of the project, we'll be giving you a look behind the scenes of how an application like this gets built, from design through technical development to testing with real users. We're excited to have the opportunity to work on the project, and we look forward to having you along for the ride.

Getting more women writing TV

Jane Espenson wants more women TV writers, but not for “a female point of view”:

[If] you suggest that female writers have a specific (and limited) purpose, you are inviting those showrunners to feel they don’t need to hire additional women writers once they have one woman in the room; they have their female character generator, their lens onto the female point of view. [...]

I love the idea of a showrunner purposefully creating a staff that looks like the world: a balance of men and women, an emphasis in diversity of cultural background, racial makeup, and orientation, based on the idea that talent is evenly distributed among humanity. But if it’s done with some notion of splitting up the tasks of writing this or that type of character, I think we’re in danger of disparaging our own ability to look out of the eyes of someone else. If we stop trying to see the world through ALL of our characters, then we’re no longer in the empathy business.

Espenson suggests it’s a supply problem as well: you can’t staff writers who don’t exist. You won’t get more female TV writers until you get more women leaving film school with a overwhelming drive to write great television.

Jorge Colombo’s iPad art from TED2012

Jorge Colombo, the iPad artist (you’ve seen his work on the cover of the New Yorker), came to TED2012 to hang out at the Syfy space and draw. It’s fascinating to watch his process … as in the video above, where a few blurry swipes suddenly sharpen and coalesce into the TED auditorium.

See all Jorge Colombo’s iPad drawings from TED2012 on Syfy’s YouTube channel.>

Evolving Blogging

First, a bit of background: Blogger, Google's venerable and pioneering blogging service was created in 1999 by a small team at Pyra Labs, as an offshoot of the project management platform they'd originally set out to make.

As one of the earliest users of Blogger, I was always amongst the service's biggest fans (and have been duly impressed by the new features introduced on Blogger lately). Pyra went through financial struggles, had a painful breakup of the original team, got back on its feet with a new team, and then finally sold to Google. And all of that happened more than nine years ago. Amazing how time flies!

In the years since, I've either remained or become friends with most of the folks who were involved in Pyra's various incarnations, and so when I started to lament the lack of innovation and evolution in blogging software and platforms in recent years, that early crew came to mind as the first people to talk to about where we should be headed.

Thus, I present a discussion which became wonderfully fruitful, featuring Ev Williams, Meg Hourihan, Paul Bausch and Matt Haughey. Along with Matt Hamer, they formed the core of the Blogger team at the time I fell in love with it thirteen (!) years ago. I think you'll enjoy their conversation as much as others who've shared a link to it, ranging from Tim O'Reilly to Michael Arrington to Om Malik to Dave Winer.

How do blogs need to evolve?

Add your comments by, you know, blogging about it on your own site.

Related: My skeptical, but not entirely incorrect, post about Google's acquisition of Pyra from 2003. And courtesy of the Web Archive, my info page on Blogger Pro from early 2001, proving what a fanboy I've always been.

I Sold My Soul to the Department of Homeland Security

Not long ago, I got a letter from my airline of choice, explaining that they'd partnered with the fine people in the U.S. government to help prevent terrorism faster. If you've spotted people at airports being whisked into a special line, where they don't have to take off their shoes, don't have to take out their laptops or even remove their belts, you've already spotted this program in action. The rollout of TSA PreCheck—branded as TSA Pre✓™—started just back in October, with seven airports, including Los Angeles and Miami, and just for American and Delta passengers. Then the TSA announced they'd be including JFK airport—which just happened last week—and then O'Hare and Washington National this month. Throughout the year, airports from Honolulu to Tampa will be added.

Now, the airlines were providing test subjects to the feds by including their frequent fliers—but only some of them, chosen by who-knows-what criteria. The invitation process was opaque: you'd get an invitation or you wouldn't. I checked my American Airlines account, and I wasn't one of the special elect who'd been "opted in." But you could also force your way into the program, by having a frequent flier number and registering with one of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Trusted Traveler programs. In a strange fit of annoyance—who likes to be excluded?—I suddenly found myself filling out a lengthy application with the U.S. government. Also, sending them $100 for the privilege. Read the full story at The Awl


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March 5, 2012

The coffee police

I am just on the way back from Rome, where we have been doing the final weekend's filming for the new Romans series (which I THINK will be broadcast in April on BBC2). We are a happy crew ably managed by the producer, Caterina, who is brilliant at everything . . . except we do have one area of domestic controversy, and that's in the coffee department.

Caterina (on the right) is Italian and you will probably already have guessed what this might be. It relates to the time IMG_0970 of the day when it is appropriate to drink cappuccino. The truth is she goes a bit pale, and looks as disapproving as she can muster, when any of us order a cappuccino after about 11.30. From then on, it should be espresso only -- or if milk has to be there, then it should be a macchiato.

It is, of course, one of the old "English in Italy" problems, and it isnt really soluble.

On the one side are the "Inglesi Italianizzati", who though busting for a nice frothy cappuccino, really wont be seen dead with anything but an espresso. When I was a graduate student in Rome, I knew plenty of those, "gone native". And I always suspected that they went back to their rooms and brewed themselves up a nice frothy,milky cappuccino in the afternoon when no-one was looking.


The other option is to say sod it (like Prof Woolf above)... I want a cappuccino, so I'll bloody have it. But that means braving the pained expression of Caterina -- and, as happened this lunchtime, the slight sneers of the waiters at the snack bar.

I have to say that as I've got older, I veer more to option 2 than option 1. But I have also tried to work out why the post-11.30 cappuccino feels so dreadful to a bona fide Italian. And I think I have finally got the analogy.

Imagine you were taking an Italian friend out to lunch. It came to the pudding, and they said to the waiter "What I'd really like is a bowl of cornflakes" .

You'd look as amazed (shocked/frosty) as Caterina does with us on the cappuccino beat.

And all this makes me wonder what Indian waiters at Indian restaurants have to put up with. When we order a combination of what is to them Christmas pudding, mixed with chippolatas, apple sauce and creme brulee... they've just learned to shut up and put up, I guess.

(Though does anyone remember the old Gan Path near Kings Cross (it gets a name check here).. the cheapest restaurant in the Good Food Guide for a while. Closed more than a decade ago. But there the waiters could be pretty stern on their customers and did adopt a Caterina-like expression from time to time, and made it quite clear your were making a culinary faux pas).


I am kinda losing my mind over this hour-plus ambient audio/video construction by Goto80 and Raquel Meyers:

Press play, go fullscreen and lie down. 2SLEEP1 is a 66-minute playlist of audiovisual performances in text mode, designed to make you fall asleep. Made by Raquel Meyers and Goto80.

The first and fourth tracks are especially genius.

Comments (3)

fuckyeahmovieposters: Brave


Austin plans, so far


I’m going to be at Kick, Saturday morning, 9:30am

I’m going to be at Frank, at 10am sharp Sunday morning as they don’t take brunch reservations

I’ll be at Made in NY, at the Cedar Room Sunday night, because Etsy’s presence at SxSW this year is low-key/unofficial like.

I’ll be at “New Aesthetic” 9:30 Monday morning, because “Maps, Books, and Spimes” was one of my all time favorite SxSW talks, and this looks like it will be at least as much fun. And I want to see a drone.

I’ll be at World Changing 2.0 at 12:30 on Tuesday because Cameron Sinclair’s “Open Architecture Challenge: Revisioning Decommisioned Military Facilities” was fucking awesome, and I’m looking forward to more.

I’ll be at Bruce Sterling 5pm Tuesday, because I once taught a class on global politics using the text of “Islands in the Net”, and it’s Bruce Sterling!

I’ll be selling gold on black “Just Ship” shirts, with any luck using a prototype Etsy mobile payment system. So if you’ve wanted a “Just Ship” shirt, this is your opportunity.

I might make a pilgrimage to Opal Divine’s as the thing I missed most bitterly at SxSW last year was the indie “Data Drinks”, and I strongly encourage people to organize and publicize “[important technical topic here] Drinks”, rather then trying to communicate then on a panel. (e.g. y’all “Decentralized Web” and “SSO” folks ought to plan something, somewhere in the afternoon with “Mexican Martinis”)

I’m hoping to have some success booking small to medium sized group meals, mixed results so far.

Beyond that I’ll be around hoping to meet great people.

What are your plans?

This is a mind-bending TED talk from 2008 that I somehow...

This is a mind-bending TED talk from 2008 that I somehow missed.

Memetics is the study of information that gets copied.

Like DNA. Which all living organisms can thank.

Or ideas in the form of words, pictures, behaviors. That is mostly the domain of humans… and what keeps us busy all day long.

And, soon, like technology. Which, soon enough, is going to move a bit quicker than we can keep up with.

This is along the same lines as what Kevin Kelly was talking about in What Technology Wants, and in this TED talk.

And exactly what Kevin Slavin talked about in his recent TED talk: How Algorithms Shape Our World. It’s basically about the fact that the algorithms humans have written to optimize the stock market, make product recommendations, etc, and are pretty much at the point where we can no longer fully grasp the WHY the algorithms work (we just know that they do). And they have requirements that are independent from our own (speed, lots of energy, lots of money).

Basically, any algorithm that has “evolved” a bit over time, lives in this world that Susan Blackmore describes as REQUIRED to evolve. It can’t NOT evolve. It has to get better and better over time, faster and faster. And just like algorithms playing the stock market in Chicago have created reasons to build giant underground cable highways to increase the speed of their instructions by a couple milliseconds, so will they continue to shape our environment and world in ways that best serve THEM and secondarily serve us.

The third replicant is gonna soon have more say about things on this planet than we do. 

Happy Monday!

Links for 2012-03-05

  • Nice to see MetaFilter at the top of this list--we've been working on site bandwidth. And I agree on the jQuery problem. There's a bandwidth cost associated with easier development.
  • Looks simple, sharp! Nice update.

Hazel 3 is out

Actually, this is probably old news since this happened last Thursday, but I finally released Hazel 3. For those of you who don’t know what I do for a living might want to check it out. If anything, you’ll understand a good part of the reason why I haven’t posted here much in the past year or so.

To say I’ve been busy is an understatement but it seems the launch was a success. Ok, so the store was not quite working for the first hour and even after I got it up, there were all sorts of glitches. And nevermind that the links in one of my emails was wrong resulting in thousands of people emailing me asking me about it. And overlook the fact that there were quite a few instabilities in Hazel for people running on 32-bit that were missed in the beta. And it wasn’t all that fun when my bank froze my corporate debit card because it thought that all the charges I was making that day were possibly fraudulent. I can ignore all that because a bunch of people actually bought the result of my hard work and for that, I say thank you.

And also, as a heads up, I will be splitting this blog at some point in the not-too-distant future. I will be starting up a Noodlesoft/Hazel specific blog targeted towards my users which will have tutorials, tips and news while keeping Noodlings as my blog for much more developer oriented stuff. Keep your eyes posted here for updates on that.



My fellow Advanced Mac OS X Instructor, and general all-around super-nerd Jeremy W. Sherman digs into the tantalizing possibility of @import syntax.

iOS Wish List

By most accounts, it’s almost a sure bet that Apple is set to debut the third iteration of the iPad tomorrow. Presumably, there’s a new version of iOS in the works too, though if the past is any guide such a thing would probably not be announced at the same time. Still, software features are what I’m really interested in; a Retina display would be a nice addition on the hardware side, but most of the improvements I’d like to see in the iPad would be software-based — and I’m not talking about Siri. Here’s a wish list of what I’d like to see.

Family Computer

By now even its skeptics admit that the iPad is something very different from ‘just a big iPhone.’ To me, that difference is most evident in how the iPad has become the new family computer. I wrote about this previously, referring to to a mode of usage that I call post-personal computing: by and large, people leave these tablets at home, and they tend to share them within their households to an extent that they didn’t with laptops or desktops.

If there has ever been a hardware device that could benefit from allowing multiple accounts to access it, this is it. Having made the transition away from tethered synching, it seems logical to me that Apple’s next major challenge would be to fully embrace the multi-user paradigm.

This wouldn’t be easy, of course, because it would almost certainly demand a rethinking of the multiple account paradigm. Just serving up a different home screen to a different user, the way Mac OS X currently serves up different desktops, would probably be insufficient. iPads are shared spontaneously and in mid-session, so signing in and out of user accounts would be more of an impediment than a help.

Apple could start with a parallel approach to personal data, like contacts, calendars and emails, letting users access what’s relevant to them via their own password from within any other user’s session. What would be even better would be a way to create a family address book and calendar, something like the one moms have kept in kitchen drawers and on refrigerator doors forever. There’s no technological equivalent to that yet, and there really should be.

Going further, such an infrastructure should make it easy to lock certain content within certain apps. Right now, a shared iPad is almost literally an open book to anyone it’s shared with. In a family context, this might not seem like such a big security risk, but even trivial secrets — like a list of gift ideas — are worth keeping.

Better Management of Multiple Apple IDs

Actually, where Apple really needs to start is with its clunky Apple ID system, which doesn’t yet allow you to merge two accounts that you own, much less two accounts within a family. I’ve written about this before too, and it continues to be a hindrance that Apple’s accounts seem to be permanently isloated from one another. Changing that situation will go a long way towards defusing the complexity of purchases and personal information that plagues so many novice users who have inadvertently created multiple accounts. I’ve seen that situation so many times, when a user can’t recall which account she’s bought an app with or signed into a service with, that it seems like one of the most egregious user experience shortcomings in technology today.

In fact, iOS in general desperately needs a comprehensive password management service embedded into the operating system. For my money, they should just acquire the superb and indispensable 1Password and be done with it; there’s nothing better on the market.

And while we’re talking about acquiring third-party utilities, Apple should also take a look at Smile Software’s excellent Text Expander, which turns user-configured abbreviations into full words or even blocks of text. On a device where typing is often uncomfortable at best, having a solution like Text Expander built into the operating system — as a service available to all apps — would be a huge usability improvement.

Those are my big wish list items, but here are a few that are more prosaic.

Screen Dimming

I occassionally suffer from insomnia, and my iPad is a handy way to while away the early morning hours. It’s so much more friendly than bringing a laptop to bed, which is what I used to do. But with my partner sleeping next to me, even the device’s dimmest screen setting is too bright for the room. A truly bedroom-friendly setting — maybe even half the brightness of the current lowest brightness setting — would be very welcome.

Avatar Management

As we put more and more of our identities online, our visual representations become more and more critical, especially as we present different aspects of our identity to different services and to different sets of users. Apple should make this easier by building into iOS — or iCloud — a Gravatar-like service that lets us swap our preferred pictures in and out at will, and make them available across all our devices.

Message Archival

A nontrivial portion of my life, from texts with friends to photos and video exchanged with my partner, are communicated through SMS and now iMessage. But every once in a while I lose a chunk of that message history for some reason or another. This doesn’t seem like it should have to be the case; these messages, whether SMS, MMS or iMessage, should be stored in the cloud so that the full history of my exchanges with anyone are available to me from any device, old or new.

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Captive Atria and Living In Public

The idea of "public space" used to be pretty simple; There were places that we all agreed would be maintained by, and for, the public good. But the past few decades have offered up a valuable, if troubling, experiment with the nature of public space in New York City. For any of us who care about community, whether that's in our cities or on the web, there are some profound lessons to learn.


In 1961, New York City adopted a new zoning program that allowed commercial buildings to exceed the constraints which zoning regulations required of them if they made accommodations for use as Privately-Owned Public Spaces. Fifty years later, the legacy of that decision is documented well on the Department of City Planning website. (On a page which has this wonderful short URL: nyc.gov/pops!)

So, how did this experiment fare? Well, in the words of the city itself:

The results of the program have been mixed. An impressive amount of public space has been created in parts of the city with little access to public parks, but much of it is not of high quality. Some spaces have proved to be valuable public resources, but others are inaccessible or devoid of the kinds of amenities that attract public use. Approximately 16 percent of the spaces are actively used as regional destinations or neighborhood gathering spaces, 21 percent are usable as brief resting places, 18 percent are circulation-related, four percent are being renovated or constructed, and 41 percent are of marginal utility.

In response to the perceived failure of many of these spaces and to community opposition, the types of spaces permitted and their locations have been curtailed in recent years.

Just to highlight that again: only 16% of privately-owned public spaces can be considered successful. By the city's own reckoning, a full 41% are of marginal utility. How complete is the failure? According to all of the research I've been able to do, not a single POPS was used for any of the various #Occupy demonstrations except for Zuccotti Park, though one nearby plaza was used for Occupy planning meetings. (Note: I'd love to be corrected on this.) Imagine: there are ostensibly "public" spaces within the buildings that some of the major financial institutions actually work in, and yet they're so terrible and unusable that even protestors didn't make use of them.

The Beating Heart of the Atrium

Most POPS in Midtown Manhattan take the form of the atrium in an enormous office tower, where the owners post a sign declaring which hours the space is available to the public, and then decorate it with the POPS logo seen above. But there would be precious few New Yorkers who, even if they did recognize that symbol, could tell you what it means.

These public spaces, then are Captive Atria. They're ostensibly "public" spaces which, by nature of being owned by a corporation, are held captive to that company and thus fail in their intended use as public space. Put another way: Government is infinitely more effective and efficient in creating valuable, useful public space than private companies are. The evidence is all over New York City, in the grim, wind-blown pedestrian plazas and captive atria ghost towns which all of us hurry through with hunched shoulders on cold winter days.

What About The Web?

Tellingly, we seldom have discussions about web community in the language of urbanism or urban planning. But what we've seen documented through more than fifty years of experimentation in New York City is that we cannot effectively create public spaces in places that are owned by a company. Yet, we're increasingly ceding our public discourse to platforms and services which exactly mimic the traits of our sterile captive atria in the physical world.

While many in the Occupy movement bemoaned the fact that the private owners of Zuccotti Park had extensive control over what people could do in their space, that control is nothing compared to the typical Terms of Service of a social networking site. Whether it's Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or anything else, no meaningful act of protest would have to be tolerated at all by owners.

But let's put aside protest. What about all the simpler, everyday uses of public space? In captive atria, there are generally no food trucks offering distinctive meals, no performing artists even of the caliber of the musicians that play in the NYC subway, and there's generally such sparse usage that you don't even get the wonderful serendipitous meetings with friends and acquaintances that you get in a true public space.

What we don't realize is that our online public spaces are increasingly being given over to private owners whose spaces share the same weaknesses. It's difficult, if not impossible, to connect to or share with people with whom you haven't declared an explicit relationship. People who you don't follow or befriend or encircle may as well not exist.

More to the point, transgressions of the space, whether political or artistic, are prohibited in practice, even if they aren't always done so in writing. Imagine Improv Everywhere trying to perform its acts of rule-breaking brilliance in the confines of a space that was owned and controlled by a company. Now imagine you wanted to do the same thing online, carrying out an artistic performance which required you to impersonate another person's identity or to falsely claim affiliation with an organization that you don't belong to. In most cases, it simply can't be done.

I care about political protest, sure. But even more often, I care about being inspired by art, and being entertained by comedians and trolls and impersonators and other amusing rule-breakers. I'm happy that New York City has learned enough of a lesson that it's stopped giving license to companies to create POPS, and properly invested in true public spaces. Now I hope we'll take the same lesson to the web, and challenge the big networks to actually change their policies to make some of our shared online spaces truly public. That way, we get heart-warming public creations like this one:

Twitter Desktop App Wishlist (In 2012!!!)

I switch Twitter desktop applications often. For reading on iOS it’s either Twitterrific or Tweetbot, but on the desktop I want something much more robust with all the noodle-y little features a heavy user like myself would like to waste/save time with.

(So I decided to write them here, but it’s times like this I wish I had a wiki-type site instead of a weblog so I could keep editing this file and have it rise to the top.)

  1. Show me what my friends have liked. Similar to stellar.io but I want it in an app and without a follow limit. Also I would love to see the most popular or retweeted tweets for the past 24 hours in one view.
  2. Ability to turn off all retweets or only show retweets. I love retweets because they usually have great links in them, but I also dislike them when they get in the way of simply catching up with people.
  3. Save for later. I hate using favorites to track save things I want to read later.
  4. Twitter’s Tweetie-era app still allows for keyboard commands. This is essential for me. I am not so sure they will stick around when Twitter launches the next version given their iOS (BUY TAMPONS SPONSORED TWEET) release.
  5. Ability to quickly add someone to a must-read list. I keep some private lists for stuff I absolutely can’t miss, but adding and removing people from it is so hard to do.
  6. Pre-load every image and display it inline. I hate waiting for images to load even though they’re already thumb-nailed inline. I have bandwidth to burn, please use it.
  7. Separate Webkit view for URLs. Two reasons for this:
    1. I can trace where the URL was originally opened from.
    2. If it has tabs I can keep my work browsing separate from my Twitter browsing.

Itchy coding fingers wish I could make this. But…if I were going to dedicate some time to a desktop application it’d probably be an email app that was smart enough to know what to do with email as it arrives. Hotel reservations? Add to iCal. Super extensible rule plugins. Keyboard navigation. Better filing. Blah…blah…blah.

2012 Marcel Projections!

The 2012 Marcel Projections courtesy of Tangotiger are now available in the usual sortable format and in the player pages!

If you are unfamiliar with the Marcel the Monkey Forecasting System, please read the FAQ and all subsequent links.

The Food Lab, Ramen Edition: How to Make a Marinated Soft Boiled Egg (Ajitsuke Tamago)

It's time for another round of The Food Lab. Got a suggestion for an upcoming topic? Email Kenji here, and he'll do his best to answer your queries in a future post. Become a fan of The Food Lab on Facebook or follow it on Twitter for play-by-plays on future kitchen tests and recipe experiments.


[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Last week at The Food Lab, we plumbed the fascinating depths of homemade tonkotsu ramen broth and came up with a pretty great recipe. But great ramen is not built upon broth alone. What better to add to ultra-rich and creamy pork broth than some extra creaminess in the form of a soft boiled egg yolk?

If you've got a fancypants sous-vide water oven, then you've already got what it takes to create those awesomely tender, custard-like onsen tamago that you get in fancypants restaurants like Momofuku Noodle Bar. Just cook your egg at 145°F for about 45 minutes or so, and there you go. (And of course, you can always do it in a beer cooler).

If, on the other hand, you are like me and prefer ajitsuke tamago—perfectly soft-boiled eggs marinated in a sweet and salty soy-based sauce, split in half and resting, ready to enrich and flavor your broth—well, my friends, you're in luck, because all it takes is a pot, a few ingredients, a bit of know-how, and a bit of time.

Step 1: Perfect Soft Boiled Eggs


Long time Food Lab readers might recall the very first installment of the series back in 2009. The subject tackled? Perfect boiled eggs. Since then, not much has changed in the basic technique, though I've made a few minor refinements and adjustments here and there to take out a bit of the fiddliness of the old technique, which required a thermometer. Here's the basic gist of it.

For perfect soft-boiled eggs, the goal is to get the white to completely set, while keeping the yolk liquid, creamy, gold, and just warmed through. Egg whites begin to set at around 155°F, egg yolkds at 158°F. So in order to get a soft boiled egg exactly how we want it, we have to simmer the egg just until all of the white has reached at least 155°F, but before any of the yolk has come up to 158°F.

Simple, right? All we have to do is figure out exactly how long that takes. I cooked eggs at two-minute intervals ranging from one minute to 15 minutes and cut them in half.


The correct timing is somewhere in between the 5-minute egg (too soft) and the 7-minute egg (too hard). A simple binary search led me to an ideal cooking time of 5 minutes 45 seconds. If you're the kind of person who keeps track of their spending to the penny or must find every single heart container in a Zelda game, then you'll probably want to set your timer to 5:45. If, however, you're the kind who forgets to mark down the 65¢ you spend on that can of Coke at the Chinese grocer and you don't really care, then six minutes is good enough for you.

The only other element at play when soft boiling is the maximum temperature to which your egg white is cooked. See, above 180°F, and your egg white starts to become tough, dry, and rubbery. With ajistuke tamago, this problem is compounded by the salty marinade it rests it—the salt will actually cause it to toughen up even more (more on this below). It's vitally important not to overcook your eggs at this stage if you want them to remain tender.

The solution? Just don't use boiling water. By keeping the water at around 190°F—at sea level that's a bare, quivering simmer—you can ensure that your eggs stay tender. I found that by bringing two quarts of water to a boil before dropping in a half dozen from-the-fridge eggs, the temperature dropped down to exactly where I wanted it to be. After that, it was just a simple matter of maintaining the heat at a bare simmer.

Step 2: Marinating

Once you've got your eggs boiled and peeled, the rest is a simple bath in a sweet soy and mirin based marinade. The easiest recipes are just that: a mix of soy sauce and mirin (sweet Japanese wine). I prefer to cut my marinade with a good amount of sake with some added sugar to compensate for the dilution of the mirin.

If you happen to have made a batch of tender, sweet Japanese-style pork belly chashu, you can use that leftover porky broth for an extra-tasty egg.*

*Huh? Don't have a recipe for tender, sweet Japanese-style pork belly chashu? No worries—we'll have you covered later this week.


Now, you could just pour your marinade into a bowl and add your eggs. That'll work. Sort of. The problem is that hard boiled eggs are more buoyant than the sweet-salty marinade and thus float to the top and poke their heads out, resulting in uneven marination. Restaurants usually have meshed devices intended to hold the eggs under the liquid while they marinate. Home cooks solve this problem through other methods.

One common technique is to put the eggs and the marinade into a plastic zipper-lock bag and carefully remove all the air from it, forcing the liquid to spread around the eggs. It works, but it's a little messy to do. Here's a much easier technique:


Just cover the tops of the eggs with a paper towel. The towel wicks liquid up and around the eggs, making sure that all sides get even exposure to marinade. It's a technique I use all the time for all kinds of preparations—keeping vegetables submerged in their pickling liquid, for example, or keeping peeled artichokes submerged in lemon water to prevent discoloration.

The Limits of Marinating

When I was in college and living in a house shared by 50 people, I remember getting an email once from a resident offering free chicken breasts to whoever wanted them. His claim, "they've been marinating for three whole days, so they're going to be super tender and tasty as f*&k."

I don't know any college student who'd turn down free food, so I took them, grilled them, and served them to some friends for dinner. The consensus? They were awful. Mushy and mealy with a chalky texture that was completely off-putting. The lesson I learned that day? With marinades, longer does not necessarily equal better. Marinades can be great for seasoning the outer layers of a food, but let your food sit in a marinade too long, and it can wreak chemical havoc on its texture.

With acidic marinades—like the Italian-style dressing those chicken breasts had been marinated in—denaturation of proteins can cause foods to turn mushy and rapidly give up their moisture when heated.

With ajitsuke tamago, there's another culprit: salt.

We all know that salt can have a powerful effect on food, right? In the case of bacon or ham, for instance, salt not only draws moisture out from the interior of the food, it also dissolves some of the proteins in the muscle, causing it to tighten and change in texture (ever notice how different bacon feels from fresh pork belly?).

So it is with ajitsuke tamago. A few hours in a marinade, and you'll get an egg with a delightfully sweet-and-salty flavor on its outer layer. The flavor is powerful enough to season the whole bite, despite the fact that it's only penetrated a milimeter or two. Let the egg sit in that salty marinade for too long, however, and you'll see the marinade slowly work its way into the center of the egg. Eventually, it'll even reach the yolk, causing it to firm up and set into an almost fudge-like texture. Not what we're after.

Here's an egg that I marinated for three whole days before slicing in half.


As you can see, nearly all of the yolk has been hardered (a small amount of liquid remains in the very center—give it another day or two, and it would have been hard all the way through). Eating this egg is also quite unpleasant. The white is hard, dry, and extremely rubbery, and the parts of the yolk that have been cured are hard set, sticky, and chewy in a manner most unpleasant. This process is taken to the extreme to make the infamous Chinese thousand-year-old eggs, in which raw duck eggs are buried in a salty mixture of tea ashes until cured all the way through to the center. The resultant eggs are as hard as a hard-boiled eggs, but have never seen heat.

If you ever go to a ramen-ya and get horribly tough eggs, most likely they either a) overcooked them; check for a greenish tinge around the yolk to confirm this, or b) over-marinated them (tough, but not green). Either way, it's a sign that you should think twice about going back to that particular shop.


Of course, once we're through with this whole ramen-at-home business, you'll probably think twice about going back to any ramen-ya. Ya?

Get The Recipe!

Ajitsuke Tamago (Marinated Soft-Boiled Egg) »

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Managing Editor of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

Get the Recipe!

Victorian Star Trek

Your favorite Star Trek characters, all daguerreotyped up.

Victorian Star Trek

By the same guy, I also really like this Reservoir Dogs take:

Star Trek Reservoir Dogs

Tags: remix   Star Trek

Moebius - The Dancing Line Series

Fondation Cartier previously published videos of Jean Giraud (AKA Gir, AKA Moebius) drawing live on a graphic tablet. It is beautiful to watch the master illustrator at work.

More info:

Illustrated with original music by Raphaël Giraud. Edited by David Desrimais for the Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain.

Moebius - Blueberry (The Dancing Line serie)

Moebius - Stel and Atan (The Dancing Line serie)


MOEBIUS-TRANSE-FORME at Fondation Cartier

Lulu and Moebius

[Hat tip to Eben for the find!]

"People don’t just come to [Buzzfeed/Kottke.org/blog or site of choice] to look at things, they..."

“People don’t just come to [Buzzfeed/Kottke.org/blog or site of choice] to look at things, they come to find stuff to share with their friends.”


kottke.org redesign, 2012 version (quoting Jonah Peretti)

We’re each the center of our own content universes.

Dana Ashbrook Interview And Photos

It had been about 15 years since Dana Ashbrook last saw Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and he couldn’t recall ever seeing it in all its glory on the big screen. Needless to say, the audience was pretty excited to take a trip down memory lane and watch the first of five sold-out 35mm screenings at 92YTribeca together with the San Diego-born actor, especially when afterwards, Dana took a chair in front of the 71 other attendees and talked a bit about playing the character of Bobby Briggs two decades ago. Here’s my recap of the Q&A on February 24 2012, as well as some of the photos I shot.

Dana Ashbrook (Bobby Briggs, Twin Peaks) (6)

How long was the period between the production of the last episode and the movie, and what was it like to come back into this role?

DANA ASHBROOK: I think it was about a year. We were gonna do the movie, and then the money didn’t happen but they kept trying to do it. Eventually it happened and I know that Kyle played a big part in it being made. So I guess it was a year.

It was really weird. The first scene that I shot was the last scene that we see, with Laura and me on the couch. I came straight from another job, literally flew in and went straight the set. I didn’t know what I was doing, so David kinda walked me through the scene line by line. I remember David, Sheryl and I sat around and we rekindled with everybody. I was happy; they were my great friends and they wrote a good part for me there.

What was your favorite scene?

DA: I really like that scene in the woods. It was one of my favorite scenes in the entire thing, including the series. We were just watching, I was sitting next to my girlfriend and she said: “Wow, Sheryl is so annoying in this scene.” And she was. I remember her being annoying while filming. It was late at night, it was cold. It was an amazing kind of scene and she really did go for being one of those people that are so out of control drunk that you can not get them to sober up. I really noticed that, watching it this time. Sheryl was doing things like putting her finger in my ear, and I said “Stop it!“. She just did that stuff. It was all her and not scripted.

Dana Ashbrook (Bobby Briggs, Twin Peaks) (4)

How did you get involved in Twin Peaks?

DA: It was really just dumb luck. I happened to know Johanna Ray, the casting director for the pilot. She used to cast Amazing Stories, this TV show by Spielberg. I never got on it, but I used to audition for it a lot when I was 18 and first came to L.A. So later she was casting Twin Peaks and literally showed my picture to David Lynch and that was it.

I remember the first meeting with David Lynch clearly. I loved the script when I read it. Eric Da Re, Johanna’s son who played Leo Johnson and who was also running the casting session, started talking to me about the script, saying that it was so crazy with the woman with the eye patch and the drapes and all that. I agreed that it was so crazy, so funny and I hadn’t read anything like it. I then told Mark and David that I loved it. “Love the thing with the eye patch.” They laughed. They enjoyed that I enjoyed it, and that was it.

I went back and had a work session with David and a girl, and we read the “Happy hour in France” scene from the pilot. We practiced that scene a few times and then we had a test. Usually, you have to test against a bunch of other people, but for this particular job it was just one person for every part. Everybody was there, Sherilyn, James and Lara Flynn.

Can you talk a little bit about the development of Bobby’s infamous walk?

DA: Well, you know. In the movie, we were dancing around and all that. The music was really playing, and there was a bunch of extras dancing around. The walk itself was just clunky, I don’t know. I was wearing tight boots. And the whole going backwards thing… I remember on the pilot, David wanted me to walk backwards. And when I got to the door, I wanted to turn around and enter the normal way, but he wanted me to do that backwards too.

Dana Ashbrook (Bobby Briggs, Twin Peaks) (14)

One of the most memorable moments with Bobby Briggs is when his father, Major Briggs, tells him about the dream he had. How did you experience the filming of this scene?

DA: That was actually written with Bobby not going either way emotionally. I went to Mark Frost and he said: “No, Bobby is not into it and he’s just irritated by his dad.” And I was like, oh okay, I get it. And then when we got on the set, David was like: “No, no, no! It’s completely the opposite.” (laughs)

We did Don’s lines first. I was just listening to the story that he was doing and he was so good. And then they turned around on me, and David wanted me to cry but it wasn’t really working. And instead of talking to me, David took Don aside and he talked to him. Don came back and while we did the scene, Don started crying off-camera. When he started crying, I started crying. I really love Don for that, God rest his soul.

Without the soundtrack and effects, did you feel there was still a weird intensity on the set?

DA: Yeah, there’s a weirdness. But David listens to music while watching the monitors. He’s got a whole vibe going, and he’ll put that music out there for everyone to vibe on too.

It can get weird. With the scene in the woods where I shot the guy in the middle of the night, they had effects guys doing all the brains. But David Lynch got in there with rubber gloves on and he wanted to do the brains. It’s like an awful thing, but it’s funny too, seeing David mess with a brain.

It was a learning experience working with someone like that. He’s so fun to work with. The only time I saw him get mad was when we shot the scene when Mike and I were in the woods with Leo, and Leo throws the football on the car. I was supposed to have my car, which was a Barracuda, but they didn’t have it. They had a black Trans-Am for me and David was like: “Where the hell is the car? This is Los Angeles, they have every car in the world!” But they couldn’t get it, so we had to use the Trans-Am. He cared so much, he was the best.

Dana Ashbrook (Bobby Briggs, Twin Peaks) (10)

How much did the cast discuss the show?

DA: Like everybody, we all thought about it. But it wasn’t really that big of a deal to us, as much as it became after ABC marketed Twin Peaks with: “Who killed Laura Palmer?” I was more into the story of all the freaky characters.

We were really lucky to have good writing and directors. And they were there to guide us if we had any questions. Some of the stuff, you’re kind of winging. When David Lynch was there, you could go to the source, but if that source wasn’t there, we were making arbitrary decisions character-wise. But most of the time, it’s pretty much mapped out and you just have to do what the script says.

David likes the mystery of things, and sometimes it’s easier not to try to understand what’s going on. He meditates a lot and comes up with stuff while doing that. I just didn’t question it that much. As an actor you hope to meet someone in your life that you just trust, that tells you to run backwards through a door, or to dance with a blue rose and do stuff (laughs). I don’t know what she [Kimberly Ann Cole who played Lil the Dancer] must’ve been thinking.

Dana Ashbrook (Bobby Briggs, Twin Peaks) (8)

How was it like to appear on Donahue and Letterman?

DA: Appearing on Donahue was amazing for me, because he was someone I grew up with watching. It was a real trip. It was surreal. And Letterman was my first trip to New York. I was 22, got out at 30 Rockefeller center and looked up and almost fell backwards because it was so high. The limo driver stopped me from falling and I felt like such a country bumpkin.

Do you remember how David directed the jail scene in the pilot, when they bring in James?

DA: David wanted to find some sort of intimidating thing to do in there and we were working in this weird place. He took me on the side roof of the building and we were out in the snow trying different sorts of sounds. And you know in high school basketball and football games, you do this “Woo-woo-woo!” thing with friends that is annoying, so that’s where it came from. Then some guy that owned the building came out and told us to get off the roof. (laughs)

Dana Ashbrook (Bobby Briggs, Twin Peaks) (5)

One last question. Are you still in touch with any of the other cast members?

DA: Yeah, I’m in touch with a few of them. We just did a tribute episode, Psych, because the guy who is the lead is a huge Twin Peaks fan and a friend of mine. So Sheryl, Lenny Von Dohlen, Sherilyn, Ray… who I love, I’ve worked with Ray more than anyone, 4 times since Twin Peaks, he’s the best. And I love them all!

While being applauded by the audience, Dana Ashbrook wandered out of the screening room, intentionally or not, with that typical Bobby Briggs walk and disappeared into the night. Thanks to 92YTribeca for tracking down the beautiful 35mm print of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and giving it a proper tribute!

Dana Ashbrook (Bobby Briggs, Twin Peaks) (2)

Visit Welcome to Twin Peaks.

Steal This Look: Downton Abbey Garden

It's all very nice that Matthew can miraculously walk again, and that Lavinia conveniently died of the Spanish flu to clear the way for Mary to marry the heir and keep Downton Abbey in the family. But while many plot twists were resolved during the second season of my favorite British soap opera, one big question remains: Why don't they shoot more scenes in the garden?

Above: Highclere Castle, which lies to the west of London, was chosen as the setting for the fictional Downton Abbey because its grand sprawl testifies to "the confidence and soaring optimism of the Edwardian period," the series' creator says. Image via Highclere Castle.

Above: The castle's White Border, with ornamental pears, Lily of the Nile, hydrangea bushes, and roses, relies on nothing more than hardy, old-fashioned garden workhorses. The planting scheme, for full sun, is easy to re-create in a temperate growing zone. Image via Highclere Castle.

Above: First, some structure. At the front of a perennial border, a shrub like Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' will boss around lacier flowers with its blowsy pompons. But in a nice way. Like many woody shrubs, it may take a couple of years to get established; available seasonally ($18.95 from Wayside Gardens). Image via White Swan.

Above: One lovely attribute of Lily of the Nile is that it attracts butterflies. With its long, graceful stalks, Agapanthus africanus 'Albus' (available seasonally from Monrovia) provides a contrast in textures when planted near the unruly mound of a snowball hydrangea. Image via Royal Horticultural Society.

Ironwork Garden Bench

Above: You've done enough for one morning. After all, you did go to the trouble of splitting the pot-bound agapanthus root balls with a sharp spade so they could breathe again, didn't you? Relax on an Ironwork Garden Bench ($1,358 via Terrain), positioned to provide an advantageous view of your handiwork.

Above: On to the white roses. Far be it from me to tell you which to buy, because fragrance is a very personal choice. But you won't go wrong with a damask shrub rose like 'Mme Hardy' ($18.95, at David Austin Roses). Its heady perfume may remind you of the violet scent your grandmother dabbed on a handkerchief, and isn't that why you have a garden in the first place? Image via Gardenweb.

Glass Herbal Teapot

Above: If Mary lived in the present, we feel certain she'd serve tisane in the garden using a Glass Herbal Teapot from the Wolseley in London (£77 from the Wolseley's online shop).

Above: Edge the perennials with a very British carpet of close-clipped sod. Image via Highclere Castle.

American Lawn Mower

Above: We recommend you keep the grass groomed with a Reel Mower ($84.50 via The Energy Conscious). It makes such a civilized clip-clip sound.

Above: Yes, of course you may have an ornamental pear. Image via The Garden Wanderer. And as you may remember, we recently shared some thoughts about how to train an espalier.

peterfeld: Game over, thank you for playing! I’m biased,...


Game over, thank you for playing!

I’m biased, but I liked this version better.

Sandboxing and Code Collector Pro

Martin Pilkington:

Ever since the Mac App Store was released, sales through the M Cubed website have dropped off. Most of my sales now come through the App Store. This sounds good until you realise that in November March June Apple will be requiring all applications use the new sandboxing functionality in Lion. While Lighthouse Keeper was quite easy to fit in the sandbox, Code Collector Pro is impossible to.

So he’s going to stop selling it, open-source it, and focus on this other products. This is a bit surprising, since one would expect developers to look beyond the Mac App Store to find their tools.

kottke.org redesign, 2012 version

If you're actually reading this on the site and not in RSS (guys, come on in from the cold, don't be shy), you'll already have noticed that I changed the "look and feel" of the site. In doing the design, I focused on three things: simplicity, the reading/viewing experience, and sharing.

Simplicity. kottke.org has always been relatively spare, but this time around I left in only what was necessary. Posts have a title, a publish date, text, and some sharing buttons (more on those in a bit). Tags got pushed to the individual archive page and posts are uncredited (just like the Economist!). In the sidebar that appears on every page, there are three navigation links (home, about, and archives), other ways to follow the site (Twitter, Facebook, etc.), and an ad and job board posting, to pay the bills. There isn't even really a title on the page...that's what the <title> is for, right? Gone also is the blue border, which I liked but was always a bit of a pain in the ass.

Reading/viewing experience. I made the reading column wider (640px) for bigger photos & video embeds and increased the type size for easier reading. But the biggest and most exciting change is using Whitney ScreenSmart for the display font, provided by Hoefler & Frere-Jones' long-awaited web font service, which is currently in private beta. Whitney SSm is designed especially for display in web browsers and really pushes the site's design & readability to a higher level. Many thanks to Jonathan and his web fonts team for letting me kick their tires. I believe that kottke.org is one of only two sites on the entire Internet currently using H&FJ's web fonts...the other is by some guy who currently lives in a white house near Maryland. Barnaby something...

The reading experience on mobile devices has also been improved. The text was formerly too small to read, the blue border was a pain in the ass (especially since the upgrade to iOS 5 on the iPhone & iPad changed how the border was displayed when zoomed), and the mobile version was poorly advertised. The site now uses the same HTML and CSS to serve appropriate versions to different browsers on different hardware using some very rudimentary responsive design techniques. Whitney ScreenSmart helps out here too...it looks freaking AMAZING on the iPhone 4S's retina display. Really, you should go look. And then zoom in a bunch on some text. Crazy, right?

Sharing. I've always thought of kottke.org as a place where people come to find interesting things to read and look at, and design has always been crafted with that as the priority. A few months ago, I read an interview with Jonah Peretti about what BuzzFeed is up to and he said something that stuck with me: people don't just come to BuzzFeed to look at things, they come to find stuff to share with their friends. As I thought about it, I realized that's true of kottke.org as well...and I haven't been doing a good enough job of making it easy for people to do.

So this new design has a few more sharing options. Accompanying each post is a Twitter tweet button and a Facebook like button. Links to posts are pushed out to Twitter, Facebook, and RSS where they can be easily shared with friends, followers, and spambots. I've also created a mirror of kottke.org on Tumblr so you can read and share posts right in your dashboard. I've chosen just these few options because I don't want a pile of sharing crap attached to each post and I know that kottke.org readers actually use and like Twitter, Tumblr, and even Facebook.

So that's it. I hope you like it. Not every page on the site has the new design yet, but I'm getting there. For reference, here's what the site has looked like in the past. Comments, questions, criticisms, and bug reports are always welcome.

Tags: design   Jason Kottke   kottke.org


I’m 29 years old. I’m female, I have a bachelor’s degree, and I’m two quarters away from having a master's degree. I live in a condo that I bought three years ago. Other than a mortgage, I don't have any debt. I’m not married, and don't have any kids. I have $34,000 in my savings account, but it's dwindling, because I was just laid off from my job, which was being a video editor. I’ve always lived within my means, and I’ve never gone crazy with spending money. (Confession: one time I bought a $50 bottle of whiskey, and it was totally worth it, and I'm not sorry!) But I’m no longer revenue-generating because of this layoff. I find myself in need of some direction. My whole life I’ve played it safe and I’m wondering if I should give up the job search, buy a plane ticket, and go see the world?? Or if I should put my nose to the grindstone, update my resume, and see what kind of job I can land??

Buy a plane ticket! Buy one of those round-the-world ones, and then buy a (cheap?) bottle of whiskey to celebrate.*

*Wait, maybe don't buy one of those round-the-world-ones — Hairpin pal Kate Blumm recently rounded the world (!), and calls RTW tickets "frighteningly inflexible" because you have to submit your entire itinerary ahead of time, which "defeated (for us) the purpose of buying that fare in the first place." (But "playing with the OneWorld interactive RTW map-planner thingy is incredibly fun and addictive.") Also: "though we were covering a lot of ground, when we started researching the actual one-way prices they ended up coming in UNDER what the round-the-world costs. This may have just been a quirk of our specific route, but definitely worth looking into before buying." In any case, go! GO! (Kate: "GO!") And maybe rent your condo for income!


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March 4, 2012

The Opposite of Online

A year ago, the Argentinian surfer Jorgelina "Lina" Reyero spent the day at Wategos Beach in Byron Bay, Australia, with a camera attached to her board. Rest Your Eyes production company then "glued up the tapes for your viewing pleasure." (Soundtrack: Fleet Foxes, "Mykonos.")

Elsewhere in travel, a frenzied civilian is trying to leave the planet. (Full disclosure: he promised to write "tiny house: space edition" and "what's in your bag ... in space?!" columns for this site if I mentioned him and he won. So, vote carefully.)



See more posts by Edith Zimmerman


The New Yorker (US)

This weeks cover The New Yorker Illustrated by Bob Staake

The New Yorker (US)

REJECTED Sunday Times Mag cover

Always interesting to see. Here the rejected cover The Sunday Times Magazine about YouTube. Artdirected by the great Alyson Waller (alyson.waller@Sunday-times.co.uk)

REJECTED Sunday Times Mag cover

108. Ted Williams: The Kid's First Year in San Diego (Redeux)

One of my favorite cards (and one of the early fan-favorites) I did early on was this one of Ted Williams as a San Diego Padre. Back then, over 2 years ago, my drawing style was much simpler than what it has evolved to over time and I always wanted to re-draw that old card of Ted in a more detailed style like I currently use. Well, that time has come and I coupled it with a more filled-out story about his first season as a pro ballplayer with San Diego back in 1936...

In the Spring of 1936 Ted Williams was just about to step onto the first rung of his life-long dream. His father was a professional photographer and part-time rummy while his mother was a soldier in the Salvation Army, tirelessly ministering to San Diego's boozers, hookers and single mothers. By the time Ted was a teen his Dad had left the picture, unable to put up with his wife's evangelical charity work and becoming more and more preoccupied with his drinking. His mom would disappear for long stretches being the Salvation Army's "Angel of Tijuana," and while Ted's older brother Danny used this time to hone his skills as a juvenile delinquent, the younger Williams concentrated on baseball and hitting in particular. Since his father's last name was Williams, no one knew that the youngster was actually half-Hispanic since his mother's family was from Mexico. This spared Williams from any distracting racism in his early baseball career.

While still a student at Herbert Hoover High the big league scouts from the Yankees and Cardinals came knocking but there was one problem: Ted’s over-protective mother thought he was too young to leave home. Ted and his Mom came to a compromise and they agreed to a tryout with the hometown San Diego Padres at the conclusion of the school year.

The Padres team Williams was trying to join for the 1936 season was led by former Chicago White Sox spitball pitcher Frank Shellenback. Frank was in his second year as a manager and his team was a nice blend of mature, seasoned ballplayers like Herm "old Folks" Pillette and Archie "Iron Man" Campbell and up-and-coming youngsters Bobbie Doerr and Vince DiMaggio. The Padres played in the Pacific Coast League, back in 1936 classified as a AA league, the equivalent of today's AAA, the highest level of the minor leagues.

The day of Williams' tryout, Shellenback was pitching batting practice and had the skinny kid step into the cage. According to Bobby Doerr, future teammate of Williams with Boston and now in his 2nd year with the Padres, the older San Diego players were miffed by this reed-thin kid taking up their precious time in batting practice. After Williams grooved a handful of Shellenback's offerings, including 2 or 3 that sailed out of the ballpark, the veterans' grumbling turned to wonder asking each other "who is this kid?"

Shellenback knew talent when he saw it and for $150 a month Ted Williams became a professional ballplayer.

Shellenback decided to use the new kid during a June 22nd exhibition game against a Navy-Marine Corps all-star team. In his only at-bat he singled and scored a run. A few days later, on June 27th, Williams got to pinch-hit during a regular season game against Sacramento. Facing Henry Pippen, the Kid went down on three strikes right down the pike - he didn't even swing.

On July 3rd Shellenback put the the kid into a game against the Los Angeles Angels as a relief pitcher and he immediately got shelled off the mound. At the plate however, the punk kid hit a double and a single in 2 at-bats. Williams was used sparingly by Shellenback but the veteran manager kept the youngster close on the bench, making sure he payed close attention to all aspects of the game. The Padres regular outfielders "Chick" Shiver, Vince DiMaggio and Syd Durst were backed up by Vance Wirthman but over the long season injuries to Durst and Wirthman enabled Williams to get some game experience but when each man returned the Kid went back to the bench. Shellenback for his part had no qualms about Williams' talent - he just wanted to bring him along slowly. Don't forget, the Pacific Coast League was essentially AAA level and Ted Williams was still in high school.

In the beginning of September, with the Padres competing for the pennant, left fielder "Chick" Shiver abruptly left the Padres to become the Georgia College football coach. Leaving in the middle of the night, Shellenback had no choice but to insert Williams into the regular lineup. In his first game as a regular Williams slugged a triple and double in 3 tries, fielded every ball that came his way flawlessly and was written up in the local paper for making 2 catches "hard enough to satisfy the most exacting test."

While many picked the Padres to quickly bow out of the pennant race, Williams' bat and glove work helped carry the team to the Pacific Coast League playoffs. In the 2 weeks he was the Padres starting left fielder the Kid hit .305 with 6 doubles, 2 triples and 7 RBI's. By the time San Diego faced the Oakland Oaks in the first round of the playoffs, Williams had moved up in the batting order from the 8th spot to 3rd. In the first game of the series Williams hit his first home run as a professional but the Padres eventually lost the playoffs to the Oaks in 5 games.

Didn't matter anyway, it was time for Ted to return to Hoover High for his senior year...


Ebooks and Apps, same challenges

(Second of a series)

Last week, we looked at the ebook’s Giant Disruption. A new ecosystem in which Amazon eats publishers’ and agents’ lunch by luring authors into self-publishing.

Today, we examine the new regime’s impact on book-making and distribution processes.
The outcome will surprise few readers: Over time, the new book publishing business will look more and more like the software industry.

1/ Managing abundance. Traditional publishing’s most salient feature is the maintenance of high barriers to entry. The journey from manuscript to bookstore is an excruciating one. Publishers are deluged with books proposals; a quick glance at a few pages and the bulk of submissions is rejected. Still, far too many books get published. Several Parisian booksellers told me they sometimes have to return unopened boxes of books to distributors, simply because they don’t have enough space for them. Therefore, the 80/20 rule applies: most of the revenue comes from a small assortment of books. Digital publishing removes those barriers –brutally so: the floodgates are now indiscriminately open to every aspiring writer. This will have two effects: more difficult choices for the reader (see Barry Schwartz TED’s talk on The Paradox of Choice) and, on average, lower quality products.

Overtime, two factors will help solve the problem of the choice: search engines and manual curation. As semantic search rises, books content gets treated like data, searchable not only by words clusters, but by variations of meaning, pitch and, at some point, style. Put another way, a search engine will soon be able to differentiate and to attribute texts written by two novelists working in the same segment of literature.
Such breakthroughs will impact recommendation engines systems that already act a serious sales booster. Again, tech companies, such as Amazon (more than Apple, which does not seem to “get” search) will ride the wave thanks to their past and future investments into search and data analytics.

Semantic recommendation engines won’t kill the need for human curation. Like the app business where abundance creates a need for more human-powered guidance and suggestions (see Jean-Louis’ idea of a Guide Michelin for Apps), book sections of magazines and newspapers will have to adapt and find ways to efficiently suggest e-readings to their audience.

2/ The need for editing. The most potent selection tool will remain the quality of the product. In the iPhone/iPad AppStore, Apple guarantees the overall technical quality of what lands on its shelves. Apple’s primary motive is to avoid poorly coded apps that crash or, worse, interfere with the inner core of the iOS. No such things on Amazon. Once a manuscript is properly formatted (not very complicated), it’s eligible for sale. That’s where reality barges in. Many self-published authors insouciantly flog texts replete with grammatical errors and typos. Very few seem to rely on proper editing and proofing, this is the main divide between amateurs and pros. Editing is both a mandatory and costly process — but worth every penny. It is probably the most critical part of the value added by traditional publishers. In the digital world, it must remain a key component of the process.

3/ Segmented manufacturing. Self-published ebooks won’t escape the laws of digital economics, of decentralized and specialized crafts. Here again, ebooks publishing and the making of applications converge. The entire process will be handled by dedicated freelancers focused on specific tasks: manuscript formatting (easy for text, but complicated otherwise); cover design — it will become more important as digital bookstores gain in sophistication; editing and copy-proofing the manuscript by a competent and well-paid professional, etc.

At a higher level of complexity for a book production (rich media contents, interactive learning features and more), two forces will kick-in: cloud computing and offshore outsourcing. The most recent example is the San Francisco-based startup Inkling: last month, the company made its own cloud publishing setup Habitat available to the general public. It went a step further by relying on companies such as Aptara, a US corporation with the bulk of its 5000+ workforce located in India. Note that Aptara is a contractor for almost all traditional publishing houses such as Hachette Livre, Pearson, Oxford University Press… Inkling will bypass publishers by connecting customers and contractors through a collaborative platform that provides highly sophisticated correction and versioning tools. It is no incident that Matt McInnis, Inkling’s CEO, is an alumnus of Apple’s education division, as told in this recent Bloomberg BusinessWeek story.

Ebook publishing is often linked to value depletion for the entire food chain. Ebooks obey the other digital law: low price, high volumes. In this case, extremely low prices. But evidence shows professional authors can find their way in the new world.

Take thriller author and self-publishing advocate Joe Konrath. His blog is a well-documented plea for getting rid of what he calls “legacy publishers”. A year ago, he posted a 13,000 words dialog with his pal Barry Eisler. Eisler, is a former CIA operative; at the time, he was making headlines for turning down a $500,000 deal from his traditional publisher and taking the self-publishing road instead. I recommend reading their conversation, especially when the two discuss business strategies, such as the time-to-market problem:

— Barry Eisler: [Time to market]  was one of the reasons I just couldn’t go back to working with a legacy publisher. The book is nearly done, but it wouldn’t have been made available until Spring of 2012. I can publish it myself a year earlier. That’s a whole year of actual sales I would have had to give up.
— Joe Konrath: We can make 70% by self-publishing. And we can set our own price. I have reams of data that show how ebooks under $5 vastly outsell those priced higher.
— Barry Eisler: This is a critical point. There’s a huge data set proving that digital books are a price-sensitive market, and that maximum revenues are achieved at a price point between $.99 and $4.99. So the question is: why aren’t publishers pricing digital books to maximize digital profits?
— Joe: Because they’re protecting their paper sales.
— Barry: (…) Fundamentally, it’s extremely hard for an industry to start cannibalizing current profits for future gains. So the music companies, for example, failed to create an online digital store, instead fighting digital with lawsuits, until Apple–a computer company!–became the world’s biggest music retailer.
— Joe: I was in love with the publishing industry. It was my dream to land a Big 6 deal. And I still believe the industry is filled with intelligent, talented, motivated, exceptional people. I’m grateful to have sold as many books as I did (and continue to do.) My switch to self-publishing isn’t personal. It’s just business. I can make more money on my own.

For context, among tons of books Joe Konrath wrote, one, The List, was first rejected by a New York Publisher in 1999. In April 2009, he self-published it on Amazon for $2.99 and sold a first batch of 25,000 copies. Then he took the price further down (!) and had sold 35,000 copies at the time of the interview (March 2011). Today, The List is now available on Amazon for $11.97 (paperback, 310 pages) or $4.01 in Kindle format.

Before wrapping this up, I’ll answer a Monday Note reader who asked what would I do if I had to publish a book today. Like most journalists, I’m not short of ideas; my two most advanced projects are a global techno-thriller and an essay about internet economics. (Because of my day job, they are likely to stay untouched for quite a while…)
To me, it’s a no brainer: I’d go digital, especially if I publish in English.
Among the reasons:
Time to market: I’m not exactly the patient type who’ll wait for a release window that will fit my publisher.
Pricing: I’dont want to compete against well-established authors releasing their opus in the same format for the same price. Mine has to be lower.
Size and scope: I want to be able to publish a book with a number of pages based on the subject’s scope, as opposed to antediluvian dictates saying books should have x hundreds of pages.
Updating capabilities: for a business book, being able to quickly make a new version with fresher data (or thoughts) is a must.
Control: I like the idea of picking the professionals who will help me with editing and design; no such freedom with a traditional publisher. Same for marketing and promotion; there, given the level of frustration I often see authors endure, I’d rather go by myself, or hire the right person to do it.
Permanence: an ebook never dies; it’s as easy to find as a new release in digital bookstores. Great for personal branding.
Revenue: I’d rather bet on volume than on a small number of high-priced copies.

But I still might print a small limited edition on dead trees. Because despite all rationale I’ll always love paper books.


Related columns:

  1. Ebooks: The Giant Disruption Tweet(Part of a series) In the last twelve months, I’ve never bought fewer printed books — and I’ve never read...
  2. Ebooks Winners & Losers TweetLet’s come back to the ebook with more questions. There is no doubt: the digital book will find its place...
  3. eBooks and Smartphones TweetUpdate: see a presentation of the Kindle2 here. Another look at an old, but not aging, topic: eBooks. There is...

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One Year Later

March 4, 2011, was a Friday like any other. I had fallen into a comfortable weekly routine: easy 5-milers on Tuesday and Thursday, a medium 7-miler on Wednesday, a hard 8 miles on the indoor track on Friday, and 8 miles on Sunday. February had been snowy and cold, which made my preferred 12-mile long run on Sundays a bit too much. In place of those miles, I ran a little faster on Fridays and looked forward to the coming spring thaw.

The morning was crisp and the roads clearer than they had been, so I decided to run outdoors. I picked out my favorite 8-mile route, an old friend I had first met when we lived on the other side of town. It passed by our new house, too, and so made the move with us.

It was an excellent run. Footing on hills and in curves is the big challenge of running outdoors in winter, so I didn't worry about pace. I breathed in the cold air, took in the old sights, and felt my body reach equilibrium with the elements.

the road to nowhere

I did not know at the time, but this would be my last run.

A flu that had been going around hit me later that day, and I was in bed sick for a few days. Then one morning, as I was starting to feel better, I woke up with a sore knee. No big deal, I thought; I'll take advantage of the extra day to be sure I've really licked that flu.

The flu left, but the knee pain did not. It got worse. I eventually went to see a specialist, who gave me the bad news, operated, gave me some more bad news, and operated a second time.

Since then, I have been rehabbing, slowly adding time and effort to my work-outs. But I have not run.

Two days ago, another first Friday of March, 52 weeks later, I had my best post-running workout yet. I still have far to go. The knee is still a little swollen, and it stiffens up after the shortest bouts of inactivity. It feels funny. But I see light.

There are days when I still feel that old urge to lace up my Asics GT-2100s and take off. I expect that summer bring plenty more of those days. The long road to who-knows-where stretches out before me as always, but I won't be exploring it on the run.

Flatiron Building photo from this morning

The Flatiron Building looks pretty stunning even on an overcast late Winter day. (Photo taken this morning)

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