MarkBernstein.org
Apr 05 1 2005

Mussels

Now that we're no longer cooking on a hot plate, I can once more boil water.

So, I grabbed one of those 2lb bags of nice, farmed mussels from the Cambridge Museum of Fruits and Vegetables. It cost $3.50 or so. Bourdain says mussels are too dangerous to eat in restaurants you don't know intimately. But you will take reasonable care, so they're better to eat at home. (I've never done this before, either.)

Anyway, I rinsed the mussels, tossing three open or damaged mussels and one that seemed kind of lightweight.

I got out the really big pot, dropped in a half stick of butter, and softened a big diced shallot. Then, I added three shots of calvados, half a diced apple, and a cup of heavy cream. (You've got to use cream here; milk won't do) Bring to boil. Add mussels. 10 minutes. Shake. 1 minute more. Serve.

Very, very nice. (Yes, lots of butterfat in the sauce. You aren't going to eat all that sauce anyway; some of it's just for cooking.)

Mar 05 31 2005

TEKKA 8!

Tekka 8 is out!

TEKKA 8!

Don't miss The Ashbazu Effect by John McDaid -- the real story of the life during the first dotcom meltdown.

There was no question that Enzu had performed all the required actions, and yet, his manuscript had been rejected. He had brought an arua gift to the temple of Nanna, paid the divination priest to prod a reeking sheep's liver, and, much to his wife's annoyance, he had hired a professional omen reader to untie his dreams.

It's a great issue. Lot's more later.

One of the interesting changes in Tinderbox 2.4 is that the text of outlines is now drawn in color.

Previously, Tinderbox kept the text black, because black text is more legible. Tinderbox is a work tool -- we want to get things done -- and color here seemed likely to get in the way. This is especially true if you use maps a lot, and choose low-contrast color schemes for your map view; those creamy tans and grays that look great in your map will be hard to read in the outline!

Tinderbox 2.4 and colored outlines

The compromise solution is to add color to outlines and to extend a preference that asks Tinderbox to darken all the outline colors. So, if you have a contrast-rich color scheme, everything is well. If your map is full of pastels, you can darken the outline, still have some color information to help you analyze your notes, and not lose legibility.

Color is much more useful in Tinderbox than I'd have expected when we originally designed it.

From Tekkalog, we see the Ms. Orange Elegance thinks Tinderbox Weekend Paris is a good Spring destination. (Orbitz has O'hare->Paris for $360; there's still time to join us)

Meanwhile, the Spring Picture has become this week's version of the cheese sandwich, appearing in weblogs throughout the Northern Hemisphere.

Where would you like to be headed this Spring? Tell TEKKA and you could win your own Tinderbox Troll.

Mar 05 30 2005

Awagami

New on the Information Farming Tools page at Eastgate, we've got a shipment of Awagami Orihon Notebooks.

These accordion-fold books are a traditional Japanese format, and they invite some really interesting, page-breaking moves. You can use them like a regular notebook, but when you need more space they unfold like scrolls or screen.

I'd like to see what sort of things new media folk do with these. They're very light, colorful, acid-free, and they're part of an old, old craft tradition.

I've been listening to Keren Ann lately. Some of her lyrics are difficult for me because they're in French, but others are just difficult.

Close your eyes and roll the dice
Under the board there's a compromise
If after all we only live twice
Which life is the runroad to paradise ?

Now, in the old days I'd nod and say, "it means what it says" and point to those cellophane towers of yellow and green that are towering over your head.

Last year I heard Uncle John's Band again, and realized for the first time (I can be dense) that one of my favorite songs is probably on the wrong side of Jesus Freakery.

I live in a silver mine
And I call it Beggar's Tomb.
I got me a violin
And I pray you call the tune.

I always thought this was OK by me, but if it's John Baptist then, well, the specter of Pat Robertson and James Dobson seems embedded in that moment.

So... I wish I knew what Keren Ann was talking about.

A thought for drama and for weblogging: it helps to create cues to help readers know when you're being precise, when you're being lyrical, and when you're satyrical.

Mar 05 28 2005

Dido

We saw Marlowe's Dido: Queen of Carthage at the ART. A really fine production; Colin Lane does Aeneas with a slightly Australian flavor that's exactly right, and Diane D'Aquila's Dido is terrific.

It's an astonishing play, when you think about it, for a twenty-one year old guy. I mean, Romeo and Juliet is about kids, but Dido is essentially a play about middle age, about having responsibilities, about knowing better but maybe losing your head. Or your mind. It's about loving people who have things to do and places to be, which is not exactly what you'd think teenage Kit Marlowe would be worrying about.

The ART has, over the years, engaged in several long-term projects. We've seen just about all of Ibsen, for example, and almost all of Brecht. That's nifty: I certainly wouldn't have chosen Ibsen at the outset but I'm happy it's worked out that way, and who knew that my favorite Brecht would be In The Jungle of Cities (Im Dickicht der Städte) with its bizarre view of Chicago?

Theater and blogging are difficult companions. You can't go see In The Jungle of Cities at the ART, because it closed six years ago. You can't go see Dido, either. You're wildly unlikely to be able to rush out and see a different production of either of these plays; even if you live in a great theater town like London or Moscow, these are almost never performed. You aren't a director or a producer, so even if my opinions hold water, there's nothing you can do about them.

Is writing about theater equivalent to writing about your cheese sandwich? (Maybe that cheese sandwich is getting a bum rap, but that's a story for another day.)

I think there is a point in this, a point that has something to do with keeping new media connected to its roots in theater and performance. More practically, people who think seriously about theater have had a lot of time to think out the puzzlements that surround our newly dubious and doubtful relationship with narrative and plot. In game design, for example, the virtues and vices of plotlessness are big news, and the big production numbers are everybody's big talking point. Theater's been doing this since Ionesco; we ought to be able to learn something.

But it's a close call -- closer, really, than the cheese sandwiches even though the newspaper people are less likely to poke fun at your weblog posts on Elizabethan drama or Brechtian despair.

Dido
Ionesco's Theatre de la Huchette

Saturday morning I made veal stock. This merry kitchen frolic, naturally, continued until midnight, was briefly interrupted for the purpose of sleep, and then resumed for an additional eight hours of simmering en route to perhaps 500ml of nice dark demi glace. One very big pot, about five bucks of veal bones, a bottle of wine, some shallots, and a whole lot of work.

I now realize that I've completely misunderstood stock and soup. In the past, making chicken broth, I assumed that the point was to get a good emulsion, that you wanted to have tiny droplets of fat the dissolve all the fat-soluble goodness and to give the soup body.

As I now understand things, that was a completely specious idea. Exactly wrong. You want, it seems, to get rid of the fat entirely -- to let it melt gently, rising to the surface, and then skim it off. Farewell to fat-soluble goodness. The body's supposed to come from gelatin that leaches out of the bones.

Veal stock puzzle: the fat I skimmed off was deliciously bright orange, presumably beta carotene from the carrot in the mirepoix. Does this mean (a) I should have carmelized the carrots more, (b) I shouldn't be worrying about all this wasted beta carotene -- it's supposed to do that, or (c) I'm still all wrong.

Anyway, amidst all this pot-tending I got to throw together a beef Bourguignon and a nice leftover meal of marinated lamb kebabs, day-old potato gratin, mushrooms provencal, and coconut-cilantro chutney. Meryl left us some tasty brownies for desert, too!

Simmer

Kottke is learning to cook. It's easy -- not much harder than chemistry, and you don't need to do it under vacuum. Seriously, though, starting with hamburger seems natural, but a good hamburger is really tricky. (McGee suggests boiling the beef in a big pot of water for 60 seconds to kill the bacteria, then chopping and forming the hamburger; this lets you cook a rare or medium-rare burger without worrying too much about poisoning yourself)

Mar 05 26 2005

Harvest

Last night at the Harvest (where we went after we got engaged), I had an appetizer of duck prosciutto, served with one perfectly-fried egg and a half-bottle of Denis Pommier Chablis "Beauroy".

Duck prosciutto is a very nice idea.

Today, I'm making veal stock. Or a very large mess. Possibly both.

Mar 05 25 2005

Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday

Last night, I made a nifty little salad.

First, throw a handful of mixed greens into each salad bowl.

Then, julienne a fennel bulb, and put a small handful of fennel on top of the letttuce. I'd add a bit of apple or pear here, too, if I had one handy.

Then, slice some rounds of goat cheese, and coat them with panko crumbs from the museum of fruits and vegetable. Put 'em on a baking sheet and run 'em under the broiler for a couple of minutes until they just begin to brown. Slide one or two on top of each salad.

Dressing? One part Stonehouse olive oil crushed with persian limes. One part cheap balsamic vinegar. A little salt, a little more pepper. Drizzle, eat.

Over at the Tinderbox Public File Exchange, check out Ryan Holcomb's updated GTD template -- which now uses Tinderbox 2.4's rules to make things more powerful and simpler.

Even better, Holcomb has a trimmed, simplified GTD Lite. It's a great starting point.

Mar 05 24 2005

McGee

My copy of McGee arrived today, so I spent lunch browsing.

The Morrison and Boyd of food, McGee has buckets of fascinating information. Why anise and fennel and star anise (and stale coriander) have the same odor. Why ground beef is inherently dangerous, and how to make it safer without turning it into cardboard. How much coffee winds up in your cup.

And it's systematically organized. It's not just anecdotes. The chapter on fruit discusses all kinds of fruit, what it is and how it got that way. The chapter on spices discusses just about everything you'd want to know about, both historically (cumin used to be common in European cooking but went out of fashion for reasons nobody can remember) and analytically.

What a break! For heaven's sake, how long has this been going on?

Matt Neuburg writes in TidBITS that Tinderbox Keeps Getting Smarter.

Tinderbox (see my review in Tidbits#651) is a superb way to create heavily hyperlinked text; text snippets are stored in a hierarchical structure and can be exported as Web pages. I used Tinderbox to create the online help for the Perl editor Affrus, which blogger John Gruber has called 'the finest software documentation,' in part because it is 'cross-linked out the ying-yang'.

The PubSub people have launched Structured Blogging, which advocates "making a movie review look different from a calendar entry. On the surface, it’s as simple as that - formatting blog entries around their content."

I find the advocacy site a bit vague. The underlying message is one of the driving forces for Tinderbox blogs. In Tinderbox, it's easy to create a BookReview post, which is distinct from a LoveStory post, a Diary, a TravelNote, or whatever you write about. You just say, "this is a a prototypical TravelNote", and then whenever you add a post you can select "TravelNote" from a popup menu to make a new post "just like that one".

Please, people: sign your weblogs! There's an entire page in this site about "Who's behind it", which never gets around to saying just who is behind it. You've got to go over to PubSub, and then follow the About tab, and then find and follow the Management category, before you ever get to a name.

The actual scheme Structured Blogging currently advocates seems a sort of a hash, using the SCRIPT tag to embed custom XML markup inside HTML pages. If some randomly large firm said, "let's embed Word documents in all our Web pages, so they can look better and we can process them more effectively", well, that'd be pretty much the same thing. Thanks, Dave Winer, for the link.

Here's where Tinderbox architecture helps us a lot. Tinderbox runs on your machine, it knows what your data wants to be, it's free to use your CPU and your screen and it doesn't have to share with a million other people who are writing their own stuff. When you have stuff you want to publish, Tinderbox can go ahead and publish it appropriately -- in as many formats as you like. Server-side writing tools, in short, make it hard to offer lots of flexible services to writers.

Mar 05 23 2005

At Les Halles

Linda and I went to Les Halles, Anthony Bourdain's place in New York. She had onion soup -- among the best she's ever tasted -- and steal frites.

I tried the rillettes, chiefly because Bourdain adores them and I had no idea what to expect. To be honest, I'm not sure I understand the fuss -- a pleasant dish, sure, but it doesn't seem to be the stuff of which poems are made. The special onglet, on the other hand, was special -- beautiful meat, beautifully done by a cook who is not frightened of medium-rare, and perfect mashed potatoes.

It's comfort food, diner food with an accent. And the combination of french butchering and really good American beef is great,

We had a nice Chateauneuf-du-Pape (Vieux-Télégraphe Telegramme 2002) with dinner at a reasonable price. But somehow the wine didn't live up to the label. I'm still feeling my way here, but I'm really pretty sure I've had Gigondas that was fuller, rounder, and more complex.

Update: It turns out the wine has a backstory.

Diane Greco has a long and rewarding post about research technique:

I'm trying to find ways to do research more efficiently. One of my biggest problems is my habit of getting lost in research -- I'll spend hours in the library and leave with a big stack of books that each relate to a different research idea....

by Tony Hillerman

Hillerman, the premier writer of distinctively southwestern mysteries, tends to fall apart when called upon to write about Anglos and Easterners in the West. In Skeleton Man, we have a routine mystery that most of Hillerman's many imitators could easily have managed. Sure, it's engaging. It's nice to see Leaphorn again, it's pleasant to visit Officer Chee, and Bernie's a dear.

But we get the same pleasures from Spenser, Susan and Hawk each year as well, Parker's dialogue is snappier and his plotting is usually twistier.

Hillerman at his best is more ambitious and more important, and Hillerman's got to know that even white folk can be complex characters. I can understand pasteboard Anglos at the margins of a Navajo mystery, but if you're going to write about LA diamond brokers and Washington lobbyists and skip tracers from Oregon, why not take the trouble to make them characters instead of plot devices?

Alwin Hawkins has written a fine new Tinderbox tutorial, describing ways to make a smarter journal.

When I was diagnosed with diabetes, my first thought was about how I was going to keep track of all the informations that I was going to collect - in particular, all the blood sugar results I was going to collect. I quickly rolled a personal diabetic tracking tool in Tinderbox, with notes color-coded to help spot patterns or trends in the numbers.

After looking at what I had done, I realized that I had a pretty simple exemplar of how to use a combination of attributes, agents, and actions to make a simple Tinderbox application. I am going to recreate the first part of it here, step by step, as a sort of "beginner's guide" to using some of the power contained in the Tinderbox application.

This is a terrific example of an important aspect of Tinderbox, adding some custom computation to augment conventional notemaking. Smarter notes let you do things like automatically highlight unusual blood sugar readings, so it's easier to find patters and detect trends. But, at the same time, you're not locked into a rigid system of dialogs and forms, so the journal remains pleasant to use and easy to adapt to changing needs.

by M. F. K. Fisher

M. F. K. Fisher was the American food writer before James Beard and Julia Child -- in the time, that is, when Americans didn't care much about food.

This 1943 autobiography is notionally structured around memorable meals. It's interesting to see how little food there actually is here, and how little Fisher feels it's appropriate for her to say about it. She dines through France, Switzerland, Mexico, and across the US, but she seldom mentions a restaurant and even more rarely talks about a cook. She drinks quantities of wonderful wine, but almost never tells you what she's drinking or what you might want to drink. When she does name a restaurant, the motive is sentiment or scene-building -- she names restaurants in Dijon much as she names the flowers in her garden, to reinforce sense of place rather than to suggest you might want to eat there sometime.

What works here, besides an occasionally-lovely turn of phrase, is Fisher's odd (and sometimes fascinating) mixture of candor and reticence. She's got the earthy honesty of the old American West -- she was born in California in 1908 and, in a story that's supposed to be about oysters she briskly explores the hothouse sexuality of an isolated, tony girl's boarding school as if, arriving as a freshman, she already knew it all and so do you.

Fisher has a skilled, elliptical knack of leaving the big emotions and the impossible scenes offstage. She acquires, then loses, a husband suddenly and without much comment. She sees Europe crumbling around her in the 30's and sees it clearly, but she tells it in the interstices, in the social complexities of being nice to a relative's dull, languorous, and stupid girlfriend who likes to spend her summer afternoons watching the German border guards kill refugees who are trying to swim from the Nazis into her favorite French beach resort.

My aunt Nancy died in 1984, twenty years ago. I never really knew her much; she lived in New York, I grew up in Chicago, and there was some complicated, unexplained friction between Nancy and her parents.

To my astonishment, I just discovered that my aunt Nancy has a web shrine, or more precisely a weblog by her friends and colleagues that explores her work.

Mar 05 20 2005

Arbus

There's a superb exhibit on Diane Arbus at the Met (in New York). You should see it if you can, even if you don't care for Arbus.

I've always mistrusted Arbus when I noticed her at all: her best-known images, I've always felt, come very close to being cruel to her subjects. There's a certain heartlessness about those twin girls, for instance, and more than a little in her portrait of that ridiculous, acne-pocked, flag-waving moron in his pro-war regalia. Yeah, he was a dupe and he was wrong and lots of people who died would be well and happy today if people like him had got off the Nixon wagon sooner -- but still, he's human.

But this exhibit shows everything -- contact sheets, obscure prints, shots Arbus never got around to printing -- and the big picture makes Arbus more approachable. Her early work is full of intellectual interest -- clever plays on media and remediation that seem to belong to 1990, not 1959. Later, there are more outsiders, but for the most part they're treated sensitively -- even the carnival curiosities and hucksters.

The exhibit respects the intelligence and knowledge of the visitor, providing lots of information without restating stuff everyone knows or waving its arms in aesthetic mania -- the latter a vice to which the Boston MFA has been prone lately. And they're careful not to reduce her life to its end. It's a great assemblage, in short, and here the entirety of the artist's work perhaps means more than the peaks.

Confidential to the MET: if you install even more gift shops in gallery space, you're going to be nearly as bad as the Vatican Museum. Museums should not be shopping malls.

Do we know just what happened to M. F. K. Fisher in 1935 about the Hansa? (It's a chapter in The Gastronomical Me. For the most part, she's surprisingly candid about things that you mightn't expect your grandmother to be candid about, but whatever this was, she regards it as unspeakable.)

Mar 05 18 2005

Tinderbox Rules

The new Tinderbox lets notes and containers have rules.

Tinderbox containers have actions that they perform on notes that are added to (or created inside) the container. Rules are a lot like actions, but they're performed all the time.

Under the hood, Tinderbox keeps a big list of rules it wants to run. Periodically, it runs a bunch of rules. If your machine is slow or busy, Tinderbox will just take a little more time to work through its list.

Rules do some of the same things that agents do. But while agents scan all your notes, rules usually look only at a handful of neighbors. One rule might be, "Turn red if your container is red, but be blue otherwise." Another might be, "If you've got any children with a due date sooner than your own due date, use the child's due date as your own."

I expect rules will be a big help to a bunch of Tinderboxers. Of course, lots of people will rarely or never need them -- and that's fine. Tinderbox is like that! Learning when to use a rule, or an agent, or a container action, might take some practice. Nobody knows the rules yet. Good time to roll up the sleeves!

Just received a new Paypal scam spam, reporting that a guy in Napa, California had sent us $52.00 by Paypal. The email is very convincing -- complete with lots of security warnings. It would be easy to fall for this.

I'm heading to New York today, so yesterday I skipped marketing and figured I'd work with whatever was left in the refrigerator. Mostly, I had the tail end of a bolognese sauce on which it was time to fish or cut bait.

But it wasn't much sauce, I only had one tomato to extend it, Linda likes a high sauce-to-pasta ratio, and we were hungry. So some extra dishes were in order.

One was Burnt Cumin Carrots, which is basically a Todd English recipe. He doesn't say burnt, but that's really the idea: moderately large chunks of carrot, coated with a tiny bit of oil, kosher salt, pepper, and cumin, and roasted in a 400° over until "nicely browned", about 45 minutes. A terrific way to use less-than-perfect carrots. Spicy and crunchy outside, soft and sweet inside.

But the carrots weren't going to be enough, either -- especially since carrots shrink a surprising amount when least expected. So I grabbed a dozen shrimp from the freezer (which is fine, since around here essentially all shrimp are frozen), thawed them, painted them with almost no oil, and sprinkled with the just-arrived sate spice from Penzeys. Onto the grill for a couple of minutes. Instant appetizer.

So: shrimp sate, pappardelle with meat sauce and lots of freshly grated cheese, half a Ziggy's foccacia left over from lunch, cumin carrots. About an hour. Almost free -- everything except the shrimp and the Argentine Malbec (Finca el Portillo) were basically sunk costs, inventory that was already written off.

Lesson: that Wolf grill can come in handy.

by Anthony Bourdain

Bourdain writes that this cookbook is not a cookbook, and he's got a point. It's an illustrated sermon. The point is to cajole you to pay attention to the food, and to enjoy this simple, tasty style of food.

Why wouldn't you enjoy? First, it's French, and for Americans even the simplest French cooking has a forbidding encrustation of snobbery and mystery. Bourdain's point is that this is simple food. "If you can make a decent chili, you can make cassoulet. A lot of the same principles are at work. Don't let the French name fool you. Ever."

Another obstacle is the insistence of gastro-porn on using only the finest, freshest ingredients and home-made everything. My mother gave me Gourmet one year in grad school, and it drove me nuts: if there's a long, inconvenient and costly way to do something, Gourmet wants you to do it that way. Bourdain has limits (Dried rosemary? "Do not get that dried trash anywhere near my bird!") but encourages sensible shortcuts.

Bourdain's biggest point is planning and prep -- mis en place . And this is a great topic for a sermon. Lots of people who cook, nowadays, are pretty much self taught. Lots of people who cook, things being what they are, were taught by people who weren't really very efficient in the kitchen. People like tasty food at the end, but efficiency matters a lot. Efficiency is the difference between whipping up a nice three-course meal from what happens to be in the frig, or spending the same amount of time waiting for the pizza guy to show up.

Bourdain's got a schtick. He's a hard-working, hard-drinking, hard-nosed guy with edges and attitude. He is not, in other words, Julia Child. This is fun when it's going well, occasionally tiresome when he's stretching the point, and sometimes peculiar because he's also thoughtful, literate, and well read and he somehow thinks that being thoughtful and reading a lot aren't compatible with the tough working-guy image.

The recipes seem solid, too: the roast chicken was fine, the leeks vinaigrette were better, the porc à l'ail was a big win -- and I seldom cook pork.

Mar 05 17 2005

Blue Ginger

Tinderbox makes it easy to keep lists and to keep track. For example, this blog lets me quickly remember what movies I've seen, and what books I've read, and (recently) what books I've bought.

I think I'm going to start notes on interesting meals, too. I've noticed that I'm paying more attention to food, and a lot of colleagues and correspondents are also paying attention.

We celebrate our anniversary is Valentine's Day; this year, we planned ahead and trecked out (on the 15th to avoid the rush) to Blue Ginger, Ming Tsai's famous fusion restaurant in Wellesley. I started with foie gras-shiitake shumai, which sound like a terrific idea. It was good, mind you, but, well, it's shumai. Maybe spicy, greasy pork is what shumai wants to be? The black pepper garlic lobster was everything you'd want it to be, really. (Well, you'd want it to be larger, but that's a good sign.) The real innovation here was that the lobster body was stuffed with a deliciously flavored rice which acquired lovely lobster flavoring while cooking. Very nice.

We had a Sancerre from Louis Challot, which was gorgeous.

Ross Karchner reports on a Harrisburg blogger meetup where everyone used a different weblog tool.

As the meeting wound down, Nathan pulled out his iBook and demonstrated how he uses Tinderbox to edit and manage Notebook of Sand as well as notes, citations, resources, and references for a variety on-and-offline projects– including a fascinating piece of hypertext sculpture that I am determined to go see.

Tinderbox itself is an inspired work. I can’t really justify the price right now, but if my livelihood depended on managing ideas and information it would be more than worth it.

  • America's Test Kitchen has a white paper on essential kitchen equipment -- one of the nicer little pdf giveaways I've seen.
  • I've been kicking around some kitchen sites, looking to buy a few odds and ends. A good instant-read thermometer. A chinois. Some squeeze bottles. As a general observation, a lot of Web retailers who stock numerous items don't tell you nearly enough about each one. If you're selling stuff, you gotta sell.
  • For example, Linda has a 12" Sabatier chef knife that's too big for our knife block. There are lots of places that'll sell you a knife block, but none explain why this is the one that you really, really want. And none seem to give you a clue as to whether it'll take a big knife or not.
  • Bonus link: insanely cool, custom-tailored chef jackets. Just in case.
Mar 05 16 2005

Joel Orr

Joel Orr writes that

If you are a Mac user, you probably need Tinderbox. It is a tool that is difficult to describe; it qualifies as an outliner, a web page generatorm a kind of mindmapper, and an easily programmable information management environment.

Tinderbox has a bunch of new analytical tools. For example, right now there are 20.00 posts on the main page, with an average of 147.50 words per post. The longest post, right now, is 524.00 words long. These statistics are calculated on the fly, so they'll change as the main page changes.

There's nothing special about word count; I could use any numerical attribute, whether built-in or user-defined. And there's nothing special about the main page; I can get this for any container. The syntax is easy enough -- ^mean(child,Wordcount) gives me the average word count for all the notes inside a container.

by Michaerl Ruhlman

Three fine, extended essays about cooks and cooking. The first describes the Certified Master Chef exam, a grueling ten-day marathon that's a cross between medical residency and Iron Chef. In some hands, this could be a routine Hero Overcomes Adversity saga, but Ruhlman has the skill and judgment to play quietly and cleverly with point-of-view, changing what could have become a sports story into something more interesting.

The other two essays are even stronger. In one, Ruhlman looks at Michael Symon, a successful restauranteur, and tries to get a handle on why his food works and why his restaurants are fun.

The final essay is, in essence, that story of "how I got to write the French Laundry Cookbook". It's fun and funny; Ruhlman's core argument, I think, is that the legendary Thomas Keller succeeds because his food makes you laugh. Ruhlman is refreshingly skeptical about the idea that serious cooking is anything more than a craft -- he refuses to take claims of the chef as artist and auteur very seriously -- and he does a lovely job of avoiding CEO porn while remembering that this is, after all, an interesting (and famously difficult) business.

Jon Buscall explains why he collects clippings in DevonThink but prefers Tinderbox for writing and analysis.

Buscall writes that he's in week two of handling the Business section of The Local with Tinderbox. He's also eager to hear how other journalists get leverage from Tinderbox agents.

It’s interesting to get some leverage on what I am writing by tracking key topics and companies; for example, Ericsson appear rather a lot. I’d be interested to hear from any other journalists working with Tinderbox to swap experiences and perhaps find new ways to work with the application.

Tinderbox lets you add adornments to maps. Adornments sit in the background and organize space informally. They're a wonderful way to organize your notes as you make them, keeping things organized even when you're not yet sure how everything fits together.

Adornments and Tinderbox 2.4

In Tinderbox 2.4, you can lock adornments to the map. This makes it easier to move around and avoids unwanted slips.

Even better, you can make adornments sticky. If you move a sticky adornment, the stuff on top of the adornment moves too. Sticky adornments make it much easier to keep a quickly-growing information space neat. Avoiding premature commitment is the name of the game.

Memo to future designers: It's tempting to make every adornment sticky. But if you get a bunch of stick adornments in a close space, they tend to act like masking tape or cling wrap -- you get a sticky little information ball.

Adornments, incidentally, were introduced to the hypertext world in Dan Bricklin's original Trellix.

In graduate school, I had a terrible little kitchen. I learned to place a premium on non-stick pans. I learned to hate washing burnt pots. And so, in consequence, I never learned to brown anything properly.

Now I have the nifty new Wolf and a nice pair of All-Clad sautoirs, and I understand (kind of) that fond is a good thing.

Last night, I grabbed a pork tenderloin. (It was the first I'd bought in twenty years, but I've always liked bacon and the ancestors will understand). I covered it in garlic, salt, and pepper, and seared the living daylights out of it. Then twenty minutes in the oven, sauce, and serve with boiled leeks (sauce Gribiche -- and who was Gribiche when he was at home?) and an improvised dish of wild rice, glazed turnip, and caramelized apple.

Linda's taking a grad seminar on the roots of modernism, which means Monday dinner is really fashionable. Dinner at 10:30. Gives one time to prep.

My headache: that pan in which I seared the pork. Dishwasher didn't touch it. Scrubbing helped. Eventually, though, it took about 15 minutes of Barkeeper's Friend -- and I suspect you really shouldn't be using Barkeeper's Friend on the All-Clad.

There's gotta be a better way. Or am I just over-protective of the pan?

Update: lots of good ideas. Meryl suggests soaking. Jeremy Hunsinger reminds me that it's never too late to deglaze. Why didn't I think of that? Alwin reminds me that ethanol works wonders.

by Roy Lewis

Father is a subhuman. Father is seriously dedicated to the advancement of the species. Father invented the portable volcano as well as important advancements in the arts and sciences. But Uncle Vanya keeps dropping in to dinner -- Uncle Vanya still lives in the trees, so the dropping is literal -- and he doesn't buy the program.

A clever little family story, nicely told.

Mar 05 14 2005

Game Over

Greg Costikyan publishes the notes for his standing-ovation rant on the state of game design. His point: there is no future.

With so many scholars investing so much hope in the future of games, Costikyan's despair sounds a grim warning.

"The bar, in terms of graphics and glitz, has been raised and raised and raised until no one can any longer afford to risk anything at all. The sheer labor involved in creating a game has increased exponentially, until our only choice is permanent crunch and mandatory 80 hour weeks—at least until all our jobs are out-sourced to Asia. "

.....

You have choices, too. You can take the blue pill, or the red pill. You can go work for the machine, work mandatory eighty hour weeks in a massive sweatshop publisher-owned studio with hundreds of other drones, laboring to build the new, compelling photorealistic driving game-- with the same basic gameplay as Pole Position.

Or you can defy the machine.

You can choose to starve for your art, to beg, borrow, or steal the money you need to create a game that will set the world on fire.

You can choose to riot in the streets of Redwood City, to down your tools and demand an honest wage for an honest eight-hour day."

Brian Bailey is taking good notes at SXSW with the new Tinderbox 2.4 . Lots of interesting stuff this year, including the observation that Jason [Fried], who runs 37 signals, handles their tech support. (This still leaves me wondering how 37 signals decided to shift from graphic design to software development, an unusual business model transition)

Oliver Wrede is looking at using Tinderbox in a course on personal information management strategies. Interesting. He describes his vision of

an introductory course that could prepare students to have a better grip at project management, conceptual brainstorming and knowledge work. I wonder if anybody has heard of such a course. I'd love to talk with people that have already some kind of experience with that.
If you are serious about using the words that are in your mind and heart, Tinderbox will provide an interesting way of keeping the sparks flying and the ideas flowing. -- Mozkit

Lots of great mail on Tinderbox 2.4, the latest release of the tool for notes. (Don't stop! We like it!)

Full of great features that have already had a major impact on how I use Tinderbox to Get Things Done -- Ryan Holcomb
Noticed many interesting things, all very good. Serious users should probably regard this as a 'must-download' ... All the interface changes seem to be carefully thought out and make the program easier to use. Some, like the yellowing dog-ears in the map view, are remarkably subtle and inspired. -- Lee Phillips
Beautiful! -- Marisa Antonaya

BlogTalks 2.0
Thomas Burg's BlogTalks 2.0 is out. You can get it from amazon.de.

I have a small paper in it on "The Social Physics of Weblogs", primarily a list of directions for future research.

Saturday, I gave a short talk at the National Art Education Association conference. I wanted to explore some of the implications of Pam Taylor's research in using Tinderbox and Storyspace in the art classroom. In particular, we've got fairly good methods for deciding whether a feature makes software a few percent better or worse, but no good method for knowing whether the software sometimes makes a huge, life-changing difference to its users.

The scary part? Putting together the visuals, knowing that they're going to be shown to a room full of art professionals -- professionals on holiday who (I imagine) must see plenty of earnest, clumsy student stuff every day. I dialed the visuals way back; better to be clumsy and simple.

An Intimidating Audience

But M. L. Deruaz has some nice things to say about the talk.

Best parts of trip? hearing Mark Bernstein present about using Tinderbox (He created the software). He's bright, entertaining and possibly the only person I have ever seen who knows how to create interesting powerpoint visuals to accompany a talk.

When you talk about books on your weblog, sometimes you get a chance to talk to the people who wrote them. Charming email this morning from Michael Ruhlman, who wrote Making of A Chef (blog post here).

Mar 05 9 2005

Tinderbox 2.4

Tinderbox 2.4 is now available! It's got tons of important new features:

  • sticky and locked adornments
  • powerful and fast rules
  • smarter agents
  • lots of new XML/HTML export tools

The overnights are great:

"Huzzah! ....All sorts of new goodies... I will be sorely tempted to spend the rest of this week digging into the features, but, alas, there is also work to be done. -- William Cole"
Eagerly hoping the key to unlock it arrives ASAP. I have a hectic day’s planned writing ahead of me tomorrow. -- Jon Buscall
With more than 80 improvements, Tinderbox 2.4 should be quite a treat for old-time users like me and new folks who are just starting to discover the idea manager, Weblog tool, writing tool and more. -- Rob McNair-Huff, Mac Net News
I've been playing with the beta since Tinderbox Weekend Boston, and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at the new features. -- Alwin Hawkins
Mar 05 7 2005

Books Bought

A new addition to the Incredibly Over-The-Top Sidebar™: a books bought list. I'm stealing this from Hornby's monthly column in The Believer, because it's fun. I don't literally mean purchases -- I figure I'll list some of the books I borrow, books I plan to review, books I plan to reread. The top of my reading stack.

One reason I'm doing this is that Tinderbox makes it so easy. In fact, if I wave the book at the iSight camera, Delicious Library gives me all the data. The Tinderbox container automatically handles formatting and organizing the list. And, supposedly, when I want to write book notes, the note will already be set up with metadata, letting me concentrate on the book and not on its cover.

Freelance writer Jon Buscall describes an improvised Tinderbox document he assembled for notes on a single article. He began by dragging the email for the assignment into Tinderbox moved on to interview notes, and then wrote everything up in his word processor.

By creating a single box for a single assignment I’ve now got all my notes, contact details and early drafts stored in one place. I can see that in future I might try this more often. That way I’ll have a relatively complex document relating to a paid assignment in one hypertextual space that won’t take too long to open and close.
Mar 05 3 2005

Making of a Chef

by Michael

A delightful little book, essentially a travel essay about the journey into school and back again. Ruhlman, a journalist who likes to cook, gets permission to take Skills 1 at The Culinary Institute of America, and finds the professional kitchen so exciting that he returns from time to time, over the next two years, to study with his temporary classmates until they graduate. Ruhlman is not a fancy writer but he can turn a phrase when he needs to: making his way home from school through the blizzard of '96, he spins out and recalls that

I was fortunate to have fishtailed into the oncoming traffic at a moment when no traffic happened to be coming on to halt, with a muffled thunk, my graceful spin.

When the class's worst student suddenly has everything fall into place and hands in a superb plate:

Erica, who had scrambled the eggs meant for sauce hollandaise, clouded her consommé, served onion soup in a cold bowl, Erica, whose roux had caught fire, was improving.

You've got to envy that casual caught fire.

Mar 05 2 2005

DianeGreco.com

Her weblog is still at the old familiar address, but now you can also fine Diane Greco's weblog at DianeGreco.com .

Mark Johnson noticed that I liked HotelMoose and calls my attention to his HotelChatter, a web magazine about hotels.

A British fellow with a seemingly-legitimate URL -- q quick printing business -- and email (at consultants.com) sent us mail, saying he'd found problems on our site when using Mozilla but not when using MSIE and urging us to support standards.

He attached a screenshot as a zip.

Upon further review, (a) the vague description of the problem didn't make much sense; (b) the web site was bogus; (c) his email bounces. What are the odds that the payload is a virus? I'm not going to find out.

We roasted a chicken last night. A recent issue of Cooks Illustrated suggested brining and butterflying a roaster. Here's the bird, fresh from the oven, perched over a little tray of stuffing.

Chicken

With the chicken and stuffing, I made some glazed turnips -- another Cooks idea. Turnips are new to me, but this is easy and cheap. 3/4" dice. Brown in butter (the new Wolf browns a lot better than a hotplate!). Stir, brown some more. Add 3/4c vegetable stock, some brown sugar, some pepper, some lemon juice and zest. Braise covered about 8m, then boil off the rest of the liquid and serve.

Chicken