I lost the wild-card race in the Eddie Plank League (an international Bill James league that's been going strong for something like eighteen years) by 3.5 points yesterday.

Over the course of the season, the difference amounts to one inning of relief pitching, or a single and a walk. If Dustin Pedroia had played the last game of the double header, or if he'd stretch one double into a triple, or if just one error had been ruled a hit, I would've, could've, should've.

Sep 08 28 2008


The new Cook’s has an article about goulash, which (in its original form) has meat, onions, shocking amounts of paprika, and not much else. I wanted to try it, but what the market suggested were Icelandic lamb shanks. So, lamb goulash.

  • Asian pear, St. Augur blue cheese, artisanal salami, vinaigrette
  • Lamb shank goulash, mushrooms, couscous
  • Apple crumble

Not half bad; the goulash consumes $4.50 of paprika, which is blended with a roasted red pepper and a splash of vinegar to make a pepper paste that does eliminate the grittiness you'd expect from so much dried spice.

Yesterday's dinner was interesting, too: pork belly braised with ginger, honey and soy turned out really well. The braising liquid is specified as 50% honey and 50% soy; I reduced both and added some white wine to make up the volume. Still too salty, and the honey notes were far from prominent. But it’s a sauce that you first say “delicious” and then add “though perhaps a bit too much salt”, which is very different from the other way round. We polished off a nice Chilean cabernet with it, and slept shockingly late.

Sep 08 26 2008

Guardian Flap

Andrew Gallix, trolling in the Guardian Online, suggests that “e-lit is already dead”. As it’s pretty clear he never much liked it anyway — his favorites seem to be Grammatron and 253.

Hypertexts seldom improve on gamebooks like the famous Choose Your Own Adventure series, let alone BS Johnson's infamous novel-in-a-box. Besides, if you really want to add sound and pictures to words, why not make a film?

So far, the brave new world of digital literature has been largely anti-climatic [sic].

This is absurd; none of the important hypertext fictions are anything like Choose Your Own Adventure. afternoon, for example, is about as close to Zork as Yossarian is to Pooh.

From the author’s page at the Guardian:

Andrew Gallix is editor-in-chief of 3:AM Magazine where he created the very first literary blog. He writes fiction, criticism, edits books and teaches at the Sorbonne.

Jack Baty hooks his Tinderbox daybook into his office's Yammer network. When he adds a new activity, an agent grabs the note, sends a the title to his colleagues via Yammer, and then marks the note so it won’t be sent again.

Time from getting the idea to completing the project: 15 minutes.

Is collaboration inherently good? Is openness always a virtue? These were the questions at WikiWalk.

José Victor Malneiros, the newspaper writer says: information is power. It's all about information: who has it? And who knows how to use it?

Lúcia Matos, the architect, observes that Porto itself arises from the intersection of forces: the old Roman road running North and South, and the River Douro running East and West. Porto is not at the mouth of the Douro; it's at the final ford before the river runs down to the sea. Two streams of commerce and information intersect, but do not mix.

One strain of the wiki world assumes that collaboration is its own reward, that more hands leads to better work.

The other strain of the wiki world would like to view this (like any other proposition) as a question to be measured, examined, facilitated where help provides benefit, restrained where it proves harmful.

One faction assumes that, if you build it and gain support and participation, then widespread participation will yield a better wiki. They are often disappointed, but they still believe. One faction worries that, if everyone comes, the noise and haste will eventually create chaos. They are often surprised when things work.

Everyone points to Wikipedia as proof of the validity of the expectations.

Via Andrew Sullivan, a terrific ad for Hovis Bread compresses 122 years of British history into a two minute errand.

Sep 08 24 2008


by John Buchan

At ReaderCon, I wandered into a masterful lecture by John Clute:

“The Cossacks are Coming!”: Defining the Fantastic by Coherence of Story.
John Clute.

We normally define the fantastic by the presence of non-mimetic content. In this talk, Clute proposes that the “undue coherence” of Story, when wrought past a certain point, becomes inherently fantastical, regardless of content. The talk takes its title from the climaxes of John Buchan’s Greenmantle (1916) and The Lord of the Rings; Clute argues that the shout of the beleaguered heroes of the first tale as their saviors come from the north and fall upon their foes — “The Cossacks! The Cossacks!!” — is not just superficially similar to Gandalf’s cry — “The Eagles are coming!” — but that both cries have the same function, a function inherent to the experience of reading the fantastic. In other words, any story sufficiently advanced to have become entirely visible is indistinguishable from magic.

This is quite wonderful, of course, but so is Buchan’s book — of which I had never heard. Buchan, once a household name, has been forgotten, but here in 1916 we have the roots of the great travel books of the 20's and 30's and the birth of the thriller. Scene after scene seems at once fresh and shockingly familiar: the border crossing into hostile Germany prefigures “Julia”, the arrival at the dark German schloss inhabited by a shabby, untrustworthy servants and a frightening host, prefigures Bond and Indiana Jones and much else. A few false notes are inserted as propaganda, and the horror of the trenches is played down; this was 1916, there were still some fields in Flanders that were not forever England and we wouldn’t want to hurt recruiting. The exotic American sidekick is a hoot, and the Honorable Arbuthnot is everything you could want in a colonial old hand. There’s even a memorable female villain.

At the doctor for my annual physical, I was talking to the nurse-practitioner about Portugal and France and eating. “But could you read the menus?” she wondered with evident concern. On the whole, I don’t worry much about menus in Europe; I can usually get the food group roughly right, and I like to be a bit surprised.

There have been mishaps, like the time in Sienna when I accidentally ordered a large, creamy pastry with my beer.

But, occasionally, unexpected things emerge from the kitchen. Usually, mishaps are a matter of taste; it’s supposed to taste like that, they like it this way. You don’t. This is called getting an education. And, on the whole, every place you eat is pretty good, especially in lands where people like to eat; when you come right down to it, it’s not more costly or really more difficult to cook simple food competently than to do it badly. A decent diner can last forever, and a wretched one can easily be run out of town.

Which leaves us at Estalgem Porto Antigo near Cinfães. It has a gorgeous setting, overlooking a Douro river so broad and placid that it could be a mountain lake. It has a lovely new Scandinavian-style building, all wood and glass. It’s got fine service.

And it has spoiled shrimp in its omelets. It has bacalao that hasn’t been soaked sufficiently, and so is much too salty. It has what one of my distinguished fellow-diners called “the worst Bolognese I’ve ever had”. (I didn’t try, but it looked a lot like a consomme raft) We tried it twice (long story), and it didn’t improve

I’m not a critic, and so usually when things don’t go swimmingly well I just don’t write about them. Especially on the road, because de gustibus and because I might simply not understand, or perhaps I accidentally asked for something I didn’t want. (Elsewhere in Portugal, I was almost served white port and quinine water because I asked for “tawny” and the barman heard “tonic.” Seriously.)

Tips for eating in doubtful places:

  • When you don’t trust the kitchen in a restaurant of some pretension, think ingredients. Everyone can grill good meat, or make a good fresh salad. If you suspect they don’t know what they’re doing, give them simple stuff to do.
  • When keeping things simple, keep them really simple. (That shrimp omelet was asking for trouble. Remember, fines herbes are your friends)
  • Order fried foods only in a busy place that’s serving a lot of fried food. Frying works best when you do a lot of it. Braises (or barbeque) work better when things are quiet.
  • Don’t order mussels unless you’re really sure about the kitchen. Again, crowds are your friend. A bad mussel can ruin your day. If a crowd has its day ruined, the restaurant will likely be gone tomorrow. It’s like the time travel paradox; kitchens in Bruges take care of the health of their moules frites for the same reason that you don’t bump into paradox-causing time machines parked on every corner.
  • In a very modest restaurant that might be good, try things that require labor and lead time but avoid special ingredients. Marinated meat, for example: it takes forever to do it yourself, but by definition an old hole in the wall has forever. Breads and braises too — especially if you see an oven.
  • If the waiter or counter-man is friendly, you can almost always communicate the request, “feed me: even though I am American, I will be happy to try what you like.” The bit about Americanness is important, because through much of the world, people assume that Americans prefer bad food; acknowledging this promises that you won’t blame the poor fellow for feeding you well. And if the waiter or counter-man is not very friendly, there are lots of other places to try.

Incidentally, I think the next big eating trend will be dining at counters, getting the food directly from the person who cooked it, and freeform off-the-card unmenus.

But She's A Girl reports on using Tinderbox to keep track of the way she spends her time. Lots of nice tips and tricks — including some very shiny desktop dashboard displays that use Tinderbox's brand-new plot, bargraph, and tabular display capabilities.

Since I don’t have to collect precise hours for invoicing or anything like that, the absolute values are not particularly important. I only time tasks when I’m properly focussed, not when I’m being interrupted by calls, conversations with colleagues and so on, so it’s quite a good relative measure of how much solid, productive work I’m able to accomplish. It has been really interesting to track it from day to day. I’m actually using it as a sort of game to motivate myself to devote uninterrupted time to important tasks, just so that I can watch the bars climb for each day!

See also Kevin Kelley's hot new blog, The Quantified Self.

Jon Buscall observes that corporate blogging remains far less mature than personal blogging, and might be more promising.

Fascinating notes and screencast on using Tinderbox to create classroom presentations and syllabuses, by J. A. Wilcox.

What's more, the fundamental unit of an assignment on my daily syllabus originates from a bibliographic entry produced by EndNote. First, I select references in EndNote for export. I run a PERL transformation on those exported items which produces a Tinderbox document. I then import these Tinderbox objects into my course Tinderbox document, rearranging and tagging the objects until I have a workable syllabus.

The screencast, Javascript in Tinderbox, explores ways to clarify complex materials, augment student notes, and emphasize key points — without giving the instructor any additional work. Highly recommended.

Teaching With Tinderbox

It’s sometimes easy (and useful) to have your Tinderbox documents send you email messages and reminders. There’s a good tutorial and example on the subject. But the tutorial assumes that you’re connected to the net; what if you want to queue mail to send later (e.g. after the airplane lands)?

Rob Forsyth posed this question on the Tinderbox Forum, and the answer was not far to seek: a simple Applescript lets Tinderbox compose messages that sit in’s outbox until you’re ready to send them.

My Fellow Progressives:

We are going to win. This election will be close — closer than it should be. Hard work remains. But we are going to win. For the first time since that brief 100 days in 1932, a progressive American president will have working majorities in the House and Senate.

This is a time for calm and for resolute determination. We have suffered a terrible losing streak. We have been close before, only to see our hopes dashed. We have been defeated by Bushites and by Roveans so often that, even now, we jump at shadows. But no October surprise could trump the economic disasters now unfolding, and no last-minute proposal will overshadow the Bushite request for dictatorial disbursement of a trillion dollars.

The Bushies will not surrender with grace or dignity. They will obstruct, and lie, and cheat, and steal, and they will blame it all on us. It will not matter. We will face frightful challenges, at home from an shattered economy and abroad from a world where even our friends distrust and fear us as spies, torturers, and incompetents. The Court may be salvageable — indeed, the prospect of a lifetime of signing futile dissents might even lead Thomas and Scalia to greener pastures. It will not get worse, and we will add to the bench some young, energetic, and superb jurists who will restore the court’s integrity and preserve our rights. Small changes in labor law, blocked by Wall Street for generations, can give workers real voices — not just on the assembly line but in the office. We can stop endless bickering over sex laws and fix our health care system. Social Security will again be secure against the pillagers and privatizers. We can hire experts where expertise is needed, and government can once more recruit from Harvard and Stanford, not merely from Pat Robertson and Oral Roberts.

The next election will be rough. But time is now a friend to progress: Ohio, Virginia, New Mexico, Arizona, and — yes — even Florida grow bluer every year, while the New England bastion of Republicanism is and will remain a distant memory. For decades, whenever we need to remind voters of corruption and incompetence, we need only speak of Bush.

A thinh is about to happen that has not happened since the Elder days: the Progressives are about to wake up and find that they are strong. Happy days are here again, though much hard work remains; I'm still half expecting the phone call that says, “We need you in Akron; the buses leave from Boston Common tomorrow night.” Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

We have nothing to fear but fear itself.

A new collaborative hypertext novel: Little Apocalypse by Paul Carrington, Cassie Smyth, abd Tim Wiley.

I've been curious lately about the famous literary breakfasts that Monckton Milnes (and others) served in Victorian London. At an antiquarian book fair in New Hampshire, I was thumbing through Mary Foote Henderson’s Practical Cooking and Dinner Giving (1876), which recalls Macaulay saying:

"Dinner parties are mere formalities; but you invite a man to breakfast because you want to see him."

Victorian company meals, of course, seem huge to us; Henderson’s breakfast menus have six or even seven courses. Here's her Early Spring Breakfast:

  1. An Havana orange for each person, dressed on a fork
  2. Boiled shad, Maître d'hôtel; Saratoga potatoes. Tea or coffee.
  3. Lamb-chops, tomato sauce. Chateau Yquem.
  4. Omelet with green pease, or garnished with parsley and thin diamonds of ham, or with shrimps, etc., etc.
  5. Fillets of beef, garnished with water-cresses and little round radishes; muffins.
  6. Rice pancakes, with maple sirup.

This is an intense and a luxurious brunch, but perhaps it’s not beyond endurance. Not a quick bite before rushing off to work, surely, but perhaps this would work for a long, comfortable talk. It would be tricky, of course, but nowadays we can eat in the kitchen if we want. Reading this now, I think, “I could do that.” I’m not sure lamb chops and beef tenderloin really belong on the same menu, and I think I’d translate the muffins to popovers.

But, more seriously folks: sauternes with lamb chops? Seriously? It seems strange, but as I think about it.... (If you have insights here, please Email me. )

From the Republican proposal for solving the market meltdown:

Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

In short, the proposal overturns the rule of law; the Secretary of the Treasury (who serves at the pleasure of the monarch president) can do what he thinks best, and nobody can do anything about it. Now, or ever.

The Secretary could hire and fire whoever he wants — and break whatever laws get in the way — with impunity. No bid contracts? Insider deals for cronies? Sweetheart deals for friends and family? Write himself a really big check? Send money to Republican campaigns? It's all fine.

What can they be thinking? (My guess: they hope that Congress will balk at writing a trillion dollar blank check, and that then McCain can blame the Democrats for the whole debacle. Good luck with that, guys.)

This truly is extremism, though not in the defense of liberty.

A superb and authoritative essay by Tim Bray on Unicode, its various encodings, and how to work with it, sensible and pragmatic.

by Robert Wilson

A fascinating double-feature with Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (which is to say, with the greatest spy story ever), this fine novel begins in WWII Lisbon with a young and totally inexperienced British math student pressed into service as a novice field operative. Her operation is blown within a week, but not before she falls hopelessly in love with a Nazi double-agent she hardly knows. The ramifications of this week-long affair echo down decades and across continents, all the way to Burgess and Philby and the fall of the Wall. Wilson’s great interest (and affection) for Portugal, where fascism made its last stand, informs a taut and clever book.

I seldom link to current stories in the NY Times. Everyone else covers today’s news; if you're interested, you likely hear about things elsewhere. But Joe Nocera’s summary of the Bush administration response to the market meltdown this week is something you must read.

These folks don’t believe in government. They couldn’t get food and water into New Orleans after Katrina. They couldn’t rebuild the city. They still can’t get the light switches to work in downtown Baghdad. The president, notoriously, can’t really speak plain English. Suddenly, they’re throwing around a trillion dollars in a plan to fix the markets.

Will it work? No one knows — because they haven't really figured out what they’re going to do. And they certainly haven’t told anyone.

Don’t read too much comfort into Friday’s rebound. Nobody understands what is happening, and nobody trusts, or should trust, the plan. Maybe, before every US household pitches in $20,000 to buy up derivatives of bad mortgages — not foreclosed homes, not even bad mortgages, mind you, but derivatives — we should be told what the deal is. Maybe we should read the fine print.

What do you want to be that Halliburton and Blackwater make out?