by Armistead Maupin

I bought the freshly-printed paperback at City Lights, a fitting place to buy this latest chapter in the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of our culture wars. Maupin has a dazzling gift for renewing narrative energy, an uncompromising warmth of spirit, and he resisted from the first hwat must have been an overwhelming temptation to make his queer characters more approachable by showing us some who are even queerer.

Mary Ann returns here, and it’s like she’s never left. The horrid Republican harridan of the middle years is gone, and she’s back in town, learning about Facebook and staying with Mouse. She’s not reading her daughter’s sex blog, which makes her blush, and that turns out to be a big mistake.

Dec 11 29 2011



Right now there’s a big Tinderbox sale for students, educators, and non-profits. 

And there’s another Tinderbox sale for Scrivener fans

And Tinderbox users can save 30% when they buy Scrivener, too.

Happy New Year.

I dropped Netflix CDs this summer,. Someone broke into my house and is now watching my TV, and the new pricing made electronic-only Netflix look awfully attractive.

What I really miss is my old Netflix queue — the list of 100-odd movies I wanted to watch. I really should have captured it; I never realized it would vanish.

Another thing I miss is a way to bookmark movies that aren’t currently available for instant viewing. For instance, I’d like to see Moneyball eventually. And the new Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: I might not get to a theater, but I’d like to see it.

There’s got to be a way to remember these things. Tinderbox?

I’ve written before about the dearth of insightful writing about American football, especially of writing for serious-minded casual fans. Football has never had a Roger Angell, it seems. This seems odd, because football is a very complex and cerebral sport, and pro football requires more explanation than baseball because:

  • Pro baseball is a lot like schoolyard baseball; the second baseman on your grade-school pickup team does pretty much what any second baseman does, just not so well. Pro football is not much like big-time college football, much less the games you played with a football in school.
  • On any given baseball play, only a handful of players — often only the pitcher and the batter — affect the outcome. In many football plays, an error on the part of any pf eighteen or twenty players may transform the outcome. There’s a lot going on at once.
  • Deception plays a very small role in baseball. It”s the essence of football.

It seems to me that most pro football teams are espouse a theory – a long-range plan of what they are trying to do. Serious followers know this in detail, and attribute the ideas to personality. Casual fans miss it entirely. I feel that I’m gradually getting the idea.

I can’t understand why this isn’t written down everywhere and widely discussed before each game.

Here are some current theories, as I understand them. Corrections and additions welcome. Email me..

Patriots theory: Rule changes introduced after the Pats’ 2005 Super Bowl have made pass defense impractical. We won’t invest another penny in pass defense; instead, we’ll put everything into the offensive side of the game. Lately, they haven't even been employing a full slate of defensive players, reusing spare wide receivers to fill defensive holes. On offense, the latest variant involves doing lots of weird things with tight ends.

Secondary theory: there are no sure-thing players. Stockpile second-round draft picks.

Jets theory: Our road to a championship necessarily runs through the Patriots. The Patriots have a great quarterback, so we need great defensive backs. The Patriots cultivate quiet dignity to compensate for shady past; we’ll make noise.

Ravens theory: Most teams consider defense superfluous. We’ll build around a superior defense and hope for the best.

Bears theory: Prior to 2009, the Bears were running a 40-year experiment on the proposition that quarterbacks were far less important than everyone else thought. Surrounding adequate quarterbacks with a superior cast sometimes worked well, but usually didn’t.

In 2009, the Bears shrugged and traded the farm for a good quarterback. Since then, their distinctive theory has been the conjecture that special teams matter.

Vikings theory: The Vikings have long thought that they were just one terrific player away from winning everything. Minnesota is always grabbing end-of-career superstars, hoping to catch fire. They have come surprisingly close, suggesting the theory might work better in football than it does in baseball, where it has been thoroughly discredited. A side-effect has been neglect of role players, making their special teams the opposite of the Bears’.

Broncos theory: A series of unpredictable mishaps left the Broncos with a college-caliber quarterback they didn’t particularly want. Instead of wasting time, the Broncos installed a college-style offense that fits their college-style quarterback. Most teams who have looked at this concept have resisted, fearing their quarterback would get hurt, but the Broncos were willing to accept that risk since they didn’t really want this quarterback anyway.

A corollary is that, while it can be hard to teach the pro game to college-level players, almost every pro player used to play in a college offense. Besides, they’re pros, and they’re good at learning crazy new stuff.

Raiders theory: Long term: penalties don’t matter. Finesse doesn’t matter. All those things everyone says are important? They don’t matter. Long passes matter, line play matters, chemistry matters.

Short term: “Hey, look! We’re contenders! How did that happen?” Not expecting to win anytime soon, the Raiders see an incredibly-brief window of opportunity and mortgage their coming years for one shot at the prize. Flags fly forever.

Colts theory: The best play to run is the play the defense can’t cover. Other teams try to guess what the opposing defense might do; the Colts come out, look it over, and then decide what to try.

Eagles theory: Michael Vick is a unique talent. Now, can we figure out how to use him in a football game, before he’s too old and fragile to play?

Some teams, I think, have no theory. They wander aimlessly from season to season. Buffalo, it seems to me, is like that. At the other end of the scale we have the Giants and the Saints.

Some teams are changing their theories on the fly. Offhand, I think these include San Francisco, Pittsburgh, and Carolina. It can be hard to distinguish a change of theory from luck-driven aberration.

Teams that seem to have theories, but I can’t figure out what they might be: San Diego, Dallas, Green Bay, KC, Washington.

Dec 11 27 2011

The Bug

Since it came up in Twitter discussion and isn’t very accessible right now – working on that – here’s my review of Ellen Ullman’s The Bug from Tekka issue 3.

Set in the 1980s, The Bug is an account of the middle and late stages of a major commercial software development effort. As always, the software has bugs large and small; UI-1017, an intermittent crash discovered by the narrator, grows and grows until it threatens the entire project. Venture capitalists get involved (and of course that's a big help), managers get fired, the pressure mounts, and star programmer Ethan Levin is gradually driven mad.

Madness is what he deserves, it seems. Ullman carefully and gratuitously strips him of any sympathetic or attractive trait. He's smart and capable, of course -- otherwise he couldn't be the star programmer -- but he's never allowed to be smart or capable on stage. Instead, he's made unattractive, uncommunicative, and given odious personal habits. When Ullman wants to show he's depressed, she makes him drink cheap bourbon from the bottle. Why not single-malt whisky? Why not good wine? Why not cocaine? This was the apex of pop cocaine, Ethan has to be making a lot of money, he's living alone, he has nothing else to spend it on.

Ullman takes great care to make the mystery plausible and to get the computing details right. She succeeds: there are no howlers, the problem is plausible, the fallout is right. By the midpoint of the book I was fairly sure I knew where the source of the bug had to lie. It turned out I was right, but that's not the book's fault; I do this every day. On the technical side, Ullman plays fair and handles her material well.

But when it comes to her characters, Ullman is brutal. The narrator, a failed PhD linguist who, we are told, will grow to become a wealthy, world-travelling QA consultant, is drawn with a modicum of sympathy. One minor character, the sexy German night sysadmin, is described with imagination and some flair -- but, since she has nothing much to do, she hardly helps. The developers are all physically unattractive, uncommunicative, and irresponsible. The programmers aren't very nice to the testers: naturally, they cannot end well.

Ethan's faults and limitations are pasted on; the story would unfold in much the same way if you replaced Ethan with Sam Spade. Ullman's hero quite possibly has Asperger's Syndrome. His colleagues and managers don't know this -- it's the 80s and Asperger's didn't make it into the DSM until 1994. But the better angels of their nature should have known better, even then, and Ullman surely should know better now. Writing with sympathy about mental affliction is commendable, but punishing characters because they suffer from torments which you have contrived to inflict upon them seems merely mean.

Dec 11 26 2011


John Gruber is already nostalgic for the present:

A decade or so from now, when, say, I’m waiting for my son to come home from college for his winter break, and, when he does, he wants to spend his time going out with his friends — how much will I be willing to pay then to be able to go back in time, for one day, to now, when he’s eight years old, he wants to go to movies and play games and build Lego kits with me, and he believes in magic?

How much then, for one day with what my family has right now? How much? Everything.

But, you know, John: when he does come home from college, he’ll probably be willing to take some time away from his friends to tell you about the cool new stuff he has on his Android, and you’ll show him the cooler stuff you have on your iPhone 15.


Via Michael Druzinsky: wonderful street art.

Via Rose Fox: what happens when an octopus borrows an iPhone and drunk texts his friends the squid and the crab.

So can yuo go on gamefaqs and look up how to open a jar with crab in it?

I got the last one but I'm kinda stuck on this on.

Brent Simmons argues that people who believe in gamification really think consumers are child-like.

I wasn’t planning to have a dinner, but the store had fresh brined turkeys at an unusual price. It seemed like tasty fun.

  • Non-violent violet gin jellies that glow in the dark
  • Apple-rosemary-cinnamon caviar (stand back! I’m going to use… Science!)
  • Winter-grilled turkey (playing with matches)
  • Root Mus (root for the moose?)
  • Caramelized onion focaccia cracker (play dough)
  • Spinach Salad
  • Fruit crumble with whipped cream
Christmas Eve and the Play’s The Thing

The gin and tonic jellies are based on Bompas and Parr’s Jelly Mongers , which I was given and in which I have taken unnatural delight. It turns out that it’s true: real jellies are a lot more delicate and more attractive than Jell-O. It turns out that you can have a surprising amount of gin in a gin and tonic jelly. I added some creme de violette because everyone loves an Aviation, and it sure is pretty. (I used Fever Tree tonic water, which is extravagant but is not too sweet.)

I bought my premium sheet gelatin from The Modernist Pantry, and picked up a spherification kit while I was at it. I thought I'd start out with rosemary-infused apple caviar, even though Cathy Marshall insisted that this would not work without an applefish. The results were tasty but more tubular or tuberous than spherical; I suppose my alginate suspension was too viscous.

What happens when you make an onion focaccia, and forget it's in the oven? Caramelized onion focaccia crackers! Actually edible, or nearly so.

by A. S. Byatt

Dolly keeps a secret

Safer than a Friend

Dolly's silent sympathy

Lasts without end.

I was reading Armistead Maupin’s new Tale of the City, Mary Ann In Autumn and for some reason recalled these wonderful lines of Byatt’s invented fairy poetess, Christabel LaMotte. This delightful book imagines the lives of two invented Victorians, writes their work, and imagines the scholarship that has sprung up around them. In my earlier readings, I had not realized how sharply drawn the modern academics are, or how scathing; every entrance of Byatt’s prototypical Young American Academic, Dr. Leonora Stern, makes me cringe over memories of my own blunders. Even the invented poetry is wonderful: that silent sympathy sells the whole thing.

I like things clean about me

Starched and gophered frill

What is done exactly

Cannot be done ill.

Dec 11 23 2011

Ship Breaker

by Paolo Bacigalupi

A plotful, well-drawn YA novel about a dystopian near future, one in which the Louisiana coast has become Bangalore, where salvage is big business and the distance between normal people and “swanks” is unbridgeable.

by Michael Holley

This is a study of New England Patriots Bill Belichick and two former assistants, Scott Pioli and Thomas Dimitroff, and their approach to drafting new players and to designing professional football teams. Holley’s lively book is accessible to casual fans, but these are unlikely to be interested in the topic. Holley offers some choice insider gossip, but those who really care about this gossip will now have read the best quotes in newspapers and magazines. What is missing here, really, is a clear analysis of team construction and of its interaction with game and in-season management.

Alan Jacobs (The Pleasures of Reading In An Age Of Distraction ) has written an intriguing essay on Christianity and the Future of the Book. On Twitter, I called it a Jeremaid, and this led to a classic (and richly deserved) Woody Allen scene, a new media moment into which I walked with both eyes wide shut.

There is a lot that is right in this essay – the section on PowerPoint in church is wonderful – but some details are perhaps less right. These stem from what Jay Bolter terms “naïve American technological determinism,” a faith to which I sometimes admit but which I would not expect Jacobs to share.

This point could be illustrated in any number of ways, but with particular force in tracing the long entanglement of Christianity and the distinctive form of the book called the codex. In this history one can discern many ways in which forms of religious life shape, and in turn are shaped by, their key technologies. And as technologies change, those forms of life change too, whether their participants wish to or not.

This posits the readers (and the communicants) as passive beneficiaries or helpless victims adrift in a sea of technological forces they cannot master. This might be true. Many people think it is true, that people are sheep, fundamentally lazy and easily swayed.

My sense of the history of reading suggests that this is a fantasy, that people are not really like this. Real people work hard to make sense of what they read. They overcome obstacles and endure discomforts in order to do so. You and I did. (OK, perhaps your students don’t. Nor did Aristotle’s. We are not now that strength which in old days. I shall return to this before the end.)

It is true that the codex fit nicely with early Christian agendas and anxieties. Jacobs breaks these down in four useful categories: economy, portability, integrity, and sequentiality. The argument for sequentiality is important but it is also a bit forced – scrolls and codex books are sequential in different ways. Codex books also facilitated random access: you could look stuff up, and you could build all sorts of apparatus to facilitate catalogs and cross-references. Some of the early arguments about canonical sequence arose only because the codex imposed sequence on things that were not naturally or intrinsically sequential. Implicit here – perhaps too implicit – is the suitability of the codex for preserving a small number of vital texts through the terrible upheavals that accompanied the Christian demolition of classical learning.

Jacobs joins many commentators in assuming that Christianity was central to the spread of the codex. This might be true, but the evidence is not entirely clear. Lots of early Christian manuscripts are codices, and many of our surviving early non-Christian manuscripts are not. But we have a tremendous selection bias at work here: for many centuries, books and scrolls survived because librarians and archivists thought them relevant to Christianity. (The great Moslem libraries had other agendas, but if they ever had many second century manuscripts, those were lost long ago.) We know almost nothing about the form of Mithraic texts, or of Isis beyond anomalous Egypt, or of Magna Mater or Cybele. As far as I know – and I might be mistaken here – we know nearly nothing about the format of arts and science texts in the West before the 4th century.

The Empire was the great administrative triumph of antique civilization, but our knowledge of its administrative texts depends on stone and bronze monuments, late transcriptions and digests, a box of letters from a military outpost at Vindolanda, and on cryptic documents like the Notitita Dignitarum and the Peutinger Table which are filled with information if only we had a clue who wrote it down, what it was supposed to accomplish, and whether their author knew what he was talking about.

So, yes: the Christians may have led the way. But suppose the innovation started in the Army, or in the the supply of paper, or in reformed business practice, or among the Palatine slaves, and then that innovation spread to everyone else – Christians included. The evidence that survived a millenium of monks might look pretty much as it does.

But this is a side issue, interesting but not important, and one where I know very little. The final sentences of the essay accidentally evoke unpleasant echoes:

But even those who do not care for Christianity should remember that Christians tend to be a proselytizing people....When the evangelists come to our doors, may they come bearing iPads and Kindles.

Reading this, I find myself thinking, “Well, better iPads and Kindles than pitchforks and torches, like last time.” I admit this is uncharitable.

Where I think Jacobs chiefly strays is a bit earlier his conclusion:

This does not mean that the decline of the paper codex, if indeed it is coming, is insignificant. A digitized book will certainly lose some of the features that make the paper codex intellectually powerful, and the aesthetic experience of reading e-texts — which is important — is far inferior to that of reading many codices. (Even when the aesthetics are improved, as they surely will be, that development may not proceed in directions bibliophiles find very appealing.) So there is every reason for those of us who love paper codices to defend them; but we will do this more effectively if we understand what truly is distinctive to them, more specifically the contrast between “books” and “screens.”

There is much here that I think is wrong, and very little that follows from the rest of Jacobs’ argument. This is not argument at all, but faith – or, better, temperament.

A digitized book will certainly lose some of the features that make the paper codex intellectually powerful.

Why is this certain? The pen in my pocket is much better than the pen my father carried to war in the Philippines, and that pen was a marvel compared to the quill his grandfather, a learned man, must have used in the Pale. My dinner tonight will be better than theirs. My car, bad as it is, is better than my great-grandather’s horse, if that learned man could have afforded to keep a horse.

If the electronic book lacks some features that make the codex intellectually powerful, we can (and must) add those features to the electronic book.

The reflexive assumption that new books will be worse, that bibliophiles won’t find them appealing, that their aesthetic experience must be worse, is neither reasoned nor reasonable. It does not stem from the history of the book, of reading, of technology. My uncle Mike (who read widely and loved a well made book) would have had a ready explanation in the Christian interpretation of the Fall, Man’s corruption, and vanity.

We are not sheep. If our books are not as good as they can be, we can make them better. If we know how to make them better, and we want to make them better, why would we not?

And Who is going to stop us?

Update: Jacobs replies.

Dave Winer calls for better tech criticism.

by Claudia Roden

Did you know about Moroccan Hanukkah donuts? Neither did I.

They're called svenj.

And fortunately Claudia Roden knows all about them, and tells. What’s more, they’re incredibly easy, probably the easiest and most forgiving dough I’ve met. They’re made with orange juice (good for you!), you can add some whole wheat flour to the dough without catastrophe (health food donuts!).

This is an interesting cookbook because, while it’s about Jewish food, Roden is from Egypt and she doesn’t have a great deal of interest in Ashkenaz cooking, which after all is what most people I know think about when someone says as “Jewish food.” These recipes derive mostly from North Africa but some come from really far afield, like the Bene Israel cuisine of India.

The recipes tend to be simple and straightforward, with few tricky techniques or really exotic ingredients. This is, I think, the cooking of grandmothers in nice modern apartments who are making do with what the new world provides. But then, their grandmothers were making do, too; the spirit of the thing isn’t that different, and great grandmother probably complained that food today wasn’t nearly as good as it was in her youth. I wish there were more charcuterie and preserved foods; I learned to make pastrami from Ruhlman and that’s always a hit. But there’s plenty to try here in any case, and it’s interesting food even if you aren’t part of the tribe.

Dec 11 15 2011


A happened to glance at Twitter at just the right moment and saw that Next had released the last batch of tickets to its Childhood menu. And, as it happens, I'm going to Chicago to visit Mom shortly, since Linda has a history conference there.

And there was one table left during our trip.

So, looks like you can go home again – it’s just kind of expensive.


Presenting With Tinderbox

In most of my presentations for Tinderbox Weekend, I nested “slides” inside a container in the previous slide. Here, you’ll notice that the “title” block is actually a container, so I can simply select it and zoom into its interior map.

In this slide, I’m making lots of use of a feature from the upcoming Tinderbox release 5.X – subtitles. Notes can now display a title, a subtitle, and text as well, giving you a lot of new flexibility for presentations and dashboards.

The point here applies to (and implicitly criticizes) this presentation: your notes ought to be rich in dense information. Here, I’m suppressing lots of information we might have – examples, implementation details, insights into what’s coming next – in the interest of visual simplicity.

It’s not the way I usually want to work, but it’s a common technique. In the high-stakes world of volunteer Web conferences, it seems, getting this wrong can result in turmoil and tears.

For the recent Tinderbox Weekend, I did all my talks in Tinderbox. This was a bit of a stunt, because most of the time I rely heavily on visuals and tend to give Keynote a workout.

It went surprisingly well. Here, for example, is the “slide” for the agenda. It’s a Tinderbox map view – and it’s actually the map view I used earlier in the week to make sure all the segments fit into the program.

Tinderbox As A Presentation Tool

We’re having another Tinderbox Weekend in Boston, February 4-5. I think we’re already close to sold out. Please register soon.

We'd like to plan a Tinderbox Weekend in Western Europe, perhaps Paris or Amsterdam, next Spring. Other cities are possible, too. We’ve been talking about getting a Tinderbox event set up in Australia or New Zealand for ages: high time. Have a suggestion for a venue? Want to help? Email me.

Txchnologist writer Matthew van Dusen interviews Anne Mangen. He asks “How Will E-Reading Change Us?“ But of course we aren’t asking about us, we’re wringing our hands over how e-reading will change Kids Today, tomorrow.

Discussing the "touch and feel" aspects of reading – the “tangible materiality” of print:

Txch: Is it more important for a beginning reader to have haptic experience than a mature adult?

AM: An interesting and intriguing question; but I do not know the answer. It is, however, well known that haptic exploration is of paramount importance to the cognitive and emotional development of infants and children.

This explains why so much contemporary literature stems from Pat The Bunny .

Gedanken experiment: imagine something that does not exist but that you would really, really like to read. Go wild. Knuth’s volume 4. Harry Potter, volume 8. Sappho’s Sixteen Sexy Sonnets. Jane Austen’s lost sequel to Pride and Prejudice. The second volume of sonnets that Shakespeare dedicated my "My Kit".

Now, suppose I can give you a copy. But it’s a really, really bad copy. It’s beat up. The cover is torn. The binding is defective. Someone has scribbled on the margins. Someone else has highlighted, badly. Entire pages have been erased so you can barely read the script . Someone dropped it in the bathtub and it's still a little soggy.

Are you going to shrug and say, “Oh well, never mind. I think I’ll look at Sports Illustrated instead?” Is that going to make any difference to you?

So, how much difference will it make if you read it on an iPad or a Kindle or a stack of 8x10 color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one?

This entire discussion of ebooks occurs at the margins, the small change of literary experience. Terence, this is stupid stuff.

Dec 11 9 2011

Ideas and Media

Over at HtLit, Stacey Mason discussed an Alan Bigelow interview. Bigelow reminds us that no idea can only be conveyed through an electronic medium.

Is this a sensible question? What idea can only be conveyed, for example, through opera? If there’s an idea in Brancusi’s “Bird In Space” then, yes, it’s probably specific to sculpture and you can’t really convey it through another medium. But is the thing that the Bird In Space expresses an idea, precisely?

Don Giovanni is a swell show and there’s nothing like it, but there are plenty of other ways to talk about its ideas. Same thing for The Odyssey, or “All Along The Watchtower,” or “Impression,” or PV=nRT. Indeed, the set of ideas that really do seem to be limited to a medium are precisely those we can’t discuss here! Things we can only convey in one medium are things we can’t talk about, since things we can talk about can surely be conveyed in prose, poetry, song, or drama.

But are things of which we cannot speak “ideas”?

In the New York Times, Ted Nelson – the guy who invented hypertext – weighs in on the future of computing.

I confidently predict more of the same, but much more so — louder and more intrusive, with more interruptions, more security threats, more monopolies and, of course, worse interfaces.

The Web will get even more chaotic, with new forms of annoyance, temptation and danger. There will be more and more software settings nobody can get right, and the phone support people in India who talk you through the menus will be taught new slang to make your hours with them seem more comfortable.

It’s not perfect, but Football Outsiders has some nifty writing. Here’s a snipped from a game blog for this week’s game between the Eagles and the Seahawks:

[David Hawthorne] moves out to cover McCoy, and they both realize McCoy is covered and stop running, nearly coming to a standstill. Hawthorne, convinced his job on this play is completed and the pass is absolutely not headed his way, gives a bored look into the backfield to see if anything more exciting is going in that part of the world. And there, lo and behold, is the ball, in midair, headed his way. I half-expected him to duck out of the way, the pass caught him so off-guard.

Adam Gopnik on contemporary fantasy for The New Yorker. He’s looking at the popular blockbusters like Twilight and Eragon, and he’s certainly no fan, but his insights into Tolkien are sound and sympathetic.

Chocolate and Danger

An old friend was coming to dinner after a nasty bicycle accident and surgery. She doesn’t eat meat or cheese. It’s too late in the year for really great vegetables.

  • Red Alert! red pepper and sumac soup with lemon yogurt, onion focaccia with cranberry ginger chutney
  • White on white.Celery root remoulade, with small chunks of home-smoked haddock.
  • We’re really in hot soup now! Homemade pumpkin ravioli in fennel broth, garnished with strange mushrooms
  • Foods that even Julia Child cannot pronounce right/From cookbooks that time has forgot. Coulibac of salmon with mushroom duxelles and quinoa, with baby brussels sprouts, balsamic peppers, and cilantro aioli
  • Salad.
  • Will Robinson Apple crisp
  • You’re a brick! Chocolate pavé
  • Where there’s smoke… Smoked pistachio brittle
  • Fire! Clotilde’s fiery chocolate biscuits

The real danger is that we’ve only got two substantial courses – the ravioli and the coulibac – and both are going to be high-wire acts: I’ve never done them before, they require assembly, and both are prone to spectacular failure at the last moment.

Would the coulibac turn into mush or crumble to bits? Would the ravioli disintegrate? And what about Naomi?

Oh dear.

The coulibac is something I’ve thought about for eons. It was in Julia Child’s Cooking for Company , which I got in graduate school and which is a silly book from which to learn to cook. Someone really should have told me to get The Art Of French Cooking or to get something sensible. But there it is, and plenty of people on the net will lend a hand with updates and suggestions.

You’ve seen the dish in Julie & Julia, but for some reason (oh woe!) I can’t find Julie Powell’s old blog anywhere and so can’t like to her triumphal version.

The idea is to bake a fish in a bread crust. It’s a Russian dish by way of Escoffier, which explains the whimsical name and the extravagant concept, not to mention the idea of making a pastry that looks like a funny fish and that has a fish inside it.

Here’s what you do:

  • Make a big batch of brioche the night before, so the dough can ferment in the refrigerator and then rise all morning. The dough can enjoy this leisurely rise, since it is resting luxuriously in your two best mixing bowls, which leaves the focaccia to rise in your inferior mixing bowl and the rest of the meal to be prepped in castoffs, strays, storage containers, and other concave things.
  • Make two pounds of mushroom duxelles. This is not really enough.
  • Make a cup of quinoa, which you toast before cooking. Nobody said whether you wanted a cup before or after it was cooked, but 1c uncooked quinoa was really more than I needed. Otherwise, the inadequate mushroom duxelles might be lost entirely.
  • Season and sear the fish very quickly, so it doesn’t cook but colors well.
  • Make a very big crepe. Julia wants one the size of a jelly roll pan, but I settled for one the size of the griddle. Nobody really explains why the crepe is there or what it’s for. It’s Escoffier.
  • Not long before dinner, you roll out the dough in two flat sheets. You can’t do this too far in advance or the dough won’t be right. You cut the dough into fish shapes. On the bottom, you layer the crepe, the mushrooms, the quinoa, and the fish. You fold the crepe over to make a fun little envelope.
  • Then you lower the top crust, seal, and trim it. And use the trimmings to sculpt cute fish details. And you are supposed to carve little scales into the crust. This reminds you that should have been paying attention in 3rd grade, which is probably the last time anyone told you to make a sculpture of a fish.
  • Bake and serve at once, leaving everyone hungry if something goes wrong.

It was actually pretty good, and now I understand where it’s headed. Julia adds an odd mixture of fish (I was going to use smoked haddock) and paté de choux, and now I think that would work well. Note to future: season the interior aggressively. I think it would be better if it were served, as originally intended, with lots of Hollandaise. But Hollandaise is pretty in-your-face with egg and butter. Since Ruhlman says a Hollandaise can smell fear, discretion and aioli seemed the better part of valor.

The chocolate pavé from Alice Waters’s Simple Food is not really all that simple, but it’s very good. A smidgeon of smoked pistachio brittle gives you a changeup and another crack at the fire. And if anyone thinks it a trifle rich, they can top it with one of Clotilde’s biscuits trés chocoloates with Valrohna chocolate, cocoa powder, cocoa nibs, and a nice dollop of fiery anchos for a kick

Some years ago I wrote ten tips for weblog writers for A List Apart. It turned out to be one of their most popular articles, it's been translated a bunch, and it’s even found its way into a high school writing textbook.

  1. Write for a reason
  2. Write often
  3. Write tight
  4. Make good friends
  5. Choose good enemies
  6. Let the story unfold
  7. Stand up, speak out
  8. Be sexy
  9. Use your archives
  10. Relax

Dan Frommer has just written his own excellent ten steps to better blogging.

  1. Above all else, factual accuracy and attention to detail.
  2. Write the site that you want to read.
  3. Be more skeptical.
  4. Attribute well.
  5. Add context.
  6. Be critical, but don’t be unfair.
  7. Care about your writing.
  8. Care about your design.
  9. Don’t be the 10th person to write the same thing.
  10. Try new things.

These are all excellent. Why are the lists so different? Ten years ago, I thought fairness and honesty went without saying, that they were too obvious to belabor. Gawker and TechCrunch and the right-wing noise machine have changed all that.