No doubt, Roger Ebert is spending the day writing about the late Studs Terkel, who will be missed. Studs changed writing. He changed our vision of America. Next Tuesday will owe much to him.

But today, we can enjoy Ebert’s brilliant, hilarious lesson in cooking and criticism: the pot and how to use it. Ebert doesn’t merely discuss the Zojirushi rice cooker ("the pot"). He doesn't simply give recipes. He doesn’t tell you how wonderful the food tastes, because he’s left all that behind now: “I am not a French gourmet. I am a practical cook. An American, Urbana born, and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make a cookbook in my own way....To be sure, health problems now prevent me from eating. That has not discouraged my cooking. Now cooking is an exercise more pure, freed of biological compulsion.”

In the course of the essay, Ebert builds some wonderful characters, especially aunt Mary.

When she was in the kitchen, she was on automatic. She had two speeds: Cook, and Serve. She did not know how to measure salt. "Just throw in about enough, honey," she told me. I believe I have mentioned before her poetic wisdom about how to estimate the number of potatoes sufficient for a meal.

One potato

For every member of the family.

One potato for the pot.

And one last tater, honey,

For fear of company.

There’s a wonderfully gruff voice that runs through this. It’s not just Ebert, who is always cheerful and optimistic. It’s more Studs, or Sidney Harris, or perhaps Damon Runyon.

Add the ingredients in a mixture in the reverse order of how long you think they'll take to cook. For example, dried beans first. Even let them sit in water and Warm for awhile. If you're in a hurry, throw them in and boil them. The hell with them.

by Patrick O'Brain

I was awake. It was three in the morning. Obama was far ahead, but I was worried. Tinderbox 4.5 was working well, but I was worried. My stretchtext research was making progress, but I was worried. I grabbed this off the shelf, one of O'Brian’s best, and sat down to see how O'Brian makes this book move, even though it defies a plot summary and has no climax.

This is one of O'Brian’s particular wonders: the Aubrey-Maturin books are clearly plot-driven, they're filled with memorable incident and tension and excitement, but somehow O'Brian avoids the dull, predictable build-up to the climactic combat scene that mars so many mysteries and thrillers. Throughout the book we have conflicts. We always have things we don’t know, and that worry us. We always have discomforts and annoyances, even when everything is smooth sailing; we always have interest and amiability, even in the midst of the gale. O’Brian lets these issues resolve themselves wherever their resolution naturally falls, and so the book seems to open in the midst of exciting action, and also concludes with Captain Aubrey cheerfully observing that, though everything has worked out splendidly, it’s all been a capital failure. But home will be charming, there is prize money to spend, and no doubt a fresh adventure awaits.

Many years ago, I read a wonderful excerpt in Harpers describing an ideal (but imaginary) vacation spot in the Mediterranean, where they have an ideal currency (convenient, colorful, with odd wildlife and local artistic dignitaries), ideal drinks, and so forth. Perhaps an excerpt from a longer work.

What am I thinking of? Email me..

(Extra credit: devise a good Google strategy for finding this)

Update: it wasn't Hav, after all.

I received angry email this morning from a distinguished emeritus professor who wrote to me a few days ago with a question. I answered him right away. He didn’t receive the reply. Now he thinks I’m a scoundrel and a bum.

The word has changed: you can’t rely on email anymore. One way to help everyone cope, though, is to go back to the old practice of including alternative contact information in your email signature. Add your phone number and mailing address to your email; it can’t hurt!

Five days more.

Put it in your appointment calendar. Add it to your iPhone. Make a note. Write it down. Next Tuesday: make history. You’ll want to remember this.

The long Civil War ends Tuesday night. As Andrew Sullivan pointed out, there should be a terrific party at the offices of that abolitionist blog of 1857, The Atlantic.

James Russell Lowell, we finally made it.

Where else should we celebrate? Grant Park, of course: I missed the great battle in 1968, but we all remember and the whole world was watching. Selma, of course. Pullman, and Homestead, and Lawrence (Bread and Roses). And, perhaps, Gettysburg.


Weblogs are conversations.

Right now, the Gapers Block Book Club in Chicago is reading Sin In The Second City. They link to lots of Web discussion of this book, from Freakonimician Steve Leavitt to the Chicago Daily Defender. All the quotes they extract obey Ebert's rule to respect the reader's time, avoiding silly assertions (“you’ll love this!”) for actual observation.

Leslie Orchard (who has written a number of computer books — including his own take on Javascript Frameworks) takes me to task for complaining about silliness in the books like Dupont’s Practical Prototype and

Even amongst computer scientists there’s still a tradition of leaving room for jelly stains and other oddities. This seems to be the sort of thing Mark acknowledges with dismay. (”It’s not fair to blame Mr. DuPont for the general vice.”)

Is playfulness in literature just a computer science thing? I’m not a chemist; maybe chemists just don’t like being funny in writing, or maybe their jokes are more subtle.

Stefan Tilkov, on the other hand, takes my side.

Leslie disagrees; I don't: I have had the same problem with many books, especially on the new and hip stuff such as Ruby and Rails. To me, too, Kernighan and Ritchie's C Programming Language is the perfect model for a book on a programming language, and most other technical topics, too. And I very much prefer The Ruby Programming Language to The Pickaxe for the same reason.

Orchard draws a distinction between web scientists (who pursue fundamentals) and web masons (who are busy with the next micro-site for their client). This sounds to me like the old distinction between researchers and practitioners. But I think professional practitioners today know (or should know) a bit of computer science — and part of that background is knowing a few computer languages and a bit about computer language theory. It makes sense to me that some books, at least, could allow for that kind of knowledge, the background that we’d expect from anyone who was a computer science major in the last decade or two.

Disclaimer: my last computer class was in 6th grade. I'm old enough that Swarthmore didn’t offer a computer science curriculum. It used to be common for researchers to migrate from other fields, to be pretty much self-taught: in the generation from von Neumann to van Dam, of course, you had no choice. I got in by the back door, so what do I know?

Oct 08 29 2008

Pepper Mill

Last New Year’s, I got mail from Tony Maws at Craigie Street Bistrot that mentioned, among other things, that Peugeot pepper mills were the right thing to use. I finally ordered this one. It's great.

Yes, it’s the same Peugeot. Turns out they were a pepper-mill company that got into a sideline of making automobiles.

In tough times, it’s nice to treat yourself to little tools. A decent pepper mill means that now I have mills for both white and black pepper — and that I'll stop underseasoning everything because the old mill was a bit of a bother. Another purchase: a $1.95 salt shaker means that now I have two salts: one for the table, one for the counter. One less excuse to forget to season things before you serve.

Roger Ebert blogs Roger’s little rule book, a brilliant list of rules for critics.

  1. Advise the readers well
  2. Provide a sense of the experience
  3. Keep track of your praise
  4. Do the math
  5. Respect the reader’s time
  6. Do not make challenges you cannot back up
  7. Respect the reader’s money
  8. Beware of verbal parallelism
  9. Trailers: have nothing to do with them
  10. Be wary of freebies
  11. Accept no favors
  12. No commercial endorsements
  13. Be prudent with free DVDs
  14. No advertisements
  15. Be prepared to give a negative review
  16. No posing for photos
  17. Sit down, shut up, and pay attention

Read the whole thing.

The final rule would make a fine tag line for the weblog.

Refresh my memory: who has written successful stretchtext fiction? Not a rhetorical question. Please Email me. Don't be shy.

Update: Polle Zellweger, Paula Newmann and Anne Mangen describe a stretchtext fiction in Hypertext 2002. (pdf: for some reason, ACM DL doesn't accept my SIGWEB membership so something might be fouled up at the server) Does anyone know whether Fluid Reader can still be found somewhere?

Tor Skjøskift made a stretchtext version of a Sherlock Holmes short story in both sound and video. It received an award from the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation. (In Norwegian).

This strikes me as surprisingly thin; surely there's more? Email me. Thanks to J. Nathan Mattias and Anders Fagerjord.

Good to see that Elinesca is blogging again, and that she has a great new job. (I thought one of the old jobs was OK, but good news is good.)

by Grant Achatz

You folks got together and, by clicking on Amazon links on this weblog, bought me this lovely book about Alinea , Grant Achatz’s Chicago restaurant that specializes in molecular gastronomy. It's fun to look at. It’s fun to imagine. Not the sort of things I'm likely to cook much, but plenty of ideas. (The book production is incredible; I'm astonished they can sell this retail at $30)

Last night I made a gratin with lots of roots from Maggy’s Farm — potatoes and turnips and celeriac, bathed in cream and topped with plenty of real parmesan. It went with a hanger steak and some sauteed brocolli and a bottle of The Stump Jump, and was followed by Apple Pie #2 of the season: Cortland apples this time, precooked with 3/4c sugar (which was too much) and cinnamon.

Part of cooking for the season this year is going to be cooking plenty of apple pies. Hooray for eating local.

Current headache: I've got lots of braises queued up. Duck legs and lamb shanks ready to go, and a hankering for a good pot roast. And maybe I'll try pork belly again? But finding time to get braises started with my 10-14 hour work day is rough, and with the economy crashing down around all of our ears it seems wrong, somehow, to knock off early in order to go cook. Got to get back to bringing work home, I suppose.

by Andrew Dupont

When chemists consult a volume about professional chemical technique, or when surgeons reach for the latest update on neuroanatomy, they can usually find a book that isn't couched in terms of silly examples and jokes. So can poets, mathematicians, and geologists. For some reason, though, it has become the accepted practice that language manuals should spend lots of time with silly, self-deprecating jokes, and that their example applications should be breakfast loggers and fantasy football leagues (or, conversely, payroll programs).

This is a fine book. Well written, solid, readable. It’s not fair to blame Mr. DuPont for the general vice.

But let's face it: Prototype is 4,000 lines of Javascript. We don't need to sugar coat it. Besides, these aren’t really libraries that your grandmother is going to need; the audience for this volume (series slogan: books for professionals by professionals®) is composed of motivated people who know something and who have been around the block once or twice.

So, a good book. But take out the jokes, trim back the sample code (or dispatch it to the Web site where it makes more sense), and give us to professional perspective, and everyone is going to be much happier. How does Prototype+Javascript relate to other languages — C++/STL, say, or SELF? What, precisely, are the semantics of the key methods? I don't need the inevitable chapter 1 pitch for the wonderfulness of Javascript and the badness of MSIE, but it might be a good place for a quick summary for the pros. Call by reference • no pointers • primitives are objects • everything has a prototype slot • parens() do this, braces {} do that, brackets [] do something else • single and double quotes are different. Kernighan & Ritchie did this so well in C, and it’s not like we’re not familiar with their example.

I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about ways to bring together more of the scattered energy around hypertext reading and writing. What do we need first: A wiki? A journal? A society? A dinner party?

by Michael Wex

We were visiting my aunt and uncle, who were renting a house on the Cape. It was breakfast; my aunt was making matzoh brei, as a special treat. My dad loved matzoh brei, which my mom wouldn’t make (because it's traditionally fried in schmaltz and Mom was a low-fat girl with a vengeance). So we were all sitting around, talking politics and eating just a little more matzoh brei, and a close friend of my cousin’s fiancée comes over because he wants some matzoh brei too. He’s a nice guy, a curator for an art museum, full of good stories. And he mentions this book, Born To Kvetch, whch naturally I note down in my iPhone so it can get into my Tinderbox projects file, and onto my reading stack. And now I’m reading it.

So far, it’s a terrific, fascinating book.

Jack Baty writes that

One of the amazing things about [Tinderbox's] development process is the way in which new features are added. At first glance new features can seem rather haphazardly tossed in, and yet after a few minutes of use everything tends to make complete sense. These little things sure do add up.

In the new release 4.5.3, he singles out the ability to use contextual menus to assign badges or prototypes to several notes at once. “I didn’t even know I wanted to do that,”, he says, “but there it is, and it’s useful.”

(I didn’t expect this to be useful, either. But it is. There you go.)

Oct 08 22 2008

Tinderbox 4.5.3

Tinderbox 4.5.3 is out. It's got lots of infrastructure improvements, lots of fit an finish. You should grab a copy.

Why should you upgrade, when the specific changes seems small? Small things sometimes lead to things that matter -- or that, at any rate, make your day a little better or your work a little faster.

Here's an example: a customer writes in to point out that date entry fouls up for one way of typing dates, for dates in March, in Finnish. Finnish! OK: maybe you don’t write much (or any) Finnish. OK: it’s only one style of date entry — you can use a different abbreviation. But fixing this also cleaned up some details in Tinderbox’s XML format, details that make it easier for other programs to read and write Tinderbox files. And that might help you down the road, if only because someone might write a widget you’ll need.

Here’s another one: the badge and prototype popup menus now operate on multiple selections. That gives you a new way to change a bunch of things at once. Not a big deal — you could always take a little longer and change things one at a time, or you could use Quickstamp to do a batch change, or you could write an agent. But it's handy, it saves a little time, it means you can do one interesting thing when you used to have to do several boring things.

There's more infrastructure here for Windows. And there's some armor-plating in the XML code to avoid parsing errors, which sometimes crept into Tinderbox files when certain other programs promised Tinderbox one kind of text but actually delivered another.

Special thanks in this release to: Loryn Jenkins, Mark Anderson, Michael Bywater, Allan Tsai, Ivan Petrovic, Maurice Frankel, Neal Perlmutter, Jack Baty, Larry Baldwin, and Tellef Kvifte — testers who came up with key evidence or crucial suggestions.

David Bosman writes an amusing account of Tinderbox in Compétence Mac: le plaisir d'appendre (in French).

Je l'ai donc supprimé du disque dur pour ne plus y penser jusqu'à avant-hier où j'ai passé la nuit entière à le découvrir pour de bon.Passant d'un ah! à un wow à chaque étape de ce qui s'est transformé en un étonnant voyage dans un logiciel unique en son genre.
Oct 08 21 2008


Gisela Williams, writing in the NY Times, visits Turin — site of next year’s Hypertext Conference — and finds that it’s no longer just the home of Fiat.

Turin, a northern Italian city along the Po River, has been transformed from a nondescript industrial city into a cosmopolitan center of artisanal food and modern design.

“Twenty years ago, Turin was still just a one-company town,” said Alessandro Bertin, a city spokesman. “But in the last few years, the city is being reinvented by young industrial design studios and high-end food.”

Funky design shops have opened up. Old factories have been converted into art galleries. And inventive trattorias are turning Turin into one of Italy’s emerging food capitals.

Submission deadline: 2 February 2009.

Markets might not be conversations, but weblogs certainly are.

Kate (k8mo), a femme en route, blogs Writing for the Living Web as a benchmark of her new blog. I’d said

If you don’t write for a few days, you are unfaithful to the readers who come to visit.

Looking back, I think I was harsh. But this was 2002, and we didn’t have RSS readers and aggregators. Lots of us still had dialup. Today, I think it’s OK to have an open relationship with your readers, to say, “I’m going to update once a day, or once a week, or every now and then.” Keeping your little promises remains a good thing. (Lately, I've been a political news junky and Andrew Sullivan has recaptured my attention by posting intelligently and copiously).

K8mo responds,

I should probably find readers before I worry about being faithful to them. Or does it work the other way around?

But of course she already has readers. There you go.

Meanwhile, I read a humdinger of a new novel — Jo Walton’s Half A Crown — and naturally I told you about it. It turns out that Jo Walton is one of you. Who knew? I wish I’d said more. I wish I’d gushed a little. (This happens all the time; I’ll write a note about someone’s work, and >poof< there they are, like Marshall McLuhan in Manhattan. I call this The Lesson Of The Small School: at Swarthmore, everyone learned quickly that you don’t say catty things about other students lightly, because they’re probably sitting right behind you in the dining hall.) Some days, the blogosphere is small.

by Gabriel Zaid

Of all the many things you might observe about books today, one fact stands out: There are a lot of books. We have more books than anyone can read. I myself own more books than I can read. We have far too many books for our stores. We can’t come close to reviewing every new book, or to reading all the books that get great reviews.

Gabriel Zaid argues that this state of affairs is actually a very good thing.

It costs millions of dollars to make a film or mount an opera, but you can write and publish a book for a few thousand dollars. Zaid shows how this economic fact promotes tremendous diversity in books, and maintains diversity even in the face of publishing and bookselling businesses that would much prefer books to behave like movies. You can publish a book — any book — successfully and profitably if you can find a few thousand readers to whom the book is worth about 6 hours of minimum-wage work. That’s why our book world is rich, diverse, and hopelessly fragmented.

Zaid also considered the reader’s dilemma: we have so many wonderful books from which to choose, and a lifetime of reading might only allow us to read a few thousand. (Zaid suggests a thousand, but that’s too low: even a compensated dyslexic like me can manage about 450 volumes in a seven years.)

Zaid is interested in ebooks and hypertext, and does his best to estimate their impact on reading, writing, and publishing. He’s mistaken: he thinks links are merely a supplement to indexes, and doesn’t see that they’re the first new punctuation in ages and will prove at least as important to writing as the comma. In thinking about new media, Zaid ties himself to the bibliolaters and book collectors, the people who worry about missing the smell of the ink. But it’s an honest error, without malice, and essentially harmless. The discussion of the excess of books, and why this is not a cause for despair or an incentive for mergers, is invaluable.

Oct 08 17 2008

Coover Links

Though we’ve been writing for the Web for ages — and some of us were reading and writing hypertext before the Web existed — there’s still a lot we don’t know.

Coover Links

Consider Coover Links — links in which the start of a sentence lies in one side of the link while the end of the sentence lies at the other. Coover links are named for Robert Coover, the author of a short hypertext “Heart Suit” (McSweeney’s 16, 2005) written entirely in this fashion.

Coover himself uses Coover links in a shuffled-deck hypertext — see its name was Penelope and Forward Anywhere for other shuffled decks. In node/link hypertexts, they seem most natural when moving from the end of one page to the start of another. Stretchtext hypertexts can embed Coover links at any point.

Coover links present lots of interesting questions that have not been explored much (or at all), either in art or criticism or theory. Some that spring to mind include:

  • How do Coover links interact with rules of grammar? For example, it's probably easier to write multiple destinations if the opening fragment is a prepositional phrase, as above, than if it contains a subject and verb.
  • Are Coover links difficult to translate into some languages? I imagine sensitivity to word order would make some Coover links extraordinarily difficult to translate from English to French, or from German to English. (But what fun you could have with German verbs!)
  • A writer, revising a hypertext story, decides to begin Q in mid-sentence. Two nodes, O and P, link to Q, and so she revises these nodes to end in mid-sentence (see above). But O and P link to other nodes besides Q, and now these need to be revised as well. But, not every node needs a Coover link just because Q has one. Use graph theory to characterize the set of hypertext nodes the author needs to revise.
  • Write a hypertext (or hypertext fragment) in which some nodes end with the first line of a couplet, and the destinations begin with the concluding line (or, perhaps, with the last three lines of an ABBA quatrain). Proceed, with variations.

This is by no means exhaustive. And while I think all these problems are things that an undergraduate could easily tackle — yes, I’m talking to you — these are all at the frontier of knowledge. And they could have real impact: how many thousands of web pages, from Twitter digests to the New York Times, end with clumsy "next" links? Can Coover links replace “there’s more…” in weblogs?

A paper on any of these topics would be well received at Hypertext 2009, coming next June 29-July 1st in Torino, Italy.

The market is collapsing, we’re all staring at a new Depression, and I’m talking about going to Europe now? Am I crazy? But, yes, this is what you should be thinking about now. We may all end up with fruit carts. But it’s a lot better to have a good cart on a good corner; conference publications and contacts are good for you.

Coover Links
Berenice Abbott, Hot Dog Stand, West St. and North Moore, Manhattan,1936. NYPL 1219152

by Henry Adams

The Boy was, I am sure, a ton of fun and a terrific companion when the grandfather John Quincy walked him to school. A few years later, The Boy became The Private Secretary and he helped save the Union no end of trouble, and his father no end of bother, in England during the War of the Rebellion. The Old Man can still see the Boy clearly, which is remarkable, and he is still seeking an Education. And he still knows what the Boy knew: he's no good at his math lessons.

This, it seems to me, is the tragedy of The Education; Adams was seeking a mathematical or physical model of psychology and, indeed, of history — and he is trying to do this without actually learning mathematics or physics. I don’t think this can be done, and I’m not sure it should be attempted. Adams, I think, intuitively sensed that there were good ideas in calculus and (perhaps) in linear algebra, and so he’s constantly looking for physical anthologies — manifestations of force, expressions of work (or energy, or momentum: it seems any will do pretty much interchangeably ) — in the affairs of men.

He was wrong, just as he was wrong when as a youth he mistook the real positions of Russell, Palmerston and Gladstone. He was always happy, it seems, to realize that he had got everything wrong and that he should need to start his education afresh. Perhaps not entirely happy; Adams does return often to the contrast of his 18th-century temperament and 20th-century circumstances. And, if he expected the end of history to occur around 1950, what is 39 years in the sweep of annals?

Most of all, Adams was likable, and that fine sociability survives in his prose.

The smoked-and-braised Deckel was good right away, and even better the next night. (I served it with greens — kale from the farm share, stewed with a slice of chopped bacon, an onion, a carrot, and then with 1/4c of creme fraiche added at the end — and with some boiled new potatoes.

But Greg Ibendahl points out the error in my ways:

I realize you are from the northeast and you Northerners make your brisket into weird things like pastrami ;) but the brisket is not an unpopular and throwaway cut. You just need to get to the South more to see how real cooking is done. In Texas, especially, brisket is BBQ. Here's how to cook it.  I have a similar brand smoker and it is just amazing for cooking things like brisket (a whole turkey is especially good). The key to cooking brisket though is to cook it to a much higher temperature than normal meat (190 degrees). Normally a temp this high would make a cut of meat really dry and tough as all the fat would be cooked away. With brisket though you have all this connective tissue that does not start to break down until 180 to 185 degrees. This connective tissue is what makes brisket so good. If you don't cook it to a high enough temp, the brisket will be tough and chewy. Cook it high enough and it just melts in your mouth. I've smoked 8 to 10 briskets and it is definitely a hard skill to master. I have to fight my normal urge to take the brisket out at a temperature that I normally would use for beef. If fact my best brisket resulted from a malfunctioning thermometer that had me keeping the meat in longer than I probably would have otherwise.

I didn’t mean that brisket was unpopular, but that this piece of the brisket — the point, rather than the flat — is much less popular. And it’s often sold “deckel off”. So, the grocer had a fairly challenging piece of meat to sell, and they made the sale not on price but rather on features.

On further reflection, my combination of smoking and braising has some real advantages. The hazard, when smoking on a grill, is that you go too far (and wind up with charred meat) or not far enough (and wind up with tough meat). The risk all comes toward the end. With the braise method, at the end your meat is sitting in a 350° oven bathed in tasty 190° broth -- because, with the lid off, your pot is only going to manage about 190°. So you can’t overcook the meat. You loose some crispness, but crispiness isn't really a virtue in brisket. And there's plenty of smokiness left to go around.

Savenor’s had a lesson on good marketing yesterday.

They had a two big hunks of brisket in the chiller. One had a hand-written label: “The Amazing Deckel!” It was ten bucks.

I had a nice chat with the butcher, asking “what is a deckel anyway?” I figured that we needed to eat something this week, after all. Why not?

So I brought it home. Seasoned it heavily all over. Put it on a low fire on the covered grill, with some hickory chunks, for a couple of hours. And then I braised it for an hour with some onions and carrots from our farm share, some rosemary and garlic paste, and a bottle of Amstel.

Seriously good! And, when you come right down to it, it only happened because of that little hand-written label, which was extolling a cut of meat that’s basically unpopular and hard to sell, but which also has some advantages.

There's an important marketing lesson here.

(There was another hand-written note it in the case, on a pork shoulder. “Local, farm-raised suckling pig.” I’m still far from confident with pork, but I’ll tell you how it turns out.)

Krugman blogs that “a funny thing happened to me this morning.”

(He received the Nobel Prize in Economics. Congrats!)

Jon Leavitt explores the iPhone outliner CarbonFin as an adjunct to Tinderbox.

We are facing a bad time. We are already in a recession — many of us have sensed for some time that times are not good, that governments are shading the statistics for their own purposes. But soon, clearly, a lot of programmers and designers are going to be on the street, and the street will not welcome them.

We all woke up one day to find ourselves living in the software factory. The floor is hard, from time to time it gets very cold at night, and they say the factory is going to close and move somewhere else.
The NeoVictorian In Tough Times
Photo:Lewis Wickes Hines, NYPL 91PH056.029

In the coming recession (or the second depression), even more programmers and designers will be told to work longer hours on worse projects and worse products, to cut more corners, to grind out more junk because that’s what the client wants — and if we lose this client, you (or all your coworkers) might be out there looking in. Even more scientists and scholars will be asked to share in the general privation along with the CEOs and investors.

The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges.

We have nothing to fear but fear itself. Harold Bloom today invokes Emerson:

The nonchalance of boys who are sure of a dinner, and would disdain as much as a lord to do or say aught to conciliate one, is the healthy attitude of human nature. A boy is in the parlour what the pit is in the playhouse; independent, irresponsible, looking out from his corner on such people and facts as pass by, he tries and sentences them on their merits, in the swift, summary way of boys, as good, bad, interesting, silly, eloquent, troublesome. He cumbers himself never about consequences, about interests: he gives an independent, genuine verdict. You must court him: he does not court you. But the man is, as it were, clapped into jail by his consciousness. (On Self Reliance)

We remember the last little market crash for shaking out the dotcom excess and ending the first weird years of Web exuberance. What we have too often forgotten is how some people picked themselves up the wreckage of the Web boom and created surprising new things and surprising new companies. These were the years when the netroots got started, when Rails happened. Everyone said "blogging is so 1999", but the first pro bloggers didn’t care about that.

We’re going to need self reliance. The government will be good — for the first time in many years — but the government will be busy. The VCs and the banks aren’t going to be paying attention to ideas — their prattle about cloud computing and Web 3.0 won’t be missed — and they won’t be paying attention to us.

But we’ll be here, and we’ll be paying attention, and we’re sure going to be reading a lot of Web pages and using a lot of new software. That’s the audience you want, and it’s all the audience you need.

You could spend the week polishing your resumé, or you could spend the week planning your book, sketching your next site, or designing your app. Improve your skills, practice your craft, learn, and teach.

It may be that we’re in for some rain. It’s not our fault, and it’s not our doing. Until the sun comes out, we can work indoors: write books, write software. Or we can go outside and get wet; that’s fine, too. We’re strong and young, the water will do us no harm, we can always find ourselves a dry towel and a hearth and we can be sure of dinner.

Update: Tim Bray on Getting Through Tough Times.

A difficult but very interesting review of Ozan Budau on the Theatricality of Sound in Hypertext Writing in Romanian Literature.

Eric Ripert (Le Bernadin) is doing a blog-series of video demos. The twist: everything has to be done in a toaster oven.

This is cool dorm food, and it's good. Last night I made the mustard-crusted salmon filet; I used haddock (which looked better at the market), though I did use my broiler. I've also done the mission figs wrapped in bacon, and roasted bananas with rosemary, and yes, for these I did use the toaster oven (which I basically use for toast, period). And they were good.

I mean, can’t you see going back to the dorm, opening the frig, and throwing together some quail eggs and smoked salmon on brioche toasts? Sure gives a different slant on ordering a pizza or a cheesesteak.

Thing is, dorms are the perfect place to go for quail eggs and smoked salmon. Especially if you're on meal plan; after stuffed ziti and salad bar, change is nice. It's impressive. It’s cheap (because you aren't doing this every day) and forgiving (because who knows what it's supposed to look like?) and it's good for sharing.

We’re probably going to have to tighten some belts all over the world, but there's always a place for whipping together some elegant little canapés for a light night snack with friends.

Roger Ebert skewers the new US postage stamp of Bette Davis, in which the artist has used a famous pose but removed the iconic cigarette.

The great Chicago photographer Victor Skrebneski took one of the most famous portraits of Davis. I showed him the stamp. His response: "I have been with Bette for years and I have never seen her without a cigarette! No cigarette! Who is this impostor?" I imagine Davis might not object to a portrait of her without a cigarette, because she posed for many. But to have a cigarette removed from one of her most famous poses! What she did to Joan Crawford in "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane" wouldn't even compare to what ever would have happened to the artist Michael Deas.

This launches a wonderful discussion of the cigarette in movies.

Two of the most wonderful props in film noir were cigarettes and hats. They added interest to a close up or a two-shot. "Casablanca" without cigarettes would seem to be standing around looking for something to do. These days men don't smoke and don't wear hats. When they lower their heads, their eyes aren't shaded. Cinematographers have lost invaluable compositional tools. The coil of smoke rising around the face of a beautiful women added allure and mystery. Remember Marlene Dietrich. She was smoking when she said, "It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily."

by Jo Walton

Jo Walton’s third book about an England that capitulated to Germany in 1940, this fascinating book is even better than Farthing and Ha'penny. It's 1960, and our time is divided between Jack Carmichael, the reluctant commander of the British Gestapo (and leader of the Underground), and his ward, Elvira Royston, who is preparing to be presented to the young Queen. This world is a wonderfully-refracted mirror of what came to pass, in which Londoners still go to work every day and are only mildly disturbed by the construction of concentration camps for British Jews but deplore modern pop music (It's a long way to Hitlerhavn!). Two atom bombs were dropped (on Moscow and Miami), and now the world is conclusively at peace. Society and class have retreated to the Edwardian era, Churchill is a forgotten back-bencher. But London is beginning to swing, there are gay pubs now, and in one of them we meet a Foreign Office man named Guy who is soldiering on, years after his masters in Moscow became radioactive dust.

by Chuck Thompson

Thompson, an old hand at the travel-writing racket and also a former travel editor, sets out to explain why travel writing is so bad. The answer, of course, is that the purpose of contemporary travel writing is simply to sell stuff, to provide a frame for advertisements and to reinforce their message. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again covered this territory with plenty of style and with, on the whole, more generosity of spirit, though without claiming to cover the whole of the travel and hospitality press.

A good deal of this book concerns sex tourism, either explicitly (in chaste stories of bargirls in Thailand and the Phillipines) or obliquely (in sneers about Americans in Mexican border towns, cruise-ship shore parties, and rural Japanese English-teaching, and in a range of metaphor inspired by Hunter Thompson). You’d think that our author simply disapproves of sex — at least when you're a tourist or a traveller — except that his list of travel tips asserts that the best way to learn a language is in bed. We’re left to wonder if the writer is a hypocrite, or his editor a prude, or whether he’s a sinner who has climbed upon the wagon. Since Thompson is otherwise intelligent and insightful on the economics of tourism — arguing, for example, that his own distaste for the Caribbean is rooted in his discomfort at the contrast of extreme luxury and poverty, and that this has the effect of punishing Caribbeans for being so poor that it makes him uncomfortable — his weird delicacy on sex tourism (which he talks about at length but about which he doesn’t like to think) is a missed opportunity.

What’s happening? The newspapers say it’s all about mortgages. But that’s not right — or at least not complete — because it doesn’t make sense. A fancy house in San Diego is still a fancy house after someone misses a mortgage payment; even if the price falls a little bit, it’s still a fancy house. Getting from some bad mortgages to what we’re seeing now, with trillions of losses and with banks and brokers collapsing everywhere

Paul Krugman takes a shot at explaining what’s going on in the markets. Charts and equations, but nothing you can’t handle. It’s nice to see someone have a little respect of the reader.

by Anna Deavere Smith

These essays pose as a series of letters of advice from the accomplished actress/playwright to an imagined high school student who has “won” Ms. Smith as a mentor in a charity auction. “This is new for me,” she explains in the introduction, “ I’ve never been auctioned before. (My ancestors were.)”

It is interesting to see how this one-sided correspondence sketches the character of the invisible and silent recipient. Smith — who has crafted a series of highly-regarded one-woman shows in which she portrays a series of people she has interviewed while only their own words — perversely chooses a rather dull and dense young person as her notional correspondent. This lets spares her any inconvenient detours, but it also reduces the book to a series of sermons couched in a falsely informal voice.

Because the “young artist” is very young indeed, Smith indulges in generalities about topics that are not, I think, best considered generally. It’s interesting to talk about whether artists really must suffer for their art, I suppose, but the real question is always concrete. Will you sleep with someone for your art, if that’s what it takes? Will you abandon your beloved for your art, if your art demands it? What will you compromise? Suffering is abstract, and easy; staying or leaving is hard.

The underlying premise is that painters, actors, writers, and dancers all share something that biologists, doctors, and bankers do not. I understand why some people want to believe this, I understand why Smith sees evidence of this in her audiences, but I think the premise is wrong. Plenty of biologists and doctors are artists — literally, not metaphorically — and plenty of artists can be found on any given Sunday in a relaxed, inattentive, and banker-like mood. Smith sees the biologists in her audience, sitting complacently behind the actors and writers. But in the theater, the biologists are not at work. The actors and writers are. Smith doesn’t see the difference.

Is there, today, much advice that applies equally to an aspiring painter, an actress-playwright, a mezzo-soprano, and a dancer? Conflating all these pursuits as “art” obscures a host of distinctions. Even in youth, the dancer’s candle is burning fast; the painter and the playwright have plenty of time, though never enough. Time’s winged fucking chariot is hardly mentioned, but what subject is more apt for advice to the young artist? Nor is there much space here to address the realization that, sooner or later, comes to so many young artists: we have limits, and the art we want to make sometimes lies beyond what our bodies or the laws of nature permit. Smith talks intelligently about The Man, about learning to deal with an appease the powers that be, and this is all very well. But sometimes the limits are not the man: you grew up and you’re 5'2, or you tore your Achilles tendon, or you caught leukemia, or you’d be the finest mind of most generation but this year there’s this kid from New York. Henry Adams calls stoicism “a stupid resource, though the only one”; I'd have like to have heard how Smith might have fortified her high-school artist against that day.

by Richard Overy

Overy explores in detail why the United Nations ultimately won the Second World War, and argues that their victory was not in fact inevitable. The first chapters provide a succinct and solid summary of the war, focussing on critical issues on the broad stage and weighing them with care and intelligence. Ovey is especially good in studying the air war, which he argues was far more important in defeating Germany than contemporary historians have generally acknowledged. He is willing, too, to explore the importance of the moral dimension: in the end, Germany’s defeat was good, and that fact helped ensure that Germany would be defeated. Ovey is not blind to Soviet ills, and sensibly explores that necessary alliance and its impact. The chapter on morality starts, peculiarly, by comparing religious attitudes in the combatant countries. Yes, FDR was a believer, and yes, Americans are more openly concerned with religion than most Europeans. These superficial attitudes seem unrelated to actual behavior, much less the outcome of the war.

Oct 08 1 2008

Total Duck

Michael Pardus has three lively videos that show how to use a whole duck — and what to do with the odd parts. The students are restaurant people, so everything is couched in money: how you can make twenty bucks from this scrap, or eight from that one — but underneath is a lesson your grandmother taught you. Waste not, want not. (Gotta learn how to do that thing with duck liver....)

Twenty five years ago last night, Linda and I had just decided to get married and that we should go have a nice dinner. So we went to Harvest. On the way, we hammered out the key details (she’d stay Thorsen, the wedding would be small and brunchlike, stuff like that) . It was a nice dinner.

So we went back to Harvest last night. Very nice. It’s special to be able to go back to the same restaurant.

It’s even more special to go back with the same wife.