Sunday, March 3, 2024

Portugeshi

No one recognizes it - because no one burrows into immigrant subcultures like I do - but the Portuguese fishing town I'm staying in will, in the next few years, turn flamboyantly Bengali/Bangladeshi. I predict it will look like those towns in northern England which have had enormous immigration from the region.

In fact, it's happening because England hasn't embraced them, so new émigrés are looking for a more welcoming harbor. And Portugal is warmer, cheaper, with an easier immigration process, plus all the other advantages that led me here. I'm not the only one who noticed!

It's funny. The Portuguese have been grousing about American immigrants, to the point where, in my interactions with strangers, I feel obliged to swiftly disconnect from their expectations. But while I'm as comfortable with Bengali/Bangladeshi food/music/culture/people as with Portuguese, the foreignness (no one here spent years living in Jackson Heights!) will throw them for a loop. A few hundred Americans butchering their language and competing for apartments will seem mild, in retrospect.

Tonight, I'm attending a chicken biryani experiment by a couple from Calcutta who plan to open a restaurant next month. Indian restaurants in Portugal are expected to serve stuff like pizza and kebabs - i.e. be all-purpose sources of non-Portuguese food for natives seeking occasional escape from bacalhau. But I don't believe my friends will be offering pizza.

আর কোন গড-ডিমেড পিৎজা!

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Junky Magic Dessert

My favorite food writer, John Thorne, wrote, before there was an Internet, that clickbait recipes never work. You'll never evoke magic from just the right proportion of spam and bouillon cubes. For time immemorial, people have tried to sell the notion that some simple, junkie, stupid trick creates INSTANT MAGIC. But it never does. So don't be a sucker!

I live to prove John Thorne wrong. So here's a simple, junkie, stupid trick to create INSTANT MAGIC:

Heat in a toaster oven or (better) air fryer, two McVitie's Digestive Biscuits and a leftover muffin (roughly pulled apart into big chunks). Don't let anything brown; stop the process as soon as you detect baking smells.

Break the cookies and muffin into quarter-sized chunks with your hands (you don't want it too regular). Strew with diced ripe strawberries and stir. That's it.

I know that you all think it would be better with mascarpone or crème fraîche. Looks DRY and your culinary school teacher/home economics teacher/cookbook guru insists that nothing may ever be DRY.

This is stupid and ridiculous. It's the dimwitted thinking that leads to the serving of beautiful potato chips with glurky dips. It's just the remnants of 1960s/1970s goormay indoctrination. It needs to go.

Yes, this would be delicious with mascarpone or crème fraîche. But it's fine without those things, too. Eat with a spoon, preferably before the cookie/muffin cool. Be happy.



If you have some quality balsamico, a very light, narrow, lacy drizzle over the top would be great.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

The Other Side of the Coin

The Century

On January 1, 2000, and for a while after, the 21st Century felt titillatingly unfamiliar. The feeling didn't last long. But for a long while it still felt weird to say "the last century." An inhabitant of the 1990s is accustomed to the previous century feeling further away.

It's more normal now. A quarter-century in, the 20th century has finally begun to feel previous.

The Townie

I was living in a shabby district of Queens when Ron Howard arrived to shoot "Ransom". Needing a shady nabe for the scene where the kidnappers stash their victim, they'd chosen a grim tenement a couple doors down from my own grim tenement.

At first, it seemed exciting. Another show biz prong in my life. But I'd never for a moment framed myself as the inhabitant of moldy tenements in shady nabes. I was a hipped out 30 year old jazz trombonist and cult food writer, and I was camped here because it was all I could afford "for the moment".

So when the hipped-out production staff showed up to keep the idiot townies from ruining their outdoor shots - idiot townies like me! - it sparked an identity crisis. Did living here make me someone who'd live here?

I struggled to understand which side I was actually on. And how much time, if any, was left on my ticking clock before the concrete set and this was no longer a way station.
At the time, I was still thinking of myself cinematically, a habit I began to opt out of on the night I figured out this, as catalogued here.
Then a couple production assistants tried to hand me clipboards, assuming I was on the team, and all was well. In the "Munsters" framing of it all, I was still Marilyn. At least for a while.

The 11-Year-Old

As I've explained, I'm eleven. Not "I feel youthful", nor "I am an immature man/baby". When I was eleven, I saw clearly. And I recognized that older kids, and adults, don't get any clearer. On the contrary, they tend to lose their damned minds, though they enjoyed certain perqs. So I've been holding right there this whole time.

As I acquired the perqs - a driver's license, a girlfriend, disposable income, erudition and experience, release from my mother's miserable cooking into a world of deliciousness, etc. - I relished it out of all proportion. But never having transformed myself into The Person Who'd Passed Those Milestones, I remained a gleeful, clear-headed eleven year old - perhaps the only one in history who ever scored all the perqs. It turned out to be an effective approach. Give adult assets to a particularly clear-headed eleven year old and he can do anything.

As a child I was always comfortable with elderly people. None ever condescended to me. We spoke like peers. I felt like I was burning the candle from both ends - old-but-young, young-but-old. I felt like I could nearly reach out to touch my own elderly self - and, a half-century later, I feel the same reaching back, hence my series of Postcards from My Childhood (scroll down to #1 and read reverse-chronologically here).

I remained good with old people. They found common ground, through some strange logic, with my entrenched eleven-year-old's perspective. But now, on the brink of old age myself, I find it difficult to socialize with people my age. They seem puckered; tight; congealed. Having fully given in to neuroses (remember the Sammy Davis hit "I Gotta Be Me"?), the Crazy sets in concrete like frown lines on the face of a worrier.

All my life I've struggled to make at least a flimsy effort to portray the myriad guys I've seen in the bathroom mirror - a proposition that grows more comedic with passing time. But, lately, I'm hardly trying. Less dread-driven, and (even) less compelled to provoke any certain reaction, I feel freer to be myself, regardless. Maybe I've given in to neurosis; the crazy has set in concrete.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

The Best Content

Yahoo, a mediocre conglomerate, bought Endgadget, an excellent tech blog, in 2021. This week, they fired a bunch of staffers, plus some head honchos including the editor-in-chief (whom they won't be replacing).

Here's the press release from Yahoo (which makes my blood curl with its general tone, especially "reaching out", which is a dumb-ass cliché even used properly):
"I am reaching out today to share that we’re making changes to our organization, which will allow us to streamline our work, increase our velocity and ultimately deliver the best content to our readers."
Daring Fireball's John Gruber absolutely nails the salient issue:
The sort of executive who calls what their own publication creates “content” is exactly the sort of asshole who thinks talented editors and writers can be laid off while increasing “velocity” and the quality of the work.
Bingo.


My epic series on the sale of my startup, Chowhound, to a media conglomerate was not just a cautionary tale for idealistic founders. It was also an object lesson on the collision of creative, passionate people with corporate puddy pud-puds, explaining exactly why the latter are an inextricable fixture of corporations. This line of thought culminated in this installment.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Two Useful Terms

Oppositional Defiance Disorder

I have a mild aphasia. I need to struggle for words. Most people can't relate...until they hit a situation where there is no word. Then they know how I feel!

In this case, the phrase does exist, but it's nowhere near as well-known as the condition it describes. I constantly see people reaching for a term to describe people with a kneejerk compulsion to always do the opposite thing. Say, for example, members of a staunchly anti-Russian political party, seeing the opposing party try to block Russia from slaughtering and obliterating its neighbor, turn around and start rooting against the obliterees, just to be dicks. What do you call that?

Oppositional Defiance Disorder.

There you go. You're welcome.

Hedonic Adaptation

Hedonic adaptation, aka Hedonic treadmill, is a term I just heard for the first time. It refers to the fact that people have a steady level of happiness they "shoot for", so when they become too happy, they ratchet themselves right back down again. It's like a thermostat for happiness, keeping you nice and "meh" (or worse - depressives, I'm looking at you!).

"Ballasting Happiness", second on the Hits List in the left margin, was one of my proudest breakthroughs. And, yeah, I was just too ignorant to know it was already figured out back in, like, yeesh, 1971.

I can console myself because I also posited how we do it, accounting for otherwise inexplicable human behavior. But still, my greatest fear is that the ideas I've grinded on for 30 or 40 years, popping out insights that strike me as gratifyingly unique and fresh, are actually banal and everyone knows this stuff but me. I.e. I'm the slow child breaking through. Hey, good for yooooou, buddy!

That's how I feel perpetually: the slow child breaking through. Remember the time I conceptually reinvented glue?

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

NAIHISIINHYSIIBIKEAIAYKNAI

Proposing a new acronym:
NAIHISIINHYSIIBIKEAIAYKLNAI
This is short for "No, actually, it's how I said it is, not how you said it is, because I know everything about it and you know literally nothing about it." In my head, it's said in a calm, firm monotone, though you likely heard an incensed huff.

For half of you, it triggered "arrogant asshole" vibes. Such readers have likely already clicked off the page. So I'll address the remainder, for whom this triggered "fucking people!" vibes. One is habitually on one side or the other of this Great Divide.

I left it super open-ended because it happens everywhere now; in all realms. "The Death of Expertise" - the observation that ignorance presumes to triumph over erudition via empty cocky snark - is just one tendril of a larger problem. And it's absolutely everywhere now.

Hyper-accelerated by the massive narcissism stoked during COVID lockdown, it started well before. My first experience came in the late 90s, when I ordered two cannoli, no powdered sugar. The clerk nodded attentively, and brought back two cannoli with powdered sugar.
"I said 'no powdered sugar'."

"No, you didn't."
Of course, anyone can mis-hear or screw up. That's no problem. Or maybe I mumbled. But how odd to imagine your hearing/remembering supersedes my speech!
"I'm pretty sure I know what I said, because I said it!"

Insolent shrug

"So you think I was deliberately messing with you? Or is it that I've lost control of my mouth?"
Brief minor confusion. Darting eyes. The clerk hadn't considered my end. She's not, after all, like, a psychiatrist or whatever. "Who knows," she replied. "But I heard you."

Hey, she heard me. What else could possibly matter? She's the Central Character, while I'm way out here amid a cartoonish blur of Customers. Of Humanity. You know; the periphery.

Since then, it's gotten so much worse. People often tell me who they think I am and what they think I've done, and what my intentions were. Figuring they're just being cheeky and provocatively conversational, I warmly grin and correct them. And their faces freeze. No. That's not what they thought. Often they'll argue back, restating their assumption. Because what else could possibly matter beyond their thinking?

At this point, we need an acronym. Hence "NAIHISIINHYSIIBIKEAIAYKLNAI".

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Fettuccine Alfredo Is Just Buttery Frickin' Noodles

Friend-of-the-Slog Paul Trapani recommends the Gambero Rosso YouTube channel for Italian cookery, and while I've enjoyed some of their stuff, this one on fettuccine Alfredo....well, I have issues.

I've added wise-ass narration, Mystery Science Theater style. Sorry for covering up the dude's histrionic Italian patter. Also, apologies for bad language, shrieking, and overly harsh critique of the whisking, which is maybe not entirely stupido.

Have at it. Volume up.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Meta-Prompting AI

I’ve discovered a juicy way to prompt AI that hasn’t been much discussed. It’s juicy because it’s super helpful, a bit unexpected, and viscerally shows that AI does possess a sort of self-aware intelligence. It's hard to go back to Siri or Alexa after using language model AI this way.

Say you've asked the AI to produce some result, and, as is often the case, it's not exactly what you asked for. There are flaws. You point out a flaw, and the AI, per its programming, fawns all over you with apologies, and offers a new version, which, ugh, has other, similar flaws. You point out a few. Rinse, repeat, rinse repeat. Lots of apologies, lots of incremental progress, but the piecemeal improvement begins to annoy. So here’s my trick:
"It took a lot of back/forth, above, to get what I wanted. Without apologizing or explaining the limits of AI, can you review it and advise me, now that you better understand what I wanted, how I might have prompted you in the first place to get to this result more quickly and easily? Where did I go wrong?"
Of course, people rarely ask an AI (or any other sort of intelligence) how they could do better. That’s not a direction humans are prone to choosing. But the AI, cognizant of the previous interaction, can evaluate it from a higher level to help you see how it might have been directed to the present point more efficiently. It can, in other words, coach you to use it better.

The AI will also reframe(!) to an even higher level. "Would that style of prompting also help in this somewhat related sort of hypothetical case?" The AI will hop effortlessly to the higher level, and analyze broader applicability. You can even go all the way and ask it to suggest far-flung applications for the suggested style of prompting. A whole vein of self-aware guidance is available! And the AI actually seems (it's not real) to find it refreshing to think/help in this way. It seems (it's not real) to enjoy it.

FWIW I access AI tools via TypingMind, a friendly interface for AI interactions (accessible on both desktop and mobile), with easy entry into various AI programs (language stuff, image stuff, specialized knowledge, etc), and stores searchable logs of your interactions. There are other such services, but TypingMind is popular and well-liked. You'll need to also create an account on OpenAI, but you're coached through that process.


Note that this trick works best once you've finally gotten a good result. But you can also interrupt the process to say, "I'm working hard to get you to fix a lot of fairly similar problems. Can you evaluate our interaction and try, freshly, to assess, at a higher level (now that you've gotten additional feedback), where I'm going with this? No apologies, caveats, or statements of intention, please." This actually works!

Then, if it does make a big leap, you can proceed with the prompt above (i.e. "How could I have prompted you to this point more efficiently from the start?"). And if you don't like the reply, just say "Give me a different answer!" Once, I thought of an even tighter prompt than the AI had suggested, as it affably admitted. It’s refreshing to interact with an ego-less intelligence!


Tuesday, February 13, 2024

The Experiencer

You know that you experience the world. That's clear for nearly everyone. And it's no small realization!

Animals can't know this. They never enjoy such detachment. For them there's no "I', just immediate needs and impulses.

Humans can become like that, too, as stakes rise and we "lose perspective". But if you're experiencing a lull (and not filling it with fake high stakes, aka drama, aka Rich People Problems), you probably recognize - at some level, if not always front-and-center - that you are experiencing the world.

If you acknowledge the above, you are 99.5% of the way to Buddha-hood, which is far more immediately available than people realize.

There's one small remaining flip. Trivial, really.

The experiencer of this world isn't this person with whom you identify - this name; this body; this basket of stories and policy positions.

This person is just another thing to experience. Its name is an abstract label (you were you before your parents named you), and its body and backstory constantly change. There's no sustained presence to any of it, though you're innately aware that the same unwavering presence has forever gazed out of your eyes.

You are that presence. You are the experiencer, which has no name, no body, no story, but is intimately familiar and unmysterious.

Go slowly through the next part. Mull it like poetry:
A thing can't experience.

Things are experienced.

So the experiencer can't be a thing.

The experiencer is not eerie.

Not a distant spiritual gaseous cloud or supernatural entity.

It's what you are - right now, right here - and have always been,

even if you can't possibly point to it.

Anything you can point at is a thing.
And things can't experience!


Further reading

Note that the experiencer is The Framer


Friday, February 9, 2024

George Bernard Shaw on Framing



Framing!

But the other way around is juicier. With reframing, everything changes!


More pontifications on social media memes

Blog Archive