Tuesday, September 29, 2015

No One's Deleting the Chowhound Archives!

At the bottom of a long comment thread in reply to an old posting to this sparsely trafficked Slog, I noted that when Chowhound is no longer economically viable, it will be turned off, along with the incredibly important archives (I also ripped into a commenter who'd cavalierly and wrongly insisted that archive loss was a non-concern).

So now people are in a panic, worried that CBS is about to delete the archives. Rumors spread fast when people are upset. Sigh, sorry about that.

As I reassured hounds here, there is NO reason to think CBS will EVER delete the archives so long as there's a Chowhound on the Internet. The archives are a huge part of the attraction!

But if the "Fuck CBS!" paramilitary partisans were to succeed in killing all Chowhound participation (they have nowhere near such power; it ain't gonna happen), the archives would die with it...and that would be bad news for all Chowkind. So my point was "be more careful what you wish for". That's all.

I've long urged more people to open more forums, and I wish luck to everyone doing so now. May their communities flourish, and may Chowhound benefit from some welcome churn and new blood at year seventeen in its long history. Everyone eat, post, and be happy!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

More Chowhound Redesign Angst

Another day, another email from a disconsolate Chowhound member (here was the last one).

Hi Jim --

You don't know me, but..... Is there any chance I could prevail upon you to use your considerable power [sic] to do something about that disaster of a new site?

You've no doubt seen the reactions of others. I was hoping I could take advantage of a desire on your part to preserve the incredible gem you created.

THANK YOU, in advance, just for reading this.
Hi! Thanks for writing!

Some historical perspective for you. The old Chowhound site, while I ran it, delivered 100mb index files to every user every three clicks or so....over dial-up connections. If you’re not technical, what I’m saying is that the software was almost completely unviable. It was sheer torture to use. It was something to work around and put up with. (Here's an explanation of how this came to be, though you may want to read this series from the beginning).

It also worked really well to ensure that the only people who stuck around through the duress were really serious food lovers. To this day, whatever level of expertise remains in force is due to that adversity, which did a fantastic job of filtering our usership by repelling nearly all the casual eaters.

No doubt, this redesign was awful. It’s almost unusable. But it’s still way more usable than it once was. Here’s the thing: the hounds who remain, who squat within this awkward new landscape and calculate ways to work around it, will be awesome. The community will be better than ever. All the causal ditzy users will give up and split.

I’m not a masochist, but I kinda look forward to apocalypse. Great things happen amid ruin. That’s where humanity does its best work. Make people comfortable in the perfect software environment (or any other perfect environment) and they'll get lazy and ditzy. That’s when the Olive Garden people took over. Now they'll be gone (and hopefully CBS will keep the lights on in spite of the traffic dip).

Just some very long view perspective; hope it helps!


My previous posting about this redesign spurred many comments. I think my final reply within that comment stream managed to get to the heart of things. I'll reprint it below:
What really makes no sense are the folks in total anguish about losing this really important community and part of their existence, when there really is nothing chasing them away.

Exactly. Even as one of them even insists it's about people, not software.

I've seen the same happen after every make-over, upgrade, and re-do of every online forum I've ever run or participated in. Even when the changes are smart, reason has no part of the response. Freaking out and acting irrationally (e.g. the notion that a FB group would provide a better environment) is what humans do when their communities are radically upended.

It's easiest to understand by visualizing reaction if real-world communities were radically and unilaterally changed overnight. Even if you woke up to discover that the water faucets pour champagne, there'd be extreme angst. It's deep. It's limbic.

Obviously, this ain't just software. And companies like CBS Interactive should understand that change (even positive change) must be gentle if you don't want to outrage the citizenry. And, 20 years into Internet culture, community members should have learned that they're ALWAYS forced into workarounds. The old workarounds feel comfortable, and the new problems will spur new workarounds that will come to feel equally comfortable. We're all squatters; always were, always will be.

But, no. It's the ancient dynamic of ham-handed administrators and anguished users. They can't even hear each other.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Famous Rosa Making Orecchiette

Holy crap. I had no idea this is how orecchiette are made. You can stop around the 2 minute point.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Chowhound Redesign (and the urge to stomp away in a pique)

Chowhound's completed a ghastly convoluted redesign, making the site so crazily flexible that no one could possibly make use of it.

For years now, I've heard complaints of CBS's neglect of the property, and have frequently reminded people that neglect is not necessarily a bad thing (see "Leff's Four Scenarios of Authority" here). Now we're seeing the proof - i.e. what happens when authorities get their hands all up in it. It's not pretty.

So I just got an email from a longtime user:
Hi Jim,

The new chowhound site design is awful, so I'm helping migrate [my local user community] to a Facebook group. I recognize Facebook Groups might not be the perfect platform choice, but I figured the reach provided might enable the communities to get back to critical mass. Perhaps you can suggest others setup similar local groups (that can be loosely strung together)? Would be sad to see such a great global community die as a result of this redesign!
I'll offer my reply publicly, in case it's of use to others.


I'd urge you to carefully weigh, clarify, and separate issues in your mind.

It would, as you suspect, be super uncomfortable using Facebook for this. It will be particularly hard to access/search previous discussion, and, as you know, previous discussion's where the gold is.

So you can scout alternatives, e.g. Google Groups and other forum communities, or the installation of forum software on your own server, etc.. Any solution will involve huge compromises; none will feel "right". But, after much consideration, you may settle on something, at which point you may need to recruit a techie to set it all up, plus you'll need to get word out to participants.

Then you'll need to moderate the discussion, and that's a nightmare (for an idea of what's involved there, see my tale of the sale of Chowhound, where I reveal what goes on behind the curtain). Even if you make it private and keep out the kooks, it will be no surprise to any student of human nature that groups of people resist management, so bad feeling is inevitable. Unmoderated discussion, even in a closed group, quickly devolves to useless chat, off-topic sprawl, and fighting.

I'm leaving out a couple dozen other hurdles, but understand that, no matter what, you'll kill yourself to maintain a community amid an uncomfortable, inadequate, ill-fitting software environment.

Or…..you can use CBS's current uncomfortable, inadequate, ill-fitting software environment, with no time/work/recruitment/tech/moderation overhead whatsoever.

I feel your pain. I understand the impulse to angrily walk away. But consider what you're walking into. No matter what, you'll have to find clever workarounds to make wrong software work, but, hey, Chowhounds are good at workarounds! Finding workaround to the current obstacles would be eminently saner than leaving in a huff and finding yourself out of the frying pan and into a fire. OTOH, I wish you godspeed (and vast deliciousness) either way!


See also the commentary, below, as well as this follow-up posting.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Sucrose = Fructose

Guess what? The high-fructose corn syrup furor was yet another trumped-up diet hysteria. Sugar, in any form, isn't good for you, especially in excess. But it's been proven that high fructose corn syrup's no worse.

See: Consumption of Honey, Sucrose, and High-Fructose Corn Syrup Produces Similar Metabolic Effects in Glucose-Tolerant and -Intolerant Individuals

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

5 Minute Tacos

After thousands of experiments, this is the most reliable, fastest, easiest taco recipe I've devised. With no prep, you can be eating delicious chicken tacos within five minutes.

The principles, obviously, also work with other proteins.

Applebee's Forever

Still going with the Applebee's.

Monday, September 7, 2015

I'm (Provisionally) for Lessig

I can't vote for any of the Republicans. I believe immigrants are the engine of our economy (plus I value diversity), I don't think taxes are too high, I think austerity's a self-defeating approach to recession, I've had it with dim-witted neo-conservative hawkish hubris, and I prefer an evenly-split Supreme Court (a Republican's appointee(s) would skew it firmly conservative for at least a generation).

Plus, I'm incensed over a few Republican moves that struck me as near-treasonous - the government shutdown brinksmanship, the letter to the Iranian mullahs insisting we won't honor an elected president's negotiated treaties, and the openly-stated policy to oppose literally every Obama proposal from day one (no matter how much the nation might need it, like the Jobs Bill), including even Republican-originated policy such as the Affordable Care Act. The Democrats were certainly obstructive under Bush, but nothing like that. Dems came together for the good of the country (and, re: the Military Authorization Against Iraq, for the bad of the country, too). You can put party ahead of nation, but you'll have certainly lost my vote. Buh-bye.

Hillary's a hawk (pretend long enough and it freezes), and I honestly suspect something's seriously wrong with her (if you're Hillary Clinton, you do not give scandal-happy foes red meat like this clunk-headed email situation, which was perfectly avoidable; it eerily reminds me of Bill and his blowjobs).

I admire some of Bernie Sanders' positions, but while I've long ago outgrown my Libertarianism, and no longer see the government as my enemy, I recoil from someone so callow as to call himself a Socialist. As I once wrote:
I wouldn't want to return to 1973. We went too far. You could feel society slogging and smell the rot (and pay a tax rate north of 90%). 1973 could have made a Tea Party partisan out of any but the most fervid of current liberals.
Sanders seems downright fond of 1973. And while no one president has the latitude to sharply change a society's direction, I'm mistrustful of his hand on the rudder. Like Trump, he strikes me as more of a venter than a political pragmatist. The left rues Obama's half-measures, but he's gotten an enormous amount done via patient and skilled realpolitik. He's been an incredible centrist president (and I suspect history will judge him so). And Bernie ain't that.

That leaves Lawrence Lessig, who declared his candidacy yesterday after raising $1M in small donations. As someone who creates for a living, I was incensed by Lessig's "Information Must Be Free" shtick - his defense of file-sharing, etc.. I saw him as pandering, and found it hypocritical from a guy who writes expensive books, himself. In fact, I at one point planned to dump the sum total of Lessig's on-sale writings into public domain, but finally decided not to, because it would have harmed his publishers.

But he's right on this one. He announced yesterday he's definitely running for president, and you ought to read his statement, which is short, readable, and persuasive. He'll be a one-issue "referendum" candidate; the plan is to win office, effect drastic campaign finance reform, and immediately quit. I agree that the issue of money in politics precedes all other problems (for example, climate change will never be addressed unless we ease the chokehold of billionaires on politics....it's one of many issues the people want addressed but the donor class does not).

I'm not normally a referendum kind of guy, but I agree this issue has developed into a cancer, and must be stamped out. Even if Lessig loses, his support base will register with the other candidates. I want to see that base be huge. If you feel likewise, please consider contributing (so he can communicate more) and spreading the word. Let's all be his collective billionaire.

In the end, it will all come down to the quality of Lessig's VP candidate (the person who'll actually serve). But for now, I'm in.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Applebee's Raves on Chowhound

A Chowhound user raves about his swell meal at Applebees. And I respond.

I'm not tilting at windmills. This is the way to do it: by enticing, rather than shaming...one person at a time (always remember: many are silently reading along).

If you abandon good resources when you spot dilution, you are just as responsible for the dilution as the clueless encroachers. More so, in fact, because those guys usually don't know better.

Chowhound isn't a remote TV station to be passively watched. Every user's a program director. We can invest effort to make it a wonderland, or permit it to devolve. It's up to every last user. You determine the dilution. Consider: when Chowhound's gone - or useless - where exactly will you go?

Skilled chowhounds who complain about how not enough good stuff's posted anymore remind me of this:
My parents were perpetually indignant about how, as they kept moving further eastward on Long Island, the assholes from Brooklyn kept following them and ruining the rural landscape. They never realized that we, ourselves, were the Brooklyn assholes who kept moving eastward and ruining things!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

A Unique Perspective on Depression

Nothing I've read on the subject of depression has ever rung true for me. Depression isn't a lack of energy (though the sufferer seems, to external observers, to lack it), and it doesn't feel like sadness. It's a whole other thing. And I believe I have a fresh way to articulate it.

The core mental process is very simple, even though outcomes may be complex: the mind obsessively locks into endless rumination.

There are great benefits to the ability to invest attention in repetition. A composer, for example, faces impasses where he's unsure of the best next note. The time-tested method is to loop back for another running start at the impasse, hoping something new/fresh/useful pops up. If not, repeat. Again and again and again and again! That's the underpinning of creativity: the capacity for deeply immersed mental repetition.

Most people are incapable of it. Uncreative people marvel at those able to create beauty. They assume it simply "comes to them". Which is both true and false...it indeed "comes to them" (no creative person believes they own their epiphanies), but nothing about it is simple. Creative people give inspiration ample opportunity to arrive. Myriad match strikes might draw nary a flicker. You ceaselessly roll the impasse around in your mind, attention locked like a vise. Eventually, ingeniousness arrives. Eureka! And you move on to the next impasse.

Creative people don't ignite ingenious flickers more easily. They're just more committed to the process. They tolerate the tedious looping, because it's their nature to thirst for the treasure at the end of the infinite loop.

Obsessive rumination is a great boon to humanity; it's responsible for all our beauty, all our insights. It's also the worst of human curses when rumination locks onto something unanswerable, e.g. Why are humans so cruel? Why does my life seem to lack meaning? Why did my friend/child/parent die?

You may ruminate and ruminate, but there's no answering. No flame to be kindled, no ingenious solution, no treasure at the end of the loop. Just a misuse of rumination for a "problem" you well know to be insolvable. It's the creative mind's version of angrily shaking one's fist at heaven and crying "Why must it be thus?"; an endless re-steeping in the drama of a fait accompli; a neurotic looping of outraged despair. Outrage and despair are natural (and useful) human emotions. The looping, however, is another thing.

In its healthier applications, repetitive rumination works best when it's all-consuming. The outer world dims as all resources obsessively feed the rumination. We literally create a new internal world, and nourish it with our attention. Everyday creation (with a lower-case 'c') is much like Creation. For a new reality to be born, one loses touch with the outside world - the old reality - for a while. Observers think you lack energy, but your internal furnace roars. The disconnection is a sacrifice creative people periodically make (Beethoven worked in a diaper). It's worth it for the eventual beauty, insight, or "eureka!". The deeper your lock, the deeper your result.

However, when rumination is tenaciously applied to unsolvable issues, you're taken out of the world without reward or result. The lights go out but nobody's home. One endlessly sucks a lozenge of horror in response to some inescapable reality. That's depression. And a given bout of depression or grieving only ends when one tires of the empty, fruitless repetition. The obsessive reconsideration of unviable options simply gets boring.

The strategy of taking myriad running starts at an impasse, hoping for a breakthrough, has created all our art and science, but it is a failed approach for emotional impasses. That's the misapplication of a useful tool; a self-inflicted torture of horrific immersion for no good purpose.

Creative people aren't prone to depression because the creative life is difficult. They get depressed from misuse of the unique faculties of their creative minds.

Further reading:
The Main Cause of Major Depression
Depression Resuscitation Kit
A Surprisingly Uplifting Examination of Suicide
The Evolution of a Perspective
Framing as Hilarious or as Catastrophe
All writings on depression in reverse chronological order

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Flight Deal

I'm all messed up from a web site called The Flight Deal. I've always waited for something like this; their staff of crazed maniacs rake through air fares, finding unadvertised specials and erroneous fares. If you jump on them quickly, you can go far for pennies.

I've booked Laguardia to Dallas for $80. Round-trip. Including fees and tax. That was before I lost my mind and booked a trip to Bogota, a city I have no interest in visiting, for $240 (again, round-trip, including fees/tax; plus, on this one, I get $100 off the fare from a credit card bonus offer, lowering my total to a demented $140).

Who wouldn't go to Bogota and back for $140 in the dead of icy January? The dollar is super-strong there. An airport cab into town costs about 25¢. Dinners run like $5. You can find great hotels well under $50/night. And the flight down lets me overnight in Miami (chicken!). So I'm off for Bogota!

To use the site, hit the "Flight Deals" menu, select your home city, bookmark the following page, and check it daily (fares change quickly).

The Flight Deal also offers a slew of savvy service articles on topics like "How To Avoid International Data Roaming Charges" (buy a MiFi; I never heard of MiFis before this, but they seem awesome; see my comment beneath that article for updated research), "What is a Stopover and How to Take Advantage", and "No Foreign Exchange Fee Credit Cards That Can Save You A Lot of Money!". They're titled to sound like linkbait, but they're great.

Everything on the site is smart. There's human intelligence at work, not just some soulless algorithm, and if you're the least bit impulsive (and, like me, can work from anywhere), you'll want to avoid it like the plague. Lest you wind up in Bogota.

One tip: they instruct you to use heavy-duty software to find flights. It's not necessary. You can find most of them via Kayak or Google Flights. Once you do, book tickets via The Flight Deal's affiliate links (to ensure they get support). In fact, use those links for all bookings any time; this is a great service we need to see prosper.

This popped up five minutes after I wrote the above: $196 NYC to Palm Springs, CA and back on Jet Blue. Including fees/tax.

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