Monday, August 28, 2023

Chowhounding IKEA

How shocked would you be to learn the potato chips at IKEA are very, very good? They're made from Red Bliss potatoes (like Terra Chips Red Bliss) and have nice, fresh, nutty sunflower oil flavor (unlike Terras, which are fried in olive oil, which, IMO, is the wrong fat).

No negatives. Go figure!

But let's live really dangerously and venture into the IKEA cafeteria.

The Perennial Lure of Miserable Meatballs

There's something deeply revelatory in how I - and perhaps you - misgauge the food [sic] at Ikea.

Whenever I shop there and feel forced to eat (by sheer famishment), I order meatballs. Because, you know, meatballs. That's the thing. The meatballs! And the meatballs are never good, and I inevitably conclude that Ikea sucks.

This time I did something bewildering. I somehow stifled my meatball urge. And that didn't leave many options, so I got the last thing you'd ever order at IKEA: a fat hunk of grilled salmon, plus mashed potatoes.

It was delicious. A solid "7" from my surprisingly non-ditzy system for rating foods (and other things) from 1 to 10.

So why is this "deeply revalatory"?

NPR Hates Fluffy Food Crap

At the height of Chowhound's success, I got a call from a producer of NPR's Morning Edition. She started off doing her level best to make herself obnoxious:

"We want to add some food content. Me, I'm pretty bored with food content on radio..."

I interrupted, understanding full well that, despite my eager agreement, this was not where she was headed (I'm essentially Bugs-Bunnying her):

"Me, too! Absolutely! Let's not do that! Let's find something amazing we can do instead of the usual fluffy crap!"

She was slightly thrown, but not much, and easily slid back on track.

"Yeah, right, they always say that, don't they? But, look, it's been decided to add some food content [eyeroll more than audible], and we figured we'd check in with you. Understand that we wouldn't use you MUCH. In fact, if it were up to me, we wouldn't do food at all. But this is what they want, so...[aggravated sigh]"

Ah, NPR! But I kept Bugs-Bunnying. It's what I do!

"Here's the weird thing. For all my extreme enthusiasm for other food cultures, and my eagerness to dine like a chameleon, I'm a breakfast jingoist. I like homefries and flapjacks. Strawberry preserves. Bacon. With this one single meal, I become Archie Bunker. Wouldn't it be interesting if..."

I was quick on my feet in those days.

"...I filed reports from breakfast locales - while your listeners are eating breakfast! - well outside my comfort zone? Uber-fishy Japanese breakfasts, stewy Egyptian fava beans, etc etc, and force myself to relate?

She heard me out, mostly due to to sheer confusion. And here was her response:

"Yeah. Well. We were thinking you might stop by like on Thanksgiving and like give us your thoughts on turkey. And on New Years, maybe your five food resolutions."

"But that is EXACTLY the usual fluffy food crap!!!"

"Yeah, well, having you on certainly wasn't MY idea..."

Let's diagram this:
I hate IKEA's meatballs.
Oh, meatballs, please!
Yup, and this is why I hate you.

Rinse and repeat.
Bandleaders Hate Tromboney Trombone Crap

Trombone is the Rodney Dangerfield of instruments. Nobody respects it, because while other instrumentalists improvise and delight, trombonists do their tromboney slurpy shtick. Like dancing circus ponies, it's not that they do it well, it's that they do it at all. Good on them for keeping up (sort of) with all that tubing and whatnot!

Me, I actually dug in and at least tried to play music, rather than trombone. Spontaneous! Expressive! Not solving tromboney puzzles, but telling stories which transcended the plumbing. Yet I often had trouble getting hired because I didn't sound like the usual trombonists - the trombonists bandleaders profess to hate.

They wanted those guys.

As with the NPR producer, the aversion is real, but incidental. If your band has an opening for trombone, you'll fill that opening, rationally enough, with a tromboney trombonist. Because that's what a trombone opening opens to!

Saturday, August 26, 2023

A Trilogy of Wild Boar Hashes

I recently documented, on Facebook, my process of using up leftover wild boar via a series of three hashes. Here's the whole roll:
Day One: Wild Boar Hash

Hash of leftover wild boar, roast potatoes, watercress, garlic, and a few spoonfuls of leftover Brazilian feijão tropeiro (beans with toasted yucca flour and cilantro).

Day Two: Another Day, Another Wild Boar Hash!

Gotta finish up leftovers. A hunk of leftover wild boar sits desiccating in my fridge along with some Brazilian feijão tropeiro (beans with toasted yucca flour and cilantro). Today, I added onions (and served vegetables on the side).

I've been trying for years to expand on the Indian insight that different onion prep techniques create very different effects (try Dopiaza - "two onions" - sometime, a North Indian staple that creates great richness by using onions two different ways). One part of that involves experimenting with cusp burntness. Flirting with burntness.

You may glance at the photo and say "Dude, that's not flirting, that's fully-consummated burntness". But different foods have different points where they taste subjectively burnt.

Cookies and potato chips, for example, need to retain some golden color or else taste gross and carbonized. But onions have such personality when aggressively seared that you will taste grill rather than carbon even at this advanced point.

That said, I wouldn't have cooked them a second longer (I use my sense of smell a lot when cooking...deep primordial juju alerts us when things are heading south. If you pay very vigilant attention, and act immediately, you can learn to intercept a cooking process within an iota of its decline from peak. Refining this sort of thing is how I get MY JOLLIES).

I also dumped in some of yesterday's roast potato chunks, but this time didn't spotlight them, first, because they're leftover (yesterday I roasted fresh), and, second, because I only had a few. So I let demoted them to spuddy carb sponges (I was gentle with heat not to dry them further, but I did achieve a dab of fresh caramelization).

Yesterday, I linked a commenter to three postings where I explain my hash technique, plus offered details on how I handled the wild boar chunks (really, shreds). Replay below:

Hash is the easiest thing in the world. In fact, the problem's the easiness...not doing too much. The more you do, the worse it gets.

Here are three breezy Slog postings explaining my hash technique (with food porn photos):
Pork Rib Hash
Breakfast Hash
Perfecting and Applying Pan-Toasted Tortilla Shreds
One more thing! I finger-pulled shreds off a solid block of leftover wild boar, then added them to a warm lightly oil-coated fry pan, and pushed it down with a bacon press ( I wanted some caramelization/crunch on the meat without drying it out (boar dries easily), hence the low temp and the press.

You need to visualize the particulars of how you want the result to be, then craftily plot your way there, always opting for the laziest, most cheating route.

Day Three: Hashy Collapse

My previous two hashes were about simple moves executed with great consideration, as I worked to use up the dwindling block of desiccating braised wild boar in my fridge.

Today, I hadn't had a bite until 4 PM, so I was famished. Lacking discipline to make any effort, this was slipshod hash. Still pretty good (an 8 out of 10 on my surprisingly non-ditzy system for rating foods, i.e. "elicits vocal expression of pleasure").

Roast potatoes are all gone and I didn't have the patience to boil rice. I had two handfuls of unsauced supermarket gnocchi in the fridge, so I boiled them up with some frozen mixed vegetables. Meanwhile tossed onions in a frying pan, like yesterday, but sloppily-cut and paying less attention to timing and temperature. I hand-pulled strands of wild boar meat again, but less thoughtfully. Trusting instinct, I used a bit more of the leftover Brazilian beans, counting on them to add some of the subtle flavor I wasn't conjuring with the other ingredients.

I weighed down the sizzling meat mixture again with my cast iron bacon press, dumped gnocchi and vegs into serving bowl, added the meat/onion, stirred, and devoured in about twelve seconds flat.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

MacSparky's Obsidian Preview Video

In yesterday's posting, "The Unsolved Mystery of Storing Notes and Data Scraps on Computers", I mentioned that MacSparky was about to release a huge guide to the app. That seems to be a week or so away, but, meanwhile, he's released this generous free 43 minute preview video explaining the app, comparing it to other tools, and demonstrating the basic set-up process. It's shorter and considerably less irritating than the epic 2 hour tutorial I also linked to.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

The Unsolved Mystery of Storing Notes and Data Scraps on Computers

I recently bumped into the hardest question in current day personal computing. I needed to store two chunks of data somewhere:
  • 1. FedEx International Connect Plus has the best international shipping rates.
  • 2. Santa Susana is the darkest place for stargazing on the Setúbal peninsula.
Where do I put them???

In olden days, they'd have wound up scrawled onto sticky notes. But we foolishly expect computers to liberate us from such hell.

I certainly didn't want to create new folders on my Mac titled "Shipping Rate Tips" and "Portuguese Astronomy Tips". I've been down that road. Because my interests are very broad, I've built immense arrays of virtual filing cabinets stuffed with folders each containing exactly one moldering, forgotten item. It's a horror.

This stuff's non-heirarchical and non-linear. Much of it connects, but only in a helter-skelter web style of connection that doesn't lend itself to tidy conventional filing schemes.

Programmers, trying to solve this, have created a class of app with many names. "Gutbucket" apps. "Shoebox" apps. "Personal information managers". Options range from baroquely complex, expensive, feature-stuffed, unusable software like DEVONThink or Roam Research to dauntingly free-form, open-source unusuable software momentarily championed by geeks who, despite their raves, inevitably soon move on to some other trendy competitor.

Really, developers are damned if they do or don't. Sleek easy apps lack the power to tame huge hairballs of info. And the more the app tries to assist me, the more assumptions (inevitably false) it's making about the help I need, so I feel pushed around. So there's got to be a learning curve. And if you give me an open playing field to do as I like with, I'll throw up my hands in confusion. We users are impossible!

Obsidian is starting to win the war, at least for non-Geeks. A high learning curve is inevitable (per reasons above) for any powerful/flexible information manager, so I'm resigned to it. And this category of apps only prove their worth after months of dogged use (which explains why the crowd keeps moving on). So this is like recommending a binge watch of a TV series that gets good in season 8...but you have to watch it all to follow the plot. Like all these apps, Obsidian requires dogged tagging, which does not come naturally to me. One day, shortly before I expire, AI will be empowered to suck down all my notes and make ordered sense of it all. But I'm starting to accept that, barring such help, tagging and all the other laborious aspects are necessary hurdles for a gutbucket app to work - to integrate my stuff so it doesn't wind up forgotten and inaccessible, filed, one-item-per-folder, in a jillion virtual filing cabinets. Or adrift on a curling sticky note.


I follow MacSparky, who's about to release (this week or next) a "field guide" to Obsidian with a slew of video tutorials. Worth watching for (here). Here's a generous free 43 minute preview video explaining the app, comparing it to other tools, and demonstrating the basic set-up process.

Note that Obsidian is VERY aggressively it keeps changing. Aside from general overview (like the older MacSparky material in the previous link), avoid any tutorial or guide over six months old. This two hour epic tutorial is pretty recent, and only somewhat irritating.

But I get a feeling that TiddlyWiki might be the best of all. Maybe a notch or two over the geeky line for most users, but the extra power/flexibility seems worth the learning curve. For one thing, while Obsidian, under the hood, generates thousands of text documents (easily exported, but only Obsidian owns their context and connections), TiddlyWiki (if I understand correctly) builds a single-paged wiki, so your stuff is really really consolidated. Also: much stronger and more flexible interlinking.

Grok TiddlyWiki is the canonical get-started guide.

Here's a list of newbie resources from the TiddlyWikitters themselves

Mehregan is an interesting variant of Tiddlywiki

I'm sullenly un-wowed by apps claiming to offer a graphical layout representation of YOUR MIND, man! Sure, babe. So I almost discarded Tangent, but took one last look, and had to admit this implementation might be useful in an info manager app. And Tangent, itself, looks interesting, at a glance.

In the end, the Obsidian vs TiddlyWiki decision is a larger issue of Note Taking Apps vs (Personal) Wikis as a Personal Knowledge Store

Monday, August 14, 2023

Trump's Reframing

You know how Donald Trump's lies are never random? They're always folded back on themselves, so every projection's a confession?

He's crafting not just a new reality, but a tightly-focused mirror image anti-reality.

Why? I just realized that he viscerally understands this .

...and he uses it not for transcendence, per my examples, but for degradation. A telescope offers two views.

Monday, August 7, 2023


A musician friend who mastered a very difficult thing (Frank Zappa's notorious Black Page drum solo) complained to me that his family was unable to appreciate his achievement. To them, it was just yet more hitting of skins with sticks.

Here, fwiw, is Pablo doing his nerdily impossible thing:

I reminded him that this is normal. When a mathematician makes headway on a difficult theory, or an engineer solves some vexing problem, or a translator finds just the right phrase, none expect friends and family to applaud.

Mathematicians don't force their social and family groups to master the Navier-Stokes Existence And Smoothness Equation so they can join him at his level for dinner conversation. Off-duty engineers chat about their daughter's middle school grades and the family budget, not structural mechanics. People turn off their specializations and preoccupations while off work, becoming more generic - and thus more interactive - humans. That's how the world has always worked.

I, too, struggle to bear this in mind. The silent scattering of Slog readers have some notion of what I think about (though this is only my more accessible stuff). It seems abstruse and confusing for most people, though to me it's fiendishly simple (what's truly difficult are the internal Jenga towers of brooding discontent we whimsically fabricate and nurse as our Big Lifelong Project - not the observation that we do this).

I understand that it would be obnoxious and anti-social of me to derail conversations by debunking fallacious thinking, identifying frozen perspectives, etc. This is a big reason I made food my interface with humanity for a long while. Tacos and brownies, everyone can relate to. The other stuff populating my brain, not so much.

Whenever it feels lonely to keep it all to myself, I remember how unreasonable my drummer friend seemed, expecting his family to get it. He was missing a central truth; one I strive to remain in touch with.

Two differences between him and me, though. First, there are other drummers. He has some people he can talk to about the topic, and who'd emphatically applaud that video. My stuff is just me, alone. Second, while that sort of drumming, like advanced engineering, mathematics, translation, etc., has little to do with most people's day-to-day lives, the stuff I think about is right there, right now, underpinning it all.

Of course, a cosmologist or brain surgeon or linguist or particle physicist or auto mechanic or chemical engineer or endocrinologist might say the same thing.


I see how unreasonable it is to expect my ideas to be of interest to the portion of humanity that's not me - who are all-in on starring in epic narratives where they dodge fake slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. And I see that truth is as welcome as glaring house lights suddenly switching on mid-show, shocking dark-adapted eyes and spoiling the deliberate suspension of disbelief. But I haven't a clue how to make myself - the guy with insight on all that - useful.

I guess just keep gambling. Perhaps that's the only avenue for a 21st century deva. Sure, it's lonely and sparse, but much less so than standing around awaiting lost travelers in Himalayan snowstorms. I guess I've got it relatively good.

I appear to have lost my ability to pull off magic tricks here.

(It's a siddhi, which, btw, has a name: "saraswati", though don't bother googling; the Internet, as I've frequently noted, is both too icily academic and frothily soft-headed to deal soberly with metaphysical/yoga-ish topics.)

Used to be, I'd sit down and start writing and, after feverish work, things would more or less tie together, and a few bonus sprinkles (sprinkles!) of insight would be coughed up in the process (an unexpected gift ala Walter-the-bus-driver's bubblegum).

But lately, I find myself unable to tie strands together, and the insight arrives, to use a salad dressing analogy, on the side, rather than worked into the lettuce. And I can't get it into the lettuce. I keep writing and discarding; writing and discarding.

People in my family lose sharpness in their mid 60s, and while I'm only just 60, this Slog has always represented extreme over-achievement (read through this series, particularly, to see a poor shmuck boxing way, way, way above his weight class). Many readers strangely assume this is all idly tossed off, but, no, I need every single marble (and then some!) to pull this off. So even minor degeneration leaves me incapable.

Fitting in that "Deva" chunk, at the end, was the magic connection. It tied together, along with a couple sprinkles. This time it worked, and I hope it's not the last.

Saturday, August 5, 2023

Leaps in Text-to-Speech

I wanted to get through this NY Times article on the history behind the Oppenheimer film, but I had some tasks to take care of. So, with misgivings, I asked my iPad to read it to me. And it was as bad as I'd feared. Here's a short paragraph:
With its depth of historical re-creation, its cast of famous figures given tantalizingly brief appearances, its scientific, political and sociological threads running away in multiple directions, a movie like Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” doubles as an encouragement to read more deeply into the history it portrays.

Welcome to 1975. Jesus.

But then I remembered all the work being done on AI reading thesedays, so perhaps some upstart can do a better job. I quickly found NaturalReader, which (alone among the upstarts) lets me use their service without needing to log on (at least for a while). And check it out:

It's not without its quirks. It gets stuck a good long while on the comma after "directions", and, like Apple's voice, the "away" in "running away" gets hollered for some reason. But it's usable!

In Apple's recent earnings call, Tim Cook testily disavowed the notion that they're lagging on AI. Between this and the still-awful Siri, the problem seems clear.

Friday, August 4, 2023

Don’t Call My Kid 'Extraordinary'!

Fourteen years ago I lived in a small town, on a charming street, among sincere families. The daughter of one such family clearly had serious art talent. Nothing flashy (so no one had noticed), but she had "It", whatever "It" is. And, as I've written, people, being oblivious, very often need to be told who they - or those around them - are.

So I told her father that his daughter had extraordinary talent, and he blanched in horror. I don't remember if he actually spoke the phrase, but this was clearly his reaction: “Don’t call my kid ‘Extraordinary’!”

It completely startled me. And when I get confused, I start pondering - a horrendously slow grinding process. The insights I cough up these days represent glacially slow-simmering processes come to fruition. I'm not smart; just patiently old (you need both: aging alone doesn't confer wisdom).

A dim, foggy comprehension has been baking all this time, and a bell just rang. It's done! I know what he meant, and even concede that he might have been right. As usual, the epiphany seems banal in its fully-digested form:
It’s bad to make oneself an edge case.

Banal, sure, but no one ever explained this to me. I could have used fewer people in my youth urging me to strive infinitely; to unswervingly follow my own path, ignoring convention and status quo. Being ant-like in my persistence, I took those precepts to heart! I guess no one figured I'd actually do that stuff!

I'm not saying I'd have changed my tack had I realized the perils of a person becoming such an edge case that they're an edge case among edge cases. But I would have been less puzzled and traumatized by the dazed (seldom in a good way) worldly reaction.

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