blarg?

analog

You need a Silpat nonstick cooking mat, a baking tray, an oven and tongs. Turn the oven up to 400, but you don’t need to let it finish preheating; this starts from cold. Silpat goes on the tray, bacon goes on the Silpat and it all goes in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes.

No other interaction, no stirring, no splatter, no mess. Pull out the tray when it’s as crispy as you like; I prefer crispy bacon so I aim for the 25 minute mark, but there’s room for debate here. Pick the bacon up and shake off any excess fat, plate your evenly cooked, perfect-all-the-way-across bacon, done. Cleanup is incredibly easy, just pour the grease out and rinse the Silpat and tray with hot water.

This has really revolutionized my bacon-having experience. You should try it.

On my subway ride home last night two elderly Chinese ladies were sitting across from me having an animated conversation I couldn’t understand a word of, when one of them suddenly ended a sentence with “… like a boss.”

The conversation paused, as the other just lifted her eyebrows and nodded appreciatively.

The moment passed; they started back into it, and I stepped off the train shortly afterwards.

It was beautiful, truly.

After explaining the death of a neighbor’s cat to Maya, every conversation we have can now get incredibly heavy without the least bit of advance warning.

“Dad, I want eggs for breakfast.”
“Ok, Maya, how do you ask for things?”
“Please can I have eggs for breakfast please?”
“Sure. We can make scrambled eggs.”
“Ok. Dad, are you going to die?”
“Eventually. Hopefully not soon, but eventually everyone dies. That’s why we have to be kind to each other with the time we have.”
“Can I have ketchup?”
“Maya.”
“Please can I have ketchup with breakfast please please?”
“Certainly.”
“Is mom going to die?”

It’s honestly like having a cartoon piano land on your mood four times a day.

Guys guys great news: it turns out that panicky superstitious people who deliberately misinterpret their shallow understanding of an incredibly narrow slice of a foreign culture they’re otherwise completely disinterested in aren’t reliable predictors of anything at all ever.

Who saw that coming, right?

I like to imagine that for months now somewhere in the Yucatan peninsula people have been saying “Oh shit, man! The white people’s calendar ends on December 31st!!” and then howling with laughter, because somehow it’s hilarious every time.

Polaroid

I bought a beat-up Polaroid Spectra at a garage sale last week, and a single unopened package of Polaroid film in unknown condition. It cost me two dollars, and it’s the first time I’ve ever actually used one; I shot them all on the walk to the bakery with Maya, and she was confused and thrilled that the camera hummed and buzzed and spit out actual pictures. Physicalism! Imagine the novelty of it!

She was pretty sad after the tenth picture when I told her that no more could come out. Because cameras can take pictures forever, right? They don’t “run out” of anything, that’s ridiculous. She asked me if I needed to charge the batteries; the idea that a camera would just stop working is so brain-damaged and broken that it’s outside her understanding. I told her that the camera she was holding would never take another picture and she seemed genuinely hurt, like I was scolding her for breaking it.

“It won’t work again, Maya. Sorry.”

“Is it broken?”

“In a sense, yeah. In a lot of ways.”

“Oh. What happened to it?”

“I think, it’s … Progress, kid. Progress happened to it.”

I’ll try to explain it to her again when she’s older, but by then we’ll be playing so far past this that it’s hard to imagine she’ll care about it beyond humoring crazy old Dad while he’s telling one of his weird stories.

I have no sentimental attachment to the hardware, here – Polaroids are kind of dumb by 21st century standards, no matter what the fetishists tell you – but I have more than a little for my subject. So here you go, Maya. I’ve put most of these into a frame, for art’s sake; maybe someday you’ll like it for the kitsch value. Probably not; that is the way of things, but maybe. I’ll probably still be fond of it. Either way this is quite likely the last Polaroid I’ll ever shoot; I’ve always loved how much enthusiasm you can squeeze out of that smile.

The Last Polaroid I'll Ever Shoot

The Window

You’re no doubt familiar with the old horror-movie bit of the walking, lumbering monster being able to chase down a victim who’s running hard to get away from them. You know the drill: it doesn’t matter how hard, fast or far they’ve run, they could have the stamina of a marathoner and the speed of a sprinter: the moment they stop to catch their breath the monster is there, chainsaw, claws, mandibles or lurching undeadness to hand.

I’ve long thought that classic scares like that come from some common antecedent lodged deep in the collective unconscious, the common experiences that so many of us unsuspectingly have. But I hadn’t really thought about where that particular one might come from until I was trying to catch up with my daughter as she took off down the block, running flat out as fast as a two-year-old can go. While I walked after her at a stately pace, eventually catching her without particular effort.

So if you’re wondering what the original of that particular horror trope is, there you are.

It’s me.

There is an unresolved question at the core of adulthood that hovers unnamed in that ineffable, ethereal moment in the late cold evening that terrible ideas start looking like great ideas and also you have the internet and a credit card.

I think I should probably just go to bed.

Ideas get lodged in my head, and if they’re interesting enough – not necessarily “good”, mind you, but “interesting” – then I basically can’t do anything useful until I’ve gnawed away at them for hours. If it’s OCD that applies only to the inside of your head, is there even a word for that? Obsessive Compulsive Extrospection? Intramania? Let’s watch what happens as my friend Dave pursues his secret hobby of sneaking up on me and sticking broomhandles through the spokes of my brainwheels.

14:23 <@humph> mhoye: http://vimeo.com/20950590
14:31 < mhoye> what what
14:32 < mhoye> is he projecting directly onto the sensor?
14:32 < mhoye> That is so great.
14:37 <@humph> yeah
14:37 <@humph> seemed like you might like that
14:37 <@humph> that's what I do with software, done with cameras and lenses
14:38 < mhoye> Shadows on the cave.
14:38 < mhoye> I've never heard the shadows-on-cave-walls parable end with "We need a smarter cave".
14:39 < mhoye> But maybe that's an avenue of inquiry that's overdue.
14:43 < mhoye> About every third conversation I have with you makes me want to go sit in a dark corner for an hour or four just to turn the ideas over in my head, and then go write somebody else's doctoral thesis.
14:43 < mhoye> But I CANT because I have OTHER THINGS TO DO, dammit.
14:49 < mhoye> i don't even like you.

[...]

15:17 <mhoye> GAH
15:17 <mhoye> SERIOUSLY I AM TRYING TO DO WORK HERE
15:18 <mhoye> AND NOW ALL I CAN THINK ABOUT IS WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS OF THE CAVE HAVING AGENCY IN THAT METAPHOR

I don’t think I’m being unreasonable about this at all.

You Shouldn't Be Rapping

This week’s mad science news is that I’m starting to experiment with sous-vide cooking now that I’ve gotten around to building myself the necessary tool to do that, uninspiringly referred to as a sous-vide cooker.

The idea of sous-vide or “vacuum-sealed” cooking is that you can achieve various interesting results by cooking things at low and often quite specific temperatures for much longer periods of time. Eggs can actually be poached in the shell, for example, and meat of any thickness can be cooked to perfect medium rare all the way through before a quick searing on the grill to finish and serve.

It turned out to be pretty straightforward; you can use a slow cooker, but if you have a pot and a wall socket you can get the rest of the way there for about $100 in parts. While the resulting tool won’t get you all the way to the tenth-of-a-degree precision that professionals may insist they need, you can get an accuracy of plus or minus one degree for fraction of the cost.

That will be a familiar experience for anyone who’s ever bought professional lab equipment, no doubt; want that extra shaving of a decimal point’s worth of fractional accuracy? That’ll be a 20000% premium, please. Fortunately for me amateurishness can be pretty easy on the budget, at least in the short term.

This has been interesting reading, including the temperature charts that I was soliciting on twitter the other day. I’ve also been looking at this list of food temperatures from Health Canada, and a comparable U.S. Government food safety page with a just slightly jaundiced eye, as their tendency to err on the side of cook-until-rubberized is understandable. Even more unfortunately, most of the other sites I’ve found have all the familiar hallmarks of trending-term content farmers, and no.

Nevertheless, a quite high quality of ingredients and information about temperatures and times is important when one possible failure mode is the E-Coli-A-Gogo version of the Sea Monkeys Home Aquarium and a night in the ER vomiting out your lungs. Did that image dissuade you? It’s OK if it did, this isn’t for the culinarily timid or faint of gut. If not, excellent, let us press on; just don’t be doing this with discount meat, you know?

Assuming you have a medium-to-largeish pot to hand, you really don’t need much:

  • About a meter of loose extension cord wire and separate male and female ends you can attach it to. Three prong, please. You can pick this up at your local hardware store for between five and ten bucks, horribly overpriced at that.
  • A dozen or so smallish marrettes just to cleanly tie it all together. Hardware store, likewise.
  • The parts that your hardware store won’t have are a Temperature Controller, a solid state relay, and a thermocouple. Those links go to the places I got mine, and I was pretty happy doing business with them – they insisted on a shipping method with a tracking number to ship to Canada, but their prices were a lot better than I’ve found elsewhere, so.
  • A standalone electrical element like that one, and a wire rack of some kind that fits in the bottom of your pot. This is the part you can substitute with a non-digital slow-cooker (and possibly even a rice cooker?) if you’ve already got one of them.

I won’t go through the step-by-step of wiring all of that up, but email me if you like. The basic idea is this: power comes from the wall and goes both to the temperature controller and through one side of the relay. The other side of the relay, the control circuit part, is likewise wired up to the temperature controller (the documentation for that thing is here) as is the thermocouple. What you’ll end up with is essentially an extension cord with a thermometer switch; it switches on when the temperature drops below some value and off again once you get back where you want to be. You should clip the thermocouple wire to the side of your pot with a clothespin or something so it doesn’t touch the bottom of the pot, or your readings will get a bit skittish. The wire rack is just to keep the zip-lock freezer bags you’ll be using from touching the hot bottom of the pan directly.

That’s about it. The only thing I have left to do is to find myself a reasonably pretty project box for the whole assembly – right now it’s a little inelegant with all the wires hanging out, but it works like a charm. I’m going to be trying something a lot like this out tomorrow night, just to see what comes out the other end of it, and I have it on good authority that butter-poached ribeye is one of the greatest things in ever.

I’ll keep you informed!

Switchboard

Imagine if you would that somewhere in the bowels of CBC headquarters there is a great device of some kind, an upright metal sarcophagus adorned with a large bakelite dial and single green button. It is a worn gunmetal grey, the last and likely only one of its kind; a stern block of Cold-War-vintage engineering built to outlast the Soviet menace, its looming door secured with fist-sized bolts, arm-sized hinges and wide handwheels worn smooth from decades of wear. The dial twists from 1 to 10; next to the number 10 is a small plastic label, obviously affixed years later, and in small block capitals it reads “Jesse Jackson reading Green Eggs And Ham.

Next to 1 a similar label reads “Truman Capote trapped in a tumble dryer.” The metal below it is streaked red where it has been underlined repeatedly. It is lit by a single bare bulb, and the floor is strewn with pipes of various widths, threading away into the darkness.

Retrotech

Every few years in a ritual quietly observed by only a few of the CBC’s senior staff an elderly, bearded technician twists the dial left and right a few times before setting it back to 5, where a small maple leaf has been engraved in the steel. Somber, he presses the green button and the room fills with a low, mechanical hum. It subsides after a time; the handwheels begin to turn of their own accord. An acrid white smoke settles to the floor as the door opens, and Stuart Maclean emerges, reanimated by the most advanced technology that Avro Canada‘s secretive biological skunk-works could, once upon a time, provide.

He emerges from this Military Gothic process hungry and, for reasons no-one living can fully articulate, his first meal is invariably a damp mash made of Pierre Berton’s Toronto Star columns and Dave Barry’s earlier collections, their spines carefully removed. It is otherwise unseasoned.

As he stumbles forward, eyes unfocussed, he is promptly wrapped in the HBC blanket he will wear until he has fully recovered from the device’s more pernicious side effects, and is deemed ready to return to air.

I’m sure all that doesn’t happen, but whenever I hear Vinyl CafĂ©, I’m just a little more convinced that it must be something like that. Assembling the ambulatory thing that hosts it must be this horribly baroque, retromedically Lovecraftian vivigrafting process; it has to be. I may be the only person I know who can’t stand Stuart Maclean, but the fabrication of the eldrich mitocultural pastiche necessary to invoke him must be fascinating.