In the Mood

Although I regret not having seen Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love until now, I wonder whether I’d have really appreciated if I’d seen it when I was younger.

I’m sure if I’d seen it when it came out that I wouldn’t have.

Baking Paper aka Frying Paper

If you have a frying pan that is not quite as non-stick as you’d like it to be, pop a bit of baking paper in there before you start cooking. Voila! It’s now one hundred per cent non-stick.

I made chicken teriyaki the other night using this tip. It calls for starting the chicken skin down in a cold pan and cooking it until golden. Usually at least some chicken skin ends up getting stuck to the pan, but this time there was none!

Curry With Properly Seared Beef

I made Japanese beef curry tonight using Kenji’s tip from his recipe for American stew. Rather than dicing the beef then trying to sear it — something that hardly ever works — you cut it into a couple of steak-sized chunks and sear those. It’s much easier to avoid the dreaded problem of the beef expelling massive amounts of water and basically steaming rather than searing.

Also, rather than boiling the meat and veggies for 20 minutes, as directed on the roux pack — I just used our usual S&B Torokeru curry — I simmered them for a couple of hours on a very low flame to give the beef time to become tender. The result was one of the best packet-based curries we’ve had in quite a while.

Blog Tinkering

I spent an hour or two yesterday tinkering with this blog’s colour scheme — switching it from oppressive greys to a somewhat lighter feeling. The colour and font choices were inspired — by which I mean copied and pasted from — Quanta Magazine’s beautiful Arrows of Time page, although my lack of design skills has produced something much clumsier and more homely looking.

I also experimented with adding a few images. There’s still a lot of work to do with those, partly because I’m not really sure what purpose I want them to play. I don’t want them to take over the page, but I don’t want them to seem like little thumbnails. They’re also way too heavy and not very responsive. Hugo has some image processing abilities that may be helpful, but looking into them will have to wait for next weekend.

An Afternoon Walk

Abandon (Nearly) All Hope

Simon Critchley on the audacity of hope:

When democracy goes astray, as it always will, the remedy should not be some idealistic belief in hope’s audacity, which ends up sounding either cynical or dogmatic or both. The remedy, in my view, is a skeptical realism, deeply informed by history.

The Nourishing Wake

On my walk this evening, an old essay by Craig Mod popped into my head. It was even more moving reading it again after all these years. In it he imagines reversing the tsunami of 2011.

I pulled the tsunami back. I drew the inland water back into the ocean. I pulled it over the rice paddies, unflattening them; the trees, straightening them — a billion billion leaves fluttering back into position. I drew the water back, back, back. It was easy because it was what I had to do, I tell her looking her straight in the eyes. Perhaps you don’t understand, but I had to. As the water washed backwards over the towns, homes were placed firmly onto the soil. The elderly were swept the opposite of away, they were swept into. Into their lives: onto tatami, sipping tea, listening to the radio, getting their hair done, strolling in the beautiful early spring light, thinking about their grandchildren who were going to visit in a week over the long holiday.

Read the whole thing.

Halide Instant Raw

I recently cleared up a longstanding confusion I had about Halide. I thought you could export a RAW image that had been processed with Instant RAW as a RAW file and continue your edits in another program, such as Lightroom or Darkroom. It turns out that you can’t. Instant RAW is a proprietary process, so Halide doesn’t send the adjustments it has made when you export as RAW. To use Instant RAW as a starting point, you have to export as JPEG and edit that file, which limits the range of edits that you can apply.

I often like what Instant RAW does with my photos, but I’d still like to do a bit more with them. If my understanding of the Adobe docs is right, DNG files can store this kind of information, so it’s not impossible. It’d be nice if Halide’s makers could work something out with the Darkroom people to transfer the adjustments but to obfuscate them in some way.

That said, my pictures are not photographic masterpieces. I’m probably not losing much by exporting them as JPEG and making a few minor edits except the geeky satisfaction of knowing that I’m editing in RAW.

Aliens in Kings Park

A wildflower with fluffy bits

Not Quite My Own C64

My first computer was a Commodore 64. Way before I had my own though, I had access to one at the local public computer lab — aka, K-Mart. The local library had a few C64 magazines full of BASIC programs ready to be typed out, but magazines, for some reason, could not be loaned. I can’t clearly remember, but I think there was also a rule against them being photocopied. Otherwise why would I, as I clearly remember, have spent hours copying these programs by hand into an exercise book? Maybe I just didn’t have enough money.

After I’d got one down and more or less checked, I rode my embarrassingly non-BMX bike to K-Mart, where I stood for hours typing away on the display machine. It seems strange now, but I don’t remember anyone ever asking me to move on or stop what I was doing. The majority of the programs I tried out threw up a SYNTAX ERROR, caused either by my hunt-and-bash typing, poor copying, or the frequent flaws in the magazine text.

Sometimes, though, they worked, and when they did it was like hitting a home run. I had no way to save these programs, though, so when I was done I had no choice but to just walk away, leaving them to be wiped when the power was shut off for the night.

Notes on Fellowship of the Ring

We watched Tenet the evening before last so to give our aching brains a rest we went for simpler fare last night — The Fellowship of the Ring.

We watched this a tonne of times back in Japan, but only on a tiny TV that didn’t even do DVDs justice. Watching it on a larger screen with better resolution was something else. There were so many details I had never noticed before, despite the many times I’ve seen it. One that stood out was a long shot of Aragorn in silhouette stepping out onto a ledge on Weathertop. Although I know I have, I felt as though I’d never seen it before.

We went for the theatrical release rather than the extended one, mainly because it has Japanese subtitles. A couple of the extra scenes that I missed and would have liked to see again were the giving of the gifts when the fellowship leaves Lothlorien and Boromir’s funeral. A lot of work went into getting details of the model of Boromir that goes over the falls just right and none can be seen in the theatrical version. Such a pity!

Never in my life, even when I was a freshly born baby, has my skin ever been as smooth as Elijah Woods' in this film.

Shepherd's Pie

Shepherd’s pie is not a tricky dish, but it still rewards a bit of care. I tried this recipe from Serious Eats last night and it was great. It features a couple of my favourite Serious Eats recipe tricks: the use of gelatine to thicken a sauce and the addition of umami bombs — in this case Worcestershire sauce and Marmite, though I used Vegemite instead. Too bad they couldn’t work the reverse sear in there somehow too!

I ended up skipping the cream and parmesan in the potatoes. After tasting them while mashing I felt like I’d be running into the law of diminishing returns by adding more dairy. They already tasted great; how much extra flavour would I really be getting from all the extra calories and saturated fat on top of the butter already there?

A True Test of Artificial Intelligence

I will only start worrying about machines taking over the world when an algorithm can choose a movie for the four members of my family faster than we can. Today’s time to beat is 47 minutes, which felt like 47 hours.

Non-breaking Em Dashes

This little snippet of code from Robin Sloan is very nice. It’s basically a regular expression that rewrites your HTML so that a line will never begin with an em dash. It also bookends the em dash with very thin spaces, which look just a bit nicer.

Now I have to work out how to apply it to the posts on this site, which are generated by Hugo. It’d be relatively easy if I were just running Hugo locally and deploying from my local machine, but I’m using Netlify to build and deploy. It seems like it might be possible to do if I write a plugin that runs after a build. All I have to do is work out what Javascript is needed to run the regular expression, get it to do that to a bunch of files at once, and then discover what magical incantations are needed to make the whole thing work.

Sounds like a nice holiday project.

Roast Pork Shoulder

I made Nagi Maehashi’s recipe for roast pork the other night. It was pretty successful. The meat was tender and, most importantly, the skin was exactly as salty and crispy as I had hoped it would be. I’ve only tried this kind of roast a couple of times before and both times were abject failures. The meat turned out okay, but the skin has hard and rubbery. Hoping to avoid that, I followed the recipe and timing as closely as I could. One variation was skipping the fennel seeds. I actually bought them, but when I opened the pack, the fragrance hit me so hard I decided to give them a miss and stuck with salt, pepper and oil. Maybe next time.

Nagi recommends getting a flat square chunk of meat, which I couldn’t find in any of the butchers I went to. I had to make do with a vacuum-packed, rolled and tied roast from the supermarket, which she pretty much says to avoid. Unrolled and freed from its string it still looked more like a football cut in half than a lasagna, which I think is probably the shape to go for. Even so, it turned out pretty good, although I should have done more to flatten it out before starting.

Something I’ll pay more attention to next time is monitoring the final blast of heat at the end of the roast. The recipe advises to cover bits of skin that get done first with pieces of foil to stop them them from burning, holding them in place with toothpicks that have been soaked in water. Stupidly, I dismissed this as being overly fussy and most likely optional. However, when I saw how quickly some parts of the skin were cooking compared to others I realised my mistake. Next time, I’ll be soaking the toothpicks well ahead of time. Unless you have a perfectly flat piece of meat you’ll want to use this technique.

The only part of the recipe that didn’t work out quite as well as I’d hoped was the gravy. With the amount of flour called for the gravy was thick and gluey, even after all the stock and pan juices were mixed in. I ended up just ladling a little of it into another pan and diluting it with a bit more stock, which ended up tasting pretty good. Considering how spot-on the rest of this recipe was, I wondered why this part was so off. I got in touch with Nagi, who told me that there’d been a recent template change, which led to an error. It should have been 35 grams rather than 65.

Aside from tasting great, this is a great example of the kind of recipe I love to see. It includes in-depth explanations of why you need to do things a certain way and copious notes on things to watch out for, but does it in a light and easy-to-read manner. Looking forward to my next attempt.

Sounds Like a Threat

John Gruber on the AI hurdles facing Apple’s self-driving cars:

But how can the division behind Siri — a product that gets confused about what you mean by “What time is it in London?"—make a car that safely drives around a parking lot, let alone roads? “This car is as smart as Siri” sounds like a threat, not a selling point.

“This must be your first”

Zeynep Tufekci

It’s not enough to count on our institutions to resist such onslaughts. Our institutions do not operate via magic. They do not gain their power from names, buildings, desks, or even rules. Institutions rely on people collectively agreeing to act in a certain way. Human laws do not simply exert their power like the inexorable pull of gravity. Once people decide that the rules are different, the rules are different.

Apple Silicon Games

Apple Silicon Games lists over 400 games and reports on how well they run on Apple’s M1-based laptops.

Happily, Disco Elysium, the only game I’m likely to be playing for the next year or so — because it’s so deep — seems to run great. In fact, it’s already been updated to run natively on the M1.

Missing Inception Subs

Yesterday, Sony released a firmware update for a bunch of recent TVs that added, amongst other things, support for the Apple TV app. It seems to work great. I had a quick look through all my iTunes movies, and the 4K ones all look superb. One weird glitch I ran into is that Japanese subtitles don’t work in Inception. They work in every other movie I tried, and work in Inception on my Mac and phone, but not the TV. I wonder whether an app update will fix it or if it’s an issue with the encoding of the video file itself and, presumably, out of Apple’s hands.

Big Sur Bricking Older MacBook Pros

According to MacRumours

Users are reporting that during the course of updating to ‌macOS Big Sur‌, their machines are stuck displaying a black screen. Key reset combinations, including NVRAM, SMC, safe mode, and internet recovery, are all reportedly inaccessible after attempting to install the update, leaving no way to bypass the static black screen.

It appears that the overwhelming number of users experiencing problems are owners of the late 2013 and mid 2014 13-inch MacBook Pro, but it is unclear exactly how many users of these models have been affected. It is also of note that these are the oldest models supported by ‌macOS Big Sur‌.

Yikes. That’s exactly the MacBook I have. I was very close yesterday to updating to Big Sur to see whether it might fix a longstanding issue. Very glad I didn’t.

Brain Malleability

This interview with neuroscientist David Eagleman is full of ideas. One of the most intriguing is his speculation that dreaming is a defence mechanism used by the visual cortex to prevent the encroachment of other senses.

We always think about the area at the back of the brain, where you do all the seeing, as the visual cortex. But if you go blind — in fact, if we even just blindfold you tightly and stick you in a scanner for a little while — we’ll see that other areas like touch and hearing are starting to encroach on that area.

We have electricity for lighting now, but in evolutionary time, 99.99 percent of it, we didn’t have that. You really were in the dark. Your hearing and your touch were just fine in the dark, but your vision was disadvantaged. And given the speed of takeover, that means the visual cortex is going to get taken over just by dint of the planet’s rotation. Years ago, my student Don Vaughn and I worked out a model showing that dreaming appears to be a way of keeping the visual cortex defended every night.

Albrecht Durer

Seeing Our Own Reflection in the Birth of the Self-Portrait by Jason Farago.

But the premise that an image can be an authentic representation — that you are a unique individual at all — is not self-evident. It is a historical development. It had to be invented.

More than five centuries ago, Albrecht Dürer painted images so detailed and exact that they seemed some kind of divine creation.

One subject fascinated him above all: himself.

Chess by Tom Wainwright

Chess by Tom Wainwright. A lovely little post about chess, intelligence, distraction and self-care.

Maybe it’s appropriate, now that computers are the unquestioned champions of the game, that chess is now a vehicle for us fleshy vessels to better understand our complicated and finicky abilities.

Baby Magpie

Waiting at the lights on the way to work this morning I looked in my rearview mirror and saw a baby magpie perched on the side mirror of the car behind me. Maybe it wasn’t a baby — it wasn’t really that small — but it certainly wasn’t fully grown. A teenaged magpie, perhaps. It was rather agitated — fluttering about and, it seemed, trying to get into the car through the window. Also agitated was the driver. He alternated between bashing at the window and holding his face in what I interpreted as a “why is this happening to me” kind of way.

Before long, the magpie migrated to my side mirror and began the same fluttering and bashing against my window. The lights changed so I moved on. The magpie held on for a good ten or so metres before it gave up and flew away to, I hope, exasperate or entertain more commuters.

Salt & Fat's Tomato-Butter Sauce

The day ten years ago this recipe for tomato-butter sauce was posted on Salt & Fat was the day I started to cook. Until then I had prepared plenty of food and certainly thought that I had been cooking, but all I had really been doing was warming a few disparate ingredients enough to be edible and adding a bunch of salt at the end.

This, however, was the first time I had taken a few ingredients – tomatoes, an onion, salt and butter – and created something that tasted entirely different. I still remember the jolt I got from my first taste of this sweet, salty, jammy sauce. It was like alchemy.

Salt & Fat is a blog by Neven Mrgan and Jim Ray that ran from 2010 to 2014. It’s been on hiatus for a few years, but its archives are a treasure trove of ideas that massively expanded my food world. Food is food, after all, so it’s not as though any of this is going to go out of date anytime soon. A few highlights off the top of my head are —

That last one is for boiled potatoes, and is a particular favourite. Nothing could be simpler, but few things are as tasty in their simplicity. I no longer make any of these exactly as described, but I use the techniques described every single day.


Baby Magpie

Halide and Instant Raw

Not Quite My Own C64

The Wonders of Baking Paper

Curry with Properly Seared Beef

Salt & Fat’s Tomato-Butter Sauce

Roast Pork Shoulder with Crispy Crackling