Jun 30, 2009

philippe parreno: the boy from mars

i saw this at the kunsthalle in zurich; to get to the screening room, you walk through galleries mostly empty except for parreno's extremely bright marquee sculptures. one room was dedicated to a cloud of helium-filled black speech bubbles bobbing at the ceiling. the gallery was deserted, and the marquee at the door to the screening room slowly faded from brilliance to complete darkness while the boy from mars looped, a quiet, serene, and disquieting film made in thailand, apparently on property owned by rirkrit tiravanija. (music at the end is by devendra banhart, whose music is so surpassingly strange i am lost for words.)

microwave vacuum dehydration: experiments in plasma explosion

the latest post from cooking issues is about using a microwave and a vacuum to dehydrate fruit. in building a jerry-rigged microwave vacuum chamber, what they had apparently not thought of was that "under partial vacuum, microwave ovens really, really want to make balls of plasma. I kept having giant balls of fire shooting off the thermocouple. I ripped out the thermocouple. Then I kept on getting balls of fire coming off my oranges." have i mentioned how much i love cooking issues?

geert goiris, blast #3

first infusion

before moving a few weeks ago, i noticed that what appeared to be an ornamental cherry tree in the yard next door was in fact a tree beginning to burgeon with edible, plump sour cherries. the fruit got ever larger and riper, and eventually i had no choice but to ring the doorbell and ask if they would let me pick the cherries that they clearly weren't eating. a few days ago, i made off with a pound; yesterday, remembering the chairs in the back of the old house, another two pounds, this time dark red, drippingly juicy, and on the verge of being overripe. the first infusion is sour cherry, fresh mint, and cherry pits (in vodka). does cambridge need one of these?

Jun 29, 2009


  1. writing in library books. even in pencil. i would like to arrive on my own at the conclusion that "NETWORK = POWER!!!"
  2. items on craigslist and ebay without decision-critical metadata. who is going to buy a "bike frame, paint chipped in places, with wheel"?
  3. unnecessary and unpleasant ornamentation on otherwise functional, well-designed objects. i don't want big purple dots on my hammer handle.
  4. PDFs of book pages that are surrounded by enormous black borders (wasted toner!), slightly skewed (unreadable!), and scanned at unnecessarily high resolution (network load!)
  5. despatch systems that give 6-hour service windows during which you're expected to be home and then fail to despatch a serviceperson within said window. (verizon, i'm looking at you.)


Whether a given problem is similarly shaped enough to be solved by analogical transfers of schemes cannot be decided in advance by social scientific analysts, but must be determined case by case by the actors, which means that there is no fixed limit to the possible transpositions.
william sewell, the theory of structure
on which subject, also see this.

Jun 20, 2009


cultures that honor individuality create diversions that routinely disguise the collective bases of individual identity.

Jun 19, 2009

more on the hermeneutic circle

You wander about for some time while noticing interesting things, and then you try to find a way out by listening for what the natives suggest, even though you know that in the singularity of your own experience, you will always remain an outsider, even though the natives often can't give directions to the major landmarks in their own hometown, and even though you can never wipe out your own access or ignore theirs, with the result that, when you are finally ready to restate what you think they are saying, you know you still might be led astray.

Jun 18, 2009

moving and the internet #2

the minuscule modem arrived in an enormous box with the first UPS truck today but the large, multifold setup guide* says (i paraphrase freely): "do not attempt to install or use the internet until your service activation date** or you will be beset by a fate too awful to describe." technology always overpromises and underdelivers.

* same size as the enormous box's footprint. coincidence?
** still SIX DAYS AWAY.

ashmead's kernel

is an old english russet apple "medium size, golden-brown skin with a crisp nutty snap. Fruit explodes with champagne-sherbet juice infused with a lingering scent of orange blossom. Flesh is dense, sugary and aromatic with intense flavor, characteristic of russets."* orangepippin.com (the comprehensive resource for apples and orchards) tells us that ashmead's kernel is a homely fruit (and how) but, with flavour like that, does it really matter? once available here but now, alas, sold out.

* for erudite and mildly snarky essays on garden catalogues and their often purple prose, see onward and upward in the garden, by katharine s. white (wife of e.b.)

Jun 16, 2009

moving and the internet

just moved, and in the process of painting miscellaneous things. i placed an order for verizon dsl and they have just shipped the modem. activation is scheduled for june 24 which is EIGHT DAYS AWAY. naturally, it is not possible to collect the modem in person at the verizon store in harvard square and still get it for free in this online-only offer they're having. i want the internet back now.

Jun 10, 2009

fusion tables and data interchange

google research introduces fusion tables, and it's neat and nifty, but it looks different from when it was first conceived (and when we started talking about it in earnest, during this trip). i guess that's what happens when you leave mid-way. more thoughts to come.

Jun 8, 2009

a new source of deliciousness

pomegranate molasses, lime juice, honey, and soda water, with mint. we could sell this at a beachside bar, with fried chickpeas rolled in cayenne pepper, cumin, and dried mint flakes, and make millions.

Jun 2, 2009

munich to zurich

[catching up #2; tenses are all over the place, as you might expect]

this first bit written on a quiet, fast, inexpensive train from munich to zurich*, with leonard cohen's the faith** playing on the ipod as we roll through the summer country towards switzerland. this is immeasurably better than flying.

the 3D display at the zurich hb was dark when i got there, so i passed it by and came directly to wollishofen where hk was waiting for me at the tram stop. i rehydrated extensively while she cooked, then we walked down to the lake when tom got back. after dinner, we allowed the food to settle for a decent period before venturing into the lake, which was clear and not as cold as it looked. i bumped into a duck while swimming to the jetty; it looked surprised, bobbed its head slowly up out of the water, then sent a long string of poop into the depths.

* is it really so hard to get this right? spend less money on highways and cars, stop subsidising gas and the auto industry, learn to eat food grown closer to home, tax cars and gas more, build common-gauge rail lines, and good transit systems almost inevitably become reality.
** apparently based on an old basque song. i first heard this at enrique martinez celaya's lecture at the ranch last summer.


[catching up #1] an assortment of thoughts:

  1. there's quite a lot of art in munich (i cherrypicked and went to the glyptothek, the moderne*, and the brandhorst).
  2. the munich subway train stations have no faregates, only a ticket validator. this is quite nice and for sure reduces cost of enforcement. but such a fare system (essentially self-checking) only works when a few conditions coexist. rule-abiding, non-freeriding users are probably critical, but the incentive structures built into fares is also important. in munich, a single trip in the two central zones runs about EUR2; a 7 day unlimited pass for the same zones is EUR11.50; the fine for not having a valid ticket is EUR40. clearly, the only intelligent decision is to buy the long-term unlimited pass. this encourages high-volume usage and reduces the need for enforcement. the same thing, by the way, happens in zurich (on which more anon). if only we knew which were necessary and which were sufficient.
  3. shops close early. you can't buy a band-aid after 8, but you can be drinking beer and eating sausages til well past midnight. on balance, this is a good thing.
  4. and what beer and what sausages. holy crap. special mention: thanks to patrick, we made an excursion to the stunningly touristy andechser pub in the old city and had some draft andechser doppelbock. dark in the glass, crisp, surprisingly clean-tasting, very aromatic with citrus and malt.
  5. also, the grocery stores sell beer for less than the price of bottled water, less, in fact, than the price of PBR in cambridge, mass. this was a cause of joy in munich and now, as i write this in cambridge, a source of crushing despair. i thought of buying water for the grilling excursion, but the thought perished rapidly.
  6. the isar river runs through munich and is remarkably clean and cold. near thalkirchen, there is a gravel bank where enormous crowds gather to grill on myriad disposable grilling devices and drink beers cooled by immersion in the river. our grilling was almost thwarted by defective matches and failure to completely read the detailed instructions on the grilling device. competence prevailed, and we eventually succeeded in attaining perfectly caramelised bratwurst, herbed pork loin, and white asparagus (you know it is spargel-season when asparagus costs EUR4.60 for a half-kilogram and EUR5 for one kilogram), accompanied by copious quantities of toasted rye bread, cheese, and summer beverages of choice, which are
  7. either a radler (wheat beer or lager mixed with lemonade or lemon soda) or an apple-soda (exactly what you'd expect). both are quite civilized, much like
  8. quark. why have i never before encountered this remarkable dairy product? it is so versatile, delicate-tasting, and available in germany in a panoply of baked goods
  9. which include breads! you can buy them by weight, they are baked fresh every day, and they are strong, brown, and full of spices. the pretzels (or brez'n) are chewy, glossy, flecked with salt and, if you're lucky, still warm.
* what is a pinakothek? it is a mystery.