Saturday, September 29, 2007

Saveless mode

When I'm using a text editor or word processor, I don't want to have to think about saving the document. I want to be able to expect that if I've typed something, it's safe and I can't lose it.

I'm not saying that programs should completely forgo an explicit save feature. I'd just like it if, in addition to the way they are now, they'd also had a 'saveless' mode of running where it automatically and behind the scenes saved everything you typed as you typed.

At present, everytime I've write a little bit -- like a sentence, or a sentence clause -- I save the document. I find it simpler to constantly and habitually save, rather than having to remember to periodically (like once a minute) save.

I don't want that distraction of remembering to save. And I don't want the interruption of saving. Interrupting my typing and my thought processes, however minor that interruption may be.

Autosave features might sound like a solution, but I don't like them. If you have it save every minute or so, you still have the consciousness that changes between those saves aren't safe. And even if you have it save very frequently, like once a second, it's not ideal. Usually, there's some graphical indication that it's saving, and that's a distraction. And that's still not enough to guarantee that you won't lose things occuring between saves. Like if you've pasted in a large amount of text.

What you really need is something that is designed specifically for saving absolutely everything you type, as you type it. And to do so in the background, without the user being aware of it happening.

An explicit save feature adds to a program's concept count. Something that people have to initially learn. Pads of paper don't have a 'save' button. Without an explicit save feature, programs would be simpler.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Jimi, meet Kurt and Fatboy Slim

Random thought. Imagine going back in time to the sixties, and showing musicians like Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles styles of music that didn't exist then, like hip-hop, grunge (yeah, people don't like that term, but I can't think of a better one for what I want to refer to), heavy metal, and various forms of electronic music... Would it blow them away? Would some of them find some of the styles unpalatable? Would it send their music making down a different path? It'd be awesome if you could actually do it and see.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Measures of the world

What are the different ways we can measure the size of the world?

There's the earth's diameter. Another measure is its surface area. That might be more meaningful to us, since our lives are played out on its surface. You could even just measure the amount of land, ignoring the water. Or limit the measurement to the amount of habitated or habitable land (according to some reasonable definitions of habitated and habitable).

Another thing we could ask is: how big is the world each of us has seen? How large an area have you actually seen with your own eyes, during your lifetime? For most of us, it's only a small fragment.

Though we may have only seen a fragment of it, our conception of the the world is much broader, because it also takes in details that we know secondhand, through conversations, books, television, etc.

This conception is subjective, and infused with personal and social details. The place I went to school. The path I take to get to the train station. Where my best friend lives. Those streets in the city where it doesn't feel safe to walk alone at night.

In my conception of the world, the unit where I live is sketched out in detail. But to the person down the road who only knows it from walking past it from time to time, it's little more than a facade made up of what's visble from the road.

Because of these personal and subjective details, this mental conception of the world, though only dealing with small portions of the world in detail, is -- in this sense -- richer than the physical world.

There's another kind of measure of the size of the world. Though the physical world is large and these mental worlds small, there is only one physical world, and billions of mental ones. And the total area and details covered by that billion-piece mozaic is large indeed.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Don't be afraid to express non-unique points of view

Sketching.. I want to be able to express unique points of view on topics. We're all social animals, so there is an element there of wanting to stand out in the crowd. But it's not simply uniqueness for the sake of uniqueness.

Knowledge is like an expanding frontier, building on and growing out of what we already know. Part and parcel of trying to understand things better is trying to develop unique points of view.

But there's a real risk of trying to only say things that are unique. Of thinking that expressing a non-unique points of view is pointless and lame.

Writing (and talking) about things is a way to "gather your thoughts" about them. Writing about well known things helps you think about them. This also applies to things you know well yourself.

And it's through such synthesis and thinking about the topic that helps you construct new points of view.

There's another dimension to this problem. You might see the value in expressing a non-unique point of view, but you might be worried about what others will think of you expressing it. Will they think it's just an expression of my limitations?

I think it's a sad fact that people tend to perceive any behavior as a direct expression of someone's nature. If someone's mucking around, they're childish. So people who don't want to be perceived as childish avoid mucking around.

Even if they're really intelligent, sensitive, mature people, and mucking around is a reflection of just one facet of their personality, which they'd otherwise only express in appropriate situations, and not express in inappropraite ones.

Memorisation supplanting thinking

jotting...

our society seems to be awash in
magazines, books and tv-shows on
how to do things - typically 'lifestyle' topics
like renovating or art-and-craft

that in itself isn't necessarily a bad thing
but it does seem bad that the focus so much on
supposedly-useful 'tips',
which are usually pretty lightweight facts

I think that has a tendency to create
the wrong sort of attitude or approach in the 'learner'
it becomes a game of fact memorising
and then approaching a situation
by trying to recall which facts are appropriate to it

whereas you should really want to have
an /understanding/ of the situation
that is relevant as a starting point
and /think on your feet/ as you are within the situation.

the problem is
fact memorsation supplants thinking

Friday, September 21, 2007

Favourite Recipes: Smoky Shredded Pork Tacos

Smoky Shredded Pork Tacos (Tacos de Picadillo Oaxaqueño)
(Adapted from Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen)

This dish blew me away :). I'd never tasted anything like it. The flavours -- including pork, hot, smokey chipotle chillis (smoked, dried jalapeno chillis), sweet sultanas and roasted almonds -- completement each other perfectly. Nothing like the generic Mexican flavours you usually find over here in Australia.

It should be pretty easy to get all of the ingredients except the chipotle chillis. I've seen them in 'gourmet' delis, and you can also order them online. In Australia, you can order them from Herbie's Spices.



Makes enough for 16 to 18 tacos

  • For boiling meat
    • boneless pork shoulder, 675g, trimmed of fat and cut into 5cm cubes
    • unpeeled garlic cloves, 5
    • large white onion, 1, diced
  • For 350ml Tomato-Chipotle Sauce
    • chipotle chillis, 2 to 3, stemmed (or canned chipotle chilis en adobo)
      OR chilies pasillas oaxaqueños, 1 to 2, stemmed
    • ripe tomatoes, 500g (2 large round or 7 to 8 plum)
    • olive or vegetable oil, or rich-tasing lard, 2 ½ tbsp
    • salt, about a scant ½ tsp
  • Remaining flavourings
    • ground cinnamon, ½ tsp, preferably freshly ground Mexican canela
    • black pepper, 1/4 tsp
    • ground cloves, 1/8 tsp
    • raisins, 85g
    • slivered almonds, 55g
  • corn tortillas, 16 to 18 (plus a few extra, in case some break)
  • A little hot sauce, if you and your guests like it really picante


  • Boiling meat
    • In a medium-size (2 to 3.5 litre) saucepan, cover meat with heavily salted water. Peel and rouchly chop 2 cloves of the garlic and add along with half of the onion.
    • Bring to a gentle boil, skim off any greyish foam that rises during the first few minutes.
    • Partially cover and simmer over medium-low heat until thoroughly tender, about 1 ½ hrs.
    • If time permits, cool the meat in the broth.
      (Reserve the broth for soup or sauce.)

  • Shredding meat
    • Shred the meat between your fingers or with some forks

  • Making Tomato-Chipotle Sauce.
    • Prepare chillis, roast garlic and roast tomatoes
      • Chillis
        • Canned chillis need only be removed from their canning sauce.
        • For dried chillis:
          • toast them on an ungreased griddle or heavy frying pan over medium heat, turning regularly and pressing flat, until very aromatic, about 30 seconds.
          • In a small bowl, cover chillis with hot water and leave to rehydrate for 30 minutes, stirring to ensure even soaking.
          • Drain and discard the water.
        • Roasting the garlic
          • Roast the remaining 3 cloves of the unpeeled garlic on the griddle or frying pan, turning occasionaly, until soft, about 15 minutes.
          • Cool and peel.
        • Roasting the tomatoes
          • Roast the tomatoes on a baking sheet 10cm below a very hot grill until blackened on one side, about 6 minutes; flip and rost the other side.
          • Cool, then peel, collecting all the juices with the tomatoes.
    • Blend ingredients
      • In a food processor or blender, pulse the tomatoes, chillis and garlic to a medium-fine puree.
    • Fry the sauce
      • Heat 1 tbsp of the oil or loard in a heavy, medium-size (2 to 3.5 litre) saucepan over medium-high.
      • Add the puree and stir for about 5 mins as it fries and thickens.
    • Taste and season with salt.

  • Bring it together to make the filling (the picadillo).
    • In a large (25 to 30cm) heavy, well-seasoned or nonstick frying pan, heat the remaining 1 ½ tbsp of oil or lard over medium-high.
    • When hot, add the shredded meat and remaining half of the onion.
    • Fry, regularly stirring and scraping up browned bits from the bottom, until the whole mixture is crispy and golden, 12 to 14 minutes.
    • Sprinkle the cinnamon, pepper, cloves and raisins over the meat, then pour on the tomato-chipotle sauce.
    • Reduce the heat to medium and simmer briskly, stirring occasionally, until nearly all the liquid has evaporated, 4 to 5 minutes.
    • Roast the almonds
      • Turn on the oven to 180ºC.
      • Toast the almonds in the oven in a small baking tin until fragrant and lightly browned, 6 to 8 minutes
    • Add almonds - stir them into the picadillo.
    • Taste and season with a little more salt if necessary.

  • Heat tortillas
    • Set up a steamer (with this many tortillas, you’ll need 2 vegetable steamers set up in saucepans or a big Chinese steamer--either choice with 1cm of water under the steamer basket); heat to a boil.
    • Wrap the tortillas in 2 stack in thick tea towels, lay in the steamer(s) and cover tightly.
    • Boil 1 minute, turn off the heat and leave to stand without opening the steamer for 15 minutes.

  • Prepare tacos
    • You can prepare the tacos in the kitchen by scooping a couple of heaped tablespoons of filling into each warm tortilla, rolling or folding them and nesting them into a cloth-lined basked.
    • Or scoop the filling into a warm bowl and set out with a cloth-lined basket of steaming torillas for your guests to construct their own tacos.
    • In either case, pass the hot sauce separately if you have it.





  • Notes
    • Shortcuts: two-thirds of an 800g can of tomatoes can replace the fresh roasted ones; leftover roast pork can replace the boiled pork.
    • The pork can be simmered several days in advance (refrigerate it in covered container with its broth, then strain and shred before continuing with the dish) or finish the picadillo a day or two ahead, cover it and refrigerate.

  • Variations
    • Try mixing the leftover picadillo with grated chesese, baking it to heat through, then seving it as a communal appeitzer or a light main dish with tortillas--a variation on queso fundido.
    • Shredded Pork Enchiladas. Prepare the recipe tripling the sauce; set the extra 2/3 of the sauce aside. Roll the filling in the tortiallas, fit them into a baking dish, pour the reseraved sauce over them and bake at 190ºC to warm through. Sprinkle with queso añejo or Parmesean and chopped coriander; seve immediately.
    • Chiles Rellenos for a buffet. Roast and peel six poblanos, make a slit in their sides, remove the seeds, then fill each with about 5 tbsps of the filling (you’ll only need 1/2 the batch) and fit into a decorative backing dish. Slowly cook 2 large sliced onions in a little olive oil until nicely browned, soft and cramelized. Strew over the chillis and bake the whole assembly to heat through. Sprinkle liberally with queso añejo or Parmesan and set out on the buffet.
    • Use filling to fill tamales, other chiilis (jaapeños, chiptles, chiles pasillas oaxaqueños), molotoes, qusadillas and so forth.

Haunting picture by Bansky