Camino Restaurant in Oakland is one of my favorite restaurants in the Bay Area. I’ve been there a few times, I think every time with Marc, and every time the meal has been excellent. Worth a trip over the bridge for.
Last night’s dinner was typically great. Dungeness Crab legs, broiled on live fire with a lovely spice coating (alas, served in shell, but it’s literally the first crab of the season). Then a perfectly cooked bit of chicken three ways; moist breast, a sort of smoked leg, and a ballotine of delicious bits with strong seasoning. A little bitter greens, a little rustic grain (farro?) to catch the sauce, simple and refined. I even had dessert, a dense little persimmon pudding with just a bit of quince for sweetening, very savory and satisfying. Excellent cooking, well balanced.
Art of Eating had a profile of Camino a couple of years ago (issue #89) that I can loan you a copy of if you’re really curious. The article’s focus is on their cooking with live fire, which is indeed quite homey in the open kitchen. But while the technique impresses me I think its true value isn’t in the smoke but rather in forcing the chef to be attentive and careful to every single dish. Combine with excellent ingredients and a sense of what makes a delicious, restrained meal and it’s good dining.
Camino is run by Russell Moore and Allison Hopelain. It’s on Grand Ave in Oakland. You need a reservation.
A bit of nostalgia today for Netrek, one of the best online games ever. It’s from the early 1990s and is an important game design precursor to team based online games. Also its netcode was a huge breakthrough in real time Internet gaming.
The game design is brilliant. It’s an 8v8 team game. You mostly play in the upper left window, a Spacewars-like game where you fly your spaceship around and zap other players with your phasers and torpedoes. But the real game is in the upper right, the galactic overview map. The goal is to fly to planets and take them over by beaming down armies while fighting off the enemy players. That combination of high level strategy and local tactics is a hallmark of RTS games like Starcraft, MOBA games like League of Legends, and squad FPS games like Battlefield. I’m not saying Netrek invented that whole idea (Netrek itself was based on PLATO Empire), but it took 5–10 years before mainstream games became as interesting as Netrek. There were even classes in the game, different types of spaceships for different roles.
The network code was also hugely innovative, particularly the UDP code from 1992. Back then the Internet was overloaded and slow, 56 kbit/s links were common. Andy McFadden rewrote the original TCP netcode to use UDP and suddenly the game became way more playable on congested links. The key insight is UDP lets the game client decide what to do about packet loss rather than relying on TCP retransmits. Netrek could afford to lose the occasional packet; you might not see a torpedo coming your way but then again you didn’t have to wait 3 seconds for that packet before seeing the 25 other torpedoes launched afterwards. Weirdly most contemporary games use TCP (despite drawbacks), although League of Legends at least is UDP.
Netrek partly benefitted from the great community of the academic Internet of the early 90s. I’ve run into a few old Netrek buddies in our later careers as working software people: Andy McFadden and Jeff Nelson at Google and Stephen von Worley of DataPointed. I wonder if any of the Netrek folks went on to work in the gaming industry?
Ken and I just took a nice trip to Germany, focussed mostly on the northeastern corner on the Baltic Sea. Lovely trip, very mellow, here’s a bunch of photos.
The biggest revelation for us was the Baltic sea resorts, 19th century spas and hotels. We started our trip on Rügen, a relaxing quiet island. The town of Binz has a terrific collection of nice hotels and restaurants. Also nearby is Nationalpark Jasmund with its famous chalk cliffs, the bizarre Prora (a facist beach resort built in the 30s), and the Rasender Roland beach steam train.
But the best Baltic sea experience was a last minute decision to go to the Grand Hotel Heiligendamm and its amazing gourmet restaurant Friedrich Franz. Really lovely overnight, fantastic cooking. Heiligendamm is interesting for being one of the first ever beach resorts, founded in 1793 and popular with various royalty. Up to and including the G8 summit in 2007. Also another steam train, the Molli Bahn. Just a terrific place all around, worth planning a stay if you’re in the area.
Beyond the resorts we visited various Hanseatic towns: Rostock, Wismar, Stralsund, Lübeck. And a trip down to the lake region to Schwerin. Lots of beautiful brick buildings dating from a wealthy past in the 15th-17th centuries. Of the places I liked Lübeck and Schwerin the best, combining charming town centers with some lively modern life.
The trip was bookended by visits to Berlin and Hamburg. Berlin is amazing, particularly right now since its relatively low cost of living has attracted a vital core of artists and entrepreneurs. I think we may try to go back to spend a month living there next year. Hamburg is also quite pleasant for a visit, I think it’s a city that would reward settling in and exploring a bit.
I’ve been in Berlin for the past few days, having a great time. But also a bit bleak, it’s hard to be in Berlin without seeing the awful German history of the 20th century. The Holocaust, the division of Berlin, the Stasi, the people murdered trying to cross the Wall. It’s inescapable.
What I admire is how directly the German state seems to engage with its evil history. There are museums and monuments everywhere, from small plaques at the former homes of Jews who were deported and murdered to reminders of the Wall to state funded museums like the Topography of Terror.
The tone of the presentations (at least in English translation) is forthright and neutral. So all you see is an unvarnished explanation of how the Third Reich inventoried and killed millions of people. No attempt to explain or contextualize the act, certainly not to justify it, not even color commentary on how horrible it was. Just meticulous, detailed documentation of the terrible crimes of the Holocaust.
It feels like an honest attempt to understand and account for the past crimes of German governments. By presenting things so directly it becomes impossible to explain it away as some aberrant past, some temporary mania, the inexplicable actions of others. They are saying “Here are the facts of our history. Never forget.”
I’d like to see a similarly forthright American account of some the worst parts of our history. The genocide of the Native Americans, the importation and enslavement of Africans, the Civil War (on both sides). There’s too much explanation and justification in our historical narrative, not enough simple accounting of the evils in our past.
Riot Games has found that in the League of Legends community, bad behavior comes mostly from people who are generally good. The problem with the LoL community isn’t that there’s a few jerks who spoil things for everyone; it’s that a lot of people act like jerks occasionally.
This factoid comes from a talk by Riot showing statistics from their player community. “Toxic” means raging during an online game, insulting and threatening other players. They use the word “toxic” because they’ve found bad behavior is contagious. One person acting badly can make other people angry, who then act badly in subsequent games. Dangerous problem.
That finding has all sorts of implications for how to stop toxic behavior in an online community. It’s not enough to just ban the jerks; good people have bad days too. Instead you have to teach the whole community what the community standards are. And quickly identify people who are having a bad day, intervene before their toxicity infects too many other people. I think it's a hopeful finding; if you can just remind people of their better nature, you can prevent a lot of bad behavior.
Two really unfortunate stories of Internet bullying over the weekend. Indie game genius Phil Fish says he’s canceling Fez II after a bunch of focussed harassment. And the Call of Duty studio director has gotten a bunch of truly disgusting invective for a game balance change. All part of the Internet’s war on creatives.
Get lost you waste of talent. Shitbag telling others to kill themselves, you dont deserve your fame, money or attention. • Hahaha get fucked you pathetic fucking blowhard Fez was shit by the way • You may have made a decent game but you are still a terrible human being.
The gaming “community” are mostly a bunch of monsters. I agree with Anil Dash that the community itself is responsible for fixing the problem.
I’ve been playing a lot of League of Legends lately, a team PvP game notorious for its toxic community. The developer Riot Games took a strong step towards solving the problem, The Tribunal, a way for the community to judge whether players violate the game’s code of good behavior. In my experience it works pretty well as a deterrent. Riot has stats showing that warnings and punishment are discouraging bad behavior.
It’s basically a community moderation system. After every game anyone can flag a player for bad behavior. Enough flags and a tribunal case (example) is created. Players randomly review cases (chat logs mostly) and vote on whether to punish. Mild penalties are automatic, severe ones are reviewed first by Riot employees.
There’s a lot more to say about the Tribunal, I hope to have some follow up blog posts. One particularly interesting aspect is that the review cases are public. Most moderation systems are private to avoid disputes but I think the open discussion makes the system more effective.
I like paying for digital movies. So I rented The Hobbit last night to watch on my Xbox. The movie was OK. The twelve times the streaming failed and the movie paused while it buffered was not. Amazon’s movie was about 3.5 gigabytes for 170 minutes, or 2700kbit/s. My download speed is a reliable 6000kbit/s. So what’s the problem?
The bandwidth graph above shows the problem; something terribly wrong with the streaming. First, the Xbox client doesn’t seem to buffer much, if at all. Playback would be a lot better if they used all 6000kbit/s and cached to disk. Second, their streaming server seems to have lost the connection ten times in three hours. Naturally they blame my ISP. At least they refunded the rental fee.
I like to pay for media, but maybe next time I’ll consider downloading an unlicensed copy. Pirate Bay offers a 2000kbit/s version that I could have downloaded and then watched uninterrupted for free. It was available two weeks before the official release.
I just finished reading American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, a history and cultural criticism book by Colin Woodward. It’s OK, not great. The map below is the thesis of the book.
Woodward argues North America is best understood as eleven separate distinct “nations” with unique cultural and political identities. The first half of the book gives the origins of these various tribes and argues for their inviolate coherence. This part of the book was insightful and interesting. The second half interprets various recent events in terms of a 400 year old conflict between Yankees and Deep Southerners. This part of the book was boring and ax grindy.
Related: I’m now an active GoodReads user and am trying to do a better job cataloging the books I read.
I love the idea that the JJ Abrams films are not really Star Trek; they’re really Star Trek fanfic. I don’t remember where I first read that idea, but it’s exactly right. I liked both movies, don’t get me wrong, but they are just ridiculous. Here’s the first movie script:
Kirk is this awesome 13 year old kid and he has a hot car and then he drives it off a cliff but he jumps out just in time. And then he gets in a fight in a bar and then he joins Starfleet and sneaks on board the Enterprise. And then Sulu has to space jump and he pulls out this sword and he’s, like, a killer ninja. And there’s a time traveling Romulan with special magical Red Matter. And Vulcan blows up but actually it’s a parallel Star Trek universe where all the same stories happen only totally different. And Spock and Uhura, they kiss.
Totally rad story, right? The new movie is just as ridiculous, if somewhat clever in what it does. I enjoyed it. Here’s hoping Abrams gives the same tawdry treatment to the Star Wars films, that’s a franchise ripe for self-parody.
So it's been long enough now I can tell this story about how I met Stewart Brand. Back in 1995 I was a fresh-out-of-college programmer at the Santa Fe Institute, a research place that attracted all sorts of interesting people. And one of the staff asked me if I could give a ride to Esther Dyson from the Albuquerque airport. "She's quite interesting!" I was no dummy and said yes. I mean, my little Honda was big enough for two! And so I got the car washed and met her at the airport. And when we met she asked "could you give my friend Stewart a ride too? He'll be here in about twenty minutes". I had no idea who that'd be until he got into my car and I was just so pleased with myself. The three of us crammed in my little hatchback for the hour long drive with two of the most interesting, provocative technophilosopher types I'd ever met. Not bad for a 23 year old kid.
Needless to say I took advantage of every minute of having them trapped in my car with me. They were quite friendly and thoughtful and fun to talk to. At some point Stewart mentioned that he'd been at the MIT Media Lab for a while (was writing the book on it, actually) and I mentioned I was applying for grad school there. And so he kindly says "Nicolas owes me a favor, I'll write a letter for you" and that's part of how I got to go to the Media Lab for grad school.
I'm embarrassed posting this now because it seems so starfucker, but back in the mid 90s there just weren't that many people talking like Dyson and Brand were. About the intersection of technology and culture, about the Internet, about building things with beauty and depth. That lucky hour had a big influence on me. And they were both so friendly and generous. I've met plenty of arrogant self-proclaimed pundits, maybe even acted like one myself on occasion, and I always try to remember Stewart Brand's friendly humility.
Originally posted to Metafilter