Ken and I went back to Paris for the first time in a few years, visited a bunch of old favorite spots. Some sadly in decline (Le Caveau du Palais), some still good. And a couple of new experiences.

Auberge Pyrénées Cévennes
Rustic, hearty restaurant. Specializes in cassoulet presented with pride in giant copper vats. It was a delicious cassoulet and definitely satisfied our hunger for same but I have some reservations. Cassoulet is never a light dish, but the quarter inch of grease floating on top of my bowl was a bit troubling. OTOH the goose leg confit was just amazing. Comfortable room, nice people, I will gladly go back.
Au Bourguignon du Marais
One of our old favorite restaurants, still delicious food. It’s a bit more interesting than the usual bistro menu, well prepared and with good wines. We went on a Saturday night and it was intensely crowded and about 80% tourists, which put us off a bit, next time I’ll go at a quieter time.
Le Relais de l’Entrecôte
Another old favorite, the basic steak frites experience. Perfect lunch for a day of wandering around Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
Ma Bourgogne
A fine bistro under the arcades of the Places des Vosges, this has been one of Ken’s favorites for years. Personally I thought it was good but nothing particularly distinguishes the food. Reliable and pleasant though, and you can’t beat the location.
Taillevent
One of Paris’ famous temples of food, two or three Michelin stars for years and years. I go back and forth on how I feel about this place. It’s a bit too traditional, uninspired in the kitchen. There’s no complex molecular gastronomy and radical flavor combinations you’d expect from high end chefs. On the other hand every single experience I or my friends have had there has been excellent, something I can’t say for some of the other super fancy restaurants in Paris. So I enthusiastically recommend it if you want to experience the very pinnacle of a French dining experience, albeit without being on the forefront of gastronomic exploration.
Hotel de Vendôme
Good luxury boutique hotel with an excellent central location, friendly staff, and very comfortable rooms. Also terribly expensive, although for this class of hotel it’s better value than you get from the competition. Sometimes you can get lucky and get a pretty good rate (€350 / night), particularly mid-week. The furnishings are starting to feel a bit worn and the Internet didn’t work as well as it should, so not perfect.
Musée Carnavalet
The Paris city museum, the quirkiness of random stuff the city has collected makes it one of my favorites. It’s not well organized, the quality varies highly, parts of the museum are closed at random intervals because someone went to lunch. But there’s a feel of discovery in the museum, finding an unexpected 1871 painting from the Commune or a beautiful wooden cradle in the shape of a boat or a collection of 25 little busts of Spinoza. It helps that it’s free and situated in the Marais where you’re probably wandering around anyway. You can just pop in for 30 minutes and see a couple of rooms, then leave without feeling like you had to see everything.
culturetravel
  2014-10-16 14:39 Z

I’ve loved the street art in Paris. So many fun discoveries, random art in unexpected public places, some beautiful works by Mesnager, L'Atlas, C214, Space Invader, Miss Tic, and so many more. Sadly, my visit to Paris in 2014 was a bit more discouraging.

The bits I’ve found in the posh parts of town, the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 6th have been interesting. But a lot of work I remember is gone. Many suspiciously blank spots where there used to be invaders, or interesting affiches, or other things. It feels like someone went and cleaned many of the streets.

Also a very discouraging walk through Bellveille; see my Flickr photos. It’s always been a grimy neighborhood, it’s part of the charm, but the street art there has taken a turn for shitty tags over clever site pieces. And the amazing old gallery at La Forge / La Kommune is completely gone, the artist squat space has been replaced by an ugly modern building. An inevitable development, but a disappointing conclusion for a street art walk. Some of that energy has moved down to Rue Dénoyez but it’s mostly tags, not interest art. Also apparently that space is threatened.

Sorry to be a bummer, maybe it’s just me. Particularly sad to have found almost nothing new and exciting.

culturetravel
  2014-10-13 15:45 Z

I love the phrase between the thought and the act. It summarizes a slightly mystical experience of humanity, the difference between willing to do something and actually doing it. It comes up in all sorts of contexts. In twitch games it explains the value of better UI for allowing the player to do what they intend (as in League of Legends quick casting). In general human affairs it describes being effective. You may think of a great product idea but ideas alone are worthless; it’s the implementation that has value. The phrase also has a second meaning it ethics, the difference between thinking of doing something vs. actually doing it.

I think the best known use of this phrase is slightly different, coming from TS Eliot’s The Hollow Men.

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow

I don’t like the use of “motion” though, since in so many cases the motion is the act.

The earliest use of the phrase “between the thought and the act” I could find occurs a few years before the Eliot poem, on page 242 of the 1917 book Educational Psychology by Kate Gordon. I have no idea if that book had much reach though. I wonder if the phrase comes from an older idea, maybe Greek philosophy?

Every time I think of the phrase, I hear the Crime & The City Solution song The Adversary.

Update: Douwe tells me of the 1910 Dutch poem Het Huwelijk by Belgian poet Willem Elsschot (English translation), which contains the phrase "tussen droom en daad", roughly the same meaning.

Update 2: my old gamer buddy Hronk wrote to tell me that this concept shows up in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Act 2 Scene 1, Brutus reflecting on the turmoil of making a decision.
Since Cassius first did whet me against Caesar,
I have not slept.
Between the acting of a dreadful thing
And the first motion, all the interim is
Like a phantasma, or a hideous dream
culture
  2014-07-02 22:57 Z

Just finished another game visualization project, graphs of stats for the top 5000 BF4 players. It makes scatterplots for the player population of statistics like skill score vs time played, win/loss ratio vs. skill, and kill/death vs. win/loss. Lots of details in this Reddit post.

Another fun D3 project; scrape a bunch of data, cook it into a 2 megabyte CSV file, then do custom visualizations. I like the way the scatterplot came out and may re-mix it as a generic data exploration tool, a sort of GGobi lite in your web browser. Drop a CSV file into your browser window and get a simple tool for exploring it for correlations.

It’s frustrating trying to get attention for projects like this. All I know to do is post it to the relevant subreddit and hope for the up-votes, but that’s pretty random. My Reddit attempt for the LoL lag tool failed, and a site I worked about 50 hours on has had a total of a few hundred visitors after a week. Discouraging.

culturegames
  2014-06-16 18:12 Z

I just released Logs of Lag, a small project I’ve been working on. It’s a netlog analyzer for the game League of Legends. You drop a log file from the game on it and the tool gives you a nice report. Not a huge thing, but it’s been useful to me already.

The webapp is another of my line of client-heavy programs. It all runs in static files, no server needed at all, the parsing and rendering is all done in the browser. I really like this style of programming, it’s fun and interactive and easy to scale. I did end up making a simple CGI server for storing log files so that people could share reports with friends. I may yet rewrite that to just use S3 as a filestore and bypass my server entirely.

The code is on GitHub.

culturegames
  2014-06-09 17:23 Z

The indie game industry has been shifting in the past few years to a pre-funding model. Gamers pay for games before release, either via Kickstarter campaigns or by buying games in alpha release or Steam Early Access or the like. A lot of neat games have been funded this way (see: Minecraft) but I worry it’s bad for game consumers.

We’re no longer being asked to buy a game, we’re buying something completely ephemeral, the idea of a game. We hope that maybe someday the game will be released and we can play it. And we get no guarantee of a quality finished project. (See Clang, which cynically claimed their unplayable alpha tech demo counted as a game release). Games are no longer really released, they are put out as an “alpha”, then a “beta”, then laughably a “gamma”. Really, why bother even finishing a game if people will pay you for your game anyway? Avoid the whole review cycle!

The most predatory of these “buy the game that does not exist” things I’ve seen yet is Star Citizen. They have collected $44 million for a game where you fly around spaceships in a giant procedurally generated universe. Except that universe doesn’t exist and last I heard the only code you could actually run lets you look at a rendered spaceship sitting motionless in a hanger. Nevertheless, people are paying hundreds of dollars for special rare spaceships in the hopes one day they can fly them. The Star Citizen project is not a game, it’s a marketing campaign for a game. I sure hope it turns into a real game some day or a bunch of people are going to be disappointed. It’s many, many months behind schedule, to the extent there even is a schedule. Why bother shipping when you can just keep collecting money?

adapted from a Metafilter comment
culturegames
  2014-06-03 18:12 Z

One of the few things I can cook competently is Tex-Mex chili. It’s basically a pot of meat cooked with red chile and onion. No beans, no tomato. Hearty and delicious with tortillas, sharp cheddar, fresh onion, and sour cream garnishes.

I’ve learned to make chili from scratch. But if you want to cheat, Wick Fowler’s 2 Alarm Chili Kit is a reasonable compromise. It’s not as good as making it the hard way but it’s still pretty good, particularly if you bump it up with some of your own chile powder.

To make it from scratch, I use this Homesick Texan recipe. I love her blog and cookbook. It’s a very fussy recipe but makes an excellent result. Over time I’ve modified it a bit.

  • Working with all those kinds of whole chile makes a well rounded flavor but is a lot of effort (and tricky shopping). I usually end up using some powdered New Mexican red chile instead of some or all of the varieties she calls for, you just dump it in like a spice (a lot of it; more than half a cup for 4 pounds of meat if that’s all the chile you use).
  • The chipotle in adobo is the most important extra flavor and is easy to add from a can. Beyond that you want dried chiles and the extra work that entails. Cayenne is for heat, not flavor.
  • The recipe calls for chuck roast. I use half ground beef for texture. You can also use 100% ground beef which saves a lot of preparation time.
  • Leave out the clove. Too much can ruin the dish and it’s not worth the risk.
  • The beer and coffee aren’t really necessary but are nice to add some bitterness. You just need enough liquid of some sort. I use boxed beef broth instead of water.

I grew up with this kind of food.

culturefood
  2014-04-09 16:31 Z

There’s good fine dining in California’s Central Coast. Cayucos is one of those tiny California beach towns from the 50s. A few dumpy motels, a surf shop, restaurants with names like The Salty Seagull and The Rusty Pelican you’d only ever eat at because you’re on vacation in a beach town. But there’s something special and unique in Cayucos, the Cass House, and as the Michelin folks say it is vaut le voyage.

Chef Jensen Lorenzen and his crew are turning out phenomenal fine dining, as good as anything I’d expect to find at San Francisco’s top restaurants. They are serving only one option, a 14 course tasting menu of delicate little plates. With excellent (but laid back) service and a good wine list and a lovely room that only seats about 30 people.

The key thing here is the cooking works. The kitchen knows its business and is producing excellent creative food with technique but not silly gimmicks. My favorite dish was a dessert, a fennel-based gelée that was delicate, deeply flavored, with a bit of candied fennel as a crunch accent. So elegant and precise. The cauliflower “curds & whey” were also phenomenal, a rich risotto-like texture with a deep butter and cheese flavor. A heavy dish, it came after a very delicate dashi bouillon. The main course (I chose chicken) was a satisfying solid portion, keeping the whole meal from being a bit too precious and dainty. We were also very impressed at how they handled my friend’s near-vegan diet, deftly substituting coconut milk and the like for the dairy that would have been in half the dishes. (Elegant cooking without butter!) I admit I was concerned going in that the menu was too demanding, but Cass House executed incredibly well.

They’ve been doing fine dining for a couple of years but jumped full in to the tasting menu program this February. It’s ambitious and risky and one service a night at a reasonable $85 caps their business. My impression is they’re doing this because they love this kind of cooking, like being in control and preparing food with art in the way they want. I was glad to be along for the ride and hope to return.

culturefood
  2014-04-03 23:47 Z

Ken is the family chef but I enjoy cooking in Grass Valley. Partly because it’s a huge kitchen with plenty of room to work. And also because we outfitted it from scratch with high quality kitchen tools. Here’s some of the stuff I particularly like using.

Wüstoff Classic Ikon knives
Solid European knives, holds an edge a long time when properly sharpened, and I love the synthetic handles. The 6” chef’s knife is what I use 90% of the time, along with a 9” for big jobs and a paring knife for detail work. Worth testing in person, you want to see if the balance feels right.
OXO Good Grips Cutting Board
I like plastic cutting boards because I can throw them in the dishwasher. This brand has the right design with rubber edges so the board doesn’t slide around.
All-Clad Stainless pots and pans
Excellent, durable, heavy cookware. The aluminum core construction is essential for heat distribution. The stainless surface is bulletproof, or at least steel-wool-proof. Expensive but they last forever and sometimes you can get a good deal on a set. The 12” fry pan, 1.5qt sauce pan, and 8 quart stock pot get the most use.
T-Fal nonstick pan
Nonstick pans are disposable, so might as well skip the All-Clad and buy a cheap one. (As careful as you try to be after a year you have a laminate of burnt grease that ruins the surface.) The good thing about T-Fal is they have a thick metal bottom that spreads heat.
OXO Good Grips stuff
For odds and ends like vegetable peelers, cooking spoons, etc. I look to Good Grips first. Most of it is nothing special (other than the cutting board I called out) but it’s well made and the grip is, indeed, good.

Neither the knives or pans are particularly cheap. But if you can afford the initial cost they’ll pay for themselves in longevity. Also most have generous warranties. In my salad days I threw out cheap pans about once every two years; we have All Clad that’s 20 years old and still in great shape.

Apologies for the spammy-sounding Amazon links; they’re for your convenience, but I do pocket a few bucks a year from affiliate fees

culturefood
  2014-04-01 19:58 Z

The 1983 movie Brainstorm is worth seeing, or maybe revisiting if you last saw it decades ago. It fits in with Tron, WarGames, and Videodrome as early 80s imaginings of what the near-future of technology will look like. Great performances by Christopher Walken and Louise Fletcher.

The reason to watch Brainstorm now is is the production design, the imagination of consumer products and user interfaces for the near future. It feels like totally relevant, modern commentary on product design for things like the iPhone, Google Glass, Tesla, or a Microsoft Kinect. Dialed up to 11 with a sci-fi flight of fancy, of course, but well done for that. I’ll be honest and say the plot is sort of silly, a combination of military-industrial complex paranoia and some fairly hokey spiritualism. That’s partly redeemed by Louise Fletcher’s role as the head of the research project, a totally badass lady scientist. But mostly watch it for the animation sequences and the industrial design.

culturemovies
  2014-03-18 22:59 Z