Strong opinions, weakly held

Month: December 2010 (page 1 of 2)

The end of Kodachrome

National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry posts a tribute to Kodachrome:

Today is the day that Dwayne’s Photo in Parsons, Kansas, the last lab on the planet to process Kodachrome, stops developing the iconic film forever. When Kodak stopped producing the film last year, they gave me the last roll. When I finished shooting the final frames, I hand-delivered it to Parsons. Here are a few of those last 36 frames.

I don’t think it’s fair for a photographer to create that many great shots on a single roll of film.

Also check out Alexis Madrigal’s Kodachrome gallery at The Atlantic. The New York Times also has a story.

How Microsoft responded to Stuxnet

John Borland at the Wired Threat reports on a talk by Bruce Dang, the engineer at Microsoft whose job it was to break down the Stuxnet worm. It’s an interesting look at exactly which vulnerabilities Stuxnet exploits, and how Microsoft’s security team broke down the problem.

A video of the talk will eventually be posted at the Chaos Computer Congress Web site. I’m going to try to remember to go back and watch it.

Update: Video of the talk is available here.

2010 Recipes of the Year

Here are the recipes of the year for 2010 — the best things we cooked this year and that we’ll certainly be cooking again next year.

The first is this carnitas recipe, courtesy of Rick Bayless. I love carnitas at Mexican restaurants, and had always thought of them as deep fried chunks of pork. This simple recipe takes the fryer completely out of the equation. You need pork, salt, water, and an oven, and the results are sublime. Use the cooking times as a rough guide rather than an absolute rule. It is important to cook both covered and uncovered because it uncovered the whole time would dry out the pork. Once you’re out of the covered phase, the trick is just to be sure to cook it until all the water evaporates. He recommends using pork shoulder roast, but we found that it works just as well with country style spare ribs, which you can get at any grocery store here and don’t require as much carving. Needless to say, the results are great on a fresh corn tortilla, but they’re also great alone, or on white bread.

In November, Ruth Reichl posted a recipe for au gratin potatoes under the title The Best Potato Dish, Ever. I have always liked au gratin potatoes, although not as much as I like mashed potatoes. The problem is that in most cases, the potatoes are not uniformly done, especially those that don’t get coated with cream and stick to their neighbors when baking. Also, when the cheese is mixed with the cream during baking, it can separate and come out with an unpleasant texture. Not good. This recipe avoids those problems by calling for you to boil the potatoes in the cream you’re going to bake them in before baking. Then you dump the whole thing into the pan for baking. We used a mixture of half heavy cream and half whole milk to boil the potatoes, which we sliced thinly on a mandolin. We used mozzarella cheese on top because that’s what we had. Do not skip the nutmeg. The resulting dish is just incredibly rich and luscious, and holds together incredibly well. Is it better than the best mashed potatoes? I’m not sure. It’s certainly the best version of au gratin potatoes you’re likely to eat. This is the kind of dish that gets you invited back if you bring it to a dinner party, and it reheats very well.

Here’s one for my vegan friends. Mario Batali’s Tuscan bean soup is both tasty and healthy, and doesn’t even ask for chicken stock. The ingredients are cheap and it’s pretty easy to make as long as you can chop up vegetables. It holds up well in the refrigerator for at least a couple of weeks. The key to simplifying this recipe is using canned beans. Just be sure to rinse them. Both times we made it we left a different vegetable due to shoddy work in copying the recipe to the grocery shopping list and it didn’t suffer either time. We also substituted turnip greens for the black cabbage the first time, and kale for the black cabbage the second time. It didn’t matter, the soup was fantastic. The recipe does not mention rosemary in the ingredient list, but does in the instructions, and you’ll want to be sure to use it. Using fresh rather than dried herbs make a big difference. This recipe can also be found in Mario Batili’s cookbook, Molto Mario, which is excellent cover to cover.

How cities are different than corporations

I’m debuting the “good read” tag today, for long articles of general interest that I think you’d enjoy. There are a couple of sites who are great for this sort of thing — Long Reads and The Browser. The best long articles that are published every day seem to pop up everywhere, including both of those blogs and on Twitter, so I usually don’t bother to link to them, but I’m going to start, simply as an endorsement, if nothing else.

On a related note, if you’re not using Instapaper, you should be. It’s the tool that enabled me to switch from playing Angry Birds to reading excellent writing as my time waster of choice when I’m in line or waiting for an appointment.

Today’s read is an article in the New York Times about physicist Geoffrey West, who develops quantitative laws that describe the behavior cities and corporations. His discovery is that cities amplify productivity as they grow, whereas corporations diminish it.

In this series, I’m going to try to avoid selectively quoting as well, because the whole point is that you should read the articles.

Deep thoughts on meat

As a meat eater, I feel obligated to think about the ethics of the habit. Given that we can easily survive without meat, I think it’s important to be conscious of the fact that it’s a luxury that we indulge in at the expense of the lives of other animals.

In this month’s Atlantic, James McWilliams argues that eating the meat of animals raised in a “free range” is not more ethical than eating factory farmed meat:

But this position—the idea that free-range is automatically a responsible choice simply because it’s more attentive to animal welfare—is morally blurred. Better does not mean acceptable. Consumers of free-range meat who oppose factory farming on welfare grounds (however partial) cannot escape an inconvenient question: Doesn’t killing an animal we don’t need constitute the very thing that factory farming perpetuates—which is to say, harm? This, as I see it, is the free-range albatross.

After reading it, you should read Heath Putnam’s response. He’s a pig farmer in Washington, and consistently writes interesting stuff on the practices of farmers and the ethics of them.

Two additional thoughts. The first is that from an animal welfare standpoint, eating dairy foods is no more ethical than eating meat, mainly because meat is an unavoidable by product of dairy farming. Only female animals produce milk and eggs, and half of the offspring of farm animals are male. Many male dairy calves become veal, male goats on a goat farm become meat, and male chicks on big egg farms become fertilizer.

The second is that without farming most of the animals on farms just wouldn’t exist. So when we talk about the lost potential for happiness and fulfillment among farm animals when they are slaughtered, we’re talking about animals that would not exist at all were it not for farming.

Heath Putnam says we should eat what tastes good. I continue to agree with him, at least for now.

Things that actually turned out to be important

The New York Times asked Tyler Cowen to review and rate the ideas published in the first nine Year in Ideas pieces that they published. Looking back at the old ideas was a great idea in itself, and the resulting piece is really interesting.

More on speeding up WordPress

After my run-in with excessive traffic a few weeks ago, I’ve become interested in optimizing WordPress performance. ZippyKid has some tips on speeding things up without using WordPress plugins.

The only thing I did from his list was turn on the MySQL query cache — it made a big difference.

Analysis of Salesforce’s acquisition of Heroku

Today’s IT business must-read is James Governor’s analysis of Salesforce’s $212 million acquisition of Heroku. Salesforce provides hosted customer relationship management software. Heroku enables you to host your Rails applications in the cloud. Governor explains why the deal makes sense:

Salesforce avoids IT to sell to the business, while Heroku avoids IT to sell to developers. The two firms definitely have something in common. While Salesforce has done an oustanding job selling to line of business people, its direct outreach to developers through its Force.com PaaS platform and “Java-like” APEX language has been disappointing so far. Big Difference then- APEX is “Java-like”. Heroku is Rails.

Read the whole thing.

Why Republicans are fighting for the Bush tax cuts

Here’s a short post on politics. The Republicans claim to care most about the deficit and restoring fiscal sanity for the country, and yet the biggest fight they’ve put up has been to defend the Bush tax cuts, which are set to expire at the end of the year. If all of the cuts were allowed to expire, then nominally speaking, the projected budget deficit over the next 10 years would fall by trillions of dollars. (Ignore the degree to which a large, sudden tax increase would stunt economic growth and thereby worsen the fiscal picture going forward.)

When the tax cuts passed 10 years ago, they were given an expiration date so that they could be passed through the reconciliation process, thereby avoiding a Democratic filibuster. The Republicans bet that in 2010 (in other words, now), the Democrats would not be willing to make the unpopular move and allow the tax cuts to expire in the face of all out Republican resistance. Predictably, they were right. Democrats are not going to let the tax cuts expire.

Here’s the important thing: those tax cuts are to Republicans what the health care bill should be to Democrats. It was the signature legislative achievement of the Bush Presidency and their Congressional majorities from 2001 to 2006. They passed other bills, but it’s the one they most wanted, as demonstrated by the fact that they will stop at nothing to defend it. Rank hypocrisy is no deterrent when it comes to preserving an achievement that you fought so hard to gain in the first place.

Update: This is an accurate description of the big picture.

Somebody can always cut you off

The big First Amendment news this week is that Amazon Web Services cut off WikiLeaks. They say it was because WikiLeaks violated their terms of service, most people think it was due to pressure from Senator Joe Lieberman. We know for sure that Tableau Software took down some data visualizations based on the leaks at the request of Senator Lieberman. Last night, their DNS provider cut them off.

Columbia Journalism Review interviewed researcher Ethan Zuckerman about what these takedowns mean for the rest of us. Here’s the bottom line:

What’s really hard about this is that we perceive the web to be a public space, a place where you should be able to go and set up your soapbox and say whatever you want to say to the world. The truth is, the web is almost entirely privately held. So what happens here is that we have a normative understanding that we should treat this like public space—that you should have rights to speak, that no one should constrain your rights—but then you discover that, basically, you’re holding a political rally in a shopping mall. This is commercial speech, controlled by commercial rules.

What the WikiLeaks incident shows us is that there’s always somebody who can cut you off. Even if you run your site on your own software on an open source platform on a server sitting in your living room, your Internet access can be cut off, or your DNS provider can shut you down. If you host your content on a commercial provider or on a social network, there are different points at which you can be cut off. If your speech is published on the Internet, it’s published with the consent of one (and probably more) entities who have no obligation to respect your First Amendment rights.

The closest you can get is peer-to-peer sharing, which is why the government and corporations hate it so much.

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