Saturday, May 11, 2013

Electric Avenue

I'm only slightly green. Only in so far as I'm a bit cheap. I'm not much of a gear head. Yet I do have an engineers' fascination with gadgets and stuff. Nor am I politically inclined, except as a spectator sport. I'm mostly bored by polemics.  I'm not a "car guy," that peculiar LA species that is obsessed with cars, yet knows little more about them than the price. Ultimately, then, if Tesla were a real club, it is unlikely that I'd be admitted. Fortunately, I guess, admission to this club requires little more that an e-mail address and suppression of the inner voice that tells you a Prius would work fine, too.

My excuse is that, after living in LA for so long, it is only fair to give this car thing a shot in a serious way.  Since abandoning my bike commute, the two-hour round trip freeway slog in my company-issued monster truck has been unbearable. I've tried the learn-a-language, listen to BBC, rock out, call family, have conference calls, quiet time, sing aloud and general multi-tasking car commutation techniques. They all stink.

It occurred to me that most people in LA seem to have "nice" cars. "Nice" being a general descriptor for a car owner's belief that his ride makes him a bit more fly. I've never owned a nice car. The few times I've personally owned a car, it tended to make me seem much less fly than I might otherwise be. In the vein of being dissed by a valet or provoking inquiries about my state of employment.

Since the people with nice cars seem to have reached a detente with their commutes, perhaps I would too, if I picked up a more compelling mobile metal shell.  The Tesla Model S is a great candidate. Consumer Reports (part of my inherited obsession with having only starkly competent small appliances) calls the Model S "better than anything we’ve ever tested before.” The car is embraced by greenies and gear heads. With a little convoluted accounting and some tax breaks, it could demonstrably save money. It's built by one of my favorite billionaires. It was pretty clear that, after conceding to the idea of a nice car, it should be a Model S.

I picked the thing up about a week ago. It's honestly the auto equivalent of the first time I held an iPhone. It just felt different. It speaks to you about the obsessions of its creators. It tells you that very smart folks spent a great deal of time in front of blanks screens, reinventing an entire experience rather than just a device. But here's the sad truth: even one of the great expressions of innovation so far in this century cannot overcome the suckiness of a daily car commute. It still stinks.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Place for Giant Files

How timely: my iPad goes fritzomatic just in time for the release of the iPad2. In the course of my half-hearted attempts to fix it, I manage to fill my start-up drive to the point of crashing (notwithstanding I have an entire terabyte of media storage and another full terabyte of backup). I think the entire Library of Congress would fit on a few terabytes. What the heck is all this stuff? Insomnia and internet addiction are a fatal storage-eating combination. I tend to have odd research binges at 3:00 am, wildly downloading and storing all kinds of files in connection with whatever fleeting obsession catches me before the dawn. A few years ago, I stumbled on a new edition of my great-grandfather's novel (from a publisher likely inspired by Obama's election, since the protagonist in some ways resembles him more than 100 years later). Public domain is a bitch. Anyway, that spurred some serious midnight OCD, wherein I found this photo on the Jacksonville University web archive. Remarkably enough, there's my great-grandmother, the undertaker Mrs R.G. Walker (nee Holmes), proudly displaying her cars and corporate headquarters in one of the massive files that has been clogging up my hard drive. I guess burying black folks in the South was pretty good business at that time. Well, I had to do something with the file before I put in the black hole that is my media archive drive. There it is.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Bread from Levain

DSC00630.JPG, originally uploaded by defmonk2007.

I've screwed around extensively with the Sullivan Street no-knead method. More than pleased with consistently delicious results, subject to the amendments in my earlier post, bread from levain is my new challenge.

A close cousin of sourdough, this bread's irresistible appeal is the simplicity of ingredients: water, salt, flour. No yeast - the first step in producing this loaf is "hunting" the wild yeasts already carrying on in my kitchen. The wonderful starter I've captured is the sort of thing I hope to pass on to my children, along with my indestructible Dutch bike, my watch and my Saddleback Leather case, provided I can keep up with the weekly "feedings" for the next thirty years or so.

The result of this new project (and my recent acquisition of a French lame) is this beautiful two-pound boule. The lame, basically a double-edged razor on a stick, paid for itself in the marital harmony engendered by the flamboyant "V" inscribed on the top of the loaf. Suddenly, the lovely Vanessa is a bit more tolerant of the cloud of flour dust I throw off each weekend.

Two weeks after building my starter daily, I'm rewarded with a loaf of exceptional substance, complexity and depth of flavor. Reinhardt's recipes from Crust and Crumb are excellent. Kudos for the simplicity and purity of his work.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Branded and Better: Yahoo! News

Today's online audiences are looking for experiences that are more personal, social and engaging than ever — and that's just as true for advertising as it is for anything else.

This is the age of branded programming.

Uncompromising integrity is central to the success of such entertainment. A dynamic understanding of audiences’ desire to know, plus active conversations with advertising partners during the development of these highly customized programs, ensures that the programs will fulfill the needs of both the audience and the advertiser; neither is left out.

At Yahoo! News, we've become not just a thoughtful aggregator of newswire articles but the robust home of “only on Yahoo!” features and content. At the heart of this transformation: We've leveraged original news video, broad social activation interactive polling, exclusive reporting and analysis, and real-time blogging to appeal to a broad, highly engaged audience — all while uniquely serving the needs of advertising partners.

In the news realm, content providers can serve advertising partners' objectives by putting the brand messaging within an important, timely news frame. It's this editorially legitimate context that elevates the credibility of branded news programming far above mere "advertorial" content (which draws increasing skepticism from an ever more sophisticated Web audience).

Working creatively with agencies and advertisers, the savviest content providers can find unique ways to align their programs with brands without compromising the editorial integrity of their own products.

At Yahoo! News, one of our most unique and comprehensive branded programs is “Weekend Edition,” sponsored by Buick. It's a tour-de-force of partner and original content, including three distinct video series starring, respectively, Olympic gold medalist Dominique Dawes, irrepressible road warrior Harry Hurt, and heroic adventurer Jim Brasher. The show has become a destination, helping to reinvent our site on the weekends with the lighter lifestyle-oriented news programming that our internal insights tell us is popular with audiences after a long workweek.

“Weekend Edition” features several levels of innovative brand integration: using Buick’s focus on “discovery” in the opening bumper with the tagline “Weekend Edition, Discovered by Buick”; a branded segment after each video that provides an actionable item or “did you know” about something featured in the video; and, in the travel portions of the video, use of Buick cars and trucks in — just where the cars' presence was organic and natural.

This year, our approach yielded many of the Web's top-performing original video programs:

  • “Who Knew?,” sponsored by Toyota, and “Upgrade Your Life,” sponsored by Lexus. These include clever post-video branded segments that are relevant to the original video.
  • Second Act,” sponsored by General Mills, about people who have reinvented themselves. A very active, athletic baby boomer was profiled in one episode, tying in with a Dannon tagline that focused on having strong bones.
  • Odd News,” sponsored by Allstate. The closing segment of the show covers a “Mayhem Moment” to align with Allstate’s "Mayhem" theme.

Ultimately, it's Yahoo! News' world-class editorial staff that empowers us to stay true to our independent news judgment while delivering our advertisers’ objectives.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Homemade Organic Boule

Homemade Organic Boule, originally uploaded by defmonk2007.

After no fewer than 60 loaves and as many methodologies, I finally pulled a nearly perfect loaf of a simple organic bread from my cheap pseudo-commercial oven. A combination of methods, it's largely based on the Sullivan Street Bakery's ( no-knead recipe first popularized by the NYT (despite my stubborn initial refusal to embrace the simplicity of that approach).

My desire to make bread from high-quality, but very simple ingredients, started this madness. It's hard to resist something so exquisite made solely from salt, water, yeast and flour.

The shortcomings of a pure Sullivan Street-style "no-knead" bread are: while passed off as "rustic" in appearance, the loaves are a bit sloppy, the attempt to make this method accessible creates some variation in result and the finished loaf lacks the "yeasty" smell and flavor of great artisan bread.

A generously floured round willow proofing basket, to my mind, yields a better-looking loaf. The regular concentric dusting circles, and light ridges, reft by irregular rising cracks are worth the extra effort. So, rather than all the dusted dishtowels Jim Lahey recommends, I just shape the dough and toss it into a dusted proofing basket.

I get highly consistent results simply by experimenting to find the best ingredients and working out careful weight measures. I've settled on Great River Organic Stone-Ground Bread Flour, Smart Water (good pH balance for the yeast), Fleur de Mer grey sea salt and a combination of cake yeast/Red Star active yeast. The liquids add up to 1-2/3 cups (rather than 1-5/8 cups) to 450g (rather than 3 cups) of flour.

I've bumped up the bread flavor by borrowing from the sourdough and "pain sur poolish" techniques. I start by mixing 8g of cake yeast with 3 Tbs of warm Smart Water and adding about a tsp of organic clover honey (agh, cheating...but it's worth it). I put this aside for some hours until the yeast activity subsides and the mixture has a strong fermented smell. I throw this mixture in a measuring cup, which I then top up with more Smart Water to reach the 1-2/3 cups of liquid required for my version of the recipe.

Overall, this produces an attractive, flavorful loaf, with all of the user-friendliness of the Sullivan Street revolution and without its shortcomings.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

America Speaks on Key Election Issues

The only thing that could lift me from the post-election doldrums is a spectacular infographic like this. It's really a fitting tribute to Ask America, our contribution to enabling real discourse and expression around the issues Americans care about. We're a complex bunch of folks and our views on key elections issues reveal this. Enjoy!

Monday, November 1, 2010

America speaks: The top issues by region

This new infographic leaves you scratching your head. Sure, Floridians care about Charlie Crist and his political antics. But why do Westerners care so much? Is it the Arizona-Florida house slipper and rhinestone pipeline? Heck if I know.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Ask America InfoGraphic, Part Deux

Yahoo-outlookjob-10.8.10, originally uploaded by Ask America.

Nearly 8 million votes prove the enduring truth of the greatest political barometer-arator of all times: "It's the economy, stupid."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

JESS3’s Data Visualization of Ask America

Another awesome infographic from JESS3. The people have spoken through Ask America...a whole lot.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bike Commute Photojournal

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

My new Eye-Fi wireless SD card (which automatically uploads photos directly from my camera when a Wi-Fi network is present) and my My-Fi (3G mobile wireless access point) inspired me to do something I've been threatening to do for some time - create a real-time photo journal of my daily bike commute. So I tucked the My-Fi in my bike bag and turned my camera to try to capture the wonder of a daily commute by bike. Some mornings I've lived an entire day before work. It's magical. A homeless couple boogeying with abandon to 70s tunes before 8 am. The guy salvaging his inboard motor from his boat grounded a quarter mile up the beach. The perfect spike. A surfer popping out of a barrel. The smell of baking bread.