Friday, April 22, 2016

Winding up the week (in the kitchen)

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A sunrise photo, not a sunset, as I struck out from Caversham on Monday morning.  There was just a single ray of the rising sun probing ahead to the salmon glow from the east, marking the track into the morning, into the week.

Lots of road time and phone calls, but ending with good success on the business side of things.  I’ve been trying to catch up with end-of-quarter accounting and academic reviews, even stepping away during the evenings to do some walking and cooking.

Among three dishes tried, I would say that one worked.

DSC00643 (Medium)The butcher received a shipment of Dorset Goat, which I’ve never tried to cook.  Use it as a substitute for lamb, especially in curry, my butcher suggested, be sure to braise it slowly.  I opted for a Thai-inspired Kelantan, which necessitated some hunting at Tesco for tamarind and lemongrass.

The recipe was straightforward: rub the marinade into the diced meat, assemble a spice paste, and braise the whole thing in coconut milk in a slow oven.

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The result was good, but not spectacular.  The meat reduces a lot from beef-sized stew chunks to curled morsels without giving a lot of flavour to the broth.  Serve over rice with a strong green side vegetable.

Similarly, an attempt to make a roast duck leg dish failed to impress.  red wine duck risottoUsually the cut needs to be chilled with a rub and then cooked slowly to bring the meat off the bone (duck confit): I mixed the finished meat and spices into a red-wine risotto.

Failure on both counts, I’m afraid.  The meat was tough and unpleasant after cooking, and the starch in the risotto is a bad combination with the sweetness of red wine.  I’m going back to duck breast and to white-wine versions, evermore.

What did work well was a white-wine pot of mussels,.  I’m not usually a fan of the Hairy Bikers recipes, but this one was a solid take on the Belgian-style moules.  The w.wezen and I added a bit of crème fraiche to keep it from getting too sweet and a yellow onion to make the broth stronger than with the recommended leeks.  ‘agreed that this is a keeper.

DSC00654 (Medium)Cooking note: Any recipe in Great Britain  that requires an oven has instructions that specifies a Gas Mark setting.  Its a mysterious concept to Americans, an integer number from one to nine.

Introduced for using Regulo Gas Cookers  in the 1940’s, the value starts at 275 and increases by 25 F with each Mark (so Gas Mark 3 is 325F).

This is different than the Thermostat (Th) integer scale used in France (starts at 100F and increases by 50F  at each step) and the Stufe scale in Germany, which begins at 150 C and increases by 25C at each unit increment.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

East Anglian spring

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Is it better to be likeable or sympathetic?

‘third day on the road, Cambridge to Braintree, Cambridge then Poole: five hours driving among meetings.  Fortunately it’s a sunny day without much traffic, and my clients all need help managing good news instead of fixing bad situations. 

A good time for exploration,  lots of time for reflection.

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Success as an entrepreneur or as an expat depends on establishing connections with varied and dissimilar people.  We adopt a relaxed smile and firm handshake, become good listeners and self-depreciating storytellers, project a positive attitude and open heart.  These are all ‘likeable’ traits that engage people as friends and colleagues.

But a close association between people requires more. They also need to identify with one another and care about the other’s story.  They must be mutually sympathetic.

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Distant fields are painted with vivid blocks of primary colour: green shoots of  wheat and barley, yellow rapeseed blooming before harvest for canola oil, brown furrows for sugar beets and potatoes.  Farmstands, offering eggs and jams, punctuate the dusty lanes connecting distant barns.

With  blockages already developing ahead on the M25, its off into the fields to get some pictures of the blooms and the landscapes in afternoon light.

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I reflect that a sympathetic person is one that you identify with perhaps one who has suffered an impersonal or undeserved  setback. Screenwriters, who must draw audiences into a story through character, go further: sympathetic characters have plans, dreams, needs and hopes.  They have moral character, intelligence, and someone who loves them.

And they have flaws.  A video essay illustrates the importance of establishing vulnerability as a key character trait, even for  unlikable people.

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Unlike the warm reds and oranges of the tulip fields in Holland, these carpets are lemon, a cool yellow tending towards green and blue.  The trees are only beginning to bud, the higher branches  still bare in contrast to the lush ground cover.

Great storytelling, inevitably, is about compelling human plights that are accessible to readers. But at the same time, the plights must be set forth with sufficient DSC00621 (867x1300)subjunctivity to allow them to be rewritten by the read to play in their imagination in as detailed and rich a way as psychologically possible.”  

As entrepreneurs and expats, we tell stories to make connections.  We tell how how we always tried and sometimes failed to adopt language and custom.  We negotiate a tough but fair deal for services and supplies.  We shuffle scarce funds to see us through the hard times without layoffs.  In the end, these narratives draw people in as friends and investors.

And it requires more than simply being likeable; we must also be sympathetic.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Tailoring memories in social media

DSC00611 (867x1300)Facebook is worried that its more than one billion daily users are sharing less with one another, headlined the Guardian on Tuesday. People are friending less and posting less: insiders attribute it to ‘context collapse’.

I stopped visiting Facebook a couple of months ago.  The site was, for me, a social bulletin board for our college class ten years ago, then expanded to connect me with friends around the world and to reunite me with people from high school and college.  The site evolved to support conversations and photo exchanges, I liked the the immediacy and ease of messaging, and the Pages where I could share my interests and follow those of others.

But, with time, tweaks to the algorithm to order by ‘similarity to previous likes’ and over-targeted advertising made my feed less interesting and relevant.  Messenger chatbots and tip jars are on the horizon.  Some people filled their streams with sadness and anger, others weaponized unfriending: A swamp of petty cruelties.

I managed my circle down to a ‘Scobel’s Number’ of people that I knew and liked personally, eliminated all business contacts, and demoted the downers in my feed.  But, finally, the whole experience was becoming sad and manipulative on every level.  People filtered their streams, tailoring selective and distorted feeds at particular friends.  Political campaigns and businesses mined feeds to spam sympathetic prospects.   ‘Likes’ drew rebukes, comments fed misunderstandings, silence became a judgement. 

I finally said ‘’enough’ and stopped, DSC00616 (1300x867)deleting the messenger apps and notifications.  People who want to get in touch will know how: coffee, email, phone, blog, Instagram.  ‘happier back in real life with real people, I know who my Friends are and share experiences,  stories,  laughter, and opinions with them.

I had to look up Context Collapse to see whether the engineers and psychologists at Facebook had similar understanding.  It was something else entirely:

In face-to-face communication events we carefully assess the context of the interaction in order to decide how we will act, what we will say, and how we might try to construct and present ourselves. We continuously and often unconsciously take note of the physical surroundings, the people present, and overall tone and temper. We also evaluate our own self and how we fit into the situation, constantly negotiating the image we portray of ourselves.

In contrast, everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you have ever heard of, everyone who has or will have access to the internet is on the other side of what you say on Facebook.  Your images, actions, and words can be transported to anywhere on the planet and preserved for all time. The eyes of the world and the future are your audience.

What can you say?

File:SNSPrivacy.pngThe problem is not the lack of context, but the collapse of all possible context onto each post.  How will this be perceived, not just by the person that you comment to, but by everyone and their ‘friends of friends’ who might read it?  What does your profile and likes affect the perceptions of your varied social and business contacts.  Who may scroll back through your history to question past events that have no immediacy years later?

‘We only remember the good things’, my mother would acknowledge.  Time and distance dim the hard times; we preferentially recall the best moments and people that really define us.  Perhaps Facebook should implement a similar function that exponentially de-emphasizes events and people that are both more distant and less referred to.

Exactly the opposite of their new “On This Day” feature.