Not Created Equal

Not all websites are created equally.

Take this site. As a real estate analogy, this is a cabin in the woods. This blog is the digital version of a weekend getaway, stuffed with comforts and curiosities, eclectic bits of cookware, and eccentric tchotchkes piled onto the shelves to add an atmosphere of warmth while still giving it all a human touch.

What made your job
interesting in 2021?

On the other hand, the website that I oversee for work is a large glass-paneled government skyscraper downtown, with elevators speeding between the floors and strict rules for how the queues to each service desk are designed, and careful attention to detail given to the colors of the wall paint and the placement of the signage pointing out everything from the washrooms to the lost and found to the exit.

I don’t write about my work, at least not often, because there is such a stark contrast between what I am paid to build over there and what I build for fun over here.

And I think buried in that explanation is a little of what makes my job interesting, too.

Not everyone understands websites, and less so do people understand the vast chasm of differences that are buried beneath the design, purpose and function of those websites. Maybe that is a broad assumption, but I see evidence of such a conjecture if not daily, then multiple times per week.

We need to think more like Starbucks. Someone will say.

I reply that Okay, yes… we can learn from Starbucks but Starbucks is a little shop on the corner that sells coffee and fills its humbly lit spaces with warm, inviting leather chairs and groovy popular jazz. We are required to use plastic seating and provide ample lighting. How can we translate that vibe into something useful?

The analogy breaks down quickly, obviously.

People see something that works and while they are not wrong in the simplification, they are also often unaware that there is a huge gap — technically, functionally, even philosophically — between what our corporate website does versus what Facebook does versus what that food delivery app does versus what a little blog in the winter wilderness (quietly run by one and the same person as the first) is meant to be… and do… and say.

And in that they are not wrong but merely interested in a design problem, the part of my job that becomes interesting in return is attempting to take the energy of such a vision and translating it into a plan for someone else to write code that can be uploaded and integrated and activated into a tool that, say, sells bus fares with the same fluidity that Starbucks dispenses lattes.

Meanwhile, I can write and say and post and design this little cabin in the wilderness exactly the way I want to. Right here. Warm, cozy, curious, and inviting.

Thirty one topics. Thirty one posts. Not exactly a list… but close. In December I like to look back on the year that was. My daily posts in December-ish are themed-ish and may contain spoilers set against the backdrop of some year-end-ish personal exposition.

Perfecting Pour Overs

Opportunity? Or maybe a concerning symptom?

Iโ€™ve all-too-often tapped into the nearly unlimited informtion pouring from the internet and found myself wandering into deep, dark caverns of complexity on a narrow and specific topic.

The last couple months that topic has been coffee.

Back in September I hinted that I had been dabbling in pour overs as a means to replace the convenient but garbage-filling pod system that had been stuffed into a cupboard a few years ago after I got frustrated buying expensive one-time capsules of sour-brewing, mediocre coffee grounds.

Tho, working from home I still found I was craving a post-lunch beverage and Iโ€™d been resorting to (if I had leftovers from the morning) reheating in the microwave, or alternatively, brewing an entire second pot in the afternoon.

Alas, a few curious Google searches sent me down into those endless caverns of eclectic know-how, intoducting me to tutorial videos, detail commentary, sub-reddits, and a couple of youtube channels dedicated to seeking the perfect cup of coffee.

The result has been that the post-lunch scramble for a simple hot drink has gradually transformed into a twenty minute experiment, experience, and extravagance as I hand grind local roasts that have been weighed precisely for the volume of my cup. Iโ€™ve learned to bloom my grounds and slow pour a gentle but consistent drizzle into the basket, as I evaluate aroma and freshness. All this results in a single cup of some of the best, most ridiculously fussy coffee Iโ€™ve ever drank.

It has become an opportunity to treat myself. It is also very likely a symptom of a concerning obsession that no cup of Starkbucks will ever be able to replicate.

A Blogging Good Anniversary

I occasionally allude to an interesting-to-me fact: I’ve been posting my thoughts online in the form of blogs for a long time.

To give that claim some context, as of today I have been a blogger for twenty years.

That’s right.

On April 20, 2001, twenty years ago to today, I posted my first dispatch post from a hot little apartment in metro Vancouver shortly after moving there for a post-university job.

I don’t want to sour this post in any way with recollections of why I shelved that blog or mourning all the other little temporary websites that lived for a time online before fading into the obscurity of a backup file on my computer. Needless to say, the digital road from there to here has been long, rewarding, introspective, emotional, and likely worn out more than one keyboard.

I’ve been read by lot of people for too many reasons to list.

I’ve been scraped by content farms stealing my words and photos.

I’ve been recognized by media and linked from news articles.

I’ve been hacked.

I’ve been awarded for words, design, and concept.

I’ve been undermined by people I had trusted for things I’d written in good faith.

I’ve told stories.

I’ve had regrets.

I’ve corrected mistakes.

I’ve learned, grown, shared, and opened myself up.

Literally millions of words have appeared online at times, and as many of those words as I have cared to keep are safely archived and privately backed up in safe digital spaces for my personal future reference.

If you have been reading and enjoying this blog, thanks. It is the latest in now-twenty years of efforts to share my words and thoughts and creative soul online. It has been a big part of my life, mostly for good, and always interesting… well, at least for me.

It has been an outlet and an inspiration to step out of a pandemic-based rut (an even more significant thing to say today as my age-group eligibility for a vaccine starts this morning!)

I write and post, and I write therefore I am. And while this blog may still be young and new, for me personally this is a blogging good anniversary worth pausing to blog about.

Our Well-Loved Cookbooks: How to Cook Everything

Had I realized how often over the last fifteen years I would be referencing Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything I would have splurged for the hardcover edition.

As it stands, our trusty copy of this loaf of paper filled with basic recipes rarely makes it back onto the bookshelf, and is so tattered and splattered, I’ll likely be lamenting it’s numbered days before it stops being useful.

I’ve started a small series of cookbook posts here on castironguy.ca because despite adding to my collection almost monthly, I find that most cookbooks are only useful or interesting in a limited way. Sure, you can learn a great recipe from almost any book out there, and half the fun is picking something that looks like a challenge or a tasty goal, and seeing how well your skills match with the intended product. That said, there are perhaps only a dozen cookbooks on our shelf that would make a cull if I was forced to simplify my library… and these are them.

The best analogy I have for this book is that it’s like my paperback edition of Google.

You know those times you are standing there in your kitchen, hands covered in flour, thinking about how you are actually supposed to be cooking something, say a roast or a whole spaghetti squash or maybe a pie crust.

How long at what temperature?

How much water was I supposed to add?

Should I be covering this?

Today I might Google it, or ask my digital assistant. Hey, Alexa, how do I… ?

But even still, and especially back when I bought this, it was and still is that one reference book that gives solid, simple advice on the nuances of basic food prep.

Sure, there are a few fancy recipes hiding in it’s pages, and lots of ideas about stuff like how to make your waffles more interesting, or how to spice a whole chicken, or variations on making your own salad dressings. But the core function of this book is basically aimed at people like me who mostly know enough to get started, have the ingredients in their hands, but are stumped on locking down the process. The how-to. The what was that one crucial step or ingredient that is going to change the outcome if I get it wrong. A reference guide.

This might not be the exact title for you, but there are a few big reference cookbooks out there with a similar purpose and you should generally keep one on your shelf. I do.