Oh, Happy Grays

When I think of most men in my family on either side, I'm rather lucky to have a thick head of hair at the age of thirty-seven. By my age, several of my uncles and great uncles had dramatically receding hair lines or significant bald spots on the backs of their heads. My older brother's hair line steadily retreats each year like an army not yet ready to surrender while my younger brother's entire scalp is increasingly denuded with the march of time. My late father's hair line never quite receded, but his hair had so thinned by the age of forty-eight that he had to run sunblock through it in order to protect his scalp on sunny days.

My hair still resembles a sort of natural-grown Brillo Pad, if increasingly gray. And you know what? I looked in the mirror yesterday after a fresh hair cut and realized that I liked the graying of my hair. I could visulaize my enitre head coverd in dense waves of silvery hair, and I welcome its eventual arrival.

Animals in Classic Style

The Arrogant Rooster

The Arrogant Rooster

My college friend Cassandra Loomis (about whom I wrote in the past) has been painting animals in the style of classic works for many months. Now the above painting, "The Arrogant Rooster", will be part of a group show at the Glave Kocen gallery in Richmond, opening March 1st! I'm happy for my friend, and encourage you to check it out if you're in the Richmond area. And if you're not? You should follow her on Instagram, and see a couple of my favorites below:

Naval Officer Llama

Naval Officer Llama

Reading to Other People

Oh yes. Reading to other people, sure. Every parent does that (or ought to if life circumstances permit). I read to my kids, too. From an early age, I've read board books, explained every page in a picture book, and assisted with lift-the-flap books. But this past month, my 5-year-old daughter has shown the patience to sit through a novel, one chapter at a time, over the course of a few weeks. This is a big deal for me.

I like the sound of my own voice, but more truthfully I really enjoy reading or speaking to other people, adding dramatic flourish to whatever I'm sharing. In high school I competed in storytelling events (I placed well at the state level reading Jon Scieszka's The Stinky Cheese Man). Starting in college, I read books to Valerie before she was my wife. Now I'm terribly unromantic, so I'll just say it was selfishly motivated; Valerie and I were both reading the Harry Potter series, but because we read at different rates, I thought reading to her would ensure we could talk about the books without spoiling anything for one of us. Our couple's reading time continued out of college and into our marriage as we finished up Harry Potter, with a little bit of To Kill a Mocking Bird thrown in to mix things up.

And that was it, for many years. I'm terrible at reading anything these days, and the quote-unquote golden age of television has taken most of our attention when we want to consume some kind of media, especially after full days of work and parenting.

But then at a January book fair, my daughter judged a book by its cover. She saw a chapter book with a mermaid on the cover, and insisted we get it. Before I said anything, she said that she knew it had no pictures except for the tiny illustrations at the top of each chapter, but she wanted it anyway. The book was cheap enough, and we bought it. I read it to her nearly every night for over two weeks, and she was excited to tell me that she was seeing pictures in her mind about the story I was reading. It was a perfectly innocuous young adult novel (the first in a 6-part series, naturally...), but hardly great literature. If she had the patience to sit through this modest story, however, she was probably ready for something better...

A few weeks ago, my daughter told her mother and me that her kindergarten teacher has been reading Roald Dahl's The B.F.G to the class, and she loves it. So last week I went to the library and checked out a copy of Matilda.

Let me tell you, the past week of reading has been an absolute joy for my daughter and me. I'd forgotten just how well Dahl tells a story, and how much the text begs to be read aloud with dramatic interpretation. The book is even filled with extensive descriptions of the tone and posture of various speakers, making for frequently loud and hilarious bedtime storytelling. I see, from the corner of my eye as I read, my daughter alternately hiding under her blanket and bouncing around with anticipation, or cackling at some of the incidents and conversations. The whole thing has reminded me of the fun of my earlier days.

I have to give credit where it's due, of course. My own mom read both The B.F.G. and Matilda to my brothers and me. Those days were filled with howling laughter from my mom as much as us boys. And I can't forget my 7th grade English teacher who spent the second half of the school year reading The Princess Bride to my class. I'd seen the movie a million times by then, but I think there's a reason the film adaptation is framed as a story-telling visit.

My head is swirling with possibilities and books now, and I'm pretty excited about future reading. Of course there are more Dahl books, and C.S. Lewis, and eventually Harry Potter. And that doesn't even scratch the surface of unfamiliar books outside my own childhood or cultural experience. I just hope her own developing reading skills don't make her bored of my voice too quickly.

books and zines: everything is free ii

IMG_1135.jpg

My pal Zephyr has created his second zine, everything is free ii, made from a collection of portraiture, tour photos, and passing moments. Great stuff all around, well laid-out, and full-size pages which suit my taste for a photo zine.

A few of my faves to whet your eyes' appetite (each links to the Instagram post):

Contact Zephyr via the above-linked Instagram account and ask for a copy. $10, well-spent.

Finding Time for Finding Joy in Cooking Again

I've always loved to cook, and I used to cook as much for fun as for necessity. I've written about it more than a few times on this website back in the day, and some of my friends will still laugh recalling my love for brown butter and "mother" sauces. My wife and my friends have long been willing test subjects when I want to try roasting a spatchcocked turkey for Thanksgiving, or bake a chocolate tart for the first time.

Then I had kids. Despite my best efforts, each of my children are as finicky as you'd expect for their respective ages (2.5 and 5 as of this writing). And, sure, I'd been forewarned by friends and family. Before I even had children, I read about one of RVA's own favorite chefs trying to expand the palates of his own. But having my kids so frequently refuse to try what I put in front of them sucked the happiness out of something important to me. And that was before schedules got busier and meals got rushed.


I've adjusted over time, but more important to me is that I'm starting to find ways to have fun in the kitchen again. Yes, the most important step was recognizing that my children's tastes are developing and that their current opinions of my cooking have nothing to do with my skills. But from a practical standpoint, I've made a handful of changes.

First of all, I've embraced cooking from recipes. Most of my personal cooking history is improvisational, adjusting ideas I learned from family or cooking shows. I learned methodology so I could wing it with whatever I had on hand. I used to feel boxed in by recipes, but what I've come to accept is how much time they save - both in the kitchen and at the grocery store. I still tweak, and I still improvise, but a few times a month I try to make my spin on somebody else's dish. I can have it both ways :-D

I've also leaned a bit more into simpler foods this past year. It's no secret I have a great appreciation for simple foods done well, so I'm trying to do just that in my own kitchen. What are some foods I can prepare that are relatively simple in technique and ingredients, but delivery a lot of flavor? Simple pleasures like cacio e pepe, a good quiche, well-roasted Brussels sprouts, or a rich potato gratin are each satisfying quests for perfection that don't take forever to cook, or are at least simple enough to permit watching my kids in the process.

Of course my daughter is getting old enough to start helping in the kitchen, and that's a different kind of joy. Sure, she won't eat many of the dishes we prepare, but it is one of the great privileges of my life to share something I love with my kid. She has keen senses of smell and taste, too.

And finally, well, baking. Oof. I've had some real stinkers in the past whenever I've tried to bake, and no amount of The Great British Bake Off is going to make me a hobby baker. Watching the show, however, I realized that I want to learn a few utility baked goods. Simple-to-moderately complex items that afford flexibility and customization. So I'm practicing - literally practicing without an occasion - a particular type of cake. Once I'm comfortable with the cake, I'll work on frosting. I already know how to make decent buttermilk biscuits, but I'd like to get proficient at making Japanese-style milk bread (for sandwiches, dinner rolls, etc.).


There are still some fruits that my fruit-loving son won't eat because they're green. My daughter hates my incredible mashed potatoes. Most weeks I'm lucky if I can make something more interesting than a variation on pasta with sauce half the time. But I'm working on it! Little by little I'm finding ways to have fun in the kitchen again, and I'll take what I can get.

At least until it's time to clean the dishes.

A few free app ideas

  1. Smelt It/Dealt It: converts currency into the estimated quantity of aluminum that can be extracted from an equivalent value of bauxite.
  2. The Change You Want to See in the World: this one taps into the hot AR segment; lets you see all manner of coins superimposed over your real world surroundings. Live like a pauper, feel like Midas! In-app purchases to display different currencies require real money.
  3. Flourless Tort: A nearly complete civil law reference, but excluding any boring case law that has to do with baking, baked goods, bakers, or bakeries.
  4. Catching Feelings: a dating app for the niche pro fishing market. No swiping, but you have to wave your phone in a pantomime of casting in order to find matches.
  5. The Sound and the Curry: [wear headphones] I dunno, maybe it could be an ASMR thing? Just relax and listen to the sounds of various curries bubbling away as they cook. The free version includes the sounds of pandhara rassa, lamb rogan josh, coorgi pandi, and butter chicken. Additional dishes are available as in-app purchases.

Asked and Age-Appropriately Answered

I don't always do a great job, and sometimes I say 'no' (too tired, not enough time for a particularly complex answer, etc.), but I earnestly try to answer any questions my kids ask me. This means sometimes I find myself explaining topics like the nervous system to my presently-five-year-old daughter.

The question seemed simple enough: "Daddy, why does it hurt when I get a cut?" She had a small cut on one of her pinky knuckles.

When I'm feeling particularly alert and adventurous this becomes a big decision tree for me as I start to answer. Are other people in the room (particularly her little brother)? Is she in the middle of watching a cartoon? Is she eating? What's her mood? I try to provide a succinct answer first that will satisfy the basic question and, depending on her attention and reaction, I'll dig a little deeper to provide a richer picture of what's going on.

So yesterday I could have left it at "A cut on your finger hurts because your body is telling you to be careful and protect your skin" or some such. But since it was just the two of us in the car on the way home from Chipotle, I was able to tell her about nerves, and how they take messages to and from the brain (her favorite part - when your nerves are exposed to the outside world, they only message they know how to send is "AHHHHHHHH!!!!!"). I had her continued attention through explanations of the brain sending messages to your finger when you wiggle it, or your heart pumping blood. I was able to explain how you can control some of those messages and some happen without you even thinking about them. We wrapped up it up talking about how your brain is made of special nerve cells that store memories and knowledge.

I'm sure I could have done better, and I'm sure I'd make a physician cringe with some of my explanations, but after I was done and we were two minutes from home, she said, "Daddy, I want to learn science about how the body works."

Sometimes we have fights about why she can't wear a diaphanous short sleeve dress on a cold winter's day. But every now and then I get to play teacher and she gets (I hope) rewarded for her curiosity.

Hot RVA Chick(en)

I was prepared to be disappointed by this place. Anywhere I've eaten owned by Eat Restaurant Partners has been overpriced mediocrity drenched in buckets of "local", "natural", and "sustainable" marketing puffery. Fat Dragon, Blue Goat, Boulevard Burger and Brew, Foo Dog, etc. It's not bad food, and I don't pass over food based on price alone, but there are plenty of better options in their respective price ranges around town.

Now there's Hot Chick (har har, another cheeky name like...ugh..."Wong Gonzales"): the restaurant group's take on Nashville-style hot chicken. I adore RVA's dining scene, but we have a habit of picking up on food trends after everybody else has had a turn, don't we? I love spicy food, though, and Nashville is too far a drive for a busy dad to try the real deal that is "hot chicken". My options are limited (but please do check out the fancy chicken biscuit at Saison Market - it's leaning in the same direction), so today I took my daughter to the new joint for lunch.

It's good. Like, really dang good.

hot chicken sandwich.jpg

I got the basic sandwich, with a brutally hot fried chicken breast on a sweet and tender roll. I'm picky, so I excluded the pickles and slaw, but this meant it was just me and the chicken. I can't speak to authenticity, nor the difference between its progenitors and the gentrification version of hot chicken, but Hot Chick is HOT. At the very least the chicken breast was dipped in some kind of hot oil or sauce, though there may very well have been some heat in the marinade and/or batter as well. But the crucial element here was the flavor—it was spicy but still tasted delicious. The waffle fries on the side were seasoned to perfection and helped mitigate the heat.

This was a $12 sandwich with a side. That's not cheap for something in this category, but is the quality worth the price? I think so. Hot Chick won't be a regular lunch stop, but I'll go back when I get a hot chicken craving in the future.

Homemade Peanut Butter

Unless you're extremely online, you may not know how easy it is to make your own dang bespoke GIFs from video using Giphy.

Say you lost your mind laughing when Chidi Anagonye freak-out-shouted, "I SAW THE TIME KNIFE!?" and you want that feeling preserved in low-fi, looping digital amber. If you can find that moment on YouTube, for example, you're halfway there!

Giphy makes it super easy to grab just what you want and take it the rest of the way to meme-ready reaction GIF land. You can hit up their GIF Maker page, and as soon as you paste the YouTube URL into the text field, you're taken through a super simple, step-by-step (and not too many steps) process to adjust start time, loop length, and any overlaid text and graphics. Some of the adjustment sliders are a bit fidly, but in no time, you'll be ready to drop a fine non-sequitor GIF into any conversation:

#wauxke


wauxke

adjective

\ 'wōk \

Definition of wauxke

1 : fake woke


I thought I was SOOOOOOOOoooo clever quipping this term on Twitter recently, but of course I didn't invent it. A cursory search of Twitter for this exact spelling of my not-really-neologism finds at least a few examples going back to 2016. And that says nothing of "fauxke", used the same way for at least a few years.

This reminds me of back in 2003 when I thought I'd invented "ridonkulous" (or "redonkulous" depending on your dialect) as a portmanteu of ridiculous and donkey (donkeys never really had anything to do with it, I just thought it sounded hilarous). Then I heard Tina Fey say it on SNL's Weekend Update! Then today I read about somebody else on the internet who had the same expereience! Even my memories aren't original.

Songwhip

I'm pleased as punch that a pal of mine introduced me to Songwhip - a super convenient website that'll ingest music links from a wide variety of services and websites, and provide a centralized URL for sharing. Friends sharing links from Apple Music, but you're a Spotify user? No problem.

Just take this lil' linky-link to Mark Ronson's cover of Just, by Radiohead: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/just/259214420?i=259214652

Paste that into Songwhip's search field, and get a slick little page and URL in return:

From there you can hit Spotify, Amazon, or wherever you might find the track/album/whatever. It's not perfect, and there are some quirks, but I've found it to be a great way to share music with friends across a broad specturm of streaming services.

Where this has really shined, in my personal experience, has been integration with Slack. One of my (too many) Slack teams has a music channel, and the Songwhip integration will echo out their URL whenever a song/album link from a compatible service is detected. Coupled with disabling autoexpansion of previews for services like Spotify, you get a nice neat sharing experience:

songwhip slack.png

Deepstar LLC

So now I'm legally a business owner! I mean, I still don't really do much outside of my day job, but I finally went ahead and formed an LLC for any freelance opportunities that come my way. Take a look, and get in touch if you want to work together!

Heating Up

Somebody posited a great idea on one of my Slack teams today:

I need to fix my notification settings so I'm not late to the party all the time, but there's nothing between "everything" and "mentions only" and what I really want is "hey this channel's blowing up."

There is something kind of in-between. You can be notified based on a list of keywords, so every time a person posts a message including "photo", for example, I get notified. But I'm using Slack (and I suspect an increasing number of folks are, too) for social purposes. This means that keyword-based notifications have a more limited use in practice. One of my teams has a "Camera Talk" channel, so why do I need to be notified every time somebody uses the word "camera" or "photo"? I don't want to be notified for EVERYTHING in that channel, do I?

So I'm thinking of something more specific now, and here's what I have in mind - whether implemented as a bot or some other custom integration to each team that I'm part of:

Hot Channel

Using Slack's API, you can retrieve up to 100 messages in an array. Each message entity includes a Unix time stamp. My thought is to determine some sweet spot here - like, 10+ messages posted in 10 minutes or less means the conversation is moving, and might be worth watching. Unix time stamps are in seconds, so you could collect the latest 10 messages and subtract the oldest time stamp from the newest. If the difference is less than or equal to 600, then take some action. If all this is handled by some kinda bot integration, then every 5 or 10 minutes it would poll the channel and post a message to the channel. Slack lets you choose a phrase to trigger a notification, so perhaps this bot posts "The channel is heating up!" or something. You get the picture.

There are ways to make this more sophisticated, like allowing individuals to have their own preferences. Maybe a friend only cares if there are 30+ messages in 10 minutes, for example. I dunno.

I want to try building this myself, but I'm not developer, so it could take me a while. If anybody thinks this is a useful idea, please run with it, or point me to existing work if it's out there.

Your Own Personal Slack Team

Slack isn't new, and if you read what I write, you probably already know what it is - but in case you don't: it's group chat. Okay, it's fancy group chat. It's built so well with just the right kind of niceties to make its use a pleasure. An increasing number of teams and companies are using Slack for collaboration in the workplace, but not around my office.

Essentially fed by increasing frustration with Twitter, I've noticed a number of people start up Slack Teams to share with friends. I've been invited to a few of them myself, and the whole thing has been pretty refreshing. Because they're not public, there's far less fear of words/images/links reflecting poorly on everybody. It's already a warm audience, so engagement isn't measured in likes or retweets, rather in the very human way that we all prefer: we talk to each other. Conversations!

It's not all perfect, of course. These are fairly closed rooms. Some have shared admin/invitation control, some do not, and either scenario has its risks. Does the team remain exclusive and private? Does the fun vibe of a small conversation get diluted or ruined entirely as the chatter increases to a hard-to-follow roar? Slack has a few things built-in that should, in theory, mitigate the latter. You can easily have private conversations with individuals, or create channels within a team for particular subjects or whatever.

I don't want to worry too much about where it's going, though. For now, it's super fun to use something truly social on the internet again. It's not about exposure, or having people follow my links, or any of that crap. It's people, conversing.

Duet

I'm pretty behind on my podcasts (I mostly listen in order), so I've only just listened to the 1/24 episode of The Talk Show. Early in Gruber's conversation with Ben Thompson, they mentioned an app called Duet. Well, really it's a desktop app working in concert with an iOS app. When running on a Mac and an iPad connected with a cable, it allows you to treat the iPad as a target display.

Dual monitor setups have rarely appealed to me because of the nature of my job. I'm only at my desk about 50% of the time, so why get used to the extra monitor if I could only have it some of the time? And once I received my Retina MacBook Pro for work, what external display would live up to the gorgeous screen attached to my laptop?

But I always have my iPad with me (a first generation iPad Air); it travels in my computer bag right beside the laptop. So not only can I use a dual display at my desk, but I can take it home with me, or to any place I might be working for more than an hour. Sure, it's a small screen for a second display, but it's a Retina display like my laptop, so even at small sizes, the text is sharp enough to be readable. I'm already finding it to be incredible useful. The desktop app is free, and the iOS app is an easily worth-it $7.99. Highly recommended - unless you're already hooked on some 24" beast.