A small announcement. My girlfriend, Erin Watson, writes poetry from time to time. She has completed 24 poems, each of which contains one tweet from Russian spam bot (and American poet laureate) @Horse_ebooks. She used Horse_’s tweets as writing prompts, and now she wants to make a chapbook of it.
In order to cover the chapbook’s printing and shipping costs, she has launched a Kickstarter campaign. They’re going to be professionally made by Scout Books, printed offset. They’re going to be about the size of a Field Notes, if you need a basis for comparison.
I designed the book, and I’m really happy that she has launched this, so I hope you can take the time and money to support her today. Thanks!
I’m part of the last generation to know the value of libraries before the web. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in my hometown’s public library, where mom would sit with me and my sister for hours in the kids’ section. There was no alternative: the web was created when I was seven years old, and it wouldn’t gain an insane amount of traction for a little while yet.
Most of my generation has ditched libraries for the internet’s fire hose. I can’t blame them, but I don’t view it as a good thing.
To pit the web against libraries is – for the time being, at least – a false dichotomy. Libraries carry different information than the web. Many books haven’t been digitized, and what has been digitized is either hard to read or mired in legal insanity). Most journals are stuck behind extremely expensive paywalls that only the ivory tower is able to afford. Lots of our generation gets around that by having friends in graduate school, but that is more of a kludge than a solution.
I run a journal focused on research, and I think the best essays have come from in-depth research at libraries. There is still no substitute for the amount of data that a library can carry, and our own capability for analyzing that data. You have probably not tackled all sides of an issue until you have researched its context and history, and the best – I’d argue the only – way to do that is by physically going to, and spending multiple hours at, a library.
Libraries have benefitted me tremendously in my life. They continue to do so. Right now, though, they are at risk of being obsoleted; they do not have access to most new ebooks, and even if they did, the formats are at perpetual risk of being obsoleted, making it difficult to build a durable archive.
I don’t know what to do about it, but I do know that people are not concerned enough. So this post is my own humble nudge in the right direction.
Write about libraries today. Posts tagged #infoaccess will be mentioned on our site after the day is over. Also, join us at 3pm Central time for a chat over Campfire – the link will be posted on informationaccessday.com and on @pubstn.
It’s the fifth of July: the worst possible day of the year to discuss how to hold a barbeque. I’m going to do it anyway. Barbeques are super easy to pull off with a minimum of tools, money, and planning. But I have opinions about all this, this sacred tradition of warm Chicago, and so I am going to tell you what I think is the best way to handle doing a barbeque.
First, two axioms.
- I hate synthetic, processed quasi-food, and I’m guessing you do, too. So don’t fill your barbeque with that stuff. No lighter fluid. No packaged burgers. (Vienna Beef is ok, but only because you can’t really duplicate it.) Beef and sausages from a real butcher. Veggie skewers and chopped-up stuff for the grill, not Boca. And I tend to avoid propane, but mostly because I love cooking with charcoal and real wood.
- You do not need to blow an ungodly amount of money on this. Here in Chicago, barbeques are a ridiculously informal affair. It’d be folly to spend hundreds of dollars on a super fancy grill and top-tier booze. If this is running too flush, make your friends bring stuff, be humble in what you suggest, and accepting of whatever they bring.
Next, here is what you need. This list is going to be Chicago-centric, but you should be able to get the point and adapt it to wherever you live.
- A charcoal grill. I use a standard Weber kettle grill.
- A charcoal grill. You should sequester all of your veggie items on a separate grill; otherwise you will essentially have meat-smoked vegetables on your hands, making you a terrible person to your vegan and veggie friends. The other option: grill all your vegetables first, then all the meat. This is a terrible idea because all of your meat-eating friends will want to kill you, and they’re going to gang up with all the vegetarians who arrive late.
- Charcoal. Throw away anything you have with lighter fluid soaked into it, like Match Light. Get a big bag of real, old-school charcoal. Doesn’t have to be name-brand. Don’t get charred wood, because that doesn’t work well in a chimney. Get real briquets. No hippie stuff.
- A chimney. This is a cheap (~$20) item that allows you to start charcoal effectively and quickly without the use of lighter fluid. Here’s a reasonably priced one. A chimney is absolutely essential if you want to pull off a good barbeque at minimal cost without using lighter fluid. I cannot stress this enough.
- Three or four sheets of newsprint. Crumple them up, stuff them under a chimney loaded with charcoal, and set it on fire. Boom, done.
- A big metal spatula.
- A big metal spatula. Yes, you need another spatula for the veggies, too.
- A grill fork.
- A garbage can. You will need one more than you think you do.
- Extra credit: two cooking timers for the two grills. You can use your phone, but you’re also going to be answering calls and texts on said phone if you’re the one hosting the party.
- Extra credit: hickory or mesquite wood chips for smoking everything. Throw these in after your coal is nice and ready.
- Ground beef. Burgers are hard to pull off, with infinite flavor combinations. That said, though, I encourage you to play around with flavors only after you’ve cooked a damn tasty, dead-simple burger. For now, take a look at Salt & Fat’s burger tutorial, which I heartily recommend for its simplicity and subtle tweaks. (Divot in the middle!)
- Brats and sausages. Sausage is a pain in the ass to make yourself, but fortunately there are many great places to buy amazing sausage, with more coming up every day. If they grind the sausage by themselves and you know where the meat is coming from, it’s probably a safe bet. In Chicago, I recommend:
- Paulina Meat Market (Paulina/Cornelia)
- The Butcher & Larder (Milwaukee/Thomas)
- Romanian Kosher Sausage (Clark/Touhy)
- Halsted Packing House (Halsted/Hubbard)
- Gene’s Sausage Shop (Lincoln/Lawrence)
- Veggie stuff. In Chicago, if you don’t have shucked corn on the cob, you are doing a barbeque wrong. Get some wood skewers, too, and make up some kebobs. Extra bonus points if you marinate and sear some cubes of tofu for the kebobs – if you live here, I recommend Phoenix Bean for the job, as it’s made in New Chinatown and pretty fresh no matter where you get it. Finally, I tend to favor portobello mushroom caps instead of veggie burgers. (I do not know a really good veggie burger recipe, but I bet the rest of the internet does.)
- Toppings. There is no excuse for you not to have good mustard, hot sauce, and barbeque sauce. If you don’t have a good German neighborhood or French market in your town, head online and see what good spicy brown mustards are available. In Chicago, I get my mustard from Dill Pickle (Albany/Fullerton), Gene’s Sausage Shop, and La Boulangerie (Milwaukee/Logan). I also buy Co-Op Hot Sauce from Dill Pickle, barbeque sauce from Smoque (Pulaski/Grace), and medium giardiniera from Bari (Grand/Aberdeen). No matter what you choose, though, trust me: you can do better than French’s and A-1. If you’re planning on making Chicago dogs, you need all the right toppings and a poppy seed bun. Finally, I get all of my spices and seasonings at the Spice House (Wells/Goethe), which enables me to fake being a halfway decent cook.
- Buns. In Illinois, probably the hardest to find. I’m especially fond of pretzel buns for burgers. Good bread is a little more expensive for a vast bump in quality. In Chicago, I frequently use Red Hen.
- Appetizers. Too much prep work to make them good, in my opinion. Make your guests provide them, and place a strict ban on chips and salsa.
- Booze. Get crisp, light-colored, hoppy beers, saisons, and Belgian pales. Daisy Cutter, Finch’s Golden Wing, Anheuser-Busch Sofie, Piece Top Heavy, Domaine DuPage, and Flossmoor IPA are all solid bets. Some of your guests are going to hate hops, so you will want a balance between hoppy beers and yeasty/malty beers. And keep some cocktail fixin’s or wine around for gluten-free people, and some nice fancy pop (I like DRY) for non-drinkers.
- S’more fixin’s for when the coals go out. Extra bonus points for fancy marshmallows, although these tend to run expensive.
- Cheese. Grated cheese rules for cheeseburgers, but sometimes that doesn’t really logistically fly. If you have to get singles, check the ingredient list and make sure they’re really made out of cheese.
- Burgers: Three minutes per side for medium-rare; four minutes per side for well-done.
- Dogs: Two minutes per side.
- Brats and sausages: Five minutes per side.
- Veggie stuff: depends; eyeball it or check the internet.
- Two giant plates for cooked veggie and meat stuff.
- A giant folding table for holding all the grilled things and condiments – ideally next to the grill.
- A side table for holding your beer.
Other things to keep in mind
- Good grilling requires constant vigilance. Do not mess up the timing under any circumstance. Nobody wants burned or undercooked food.
- If you are grilling, you are essentially not hosting the party, because the entire rest of your house is going unpatrolled. And no, you can’t pop in and out all the time: see above note about timing. Make your roommates, significant other, or BFF play host.
- If you decide to delegate grill duty to somebody else, let them know before they arrive at the party.
- If you decide to delegate hosting responsibilities to somebody else, let them know before they arrive at the party.
- Try to maximize the ways in which you are having fun.
Dear Alderman Burnett, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein:
I’m writing to notify you of a modest hazard for cyclists in the 27th Ward. I was riding eastbound on Chicago Avenue this evening, and after descending the ramp after the bridge over the river, I bumped over a large recessed manhole cover, flew head over heels, landed in front of a cab, and twisted my left leg. I’m currently writing this from home, with my left leg elevated and ice on both my ankle and knee.
This wasn’t necessarily because I avoided the obstacle. I knew it was there, as I’ve worked across the street from said manhole multiple times (more on that later!). But I somehow hit said obstacle in exactly the wrong way, such that my front wheel went sideways and my bike ground to a sudden halt.
This is one of many obstacles on Chicago between Peoria and Larrabee, including: the open grate bridge itself; a protruding steel wedge in the middle of the right-hand lane; uneven road while climbing (or descending) west of Halsted; a lack of any signage telling me where to put my bike in the lane; and the extremely high tendency for angry drivers to harass me and drive erratically for (I believe correctly) keeping my lane around eastbound Chicago between Halsted and the river, as the road widens from one lane to three to one to maybe-two-depending – including the one who called me a “fucking asshole” about ten seconds before I bit it this evening. As a biker, all of these problems need to be accounted for in order to save my hide – and this time, I didn’t notch a perfect score.
Chicago Ave’s problems speak to a larger issue: Kinzie, Webster, and Cortland are, in my opinion, the only safe river crossings on the whole near north side. That leaves quite a large swath of consecutive crossings (North, Division, Chicago, and Grand) that each have problems. Providing Division or Chicago with a safe crossing, better bike infrasructurure, and improved road quality would go a long way towards ensuring that we can share the road well. It’s easy to go a few blocks out of one’s way to cross the river; less so when you have to travel over a mile.
It’s also worth noting that I’m an interaction designer by trade – meaning I handle the layout and behavior of software and websites so they work better and treat people right. I do this mainly for startups, meaning the sheer poetry of biting it right across the street from the building that may as well be the epicenter of successful Chicago design and technology (said building containing Groupon, Dyson, Lightbank, VSA Partners, Manifest Digital, etc.) is probably not lost on anybody reading this who has had to venture across the Chicago Ave bridge multiple times before getting reasonably successful at what they do and moving to San Francisco.
But I love it here. I’ve lived here for 28 years. And I’m not planning on leaving. Keeping my stubborn brain in this town is, in its own small, piecemeal, block-by-block way, probably in Chicago’s interest, considering its renewed interest in tech entrepreneurship in the face of the mass departure of younger, more talented, and far more interesting people than myself, most of whom happen to ride bikes and collectively despise the snot out of bike-hostile, tech-fertile River North.
And while 1871 benefits from the Kinzie protected lane flanking it to the north, 600 West isn’t going anywhere, and it employs thousands of people who have a stake in this.
So it may be one stupid little manhole. But from my corner of the world, it’s a fairly important one. Please fix it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Jack Cheng’s essay The Slow Web lately. The internet has a current: a way of doing things right; a trend towards a new business model and a new discursive formation. And going against that current is, in the long run, generally not well-received. It may be received with curiosity, good intentions, and a surge of initial interest, but the internet is not fueled by any of these things, and someday everybody will move on.
It takes active, continuous effort to run against the grain of the internet. One needs a very clear reason for doing so, and even then, one also needs to play by the internet’s rules to get the change they want.
I believe Distance is vital and tremendously valuable, but it also runs against the way the internet works. Research? Requiring somebody’s focus for a long period of time? Writing that costs money? Trying to elevate the quality of public discourse? Not seeking explosive growth? All of these run contrary to the way the internet presently works.
You might protest. But I know _______________, and they do these things really well! I don’t know a single one that has mass appeal. The closest I’ve seen is The New Inquiry, and I’d argue that (while excellent) it’s far too niche to apply. And besides, you are probably coming from a perspective that favors such outlets in the first place.
While I wouldn’t be making Distance if I didn’t believe I could change all of this, it’s a monumentally difficult proposition to swim against the currents of the modern internet, the fast web: one I grossly underestimated. Perhaps Distance will pull through; perhaps it’ll be because of the internet, not despite the internet. That’s an internet I’d prefer to have.
Look both ways before crossing the street, because nobody knows how to drive a car. Floss at least once every day; buy the nice kind that doesn’t chop your fingers up. If you’re wearing a jacket, you probably need both a pocket square and a tie. You don’t need more than one computer anymore. Build a fire pit in your backyard at all costs. Sync everything. Try to strike up friendly conversations with every driver who calls you a cunt. Splurge on a cell phone with a data plan; if you already have one, splurge on a solid state drive; if you have both, you don’t need anything else. In the long run, shaving with a fancy double-edged razor costs less. Buy flowers for strangers who watch your bike for you. Use Instapaper, for the love of god. Write down the phone numbers and email addresses of close friends and relatives. Stop giving a shit about who is better than you; they’re just good in different ways. You probably don’t need more than six really nice shirts. Try the $8 9% Orval instead of two $4 4.5% lagers; you’ll get just as drunk, and the ingredients are way better. Text your friends about where the road is chopped up, so they can find a detour. Buy two belts and two pairs of shoes that match each other. Make funnier party invites than anyone. Welcome strangers and eject haters. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and take ten seconds longer than you think you need. Invent ridiculous constraints. Move where your friends are; they’ll help you the most. Learn to code. You only need to figure out one way to tie your tie and fold your pocket square. Thank everyone. Write letters. Learn the difference between its, it’s, their, they’re, there, where, we’re, and wear. Go on strike from any dumb bullshit that doesn’t fit what you want to be doing, because it’s always better to starve happy. Delete all of your RSS feeds. Always request patio seating. Don’t eat shitty, processed quasifood. Take all of your work less seriously. Offer to help. Love your kneecaps: ride a single-speed bike with a freewheel and two brakes. Learn the tradeoffs you’re making for the things you’ve chosen to pay attention to. Learn to say no graciously. Make small gestures. Don’t be a dick to people. You probably don’t need to drink pop. Find workable alternatives to anything you shoot down. Always praise the positive aspects before you critique the negative aspects. Find a tailor who listens more than talks. You probably don’t need to buy more than ten typeface families in your lifetime. Liquor before beer, you’re in the clear. It’s okay to stop reading a book that you’re not enjoying. Run everything through spell check. Buy from decent people who believe in their craft. Quit complaining; we’re all suffering the same bullshit in our own special ways. If you’ve committed to something, then you need to find a way to honor it – including a way to gracefully back out. Saw off the binding of that terrible book your aunt gave you over the holidays; use it as a sketchpad. Never refuse an invitation to talk about life around a bonfire. Cuervo Gold is 49% bum rum and no self-respecting human being should ever consume it. If the apocalypse comes tomorrow, the best-dressed one in the room is going to stand in front of the maybe-not-functioning TV cameras.