Review: A Man, A Can, A Plan: 50 Great Guy Meals Even You Can Make

It’s been a while since I reviewed anything, and I find myself missing it. I’m half working on an idea involving reviews, which is one reason I’ve been holding them back. But anyway, here’s my new favorite cookbook:

A Man, A Can, A Plan: 50 Great Guy Meals Even You Can Make is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Each meal is simple, with central ingredients that come from cans. A few non canned items are sometimes required, but nothing complicated – usually just a sliced tomato or a bag of shredded cheese. The book is divided into sections by the associated manly main ingredient: ham, chicken, fish, chili, beans, spaghettiOs, veggies, fruit, and beer.

Yes, there is an entire section dedicated to spaghettiOs. I’ve fallen in love with SpaghettiO Western – two cans of Os, one can of black beans. Mix in a skillet and heat until hot. (Of course, since this is a manly book, I don’t “mix” items. I am directed to “dump” the cans together) Sprinkle with cheese, and eat. If I’m feeling adventurous, I add in some corn. It’s ridiculously cheap and simple to make, tastes miles better than the Os alone, and leaves me with tons of leftovers. That’s the easy end of the spectrum. Others, like the Ham-and-‘shroom Scramble that I made, feel more like actual cooking.

There’s no earth-shattering culinary tips in this book, but it gave me a ton of great ideas for easy bachelor meals that I wouldn’t have hit on otherwise. If I have one complaint, it’s that a number of the 50 recipes are more side dishes or desserts than a full meal. But there’s still a pretty good assortment. Each one is better than another frozen pizza any day.

Warren Ellis on Burst Culture

Author Warren Ellis wrote a great post the other day about “Burst Culture”. He’s got some thought-provoking observations about what publishing content on the web means, what works, and what doesn’t. After reading it, I just sort of sat and said ‘hmm’ to myself for a while. I haven’t quite synthesized it into a whole yet, but I feel like these concepts are important.

As an aside, through that post I learned about – great little bursts of Sci-Fi posted every day.

The dark side of the community

As I write this, is out of service. Slashdot has a bit of info on the situation.

Digg built its brand as a site where users get to pick the top tech news stories, vote, and the leaders get posted on the front page. It’s been very popular, with a user base growing by leaps and bounds.

Earlier today, someone released a string of hexadecimal code online that enables decryption of HD-DVDs. This opens the door for widespread piracy of the films, in the same way that CDs and DVDs are affected now. Naturally, a number of tech-focused sites posted about this, and many were served takedown notices from the MPAA on the grounds that this code violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Digg administrators complied, and removed a story or two about the code from their site.

Users instantly rioted, and the site descended into mob rule. New story submissions were spammed with links and jokes involving the code, reposting it as many times as possible. The site became unusable for casual readers like myself, with absolutely nothing else getting highlighted. Digg admins eventually gave in, saying they wouldn’t take down any more code references. But that didn’t placate the angry users, and now the whole site is down.

I’m not going to go into the right or wrong of Digg giving in to the takedown notice or the original release of the cracked code. That issue aside, I’m still very bothered by this whole scenario. Digg was built on radical trust of users, and today they tore the site apart. There is a fine line to walk when giving average people access to such power. At an earlier date I would have pointed to Digg as a pretty good (but admittedly not perfect) example of this trust in action. But suddenly the site serves equally well as an example of mob rule horribly exploiting this trust. Users could have handled the controversy in a much more civil fashion and had a fascinating discussion of the issues with admins. But instead of sitting down and figuring out where to go from here, the groupthink mob instinct kicked in.

I’m not yet sure what lesson can be taken from all this or what point I’m making, but I do know I certainly need to think about it a lot more.

New Toy!

After almost four years with my last computer (A Dell Inspiron 5100 which held up remarkably well) I finally upgraded! I decided not to mess with success, and bought another Dell laptop – an E1505 this time.

Vista has taken some getting used to. The constant pestering about mundane security issues is really grating on me, for example. But overall I’m quite happy with my purchase. And while it’s probably a minor thing to focus on, I love that having Media Center built into Windows (combined with a USB tv tuner) lets me use the laptop as an HD DVR and stream the recorded shows to my TV via the Xbox 360. I’d been considering buying a Tivo or something similar lately, but really balked at paying yet another monthly subscription fee. Problem solved!

But my absolute favorite thing about this laptop compared to the old one? My computer’s fan no longer sounds like an airplane is buzzing my apartment every time I bring up a youtube video.

Decline of the Reference Desk

I meant to comment about this back when the article first appeared, but let it slip a bit. The Chronicle recently published an article called “Are Reference Desks Dying Out?”

Even with my limited experience working the desk (a bit over 18 months now), there’s a lot in the article I can immediately agree with. Our stats for questions answered are dropping, especially when you look at how many in depth questions are asked. Most that remain are simple yes/no answers, overhead issues like the location of the bathroom, or quick directions to where a certain source is on the shelf. There are still some questions that require full length reference interviews, but it isn’t uncommon for me to go a full desk shift without encountering one.

One place I don’t see this dropoff is in our virtual reference system. Right now we only accept questions via a web form or e-mail. I haven’t analyzed this mathematically, but I have no doubt that a much higher proportion of e-questions involve extensive research than their in-person counterparts. As frustrating as answering questions this way can be (for both librarians and the students), I find it interesting that students do prefer this method for asking in-depth questions. I think it’s mostly a matter of convenience.

An interesting side effect of accepting questions this way is that we tend to get questions from an entirely different set of users than we would otherwise. We were recently able to help a researcher in New Zealand get access to one of our special collections online, for example.

I don’t think the reference desk will completely disappear in our lifetimes. But like anything else, it won’t stay static either – the service is in transition.