Your suggestion about finding a girlfriend who subscribes to a lot food blogs was a good one, but I ran an ad in the personals and didn’t get any responses. (Adventurous male looking to expand his horizons with female and her RSS reader.)
I thought about the food blogs I check—the aforementioned Smitten Kitchen, 101 Cookbooks, and Homesick Texan—and realized that they all have big, bright photos. If I’m honest about it, I basically judge a food blog by its photography. I don’t think the appeal is too hard to grasp: Great photos of food get us excited about cooking (even if I will never take the effort to plate a meal in any sort of presentable way). They remind us why we bother cooking when take-out is an easier, sometimes cheaper option. Photos inspire our culinary curiosity. They make us hungry.
But is a food blog’s emphasis on its photos “deceptive and shallow” in the way that fast food ads are? Well, when Arby’s misrepresents their sandwiches as edible food, I would say that’s pretty deceptive. But I can’t find much fault in advertising that attempts to show the appeal of its product. That sounds obvious, but look at how many car ads and smartphone ads use obnoxious gimmicks instead of, y’know, showing us why we should buy the product.
So I’m all for food blogs with nice photography. Sure, it’s a little backwards that skills with a DSLR are more important than actual cooking or writing ability if you want to author a popular food blog, but there are plenty of people out there who are skilled at both.
That leads me to another question, though. If clear instructions and bright photos are all we need to pay attention, how important is any writing or narrative that accompanies a recipe?
Well, the first thing you should do is date someone who subscribes to about a million food blogs and can find like eight interesting recipes for anything you want to cook just by searching her Google Reader.
Okay, that might not be an option for everyone.
So, when I want to try a new dish, like you I usually check out trusted sources first (Cook’s Illustrated or googling “[food item] + thomas keller” are perennial favorites), but sometimes that doesn’t work and you have to turn to a brute force search. The onslaught of recipes online can be pretty daunting, so I have a simple rule for weeding through them. I look for recipes that include one element I know how to do, and one I don’t.
For example, I wanted to make lentil soup a while back, which I had never tried before. I searched Epicurious, which gave me a stupid amount of results. I could have picked a soup that uses yeast (?) and features “date balls,” which I’m sure is delicious but is totally unfamiliar to me, but instead I went with a simple French lentil soup. It’s just classic tomato soup, which I know how to do, plus lentils. At this point, it’s basically a science experiment: I’ve controlled for tomato soup, both in preparation and taste, so the only variable is lentils. I learned a lot about how they cook and how their flavor affects a soup just from making this one easy recipe.
And now that I’ve got that one under my belt, I kinda wonder how it would taste with yeast.
Alright, I’ve got a question for you. You mentioned food blogs and, specifically, how they’re full of pretty pictures. Why is this so appealing? Isn’t it basically the same technique that fast food commercials use? Is it, ultimately, somewhat deceptive and shallow?
What should I make for dinner?
Let me be more specific: how do you pick a recipe? I know you’re an adventurous cook. I’d like to be more like that.
I’ve become comfortable with two or three food blogs. They’re reliable, the recipes are easy-to-follow, and most importantly, they have nice photos. But checking three sites doesn’t give you a whole lot of options, and when you make enough recipes from the same few blogs, it starts to feel like you’re making the same dishes over and over. If I’m going to spend the time and effort to cook, I might as well try something new. But more than one time I’ve ventured outside my comfort zone (aka not Smitten Kitchen) I’ve prepared something that turned out disastrously—and I’m talking season two of Friday Night Lights disastrous. Like, Landry murdered the consistency of my falafel disastrous.
So how do you decide what you’re making for dinner?
First off, Aaron Rodgers is fucking great. I have a friend who has “Aaron Rodgers shaped cheese” in her fridge, which seems weird but completely appropriat
But the bandwagon question is a good one. Is it fair to the diehard fans if I root for a team only when it succeeds? Isn’t part of loyalty being dedicated through good seasons and bad?
A friend I grew up with, Conor, always gave me a hard time for being a bandwagon Red Sox fan. And he wasn’t wrong. I only watched the Sox seriously once they made it into the playoffs; Conor caught as many games as he could, starting with preseason. But let me tell you: that’s a lot of fucking games, especially for a sport where the early season matters very little. I just can’t commit to that much baseball.
Naturally, a lot of folks in Boston take the Red Sox too seriously. Or at least I think so. While I was studying abroad, I took a couple weeks to travel around Western Europe with my friend Joe, who was notorious for claiming that the only thing he cared about more than “pussy” was the Red Sox (his words!). The Sox were in the World Series while we were wandering around Florence, and all Joe could talk about was how he was having regrets about studying abroad in Europe when he could’ve been watching the Red Sox.
We couldn’t find a place to watch any of the games, but even if we had, we would just be watching alone. This sort of gets back to my original point. I like sports because I like the excuse to yell, to be passionate about something that carries very little weight in my life. That’s probably why I’m a bandwagon sports fan — who wants to cheer for a team when no one is cheering?
Maybe I’m missing something though. Is it more satisfying to follow a team through their entire season and see them take home a championship? More importantly, is that experience worth it?
Since I’ve gotten more into sports over the past year, this question has become very (VERY) important to me. There’s only one team from my native Colorado I could never root against, the Avalanche of the NHL, who supplied me with childhood memories and heroes. Even though the Broncos won their Super Bowls when I was at an impressionable age, I feel no connection to them, and the Rockies and Nuggets stank when I was younger, so I barely even paid attention to those guys. Sure, I’ll bandwagon hard for a Colorado team if they’re hot, but otherwise I have no interest in hitching my emotional wagon to mediocre stars.
But, as you say, sports are fun because you get to care passionately about something meaningless, so I need to root for someone. How do I choose?
I’m currently most into the NBA, so I’ll use that as my example.
Based on a hypothetical and surprisingly emotional tournament I just played out in my head, here are my favorite teams, in order of who I’d root for if they played each other:
So what do these teams have in common?
For one, they’re all led by great, exciting, likable, slightly sub-mainstream MVP candidates (Durant, Rondo, Rose, STAT, respectively). I like it when players I feel strongly about do incredible things, and these guys deliver reliably.
Second, they all have playoff aspirations, but carry the air of slight underdogs. (I know this doesn’t sound right for the Celts, seeing how they came a quarter away from the championship last season, but their bad beat then and surprising defiance of their old age this year give them the edge I’m looking for.) It’s fun to cheer for teams that have a shot at winning it all, but aren’t quite the favorite. Otherwise, you’re fixing to either get your hopes dashed, or you’re basically rooting for Wal-Mart, Microsoft, or the Yankees.
Third, I’ll admit that, being a recent convert to the NBA, I’m probably caught up in the hype a little, since all of these teams are kinda media darlings. I’m fine with this.
I’m not saying these criteria are how you or anyone else should choose teams. Rather, and I know this might sound like heresy to people who only root-root-root for the home team, I think it’s smart to buy into teams that suit your aesthetic preferences. I’m having so much fun watching basketball this year because “my” teams are good now and they play the kind of ball I want to watch. It sure as hell beats pretending to care as the apathetic Nuggets slouch around the court, waiting for their star player to leave them.
So basically you should root for the Packers because they’re fucking rad, Aaron Rodgers is crazy good (or is that crazy/beautiful?), and all of America loves them. I mean, there’s really nothing wrong with jumping on the bandwagon, is there?
I figured out why I enjoy watching sports: I really like yelling. We root for the same teams, mostly, so you can probably agree that yesterday was a disappointing day for football. The Seahawks were (predictably) stomped by the Bears, but the biggest shocker was the Patriots’ loss to the Jets. I was mad. MADDD!!!!
But being mad is part of the fun. I think sports are great because it lets you be completely invested in something that, in a lot of ways, doesn’t matter. Did I mention yelling? There’s drinking and yelling too. YELLLIINNNNGGG!!!!!
I’m originally from Boston — arguably the sports capital of the country (and less debatably the Dunkin Donuts capital). But as a Seattle transplant, I wondered which team I was supposed to care more about — the Patriots or the Seahawks? Which is my home team? WHO AM I SUPPOSED TO ROOT FOR?? WHOOOO?????????????????????
This is my cousin Marcus with his new French fry earmuffs. He also looks a lot like Russell from Up.
Anyway, good question! It’s remarkable that Instagram can attract a million users in three months — a number that took Twitter two years to hit. But what explains Instagram fever?
I’ll be honest: I’m not quite sure. It’s a simple idea, almost perfectly executed, but sharing iPhone photos is definitely not an original idea.
Path, which launched a month after Instagram, is nearly the same app. Both are photo-sharing social networks built exclusively for the iPhone (for now at least), but if I saw the two services side by side six months ago, I would’ve pegged Path as the winner. It’s founded by an early Facebook big wig Dave Morin and advised by Shawn Fanning (who you might remember as the Napster guy who isn’t Justin Timberlake), along with a team of 14 (as opposed to Instagram’s two) and a decent amount of startup capital. Add to that Path’s tech blog hype and heartstring-tugging promo video.
(Actually, a word on that video: Around the time Path was released, my girlfriend Megan pointed out that we had very few couple photos. I didn’t really see the significance of having pictures, but I’ll admit that Path’s “Nervous at Home” video convinced me otherwise.)
But there are some small but important differences between Path and Instagram, the biggest one being the relationship between users. Path, like Facebook, requires a mutual acknowledgement for friend requests. (In fact, the friend limit of 50 was based on the evolutionary theory that 150 is the maximum number of social relationships that a human can maintain.) On the other hand, Instagram uses the Twitter model of followers, where you can follow a user whereas they might not follow you back. It’s friend vs. follow; private vs. public.
I would’ve expected that something as personal as photos would do better in a private setting, but it certainly underestimates how badly people like to share things on Twitter, Facebook, email, etc. And that’s likely been a major stumbling block to Path’s growth.
There’s also one other major difference between Path and Instagram: the filters. Path doesn’t give you any way to edit your photos, so if you have an older iPhone with a mediocre camera, like I do, then you’re stuck sharing mediocre photos. The hyper-saturated colors Instagram and similar photo apps are a good way to make low-quality, smartphone photos look artsy.
I’d like to think the wild success of Instagram can be attributed to more than Hipstamatic-y photo effects, but am I underestimating just how much people like them? In all fairness, my favorite photo of me and Megan was taken in Hipstamatic.
Check out my cat.
Wait, is that a totally uninteresting image from my life, gussied up with a gratuitous sepia filter? That’s right! It’s time to talk about everyone’s favorite new social mobile hipster vintage photo sharing service, Instagram!
I first downloaded the iPhone app a couple months ago, when Gruber posted it. It seemed well made, but neither he nor I could see the point in it. At the time, he said, “The app is nice, but I can’t see why I’d use the sharing service instead of Flickr.” That made all the sense in the world to me. I deleted the app before sharing a single photo.
Fast forward to last week, when Instagram announced it had surpassed one million users. That’s astonishing growth for a social network that only works on one mobile platform.
What’s going on here? I’m perplexed, but then again, I’m the guy who suggested we do an entire week on VYou, a site which now seems pretty doomed. I’m clearly missing a piece of the puzzle when it comes to evaluating new social networks. So, what makes Instagram such a hit?
I hope you like bar graphs.
I thought we did a pretty good job with our predictions, but as it turns out, maybe we don’t deserve that much credit. Despite Pitchfork’s reputation for being deliberately contrarian, the site is actually fairly predictable.
I collected all of the data from Pitchfork’s Best New Music picks since 2003 (the year site started handing out that label). Over the past eight years, the site has been consistent with the number of BNM picks per year and how many show up on the their 50 Best Albums lists.
I also suspected that albums were more likely to be BNM’d during the summer and late fall. I was close, with the big months being May and September. It’s likely that the biggest albums are released in late spring to ramp up toward the festival season, as well as September, since a lot of bands tour heavily in October in November.
I compared the average score of those bestowed with the Best New Music label by year. The trend is leaning toward lower and lower scores still garnering BNM over the years, but it’s only a trend of one tenths place difference. So not much to write home about.
And last, for funsies, I checked out the distribution of scores among BNM albums. Again, surprisingly consistent, with most albums in the 8.2 to 8.8 range. The distribution is scarily bell curve-like.
So there. If you (or other readers) are interested, here’s the link to the Google spreadsheet with all of the Best New Music data I collected. Feel free to toy around with the data.
Pitchfork posted their top 20 today. I’m gonna give us both credit for being pretty close with our predictions.
But the real reason we’re talking about their list is because you noticed that in past years there were some interesting discrepancies between the score they gave an album upon its release, whether it was granted the illustrious distinction of “Best New Music,” and then where it landed on their year-end best albums list. Since Pitchfork speaks with such a loud voice in this relatively small cultural scene, it seemed worth looking into that further. So here are some figures from this year.
First up, here’s their Best Albums of 2010 list, along with review scores for each album and whether it was given Best New Music (BNM):
50. Wavves – King of the Beach – 8.4 – BNM
49. Wild Nothing – Gemini – 8.2 – BNM
48. Forest Swords – Dagger Paths – 7.9
47. Women – Public Strain – 8.0
46. Matthew Dear – Black City – 8.4 – BNM
45. Gil Scott-Heron – I’m New Here – 8.5 – BNM
44. Kylesa – Spiral Shadow – 8.4
43. Tame Impala – Innerspeaker – 8.5 – BNM
42. Drake – Thank Me Later – 8.4
41. Delorean – Subiza – 8.4 – BNM
40. Abe Vigoda – Crush – 7.8
39. Best Coast – Crazy For You – 8.4 – BNM
38. Rick Ross – Teflon Don – 8.0
37. Zola Jesus – Stridulum EP – 8.1
36. Emeralds – Does It Look Like I’m Here? – 8.3
35. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach – 8.5 – BNM
34. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles – 8.5 – BNM
33. The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt – 8.5 – BNM
32. Tyler, the Creator – Bastard – Not reviewed
31. Woods – At Echo Lake – 8.0
30. The-Dream – Love King – 8.6 – BNM
29. The Fresh & Onlys – Play It Strange – 8.0
28. The National – High Violet – 8.7 – BNM
27. Four Tet – There Is Love in You – 8.6 – BNM
26. Twin Shadow – Forget – 8.4
25. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz – 8.4 – BNM
24. Hot Chip – One Life Stand – 8.4 – BNM
23. Das Racist – Sit Down, Man – 8.7 – BNM
22. Girls – Broken Dreams Club EP – 8.7 – BNM
21. The Walkmen – Lisbon – 8.6 – BNM
20. Oneohtrix Point Never – Returnal – 8.2
19. How to Dress Well – Love Remains – 8.7 – BNM
18. Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh – 8.0
17. Caribou – Swim – 8.4 – BNM
16. Sleigh Bells – Treats – 8.7 – BNM
15. Robyn – Body Talk – 8.7 – BNM
14. Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma – 8.8 – BNM
13. No Age – Everything In Between – 8.8 – BNM
12. Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid – 8.5 – BNM
11. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs – 8.6 – BNM
10. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor – 8.7 – BNM
09. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today – 9.0 – BNM
08. James Blake – The Bells Sketch EP / CMYK EP / Klavierwerke EP – 8.3 – BNM
07. Joanna Newsom – Have One on Me – 9.2 – BNM
06. Vampire Weekend – Contra – 8.6 – BNM
05. Beach House – Teen Dream – 9.0 – BNM
04. Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty – 9.2 – BNM
03. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest – 9.2 – BNM
02. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening – 9.2 – BNM
01. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – 10.0 – BNM
Then we’ve got albums that were given Best New Music in 2010 but did not place in the top 50. Interestingly, 15 of these 17 are from the first half of the year:
OFF! - First Four EPs
Curren$y - Pilot Talk
ceo - White Magic
Julian Lynch - Mare
Male Bonding - Nothing Hurts
Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record
The Radio Dept. - Clinging to a Scheme
The Morning Benders - Big Echo
Fang Island - Fang Island
Liars - Sisterworld
Gonjasufi - A Sufi and a Killer
Local Natives - Gorilla Manor
Gil Scott-Heron - I’m New Here
Charlotte Gainsbourg - IRM
Surfer Blood - Astro Coast
Owen Pallett - Heartland
And finally, we’ve pulled out the albums in the top 50 that did not get Best New Music:
Forest Swords - Dagger Paths
Women - Public Strain
Kylesa - Spiral Shadow
Drake - Thank Me Later
Abe Vigoda - Crush
Rick Ross - Teflon Don
Zola Jesus - Stridulum EP
Tyler, the Creator - Bastard
Woods - At Echo Lake
The Fresh & Onlys - Play It Strange
Oneohtrix Point Never – Returnal
Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh
So it seems that there was a pretty strong level of consistency between Pitchfork’s various metrics this year, but I wonder, how does that compare to their lists from previous years?