Weekly Links Roundup: December 20, 2010

I was traveling this past weekend, so unfortunately this week’s link roundup is coming later than last week’s, but hopefully it was worth the wait!

Food:

Restaurant Review: Kin Shop (NYT)

Sam Sifton’s poetic two star review of Kin Shop lives up to the restaurant he’s reviewing: “Mr. Dieterle is as Thai as John Boehner. But he cooks from the Thai larder as if he had stepped out of a novel by John Burdett, a farang who can see ghosts, who knows that the mind is Buddha’s seat, who bleeds fish sauce.” I was going to review Kin Shop at some point (since it’s totally awesome), but I don’t know how I can match this.

Harvard University’s Science & Cooking Series

With lectures from Ferran Adria (El Bulli), David Chang (Momofuku), Dan Barber (Blue Hill), among others, I really want to get around to watching these soon. They range from 1.5 to 2 hours each, so I don’t know when that will be, but I thought I’d post for everyone’s benefit.

For Eco-Friendly Santas: Algae Milk and Cookies (Fast Company)

Anyone tried these yet?

Technology:

App Inventor for Android (Google)

The barriers to entry for mobile applications keep coming down. If you’ve got some spare time, how ’bout mobile app developing on Android?

The iPod Nano Watch Nears $1 Million In Crowdsourced Funding From Kickstarter (TechCrunch)

Is crowdsourcing going to be a major future source of capital for entrepreneurs? With stories like these, it’s hard not to believe.

John Sculley On Steve Jobs, The Full Interview Transcript (Cult of Mac) and Error Message: Google Research Director Peter Norvig on Being Wrong (Slate)

A pair of interviews from current and former top level execs at Apple and Google. What is striking is the vastly different attitudes towards errors and perfection these companies exhibit in their culture. As much as I loathe the Apple ideologues, it looks like Google’s (and Microsoft’s old) approach hasn’t been too successful lately, given what’s gone on with Chrome OS and Google TV. Apple’s model may prove more enduring.

Ideas:

LATER: What does procrastination tell us about ourselves? (The New Yorker)

Great motivating read for those of you procrastinating on final papers or exams, or holiday gift buying at this time of year.

Might Gays Be Better Soldiers? (Good Magazine)

With the DADT repeal this past week, some unconventional wisdom about gays and the military.

Videos:

Video: 270 Films from 2010 in Six Minutes (Good Magazine)

Cool montage of the films of 2010. I don’t watch that many movies, so maybe you movie buffs out there will appreciate this more than me.

RSA Animate Series

I came across this series pretty recently and it has some awesome ten minute Ted-like films featuring animated sketches with former (including Sir Ken Robinson, the most famous of all TED speakers). I’d recommend the video on what motivates productivity at the workplace by Dan Pink as a good starting point.

Misc:

A Q&A With A Vacuum Cleaner Salesman (The Awl)

Kind of bizarre, but an interesting window into a part of America urban-inhabiting folk like me don’t see very often.

5 Typical Acts of Politeness That are Inefficient and Should be Banned and How to Live in New York City (Thought Catalog)

Great social insight from Thought Catalog, as always.

The ghost towns of China: Amazing satellite images show cities meant to be home to millions lying deserted (Daily Mail)

While fascinating, this is just another in a steady stream of articles highlighting Chinese ghost towns and in particular, everyone’s favorite whipping boy, Kangbashi (also see here, here, here, and here (China Daily!)). While genuine excesses in the Chinese property marker are certainly driving some of this coverage, you have to question what other forces are at work to inspire five separate stories in major publications highlighting this one city in a year. Is it a human fascination with urban abandonment and ghost towns? Or is it driven by western visions of modern China? In any case, it’s hard to resist these photos.

RSS Reader: I’m being selfish, but you need to use one

[Begin preachy personal story] Among the neat things about blogging on WordPress is the relatively comprehensive site statistics the blog creator [Blogfather? Fairy blogmother?] can access from their user dashboard. I am a stat geek (I was obsessed with baseball statistics pretty much throughout all of high school), so this was really exciting for a somewhat quantitatively-oriented guy like me. (I could have also just manually added in Google Analytics to do the same thing, but it seemed like more trouble than it was worth).

One thing WordPress lets you do is track where your visitors are coming from. Particularly of note to someone like me trying to get their blog off the ground, in the extremely short history of this blog, nearly all of users have come from Facebook.

Now that should be pretty obvious, given that I’ve primarily advertised posts on my personal newsfeed to this point in time. But I’m asking Supposedly Good readers to consider another method: RSS Feeds.

While there is nothing particularly new about RSS clients, it was only very recently that I personally began to comprehend their power. I started a Google Reader account a while ago, but I never really used it all that much. It just didn’t seem any more useful than going to the individual sites and reading their entries on their pages with their pretty site designs.

A few months ago, however, a friend told me he was using Google Reader to go through literally hundreds of posts a day in a pretty short period of time. While initially skeptical about whether this was possible, let alone desirable (who has time to read all that stuff in one day anyways?), I decided to give Google Reader a more serious look.

I began with about ten or so blogs, mainly ones that were pretty mainstream and regularly had links roundups to other sites, or ones that I had regularly visited in the past directly through their webpage (like some of the music blogs in my blog roll). During this process, I would find other new blogs that seemed like they consistently delivered new and interesting content and add them to my Google Reader account. Sometimes I would add blogs from businesses or organizations that post infrequently, just to keep track of what they’re up to and so that I don’t forget them.

Over time, I’ve managed to accumulate a large number (embarrassingly large) of blogs into my Google Reader account, with daily posts in my inbox reaching in the hundreds. I am able to get through these at a brisk pace by scanning headlines and only reading those posts that actually seem interesting. Longer posts might be worth a right click into a new tab for later reading, while others may barely get a half second scan. Blogs that aren’t producing content that interests me anymore get dropped. Those that produce 60x/day and/or prove too overwhelming a time commitment might also have to be cut.

I’ve found that this constant process of adding and removing blogs, as well as scanning Google Reader on a daily basis allows me to stay on top of both news and my interests way more effectively than before I started using an RSS Reader. Seeing all the cool stuff coming through my Google Reader account was another key motivation for why I started this blog (as if there weren’t enough already. [End preachy personal story]

[Begin unsolicited advice] So if you don’t have a Google Reader or other RSS Feed account, I’d definitely recommend getting one as it can really expose you to lots of cool things (like from this past week’s links roundup). [End unsolicited advice; begin shameless plug] and also be sure to add Supposedly Good to your account once you’ve set one up to keep track of the latest and greatest from yours truly. [End shameless plug]

Alright, well maybe the entire post was motivated by the shameless plug, but the preachy personal story is entirely genuine. Give RSS a chance. I promise it will reward.

Theme From Metro: Winter is Here (Vol. 1)

Every day when I ride the subway to or from work, I treat it as an opportunity to discover new music that made it into my Google Reader feed the night before, even if I’m getting back relatively late. My ride each way is approximately 20 minutes (relatively short, I’m lucky), which is not enough time to listen to an entire album , but usually I have enough time to listen to 4-5 songs before arriving at my desk.

So in an ideal world, all the best music would appear in 20 minute EP-length segments easy enough to listen en route to work each day, but artistic convention (and record labels) decided that the 30-70 minute (usually) album was the best way for artists to deliver their content.

Not being satisfied with album-length offerings or playlists too long for a ride to work, I am starting a new series on Supposedly Good, “Theme From Metro” (a semi-ode to Blur) to share a relatively short commute’s worth of music loosely tied together by a theme.

I was inspired by tonight’s snowfall over New York City to make a winter-themed (but not holiday-themed, I’m already holiday-ed out) soundtrack for your morning or evening commute. Some of these songs have overtly winter content. Some just sound like they should.

1. Cemetery Rain – Minks

The first lyric of this song is “December’s cemetery rain…,” which instantly puts me in the mood to deal with the cold on the way to the subway.

2. Obsessions (oOoOO RMX) – Marina and the Diamonds

Hauntingly beautiful remix of Marina and the Diamonds. This remix has such an incredible sense of creating space.

3. Never Follow Suit – The Radio Dept

Excellent song from a group that has become one of my favorites in recent weeks. I’m glad I discovered this band in November instead of in June because their production-heavy music from Sweden is perfect for the winter.

4. Erasers – Blackbird Blackbird

Not an obvious winter tune, but something about that super-catchy sequence of bells at the beginning of the song make me think of winter.

5. Rancher–Julian Lynch

This one might be tough to really appreciate if you’re on the subway, but this delicate song is incredible. It’s like a trip a wide-open winter landscape where nobody can hear you for miles. The melodic computerized horns that (or whatever they are?) come in a little after the one minute mark provide high drama in the most understated way possible.

6. Silent Time of the Earth – Candy Claws

Everything about this song screams winter. Take a listen to this beautiful song and you will soon understand.

Total Runtime: 21 minutes

Weekly Links Roundup: December 12, 2010

Cool Ideas:

Intermission: This Is How Cities and Technology Should Work (Good Magazine)

An awesome four minute animated video about the possibilities afforded by mobile technology in the not so distant future. The smartphone/iPad revolution has many more productivity and quality of life gains to provide before it’s all said and done, especially now that people are getting excited by possible monetary gains in the tech world again.

LEAKED: Here’s Groupon’s Secret Copywriting Guide (Business Insider)

A fascinating insight into the writing style Groupon uses over its email listserv. Very good writing tips for marketing, if nothing else.

Car Commuting Without Driving: Computerized Convoy Hits The Road (Fast Company)

Although Google’s self-driving car was really cool, this idea seems to have a lot more promise as a realistic application of self-driving cars. Combining the concept of trains with driving could allow for a better driving experience, optimized speeds to conserve fuel, while improving the quality of life for people with long commutes. Too many people are wasting hours of their weeks in a car doing things computers could do for them. We’re not all going to have access to high speed trains anytime soon, so ideas like this based more in economic realities are going to be essential.

Great commentary:

Nassim Taleb Imitates Kanye West (Falkenblog)

I haven’t read Nassim Taleb’s new book (nor do I plan to), but this was an awesomely-written review of Taleb’s new book. Interesting parallel between the two public figures as well.

NYTimes writes trend piece abt how effing hipsters use laptops in coffee shops (Hipster Runoff (semi-NSFW))

Hilarious social commentary as always from Hipster Runoff on the New York Times’ latest piece on “Laptopistan.”

America Underestimates – and Misunderstands – Its Economic Strengths (The Atlantic)

This piece by James Fallows is an inspiring call to action for all Americans in an age when there is far too much pessimism about the long-term prospects for the American economy floating around in popular media than is truly warranted.

Mashups:

Gorillaz To Release Free iPad-Made LP On Christmas Day (Sterogum)

Sweet.

Prime Minister’s Questions turns into Smiths reference contest (Foreign Policy)

People would actually watch C-Span if American politics were like this.

Infographic: Girl Talk’s Latest Mashup Masterpiece Deconstructed (Fast Company)

I’m a sucker for infographics. This is a particularly cool one.

Other stuff:

China snubs Nobel with rival peace prize (FT (paywall))

The Chinese government quickly backtracked from this prize after it became clear the whole thing was a major debacle, but it’s incredible how the Chinese often cope with uncomfortable realities in the information age by creating a parallel universe that suits their needs.

The year in lists….so far (Quick Before It Melts)

Great roundup of the best albums of 2010  lists from various sources. I had thought about putting one of these together, but thanks to QBiM for doing the work for everyone else.

 

I Might Be Wrong: Bell Book & Candle

The “I Might Be Wrong” series will consist of restaurant reviews based on a single visit. No serious restaurant reviewer would write a restaurant review after only one visit. But I feel justified for two reasons: First, I am not a serious restaurant reviewer. And second, first impressions matter a lot. Plus, with limited budget, time, and dietary resources, I wouldn’t be able to make it to enough restaurants to write enough reviews for Supposedly Good. So it’s possible “I Might Be Wrong” about the restaurant from only one review, but I also might be right. Plus I really wanted to use a Radiohead song title to describe a series about NYC restaurants.


Bell Book & Candle
Rating: 8.5

141 W. 10th St
New York, NY 10014

(212) 414-2355

Neighborhood: West Village
Price range: $$ (out of 4)
Hype factor: !!!! / !!!!! (out of five)
Accepts reservations (phone) and credit cards

Like a number of movements in the environmental and foodie realm, the local food movement has gained mainstream attention in recent years as chefs and restaurateurs begin to recognize the rich possibilities afforded by sourcing foods grown in their home regions, while also cutting down on wasteful emissions related to the long-distance transportation of food. A major problem encountered by chefs in densely populated areas, particularly in New York City, is the lack of farmland close to the city, increasing the need for imported produce.

One answer emerged in recent years in response to this issue: urban farming. While this is not a particularly new idea in the grand arc of history (urban farming existed in ancient Persia), the notion of applying it in a sustainable way in modern urban America (beyond simply a demonstration project) is indeed relatively new. Roberta’s restaurant (a Supposedly Good favorite), located in the post-industrial landscape of Bushwick, Brooklyn, which opened in 2008, was among the pioneers in the space. The restaurant sources a number of ingredients from a farm in an adjacent lot and event hosts an online radio channel devoted to “new ideas about our food systems, our culture, and our environment.”

Following Roberta’s footsteps in 2009/2010, a number of larger scale urban farms have opened up around New York City, mainly in Brooklyn (where there is relatively more space for such things than in dense Manhattan). Eagle Street Rooftop Farm and Brooklyn Grange Farm are among the major ones, but there are probably more coming soon. In a recent report released by the NYC city council, “Increas[ing] urban food production” was listed as one of the primary goals, indicating that government incentives will likely complement increased demand in supporting the growth urban farming in the near future.

Being an avid follower of the urban farming movement, my ears perked with heightened interest when this summer I heard a new restaurant called Bell Book & Candle was soon opening where 60% of the produce used was going to be sourced on the building’s roof. This may be the world’s first modern “Rooftop to Table” restaurant, taking the “Farm to Table” mantra to a new dimension.

Although the above-linked Nightline story ran in August, the restaurant did not open until this past Wednesday night (December 8, 2010). I managed to visit the restaurant with a friend this past Saturday night to see whether Bell Book & Candle actually lived up to its hype.

BB&C is located in a basement storefront on West 10th Street in the West Village (right off of Greenwich Av), directly across the street from another newcomer, Lowcountry, on a strip that also includes De Santos and Highlands. As you walk down the stairs into the exposed brick interior of the restaurant, one cannot help but feel like entering a trendy wine cellar, replete with sustainable furnishings, relatively new indie music playing on low volume, and the like.

What is surprising about Bell Book & Candle is how skillfully the sustainable ethos is incorporated into the restaurant without coming across as preachy. Nearly everything on the menu includes locally sourced ingredients and the staff at the restaurant is more than happy to point out on every occasion that 60% of the produce is sourced from the roof of the restaurant. But there is no paragraphs-long supplement on the menu about their “vision” of sustainable produce and the reasoning behind the restaurant. On the menu are items which spotlight the rooftop garden, such as the Rooftop Mixed Greens, Roasted Beets and Efren’s House-Made Burrata Salad, and the Grilled & Roasted Seasonal vegetables. But the menu also includes traditional comfort food items like the BBC Burger, Lobster Tacos, and Warm Pretzels. This is a modern American comfort food restaurant that just so happens to be helping lead a food revolution.

As expected, the food at the restaurant was quite good. I started with the Frisee and Fennel Salad with warm pork belly and New York Apple. The fennel was incredibly fresh. The pork belly was delicious without overwhelming the fennel and other produce. For my main course, I ordered the Braised Beef Short Ribs with Yukon Mashed Potatoes, and Caramelized Brussels Sprouts (I attempted to order the Monkfish, but was informed the restaurant did not have any more). The quality of the beef used was notably excellent, the preparation very tender and otherwise near-perfection. The accompanying Brussels Sprouts were also notably tasty. The presentation of the dish was rather simple, however, with the focus more on the content of the food. I also managed to try the Amish Roasted Half Chicken, which my dining partner ordered, which was of similar quality as the short ribs. For dessert, I ordered the Panna Cotta with Goat Milk Caramel. While the Panna Cotta itself was very good, the caramel sauce accompanying the cake was among the best I’ve tasted.

The biggest issue encountered with Bell Book & Candle was the service, which while friendly, was rather disorganized (not entirely surprising for a four-day old restaurant). We were seated over half an hour after the time of our reservation. Fortunately, the bar area in the front of the restaurant is an inviting space, with an acceptable amount of seating and a good amount of standing space to spare diners from the elements. Additionally, we didn’t even realize we were missing our pre-dinner bread until over halfway through the meal when a couple at the next table was seated next to us and received theirs upon sitting down. Finally, we attempted to order the Eggplant Puree as a side dish, but the dish never managed to make it to the table. It did manage to make it onto the receipt (which the waitstaff took off without a problem).

Hopefully Bell Book & Candle can work through its service issues, because they have a great concept and very good execution on their food offerings, along with quite reasonable prices. If so, this could become a go-to neighborhood restaurant able to withstand volatile trends in the New York restaurant industry, while also serving as a demonstration concept for future restaurants around the country of the possibilities of rooftop farming and the local food movement. On the whole, it was an enjoyable casual Saturday night dinner and I would recommend it to any of my friends.

A non-introduction for a blog without a real focus

While trying assiduously to write my first post for Supposedly Good (delayed by holidays, writer’s block, and other excuses), I kept thinking about what I was really trying to accomplish by writing it. Will it be a music blog with some restaurant recommendations? Will it be a place to share things I find cool from my Google Reader feed? Will it be usable or filled with useless social commentary on subjects only I find interesting? I have been entirely unable to decide.

At the end of the day, I realized my purpose in writing Supposedly Good is nothing less than a personal exploration of modern urban culture (primarily through music, food, and ideas) as seen by a typical 20-something living in New York City.

This makes Supposedly Good exactly like thousands of other blogs in the blogosphere, most of which have a following of the author and their 5-10 internet savvy friends.

So why am I even bothering with something as potentially time-consuming and draining as blogging on ever-evolving scenes such as music, food, culture, radical ideas, and whatever else comes to mind? To start, it comes down to this simple yet brilliant motto a friend wrote in a piece that eventually was picked up by a major blog, which has subsequently brought her 1000 hits a day: “Blog for no one but your self; edit for the entire world.

I will be perfectly honest and admit my aspirations go somewhat beyond blogging for myself. I (or whoever else eventually writes for this blog) hope to provide something worthwhile for anyone who adds Supposedly Good to their RSS feed or otherwise reads it with some regularity. I will try to gradually roll out some semi-regular features, provide links to things I find interesting, chime in with opinions, and the like. At the end of the day, while being motivated by writing for oneself is the best way to keep a blog going, the only way to build a readership is to translate that to something useful and interesting.

(There is another justification in the About SG section in a tab at the top of the blog. I wrote it a few weeks ago before writing this first post. That’s pretty much true as well, but I keep finding more good reasons to get going with this blogging thing, so consider it a supplement.)

You might be wondering about the selection of the blog’s title, “Supposedly Good.” In the age of Facebook likes, Yelp, and Pitchfork, we as consumers of culture in all its various forms are constantly inundated with suggestions that things around us are “Good,” “Four stars,” or even “Perfect (10.0). In a day when no source can be reliably trusted, we can only treat these recommendations not as absolutes, but supposed absolutes. Only through personal experience can one effectively validate these claims. Supposedly Good, if it does have some focus, will seek to look at products (physical, cultural, and those that come in other forms) that are “supposedly good” and make its own conclusions on whether they should be accepted. It would be hypocritical to ask the readers of this blog to accept the opinions represented here fully, but the goal here is only to keep you reading, not to make absolute judgments that everyone should instantly trust.

Alright, enough of the over-indulgent, cliché, and unexciting philosophizing on the blog’s purpose. I felt I had to start somewhere. Here’s hoping Supposedly Good proves to be a fun and interesting read for everyone.