meditation on a blog

When I publish this post my assignment will be pretty much done!

were assigned to write a blog instead of the usual dry essay. The blog could be about any topic you wanted- as well as net communications (the uni subject). It took me ages to wrap my head around how I was supposed to “critically engage” with net communications theory on a blog about weird food.

Once I figured the assignment out, I thought it would be easier than a research essay. Essay writing generally make me want to rip my hair out. At least on a blog I could write in my own voice, and I thought the words would just flow out. The reality was I ended up agonizing over a dozen mini essays instead of the usual one. The posts weren’t technically “essays” but there was agony nonetheless, especially with the academic posts.

In spite of that, I think the blog was a good practical assignment. I don’t feel like writing academic essays has really prepared me for working in the real world. Not even close. On this assignment, the combination of blogging while studying theory helped me realize and reflect on a few new things about the Internet. Writing about web design made me really consider the conventions and impact of design. Trying to find photos for my blog while reading about the copyright debate made the topic more real. I saw more of a connection between reality and theory.

Most of my blogging was for the sake of the assignment, but there were times when I genuinely enjoyed it. I liked hunting for weird new foods, and putting together an interesting post gave me a sense of satisfaction. But whatever I was blogging about, I kept finding myself getting tongue-tied and rephrasing constantly. I hadn’t realized it was so hard to express myself, let alone eloquently.

I’m still a complete amateur but I think I have a little insight into blogging now. On the technical side, I’m sure I would have done better if I’d read the whole WordPress manual. But I didn’t. So it took me a couple days to figure out the quickest way to view my blog. I also have no understanding of how and why I get views. For three weeks I got only a few views a day. Then for two days the number skyrocketed. The day after that I got a one view! It’s like watching stocks go up and down.  The truth is I was too busy trying to publish content to read one of the countless articles about how to draw traffic to your blog. If I wanted to develop this blog, that would be the first thing I’d look into.

Finally finishing this project calls for a hallelujah. But I think I might possibly potentially maybe keep posting weird food finds. Of course posting will be more sporadic,  more concise, and less thought out. Plus, I’ll be going back to Bangkok soon. So whether I hit the street or the supermarket, I’m sure I’ll find some treasures worth blogging about.

A Bangkok street vendor. Photo credit: ukbgreen44ww on flickr

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play nice or shut up, please.

I struggle to remember, but I don’t think I’d ever written a comment before this blog. It’s kind of shocking, considering how much content I read online. I guess I’m more of a comment reader than a comment writer. But since my blog got its very first comment I feel like I’m finally in the game! Like customers in a restaurant, I think comments attract more comments. And my mother would never sit in a restaurant with no customers… Is this analogy working?

Web guru Tim O’Reilly describes the blogosphere as an online “conversational watering hole”. Robert Scoble, who used to blog for Microsoft, says “cross-site conversations” are a key element to popular blogs (Lovink, p. 4). Two-way communication is clearly an important aspect, whether or not it’s in the form of comments.

Geert Lovink says that blogs “are characterized by a culture of desired affiliation” (p. 2). You can definitely see that in the realm of food blogging. The comments on one my favourite cooking sites, Smitten Kitchen, are relentlessly positive. There’s an atmosphere of sharing and general pleasantness. Maybe it’s the subject of delicious food that quells nastiness. Whatever it is, I’ve never seen a negative comment on the site. Of course, rude or inappropriate comments might just be deleted by the blogger. As Lovink points out, freedom of discussion on blogs is limited (p. 21). There’s always someone in control, who can allow or disallow comments. That’s one reason people often post responses on their own blogs instead of commenting (Lovink, p. 21). Referencing the work of Florian Cramer, Lovink says:

“The original posting of the blog owner is not equal to the answer of the respondents… Users are guests” (p. 20).

And being a good guest means remembering your “netiquette”. According to Wikipedia- I wasn’t just being lazy, I thought Wiki’s description would reveal the general consensus- basic netiquette means avoiding flamewars and spam (Wikipedia). All too often basic etiquette seems to go right out the window when people start commenting, whether it’s on YouTube or on news sites. During the recent violence in Thailand I was reading news about it on CNN.com. I found the comments as upsetting as the article I read. They were rife with hostility, insults, and extreme assertions. A painful few displayed open-mindedness and attempts at understanding both sides.

Unlike articles about politics and religion, food blogs are far less likely to create controversy. ‘Weird food’ blogs can be slightly more prone to flamewars, since there are huge cultural differences about what’s acceptable as food. Posts or comments can be culturally insensitive. Heated arguments can break out about the ethics of eating meat, which is what happened on the blog Weird Meat. It usually gets about 10 comments per post, but the postDog Meat got an astounding 220 comments. Debate and sharing perspectives seems like a good thing, but there were clear examples of bad netiquette, like suggestions that dog-eaters should “burn in hell”. Lovink says that blogs “create communities of like-minded people” (p. 21). In this case, not so much. Here’s a sample of the flamewar (these comments were both written anonymously):

There are some, like Claire E. Write, who believe “the essence of a blog is not the interactivity of the medium” (Lovink, p. 28). Flamewars aside, I disagree. A blog may not be defined by interactivity, but I think it’s what’s created the massive blogosphere. Without the communicative aspect, blogs would be stuck at the personal homepage stage. I also think that being able to instantly respond to or communicate with the writer is what often makes blogs more appealing than print media. Not only are you imparted the writer’s views and experiences, but you can join in on that conversation, potentially (emphasis on potentially) enriching the public sphere. Which is why I allow comments on my blog. I’m not the authority on weird food. I’m only sharing what I discover, and I’m happy to learn from visitors as well. Plus, it’s nice to know that my blog gets more than split-second and accidental views.

And as long as my blog is newborn and lost somewhere in the long tail, I think I’ll handle the comments as they come.

Sources:

Geert Lovink (2007) ‘Blogging, the Nihilist Impluse’, pp. 1-38 in Zero Comments: Blogging and Critical Internet Culture, London: Routledge.

Tim O’Reilly (2005) ‘What Is Web 2.0’

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copyright? copyleft? can i sit on the fence?

I’ll admit that I had a pretty vague idea about what the Creative Commons were before I started this blog (which is perhaps pathetic for a Media & Communications student). But after a bit of reading and blogging I’m a little more enlightened. And the outcome of this brief education is that I’ve decided to place a Creative Commons license on my blog.

The concept of copyright started in Europe following the invention of the printing press, which suddenly made it easy to reproduce texts. Copyright laws differ all over the worlds, but American copyright laws (which the Creative Commons organisation is based on) decided in 1790 that copyright should be granted for only 14 years (Garcelon, p. 1308). But since then copyright protection has been continually extended. Today it’s the lifetime of the author plus 70 years (Garcelon, p. 1308). WHAT? American president Thomas Jefferson explained a long time ago that a limited monopoly over content was created so authors could profit from their work, which was hoped would further motivate production (Garcelon, p. 1308). When the first real copyright laws were made there was an emphasis on the “limited” part, which modern American copyright seems to have completely forgotten.

I think most people see the struggle over copyright as being between the producers/authors/artists and the users. Dmytri Kleiner suggests that the struggle is really between content owners– who are usually big corporations- and users. From his socialist perspective he argues that it’s usually the “property owners” and no the creative artists who profit from copyright (Kleiner). Continuing with the land metaphor (and following David Ricardo), Kleiner says that “the interest of the landlord is always opposed to the interest of every other class in the community”. Is it clear yet that Kleiner is against copyright? He believes in “copyleft”: no copyright at all.

Kleiner uses the land metaphor to discuss copyright because “intellectual property, including copyright, is the extension of property to immaterial assets, to information” (Kleiner). But how can non-rivalrous goods like knowledge and digital content be thought of in the same way as a limited resource like land (Garcelon, p. 1310)?

While copyleft opposes copyright altogether, the Creative Commons (CC) organisation works within the legal framework of copyright. Wanting a return to Jefferson’s ideals about copyright, Lawrence Lessig founded CC to help preserve the commons. The longer copyright lasts, the more it stifles creativity and the development of new ideas. Lessig believes that property and the commons must co-exist (Lessig, p. 325).

What Creative Commons provides are various licenses that if applied to your work, exempt it from certain (automatic) copyright protections. All licenses allow the content to be used as long as the original creator is attributed, but some prohibit “remixing” and/or use for commercial purposes. The CC website was started at the end of 2002 and CC licenses can be applied to music, images, and text (Garcelon, p. 1307). Apparently about half of Flickr’s photos have CC licenses, so in the realm of online photos, it seems CC has been quite successful (Garcelon, p. 1320). It’s also had some success in the field of education, with teaching materials being shared online under CC licenses (Fioretti).

But there are a lot of problems with the Creative Commons concept. First of all, it’s mainly limited to the Internet, and for the most part, English speakers (Fioretti). Meaning its usefulness is limited to tiny segment of the world’s population. And there are many countries where copyright laws aren’t respected anyway, so CC would be irrelevant (Fioretti). CC licenses are only useful if people respect copyright in the first place. In poor, developing countries piracy is often widespread and culturally accepted. Original copies would be unaffordable. There’s also the fact that copyright is a Western invention, one that’s been adopted or imposed on the rest of the world. Indian journalist Frederick Noronha observed that, “Generally speaking, copyright in any form, including CC, doesn’t fit too well with Asian ideas of knowledge” (Fioretti).

Pirated DVDs for sale in Cambodia. Photo credit: nogoodreason on flickr

Clearly CC licenses will not fix the problems of copyright, but one thing it is doing is making more people consider copyright laws- for better or for worse. I’m moved by arguments against copyright, but at the same time I know that the concepts of property and intellectual property have been central to the progress of the world’s most developed countries. And since I started my blog, I’ve found CC so useful. CC licenses tell me immediately whether I can use someone else’s work or not. Being able to search Flickr’s database of CC licensed photos has been a lifesaver. Without it I’d have to either screw the law or ask permission for every single photo I want to use. I think you know which route most of us would take… So at least CC provides a third option, which can’t be a bad thing.

The license I’ve chosen for my blog is ‘Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike’. The reason I wanted to use a CC license was because I felt people would otherwise assume that I wanted “all rights reserved”. This way anyone who’s worried about copyright can use my work guilt-free. I’m also allowing “remixing” because that’s the whole point of sharing stuff in the commons, isn’t it? But I did choose the ‘Noncommercial’ restriction. I couldn’t wrap my head around it, so I chose the extra protection for now but I might get rid of it. The ‘Share Alike’ clause was also kind of confusing: “You allow others to distribute derivative works only under a license identical to the license that governs your work” (Creative Commons site). My understanding is that if someone wants to use my work to create something new, they’ll have to put a CC license on that as well, which makes sense. If you want to take something, you better give something back.

Give a little, take a little.

Sources:

Creative Commons website.

Fioretti, Marco (2009), ‘The case for and against Creative Commons’.

Garcelon, Marc (2009), ‘An Information Commons? Creative Commons and Public Access to Cultural Creations’, New Media & Society 11.8, pp. 1307-1326.

Kleiner, Dmytri (2007), ‘Copyfarleft and Copyjustright’, Mute Magazine.

Lessig, Lawrence (2005), ‘Open Code and Open Societies’, pp. 349-360 in Perspectives on Free and Open Source Software, eds. Joseph Feller, Brian Fitzgerald, Scott A. Hissam and Karim R. Lakhani, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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aisukuri-mu! helado! ice cream!

Are the Japanese more gastronomically advanced than the rest of us? Here I am pondering olive oil ice cream and vegetable sorbets, while Japan already has all sorts of savoury ice creams for sale in the supermarket.

It seems like a lot of western chefs are looking for novel ways to present old flavours. But it’s usually the high-end restaurants who serve up ice cream flavours like horseradish (like at Bilson’s in Sydney). I love it when really innovative chefs can take inspiration from something as lowly as a corndog and invent a “dessert” like Plinio Sandalio’s ‘“corndog” corncakes with mustard ice cream and ketchup’.

But if you’re in Japan, you don’t need to blow your cash at a trendy restaurant to treat your tongue to something bizarre. You can go down to the supermarket and whole buy a tub of octopus, squid, eggplant, or cheese ice cream (I wish I could read the Japanese packaging).

Photo credit: maddercarmine on flickr

I’m not so much shocked that these flavours exist as I am curious about how people serve them. Do they use octopus ice cream to create elaborate gourmet dishes, or do they eat big bowls of it sitting on the couch watching DVDs?

I’m not sure how popular these ice cream flavours are, but squid ink soft serve ice cream seems to be pretty common in Japan (soft serve is huge there). Except a lot of people say it tastes like regular vanilla. The squid ink seems more like a colouring/gimmick than the actual flavouring.

Photo credit: avlxyz on flickr

But if you were to eat the proper squid ice cream, don’t you think soy sauce topping would be more suitable than chocolate sauce? There’s a little blog called Japanese Ice Cream that’s about… Well, you can imagine.

Wait! It turns out that Japan is not the only place where dinner is being made into ice cream.

There’s an ice cream shop in France has flavours like cactus, thyme, basil tomato, and rosemary. But those flavours sound vanilla compared to what they’re selling at a heladeria in Bilbao, Spain. The least popular flavour looks to be ‘foie gras de canard’ (duck foie gras). I can’t imagine why it would be less popular than ‘bacalao al pil pil’ (cod Basque style).

Flavours (clockwise from top left): cod, alcohol, red wine, smoked salmon, squid in its own ink, kalimotxo (red wine and coke), extra-virgin olive oil, duck foie gras. Photo credit: disgustipado on flickr

Sniffing around Spanish blogs I figured out that the café is called ‘Nossi-Bé’. In case you’re ever in Bilbao.

You know, I start off wanting to write really short little posts. But my research always leads me to new and crazy things I have to share. Even if only one person’s reading.

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out in the sticks nothing goes to waste

Just because I grew up in Bangkok doesn’t mean that I eat the deep-fried insects you sometimes see the street vendors selling. I don’t even eat unusual animal parts. But my mother grew up in rural Thailand, where they’ll eat pretty much anything. Even the occasional squirrel.

Silkworm cocoons. Photo credit: nolosabias on flickr

One of the things they do in my mom’s hometown is raise silkworms. They feed the caterpillars mulberry leaves until they cocoon, then collect the cocoons for their silk threads. But the little pupae inside don’t go to waste. The locals cook and eat them like a snack. I can’t imagine doing it now, but I tried them when I was a kid. We were visiting the village and the other kids were eating these little fried morsels, so I tried some. They didn’t look anything like caterpillars. They were more like small, brownish pods. I remember they tasted eggy, with a slighty plastic texture. Like the white part of an overcooked fried egg. I think I only tried them because they didn’t look that much like insects. They didn’t have crunchy bits, like legs or wings, and no weird bug juices oozed out.

Cooked silkworm pupae. Photo credit: Mai Le on flickr

The only other unusual food I remember trying there was snake soup. It looked like an ordinary broth with vegetables and chunks of whitish meat in it. It looked like fish but that meat was apparently snake. It had a similar texture to fish, and really no distinct taste. Why should eating snake be so scary? From a completely unscientific perspective, snakes and fish aren’t all that different are they? They’re both legless vertebrates with scaly skin.

Okay, you might have the impression now that I’m not that squeamish. But really, I AM. Another thing they like to do in the area my mom is from is make a sort of ant egg salad. I wouldn’t even WATCH someone eat that!

Ant egg dish. Photo credit: hiyori13 on flickr

How does my mom eat that stuff? It’s not gross if you grew up eating it.

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heston in wonderland

I named this blog ‘Not Eggs on Toast’ because I wanted to emphasise what I wouldn’t be blogging about: ordinary, humdrum food. And eggs on toast definitely qualify as unexciting fare.

Unless you happen to be Heston Blumenthal, who transformed just that into one of his signature dishes. Obviously, what they serve at his restaurant Fat Duck is a bit more than fried eggs and a slice of dry toast.

Photo credit: Sifu Renka on flickr

Fat Duck’s version consists of nitro-scrambled eggs and bacon ice cream atop pain perdu (French toast), served with tomato jam, candied prosciutto, and tea jelly on the side.

Notice how we’re back on the subject of bacon desserts again? Apparently, Heston was one of the very first to start playing with the idea, and began serving his eggs and bacon ice cream as early as 2004 (Russo).

Another one of Fat Duck’s most famous dishes is parsnip cereal, which comes in individual little Fat Duck cereal boxes (actually, all the courses come in miniature sizes). At a restaurant that serves green snail porridge and teeny slices of truffle toast, all that’s missing at this tea party is the Mad Hatter!

Jelly of Quail, Cream of Crayfish, with Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast. Photo credit: loremipsum on flickr

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blueberry chips

Chinese and Japanese junk food brands seem to be the most adventurous with their flavours. Last December a friend of mine came back from a trip to China with some interesting supermarket finds. One discovery was Lay’s blueberry flavoured chips.

Top shelf, second pack. Photo credit: Malingering on flickr

I tried them and this is EXACTLY what they’re like:

Eating plain chips while chewing Lotte’s Blue Berry gum. It’s not a general blueberry flavour. They taste like that specific brand of gum. They’re not that disgusting, but I think I’ll pass next time.

But if you happen to like blueberry, kiwi, cucumber, mango, or lychee flavoured chips, Lay’s has got you covered.

Serious question: Were these flavours picked out of a hat? I’m all for interesting chip flavours and creative thinking, but really, who’s going to buy blueberry chips more than once?

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