Aaron Cael

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Scenery Interlude: Failed Novel 2006


I’m off roaming in non-city place this weekend so here’s a bit of scene-setting from a project seven years back that nosedived somewhere around connecting the late-middle to the end and the early middle to a beginning that didn’t feel like some guy chewing your ear off on a long bus trip.

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At the hospital across the street, there’s a digital readout with a blinking center colon that hums faintly when it switches the minute.  There’s a parking lot, mostly empty, with yellow streetlights jutting up from concrete pylons amid the scattered compacts, sedans and minivans.  They all look either black or white in this light, with buttery tones from the overhead lights and faint pulses of red from the clock and the jittery neon cross on the building’s side.  Its eleven o’clock and I just got home from work.  I’m on the second-story porch, leaning on the wooden rail and looking into the hospital’s last lit windows.  The light inside is the yellow of old newspapers.  There’s no pattern to rooms lit and no movement inside.  I’m trying to remember what the halls looked like with double-swinging safety doors and parked wheel chairs outside every third room.  I unlock my front door, get a beer and come back outside.

The smell of vaporized asphalt from the day’s traffic drifts around the night breeze.  It dims the paint on my building, it settles in the grass and in my lungs and it mixes with vapor in the haze that hangs a corona around every streetlight like a paper lantern.  It gives a thickness to the air that makes the invisible seem more real, makes the past and the future more plausible in the still of the present for the marks they leave in the dusty air.  Everything that happens, its at least for moving these little specks around that we can barely see.

I squint to blur the scene, to refract the streetlights into long-armed stars and make a grid to see the path I’m looking for, one that snakes out from the avenue ambulance-sized and then shrinks to the diameter of a gurney from the overhang by the emergency room.  I want to see the wake of cleared dust disrupted by where they wheeled her in 3 months ago.  I remember getting the news after work and looking out the window at the hospital and thinking “Oh Jesus.  Life, I’m going to throttle you for making me move into a place across the street from the hospital where my grandmother is dying.”  That night I drank a half tumbler of whiskey with ice and jumped the fence to wander the hospital’s perimeter, looking for her window and vainly guessing.  After I had visited inside and taken notes on the subject, I would go over the fence nightly and sit under her fourth floor window and draw pictures of cardinals in my pocket notepad.  She loved cardinals.

I see none of this.  Right now she’s just more mulch wrapped in quilted oak, slotted in a wall someplace nondenominational where her life’s leavings will never fertilize new life.  I want to be buried under a green young tree.  I want to die under a dark young woman, in bed like all cowards.

Here We Go Printing Food, Delicious and Awkward in Our Blessed 1.0 Days


So with all the mainstream talk of 3-D printing food, I’ve been thinking over the parameters of such a thing. Here’s the basic brain dump of what I’ve been furiously typing on various modes of public transportation. Preparing something more cleaned up for TITLE, print or digital.

Background: NASA is sprinkling a few spoonfuls of development dollars on 3-D printing food. Homaro Cantu grew algae on rooftops and made edible paper. Soylent raised six figures in two hours for their meal replacement powder, pitching it for both busy people and as a blow against hunger. Several ventures are making lab grown meat, with PETA putting out a million dollar bounty. Hard to say if we’re still at the hundred bucks a bite, soggy pork stage.

These ideas converge and economy of scale will work wonders if these aren’t murdered in the crib by Nabisco or or Monsanto or Archer Midland Daniels. What’ll make the papers is the sort of articles that are the equivalent Iranian-grade Photoshop renderings of a bacon cheeseburger on a Makerbot heating mat. (I want to be the Pope of vernacular Photoshop_
Let’s talk about something closer to now. Let’s talk software, inputs and use.
Uses basic nutritional inputs. Protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, fats, carbs. You can already buy these.
Combines these with basic flavoring agents. Flavor in broad strokes. Sweet (stevia), sour (citric acid), bitter (?), savory, fattiness/creaminess
More complex spice combinations that are endlessly remixed. Start with popular blends that replicate middle-ground cuisine standards—tex-mex spice, chipotle-lime, madras curry, tom yum–but allow remixing.
Spice combinations that are endlessly remixable based on user reaction to the flavors. Guided by tagging of flavor combinations, categorization. Users are encouraged to savor and taste the food—ceremony, mindful eating–and then give notes/feedback like at a wine tasting or expresso cupping.
The system uses this feedback to construct flavor profiles amenable to the user. Flavor channels, basically. Borrow the approach underlying Pandora and break it down to the genetic profile of the experience of flavor, like they do for genres and micro genres of music.
See also: Coke’s flavor-blending machines
See also: the increasingly sophisticated marketing profiles that Google, Facebook, Twitter, and that whole rogue’s gallery gathers on you.
What would you use all that data-gathering infrastructure for in a post-scarcity, post-advertising bubble world?

Also: make it programmable. Hackable, sure, but put in manual controls accessible to an average user. It’s great to have a magic machine spit out flavor gunk that feels like 80% of the way to what you want but people will want to be able to override that sometimes and cook with it. Like 3-D printing, this needs a standardized file type so users can swap designs and recipes. Share alike.

At first, the choices will be limited. Texture and structure are hard. 3-D printing might be less of an apt model in the first stages because a 3-D printed hamburger, a 3-D printed baked potato–made from shelf-stable inputs–is going to be vastly inferior to the real thing for a long time. Pastes, dips, whips, shakes… think hummus. Baba ganoush, curries, pate. But think about it: that’s most of the world’s traditional cooking. Delicious goop and flatbread. We’re not replacing fine cuisine or even cooking. We’re replacing the every day subsistence, not feasts, festivals or family meals. we’re not there yet and you’ll have to pry my cast iron cookware from my cold dead hands.

For the first generation of this, think about a Ethiopian food machine. One slot spits out flatbread, one nozzle squirts thick hot stew on it. Fold it up and go.

image from kitchentalks.com

image from kitchentalks.com

Flow and format

Been working on the actual nitty gritty of mixing images and text. While doing so in a blogging format has pretty cut and dry conventions, designing something that works on both a paper page and various flowing formats of eBook text brings up all sorts of issues of user experience.

Two page spreads are especially tempting/vexing. The constraints of the format have a great deal of power over the reader’s experience.

Process Summary


I have an envy and awe for writers who do it longhand. Sure, they are mostly dead or (I suspect) lying but having one medium, one channel for catching thoughts, to-dos, note taking, developing ideas, sketching and writing has a definite appeal. I take a lot of notes on little folded pieces of paper and write in a variety of paper journals but often that becomes more of a long-term thought buffer for ideas that were intended in the moment of their conception as a something to act on immediately.

Similarly, I throw a lot of junk into Evernote that I never look at again. All the starred items from my RSS readers (yes, plural… I have yet to find a mobile one that suits me) end up there, typically never to be looked at again. There’s also the Send-To-Kindle button for long form things which do get read and marked up with notes (see the intense man in gray furiously thumbing his battered 3rd Gen Kindle Keyboard on the train) but those notes are stored in such an obtuse format and synched to nothing and nowhere (Amazon: the features you want, just implemented in a terminally awkward manner)

What I need is to be seeing more Interesting Things in the time when I am otherwise searching for novelty by sifting through the internet. The piece that’s missing is some mildly intelligent app that pulls from these things and flings old notes back in my face to be reread and dealt with when I am sitting down with the time to do something about it. Perhaps it could be activated by a big physical button on my desktop labeled “I’m Starting to Fuck Around”. Further, it should sort the 80,000 things I’ve tagged #watchlater into a single channel, playing one after another, sorting the shorter blips together, and putting the longer stuff (>7min) on a sidebar for when I have some serious non-typing time in me.

Despite what my consumerist impulses tell me, personal history has taught me that the solution isn’t a new fancy piece of technology or a subscription to a service that I’ll not look at again but just a better arrangement of what I’m already using. A few settings tweaks and some bigger behavior tweaks. Take the time to arrange the pieces and go forth, yelling at the stupid little man at the controls somewhere inside my skull.

The first step, obviously, was writing this.


The Proper Role of Power Tools in Publishing


Not to hang too much of my ass out in public but last night I printed out they first chunk of my novel that anyone is going to actually see. While I’m about as plastic fantastic digital future as the next man–writing this with a gestural keyboard on my tablet as I am–there’s still something of as glow to actual print. a realness, a threshold crossed once its off my screen and on the surface of another object.

I wonder if I’d have the same experience flipping through it on a Kindle. (that’ll come later… after a few nights of headaches sorting through the documentation for Kindle formatting and epub3 and the like, I’m just printing these first rounds out and including stamped envelopes to mail them back with notes)
Proper saddle stitching will have you wait for proper materials though. I had more whisky in the house than thread or common sense so I used the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language as a workbench and power drilled holes down the spine, stitching it up with salvaged red waxed twine.