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Book Review: To Save Everything, Click Here 115

Bennett Haselton writes "Evgeny Morozov's forthcoming book To Save Everything, Click Here describes how an overly helpful 'kitchen of the future' might stifle the learning process and threaten culinary innovation. True, but we could certainly do better than the current state of how-to directions (in cooking and most other subjects) that you can find today on Google. I suggest that the answer lies not in intelligent kitchen technology, but in designing an algorithm that would produce the best possible how-to directions -- where the 'best' directions are judged according to the results that are achieved by genuine beginners who attempt to follow the directions without help." Read below for the rest of Bennett's review.
Editor's Note: This article was not intended as a full review, but rather a commentary on one point in the book. The author's actual review of the book will appear in March.
To Save Everything, Click Here
author Evgeny Morozov
pages 432
publisher PublicAffairs
rating 9/10
reviewer Bennett Haselton
ISBN 1610391381
summary Argues that we badly need a new, post-Internet way to debate the moral consequences of digital technologies

Evgeny Morozov's new book To Save Everything, Click Here (due out in March), about "the folly of technological solutionism", is that rare animal: a book I would recommend to everyone even if I disagree with about 2/3 of the conclusions in the text. The arguments in the book didn't always change my mind, but they made me reformulate many of my own arguments in the other direction.

In most sections of the book, Morozov attacks the beliefs of "solutionists" who believe that a particular program or algorithm can solve a social program. Usually, I thought his criticisms of a given algorithmic "solution" were spot-on. But I often found myself thinking of a different algorithm that I thought would solve the problem much more effectively than the one Morozov was critiquing. This, naturally, could be construed as missing the point of the book. However, I'm prepared to defend any of the alternative algorithms that I came up with, or bet money on how it would fare in the real world. I'll have a full review of the book when it's released, but I think many of Morozov's argument are interesting enough to deserve an article in their own right.

For example, Morozov describes a new kitchen technology that guides would-be chefs through the process of preparing a meal, by illuminating pathways on the kitchen floor to show the cook where they're supposed to walk next, and then using laser pointers and visual aids to guide them through what they're supposed to do when they get there. If you want to know how to expertly carve a fish, for example, the ceiling-mounted lasers will trace out the exact cuts that you're supposed to make on the fish's skin. The description sounds like a parody of what people think the Big Bang Theory geeks would like their kitchen to do for them.

Morozov argues, not unreasonably, that "[t]o subject [cooking] fully to the debilitating logic of efficiency is to deprive humans of the ability to achieve mastery in this activity, to make human flourishing impossible and to impoverish our lives," and that "deviating from recipes is what creates culinary innovations." Well that's one of the 1/3 of his arguments that I agree with. Besides, if you can afford the cost of a laser-guided kitchen just to cook meals for yourself, you could probably use the same amount of money to take a professional cooking class, order takeout every day to tide you over until you know how to make decent stuff on your own, and still have money left over. If you're using it instead to try and cook to impress party guests, how's that going to work? If you're making the food where your guests can see you being guided around by lasers, they're going to think (correctly) that you don't know how to cook, and if you're making the food in a back room where you're out of sight of the guests, you might as well order takeout and have it smuggled in through the back door.

On the other hand, Morozov says in his next paragraph: "In a world where only a select few could master the tricks of the trade, such 'augmented' kitchens would probably be welcome, if only for their promise to democratize access to this art. But this is not the world we inhabit: detailed recipes and instructional videos on how to cook the most exquisite dish have never been easier to find on Google."

That's where he lost me. I have vastly different views on this, which can be summed up in three points:

  • The qualify of most "how-to" instructions aimed at beginners, judged by the results they produce in the hands of actual beginners, is far worse than most people believe.

  • Moreover, for reasons I'll describe later, the incentives created by the free market in general (and Google in particular) more or less guarantee this result: How-to directions exist that cover nearly every human activity, but most of the directions are not particularly good.

  • I have an idea for a different algorithm (surprise!) that Google, or any other similarly positioned web titan, could use to change the incentives of web publishers, leading them to write how-to instructions that would produce much better results when followed by actual beginners.

The morass of cooking how-tos on the web are a good example. Partly from always having other things that I'd rather learn, and partly from being perfectly happy eating lots of plain fruits and vegetables (good for your health, but not for your cooking skills), I had survived to early adulthood hardly knowing anything about real cooking. Being a decently smart person, I figured that made me well suited to judge the effectiveness of the countless cookbooks written "for people who don't know how to cook". Because I firmly believe that if you follow a set of directions precisely (or, if the directions are written ambiguously, then if you follow some plausible interpretation of each step in the directions), and the result doesn't come out as predicted, then it's the directions that failed, not you. If another set of instructions would have produced better results, then those directions are better. This is not rocket science, but many cooking directions in cookbooks and on the Internet are glaringly missing key pieces of information that would have made the directions better, by the above definition.

Now, I understand the importance of experimenting and deviating from recipes and tailoring things to your own tastes, but I think that has to come after you've produced an edible dish that you can use as a baseline. I make scrambled eggs a little bit differently every time -- curry powder, mussels, capers, tabasco sauce, blue cheese (just not all in the same pan, please) -- but the only reason that's possible is because the simple directions for plain scrambled eggs actually work. When I say that most cooking directions don't work, I mean that if you follow them precisely (but without any prior cooking knowledge), they don't even get you to the baseline of an edible result that you can then use as a jumping-off point to try your own variations.

The odd thing about cooking is that of all the people whose cooking I liked so much that I asked them where they learned how to cook, all of them said that they learned from an in-person instructor (usually a family member); I have yet to meet any really good cooks who learned their skills from written recipes or web videos. This suggests that the learning materials on the Internet are falling short. (By contrast, I know plenty of people who have learned PHP programming or similar skills out of a book.)

And from my experiences helping out friends in the kitchen who had more cooking experience but who were trying to follow a particular recipe, it seemed that their most valuable skill was knowing the crucial parts of the recipe that were missing, or wrong. And then they would use their non-beginner knowledge fill in the missing steps or make the necessary corrections as we went along. With the current mediocre state of most cooking directions out there, that's surely a useful skill. However, it does mean that you could make most recipes produce much better results in the hands of a beginner, if you simply fixed all those parts that were missing, or wrong.

Take, for example, my misadventures making jalapeno poppers. Going to a friend's Super Bowl party, I figured that jalapeno poppers would be an easy thing to make, with just under 200 how-to videos on Youtube and about 600 matching recipe pages on Google, most of them calling for only four ingredients. How hard could it be?

Well, there are two important things that should be in every jalapeno popper recipe, or the recipe is doing more harm than good just by being out there on the web. One is that when you're slicing and handling the raw jalapenos, you have to wear gloves, or the capsaicin in the jalapeno -- which is also the active ingredient in pepper spray -- will leave a burning feeling on your fingers that lasts for about the next 24 hours. (If you touch your eye with your finger, you might even have to go to the emergency room.)

The other indispensable piece of information is that to make the jalapeno poppers edible, you have to remove the seeds and the white ribs from the inside -- not just the white center of the jalapeno (which slides out easily), but the white part of the ribs, which have to be scraped off of the outer wall (a grapefruit spoon works great, otherwise a paring knife or a regular sharp knife will do). Most recipes do tell you to remove the seeds. But the white ribs left inside the jalapeno are just as hot, and if you don't cut them out, the finished product will have a hotness that's too overpowering to taste anything else. (This video shows how to do it right.)

So what's the problem? Here's a table listing the first 10 Google matches for "jalapeno popper recipes", rated according to whether they contain those two must-have pieces of information that a beginner would need. (If the directions said to "devein" the jalapeno or "remove the membranes", I gave it an "Almost" in the second column -- because a first-timer is likely to think that this refers to removing the white center of the jalapeno, and not realize that you also have to remove the ribs attached to the edges. I'm being strict here, because it would have taken almost no effort for the recipe writers to be clear about this, and if you don't do that step correctly, you will have to throw out the finished product.)

Recipe source Tell reader to wear gloves? Tell reader to remove jalapeno ribs?
Food Network (Emeril Lagasse) No Almost (instructions say "membranes removed")
AllRecipes.com No No
Food.com No No
KraftRecipes.com No Almost (says to remove "veins")
InspiredTaste.net Yes. (Sort of. The directions end halfway down the page, and then another set of written directions starts from the beginning. That's confusing, but I'll give it to them.) Yes. (In both sets of directions. Good job guys!)
ThePioneerWoman.com No Yes
Epicurious.com No Almost ("devein")
About.com No (not counting the comments section, where someone warns other readers to use gloves because they burned their hands following the directions) No
RecipeGirl.com No. (This is weird: gives tips on how to neutralize the stinging capsaicin once it gets on your hands, but never actually says to put gloves on.) Almost ("seeds and ribs")
JalapenoMadness.com No No

Videos scored a little better, if you're generous and give full credit to any video that shows the scooping out of the jalapenos to include the ribs attached to the sides, even if the verbal directions don't spell that out precisely. Here are the ratings for the first 10 Youtube matches for "jalapeno poppers recipe":

Source (Youtube user) Tell viewer to wear gloves? Tell viewer to remove jalapeno ribs?
allrecipes Yes No
bettyskitchen No Yes
PrincessDiana161 Yes Yes
MudRFunR Yes Yes
cookingwithcaitlin1 Yes Yes
Michael Hultquist (Jalapeno Madness) No No
BarbecueWeb No No
kooktocook No No
Adley Stump No No
thatsletitia No No

In most of the videos that didn't explicitly include the step about putting gloves on, the cooks themselves were not wearing gloves. What did their hands feel like later?

eHow.com does have a helpful page about how to treat capsaicin burns from handling jalapenos. Perhaps that's their penance for the fact that half of their 'jalapeno poppers' recipes don't tell you to put gloves on.

If you could have made poppers based on these incomplete instructions, because you knew to put gloves on or to scrape the ribs out, good for you -- you possess the background knowledge to fill in the parts of the directions that were missing, or wrong. But that doesn't do the real newbies any good.

I went to this trouble because I want to beat you over the head with the crucial fact here: Most directions suck. They suck not just in absolute terms (burning your hands, or the mouths of people who eat the jalapenos with the ribs still in them) but they especially suck relative to how easily they could have been fixed. There is no excuse for putting up a recipe for jalapeno poppers that doesn't tell the reader to put gloves on, or that only tells the reader to "remove the seeds". And I've run into the same phenomenon over and over -- whether looking for directions on how to lower memory consumption of a web server, or how to get stains out of a carpet, or how to replace a 12V direct-current power supply with a cartridge of 8 AA batteries in series -- where not only did the directions not work, but I later found out that they could have worked if the author had simply added one or two key pieces of information.

However it seems that almost everyone believes that the quality of directions on the web is much higher than it actually is -- where, by "quality", I'm talking about the results that would be achieved by a beginner following the directions. (If I had asked you, "Where can I find a good recipe for jalapeno poppers?", is there about a 100% chance you would have said, "Google"?) I assume people overestimate the usefulness of all the how-tos out there, for two reasons: (a) they glance at the directions but don't try them themselves, so they just assume the directions work; or (b) they already know how to do the task being described, so when they read the directions, their brain automatically fills in the missing steps or makes the necessary corrections. That doesn't mean the directions would work in the hands of a true beginner.

Unfortunately, the quality of the directions on the web, is perfectly explained by the incentives created by Google. If there's any niche in the how-to space that is not already filled by some article on the web, an author can easily grab some extra web traffic by writing the first page about that topic. For a popular topic like how to make jalapeno poppers, there's enough traffic going around that dozens or hundreds of authors can put up their own how-to pages and each collect just enough web traffic to make it worthwhile. Thus, every "directional" niche will be filled, and some will be filled to overflowing.

Within a particular niche, however, there's not much incentives to make the directions particularly good -- where "good" means "produces good results when followed by someone with no prior knowledge in this area". Whether your directions work or not, they'll attract about the same level of traffic from Google. Even if the author later realizes that the insertion of a few key steps would make their instructions better, there's no incentive for them to do it -- that's not going to make your how-to page rise up in the Google rankings above the other pages on the same topic.

Which brings me to my proposed solution. It would take a company with a giant pre-existing web presence to pull it off (not quite on the level of Google, but at least an eHow or a Food.com). But it would take almost no maintenance on the part of the company themselves, once the process was put in place.

To incentivize people to create instructions that actually work, a given how-to guide would go through three phases:

  1. After the directions are written, genuine newbies (recruited from the web site's usual visitors -- people who just want to learn something new in an area where they have no prior expertise) attempt to follow the directions and tell the author about any problems they ran into, or steps in the directions that seemed ambiguous. If the author thinks some reader is just being an overly nit-picky moron, they're free to ignore their questions and suggestions, but they would do so at the risk of their directions faring poorly in the next phase.

  2. Once the initial wave of corrections and clarifications is finished, the directions are put into a pool marked "Ready to be rated!", where they are rated by the next group of genuine newbies who attempt to follow them. Each reader rates the directions simply: If they followed the directions and got the result they expected, then thumbs up, otherwise, thumbs down. If multiple readers spot a mistake or an omission that somehow got missed in the first phase, then the author can make the necessary changes and start the second phase over. (To prevent the author of the directions from "gaming the system" at this stage, the volunteer newbies should be selected at random from a large pool of people who sign up saying "I'm game for learning how to do anything new." If you let people self-select to go to the directions and rate them, then this enables the author to stack the deck by having all of their friends go to the page and give their directions a high rating.)

  3. Finally, once the directions have reached some acceptably high percentage of positive ratings, they get released into the general pool of directions/how-tos/recipes of which the site can promise, "80% of newbies were able to follow these directions successfully." If the system works -- and if the volunteer readers in step #2 are representative of the skill level of the site's general readership -- it should be expected that most readers should be able to follow the directions and get good results at that point.

Almost all of the "how-to" directions that I've read, on any topic, could have benefited from being put through the wringer as described by the steps above. It's not merely that I think this algorithm would produce good directions; it's that my definition of good directions is precisely those directions that would pass the test in step #2.

As for what incentivizes the authors to produce directions that make it through this process, perhaps the hosting site could split the ad revenue with them from the pages containing the author's directions. Perhaps the hosting site could just reward them with a link from the article to the author's professional home page. Or maybe people would happily submit the instructions for free if it went towards a non-profit repository of helpful information, a la Wikipedia. (The huge difference from Wikipedia though, is that if you're an expert on George Washington, it's easy to write a good article about George Washington; but if you're an expert on cooking, that makes it hard to write a set of cooking directions that would fill in all the blanks needed by a beginner. Hence the multi-step vetting process above.)

It's tempting to think this is process would be "overkill" for a simple recipe, but that fails to consider the magnitude of the time savings when multiplied across the hundreds or thousands of people who will read the information over the course of its lifetime on the web. If the author spends an extra 10 minutes on the instructions to clarify things in such a way that saves just 1 minute of reading time for the average reader, when that 1 minute of time savings is multiplied by hundreds of readers, it's clearly an overall time-saver. (What disgusts me about the jalapeno popper recipes is that the authors could have saved me a whole day of painful burning on my fingers, if they had just taken 10 seconds to include the step about putting on gloves -- that would have been an overall time-saver even if only one person had read the recipe.)

So Morozov was right that we don't need laser-guided kitchens guiding us through the algorithm of carving a fish, but we should consider that an entirely different kind of algorithm could change everything for a beginning cook, or a person trying to learn any other skill from scratch. The Star Trek kitchen in To Save Everything, Click Here makes for an easy target for Morozov's argument, but that kitchen technology is hardly making enough inroads to threaten cooking as we know it -- I'll bet you'd never heard of it until this article. Bad directions, on the other hand, are so ubiquitous that we've accepted them as a part of our way of life, and we've all but forgotten to think how they could be made better. Like Robert Kennedy, I see people looking at their capsaicin-burned hands and their inedible jalapeno poppers with the ribs still attached and asking, "Why?", and I imagine eHow.com lining up newbies to critique their recipes until each recipe achieves a high rating from beginners based on the actual results that they got, and ask, "Why not?"

You can purchase To Save Everything, Click Here from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.


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Book Review: To Save Everything, Click Here

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  • Gloves? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @12:07PM (#42956057)

    Why would you wear gloves for handling Jalapeños? those are really mild chiles, actually I have never found gloves to be necesary even when handling habaneros, maybe some overly sensitive people have but it will be unnecesary for many.
    This is also an example why these things are totally subjective and there could never be a "perfect" algorithm for instructions

    • by gninnor ( 792931 )

      I was thinking a similar thought. I never wear gloves. Gloves suck. I knew of a person that wondered why it burned a while every time they put their gloves on, turns out they contaminated the inside and were particularly sensitive to the stuff. Habaneros I handle with care and don't devein or remove seeds and I don't leave with stinging fingers. At most I'll hold the pepper down with a fork and cut through the tines if i want a really fine/messy cut.

      The instructions don't tell you to take off the gloves eit

      • I lost track of the original point. I was so bothered by the glove assumption that I couldn't figure it out.

        I've never worn gloves while slicing jalepenos (or the occasional habenero). Also, sometimes its ok to leave some seeds or spines in place. Sure, they make it spicier, but the average jalepeno is never going to be dangerously spicy.

      • The instructions don't tell you to take off the gloves either. Hope the person removes them before peeing or picking their nose.

        I must be stupid. I've cut birds eye chilli up and twice now made the mistake of going for a pee. I'd say that I'd never do it again, but I said the same thing the first time I did it.

        • I must be stupid. I've cut birds eye chilli up and twice now made the mistake of going for a pee. I'd say that I'd never do it again, but I said the same thing the first time I did it.

          I've done that...and the same thing after eating a bunch of crawfish and forgot to wash hands BEFORE peeing.

          You'd think you'd only forget that once.....but...

          I guess you can blame it on beer?

      • I was thinking a similar thought. I never wear gloves. Gloves suck. I knew of a person that wondered why it burned a while every time they put their gloves on, turns out they contaminated the inside and were particularly sensitive to the stuff. Habaneros I handle with care and don't devein or remove seeds and I don't leave with stinging fingers. At most I'll hold the pepper down with a fork and cut through the tines if i want a really fine/messy cut.

        The instructions don't tell you to take off the gloves either. Hope the person removes them before peeing or picking their nose. At some point you have to assume a level of knowledge from the reader, so either place an about page in the front of the book about every ingredient and warnings about it so that people can look up unfamiliar ingredients or leave that to the reader to look up. For the most part people will just want to reference the recipes in a cookbook and will not have to re-learn how to chop hot peppers every single time they make salsa. For that there should be a separate basic kitchen skills book. Heck I've seen some good cooks with bad habits that could use that (myself included).

        The original point might be good, but I think they could have found a better example.

        On the other hand, picking your nose after handling Habaneros is a painfully effective way to clear the sinuses...

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        For grins, I checked Emeril's recipe and it clearly stated it was intermediate skill. He probably assumed an intermediate level cook would know if they needed gloves for Jalapeño peppers or not.

    • I agree i have never been burned on the skin by any pepper juice have been burned after rubbing my eye after cutting peppers. I have made my own salsa for years with garden grown hot peppers and never needed gloves. as for cutting the ribbing on the jalapeños i leave it if it is for me but cut it out for people that don't like the food as spicy. thats the thing about cooking that would make a computer driven cooking bad you change the recipe depending on the pallet and tolerances of those eating.

    • Jalapenos can be hot, but it doesn't mean they're always very mild or even hot. The Scoville units can range up to 10,000, which will burn you. Instructions should always urge caution, however.
      • alapenos can be hot, but it doesn't mean they're always very mild or even hot. The Scoville units can range up to 10,000, which will burn you. Instructions should always urge caution,

        Well, one problem with jalapenos, like you mentioned...is that you can't count on them to have a steady temperature. I think it is due to some assholes somewhere deciding it was a good idea to try to breed the heat out of them and make a 'mild' jalapeno.

        Trouble is...now in the usual grocery store, you have no idea just by lo

    • by Hatta ( 162192 )

      Why would you wear gloves for handling Jalapeños? those are really mild chiles

      Exactly what I was going to say. You're going to be putting the peppers directly on a highly senstive mucous membrane, why the hell would you need gloves on your hands?

    • by mcmonkey ( 96054 )

      I've seen some crap here, but this one takes the cake.

      Is this a book review or subby's adventures in cooking? And if it is a book review, is that book a cook book?

      Why is someone who can't cook going on about recipes on the web? It's like someone whose last science class was 'Physics for Poets' picking up the latest journal from the American Physical Society and complaining about the articles.

      If you're a complete physics newbie, you don't learn by picking up the latest journal, you learn by picking up a te

  • Hopefully the kitchen of the future will have a feature that kitchens in here in 2013 still don't seem to have: the ability to microwave fishsticks. I can microwave chicken strips. I can microwave hamburgers. I can even microwave lasagna. But in 2013, I still have to use my conventional oven to turn a frozen fishstick or breaded fish patty into a meal.

    Screw being a great chef, I just want a damned fishstick I can microwave!!!

    • Try putting them in those hot pocket sleeves. You will get a little surface browning.

    • Microwaving breaded food is hard...the moisture in the food makes the breading soft. In a conventional or toaster oven the hot air will dry out the breading and crisp it up, making it far tastier.

      There are combination microwave/convection ovens, but they're horribly expensive.

    • My dad proved many times that it is perfectly possible to microwave fishsticks.

      What he didn't prove that was that there was any way to make fishsticks edible. Microwaves are the best way to make an already inedible food into something truly vile. I can still remember the smell, it was assault.

      Call it American suburban ludafisk, microwaved fishsticks. Cats run away and look at you like your a mad man for carrying such a thing. Dogs are garbage disposals, some will even eat fishsticks.

  • Learn to Cook (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Cpt_Kirks ( 37296 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @12:10PM (#42956079)

    Most people just dump a can into a pan or throw something into the microwave.

    Cooking is a skill that takes time and study. Actually, some youtube videos are pretty good guides to the basics. If you want to REALLY learn culinary basics, you either have to take a class or make a lot of crappy meals first. With cooking, like most things worth doing, you have to PRACTICE.

    • I feel I should highlight StartCooking [startcooking.com] as a great guide for a beginner looking to do a little more cooking than the above "can into a pan" style. It assumes knowledge of almost nothing, and helped bootstrap my own cooking years ago. Highly recommended.

    • by mcmonkey ( 96054 )

      Most people just dump a can into a pan or throw something into the microwave.

      Cooking is a skill that takes time and study. Actually, some youtube videos are pretty good guides to the basics. If you want to REALLY learn culinary basics, you either have to take a class or make a lot of crappy meals first. With cooking, like most things worth doing, you have to PRACTICE.

      Judging a recipe based on what a complete newbie does the first time is like judging a programming language based on what a complete newbie can do with a single man page or help entry.

      If you want to learn how to cook, you at least need a cook book, not a single recipe. Any decent cook book will cover all those basics that don't including in every recipe because we don't want 100 page recipes for boiling pasta.

      Subby's popper recipes didn't cover all the details of preparing the peppers. They also didn't ge

    • Anyone looking to learn the basic techniques should look for the videos by Jacques Pepin on youtube. His basic book on techniques is also excellent - everything from the different classic cutting styles for vegetables up to skinning butchering rabbits.
  • Depends (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dexter Herbivore ( 1322345 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @12:11PM (#42956091) Journal
    This all seems to depend on the assumption that people won't take an interest in cooking. Some will, some won't... exactly the same as now. The microwave oven came along and yet chefs still exist and are innovating.
  • by sandytaru ( 1158959 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @12:15PM (#42956131) Journal
    I didn't learn a lot of kitchen tricks until I started watching Food Network at the gym almost exclusively. (Even the video game Cooking Mana taught me a few of them, but not that many.) You're correct in that most recipes start with the assumption that you already know the basics - I thought everyone knew to de-rib any kind of pepper, because only the wall is considered the edible part. But now that I think about it, I probably didn't know that when I first started working with peppers a few years ago. (A hint: You also need to remove the seeds in any dried chile pepper or else you are going to be in a world of hurt. Slice it open and shake the seeds out.)
    • Unless you WANT that yummy hotness. My homemade tikka masala begins with sauteing finely diced jalapenos (seeds and all) and garlic and butter, which are transferred to a tomato sauce with other spices and thickened for a while.

      Anyway, I don't think the author should be so concerned about 'threatening culinary innovation'. There are always challenges for beginners, but part of the fun and reward of cooking is fucking around in the kitchen and coming up with new stuff by trying random shit. I always start wi

  • An example of this (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @12:19PM (#42956157)

    I spent a while playing Minesweeper, but I disliked the way you often have to guess in the corners. So I wrote a version called TorusSweeper, which has connected edges and avoids the corner problem. Then I got bored clicking on the really obvious free squares, so I added a feature to do the obvious clicks for you. As I got better, more types of square between obvious so I added code to solve these, and added a slider to let you choose how much help you wanted. And now, when you start a new game on the maximally helpful level, it solves the whole thing instantly. And I'm entirely bored of mine and torus sweeping.

    Too much automation is indeed pointless.

    • Automation of an activity designed for entertainment makes that activity pointless? Say it isn't so!

      People who are interested in cooking will continue to cook despite the automation, while people who don't give a crap will use the machines. Think of it like driving with a manual vs. automatic transmission.

      • by Byrel ( 1991884 )

        No more pointless than the original activity. Coding AIs is its own form of entertainment, and if you enjoy that more than minesweeper (Who doesn't really? Minesweeper? Ugh!) you've successfully entertained yourself for a significant chunk of time. And maybe improved your coding skills a touch.

        • AI? WTF.

          Perhaps a minesweeper playing program would be an 'expert system', but AI?

          • by Byrel ( 1991884 )

            Whatever. My point had nothing to do with it being an 'AI' really; I was just using AI in the generic 'computer player of game' sense. Expert system is probably a better technical description.

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        The people not interested in cooking don't want laser pointers and light up floor panels to show them what to do, they want the machine to actually just do it and leave them out of it.

  • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @12:23PM (#42956175) Journal
    In case anyone else read the entire summary and still had no idea what the book is about (or why we should read it), here is I think the key point from Amazon:

    Arguing that we badly need a new, post-Internet way to debate the moral consequences of digital technologies, To Save Everything, Click Here warns against a world of seamless efficiency, where everyone is forced to wear Silicon Valley’s digital straitjacket.

    As a programmer, it makes me laugh and then laugh hysterically. A world of seamless efficiency!

    • Indeed, judging from the introduction, it appears to be a questioning of the pre-canned "solutionism" that the author perceives to be prevalent in today's Internet environment. Apparently, the "review" presented here is based on a single chapter or section of the actual book, and even then, it appears to be more a exhaustive listing of the reviewer's opinion of various websites than any kind of review or critique of the book.
    • by sjames ( 1099 )

      Yeah, marketing loves to promise things like that, but it always looks more like Tex Avery's ___ of the future cartoons.

  • people will actually spend money on this stuff?

    sounds like idiotic gadgets that are available for almost any activity. reminds me of an old movie called Tin Cup about golf. the lead character would tell his students to junk all the gadgets and to just learn to play the game the old fashioned way.

    • If you were going to spend the kind of money that would be required to have the house computer be able to recognize the fish and its position, and illuminate the lines where you need to cut, you might as well spend the money to upgrade the lasers so that the computer would be able to actually make the cuts itself, rather than rely on your eye-hand coordination not to screw it up.

    • 1996 is now considered old?
  • Don't worry. If you can't afford the fancy kitchen, you can pay somebody to cook in their fancy kitchen. If we become alientated from cutting food ourselves, using a manual egg beater, or using Actual Fire (TM) to cook, there's a solution to that too: the personal chef trainer. Yes, it will be difficult for middle-class people to afford, but they'll work extra hours behind the counter at the newly legalized brothels that were created to "help the local economy".

    You see, machines can do just about ever

  • by MatrixCubed ( 583402 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @12:31PM (#42956239) Homepage

    Cooking (i.e. successfully cooking something that is palatable, enjoyable, nutritious, and visually attractive) is about ingredients and directions just as much as it is about taste, smell, personal preferences, dietary requirements, culture, tradition, and intuition.

    Creativity is not a problem that needs to be solved by technology.

  • homogenization (Score:4, Interesting)

    by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @12:43PM (#42956329) Journal

    Deep topic, camouflaged in a piece about automated kitchens.

    I think this is just another symptom of problems we have with global homogenization. It's endemic, as the world grows smaller.

    It's been raised many times about crop strains, but I think the more insidious threat to humanity in the long term is homogenization of intellect.

    It struck me the other day in an NPR piece about the success of online courses like Khan Academy. They were batting around the idea that for the 1000-level college courses - in which it's little more than basics taught to auditoriums of 100+ students - you could record the greatest lecturers like Feynman, etc and have them teach everyone. They thought this was a generally good idea? I see limited appeal but terrible danger if everyone is taught to approach problems and conceive of things in the same way.

    On a larger scale, if we all eventually spoke some sort of Chinese or English, most definitely we lose something, as different languages approach things with different conceptual frameworks.

    Yes, I am (in this context) homo(genization)-phobic.

  • It's hard to write good directions. Do you assume your readers know the basics or do you bore your experienced readers with repetition of stuff they already know? And you can't get experience from reading a book, you have to try things out yourself. You will fail. Failure is the dues you pay to achieve success. A personal mentor can help avoid some mistakes and help to identify others which makes it easier to gain experience, but you still have to practice the skills yourself.

    Cooking is like gaming. There a

  • Instructions and recipes are not for beginners. The level varies along with the assumed vocabulary and skills. You can find a tutorial on 'how to boil water' if you need that level of help though.

    Does every tutorial on computing start with the definition of bits and how to turn the computer on and login? Same thing.

  • So, if you're following laser-guided directions telling you what keys to press on the piano, are you actually playing the piano? Or are you just playing a piano version of Dance Dance Revolution? If you're following laser-guided directions in your kitchen you're not cooking, you're playing Cook Cook Revolution.

  • So, I'm seeing a guy writing approx 3500 word about another guy that says a kitchen with lasers is bad in 400+ pages. And the first guy agrees 1/3 with the second. Even more, the points of disagreement seems not to be related with the lasers in the kitchen, but with a bunch of site that don't warn the cooks to wear gloves when cutting hot pepper.
    I mean... what the hell? Has anyone of /. readers seen a kitchen with lasers yet?
    • It would be the PERFECT kitchen to cook sharks in.

    • I mean... what the hell? Has anyone of /. readers seen a kitchen with lasers yet?

      My infrared thermometer has a laser, does that count?

      • by c0lo ( 1497653 )

        I mean... what the hell? Has anyone of /. readers seen a kitchen with lasers yet?

        My infrared thermometer has a laser, does that count?

        I don't know, you are in a better position than me to tell if that laser counts or not.
        (even if, in my mind, to use a laser for counting is an overkill; I imagine fingers - up to ten - or beans/grains for over ten are better suited for counting than a laser)

    • by spatley ( 191233 )

      Nobody on Slashdot or otherwise will see a kitchen with lasers that show you how to cut fish. The idea is idiotic. The response about the quality of cooking instructions on deh interwebs is surprisingly even more idiotic.

  • requires mastery of the ultimate tool, the human body. This is why it is difficult. If a person does not understand up/down they cannot cut consistently because they have no base line. If a person doesn't understand the areas of their tongue it is harder to tease out flavours. If a person doesn't understand their sensitivies the won't know their pansy hands require gloves to handle the mildest of 'chili' peppers.

    It also requires a certain mastery of science. Hot expands, temperature of chemical reactio

  • This seems to be a very confused book that, from the review, has basic misunderstandings of How Things Work.

    First, when finding a utilizing an algorithm the goal should be find a problem similar to the one you are working, then see what kind of solutions that were used to solve that problem. If you can't find a similar problem, then you can probably still find parts of the problem that are similar to other. For instance,many problems require sorting, and the sorting algorithms are pretty much there and

    • > The primary goal is management of the kitchen, which means ordering, managing, and most critically, designing a process so that the various components of a plate get to the plate quickly and in an ordered manner over a short time period


      I've been cooking since a very young age and lots of little details I've learned over time, I didn't realize I've learned. It was very obvious with one girl friend I had. She could cook very good food, but she couldn't finish the food in the order it needed to be re

  • by MasterOfGoingFaster ( 922862 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @01:21PM (#42956713) Homepage

    I pretty much DID learn to cook from a book. After years of failure, I read Alton Brown's "I'm just here for the food". The subtitle is "food + heat = cooking". Alton describes the different methods of heating food, the effects, and why you'd pick one over the other. Suddenly it all made sense. For me, this book was the cooking equivalent of Peter Norton's "Inside the IBM PC".

    I then moved on to Cooks Illustrated magazine and America's Test Kitchen (same organization). They use a geek-friendly methodology of gathering multiple recipes, cooking each, and taking the best of each to arrive at their recipe. The have test tasters as well. These are the best cook books, because each section is actually a story describing the process they with through, including failures. You learn a lot, simply by reading their development process - even if you don't cook the item yourself.

    Wait a minute - wasn't this supposed to be a book review?

    • Actually it wasn't supposed to be a book review. I submitted the article with the title "Better Cooking Through Algorithms", and was intended to be an essay expanding only on *one* point made in the book. (See second paragraph, "I'll have a full review of the book when it's released, but I think many of Morozov's argument are interesting enough to deserve an article in their own right.")

      An editor accidentally changed the title to "Book Review: To Save Everything, Click Here", which didn't make much sen
  • This might be the short version: guy writes book to complain about recipes that don't warn people that some of the ingredients could be dangerous. Ends up on SlashDot because he doesn't think we'll fix "idiotproof" in the future either.

    My take: watch "Idiocracy" instead - with take-out.

    Possible outcome: New York City government official reads book, proposes a ban on cooking at home for citizens' own good.

  • "where the 'best' directions are judged according to the results that are achieved by genuine beginners who attempt to follow the directions without help."

    That is not a very good definition of "best" directions. Many people are not 'genuine beginners' at what they're working on. Instructions that are "best" for genuine beginners won't be very good for most people.

  • I have been using technology in food preparation for awhile. Those websites listed are very good for very basic recipes like I have a very very good bread recipe off of Allrecipes.com. But I really like cookbooks written by great authors. I have found these authors lately by their blogs. Free recipes are just that, free. Sometimes I will look at a video on youtube if I am unsure how to follow off of a book. Such as rolling sushi or poaching an egg much easier to watch on youtube than try to read it. Al
  • by stillnotelf ( 1476907 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @02:35PM (#42957335)
    This thread is surreal. It claims to be a book review. Most of "TFA" is actually complaining (legitmately) about the sorry state of cooking instructions on the web, which is a tangent (in the strictest sense) to the book review. We never return to the book review. Then, most of the comments are about how the submitter's fingers are too sensitive to capsaicin!
    • by mcmonkey ( 96054 )

      Most of "TFA" is actually complaining (legitmately) about the sorry state of cooking instructions on the web, which is a tangent (in the strictest sense) to the book review.

      I disagree that subby's complaints in regards to cooking instruction on the web are legitimate.

      1) I don't see subby complaining about cooking instruction. I see subby complaining about recipes.

      2) You don't learn how to cook from recipes any more than you'd learn basic physics from the latest journal articles.

      3) Like you learn basic physics from a text book, subby should learn how to cook from a cook book. Any decent cook book will cover those basics not included in every recipe. Once you learn how to coo

      • I agree about general techniques like boiling water -- a recipe ought to be able to say "Bring water to a boil" without telling you how to do that -- but I think my complaints about the jalapeno popper recipes are still valid for two reasons:
        1. Jalapenos are a specific ingredient. A "general knowledge" cookbook can't tell you the specifics about handling every individual ingredient. If there is a certain handling that is specific to one ingredient but is not part of "general knowledge", then I would argu
        • by mcmonkey ( 96054 )

          It wouldn't be that hard to do this. The larger point I was making is that nobody does this -- and in general, nobody writes good newbie directions -- because the free market in general, and Google in particular, does not reward it. If Google (or eHow, or wikihow, or about.com, or anybody else with a large built-in test audience) were to implement the system I described (for sorting instructions by the quality of results, so that the best ones would bubble up to the top), then maybe people would find it worthwhile to write those kinds of directions with built-in hyperlinks for more detail on specific steps. Or they might find some other way of writing good directions. My tenet was that good directions are the ones that produce good results, and it doesn't matter *how* you achieve it.

          Not true. There are "for Dummies" type books that assume the reader is someone with zero (or very, very little) experience. There are cook books that delve in to the details of preparing ingredients and basics like boiling water. So the point that nobody does this is not true.

          What is true is it is generally not done in a single recipe just like the man page for a single function does not delve in to the details of basic programming technique. But that is not a problem, because the purpose of those thing

          • What I means is that nobody does this *successfully*. I've tried lots of cookbooks ostensibly "aimed at beginners", did exactly what they said, and often the result was either just barely edible, or hardly tasted better than the constituent ingredients would have tasted if I'd just eaten them separately.

            Certainly the free market does reward people for *calling* their cookbook a "cookbook for beginners", as there are countless such books in that category. But the market does not reward people for actual
            • by mcmonkey ( 96054 )

              Perhaps...and I may be going out on a limb here...but perhaps cooking is like other skills where practice is involved.

              If you're still in the beginer phase, try making the same recipe 3 times rather than 3 different recipes once each.

              • I think there's a crucial difference between cooking and, say, shooting baskets. Shooting baskets requires practice because you can't verbally describe the hand movements necessary to get the ball through the hoop; you can only let a person practice and adjust their muscle memory accordingly.

                With cooking directions, in most cases you really can describe (in words, pictures, or a video) exactly what you want the person to do. I don't think, for example, that I gained anything from attempting to make jala
                • by mcmonkey ( 96054 )

                  Now, like you said, an experienced cook might not *want* all the directions spelled out, but that's different; I'm just saying that if someone wanted the directions spelled out, so that a newbie obtains a good result, it could be done. But the market doesn't incentivize authors to do that.

                  I suppose you could look at it that way.

    • This was not intended as a "review" of the book. I submitted it under the title "Better Cooking Through Algorithms", intended as an essay expanding on *one* point made in the book (which is why the second paragraph says, "I'll have a full review of the book when it's released, but I think many of Morozov's argument are interesting enough to deserve an article in their own right"). An editor accidentally changed the title to "Book Review: Better Cooking Through Algorithms", which didn't make much sense.

      • I can totally see the editors mangling the submission type. I liked your idea a lot! I also think that most of the "no gloves" people are insensitive through acclimatization: they make stuff hot often enough that they've just deadened/quieted the nerves in their fingers. (In other words your fingers are normal.)
  • Focusing resources on improving the clarity of *each individual* recipe for beginners throws away the benefits that society can gain from real *education* that develops general thinking ability rather than task-specific expertise. Perhaps a more productive focus for improving cooking overall is not figuring out how to make each individual recipe work out best for a beginner, but discovering what more general introduction of cooking principles best enables beginners to produce great results from less-well-wr

    • I think you're right. And I would say the way to do this is to produce a few recipes for beginners, which do spell out the techniques in detail (as vetted by the direction-quality-sorting method that I described near the end of the article), so that even the beginner cooks can produce a few edible recipes. Then that's what would give them the education they need to understand all the other less-well-written recipes.

      The problem is that I've never even seen *any* recipes that come with directions that wor
      • The problem is disentangling recipes that have great *short-term results* benefits (the dish was super easy to make and all my friends agreed it was delicious!), versus longer-term *educational* benefits that are harder to evaluate (how much better of a cook will you be five years from now?). Your quality-sorting method optimizes only one axis of recipe quality --- how much instant gratification a rank beginner can get. My point is that a large collection of highly-beginner-rated recipes may not produce the

        • I think I would have learned just as much generalized cooking skills if I had known from the outset about putting gloves on before slicing jalapenos, and about removing the ribs before cooking them. Yes, bad directions can teach you what happens if you do things wrong (and if the mistake hurts, you'll remember it!). But if bad directions were really all that beneficial, we'd *intentionally* give people bad directions in order to confer the benefits on them. Hardly anybody does that in situations where th
          • Yeah, I don't mean to imply that "school of hard knocks" is the ideal educational approach. However, continuing with the concrete example of chili-preparation recipes: an *educational* alternative might send you on a 30 minute detour, advising how to carefully dissect and taste the different parts of a pepper (with a big glass of milk or bowl of yoghurt ready on the side) to learn for yourself how different parts have different flavors. Peppers with the same name, shape, and color can vary a lot in hotness

  • Well, there are two important things that should be in every jalapeno popper recipe, or the recipe is doing more harm than good just by being out there on the web...

    Seriously, it does more harm than good, if the directions lack something?

    Not all directions are for beginners. Not all directions are only useful to beginners. You can know how to handle jalapenos and still benefit from recipes which use them.

    I can't comment on things which are seriously "aimed" at beginners (e.g. "..for Dummies" books, or co

  • 1. It's a classic usability issue. "Become your client" - address your intended audience. 2. Technical writing is an art not a science - you've either got the talent or not - you can't spray-on creativity. 3. General heuristic #1: if you are new to a process or activity - ask someone who might know or RTFM. 4. Specific heuristic #35924 - if it's burning your fingers, don't touch your eyes ;-)
  • I'm posting this urgently without reading more than a handful the comments that people have posted. This article WAS NOT intended as a "review" of the whole book, and I submitted the article with the title "Better Cooking Through Algorithms". This was intended as a preliminary commentary on one point made in the book, to be followed later by a review of the full book. (Note that the second paragraph ends with, "I'll have a full review of the book when it's released, but I think many of Morozov's argument

Did you hear that two rabbits escaped from the zoo and so far they have only recaptured 116 of them?