When the Cook Can’t Look

When the Cook Can't Look by Ralph ReadWhen I was an undergraduate student at UT, I worked for a blind professor, Ralph Read. I’ve blogged about him a few times over the years: here, here, and here. Another thing he did is write a cookbook for the blind. I was thinking about this the other day and realized that I never had my own copy of his cookbook. Thanks to the magic of the internet, I remedied that problem. 


This morning I was listening to the episode of the 99% Invisible podcast about addresses. The thesis of the episode is that while addresses are something we generally take for granted, they are actually a relatively new invention. I realized that I had lived in two places where conditions mentioned in the podcast existed.

First, I grew up in a house that didn’t have a street address. Our house was on a named street, and it even had a wooden street sign where it intersected the county road, but I don’t think the street names were official and in any case nobody used them. When we gave someone directions to our house, it was “when you’re coming down the county road, turn on the first street to the right past the water tower. Our house is the first one you come to, on your left.” Our mailing address was “Star Route 1 Box 205” and our mailbox was in a bank of mailboxes about a mile from the house.

Second, the podcast episode mentions how the Hapsburgs undertook an effort to number houses throughout their empire. When I was a high school exchange student in Austria in the 1980s, I lived in the village of Großklein (that name is another story of its own), and the address of my host family was just “Großklein 26” no street name necessary. That numbering most likely dates back to the Hapsburg numbering mentioned in the podcast.

End of an era

Run for the WaterA few weeks ago–a few days after the Run for the Water race, in fact–I injured my hip while running. Last week, I went to see my orthopedist about it. As her PA was examining me, noting that I’m a lifetime runner, I mentioned that also have low-level pain in my right knee, but not enough that I’d gotten it checked out. The PA said they should X-ray the knee, too, while I was in the office.

The good news: the hip injury will heal with a rest in running, some stretches, etc. The bad news: the knee pain is due to degenerative osteoarthritis. The doctor said that they can take some measures to ease the pain but that the only remedy is a knee replacement. The arthritis will only get worse whether I run or not, and I may eventually need a knee replacement. She emphasized that running it will accelerate the degeneration. She also pointed out that I would eventually have to stop running if I had a knee replacement and that knee replacements only last a certain period of time, therefore it’s vital that I delay it as long as possible. Therefore, she strongly advised me to stop running.

I think both the doctor and her PA assumed that I would find this news devastating and that I would not want to stop running. But after a few days of reflection and talking with a lot of people about this, at this point in my life I identify primarily as a healthy, fit and active person–it’s just that running is the only way I’ve ever used to maintain that state. Furthermore, I don’t relish the prospect of increasing chronic pain and eventual significant surgery. It’s much more acceptable to me to find other forms of exercise that don’t exacerbate my arthritis and allow me to remain fit than it is to continue running at all costs. I think that swimming is an activity that I enjoy that will most easily fit into my current schedule/lifestyle. I have already been to the pool once, and I think I will try to take a swim course to learn to swim more effectively. But I’m sure I’ll continue a little running, and maybe also do some biking as well.


My 15 minutes of fame!

A writer from MEL Magazine contacted me via a comment that I had made on a reddit question about whether men should run shirtless. My whole email interview got included in the article.

Running Shirtless


After I graduated high school in 1982, I spent the following school year as an AFS high school exchange student in Austria. This past weekend, I started scanning the hundreds of slides that I took during my year abroad, including the photo in this post of the village sign. Yes, I spent the year in a village called Großklein. For those of you who don’t speak German, groß = large, klein = small. Yes, I lived in big-little. Note that in Austria it’s common that if a new village springs up next to an existing one, they use the prefixes groß and klein to distinguish them. In the case, the existing village was named Klein.


Reflecting on my history as an amateur photographer

Pentax MX SLR camera

Pentax MX SLR camera

Recently I’ve been reflecting on my history as an amateur photographer. I spent 1982-3 as a high school exchange student in Austria (for you German speakers, I really lived in a village called Großklein). Before I left, I decided that I wanted to buy myself a good camera. A friend had a Canon AE-1, which was the consumer-grade pinnacle of SLR technology at the time with shutter-priority auto-exposure. My dad, however, asked a professional photographer for camera buying advice, and he recommended a Pentax MX SLR camera. The only technology on the MX was a built-in light meter. As you manipulated shutter speed and aperture size, a row of LEDs along the bottom of the viewfinder indicated whether the light level was good (red – yellow – green – yellow – red).

Film photography had two big constraints that are unknown to digital photographers. The first is delayed gratification; you don’t get to see your photo until after the film is developed and printed–which was a matter of days at the very least (hence the eventual popularity of same-day photo processing). The other limitation was cost; there were three separate expenses related to film photography: the film itself, and the costs of developing the film and printing photos.

My maternal grandmother

Candid portrait of my maternal grandmother taken with my Pentax MX, 1982

The constraints of film photography with an all-manual camera forced me to really learn the basics of photography–the interaction of film speed, aperture size and shutter speed–and to become a disciplined shooter in order to get the shot that I wanted. Taking multiple photos with different settings was prohibitively expensive;  there were essentially no do-overs; and post-processing was expensive and limited only to professional photography.

I’ve been taking photographs with a digital SLR for well over a decade now, and post-processing gets easier all the time. Yet I remain a mediocre and ambivalent post-processor of my photos. I reflected on this recently and realized that this attitude is due to my long history with film photography: I still consider getting the photo to be 90% of photography, whereas photographers who grew up on digital consider post-editing a much larger and more important part of the process.

Katie and Duncan, 1984

Katie and Duncan, 1984

When I lived in Austria, I shot slide film mostly–it had better color and was somewhat cheaper since you didn’t get prints. All this reminds me that I still need to get my slides from that period scanned. I think I’ll work on that today.

Why do you take photos?

I haven’t had any direct experience with someone who was trying to monetize their Instagram, Twitter or other social media feed with their photos, but I have certainly noticed a different motivation for taking photos among people who were brought up with social media. I’m old school. When I take photos, I’m interested in either preserving the memory for me and my loved ones or taking artistic photos. When many younger people take photos, their first motivation is how they think their photos will look to their social media contacts. I guess there’s nothing wrong with this motivation–assuming they don’t go to the lengths described in this comment from reddit–but it’s foreign to me:

My [relative] is definitely not a huge “influencer” but she has a pretty strong following and what she and her friends do is beyond bullshit and is like a continual eye-roll. Some great examples: buying books she will self-admittedly never open just to take photos with them, posing with somebody else’s Louis Vuitton luggage without asking them acting as if it was hers (it was left in the hallway of a hotel for some reason and they pounced on it to take photos before the owners came back out to get it), etc.
This year we were on another family vacation with her in [country] over [holiday] and it’s exhausting. The “photo shoots” are never ceasing, they happen all the time, she takes hundreds of photos a day and the whole group is supposed to wait for her. And the photo shoots become extremely rude (ie, she took a 6-7 minute “shoot” in a [place] once we were done eating that was blocking any of the [staff] from moving around the tiny place or [doing their job], I was so embarrassed I walked out). She hates her life pretty much and complained the entire vacation about how much she hated [the cities] but on her Instagram…[insert witty pun or hashtag based on the city and how much she loves it].

Any meal or museum or whatever she was on her phone updating and editing and filtering and airbrushing photos for a never-ending parade of Instagram Story updates. And on top of that she would demand (family ignored most of them thank God) to traverse across the cities to go to certain spaces or restaurants not because she wanted to experience the space, but because she wanted the photo. For example there was a restaurant in [city] she was dying to go to because they give you a balloon to hold while you wait and she thought it would make a fantastic Instagram story post. She couldn’t tell you what type of food this place served or what they were known for. She just wanted the photo. We denied the demand.

She’s totally lost touch with reality and lives her life on her feed. She has no ability to comprehend the enormous cognitive dissonance between what she is actually experiencing and how she portrays her life to her followers (like I said, she’d hate a meal because it wasn’t some basic American food but then act as if it was the best thing she’s ever eaten on Instagram). Or the fact that she is barely scraping by in life and most of the nice things in her life are gifts from my in-laws, but she portrays her life as this incredible luxurious parade of objects and spaces, and on wayyyy more than one occasion has tried to make a house or item look like hers when it is not. Not to mention there is not a shard of intellectual curiosity or personal passion left in her life at this point…every situation is assessed simply on “how will this make my feed look better/can this make my feed look better”. Places are not “experienced” they are just exploited for photos. The rest of the group would discuss the “place” itself (breakfast menu, painting, whatever) and she would only be able to talk strategy about how to photograph it and would seem genuinely confused when this wasn’t the priority for others as well (not our own photos mind you, but hers).

If you can’t tell I have strong feelings about this….