dinsdag 8 september 2015

Ted Hughes - Thistles

Against the rubber tongues of cows and the hoeing hands of men
Thistles spike the summer air
Or crackle open under a blue-black pressure.

Every one a revengeful burst
Of resurrection, a grasped fistful
Of splintered weapons and Icelandic frost thrust up

From the underground stain of a decayed Viking.
They are like pale hair and the gutturals of dialects.
Every one manages a plume of blood.

Then they grow grey, like men
Mown down, it is a feud. Their sons appear,
Stiff with weapons, fighting back over the same ground.

{no year found, is it about nature or is it about war??}

zaterdag 14 maart 2015

The #Menuverse

The New York Public Library is making available for download a vast collection of restaurant menus. Here are some visualizations I done of this data. At full size the images are clearer but these are the cropped ones. Another set of images maps historic mushroom use.

Menuverse 1: 

Simple maps of the Menuverse: it shows menu-pages (blue dots) and their dishes (white dots). As the numbers grow the Menuverse becomes more nebulous and interconnected, no dish is alone. 

#Menuverse 2

The next images show if menu pages share a dish. When running it over a small number of dishes the Menuverse has a well-defined structure but soon it all curls up again into a big knot. This I tried to overcome by tweaking the parameters. Later images connect the menu pages only if they share at least 10 or even 25 recipes. 


These images show what type of ingredients are matched with what other types as reported by the name of dish. It is color-coded (meat, dairy, vegetables, alcoholic drinks) but I forgot by what code.

maandag 2 februari 2015

Herbal with treatises on food, poisons and remedies, and the properties of stones

The things you can find online (via Twitter). From the 16th century comes the manuscript of  'Giovanni Cadamosto, Herbal with treatises on food, poisons and remedies, and the properties of stones (Peutingerorum Liber Botanicus) (Harley MS 3736)'. As the pictures show the draftsmanship is tremendous but it is also interesting for its position somewhere between the stylization ans conventions of earlier ages with the drive towards naturalism (to draw form nature rather than copy from the ancients).

zaterdag 31 januari 2015

Pride, Prejudice, Context

Here is a link to a small thingie I did over the weekend. It uses WordTree, the latest addition to Google's webcharts, and lets you see all words in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice as a tree. While it works fine for smaller segments of text (words that do not appear too often) it unfortunately needs more work when the Tree gets larger. To prevent it from crashing or returning an empty frame I have added a data limit so when searching for 'Mr' it starts alphabetically end never gets to the 'D' of Darcy. It still occasionally  takes some time or freezes up your browser for a few seconds.

vrijdag 30 januari 2015

Subordination to and participation in a global system

In the preface to a book collecting some of his lectures "The Global Condition: Conquerors, Catastrophes, and Community" (1992) William H. McNeill makes the following statement about his motivation for being a 'world historian'. McNeill's attempts to write world history within the larger patterns of disease and demographics are fully incorporated by writers better know than him (think Charles Mann) but here he explains it with the clarity of an ideology:
Consciousness of the human species as a whole is potential rather than actual. But just as most of the nations of the earth were created by political events, and then, with the help of historians, achieved a common consciousness, so, it seems to me, real human consciousness can only be expected to arise after political and economic processes have created such a tight-knit human community that every people and polity is forced to recognize its subordination to and participation in a global system. We are not far short of that condition in the last decade of the twentieth century, and world historians, if they are able to construct plausible accounts of how that circumstance arose across the centuries, can perhaps do for humanity as a whole what national historians did for emerging nations in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and what more specialized historians have done with conspicuous success for a number of aggrieved subnational groups since World War II." - William H. McNeill

woensdag 24 december 2014

Chef Watson: reciparrhea

Earlier I wrote about IBM's attempt at computational gastronomy, finding it a bit of a trainwreck. Recently I have been accepted as a Beta-tester for their Chef Watson, an online program that helps you create novel recipes calculated from ingredient relationships culled from 1000ands of recipes. The exact mechanisms are kept under wraps. Every time I read their description of it as "a system that could reason about flavor the same way a person uses their palate by capturing tens of thousands of existing recipes through natural language processing techniques to understand ingredient pairings, ingredient-cuisine pairings and dish composition" I can't stop giggling like a second rate Jonathan Creek but still, I can't help being fascinated.

Here is how you start, let's see what we can do with broccoli.

Watson suggests matching ingredients, dishes and cuisines. It seems that the style is optional but the dish mandatory to proceed to the recipe. Notice that these suggestions are in classic mode and the top matching ingredient is butter. Open the creativity notch a bit and the suggestions change with it:

What happens I think is that it works on frequency counts of ingredient pairs. Whatever you do with your broccoli it will involve butter at some point making it the most associated ingredient and therefore the most classic. It begs the question if butter really is an ingredient you would use as a key component of a dish. Further proof of Watson selecting ingredients on frequency comes when we are selecting for 'surprise' as much as possible:

Now there is some weird vinegar at top but look at the second one: first it was black pepper and now it is black peppercorns. This is the same ingredient but named slightly different which eludes the program. Mustard will be used in conjunction with broccoli often but rare are the recipes suggesting Dijon mustard and consequently it becomes a novelty ingredient for experimental chefs. If you would force all these variations into one the number of possible recipes would shrink enormously. I have checked if these suggestions are explainable by foodpairing based on aroma compounds and the answer is: no. So this based on recipe predominantly.

While you are selecting the ingredients, styles and dishes Watson gives you plenty of info, as you can see.

Add a few more ingredients and generate the recipe:

This is not all, the steps go on after the screenshot. It is a lot of text and by changing the slide at the top there are a number of variations of this recipes (50? 100?) to be explored. I think you will need the patience and the free time of a monk to evaluate them all and that is just for one set of ingredients. Wisely IBM has added the following disclaimer:

"Remember that Chef Watson eats data, not real food. The ingredients and steps are suggestions, so be sure to use your own judgement when preparing these dishes. And, give us feedback to make the Chef smarter."

If you want a bit of fun it can create recipes for things like: Indian lemongrass bouillabaisse, Korean turnip stroganoff cheesecake and French almond milk tiramisu pancake. The biggest problem with Chef Watson is that food is not about data but about memory and place, company and good times. It generates data but it fails to translate into an experience. It only goes to show that every Watson needs a Livingstone.

dinsdag 16 december 2014

Nature Printing

Nature printing is a special technique for representing plants on paper that was developed in the 15th century (according to Wilfrid Blunt) in Germany and its last prominent user was Henry Bradbury who worked in the middle of the 19th century. It works by blackening a plant with soot, then pressing it between two soft leaves of paper, and rubbing it down with a smoothing bone. It is a laborious task that destroys the plant but the result has beautiful texture hard to reproduce by hand as you can see by consulting Bradbury's most famous book The ferns of Great Britain and Ireland (1857).