Monthly Archives: February 2016

The radical contingency of postwar Europe

This sort of thing is just common sense to professional historians, I know, and was taught by my esteemed 10th grade history teacher Dr. Johnson as a first principle. (I think the way he phrased it was “Everything changes everything.”) But the clearest lesson I’ve gotten from Tony Judt’s Postwar so far (100 pages in) is that many of the settled realities of the world into which I was born in 1965 very easily might have organized themselves very differently.

Culturally speaking I was born into a world with a black-and-white narrative about Western and Eastern Europe. But until 1940, there was an economic and cultural continuity between the two halves of Europe.  And lots of what happened in the immediate postwar period seemed to happen more or less by accident, as the result of a critical mass of individual, local decisions, pressures, and opportunistic moves that turned out to have long-term consequences. This included events as significant as the formation of the Federal Republic of Germany and the DDR. Even as late as 1950, although the proto-NATO alliance didn’t trust Stalin, there was still plenty of potential for a different lineup of powers and interests. Continue Reading

iPad Mini 4 with the Brydge keyboard

In furtherance of my ongoing experiment in doing real work with the iPad Mini, here’s my iPad Mini 4 with the newest Brydge Bluetooth keyboard attached.

This is the simplest, most seamlessly functional iPad keyboard I’ve ever used. The iPad drops neatly into hinges at the top of the keyboard. Rubberized inserts inside the hinges hold it in place, but it can be lifted right out anytime you want to use it naked. While it’s in the hinges, the whole assembly folds shut like a clamshell and can be carried around or dropped into your bag.

The keyboard itself is shrunk down from standard, and certain keys are half-size, but even the half-size keys seem to be right where my fingers expect them to be. (I’m guessing that the layout maps very closely to that of the onscreen keyboard.) I type a little slower than on a full-size keyboard, but not noticeably less accurately. (As with the onscreen keyboard, I depend on AutoCorrect, which does the right thing about 95% of the time.) The feel and finish of the keyboard surface are very similar to the Apple Bluetooth Keyboard, and there are function keys that include “home button” and “Spotlight” which I find I use constantly.


Reliable chocolate layer cake

Finally I’ve found a chocolate layer cake recipe that was easy to manage, came out perfect, and is worth making again: this one from Nigella Lawson.

I ignored all the nonsense of “just throw everything in the food processor” and did it in the stand mixer in the conventional order: cream butter, add sugar, add remaining wet, add dry. The batter came out thicker than I liked, so at the very end I ended up adding a couple tablespoons of milk, but the final product probably would have been fine without it.

I also liked the frosting, which was easier to manage than buttercream and a little less rich.


Pretentious Potatoes

I’ve been looking for something to do with potatoes as a dinner side dish that isn’t baking or mashing. (I do have a good hot oven-roast technique, but oven-roasted potatoes are something I need to be in the mood for.) Last night, to go with a Texas dry-rubbed brisket I had sitting around, I tried Hasselback Potatoes.

I used a mixture of olive and peanut oil (both high quality), and minced the garlic — and I left it in for cooking.

And the verdict is… worth further study. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t that impressed with them straight out of the oven. Greasy, and not that flavorful. But the leftovers are sublime.

I think a recipe like this is highly dependent on the quality of the potatoes you use. Perhaps I shouldn’t have used these:


I also should have used a hotter oven (more like 425), and left the potatoes in a bit longer for more starch-to-sugar conversion.  

Doing real work on iOS: a tentative endorsement

I’ve spent the last week trying an experiment: can I do my real work effectively using only an iPad and an iPhone rather than a MacBook Air? I last tried this about a year ago, at which time the answer was a definite no. This time around I’m a bit surprised to be reporting that the answer is a qualified yes. Continue Reading