Salad Toss

Yesterday at the office I went all-out and put together a salad bar as part of a charity lunch fundraiser for the Ottawa Community Gardening Network. 3 kinds of lettuce, 22 fixings, 5 dressings, 4 pasta salads and over 25 hungry customers later I had raised over a hundred bucks.

Weirdly, a bunch of people made a big deal about my chopping job, claiming that I’m a meticulously even chopping machine. Some of the credit belongs to Natasha, who was tremendously helpful!  It took us about four hours of washing and chopping, so I thought I was getting sloppy towards the end. 😉 Nobody noticed.

The economics of salad bars (and food in general) are really interesting when you start trying to make a profit off of things. Making a salad for one person is expensive, because you have to overbuy everything. But then a second, third, fourth person can eat for free. When you get up around ten you start needing multiple heads of lettuce, multiple dressings (che-ching!) and pounds of fixings. There are all kinds of “sweet spots” where you can get just the right amount of everything to nearly please everyone, but one ingredient runs short or is overabundant. I had enough celery (one stalk) to make salad for an army, but ran out of cheese. You can make a half liter of ranch dressing for $6, or you can make five litres of ranch for $8, but there’s no in-between.

If I was going to do it again, I’d abandon the salad bar approach. It was memorable and worth trying once, but if I do it again in the future I’ll probably prepare a few “themed” salads and force people to choose, so I can control all the ingredient quantities and don’t end up with margin-killing leftovers of all the unpopular veggies. (Nobody likes poor red onion)

Incidentally – potato & pasta  salads are a pretty good bang for your buck. With $5 of mayo you can feed like forty people.

Trained Algae

I’m still tinkering with that Reaction-Diffusion algorithm, this time training it to grow around regions I’ve marked off (kindof like pouring ink onto wax resist) so it forms shapes. It’s quite cool to watch the ‘algae’ sprout and grow… I promise I’ll get an animation up soon when I find the settings that work best.

I like that I can use something “living” and unpredictable and apply controls to it to generate art. Really neat-o.

Also – mostly unrelated to algae, I just wanted to thank a couple of people (who may not even know what they did) for their confidence-boosting remarks lately. They came at a particularly good time. When I get overwhelmed it starts getting difficult to stay focused – consequently I start feeling really stupid and in over my head. A recent project at work has been particularly challenging and it’s nice to know people don’t think I’m as big an idiot as I do.


The parking lot where I work had a pretty big snow hill that’s taken a beating over the past few days of summery weather. When I was a kid, I’d spend all day out in my rubber boots stomping around and channeling the puddles all over our driveway. As an adult, I’m still captivated by the scale model glaciers slowly receding, depositing silt (and garbage) in enormous flood plains and deltas.

Douglas Coupland’s “Player One”

I was searching for the “Ready Player One” (by Ernest Cline) ebook on the library system, and the search results brought up a titular near-miss by Douglas Coupland. Strangely, this novel was presented as a Massey Lecture, or rather, a series of lectures, one chapter at a time.

Here’s the bad news: if you’ve read anything else by Coupland, this book treads over the same well-worn paths. A bunch of quirky individuals, an apocalyptic situation, visions, questioned faith,  social disorders, all territory he’s already covered in ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’, ‘jPod’, ‘Eleanor Rigby’, ‘Generation X’. It felt like he’d lifted characters, chapters, and plot points from all of his previous books, ran them through a computer program that shuffles their traits, and then dumped out a novel synthesized from all his usual tropes. Even the autistic hugging machine (from jPod) makes in in fully intact.

Don’t get me wrong – I like his writing and think he’s quite clever, but this book did nothing for me and brought nothing new to the table. Hated it.

I’m going to turn the dagger just a bit more while I’m here skewering his masterpiece. After Michael Ignatieff, Margaret Atwood and Stephen Lewis’ amazing Massey Lectures about profoundly important, interesting subjects, reading a story about some people stuck in an airport was a disappointment. I’ve heard Douglas Coupland in person and he’s super articulate and interesting – if they’d just sat him down and asked him about his passion for public spaces, or his interest in west coast architecture and culture, he could have filled an hour with really interesting ramblings. Heck – I’ve paid to see it.