Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thanksgiving's alternative history can finally be told

 BANNED IN PASADENA. These days you have to be soooo careful.

Not a lot of people know there is a secret society dedicated to promoting the eating of pizza at Thanksgiving. It is headed by a group of Italian-Americans ("Paisan-ers") who espouse an alternative American origin story. They believe it was Italians who built the first colonies and whose feast of Thanksgiving with the natives involved not cranberries but cannoli.

In exchange for the knowledge of growing corn, the Europeans taught the natives how to whip up some mean gnocchi. There was turkey, sure. Tetrazzini. And pie. Pizza, that is.

When the Italians began tossing rounds of pizza dough high in the air, the natives reportedly cowered in fear of this dark magic. The collision of two cultures is never pretty (witness hot dog-stuffed pizza crust.)

The aforementioned secret society, code named "PapaDomino," is like that clandestine group in that "Da Vinci Code" book, except more sauce-splattered. Every year its influence is in evidence in TV ads, which promote an effort-free "alternative" to the traditional feast. "Let us do the work for you," they say, as if slaving all day in the kitchen isn't the entire point of Thanks giving.


The natives, so the story goes, gave the Italians stone-ground corn, and in return got stone-fired pizza. Entire native villages began to be renamed things like "Antipasti" and "Insalata."

Pantaloons were the rage for a season among chiefs until it was realized they were scaring away all the game. For their part, the Italians hit new heights of culinary fusion, with venison carbonara and zuppa di grouse.

Even the lore admits there was sometimes friction, but pizza, then as now, acted as an effective social lubricant. Long before there was such a thing as "New York Style," there was "Wampanoag Style," which was not only thin crust, but was rolled tightly around an arrow and shot into a friend's open mouth. This was also known jokingly as a "Plymouth tonsillectomy."

It might not have happened.

Historians are only now unearthing artifacts at the sites of original colonies which may confirm the legends. A garlic press carved from antelope horn is a strong indicator, however. Not to mention the porcupine skeleton pasta maker.

So a new history is, perhaps, in the making, and a modern fusion born. If CPK could just perfect a turkey, yam and stuffing pie, I for one would certainly be thankful.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A face only an algorithm could love

So I got the new version of iPhoto on my Mac recently, and one of its features is called Faces. Faces goes through your entire photo collection and zooms in on faces, then asks you to name them. This is a great help later on if you ever need to find a picture of someone fast.

(Click any photo to enlarge it)

Faces shows you three faces at a time. Because it picks faces out of large group shots and from various big events, a lot of times the faces are grainy or you don't even know who these people are. This process results in some funky trios. Like the two vampires and Mrs. Enthusiasm above.

Here's another winner.

The process can get a little creepy.

After you have entered some names to go with faces, Faces begins to use some kind of face-recognition voodoo and starts asking you whether the picture is so-and-so. Suggesting names. When it guesses right, it's frankly a little freaky, but just as often it's wrong, resulting in awkward moments like this:

Sorry, Pam.

Faces is set up to recognize certain characteristics which constitute a face, but it's not smart enough to ascertain if it's a living face. A cigar store Indian passes muster.

As does an artistic rendering on a Rose Parade float.

And a mannequin head.

And a statue.

And the clay Mary figure from our Christmas creche display.

Fair enough, you say. They are at least human-esque. But...

I don't quite know what Faces was thinking in the center here.

Maybe it thought this was an evergreen Ewok face?

Like an Almodovar movie, from here the "faces" get increasingly surreal.

Look at the two dark triangles at the center. They could be eyes.
I guess.

O.K., I wonder what that algorithm was smoking.

Or drinking.

Ah, remember the old put-down, "A face like a table leg"?

Pretty in its way, but tell me, iPhoto, how is it a face?

How is it a face?

How is it a face?

I'm hoping for a face. Anybody?

Couple of eyeballs, some lips, something?

As Shakespeare said, "God has given you one face, and you make yourself another." Or in this case, iPhoto has given you one face, and it's one that only a mother could love, if your mother happened to be a circus tent.

It's comforting to know that as amazing as technology is, it's not perfect.

If it were perfect, it would find a way to make me still look like I did when I was 25.