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Athena Scalzi

Trying Out A New Recipe: Blueberry Crumb Cake

Athena ScalziThe first time I got into cooking videos on YouTube was back in 2012, when I was thirteen. And the channel that got me into cooking videos was a channel called Kin Community. There were several different content creators that all made their own videos and then posted under Kin Community’s channel, but the only one I was interested in was a woman named Beth.

I’m not sure when, but eventually she broke off from Kin Community and became her own channel, Entertaining With Beth, and I stopped watching Kin Community (now just called Kin) after she left. She ended up being my favorite cooking person on YouTube for years to come, and just generally my favorite creator on YouTube for a while there. I even wrote a post over her back in 2018 talking about how awesome her recipes are and how much I love her channel.

Funnily enough, I’ve only made a handful of her recipes throughout the years, but there is one that I have consistently made that I love, and that’s her Blueberry Lemon Muffins. I used to have a screenshot of the recipe, but when I went to make the muffins recently, I couldn’t find the screenshot. I checked her website to see if she had it there. And in my searching, I found a Blueberry Crumble Cake recipe. I thought I’d move on from the muffins and try something new. And boy am I glad I did! This recipe was surprisingly easy, and the results were super yummy!

For the ingredients list, it’s all standard stuff that you probably wouldn’t have to make a trip to the store for, other than the blueberries (but I had blueberries which is why I had been looking for a way to use them in the first place). There’s no complicated ingredient like Dutch process cocoa powder or vanilla bean paste, there’s pretty much just regular ol’ flour, some vanilla, butter, a couple of eggs, and sugar. Easy peasy.

You just put all that in a bowl and mix until you get this:

After you gently stir in the blueberries, you just put it in your greased pan:

And then you make the topping, which is just more of what was already required for the cake itself! So convenient. I will say, though, that my butter wasn’t very cold by the time I got to this step so my topping ended up much more cohesive than a “crumble” topping probably should be:

This was definitely supposed to be more like dry sand and less like wet sand, but it’s fine, I covered the surface perfectly if I do say so myself:

45 minutes later, BAM:

Golden brown, baybee.

I was so excited that I cut into them way too soon, and my first piece completely lost all its structural integrity.

I was upset because I didn’t realize the only reason that this happened was because I didn’t let them cool. I just thought they’d all be like this and that it was a total failure. But that was not the case! I had more patience, and the second one came out like this:

And don’t ask me why I’m holding it like I have LEGO hands.

So, yeah, badda bing badda boom, blueberry crumble cake!

I highly recommend giving this recipe a try. It was so easy and came together quickly. Also, it tastes awesome! I will for sure be making this again in the future.

-AMS

Categories
Big Idea

The Big Idea: Dan Moren

In blank we trust. Who is that blank for you? Are you that blank for others? Trust is a valuable thing, and according to author Dan Moren, the lack of it is prevalent in his new novel, The Nova Incident.

DAN MOREN:

Who do you trust? 

It’s a harder question than you might think. Maybe because trust is in such short supply these days. Nowhere is that clearer than in our relationships with the institutions in our lives—especially the ones that nominally exist to look out for all of us. From the police to the highest levels of our government, trust isn’t something that can be taken for granted these days. (And, indeed, the idea that we’ve ever been able to trust those institutions is one deeply rooted in privilege.)

There’s an element of this lack of trust that is decidedly personal, though. As of this fall, I’ll have been a self-employed freelancer for eight years—longer than I ever worked for any single organization. The reason for that isn’t precisely rooted in distrust, but it’s certainly played its part. 

My longest run at a single workplace ended when I was abruptly laid off in 2014, along with the majority of my colleagues, as part of a cost-cutting measure. Unsurprisingly, that experience left a sour taste in my mouth. I’d been good at my job and I’d thought my performance and loyalty would count for something in the long term, that the company was as invested in me as it expected me to be in it.

Not the case. 

That certainly colored the way I view large institutions and made me less inclined to go work for another large organization (something that I’ve been fortunate enough to not have to do). 

I won’t say the genesis of The Nova Incident necessarily stems from that specific event, but a mistrust of institutions is definitely a major theme. Nova may be a sci-fi adventure story, but it’s also a spy thriller (two great tastes that taste great together, trust me) and a classic spy trope is that when you’re in a duplicitous business, you can’t really trust anyone—even (or perhaps especially) the people who are supposed to be on your side. In this line of work, being too trusting can get you killed.

Commonwealth covert operative Simon Kovalic and his team have been through a lot together throughout the Galactic Cold War series thus far; they’ve taken on planet-sized corporations, megalomaniacal royalty, and brutal crime lords, just to name a few. But suddenly they find themselves dealing with a threat much closer to home: when a bomb explodes on Nova, the Commonwealth’s capital world, an organization called Nova Front claims responsibility, demanding that the planet withdraw from the galactic alliance.

To reveal too much more of the plot risks spoiling some surprises, so let’s say this: issues of trust—or the lack thereof—run throughout this story. In investigating the attack, Kovalic and his compatriots quickly find themselves in murky waters, questioning if they can even trust what they think they know about Nova Front and the bombing itself.

Meanwhile, trust is fractured from within as well as from without. Despite everything that this group has experienced together, there are still undercurrents of uncertainty among them. Pilot Eli Brody has lingering suspicions about the death of former teammate Aaron Page; sniper Addy Sayers is given information that plants seeds of doubt about the team’s true loyalties; even the stalwart Sergeant Tapper knows something is amiss, even if he’s not sure what. 

But what really defines the story is the team’s relationships with the larger institutions that they come into conflict with, especially organizations of their own government. After all, the team is itself the instrument of that government, and if they question the motives of its other arms, they must by necessity question their own. 

Ultimately, The Nova Incident delves deep into the big questions about trust: can we ever really trust an institution to act in the best interest of people it represents? Should one expect loyalty from an organization that demands it from you? And, when the chips are down, who really has your back? Because trust might get you killed, but going through life without it is an awful lonely way to live. 


The Nova Incident: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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Categories
Uncategorized

Upscaling and an Important Note About Photo “AI”

One of these is a photo. One is a digital illustration.

Because I’m a digital photography nerd, I have a lot of programs and Photoshop plugins designed to tweak photos and make them better, or, maybe more accurately, less obviously bad. One of the hot new sectors of digital photography programs is the one where “Artificial Intelligence” is employed to do all manner of things, including colorizing, editing and upscaling. Some of this is baked into Photoshop directly — Adobe has a “Neural Filters” section for this — while other companies are supplying standalone programs and plugins.

Truth be told, all of these companies have been touting “AI” for a while now. But in the last couple of iterations of these tools and programs, there’s been a real leap in… well, something, anyway. The quality of the output of these tools has become strikingly better.

As an example, I present to you the before and after picture above. The original picture on the left was a 200-pixel-wide photo of Athena as a toddler. There had been a larger version of it way back when, but I had cropped it way down for an era when monitors were 640 x 480, and then tossed or misplaced the original photo. So the blocky, blotchy low-resolution picture of my kid is the only one I have now. The picture on the right is a 4x upscaling using a program called Topaz GigaPixel AI, which takes the information from the original picture, and using “AI,” makes guesses at what the picture should look like at a higher resolution, then applies those guesses. In this case, it guessed pretty darn well.

Which is remarkable to me, because even just a couple iterations of the GigaPixel program back, it wasn’t doing that great of a job to my eye — it could smooth out jagged edges on photos just fine, but it was questionable on patterns and tended to make a hash of faces. Its primary utility was that it could do “just okay” attempts at upscaling much faster than I could do that “just okay” work on my own. This iteration of the program, however, does better than “just okay,” more frequently than not, and now does things well beyond my own skill level.

It’s still not perfect; some other pictures of Athena from this era that I upsampled didn’t quite guess her face correctly, so she didn’t look as much like she actually did at the time, and more like a generic toddler. But that generic toddler looked perfectly reasonable, and not like a machine-generated mess. That counts as an improvement.

Now, it’s important to acknowledge a thing about these new “AI”-assisted pictures, which is that they are no longer photographs. They’re something different, closer to a digital illustration than anything else. The upscaled picture of Athena here is the automated equivalent of an artist making an airbrushed painting of my kid based on a tiny old photo. It’s good, and it’s pretty accurate, and I’m glad I have a larger version of that tiny image. But it’s not a photograph anymore. It’s an illustrated guess at what a more detailed version of the photograph would have been.

Is this a problem? Outside of a courtroom, probably not. But it’s still worth remembering that the already-extremely-permeable line between photograph and illustration is now even more so. Also, if you weren’t doing so already, you should treat any “photo” you see as an illustration until and unless you can see the provenance, or it’s from a trusted source. This is why, incidentally, AP and most other news organizations have strict limits on how photos can be altered. I’d guess that a 4x “AI”-assisted enhancement would fall well outside the organization’s definition of acceptable alteration. So, you know, build that into your world view. In a world of social media filters turning people into cats or switching their gender presentation, this internalization may not be as much of a sticking point as it once was.

With that said, it’s still a pretty nifty thing, and I will play with it a lot now, especially for older, smaller digital pictures I have, and to (intentionally) make illustrations that are based from those upscaled originals. I’m glad to have the capability. And that capability is only going to get more advanced from here.

— JS

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