briansuda / Brian Suda

The audio home of Brian Suda, a master informatician living in Iceland.

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Huffduffed (1204)

  1. Eat Like The Ancient Babylonians: Researchers Cook Up Nearly 4,000-Year-Old Recipes

    What did a meal taste like nearly 4,000 years ago in ancient Babylonia? Pretty good, according to a team of international scholars who have deciphered and are re-creating what are considered to be the world’s oldest-known culinary recipes.

    The recipes were inscribed on ancient Babylonian tablets that researchers have known about since early in the 20th century but that were not properly translated until the end of the century.

    The tablets are part of the Yale Babylonian Collection at the Yale Peabody Museum. Three of the tablets date back to the Old Babylonian period, no later than 1730 B.C., according to Harvard University Assyriologist and cuneiform scholar Gojko Barjamovic, who put together the interdisciplinary team that is reviving these ancient recipes in the kitchen. A fourth tablet was produced about 1,000 years later. All four tablets are from the Mesopotamian region, in what is today Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq.

    For a long time, says Barjamovic, scholars thought the tablets might be medical texts. In the 1940s, a researcher named Mary Hussey suggested the writing was actually recipes, but "people really didn’t believe her" at the time, he says.

    "The tablets all list recipes that include instructions on how to prepare them," the authors write in a piece about their work published in Lapham’s Quarterly earlier this year. "One is a summary collection of twenty-five recipes of stews or broths with brief directions. The other two tablets contain fewer recipes, each described in much more detail. "

    The researchers write that the "stews represent an early stage of a long tradition that is still dominant in Iraqi cuisine" — specifically, aromatic lamb stews "often slightly thickened, enhanced with rendered sheep’s tail fat, and flavored with a combination of spices and herbs and members of the Allium family, such as onion, garlic, and leek. These seem to be direct descendants of the Babylonian versions found on the culinary tablet with stew recipes."

    So far, the cooking team — which also includes a food historian, a curator, a chemical biologist specializing in food, a professional chef and an expert on cultural heritage — has re-created three stews. "One is a beet stew, one is vegetarian, and the final one has lamb in it," says Barjamovic.

    NPR’s Scott Simon spoke with Barjamovic about the research. A transcript of their conversation, edited for clarity, follows.

    —Huffduffed by briansuda

  2. Talking Politics: Esther Duflo

    David and Helen talk to Nobel Prize-winning economist (the youngest ever!) Esther Duflo about how to do economics better. From investing in left-behind places to helping people adapt to change, we discuss good and bad economic ideas about some of the biggest challenges we face, and how it all connects back to politics. Plus we talk about what some of the world’s richest countries can learn from some of the poorest. Esther’s new book, with Abhijit Bannerjee, is Good Economics for Hard Times https://bit.ly/33q6uOm

    Talking Points: 

    Why do economists believe “Invest in People not Places?” And why are they wrong?  - The idea is that it’s better to target interventions at individual people than places, in part because people will move. - But research shows that people are remarkably sticky. They don’t really move. - Even faced with really high costs, and the complete freedom to move to another place, people don’t. During the Greek financial crisis, very few people left. - Mobility is easier at younger ages.

    Why do people stick? - In the U.S., one of the biggest factors is real estate. Wages may be higher on the coast, but housing is much more expensive. - People are not driven only, or even primarily by financial incentives

    The U.S. has not treated people who were left behind by manufacturing very well. - There is an implosion of economic activity in one place because people don’t move.

    The class and place categories are marred. The people who can afford to live in the big cities tend to be relatively well off. - This was at the root of the Yellow Vests movement in France.  - Although there is also a lot of poverty in big cities. - Class is no longer defining political lines in the same way.

    How, as a society, can we prepare better for transitions?  - It starts at birth: an excellent preschool education, followed by an excellent primary and secondary school education, and finally equal access to University.  - When shocks happen, being willing to spend. - Some people will never move and we should make their lives honorable where they are.

    Mentioned in this Episode: - Esther’s book, Good Economics for Hard Times - “The Gift of Moving” (more on the Iceland case)

    Further Learning: - Esther and Abhijit Banerjee in The Guardian - And on economic incentives in The New York Times

    —Huffduffed by briansuda

  3. Turnspit Dogs: The Rise And Fall Of The Vernepator Cur

    In an old hunting lodge on the grounds of an ancient Norman castle in Abergavenny, Wales, a small, extinct dog peers out of a handmade wooden display case.

    "Whiskey is the last surviving specimen of a turnspit dog, albeit stuffed," says Sally Davis, longtime custodian at the Abergavenny Museum.

    The Canis vertigus, or turnspit, was an essential part of every large kitchen in Britain in the 16th century. The small cooking canine was bred to run in a wheel that turned a roasting spit in cavernous kitchen fireplaces.

    Enlarge this image "Whiskey," a taxidermied turnspit dog on display at the Abergavenny Museum in Wales. The Kitchen Sisters "They were referred to as the kitchen dog, the cooking dog or the vernepator cur," says Caira Farrell, library and collections manager at the Kennel Club in London. "The very first mention of them is in 1576 in the first book on dogs ever written."

    The turnspit was bred especially to run on a wheel that turned meat so it would cook evenly. And that’s how the turnspit got its other name: vernepator cur, Latin for "the dog that turns the wheel."

    Back in the 16th century, many people preferred to cook meat over an open fire. Open-fire roasting required constant attention from the cook and constant turning of the spit.

    "Since medieval times, the British have delighted in eating roast beef, roast pork, roast turkey," says Jan Bondeson, author of Amazing Dogs, a Cabinet of Canine Curiosities, the book that first led us to the turnspit dog. "They sneered at the idea of roasting meat in an oven. For a true Briton, the proper way was to spit roast it in front of an open fire, using a turnspit dog."

    When any meat was to be roasted, one of these dogs was hoisted into a wooden wheel mounted on the wall near the fireplace. The wheel was attached to a chain, which ran down to the spit. As the dog ran, like a hamster in a cage, the spit turned.

    "Turnspit dogs were viewed as kitchen utensils, as pieces of machinery rather than as dogs," says Bondeson. "The roar of the fire. The clanking of the spit. The patter from the little dog’s feet. The wheels were put up quite high on the wall, far from the fire in order for the dogs not to overheat and faint."

    To train the dog to run faster, a glowing coal was thrown into the wheel, Bondeson adds.

    In 1750 there were turnspits everywhere. By 1850 they had become scarce, and by 1900 they had disappeared. Universal History Archive/Getty Images Descriptions of the dogs paint a rather mutty picture: small, low-bodied, short, crooked front legs, with a heavy head and drooping ears. Some had gray and white fur; others were black or reddish brown. The dogs were strong and sturdy, capable of working for hours, and over time they evolved into a distinct breed. It was the zoologist Carl Linnaeus who named them Canis vertigus, Latin for "dizzy dog," because the dogs were turning all the time.

    More From The Kitchen Sisters

    The Kitchen Sisters, Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva, are Peabody Award-winning independent producers who create radio and multimedia stories for NPR and public broadcast. Their Hidden Kitchens series travels the world, chronicling little-known kitchen rituals and traditions that explore how communities come together through food — from modern-day Sicily to medieval England, the Australian Outback to the desert oasis of California. London’s Gardens: Allotments for the People HIDDEN KITCHENS: THE KITCHEN SISTERS London’s Gardens: Allotments for the People Before the dogs, the fireplace spit was turned by the lowliest person in the kitchen staff, usually a small boy who stood behind a bale of wet hay for protection from the heat, turning the iron spit for hours and hours. The boys’ hands used to blister. But in the 16th century, the boys gave way to dogs.

    Shakespeare mentions them in his play The Comedy of Errors. He describes somebody as being a "curtailed dog fit only to run in a wheel."

    "Curtailed means they’ve got their tails cut off," Sally Davis, of the Abergavenny Museum, says. "It was a way they used to differentiate between the dogs of the nobility and the dogs belonging to ordinary people. These little curtailed mongrels were the ones put into the wheels."

    We visit Lucy Worsley, chief curator of the Historic Royal Palaces of London, at Hampton Court Palace, the home of Henry VIII, where a fire is roaring in the huge, old kitchen. "Charles Darwin commented on the dogs as an example of genetic engineering," she tells us. "Darwin said, ‘Look at the spit dog. That’s an example of how people can breed animals to suit particular needs.’ "

    Enlarge this image Lucy Worsley, chief curator at the Historic Royal Palaces in London, attempted to roast on a spit powered by a dog in a wheel at the George Inn. Coco didn’t fare too well in the wheel. The Kitchen Sisters On Sunday, the turnspit dog often had a day off. The dogs were allowed to go with the family to church. "Not because of any concern for their spiritual education," says Bondeson, "but because the dogs were useful as foot warmers."

    There are actually a few records of turnspits being employed in America. Hannah Penn, the wife of William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, wrote to England requesting that the dog wheel for her turnspits be sent. Elsewhere in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette had advertisements for turnspit dogs and wheels for sale. And historians say a turnspit was active in the kitchen of the Statehouse Inn in Philadelphia.

    "The Statehouse Inn was where all the old political cronies hung out for their slice of beef and their ale," author and food historian William Woys Weaver tells us. "In 1745, the owner of the Statehouse Inn advertised that he had turnspit dogs for sale. Evidently he was also breeding them."

    The dogs were used in large hotel kitchens in America to turn spits. "In the 1850s, the founder of the [Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] was appalled by the way the turnspit dogs were treated in the hotels of Manhattan," says Weaver. "This bad treatment of dogs eventually led to the founding of the SPCA."

    The Pizza Connection: Fighting The Mafia Through Food THE SALT The Pizza Connection: Fighting The Mafia Through Food In 1750 there were turnspits everywhere in Great Britain. But by 1850 they had become scarce, and by 1900 they had disappeared. The availability of cheap spit-turning machines, called clock jacks, brought about the demise of the turnspit dog.

    "It became a stigma of poverty to have a turnspit dog," says author Bondeson. "They were ugly little dogs with a quite morose disposition, so nobody wanted to keep them as pets. The turnspit dogs became extinct."

    The dog wheel circa 1890, drawn in E.F. King’s Ten Thousand Wonderful Things. Courtesy of Jan Bondeson Back at Abergavenny Museum, Whiskey, the last remaining turnspit, is a permanent fixture. Sally Davis thinks the blue painted background and spray of artificial flowers in the case are a sign that someone really cared for her. "But the way she’s posed," Sally says, "the taxidermy … I think possibly it was their first go at it, I don’t know."

    What kind of dog today is the closest to a turnspit dog? Bondeson thinks possibly it’s the Queen of England’s favorite dog, the Welsh corgi. "The downtrodden, lumpen, proletariat turnspit cooking dogs may well be related to the queen’s pampered royal pooches."

    Additional features, photos, recipes and music can be found at kitchensisters.org.

    —Huffduffed by briansuda

  4. Bob “Super Dave” Einstein

    Writer-performer Bob “Super Dave” Einstein is one of the funniest men on the planet, and in this unforgettable episode, he shares hilarious anecdotes about everyone from Redd Foxx to Billy Barty to Sid Caesar to Joey Heatherton. Also, Bob teams with Steve Martin, dials up Ray Charles, “arrests” Liberace and runs afoul of Kate Smith.

    PLUS: Pat Paulsen! “The Sonny Comedy Revue”! Mike Douglas interviews a monkey! Sly Stone stares down Peter Marshall! And Nixon and Agnew play Laurel and Hardy!

    —Huffduffed by briansuda

  5. You 2.0: Check Yourself

    Surgeon Atul Gawande still remembers the operation years ago that went catastrophically wrong. He was removing a tumor from the adrenal gland of a patient he refers to as Mr. Hagerman.

    Gawande had performed this procedure dozens of times before. But this case was particularly tricky. Mr. Hagerman’s tumor was behind his liver, nestled tightly against an important blood vessel known as the vena cava. Gawande was almost done when all of a sudden, he nicked the blood vessel.

    "I ended up creating a hole in the vena cava, which meant that he then pretty quickly lost his entire blood volume into his abdomen. Complete blackout on the screen…and utter chaos," he recalled. Gawande took the man’s heart in his hand and began compressing it to keep blood flowing to his brain.

    "I mean, he lost basically ten times his body volume in blood. But we were able to give him enough blood to keep his circulation going. He had a cardiac arrest twice. We were finally able to repair the hole in the vena cava, get the tumor out, and have him recover," he said.

    It was a happy ending, and, at first blush, a textbook case of medical heroics. A doctor makes a mistake, but he fixes it, taking a heart into his bare hands and squeezing life back into his patient’s body.

    But skill and brainpower were not the reason Mr. Hagerman survived. Gawande says what actually saved his patient’s life was a plan the surgical team had made before they began the surgery. This plan wasn’t grand or complicated. In fact, it was a humble checklist.

    "And what happened was…when we ran the checklist, when we got to the part where we said, ‘What’s the goal of the operation and tell me anything unexpected about this,’ I mentioned to the anesthesiologist that this tumor was pretty tightly against the vena cava. The anesthesiologist then prepared to get more blood into the room, just in case."

    Today on Hidden Brain, we’ll go inside the operating room with Gawande to explore the subtle biases that cause very smart and very skilled people to become their own worst enemies.

    —Huffduffed by briansuda

  6. How I built this with Stewart Butterfield

    In the early 2000s, Stewart Butterfield tried to build a weird, massively multiplayer online game, but the venture failed.

    Instead, he and his co-founders used the technology they had developed to create the photo-sharing site Flickr.

    After Flickr was acquired by Yahoo in 2005, Butterfield went back to the online game idea, only to fail again.

    But the office messaging platform Slack rose from the ashes of that second failure — a company which, today, is valued at over $5 billion.

    —Huffduffed by briansuda

  7. Marcus du Sautoy and James Bridle – books podcast

    On this week’s show, we’re exploring infinity and beyond with artist and writer James Bridle and mathematician Marcus du Sautoy.

    Through his visual art and writings on technology and culture, James Bridle has been at the forefront of our understanding of tech for the last decade – and from his perspective, the view of our future is both exciting and gloomy. He sat down with the Guardian’s technology reporter Alex Hern to talk about his book, New Dark Age.

    Limits are grist to the mill for Marcus du Sautoy, professor of public understanding of science at Oxford University. His mission is to explore – and if possible, explain – the unknown, so following hot on the heels of his bestselling book What We Cannot Know, is How to Count to Infinity. Meeting with Richard Lea at the Hay festival, Du Sautoy explained how a German mathematician first proved the existence of infinity in 1874, and what the concept means for our understanding of the universe.

    —Huffduffed by briansuda

  8. It’s Been a Minute with Sam Sanders: Jimmy O. Yang on ‘Silicon Valley’ and ‘How To American’

    The comedian and actor talks to Sam about his immigrant experience and making it in Hollywood, which he writes about in a new book, "How To American: An Immigrant’s Guide To Disappointing Your Parents." Jimmy stars as immigrant programmer Jìan-Yáng on the HBO comedy "Silicon Valley."

    —Huffduffed by briansuda

  9. 18. Jon Hicks ‘Understanding the differences between brand design and icon design’

    Having worked with Jon many times over the years I can honestly say he’s one of the best in the world at what he does so was incredibly happy to have him on the show.

    —Huffduffed by briansuda

  10. Ai Weiwei on the project that awoke his political voice – The Start podcast

    In 2008, an earthquake devastated Sichuan province in China, claiming the lives of more than 69,000 people. Following accusations from parents that substandard construction caused the collapse of schools across in the region, the artist Ai Weiwei set upon a political investigation that would name every missing student and call the government to account for their deaths.

    In the fourth episode of The Start, we hear how this investigation brought about Remembering, an installation of 9,000 school backpacks on the Munich Haus der Kunst, that both commemorated pupils and engendered a new sense of political duty within Ai Weiwei’s work.

    —Huffduffed by briansuda

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