The Sunset Magazine iPad App

When people talk about the future of books and adding interactivity like videos to ebooks, I’ve always been skeptical.  What’s wrong with the existing way people interact with books — turning the page for new content?  I’m a happy owner of a Paperwhite Kindle and have read hundreds of books on it without complaint.  I don’t think I’d appreciate all the distractions an interactive ebook would pose — sometimes I just want to unplug a little and read a book like I would a dead-tree book.

That was my thinking before downloading the Sunset Magazine iPad app.  I’d been subscribed to it ever since Will gifted me a a subscription two or three years ago. I think early in the subscription, Will tried getting the digital copy online and it was a terrible experience because we had to get it through some third party app and it just wasn’t worth it.

Recipes and tips

Fast forward a year or so and now there’s a standalone app and it’s wonderful!  While I may not want my regular books to be interactive, I can now appreciate how useful it is to have a magazine be more interactive.  The pictures and design are gorgeous on the iPad’s retina screen, but best of all is how intuitive the app is.  Swipe to change articles. Scroll down to read more of the same article. There are boxes and bubbles I can tap to view more information. It all just works so well.

Letters To Sunset

The only thing that doesn’t work so well are the ads, which sometimes are displayed jarringly because they were sold to be the size to fit in a physical magazine, but look out of place on their own in the app.  I’m sure they’ll work it out once they figure out how to sell different ads in the iOS version of the magazine.

After using the Sunset app, when I went back to using the Harper’s Magazine app, the difference was jarring.  Sunset illustrates how a digital magazine should be. Harper’s illustrates how it shouldn’t.

Best Books of 2012

Happy New Year!

Last year I read 90 books.  Some were really good, some were really bad, and most were somewhere in the middle. I read a handful of 5-star books that I’d consider the best books I read of 2012.  Here are a few of them. Click the book cover for the long review on Goodreads.

The Merchant and the Alchemist's GateThe Merchant And the Alchemist’s Gate
This is a short story by Ted Chiang. If you haven’t realized by now, I’m a big Ted Chiang fan. What was surprising about this short story was how much I liked it despite it being a time-travel story. I’m not that interested in time travel plots because sometimes always seems off like I over-think it, or I just can’t suspend my belief long enough to immerse myself into the story. Not this time. This is a time travel story that works. It also doesn’t help that it makes you scratch your chin at the end and go “Hmmm….”

The Tender BarThe Tender Bar
It’s hard to describe this book without it sounding too corny. It’s a bildungsroman set in a small town on the east coast. Nothing really surprising happens, but the cast of characters from the boy’s childhood to his manhood is rich with wonderful descriptions. His anecdotes really made me feel fake nostalgia for growing up during those times.

Code Name VerityCode Name Verity
This book took me a while to get into because I couldn’t completely orient myself in the world of this story until much later. Part of it is because the world is so much like ours during World War II that I kept thinking of it as real. It’s pretty hard to explain the book without giving it away. It’s about women who serve their country during the war. The story and characters are mostly revealed through a series of letters and sometimes that conceit is its weakness, but by the end, I was all on board.

Wool Omnibus (Wool, #1-5)Wool Omnibus
Self-published books get a bad rap. This self-published book was wonderful. It’s a collection of novellas set in a post-apocalyptic time. Instead of falling for the usual cliches or straying too far in the direction of differentiating itself from other PA books, it embraces the genre by focussing mainly on normal people trying to go about their everyday lives in an after-doomsday world. After the first novella, which brought my hopes up for one character, I was hooked and had to read on.

Mapo Tofu

For some reason, maybe because I saw someone making it in the second episode of Exploring China: A Culinary Adventure, I was craving mapo tofu. We already had most of the condiments in the fridge, so I made it for dinner. I just needed to buy soft tofu and green onions.

I made mapo tofu for dinner.

Obviously, I didn’t include ground beef in this vegetarian version. I used dried shiitake mushroom (soaked for 8 hours) and bits of TVP, which we call “pork doodles” at our house. For the broth, I used water boiled with bean sprouts in it.

Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking I loosely followed the recipe in Every Grain of Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop. The recipe’s also on Serious Eats if you don’t have the book. I do recommend purchasing the book if you like or want to start cooking Chinese Food. It has pretty good home-style Chinese recipes and offers alternatives to special ingredients that are not readily on hand. I also like her little anecdotes about each dish.

We also have her earlier book, Land of Plenty, and even if some of the recipes are similar, I prefer Every Grain of Rice because its focus is more on foods that Chinese people normally eat at home.  Most of the dishes are unfussy, simple, and fairly easy to make once you have the right ingredients.