Friday, April 7, 2006

Is Open Source right for everything?

Okay, for those less technical people who read my blog, let me give you a quick explanation. Open source is a concept that started with the software community. Usually, a developer (or group of developers) sees a need for a piece of software, and starts working on it. Then (s)he puts the source code up for other people to look at, so that they can use it and even offer improvements on their own. This has developed into a community that has released countless pieces of free software that if you're not happy with, you have the freedom to change it. Well, assuming you know how, of course. I have personally been a big fan of open source software for years, long before I dropped out of the tech world for cooking school, and then dropped out of that world to go tech again.

A few months ago, Harley introduced me to the Open Source Cookbook. Now, initially I liked the idea. It's a free cookbook that you can send to anyone for free, and you can do anything you want to any of the recipes, right? Wait a minute... don't we already have something like that? It's called... (drum roll...) The Internet. (Fanfare!) Seriously, there's thousands, no, millions of recipes out there. If you want to send one to somebody, you just shoot them off a link. If you want to make a change, guess what! Nobody cares! Unless of course it's a bad change and you try to feed the results to somebody.

Now, this cookbook doesn't just offer recipes. It also offers tips and tricks, and explains a few basics, such as flour and aluminum foil. It by no means offers a comprehensive discussion of any of these pieces of "equipment", and even has the occassional unverified wives' tale woven in. Now, if you really want a detailed discussion, you could head over to the Wikipedia and look up their article about flour. Boy howdy, it's detailed. And yet, as one who really likes to get inside things and tinker around, it seems to lack. I like to tinker around with the source code, in the kitchen as well as at the computer. I want to read about gluten formation, and how much regular flour I can swap out for another ingredient such as whole wheat flour, or maybe almond flour or amaranth flour. I want details.

Another favorite example of mine is lasagna. The Wikipedia article breaks it down nicely: alternating layers of sauce, cheese and noodles. It even offers some discussion, including a little bit of history, and links to lasagna recipes. That's not good enough for me. I want to know about the traditional methods, such as mixing mozarella, ricotta and Parmesan with a single chicken egg and a bit of parsley, and using that for the cheese layers. I want to know about the types of dishes that lasagna is usually baked in. I want to know about how the Italians love to use a good tomatoey meat sauce, but have been known in some areas to use pesto sauce over fresh, hot noodles, and completely abandon the bakeware altogether. I want to read about fusion versions, like using corn tortillas instead of noodles, beans and corn and salsa instead of meat sauce, and cheddar and jack cheeses instead of mozarella and such. I even had a crazy idea last night for a dessert pasta, mixing cocoa powder and confectioners sugar into fresh pasta dough, using cream cheese and/or maybe mascarpone for the cheese, and maybe some kind of chocolate raspberry sauce instead of red sauce.

Is the Wikipedia really the right place for that kind of discussion? For that kind of detail? Is a simple Word document really big enough to cover everything in my desired level of detail? I'm thinking a wiki of some sort would be very appropriate, with some kind of discussion forums to decide what kinds of information is most appropriate for the article. But I'm also thinking I'm not the smartest guy in the world, and so I'm looking for opinions. In a rare act of opening myself to criticism, I'm going to turn on blog comments for this post. Please, let me know what you think.


  1. I just did a quick scan of the open source cookbook, and I was not really impressed. It's a nice idea, and might grow into something more worthwhile.

    I like the idea of a wiki based recipe data base. That would be a great way to build up a central database for recipies. Granted there already are plenty of recipe webistes (,, etc) but a wiki based site would have the advantage of more contributions, being more open to history of recipies, and countless other things that I won't even try to think of.

    While I was skimming the open source cookbook, I had a great idea. Get a recipe database (like the wiki idea) then in addition to being able to search for a certiain recipe, you could make a program to build your own recipe book. The program would have a wizard for the user to choose things like what kinds of foods they like, interst levels in the histroy of foods, dificulty desired, cookbook length, so on and so forth. After setting all the paramaters the program would search the database and build a recipie book. That would be cool.

  2. You know what kind of stuff I am always looking up on Cooking basics, like how to cook rice and when to throw out my potatoes. That's the kind of thing I need a cook book/reference book for. That would go really well in a wiki, I think.


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