bennettk.com

hey friends

i still have a blog. here’s an embed from a company where i’m working.

 

Bennett’s Mom’s Latkes

mom’s latkes, topped with some obscene fish products (courtesy of jordan)

My mother used to come in to our elementary school classrooms armed with a box grater and a plug-in frying pan to make latkes every year around Hanukkah. The entire school would smell like oil but nobody cared because of how delicious these potato pancakes are. Essential for any Hanukkah party (and delicious year-round).

 

INGREDIENTS

  • russet potatoes (1 5-lb bag should feed a party)
  • yellow onions (1 trader joe’s-sized bag is more than enough)
  • matzo meal
  • eggs
  • salt n’ pepper
  • oil with a high smoke point (NOT olive oil)- preferrably peanut; canola or sunflower work

HARDWARE

  • potato peeler
  • box grater or cuisinart
  • collander
  • big bowl
  • wide, deep pan for shallow-frying
  • a spatula

HOWTO

  • peel potatoes. cover the peeled potatoes in cold water to prevent browning. (once they’re in water, you can let them rest a bit.)
  • grate potatoes with one of the larger openings on your box grater into the collander. not the super largest, but not the small ones. you know what I’m talking about. I usually do 3 or so potatoes in a batch.
  • once you’ve grated the potatoes, grab them by the handful from the collander and SQUEEZE to get as much liquid as you can out of them. place those gratings into a bowl. repeat until all gratings are squozen.
  • peel an onion and grate it into the grated potato using the same side of the box grater you used to grate the potatoes
  • crack in two eggs, sprinkle in some matzo meal (no idea how much— 1/2 cup?), and season with salt and pepper, then MIX. you can use a wooden spoon if you want, but hands are best. the mixture shouldn’t be too liquidy but shouldn’t be too dry- use more matzo meal to make it dryer and more egg to wet it, if needed.
  • wash all the latke clumps off your hand.
  • add the oil to the pan. i’d say about 1/2” thick? then heat the oil. I’ve never used a thermometer for this but if you have one of those plug-in frying pans like my mom used to use when she’d cook latkes for my school, I’d say set it to 375º. the oil’s ready when you can drop a shred of the potato into the oil and it bubbles instantly. any lower and the latkes will come out oily and not brown well.
  • bonus points: set your oven to its lowest setting (200º or ‘warm’) and place a cookie sheet in there with a drying rack on top of it.
  • when the oil’s ready, take tablespoon-ish sized clump of the mixture and form into roughly a patty. there can be potato tentacles coming out the edges; it doesn’t need to be a perfect silver dollar. lower these clumps gently into the oil, one by one.
  • flip them when they’re lightly brown on one side- after a few minutes.
  • after they’re brown on the second side, remove them one-by-one from the pan and place either on a plate covered in paper towels or the rack in your warm oven. I have never been at a party where these haven’t been consumed as fast as they’ve been made, so building up a cache of these could let you drop them on the party all at once.
  • serve with applesauce and sour cream and anything your crazy heart desires. especially caviar.

hey, I’m going to LiveNation Labs

(tl;dr- I love JibJab, but have accepted a position at LiveNation Labs.)

(forgive me if this post comes across as a bit self-aggrandizing or if it’s ridiculously rambling- I haven’t spent much time writing in English for a while. I’m looking to change that.)

 

Today is my last day at JibJab.

 

I have nothing but absolute love and praise for both the company and all of my coworkers. The brothers Spiridellis (whom we lovingly refer to as ‘grevan’) have been working on JibJab in various forms since the late 90s- an ETERNITY in internet time (think pre-Friendster, when Lycos (!) was still the go-to search engine), and have really put together a company that’s unlike any other on the planet. Their persistence combined with their crazy energy and vision have kept them afloat for well over a decade, and from what I can tell, the company is only really getting started now.

JibJab is the master of producing artistic entertainment on the web, from eCards to political satire to music videos for Weird Al and Star Wars remixes. Plus, while I was there, we branched out into the children’s books market with JibJab Jr. We wrote all of the books ourselves (!) and brought in some of the best animators in the world to help bring them to life (have a look on the JibJab Jr blog or download the app– it’s free!). I am genuinely proud of my helping to bring that game-changing platform to fruition and I’m completely stoked for what they’ve got in store for it in the future. (Hey, I can say ‘stoked’ now. I live in SoCal.)

I’ve done my share of software and web development where the company would have, say, a designer or two. But JibJab’s got a full-on design team AND a fully stocked production team that’s capable of just about anything, from live action shorts to some of the most ridiculous animation you’ve ever seen to seriously beautiful still artwork. I mean it when I say that no company on the planet can do what JibJab does as well as we do it. The depth of talent in both the production / art teams and the programming teams is pretty astounding.

JibJab’s corporate culture (if you even want to call it that) is also unmatched. Not only did I move to L.A. and start working a block away from the beach, but it was at a company with a very well-stocked beer fridge, puppets and Star Wars crap hanging all over the place… and they even do my laundry. Pretty tough to beat that one.

 

But… if there’s one thing that I love even more than cartoons and technology… it’s music and technology. (See: my master’s degree.) When I was approached by Ethan Kaplan, someone I’ve been a big fan of for some time*, about a ‘startup’ he was building within LiveNation to reinvent the way in which fans connect with the live music experience, I was intrigued. The thought of leaving JibJab, however, hadn’t even crossed my mind in the year and a half since I’d been there**, so I pushed back. It wasn’t until I spoke with Ethan and his new partner in crime, Eric from BigChampagne and got a better idea of what they’ll be building and the big hand I’ll get to have in both building the products and establishing the corporate culture there that I realized I needed to pounce on this opportunity. LiveNation Labs is going to reinvigorate the world of live music or die trying.  If we can build products that are as engaging as JibJab’s and establish a culture that is merely half as awesome as what I saw at JibJab, I’d call that a success.

So… I’ll be in San Francisco on Monday helping represent LiveNation Labs at SF Music Tech, and then I’ll be off an running building some crazy things in Hollywood that I really cannot wait to share with the world.

Thank you, JibJab. And thank you, Venice. It’s been real. See you in Hollywood.

 

*when I was busy working on my high school ska band’s website, Ethan was working on murmurs.com, which would become REM’s de-facto fan site… and ultimately lead him to become the SVP of technology at WBR and WMG records and a very well-known and respected figure in the music industry.

** it is a wonderful time to be a computer programmer. We get calls from recruiters all the time, and I had blown off each one. This isn’t me tooting my own horn- we need more capable programmers in this world! Thinking of a career change? Check out http://codeyear.com/. You won’t become a programmer overnight, but who knows- perhaps this will set you down a path towards a nerdy and successful future.

Miscellaneous pictures taken from my desktop at JibJab

I’ve gotten quite good at photoshopping punchlines together. Here is crap I found that may be used to blackmail me some day.

hey, I’m moving to LA

I have accepted a job as a rails and iPhone engineer at JibJab, who are located a few blocks from the beach in Venice, CA… and I have a one-way plane ticket from JFK->LAX that departs two weeks from today.

Yes, it’s true… I’m finally going to be working in cartoon technology.

(come have a beer with me before I leave if you haven’t already.)

hey, i’m in an iPhone ad

well, the app I wrote with the fine chaps at jackson laycock is, at least.

if you’re a dog owner in NYC, check out Hey, Walkies!

fun with ableton & beatles & found sounds

I finally got around to playing with Ableton Live for more than 10 minutes the other weekend and came up with this.  It’s not really mixed, just pieced together… but see if you can recognize the beatles beats that are in there.  hint: there are 3 of ’em, and 2 come from the anthologies (the original recordings I made on my iPhone in various subway stations are also available if you want to mash ’em up with, say, groove 22).

subway recordings  by  bennettk

On Hollow Promises and Last-Minute Gifts

It’s not that I wasn’t thinking about what to get my girlfriend for Christmas far enough in advance- I’ve had quite a few ideas in mind for months. In fact, I’ve been keeping a list of gift ideas for her for probably the past half a year on my iPhone, ranging from the silly (onion goggles) to the ludicrous (she really wants a Vespa). The problem is I am one of the most indecisive people in the world, and my girlfriend… well, she’s a woman of discriminatin’ taste, so I wanted to make sure I picked out the right thing for her. Plus I wanted there to be an element of surprise— I had already blown my hanukkah gift (damn intra-denominational relationships) in a slip-up while talking to my brother in front of her, so I didn’t want to get her one of the gift ideas she had planted in my head. So it’s the day before Christmas Eve, and I am still without gift. What’s a romantic bad planner to do?

Well, here’s a nifty idea for those of you who can’t quite make up your mind or want to put the onus of your next (valentine’s day / memorial day / bar mitzvah) gift in fate’s hands: make a scratch-off lottery ticket.

There are a few places online that’ll sell you premade scratch-off stickers that you can simply stick over any portions of your ticket that you want to obscure (easyscratchoffs.com looks good), but I was too late to order them I really wanted to go the extra mile and actually make the scratch-off stickers myself. I found a couple of tutorials (this one is the one I ended up using), all of which said to put clear contact paper over your printed-out card and then to make your scratch-off solution out of a mixture of 2:1 silver acrylic hobbyist paint to dish soap (like joy). I set to designing a christmas-themed lotto ticket in Inkscape— a free, open-source vector art editor a’la Illustrator (but it’s FREE) that i grew to love quickly (did I mention it’s FREE?). Grab some clipart and a few occasion-specific fonts for extra pizazz— I found this handy Christmas font. After a little bit of tinkering, I came up with the following:

lotto

Once you’re admiring your handiwork with the same pride as Ralphie admires his ‘What I Want For Christmas’ essay in A Christmas Story, save your document as a PDF and send it to the nearest Fedex / Kinkos or print shop that will print cheap color copies on card stock. While you’re on your extended lunch break to pick up the printouts, stop by your nearest dick blick / pearl paint and grab some silver acrylic paint (this stuff was pretty cheap) and a cheap brush, and then run to K-Mart to pick up some dish soap and clear contact paper. Then simply apply the contact paper to the printout, summon your best inner fourth grader in arts and crafts and cut out the printout. Then prepare your paint mixture- as I mentioned, 2:1 paint:soap. You’ll most likely need to do a few layers so paint one on, eat some pretzels, get some work done, and repeat.

In the end, you’ll probably end up with something like this:

lottoified

Now, since you don’t actually have anything to show for your sorry-ass self, you’ll want to put extra care into wrapping the card (hey, even throw in a bow) and make sure you hide it and all evidence of any files you used in designing it & your fedex / kinko’s receipts until the cat’s out of the bag. And keep your fingers crossed that she doesn’t scratch off the all-expenses-paid trip to Austin.

You’re welcome for saving your Valentine’s Day.

Freestyle

My first iPhone app (a.k.a. ‘how I spent my summer vacation… and the next three months’) has finally been released.  Check ‘er out with all the details here (it’s FREE (for now)):

www.freestyleapplication.com

soon, i swears

okay, it took me a year of pretty severe addiction but I think I can finally say that the novelty of 140 characters is wearing thin.  sure, i’m still broadcasting my listening habits to everybody and nobody, but I think I’m ready to start writing things for reals again.  in the past year- basically since vice stevens broke u  went on indefinite hiatus and I started at my current employer, I’ve been responsible in some way or another for the launch and upkeep of a handful of websites.  also i’ll be releasing my first iphone app to the app store any… day… now.  and i really need to start playing music again.

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