Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Alligator trained me:

I'm fascinated by the ability of computer programs to train their users. A program may be abstruse and buggy, but after a few traumatic episodes we tend to use it safely and conservatively to accomplish our goals. One of the reasons that developers cannot test their own software is that it pre-trains them to avoid its bugs.

This week I realized that hardware can train me as surely as software. I bought my wife an Alligator Onion Cutter and Chopper. The chopper is a grid of sharp metal strips that you press down into a plastic form, mincing anything on the form as you go. This item greatly appealed to me as a simplified Mandolin. The most expensive Mandolins cost a lot more and get rather mixed reviews. A Mandolin can cut a veggie into small dice at one stroke if you're lucky. The Alligator has fewer moving parts (also fewer capabilities). It can dice a piece of onion all at once. It can jullienne many other vegetables.

Our first experiments with the Alligator were absolutely traumatic. Vegetables resisted the sharp knife edges and refused to cut or got stuck; dice flew into the air with a loud pop and fell everywhere; I managed to pinch my pinky between plastic surfaces when I brought the chopper down, and my finger hurt for hours. But trauma's a good teacher if you survive. I've learned that it's paradoxically easier to cut a half onion than an onion slice. I keep my fingers safe. I know to keep some vegetables well out of Alligator's reach, and I catch others to keep them from popping all over. Other vegetables happily succumb to it, forming neat little cubes or sticks for me to cook and eat.
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