The Joy and The Pity of making your own stuff

I made my own tofu a few weeks ago1. I got soy milk, heated it, mixed in coagulants, drained it, pressed it, sliced it, then cooked it. And, you know what? I'm not sure it was worth the effort.

A thin block of white beancurd.

It tasted basically fine - no different to any shop bought tofu. It wasn't noticeably cheaper, it wasn't more nutritious, nor was it easier to store and prepare. I'm sure that if I spent several attempts I would gradually get closer to creating something comparable with the shop-bought product. And then what? Do I want to spend a few hours tending to my tofu whenever I feel like a stir-fry?

Cooking - and learning its chemistry - can be fun. It can also be a drudge. Sometimes I don't want to individually peel and slice a dozen ingredients. I want to push a few buttons on my microwave and then eat something.

The same extends to nearly every field. I could knit my own clothes and - no doubt - I would find the process interesting, relaxing, and entertaining. But for everyday wear, it would be a startling waste of my time to do so. Even if I avoid sweatshop labour and fast-fashion, a decent jumper is cheap and provides excellent utility.

But part of the joy of making - and mending - is that you get to learn a little slice of how the world works.

I first encountered Conway's Game of Life when I was a kid. I thought it was the hideously complicated thing which I simply was not qualified to understand. But after reading the biography of von Neumann it suddenly clicked. I understood its simplicity.

In order to test my understanding, I built my own Game of Life interpreter. It's nothing fancy. A few dozen lines of Python. It won't win any awards for efficiency nor for coding style. But it works.

In the unlikely event that I ever need to use Life in production, I'm going to use a mature and well supported library. But by building my own toy implementation, I have a superficial understanding of what it is meant to do, where the pitfalls are, and what limitations I might encounter.

And that's my approach to most things. Learn how to make, understand the obvious problems, fall back to the mainstream option if it is easier than continuing.

  1. Yes, I am fully aware that I am a knit-your-own tofu, Guardian-reading, hipster, vegan stereotype. 

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9 thoughts on “The Joy and The Pity of making your own stuff”

  1. said on

    @Edent I plan to do that too! I want to try it because getting silken/soft tofu is inconvenient for me to obtain (most/all grocery stores here only have the super firm stuff), and i love doing kitchen things from scratch (as of recently, i'm on my homemade noodle arc).

    Yes, i'd rather spend the whole evening making tofu at home (and cleaning afterwards) than to go to the Asian store, which is 2 tram rides away. That's the kind of person i am.

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  2. says:

    Somehow that video can't be played on my Android 9 phone. (Yes, I wish the manufacturer kept updating it for a longer period.) I can download the video, and I can play it on VLC (because VLC can play anything), but something about the video encoding makes the native player to just give up.

    1. @edent says:

      How strange! I've replaced the video with one that has better backwards compatibility. Thanks for letting me know.

      1. says:

        Thanks, it works! But now the nerdy question: what are the technical differences between the old video file and the new video file?

  3. Steven Lamb says:

    The link to the book about von Neumann doesn't work. Anyone know the correct one?


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