Friday, May 31, 2013

The disadvantaged of Harvard

I’m going to address my remarks to anybody who has ever felt inferior or felt disadvantaged or felt screwed by life. This is a speech for the Quad.
--Oprah Winfrey's Harvard commencement address

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Gaming the World's 50 Best Restaurants list

Late last month, the 2013 edition of the World's 50 Best restaurants was announced to great fanfare, with a new No. 1: El Celler de Can Roca. In just a few years, the list — put together by Restaurant magazine in the U.K. — has superseded the Michelin guidebooks as the list that's most important to world-class chefs. ...

But here's where the ranking can be skewed: Restaurant instructs its 900-plus voters — made up of non-anonymous chefs, critics, and "highly regarded ‘foodies’" (their words) — to vote only for restaurants they've visited in the past eighteen months. ...

Achatz brings up the Mistura gastronomic conference in Lima, Peru, as an example. "It brings worldwide chefs in, who are all voters," he says. "So now this year all of these Lima restaurants pop up on the 50 Best — that's not a coincidence." ...

Of course, a restaurant can't change its location, so chefs and owners are also forced to give voters a reason to return year after year. No wonder El Bulli, which closed and completely overhauled its entire menu each year, dominated the list for so long. Because the menu was always different (and because Ferran Adrià is a master of theatrical promotion), judges always had a reason to go check it out.

Just look at Eleven Madison Park, a restaurant that has over the past few years steadily risen the ranks of the World's 50 Best list (it's currently ranked No. 5). As recently as four years ago, it was just an expertly run restaurant, specializing in luxe ingredients, disarmingly warm service, and lovely meals. It got as many stars as it could from every venue that gave them out, but as a New Yorker story last September made clear, to get a high ranking on the World's 50 Best list, the restaurant had to do something different, so they moved from a standard menu to a "grid" menu in 2010 that was designed to offer diners a greater sense of control over their meals. It ranked 50th on the 2010 list, 24th on the 2011 list, and 10th when the 2012 list was announced in April of that year. In July 2012, the restaurant announced they'd be switching formats yet again, this time to a single tasting menu focused on New York terroir. ...

So, having great food and service are just part of getting on the list — a restaurant must be the best-promoted, which means not just changing a restaurant's menu, but also creating events that give people something to write about: Noma's René Redzepi takes journalists foraging every chance he has and opened the Nordic Food Lab to constantly come up with new food. Alinea and Eleven Madison Park, meanwhile, spent a couple of weeks last year flip-flopping and taking over each other's dining rooms. Le Bernardin overhauled their entire dining room and bar a year and a half ago. Pujol chef Enrique Olvera cooked a dinner at Empellón Cocina last October, and Le Chateaubriand's Iñaki Aizpitarte does pop-up dinners on a regular basis. Even Thomas Keller did a French Laundry pop-up at Harrods last year.

But how important is newness among these restaurants, really? For journalists and other people who cover these spots, it's very important ("Great restaurant is still great" isn't exactly a compelling thesis.) But for most "regular" customers — the very small number of people who can actually get a reservation at one of these spots, travel to the far-flung corner of the Earth where the restaurant is located, and drop $1,000 or so on a meal for two — it's hard to believe they'd go back to a spot more than once, possibly twice.
--Alan Sytsma, New York, on change for the sake of salience

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Elite vs. non-elite female MBAs opting out of the work force

Married mothers who hold an MBA from a top business school are 30 percent less likely to be employed full-time than graduates of less selective programs, according to the research. Also, only 35 percent of females with children who also hold an MBA from the most selective schools were employed full-time, compared with 85 percent of those without children from the same group of institutions.

To reach these conclusions, [Vanderbilt law and economics professor Joni] Hersch gathered data from the 2003 National Survey of College Graduates, which provided information on 100,000 grads from the full spectrum of four-year colleges and universities. She says she chose to use the 2003 report because it was the most comprehensive. ...

The pay differences alone make Hersch’s findings surprising. “For those working full-time, the average salaries [of grads from elite MBA programs] are nearly double that of the other groups,” she says. “In 2003 dollars it’s around $137,000, vs. around $74,000 for the other tiers.”

Considering that women from elite schools are the ones who are most likely to land senior management roles, this could begin to explain why fewer women are gaining access to the C-suite, Hersch says. If they stop working, they can never reach those positions, and the women from lesser-recognized schools rarely get the same opportunities for advancement.
--Francesca Di Meglio, Businessweek, on leaning out

Friday, May 17, 2013

Marital awkwardness when one spouse is the President

I had come to understand that equality was a serious issue in the Obama marriage, and that in the White House, the president and first lady are not treated in the same way at all.

So I summoned up my nerve and asked them, "How do you have an equal marriage when one person is president?"

The first lady immediately made a sound like "hah!" as if she was glad someone was finally asking that question. And then she did something very smart: she let her husband answer the question.

He tried. Barack Obama is normally so eloquent, but he botched his reply three times, stopping and starting over. It was such a hard question to answer -- Michelle Obama had been his supervisor at the law firm where they met, and yet she had made sacrifice after sacrifice for him, and now they were living in a world where he was like the sun, with everyone else rotating around him. Finally on the fourth try, he half-joked that his staff was more concerned with satisfying the first lady than satisfying him.

Then Michelle Obama stepped in to rescue him, giving the obvious politic answer: They were equals in their private lives if not in their public lives. The whole exchange was incredibly illuminating.
--Jodi Kantor, Slate, on Michelle bailing out Barack

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Protecting New York City consumers against minimarts

A little-known [New York] city regulation caps the price of items sold by newsstands at $5 before taxes, keeping cellphone chargers, earbuds, tourist guidebooks, sunglasses and other oft-requested items out of reach for passers-by. ...

The price cap exists, [New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn] explained, to keep newsstands from growing into minimarts. It does not apply to food carts, street vendors or convenience stands in subway stations, only to newsstands regulated by the Department of Consumer Affairs.

Exceptions to the rule include cigarettes, newspapers, magazines, prepaid transit passes and telephone calling cards. Regardless of price, however, newsstands cannot sell fresh food, apparel, jewelry, handbags, hair ornaments or — though this has long ceased to be a hardship to many vendors — videocassettes.
--Vivian Yee, NYT, on byzantine regulations

Monday, May 13, 2013

What Warren Buffett looks for in a person

Students often go to visit Warren Buffett. And when they do, he often plays a little game on them.

He asks each student to pick a classmate. Not just any classmate, but the classmate you would choose if you could have 10% of their earnings for the rest of their life. Which classmate would you pick and why?

“Are you going to pick the one with the highest IQ?” asks Buffett. “Are you going to pick the guy who can throw a football the farthest? The one with the highest grades? What qualities will cause you to pick them?”

Then he changes things up again. Who would you think least likely to succeed? Why?

He asks the students to take out a sheet of paper and list the positive attributes on the left and the negative ones on the right.

Inevitably, the most useful qualities have nothing to do with IQ, grades, or family connections. People pick based on generosity, kindness, and integrity.
--Shane Parrish, Farnam Street, on an interesting exercise. I think my list would include IQ and an insatiable desire to be an investment banker. HT: Franklin Shaddy

The dangers of being a black male in the U.S. vs. a soldier in World War II

Like many activities in America, crime tends to be racially segregated; four-fifths of violent crimes are committed by persons of the same race as their victims. Hence, behind high rates of blacks perpetrating violent crimes are high rates of black victimization. Black teenagers are nine times more likely to be murdered than their white counterparts… One out of every twenty-one black men can expect to be murdered, a death rate double that of American servicemen in World War II.
--Randall Kennedy, Race, Crime, and the Law. HT: Harvard Magazine

Sunday, May 12, 2013

C.S. Lewis on food porn

You can get a large audience together for a strip-tease act — that is, to watch a girl undress on the stage. Now suppose you come to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let every one see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food? And would not anyone who had grown up in a different world think there was something equally queer about the state of the sex instinct among us?

One critic said that if he found a country in which such strip-tease acts with food were popular, he would conclude that the people of that country were starving.
--C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, on what once seemed absurd but is now our obsession with gourmet food. HT: Marginal Revolution

Past performance does not predict future returns: More evidence

Consider the 51 advisers out of more than 200 on the Hulbert Financial Digest's list who beat the market in the decade-long period that ended April 30, 2012, as measured by the Wilshire 5000 Total Market index, including reinvested dividends.

Of that group, just 11—or 22%—have outperformed the overall market since then. That's no better than the percentage that applies to all advisers, regardless of past performance. Over the past year, on average, the group has lagged the Wilshire index by 6.2 percentage points.

In other words, going with a recent market beater doesn't increase your odds of future success.

The origin of OMD's "If You Leave"

Their big shot came when the filmmaker John Hughes asked the band to write a song for the final scene of “Pretty in Pink.” They had a track called “Goddess of Love” all ready to go, but when a new ending had to be shot for the movie — test audiences had flatly rejected Hughes’s original scene, which had Molly Ringwald picking Jon Cryer over Andrew McCarthy — O.M.D. was left with 24 hours to compose the song everyone in America ended up knowing them for.

It was called “If You Leave.” Hughes loved it, and so did American radio. It went to No. 4 on the U.S. charts and established O.M.D. as stars.
--Hugo Lindgren, NYT, on the power of the short deadline

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Career odds for Julliard graduates

They were among the 44 instrumentalists who graduated [from Julliard] in 1994, excluding pianists, who generally follow a distinct career path of their own. Of those, 36 were traced. Eight could not be found; they have left little trace in Google and none at the Juilliard alumni office, all of which suggests that their involvement in music has also dwindled.

At least 12 are out of professional music performance. Eleven have full-time orchestra jobs. Another, a cellist, recently quit the Hong Kong Philharmonic to move back in with his parents in Dayton, Ohio, and audition for American orchestra jobs. Four are freelancers who survive by teaching; five more consider themselves full-time freelancers or chamber musicians; three consider themselves mainly soloists. ...

More on the Graduates

THE ORCHESTRAS THEY PLAY IN INCLUDE:
San Francisco Symphony
New Jersey Symphony
Taipei Symphony Orchestra
Singapore Symphony Orchestra
St. Luke’s Chamber Orchestra
Taiwan National Symphony Orchestra
Buffalo Philharmonic
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Netherlands Radio Symphony
Simón Bolivár Symphony Orchestra (Venezuela)

OCCUPATIONS OF THOSE NOT PERFORMING INCLUDE: 
English teacher in Japan
Fitness trainer
Stay-at-home mother
Art museum bookkeeper
Software engineer
Music therapist
Saleswoman at Tiffany's
Public relations assistant
Insurance underwriter
Public school string teacher
Network engineer for the Federal
Reserve Bank in San Francisco
--New York Times on the 45% attrition rate from performing careers among Julliard graduates. HT: ST

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Lunchtime clubbing comes to NYC

When lunchtime comes around, Laurie Batista often grabs a salad near the Flatiron ad agency where she works as an executive assistant and eats it at her desk.

But shortly after noon on a sunny, 65-degree Friday in April, Ms. Batista, 31, jumped into a cab with three co-workers and headed west to Marquee, a nightclub on 10th Avenue. After waiting in a line that wrapped around onto 26th Street (and attracted the attention of the police, who wanted to know what was going on), she redeemed a drink ticket for a free cocktail of vodka and fruit punch. A half-hour later, she was wearing purple lensless Wayfarer-style glasses, waving a footlong foam glow stick and mouthing the words to Warren G’s “Regulate.” ...

Ms. Batista was one of more than 300 people who attended the latest Lunch Break, a free midday party series whose hosts are Flavorpill, the online culture guide, and Absolut vodka. Introduced last summer, it is the most raucous of a group of lunch-hour dance parties starting up in New York City and around the world.

How Facebook "like" scams work

You’ve seen those pictures posted on Facebook “type ‘move’ into the comments and watch what happens” or “If I get a million likes my dad will get me a car.” They seem innocent enough, but they are big business, and you are not doing yourself any favors if you like or comment. ...

It’s called Like Farming. Here’s how it works. Someone creates a page and starts posting photos inspirational quotes or other innocent content. You like the page and it now shows up regularly in your news feed. Anytime you interact with a post, that activity shows up in your friends’ news feeds. The more likes the page gets, the more it shows up. The more comments each picture gets, the more power the page gets in the Facebook news feed algorithm. And that makes it more and more visible.

The social engineering of these sites is impressive, stimulating pictures like the Pink Floyd image described above or moving stories of‘causes’ that need your likes for support. The most famous of these revolved around a girl called “Mallory

"This is my sister Mallory. She has Down syndrome (sic)and doesn't think she's beautiful. Please like this photo so I can show her later that she truly is beautiful." But there is no Mallory. The picture is of a girl named Katie whose mother is horrified that her daughter’s image is being used for the scam. ...

When the page gets enough fans (a hundred thousand or more) the owner might start placing ads on the page. Those ads show up in your news feed. ... Or more nefariously, the page owner could be paid to spread malware by linking out to sites that install viruses on your computer for the purposes of identity theft. Bottom line: access to your news feed is lucrative.

Just as a magazine that sells ads, these pages are a business, and they can be bought and sold just like any other business. Online message board, Warriorforum.com listed multiple sites for sale like this page with almost 500,0000 fans of hamburgers. Price tag to buy the site: $5000. Another site about cuddling has over a million fans and was listed for sale on Warrior Forum for $7000. ... I found this Friends TV show page for sale for $8500 but the Warrior Forum listing has since been removed.
--Becky Worley, Upgrade Your Life, on why you should stop "liking" those Facebook images. HT: Chris Blattman

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Why Manhattan food trucks are mediocre

In the past few decades, food in New York City has gone through a complete transformation, but the street-vendor market, which should be more nimble, barely budges. Shouldn’t there be four Wafels & Dinges trucks for every hot-dog cart?

David Weber, president of the New York City Food Truck Association, explained that the ratio is more like 25 to 1 the other way. That’s because despite the inherent attractiveness of cute trucks and clever food options, the business stinks. There are numerous (and sometimes conflicting) regulations required by the departments of Health, Sanitation, Transportation and Consumer Affairs. These rules are enforced, with varying consistency, by the New York Police Department. As a result, according to City Councilman Dan Garodnick, it’s nearly impossible (even if you fill out the right paperwork) to operate a truck without breaking some law. Trucks can’t sell food if they’re parked in a metered space . . . or if they’re within 200 feet of a school . . . or within 500 feet of a public market . . . and so on. ...

[Stefan] Nafziger also knows well the regulatory hassles of the business. After one of his employees spent eight hours in jail for selling falafel without a license, he strictly follows the rule insisting that every mobile-food employee has Health Department certification. The trouble is that he needs to employ four people, each with his own license; if one quits, it can take two months for a new worker to get the proper paperwork. Nafziger said he holds on to his truck only because it’s basically a moving billboard for his two, more successful brick-and-mortar restaurants, in Greenwich Village and NoLIta. And stationary restaurants, by the way, require that only a single employee on duty have a Health Department certification. ...

One woman, an Ecuadorean immigrant who sells kebabs in Bushwick, Brooklyn, handed Basinski the six tickets that she and her husband received on a single afternoon. The total came to $2,850, which, she said, was much more than what she makes in a good week. She had a street-vendor’s license, she said, but didn’t understand that she also needed a separate permit for her cart.

The food-truck business, I realized, is a classic case of bureaucratic inertia. ...

As Rigie spoke, I was reminded of corrupt countries that I’ve visited, like Iraq and Haiti, where illogical and arbitrarily enforced rules create the wrong set of incentives. ...

Some sensible changes to the current food-vendor system may have long-term benefits for everyone, but the immediate impact could spell short-term losses for those who now profit from the system. A small group of New Yorkers — particularly owners of commissaries and physical restaurants — are highly motivated to lobby politicians not to change things. And most of the potential beneficiaries don’t realize they’re missing out. Many of the rest of us would love to have more varied food trucks, but we don’t care enough to pressure the City Council.

The one group that clearly suffers from the current system — the ticketed vendors — are often poorly paid immigrants without legal status and virtually no power. This sort of dynamic more or less sums up the economies of the third world.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Button, cremini, and portobello mushrooms are the same species

• Did you know that most of the table mushrooms we eat are all of the same variety? Its name is Agaricus bisporus, according to Wikipedia, and it includes portobello, cremini, and white button mushrooms.

• The difference between these popular varieties of mushrooms is just age. The white button mushrooms, those very familiar kitchen staples, are simply the youngest variety. They have been cultivated, too, for that white color and soft texture. In the wild these mushrooms are usually browner.

• The portobello is the most mature mushroom here; it's really just an overgrown white mushroom! They are left to grow for longer, until they have spread out into that delicious meaty cap.

• The cremini mushroom, then, is just in between these two varieties. It's a moderately mature version of the white button mushroom, which is why it has a similar flavor. It's younger than the portobello, but still related, which is why these are sometimes sold as "baby bella" or "baby portobello" mushrooms.
--Faith Durand, The Kitchn, on a shocking mushroom fact

Can we subsidize everybody?

One of the new [Obamacare] forms emphasizes that federal aid is not just for low-income people.

“You may qualify for a free or low-cost program even if you earn as much as $94,000 a year (for a family of four),” the application says.

Why China doesn't mint currency larger than 16 USD

Chinese authorities refuse to print any bill larger than the 100-renminbi note. That’s equivalent to $16. Since 1988, the 100-renminbi note, graced by Mao Zedong’s visage, has been the largest note in circulation, even though the economy has grown fiftyfold. ...

“I’m convinced the government doesn’t want a larger bill because of corruption,” said Nicholas R. Lardy, a leading authority on the Chinese economy at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, noting that it would help facilitate corrupt payments to officials. “Instead of trunks filled with cash bribes you’d have people using envelopes. And there’d be more cash leaving the country.”

All the buying, bribing and hoarding forces China to print a lot of paper money. China, which a millennium ago was the first government to print paper money, accounts for about 40 percent of all global paper currency output, according to a report published by the China Banknote Printing and Minting Corporation. Adjusting for the size of its economy, China has about five times as much cash in circulation as the United States. ...

Understandably, printing all that money is a major endeavor. The China Banknote Printing and Minting Corporation runs 80 production lines with 30,000 workers, six bank note companies, two paper mills, a printmaking company, a plate-making corporation and a firm that produces special anticounterfeiting security lines.
--David Barboza, NYT, on one way to battle corruption