The Origin of Food Criticism

On May 18, 1962 Craig Claiborne prefaced an article he wrote with a short note: “The following is a listing of New York restaurants that are recommended on the basis of varying merits. Such a listing will be published every Friday in The New York Times.” And so, on that day, the food critic was born (or at least, the contemporary version of it). This New York Times article provides the detail of the growing trend. Claiborne’s Directory to Dining, which celebrates a 50 year anniversary this month, marks the day when the country began paying attention to restaurant reviews in the newspaper.

The column’s most easily recognized field mark, the starred ranking, made its debut on May 24, 1963, with a three-star scale. A fourth star, still the newspaper’s top grade, was placed on the top of the tree a year later. The arguments about what it all means have been going on ever since.

Most influential of all were the rules Claiborne set for himself, which became the industry ideal. He was independent of advertising, tried to dine anonymously, and before passing judgment would eat at least two meals (later three) that were paid for by The Times, not the restaurants. Claiborne’s guidelines sent a message that he wasn’t an overprivileged and overfed man about town. He was a critic with a job to do.

Claiborne’s dedication to his job, I would argue, is unrivaled to this day:

Most influential of all were the rules Claiborne set for himself, which became the industry ideal. He was independent of advertising, tried to dine anonymously, and before passing judgment would eat at least two meals (later three) that were paid for by The Times, not the restaurants. Claiborne’s guidelines sent a message that he wasn’t an overprivileged and overfed man about town. He was a critic with a job to do.

Definitely some great trivia for all the foodies out there.

Aaron Sorkin’s Commencement Speech at Syracuse University

Aaron Sorkin gave the commencement speech to the 2012 graduates of Syracuse University. It is excellent:

I’d like to say to the parents that I realized something while I was writing this speech: the last teacher your kids will have in college will be me.  And that thought scared the hell out of me. Frankly, you should feel exactly the same way.  But I am the father of an 11-year-old daughter, so I do know how proud you are today, how proud your daughters and your sons make you every day, and that they did just learn how to walk last week, that you’ll never not be there for them, that you love them more than they’ll ever know and that it doesn’t matter how many degrees get put in their hand, they will always be dumber than you are.

 And make no mistake about it, you are dumb.  You’re a group of incredibly well-educated dumb people.  I was there.  We all were there.  You’re barely functional.  There are some screw-ups headed your way.  I wish I could tell you that there was a trick to avoiding the screw-ups, but the screw-ups, they’re a-coming for ya.  It’s a combination of life being unpredictable, and you being super dumb.

An example of how a failure in college served as motivation for Sorkin:

As a freshman drama student—and this story is now becoming famous—I had a play analysis class—it was part of my requirement…The play analysis class met for 90 minutes twice a week.  We read two plays a week and we took a 20-question true or false quiz at the beginning of the session that tested little more than whether or not we’d read the play.  The problem was that the class was at 8:30 in the morning, it met all the way down on East Genesee, I lived all the way up at Brewster/Boland, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but from time to time the city of Syracuse experiences inclement weather.  All this going to class and reading and walking through snow, wind chill that’s apparently powered by jet engines, was having a negative effect on my social life in general and my sleeping in particular.  At one point, being quizzed on “Death of a Salesman,” a play I had not read, I gave an answer that indicated that I wasn’t aware that at the end of the play the salesman dies.  And I failed the class.  I had to repeat it my sophomore year; it was depressing, frustrating and deeply embarrassing.    And it was without a doubt the single most significant event that occurred in my evolution as a writer.  I showed up my sophomore year and I went to class, and I paid attention, and we read plays and I paid attention, and we discussed structure and tempo and intention and obstacle, possible improbabilities, improbable impossibilities, and I paid attention, and by God when I got my grades at the end of the year, I’d turned that F into a D.  I’m joking: it was pass/fail.

And I think this is the best part of the speech:

Don’t ever forget that you’re a citizen of this world, and there are things you can do to lift the human spirit, things that are easy, things that are free, things that you can do every day. Civility, respect, kindness, character. You’re too good for schadenfreude, you’re too good for gossip and snark, you’re too good for intolerance—and since you’re walking into the middle of a presidential election, it’s worth mentioning that you’re too good to think people who disagree with you are your enemy.


Should You Learn to Code?

There’s a meme out there this year on learning to code (proliferated by sites like this). Jeff Atwood is against this idea. He has a great post at Coding Horror where he elaborates his idea:

To those who argue programming is an essential skill we should be teaching our children, right up there with reading, writing, and arithmetic: can you explain to me how Michael Bloomberg would be better at his day to day job of leading the largest city in the USA if he woke up one morning as a crack Java coder? It is obvious to me how being a skilled reader, a skilled writer, and at least high school level math are fundamental to performing the job of a politician. Or at any job, for that matter. But understanding variables and functions, pointers and recursion? I can’t see it.

Look, I love programming. I also believe programming is important … in the right context, for some people. But so are a lot of skills. I would no more urge everyone to learn programming than I would urge everyone to learn plumbing. That’d be ridiculous, right?

He continues with an excellent bullet list:

The “everyone should learn to code” movement isn’t just wrong because it falsely equates coding with essential life skills like reading, writing, and math. I wish. It is wrong in so many other ways.

  • It assumes that more code in the world is an inherently desirable thing. In my thirty year career as a programmer, I have found this … not to be the case. Should you learn to write code? No, I can’t get behind that. You should be learning to write as little code as possible. Ideally none.
  • It assumes that coding is the goal. Software developers tend to be software addicts who think their job is to write code. But it’s not. Their job is to solve problems. Don’t celebrate the creation of code, celebrate the creation of solutions. We have way too many coders addicted to doing just one more line of code already.
What are your thoughts on programming? Have you taken the initiative to learn to code sometime in your life?

The Mathematics of Obesity

Carson Chow is an investigator at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, where he tries to figure out why 1 in 3 Americans are overweight. He’s an MIT-trained mathematician who is using his background to pinpoint why the obesity rate in America is so high (and will likely keep increasing). His interview in The New York Times is a good read:

Why would mathematics have the answer?

Because to do this experimentally would take years. You could find out much more quickly if you did the math.

Now, prior to my coming on staff, the institute had hired a mathematical physiologist, Kevin Hall. Kevin developed a model that could predict how your body composition changed in response to what you ate. He created a math model of a human being and then plugged in all the variables — height, weight, food intake, exercise. The model could predict what a person will weigh, given their body size and what they take in.

However, the model was complicated: hundreds of equations. Kevin and I began working together to boil it down to one simple equation. That’s what applied mathematicians do. We make things simple. Once we had it, the slimmed-down equation proved to be a useful platform for answering a host of questions.

What new information did your equation render?

That the conventional wisdom of 3,500 calories less is what it takes to lose a pound of weight is wrong. The body changes as you lose. Interestingly, we also found that the fatter you get, the easier it is to gain weight. An extra 10 calories a day puts more weight onto an obese person than on a thinner one.

Also, there’s a time constant that’s an important factor in weight loss. That’s because if you reduce your caloric intake, after a while, your body reaches equilibrium. It actually takes about three years for a dieter to reach their new “steady state.” Our model predicts that if you eat 100 calories fewer a day, in three years you will, on average, lose 10 pounds — if you don’t cheat.

Another finding: Huge variations in your daily food intake will not cause variations in weight, as long as your average food intake over a year is about the same. This is because a person’s body will respond slowly to the food intake.

More here.

Change Your Life in Twenty Minutes a Day

Gretchen Reynolds, author of The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer, explains how you can change your life in just twenty minutes a day:

The first 20 minutes of moving around, if someone has been really sedentary, provide most of the health benefits. You get prolonged life, reduced disease risk — all of those things come in in the first 20 minutes of being active.

Two-thirds of Americans get no exercise at all. If one of those people gets up and moves around for 20 minutes, they are going to get a huge number of health benefits, and everything beyond that 20 minutes is, to some degree, gravy.

That doesn’t mean I’m suggesting people should not exercise more if they want to. You can always do more. But the science shows that if you just do anything, even stand in place 20 minutes, you will be healthier.

I haven’t read Gretchen’s book, but I am putting her philosophy to use in 2012. My advice: start at just five minutes a day and build up to twenty (or more). It might seem like an insurmountable obstacle in the beginning, which is understandable, but you’ll get there with practice…

The Record Frequent Fliers

The Los Angeles Times has an interesting article on Steven Rothstein and Jacques Vroom, who are above and beyond what one would consider frequent fliers. Both men bought tickets that gave them unlimited first-class travel for life on American Airlines. Each had paid American more than $350,000 for an unlimited AAirpass and a companion ticket that allowed them to take someone along on their adventures. Both agree it was the best purchase they ever made, and their life hasn’t been the same ever since they bought the golden ticket.

In the 2009 film, Up in the Air, the loyal American business traveler played by George Clooney was showered with attention after attaining 10 million frequent flier miles.

Rothstein and Vroom were not impressed.

“I can’t even remember when I cracked 10 million,” said Vroom, 67, a big, amiable Texan, who at last count had logged nearly four times as many. Rothstein, 61, has notched more than 30 million miles.

But all the miles they and 64 other unlimited AAirpass holders racked up went far beyond what American had expected. As its finances began deteriorating a few years ago, the carrier took a hard look at the AAirpass program.

If you’re wondering whether you can still get the AAirpass today, the answer is no. In 2004, American offered the unlimited AAirpass one last time, in the Neiman-Marcus Christmas catalog. At $3 million, plus a companion pass for $2 million more, not one sold.

Bloomberg Billionaires Index

With Facebook set to IPO on May 18, with the share price set in the $28 to $35 range, Bloomberg has now updated its Billionaire List to reflect Mark Zuckerberg’s wealth at $17.6 billion.

It’s kind of ridiculous, but this billionaire index is updated daily. For instance, here are today’s top 40 wealthiest people according to Bloomberg:

1. Carlos Slim Helu $ 75.0 billion MEX $ 65.5 M 21.7
2. William “Bill” Henry Gates III $ 63.2 billion USA – $ 394.8 M 12.7
3. Warren E. Buffett $ 45.4 billion USA $ 12.2 M 6.1
4. Ingvar Kamprad $ 42.5 billion SWE – $ 570.0 M 14.6
5. Bernard Arnault $ 42.2 billion FRA $ 234.2 M 19.6
6. Amancio Ortega Gaona $ 38.3 billion SPN $ 716.3 M 9.8
7. Lawrence “Larry” Joseph Ellison $ 37.2 billion USA – $ 377.0 M 12.8
8. Charles De Ganahl Koch $ 35.5 billion USA $ 119.7 M 5.7
9. David Hamilton Koch $ 35.5 billion USA $ 119.7 M 5.7
10. Eike Fuhrken Batista $ 31.7 billion BRA – $ 84.6 M 40.8
11. Sheldon Gary Adelson $ 25.0 billion USA – $ 576.9 M 26.6
12. Christy R. Walton $ 24.7 billion USA – $ 35.2 M – 1.3
13. Li Ka-Shing $ 24.6 billion CHN – $ 169.1 M 11.0
14. Stefan Persson $ 24.0 billion SWE $ 379.8 M 10.2
15. Liliane Bettencourt $ 23.8 billion FRA $ 53.2 M 17.7
16. Jim C. Walton $ 23.4 billion USA – $ 6.9 M 0.1
17. David K.R. Thomson $ 23.2 billion CAN – $ 157.2 M 8.5
18. Samuel “Rob” Robson Walton $ 23.0 billion USA – $ 6.8 M 0.2
19. Michele Ferrero $ 22.6 billion ITA – $ 111.3 M 7.4
20. Alice L. Walton $ 22.4 billion USA – $ 6.9 M – 0.2
21. Karl Albrecht $ 22.0 billion GER $ 466.9 M – 1.6
22. George Soros $ 22.0 billion USA – $ 13.6 M 3.7
23. Mukesh D. Ambani $ 21.8 billion IND – $ 444.7 M 1.9
24. Jeffrey “Jeff” Bezos $ 21.4 billion USA – $ 95.4 M 30.5
25. Alwaleed Bin Talal Al Saud $ 20.5 billion SAU 0 18.2
26. Lee Shau Kee $ 19.5 billion CHN – $ 20.3 M 13.0
27. Alisher Usmanov $ 19.3 billion RUS $ 38.4 M 10.8
28. Cheng Yu Tung $ 19.1 billion CHN $ 87.6 M – 4.9
29. Lawrence “Larry” E. Page $ 18.9 billion USA $ 73.3 M – 3.9
30. Sergey Brin $ 18.8 billion USA $ 71.7 M – 3.8
31. Georgina “Gina” Hope Rinehart $ 18.7 billion AUS – $ 144.8 M – 7.5
32. Alberto Bailleres Gonzalez $ 18.6 billion MEX – $ 212.2 M 7.9
33. Rinat Akhmetov $ 18.1 billion UKR – $ 72.1 M 25.8
34. Lakshmi N. Mittal $ 18.0 billion IND – $ 227.7 M – 14.7
35. Iris Fontbona $ 17.7 billion CHL – $ 538.1 M 0.7
36. Mark Elliot Zuckerberg $ 17.6 billion USA – $ 2,900.0 M – 2.2
37. Azim Premji $ 16.3 billion IND $ 97.0 M 1.5
38. Jorge Paulo Lemann $ 15.8 billion BRA $ 20.8 M 28.8
39. Vladimir Lisin $ 15.8 billion RUS – $ 231.7 M 6.3
40. Steve Ballmer $ 15.4 billion USA – $ 38.3 M 17.5

Mark Zuckerberg is number 36 on the list, well ahead of Steve Ballmer.

On another note: this is a good article to read about the Facebook IPO.