Wednesday, October 16, 2019


Every few years some company you've never heard of achieves omnipresence all at once.
The prototypical example is Shen Yun. At some point their pamphlets and posters were plastered, en masse, in every bagel shop, tanning salon, and deli in America. If you look into it, it's a propaganda operation from the Falun Gong, which explains the persistence, but I still don't understand how they achieved instant-on ubiquity. One day we all welcomed Shen Yun into our lifescapes. Apple pie, cold beer, and Shen Yun. America!

A year or two ago, Hal's NY Potato Chips - neither good nor bad, just more frickin' potato chips - similarly appeared overnight. Suddenly every deli and convenience store and sandwich shop in the 'burbs north of NYC cleared their shelves of other brands, and it was all Hal's all the time everywhere.

How does this happen? Give me $10B and a mercenary army of gun-toting bad asses, and I still couldn't shift the potato chip lanscape or plaster the nation with Shen Yun like this (and no blood was shed, so far as I know), at least not with this speed and efficiency.

I once saw this roll out in a very personal way (I'm adapting a story previously told here)

When I was in high school, my family got takeout from Pudgie's Chicken and Ribs in Bethpage. Pudgie's was the prototypical mom-and-pop place, and it was great.

I woke up one day and Pudgie's was a large national chain (good, not great, though obviously the same basic recipes). I anxiously returned to the Bethpage location, and found a generic glossy chain iteration. Mom and pop were gone. Yet I heard they hadn't sold out. Somehow they were helming all this. I heard from multiple sources that they'd even funded it themselves. What???

It was wildly disorienting. Imagine if the Chinese take-out on your block suddenly became a sprawling franchise, mirrored from coast to coast, or if Emilio the guy at the bodega became "Emilio the Guy at the Bodega" for the entire nation. It's not supposed to work like that!

Pudgie's didn't work out. They sold the trademark and secret process patent, and all that remain are a handful of Pudgies/Arthur Treacher's hybrids and three standalone Long Island outlets. I pray that the original Bethpage store one day rematerializes; that they put it all back the way it was.

Ok, so now here's another. A Korea's largest food franchise operation, a fried chicken specialist, has suddenly swarmed the entire world (here are their US locations). They plan to have 50,000 outlets by 2020 (McDonalds has 38,000; Starbucks has 30,000).

Their Yelp reviews (e.g. this or this) mostly suck (aside from shill raves from users who've posted like two or three previous reviews), but quality issues can surely be overcome by clever marketing, as exemplified by their thoughtful tagline : "WE NOT MAKE CHICKEN; WE MAKE THE DIFFERENCE"

Their signature innovation is (per their "Why Different" page) that "At bb.q Chicken, we cook all our foods, especially CHICKEN, in olive oil." Apparently the "over 40 researchers studying days and nights with their whole effort" have never heard of smoke point[helpful correction from the Slog’s technical advisor Pierre: extra virgin may have a low smoke point - do not deep fry! - but ordinary olive oil would be fine. I’m so extra-virgincentric that I overlooked the obvious truth]

Anyway, I don't mean to harp on the sucky/dodginess angle. My real questions are these:

1. How do these guys do it?

2. If this can be done, why are not more people doing it? Why am I not waking up every day and finding the landscape everywhere transformed by previously unknown insta-metastasizing corporate operations?

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Apple Arcade and Leff's Law of Green M&Ms

Leff's Law of Green M&Ms states that if you absolutely hate green M&Ms, you'll be increasingly horrified by larger and larger bowls of M&Ms, simply because there will be more green ones....even though the proportion remains the same.

Apple has this new Apple Arcade thing ("Play Extraordinary!"). $5/month buys you unlimited access to a big basket of games for all your various screens. No in-app purchases, either. I signed up, but I'm hardly making any use of it. Why? Because amid the dozens of games are a bunch that are not my thing.

I dislike super-realistic games. If I want to experience The World, I go outside. I look to video games for abstraction and for heightened, contrived experience. I don't want to have stilted conversation with uncanny valley characters so I can solve the mystery of the thing with the thing. I don't want an experience of The World, only crappier. I don't want to discover and build and learn when I still don't speak French and can't do a backflip.

But as I rifle through Apple Arcade, those sorts of games (trailer porn designed to look awesome in short demo clips) stick out conspicuously. And even though I'm aware of the Green M&Ms effect, I still can't control my psychology. It feels like that's what it is, and I don't visit much.

Not Paying the Asshole Tax

I just made two luxury purchases for pennies on the dollar:

An iPhone X, used, for $535 (256G of memory). It sold for $1,149 when it was released just two years ago. And this was the last model of iPhone to contain a Qualcomm modem; all subsequent models have very poor data performance with marginal connections. Also, the iPhone X's gorgeous OLED screen still hasn't been surpassed, even by the newly-announced iPhone 11 Pro.

This eye-catching KAI Sandwich Knife, specially-made for Williams Sonoma. Normally $25, but I grabbed the last one for just $9.99.

It dawns on me that it would be 180 degrees skewed to think of this as bargain shopping. On the contrary, buying new/shiny is elitism. And to be elite, one must pay an asshole tax.

We never need to pay the asshole tax, yet most of us usually do, for three reasons:
1. Path Of Least Resistance
It's easier to buy the shiny thing marketed in the shiny way that people are currently talking about...and it's hard to overstate our propensity to choose the expeditious route. It's always easiest to stay with the flock. (To me, mindless flocking is for assholes).
2. I Want It Now
...and I won't be denied.(Asshole!)
3. Status
There are two ways status impacts. The most familiar way is comparatively rare: "Look at me with my cool iPhone 11 Pro!" But there's a more quietly insidious status choice: I'm not the "type of person" who buys closeouts or other people's crappy cast-offs. It feels somehow "unclean", literally and/or figuratively. I've written before about how elitism often expresses this way, driving food and health movements like organics, boutique allergies, and locavorism. You can't be elite without elevation, and you can't elevate without distinguishing your perch from the filth. (ASSHOLE!)
If you're not in it for status, or to indulge momentary impulses, and you're applying your brain, you can spend a lot less. But you're not saving money, you're simply declining to pay the Asshole Tax.

It's not easy to reframe one's consumerism. After hundreds of billions of dollars worth of marketing hypnosis, and a lifetime of contagious conformity, one must firmly shake off murkily unchallenged assumptions and aspirations.

See also "Transformed Attitude Toward Travel" explaining how I travel very frequently and very non-sensationally for a mere pittance.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Seriously, Buy LED Bulbs

I raved about Cree's LED light bulbs back in 2014, when I found them for the cheap price of $9.97 per bulb. They're still expensive everywhere but Home Depot, which these days normally sells them for $7.86 for a two-pack, but right now Home Depot in NY Tristate has them for just $4.36 for a two-pack (after instant rebate from Con Ed).

I hated fluorescent bulbs, and bought a bunch of incandescents when it looked like we'd be forced into miserable lives bathed with sickly light. At this price, I may as well just throw away what remains of that stock.

Rated best LED bulb by TheWireCutter, don't buy these because they'll help save the planet (using 83% less energy than incandescent). Buy them because they're as good as incandescents and you won't need new ones until young Barron Trump enters office. With a 22 year lifespan, replacing bulbs is no longer a thing (the warranty's only for ten years, your receipt!). Search around online, and you can find odd and decoratively shaped LEDs to swap out for fancy bulbs.

But these replace ordinary household bulbs (i.e. "A19"). You'll want the soft white 2700K, linked above, for the most incandescent-style result, though you might prefer the Daylight/5000K version for the same price. Cree also makes cheap 40 watt equivalent bulbs in Soft White or in Daylight, or 75 watt equivalent bulbs in Soft White or in Daylight.

Nice extra benefit, seldom mentioned: they don't get hot.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Brevity is a Whit of Soul

Considering the typical ponderousness of this effort, there are a surprising number of pithy postings for those not in the mood for a slog.

Have a look at postings tagged "definitions" (it's interesting to read the one titled "Intelligence, Wisdom, Creativity" from 2013, where my definition of creativity is obviously reaching for the notion of perceptual framing. I'd not yet framed my framing!), or tagged "Leff's Laws".

Or check out the slew of extracted one-liners from the 2014 posting "Uncommon Terseness".

Friday, October 4, 2019

Knowing 1. The Best Taco, and 2. The Best Explanation for the Biden Conspiracy

tldr: Skip down to the 30 second video offering the only smart explanation I've seen as to what Trump's up to with this frothy ditzy Biden conspiracy thing.

To understand why you hadn't previously heard this evident truth - and why lots of dumber takes continue to run rampant - read from the top.

My central message (and dilemma) in my brief existence on this planet has been a simple one: cream doesn't float.

Nearly everyone has the daft idea that society has systems in place to elevate greatness and smart solutions and truth. If the little Italian restaurant down the block from my office were anything special, I'd have heard about it. If someone had developed a brilliant solution to an intractable problem, we'd seize upon it. If anyone ever figured It all out, humanity would take notice and level up.

Nope. Your neighbor, the would-be-novelist, will almost surely not be the toast of the literary town even if his output is unbridled genius. And the answers to important questions may be blowing in the wind, but they will likely not be noticed (and, if they were, they'd most likely be misunderstood and/or undervalued). Fantastic eateries serve superb food without the slightest interest from the wider world. Humanity isn't underperforming, it just has no effective way to recognize and elevate the good stuff.

It's as clear as day to me. Consider the fact that famous food, music, movies, etc., are often shitty (i.e. non-greatness elevates) and that worthy efforts often fail from lack of interest (i.e. greatness fails to elevate). Crap wins and treasure loses. We see these results time and again, right before our eyes, and yet we still imagine that cream rises.

I built a web site devoted to the observation that unheralded culinary greatness hangs heavy on the branches, awaiting discovery and admiration. Treasure hunters were recruited and energized, and thousands of little-known treasures were cataloged and celebrated. Yet the general public persists in the misperception that if something were great, we'd have heard about it.

Food writer Jonathan Gold complained bitterly about how a more famous writer once swept into East LA for an afternoon to determine "the best taco in East LA". The nabe's huge enough to make this an absurd proposition, but the guy anointed some essentially random taco, while Gold watched with endless contempt, having spent years deeply cataloging the area (followup: years later, Gold got himself a prominent writing gig and swept into Jackson Heights - which I'd spent years deeply cataloging - for a day to anoint some random Colombian empanada the best in the nabe).

The journalists, gatekeepers and tastemakers are terrific at seeming authoritative, but they're lazy shleps, every one of them. They miss great stuff, and over- or undervalue, or misunderstand, what they do bump into. And this holds true for every single element in the human experience. Whatever the realm, someone may know the answer, but society is not a funnel for amplifying and disseminating truth. That's just not how it works. The truth that's pushed front-and-center inevitably hinges on the pushing rather than the truthing. Cream doesn't simply float.

So anyway, here's the lonely voice of pundit Eugene Robinson explaining what Trump's up to with this Joe Biden conspiracy theory no pro-Trumper has even attempted to try to sensibly explain (here's a smart explanation of the utter stupidity from an anti-Trumper).

It didn't get picked up. Robinson's observation hasn't been hoisted into the wider conversation - in fact, the smart host and guests on that show betrayed no particular interest (they had their own less-smart takes to sell). But it's the first and only smart take I've seen on the matter.

Friday, September 27, 2019

(Healthy) Oatmeal Breakthrough

I always feel hesitant to start my day with oatmeal or other porridge. Even though I use milk rather than water, I'll still be ingesting a carb bomb, and I feel better when I've carefully balanced fat, carbs, and protein in a meal. If I don't just eat healthily, but also carefully balance those elements, I can experience a whole other realm of culinary satisfaction; a feeling of well-being not available from scarfing barbecue or rice balls.

Weight lifters address the issue by adding protein powder to their cereal, but...yech. Anyway, here's what I did:

When oatmeal is a couple minutes shy of done, lay in 2 or 3 egg whites, dust with a couple pinches of salt (assuming you didn't add salt previously; if so, make it just one pinch) and just a bit of butter or olive oil. Cover the pot and leave the egg whites sitting atop the cereal for a couple minutes. Then, before the eggs have thoroughly solidified, strenuously mix it into the cereal. Stir like a demon. Then cover and let it sit unheated for a couple minutes (you should always let porridge sit, anyway). There's more than enough ambiant heat to finish cooking the eggs.

The result is way better than I'd imagined. First, the egg whites transform the texture, lightening it all up. It would make sense if this were a souffle, but I certainly didn't expect to get that effect here. I love porridge, but the last few bites can feel like a chore, as the heavy texture and earthy flavor begin to feel tedious. The tedium's gone; every bowl gets a racing finish.

And it's more satisfying. Those who carefully balance fat/protein/carbs have experienced the sublime sense of satisfaction this produces (and also how a disproportionally fatty, carby, or protein-y meal leaves you with cravings that ripple forward for hours). Cooked this way, you get that satisfaction. It's like the final piece of the porridge puzzle.

Banana note: if you cook your bananas in from the start, as I do, this absolutely still works - even with the sweet/salty. I'm not sure how this would work with fresh fruit. I wouldn't get too fancy with multiple fruits, granola, yogurt, etc. At least not to start. Try this just with bananas and see what you think.

3 egg whites = 11g protein
1 cup milk = 8g protein
For context, 1 chicken breast = 31g protein

Thursday, September 26, 2019

White House Chain Reaction in Progress

On Tuesday, I dismayed about the Democrats overplaying their hand and falling into a trap. Just 48 hours later, this has become a much bigger, deeper story. Showing cognizance of guilt, Trump had buried the Ukrainian call transcript in a facility normally reserved for matters of highest state security. And there appear to be a slew of transcripts so interred...and a scad of WH staffers know about it.

To my eye, disgusting as this is, it's still not much more damning than behavior in the Mueller Report which did nothing to turn moderate Republican voters (whose support for the administration, however ambivalent, is what's kept Republican politicians obeisant to Dear Leader).

But the current chain-reacting mushroom cloud of news is something new; unprecedented in the short annals of the Orange Throne. It just might trigger a critical turn where the perennial trickle of White House leaks turns into a panicky gusher. As the wry Quinn Cummings just put it on Twitter,
If so, perhaps McConnell miscalculated (there's a phrase one doesn't often see) in rushing the transcript and whistleblower report to public view to coax Democrats into his trap. If the White House staff finally gushes, moderate Republican voters may finally turn around (nothing could shake fervid MAGAs), and there's a remote possibility of conviction in the Senate.

For now, that's merely an unlikelihood (WH staff rebellion) which might trigger an unlikelihood (moderate Republican detachment) which might trigger an enormous unlikelihood (two-thirds majority of the Republican-led Senate votes to convict). But by tonight, at this rate, who knows?

Blue Crow Media

I've been a fan of London's Blue Crow Media for a long time, since I discovered their "Craft Beer New York" smart phone app. It's hard to offer subjective guidance in an app or guidebook - you need to convey an authentically personal-but-knowledgeable voice while being manageably succinct - and their work impressed me.
For those unaware, I recently created my own subjective guidance app, "Eat Everywhere", which coaches you through the ordering/eating experience for every nationality.
Blue Crow subsequently moved out of apps and into maps, and their work remains just as smart and tasteful. The maps feel like your birthday; crisp, luxe paper; deep, interesting colors; and admirably thoughtful design with great attention to detail. If you appreciate the meticulousness of a Steve Jobs or Stanley Kubrick, but reject the up-market fetishist pretension plied by too many of their disciples, this stuff is for you. No single item costs over £20, and most are £8 or £9.

Topics are largely design or architectural; pure geek bait like Art Deco maps for London or New York (they need to add Miami!), Brutalist maps of Boston and London, Concrete maps of Los Angeles, Montreal, New York, Tokyo, Toronto, and Melbourne. And lots more. Not many companies (especially UK-based!) would have the cheek to create a "Modernist Detroit Map", and the adeptness to really pull it off.

This isn't stuff I know a lot about, and one can’t look to these maps as primers. They're all-business, plunging right in without much background info. Yet one needn't be a stern Estonian draftsman with expensive wire-rimmed frames to catch the bug. I’m pretty ignorant of both Modernism and Belgrade, yet I hanker for the Modernist Belgrade map, and would use it to make a beeline for the city (once I spot a crazy-low fare).

Blue Crow's most recent offering is a New York Subway Architecture & Design Map. On one side of the thick, starchy cream/grey paper there's a stylized subway map, resembling the familiar one but a bit less data-dense and much more beautiful. As with much of Blue Crow's work, conventional detail is traded off for something less tangible - flair and framing. The important elements remain; knowing what to leave out is an art. On the flip side lies the good stuff: a dense grid of brief descriptions of four dozen station design fixtures and touches that I, as a lifelong New Yorker, barely knew existed. I was only dimly aware that the Atlantic Avenue/Barclays Center station features a Dutch gable, terracotta, Roman brick, limestone and granite ("Artist George Trakas and architects di Domenico + Partners added a stylized nautical gantry below the interior skylight"). Read in book form, this might seem dry. But packed into the back of a cool map, you want to jump into the subway and tour one's own hometown with fresh eyes.

Traveling away from home, it's helpful to have an orienting framework to start from. I'm not a fan of dashing from tourist mecca to tourist mecca, and soaking vibe from a random park bench only goes so far. These maps provide a basis for taking in a grand new city, and, really, one's basis can just as well be anything, so I treat these as geographic granfalloons. Taking in a city requires a map. And these are maps I love and trust, even if there's nary a taco recommendation.

I also own the 2020 Brutalist calendar, which itself is a brutalist artifact: squat, grey, and authoritative; as implacable as if it were built out of exposed concrete block. I'll actually put this one on a wall (previously I've only gone to that length for yucks, with industrial laundry calendars, horrid Chinese takeout calendars, etc).

As with their Craft Beer app, I find myself carried along by the evident enthusiasm and thoughtfulness. It's a magic trick, and I live for magic tricks. Order a couple of pieces and you'll see what I mean...and might even find yourself enticed into design/architecture nerdom.

Being UK-based, shipping charges can add up. Join their mailing list and you can order scads of maps whenever they offer a "free shipping everywhere" sale. Perhaps one day they'll grow to the point where they add a satellite warehouse in Omaha, and/or I can impulse-buy from Amazon.

While my interests and curiosities run broad, I'm only moderately a map guy and not at all an architecture/design person. So this is sort of like a cat endorsing a waterpark. But I find that my keenest appreciation springs when infectiousness kindles my preferences rather than vice-versa. I'm especially fond of beloved examples from realms which ordinarily leave me cold. Blue Crow Media's stuff brings that infectiousness.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The "R" Word

I like the word "retarded". This, of course, is a problem. I don't use it often, but there are situations where I feel called to invoke the voice of a jaded teen circa 1973, and nothing else gets the job done quite as well.

I know I'm not supposed to. There's a societal consensus on this, and, of course, writers and artists must always heed consensus preferences. That's our role: keep our heads down, tow the line, and stay within the bounds of politesse. Don't be bad. That's how artists roll. I get that.

But I'm not clear on the reasoning. I suppose the word is offensive to genuinely retarded people, but that usage doesn't even exist - the afflicted having been renamed - so I'm at a loss as to whom it offends, exactly. Perhaps simply non-smart people? I guess we don't want to attach a stigma to the lack of intelligence. But if so, why can I still say "stupid", or "moron", or "dope", or "lunatic"? Why can I freely shower my writing with "shmuck", "putz", "idiot", and "imbecile"?

I'd imagine the answer would be "Well, you shouldn't! These are highly negative, insulting and hurtful words, so they all should be avoided!"

Again, it's not that I'm not eager to diligently update my adherence to trendy social norms of expression. I just want to sensitively parse the ever-shrinking boundaries. So I have two questions:

1. Why is intelligence special? Shouldn't we proscribe "ugly", "clumsy", "untalented", "smelly", "limp-dicked", "flat-chested", and the many other terms stigmatizing deficiency and otherness?

2. Where do we draw the line? Frankly, "retarded" doesn't strike me as all that extreme ("moron" and "dope" bear far more venom). It's mostly just snide. So shall we expunge all snide speech, for example the description of a singer as "horrendously out-of-tune"? That's undeniably hurtful, no? Shouldn't she be "otherwise-tuned"?

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