Tag Archives: tips

Tyler Cowen’s Ethnic Dining Tips and Rules: An Economist’s Take on Eating Out

When it comes to find­ing, order­ing, and eat­ing at eth­nic res­taur­ants there’s only one place to look for advice: eco­nom­ist Tyler Cowen’s Eth­nic Din­ing Guide. I’ve men­tioned Cowen’s guide before (if only in passing), but it’s time I ded­ic­ated a post to this treas­ure trove of din­ing advice and, espe­cially, the tips from Cowen’s Gen­er­al Remarks.

From an art­icle in The Wash­ing­ton Post, four strategies for find­ing good res­taur­ants and order­ing well (click through for details):

  1. For good value, avoid high-rent areas (those will be expens­ive or chains).
  2. Look for com­pet­i­tion (pos­sibly a sign of a large immig­rant pop­u­la­tion, provid­ing expert­ise).
  3. Know how to order ‘strategically’  from waiters.
  4. Be aware of the res­taur­ant cycle (from open­ing, to accol­ades, to mass pro­duc­tion).

Four rules-of-thumb for choos­ing from the menu (be aware of the excep­tions):

  1. Avoid “ingredi­ents-intens­ive” dishes, opt for “com­pos­i­tion-intens­ive” instead (i.e. con­tains sauces or com­plex ingredi­ent mixes).
  2. Appet­izers are super­i­or to main courses in some cuisines; be will­ing to have a ‘side-dishes-only’ meal.
  3. Avoid desserts, espe­cially Asi­an ones.
  4. Order for vari­ety, not quant­ity (order more than you think neces­sary).

And finally, from a recent art­icle by Cowen in The Atlantic, six rules for din­ing out:

  1. In the fan­ci­est res­taur­ants, order what sounds least appet­ising.
  2. Beware the beau­ti­ful, laugh­ing women (you’re there for food, not the scene/drinks).
  3. Get out of the city.
  4. Admit what you don’t know, and search/ask intel­li­gently.
  5. Exploit res­taur­ant work­ers (if you see expens­ive labour, think about what your return is… fam­ily-run res­taur­ants may offer the best return).
  6. Prefer Viet­namese to Thai, Pakistani to Indi­an.

Cowen can be a bit out­spoken on the top­ic of food, so bear in mind this com­ment:

It all makes per­fect sense if you like what Cowen likes, which is inter­est­ing food for a reas­on­able price without much ambi­ance. Which is not what every­one likes.

Wheth­er that’s what you like or not, you’ll still def­in­itely like Cowen’s book on the sub­ject, An Eco­nom­ist Gets Lunch.

Writing Tools, Not Rules, for Better Writing

“Tools not rules” are what’s needed to teach good writ­ing, says The Poynter Institute’s vice pres­id­ent Roy Peter Clark in Writ­ing Tools – his acclaimed book com­pil­ing fifty of his favour­ites.

To accom­pany this book, Clark released his fifty writ­ing tools to improve your writ­ing on his blog, and here are some of my favour­ites:

  • Get the name of the dog and the brand of the beer. Dig for the con­crete and spe­cif­ic, details that appeal to the senses and help read­ers see the story.
  • Pay atten­tion to names. Inter­est­ing names attract the writer — and the read­er.
  • Know when to back off and when to show off. When the top­ic is most ser­i­ous, under­state; when least ser­i­ous, exag­ger­ate.
  • Learn the dif­fer­ence between reports and stor­ies. Use one to render inform­a­tion, the oth­er to render exper­i­ence.
  • Take interest in all crafts that sup­port your work. To do your best, help oth­ers do their best.

That last one, espe­cially.

For those want­ing a more aes­thet­ic­ally pleas­ing present­a­tion, the fifty writ­ing tools ‘cheat sheet’ (pdf) is what you’ll want. Where­as those want­ing some­thing a bit more sens­ory will take great pleas­ure in the fifty writ­ing tools pod­cast series (that unfor­tu­nately only made it to tool num­ber 32).

Writing Tips from Annual Reports

Prov­ing that good writ­ing can be found any­where, writer Nancy Fried­man points to Berkshire Hath­away CEO War­ren Buffett’s annu­al reports as examples of excel­lent copy­writ­ing. I can­not but agree.

Fried­man sub­mits that we can learn to write bet­ter copy by study­ing War­ren Buffett’s annu­al reports, offer­ing these six tips, high­lighted after study­ing his annu­als:

  • Tell stor­ies. Read­ing a Berkshire annu­al report is like sit­ting across a booth in a diner with a great con­ver­sa­tion­al­ist pos­sessed of both intel­li­gence and insa­ti­able curi­os­ity.
  • Use vivid lan­guage.
  • Talk about people. It’s one thing to say, as almost every­one does, that busi­ness is about people. It’s anoth­er thing entirely to por­tray those people fully fleshed and full of foibles.
  • Be gen­er­ous with humour. Every Berkshire annu­al brims with jokes (includ­ing some groan­ers), drollery, and wit.
  • Get to the point. “Be fear­ful when oth­ers are greedy and greedy when oth­ers are fear­ful,” Buf­fett writes. That’s an entire busi­ness philo­sophy in twelve words.
  • Let your enthu­si­asm show.

As Ana­stas­ia poin­ted out in the com­ments sec­tion, Buf­fett wrote the won­der­ful pre­face to the SEC’s A Plain Eng­lish Hand­book: How to cre­ate clear SEC dis­clos­ure doc­u­ments (pdf). He offers this “unori­gin­al but use­ful tip”:

Write with a spe­cif­ic per­son in mind. When writ­ing Berkshire Hathaway’s annu­al report, I pre­tend that I’m talk­ing to my sis­ters. I have no trouble pic­tur­ing them: Though highly intel­li­gent, they are not experts in account­ing or fin­ance. They will under­stand plain Eng­lish, but jar­gon may puzzle them. My goal is simply to give them the inform­a­tion I would wish them to sup­ply me if our pos­i­tions were reversed. To suc­ceed, I don’t need to be Shakespeare; I must, though, have a sin­cere desire to inform.

That’s the key; pic­tur­ing your audi­ence as intel­li­gent non-experts.

Science Journalism’s Manifesto for the Simple Scribe

“To make some­body read it”. That is the only reas­on for writ­ing, accord­ing to the renowned Guard­i­an edit­or Tim Rad­ford, author of the “mani­festo for the simple scribe”.

This mani­festo, pre­vi­ously dis­trib­uted to edit­ors at Elsevi­er and Nature, con­sist­s of twenty-five writ­ing tips that col­lect­ively tell a sci­ence writer all they need to know to write con­sist­ently good copy.

Many, if not all, of Radford’s tips are rel­ev­ant to writ­ing styles oth­er than sci­ence journ­al­ism. Some favour­ite quotes:

You are not writ­ing to impress the sci­ent­ist you have just inter­viewed, nor the pro­fess­or who got you through your degree, nor the edit­or who fool­ishly turned you down, or the rather dishy per­son you just met at a party and told you were a writer. Or even your moth­er. You are writ­ing to impress someone hanging from a strap in the tube between Parson’s Green and Put­ney, who will stop read­ing in a fifth of a second, giv­en a chance.

No one will ever com­plain because you have made some­thing too easy to under­stand.

If in doubt, assume the read­er knows noth­ing. How­ever, nev­er make the mis­take of assum­ing that the read­er is stu­pid. The clas­sic error in journ­al­ism is to over­es­tim­ate what the read­er knows and under­es­tim­ate the reader’s intel­li­gence.

Remem­ber that people will always respond to some­thing close to them. Con­cerned cit­izens of south Lon­don should care more about eco­nom­ic reform in Sur­i­n­am than about Millwall’s fate on Sat­urday, but mostly they don’t. Accept it.

Non-Design Skills Needed by Designers

Like in many oth­er spe­cial­ised fields, to become a great design­er one must mas­ter or be acquain­ted with many non-design skills.

User inter­face design­er Aza Raskin – ex-Cre­at­ive Lead at Fire­fox and son of Jef – offers up this list of what he believes to be most import­ant to do and mas­ter in order to become a design­er:

  1. The Hard­est Part of Soft­ware is Cul­ture. Get a Book on Nego­ti­ation. If you can­not com­mu­nic­ate, you will fail. If you can­not con­vince, you will fail. If you can­not listen, you will fail. […] To design is to inspire par­ti­cip­a­tion. Unless we can let our ideas become oth­er people’s ideas—get oth­ers to want to cham­pi­on design as their own—we will not be suc­cess­ful. […] The hard­est part of your job isn’t being cre­at­ive or bril­liant; it’s com­mu­nic­at­ing and cul­ture.
  2. Know Cog­nit­ive Psy­cho­logy. You are design­ing for people; you need to be well versed in the abil­it­ies and frailties of the human mind. […] Inter­face design is as much a sci­ence as it is an art. Know the sci­ence, else you are walk­ing blindly through a mine­field of harm­ful design.
  3. Learn to Pro­gram, Even if Poorly. Thucy­dides wrote, “The soci­ety that sep­ar­ates its schol­ars from its war­ri­ors will have its think­ing done by cow­ards and its fight­ing by fools.” The optim­al soci­ety is one that mixes schol­ar-war­ri­ors and war­ri­or-schol­ars. The same is true for com­pan­ies that schism their design­ers and engin­eers.
  4. Cre­ate, Cre­ate, Cre­ate. You’ll need thou­sands of hours of prac­tice to rise to the top of your game. […] If you don’t have dozens of little pro­jects you’ve cre­ated, learned from, and even dis­carded, you are doing it wrong.
  5. Study Graph­ic Design. Looks affect usab­il­ity. Looks are just one aspect of design­ing for emo­tion­al beings—you need to think about the whole sens­ory exper­i­ence of an object, from sound to touch—but looks are often the most imme­di­ately appar­ent.