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.