My vote for innovation of the year

LiquiGlide is my dream come true, because it solves this problem, as described by the New York Times: “Much of what we buy never makes it out of the container and is instead thrown away — up to a quarter of skin lotion, 16 percent of laundry detergent and 15 percent of condiments like mustard and ketchup.”

Of course, the folks at the Times and Consumer Reports never saw how much toothpaste I manage to eke out of that tube. (LiquiGlide-slicked Colgate may thus be my wife’s dream come true, too.)

Embracing unlimited content, cable TV edition

It is often stated that bundled cable is a poor value to customers, because it forces them to pay for channels they don’t, or won’t, watch. (Analyst Horace Deidu recently suggested that the entire cable television industry is a historical anomaly.) Given the sheer density of options that shows up when one hits the Guide button on a cable box’s remote, this is an easy opinion with which to concur. HBO Now and the rumored Apple TV service reinforce it.

I’ve never really subscribed to that perspective, though. I like having the myriad options at my disposal. And part of that is because, with so much programming now available, I never know where I’m going to turn next. Keeping my options open turns out to be extremely beneficial.

I flipped through the channel lineup of my cable provider, Time Warner Cable, to quantify which of the stations I’ve tuned into in recent memory, including my kids’ shows. My tally:

5 – broadcast networks
29 – basic cable channels
7 – kids’ channels
9 – sports and news channels
11 – premium and movie channels (excluding pay-per-view)

Fairly recent studies have claimed the average American watches 34 hours of TV each week across just 17 channels. My cable boxes are probably on for 20-25 hours, including weekend ballgames and evenings when the TV is on in the background. Yet we’ve managed to tune into 61 different stations with our viewing habits, perhaps more.

Part of that is because today’s channels have done a very good job of finding niche content and making it discoverable. It would be hard for a single network to identify, produce and broadcast “Mad Men,” “Pawn Stars,” “Episodes,” “Paw Patrol” and “Flip or Flop,” let alone figure out the proper market segment to target with that slate. Yet I have found my way to all of those shows (well, “Paw Patrol” wasn’t exactly my idea, but still). On TV, the paradox of choice is instead a boon to casual viewers like me.

Should the cable industry move toward pay-per-stream pricing, the serendipity of discovery will undoubtedly drop. Anecdotally, I can confirm this with my own viewing habits: I resisted a Showtime subscription for years, only opting in when I had multiple shows I wanted to watch. Meanwhile, I’ve never had a Netflix account, despite the provider’s increasing array of what I hear are great shows. I haven’t gotten around to signing up, and without an Internet-enabled TV in my bedroom, I remain rather content to flip to “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” reruns on nights when not much else is on.

Ironically, cable television is being disrupted and fragmented at the same time as its media counterpart, the music industry, is consolidating around flat-rate pricing. Of course, if cable TV cost the same $10/month that Spotify and Rdio do, the conversation around television would be a lot different.

Costs aside, all those stations streaming into my home, non-stop, prove useful and enjoyable. The business model that’s about to be disrupted is not broken; it’s simply overpriced and unsexy. And while I have my Amazon Prime streaming video and my Apple TV in the living room, I’ll be keeping my cable TV subscription for awhile yet.

I did a headstand today

The word achievement rarely hits me in a literal sense. Most of my days revolve around tasks and accomplishments, usually in a procedural sense: what got checked off the to-do list in the office today? Did the kids get to school on time, and with all their stuff? Did I remember everything on the shopping list I forgot to bring to the market? And my exercise, such as it is, usually takes on rote forms: 12 miles round trip on the bike to the office, one round of golf, a full hour of effort in the yoga studio, walking home from the far subway station. Not much in the way of achievement.

In the depths of a severe winter, I was happy today that I got to yoga at all. (That in itself felt like a bit of an achievement.) So when our instructor told the room to pair off for headstands, I smiled and decided to pass. I’d never done it and wasn’t about to try.

“Are you going to do a headstand?” the instructor asked me. Nah.

“Do you want a spot?” said the guy next to me. Nah. “Me neither!” he smiled.

But then a woman meandered over to me from several mats away. She hadn’t paired off with anyone. “Do you want me to spot you?” I asked her.

“Oh, no, already did it myself, I don’t need a spotter. What about you?”

“No, I can’t do a headstand.”

“How do you know? Why don’t I spot you?”

I sized up my new companion—older than me, relaxed, already done with her headstand—and realized saying no was no longer the right answer. “I guess I can try,” I said.

Down I went onto my yoga mat, head between arms, legs in a crouch. I gave a little kick and suddenly my legs were over my head. I could feel my spotter holding my left leg, firmly as I straightened my knees, then lighter as I found my balance. I was sure I’d fall at any moment yet I didn’t. I spent a good long while upside-down before bringing my legs back down without falling.

I sat back up on my knees. I was startled. Elated. Proud. Really proud and elated. I think I thanked my spotter four times for the encouragement. “You were good!” she said. “No shaking or swaying at all.” She pointed to the person next to me to show me a comparable pose.

I found myself beaming uncontrollably. “You made my night,” I said by way of a final thank-you.

When I got home, my kids asked me how yoga was (they both enjoy it themselves) and I found myself bragging to them like a kid myself. “I did a headstand!” I exclaimed, then helped the three-year-old do one. He beamed, too.

Life’s rhythms for a dad in his 40s are pretty workaday. Finding areas in which to achieve reminds us of how much more we can do when we take the initiative. My own little achievement wasn’t on par with running a marathon or finishing a novel, but the visceral experience resonated strongly. It has me excited to try harder at yoga, and to find more areas to experience that intense feeling of achievement again, whether I’m blogging or working or parenting or biking or whatever else may come next.

Thank you, yoga spotter, for the encouragement and the endorphin rush. You really did make my night.

The year in cities, 2014

Tenth edition! (And not a long one, either; a couple of nice vacations and not much else.) Listed here are the places I visited over the past 12 months. Per the annual rules, only overnights are listed; repeat visits (from anytime in the past) are denoted with an asterisk.

New York
Baltimore, MD
Palm Beach Gardens, FL *
Positano, Italy
Rome, Italy *
Chicago, IL *
New City, NY *
Gloucester, MA *
Edgartown, MA *
Livingston, NJ *
Toronto, ON, Canada *

Ideapad recipes: lazy arroz con pollo

Oh, man, this is so simple it’s barely worth posting, but it was easy and delicious and I made it last night and it made me so happy (not as happy as the arroz con pollo from Maz Mezcal, mind you, but not bad, and Maz Mezcal’s is rather more oily anyway) and thus I highly recommend giving it a try.


  • One 10-ounce (or so) package of Vigo yellow rice
  • One full chicken breast, cooked
  • One package of peas
  • One red or orange pepper

When I say simple, I mean simple. You boil the water and start cooking the rice, using a covered skillet like the package recommends, and not a pot. You grab a Steamfresh Singles package of peas and nuke it up. You cut the pepper into thin slices. You take the chicken—cooked, mind you; I get lemon grilled chicken breast from Fairway’s deli counter, and it’s as flavorful as any I’ve ever made, and it’s actually the same price per pound as the Murray’s raw chicken breasts I usually buy, which makes me wonder both what kind of chicken Fairway uses and whether I’m completely insane buying $9/lb organic and antibiotic-free chicken breasts—and cut it into chunks, maybe a little bigger than a golf ball but smaller than a Spaldeen.

When the rice is done, take your peas and your peppers and your chicken and throw them all into the skillet. Mix everything together with a large serving spoon. Then cover the skillet again and let sit for 10 minutes. That both normalizes the temperatures of the ingredients and allows a hint of saffron to penetrate the entire dish.

Plate. Serve. Enjoy. So easy! So delish! I’m going to have leftover arroz con pollo tonight.

Why I became a Wikipedia contributor (and why you should, too)

Wikipedia is a part of everyday life for most everyone who uses the web. I personally cross-reference or poke around Wikipedia almost every day—93 times in the past 30 days alone, per my browser history. Millions of people are similar to me, if not more so.

Having become something of an institution, Wikipedia now faces a long-term struggle for its fiscal and editorial health. Most immediate is the need for cash flow. Wikipedia’s frequent pledge drives on its website do a good job of highlighting the organization’s monetary needs (and plenty of readers, thankfully, are listening).

More easily overlooked is its slowly dwindling volunteer workforce, the thousands of people who keep Wikipedia updated and objective.

Active editors on Wikipedia, from The EconomistWikipedia is only as strong as its contributors and editors, a team that peaked several years ago. The Economist did a great deep-dive into Wikipedia’s state of affairs this spring. It pointed out that the number of English-language editors on the site has dropped steadily for nearly a decade, to 30,000 volunteers this year, down from 50,000 in its heyday. That sounds like a big staff, but with nearly two billion pages to curate, and an almost entirely unpaid team, the math quickly gets sour.

Right around the time of the Economist article, I found myself disgruntled at yet another article speaking in the present tense about 2011. So, after a decade of lurking and leeching, I signed up for a Wikipedia account. And when I see a line like, “The band is slated to appear on the first week of Jimmy Fallon’s new talk show,” my annoyance now turns to utility, as I am empowered to fix that sentence, and a tiny bit responsible, too. As a longtime writer, editor and grammar hound it’s a no-brainer for me to pitch in.

I’ve only updated a handful of articles thus far, but I am quick to hit the Edit button when I see outdated or inaccurate text, most recently this morning, updating the status of a canceled program. Making updates to Wikipedia is easy, it’s satisfying, and it ensures that the site will continue to be a useful resource.

Wikipedia, of course, has been running on this model since its inception. But too many people, like me, take the labor behind the site for granted. My own contribution ultimately will be small, but it will be a contribution nonetheless.

Please consider doing the same. Even occasional edits help keep the world’s encyclopedia appropriately encyclopedic.

Ideapad recipes: tuna salad

This is not much of a recipe, as it goes, but I make a pretty mean Jewish-deli-style tuna salad. It’s easy, and yet it’s not.

There are many ways to make canned tuna fish into an enjoyable salad. My mother-in-law does hers up with relish and, we suspect, a dollop of sugar. Fairway makes a “healthy” tuna salad with soy-based mayonnaise and so rich in carrots that it skews the flavor profile, and in a good way. Mine is a bit more traditional, and not far off from what you’d get at, say, the Carnegie Deli on Seventh Avenue. (Although I’d have to make a lot more of it to make an equivalent sandwich.)


  • One or more cans of solid white albacore tuna in water (I buy Bumble Bee)
  • A jar of mayonnaise (I buy Hellmann’s, and—shhh—I get the low fat kind; see below)
  • A stalk of celery

Open tuna cans, drain water, dump contents into a steel or glass mixing bowl. I used to squeeze and squeeze the water but it really doesn’t matter as the final product is so moist.

Mash up the tuna a good bit. I use a dinner fork for this and keep it pretty informal, although getting to small pieces is important. My mom, from whom I learned the basics of this recipe, used to dice the hell out of her tuna fish with a chopping knife, a 1970s, single-handed version of the thing they use at Chop’t to chop up salads nowadays, which served to eradicate most traces of fishiness (and therefore made it one of her son’s two go-to lunches, despite the fact that her son abhorred most fish until well into adulthood) but also took out some of the texture and corresponding flavor. I no longer opt not to go that far, although you certainly can. The Carnegie’s tuna looked knife-chopped to me last time I had it. Still, you want to break up the tuna well, because the interlacing of the ingredients—that squishiness you can actually hear—is what makes for great tuna salad.

Next, add the mayo. There are two tricks that come in handy here. The important one, and probably the whole point of this essay, is to use way more mayonnaise than you would ever suspect you’d find palatable. All those tiny pieces of tuna you created need to adhere to one another, and a generous apportionment of vinegar-oil-and-egg blend will be the defining characteristic of a great tuna salad. I start with one heaping tablespoon of mayo for every five or six ounces of tuna, and I wind up using twice as much, or more. Add a spoonful, mix it in with the fork, check its color and consistency, and add another blob. Not just add to taste, trust me, you’re going to want to keep going; I tend to stop too soon every time. You can actually listen for that squish in your fork as the tipping point into proper proportion. Did you stop adding mayo out of skepticism? Fear? Seriously, add more. The ideal amount home turns out to be about half a tablespoon more than you think.

The other mayonnaise trick, as mentioned in the ingredient list, is that unless you’re cooking up two batches side by side with different ingredients, reduced- and low-fat mayo tastes just as good as regular. (At least, Hellmann’s does.) So you can spare yourself some cholesterol to help your heart, and your conscience.

When the tuna and mayo are all set, it’s time for the celery. Celery is nice because it adds a great textural counterpoint to the sponginess of the tuna, and the flavor balance is excellent. Celery portioning is discretionary: I typically put in a quarter-stalk per can of tuna, diced into small but not minuscule pieces, but a bit more or less won’t impact things too much. Other ingredients can also be added at this time, like Fairway’s carrots, but I stick with just the celery. Mix in thoroughly.

Finally, chill the tuna salad, then serve. I am happiest with ice-cold tuna in sandwich form, with a half-sour pickle and potato chips and a cream soda as the ideal accompaniment. Good tuna salad is equally satisfying on almost any bread, from white to multi-grain to a baguette, though a Jewish-deli tuna salad preparation probably deserves Jewish bread: rye, pumpernickel, challah or a bagel. Eppes essen.

Ideapad recipes: chicken stir-fry

I cooked a perfect roasted turkey tonight! Which is noteworthy for many reasons, such as the fact that I hate touching raw poultry, I used the wrong kind of roasting pan, I’d never cooked a turkey of any kind before, and it wasn’t even supposed to be mine to cook. When my wife ran late I tackled the bird, and I have been marveling all evening at how easy it was to do well. I also whipped up some pretty tasty homemade stuffing.

I developed an interest in cooking fairly late in life. In my 20s, about the only time I cooked was to whip up some pasta and Perdue breaded chicken breasts in the minuscule kitchen of my minuscule walkup apartment. Now that I live in a four-person household, though, preparing and sharing a meal is fun, healthy and economical, and restaurant delivery has become a novelty rather than a routine.

For better or worse, when I cook, I like to make it interesting. If I’m going to all the effort, I’m going to have some fun along the way, trying new recipes and going all-in on ingredients and preparation. (See: homemade stuffing.) Having successfully banged out Thanksgiving dinner tonight, I’m thinking of posting my recipes and meals here as I go. They’re usually variations on top-five Google search results for whatever I’m looking into, but I invariably swap out an ingredient or two, too. I’ve been emailing successful recipes to myself and perhaps it will be more fruitful and entertaining to post my items publicly.

Of course, I have a handful of staples, one of which is a pretty basic and pretty tasty chicken stir-fry, which is easy to create while managing an active home, as you’ll see. I wrote this in 2010 but it was never published. It’s a good way to start this series.

Chicken Stir-Fry for the Modern Parent

To cook this dinner the way I cook it, first assume the appropriate mindset: consider yourself busy, tired, and sick of spending $35 on mediocre delivery for two, then layer onto that a spouse (partner, roommate, baby daddy, whatever) who shares the same busy-and-tired mindset, a blissfully unaware, curious and chipper 20-month-old boy, and a dog who begs like the hungriest panhandler you’ve ever passed in Union Square.

Now put yourself in the right physical scenario. It’s after-work-o’clock and the boy is running around the house, alternating between exploring things he shouldn’t and vying for your attention. The spouse isn’t home yet, but will be soon, and damn if you don’t want to eat dinner too late, since the kid wakes up at 7 in the morning and you both need to wind down early. So it’s time to cook while watching the kid.

I’ve found that a nice chicken stir-fry is low-impact enough to perform while juggling tasks, as it’s flavorful and reheats well, so you can cook a boatload of it in one shot and have leftovers for a day or two.

Start with rice. Any rice will do, really, so long as it’s not a cute seasoned thing, because your fine stir-fry will give you plenty of sodium to tinge the rice, but more on that later. Put up the pot, drop in your rice, listen for the boil, cover and simmer, giving a play-by-play to the tot, who repeats back every step. Once he can’t see the rice in the pot, the kid will lose interest and meander into the next room to play with trains and Elmo. Good enough.

Shortly after the rice is on, your spouse will arrive home, which is crucial, because she (or he) can assume some of the child-care duties, freeing you to wield a sharp knife without worrying as much about the tot. The dog, having picked up on the clatter and the scent of the rice, is now underfoot.

Get the chicken from the fridge, fresh organic breasts. Thin sliced is best. Don’t fall for the “chicken stir-fry” package, which conspicuously lacks the words “breast” and “white meat” and may not actually spell “chicken” correctly, like Krab brand imitation crab meat. You’re multitasking, but that doesn’t mean you’ve lost your sense of taste.

To prepare the chicken, you need a big bowl of Asian-style spiced liquid salt. In my house, Soy Vay is the seasoning of choice, mostly because of its awesome name. Any teriyaki or soy blend will do (not straight soy sauce, your blood pressure doesn’t need that, and it’s not all that flavorful). Throw maybe six ounces of sauce into the bowl, then cross-cut the chicken into smallish pieces or strips, larger than your fingernails and smaller than your index finger. Submerge all the chicken in the sauce and let it sit for a few minutes. If you want serious flavor, you’d do this the night before, or in the morning before work, but with the kid running around, who has that kind of time, or foresight? Fifteen minutes is enough to get things going.

Turn now to your cutting board and assemble whatever vegetables you have in the house. No doubt your fridge and freezer contain some combination of the following: celery, carrots, peppers, mushrooms, peas. Bean sprouts are probably good in this dish but lord do I hate bean sprouts so forget I even said that. Fish around your cabinet for a can of water chestnuts or bamboo, or both. If you have some sesame seeds or ginger, bonus! It’s almost real stir fry at that point. Put it all on the counter so you don’t forget an ingredient and sit down later wishing you’d remembered to toss in the bok choy.

Start chopping vegetables. There’s no necessary direction to this, not with all the activity around the house; the important thing is to make everything small enough to warm up quickly in the pan later. Thin sticks of carrot taste better than slices, though. Right around now, the dog is starting to love you again, because your vegetable prep is no doubt flinging things onto the floor, which Hoover down there is promptly taking care of.

Around this time, the kitchen will start smelling more like food, too, which draws in the toddler–nonono, don’t touch the stove, it’s hot. Yeah, “toooove.” And that’s chicken over there. Say “chicken.” Want to help Daddy cook? No? Smart, little guy. Let’s go get a book and keep you busy.

Back to business. Get a large pan warmed up over a medium-high flame. When it’s nice and hot, drop in the chicken, with a liberal helping of the Soy Vay or such, which is going to do double-duty on the veggies, so don’t be afraid to over-season at this moment. Let everything simmer for a few minutes, adding water as necessary to avoid char, and as the chicken turns white, flip it to cook the other side.

Once the chicken is on side two, give it a couple of minutes, then drop in any frozen vegetables. Wait long enough so that they don’t overcook, but not too long, because the frozen guys need a head start on the fresh ones. Right around now, your rice is probably done; turn off its burner and enter “let sit five minutes” mode, which you probably never do, I know I don’t, and the rice really is tastier when you do it, so consider your good fortune.

Return to the chicken. By now it should be mostly cooked through; the thinner your thin-sliced chicken, the faster you get out of salmonella range. When you hit “okay, I’m going to give the chicken two more minutes” time, drop in all the fresh vegetables. I like to make a little show for myself, putting them in one color at a time from separate glass bowls, but really, no one’s watching, except probably the toddler, who has no clue about food presentation, so just go for it. Mix up everything well so all the vegetables are in contact with the sauce, then usher the kid back out of the kitchen again, because we are deep in splattering-boiling-soy mode, and you don’t want to get that on your own skin, much less the baby’s, although the dog doesn’t give a damn, so long as you drop some more food on the ground before you’re done.

That about does it for the chicken. Cut through a piece to test for preparedness; that’s the beauty of stir-fry, you can just slice that piece in half without the ignominy of being That Guy Who Has to Cut into His Chicken to See if It’s Ready. With any luck, the chicken is cooked through within two or three minutes of dropping in the fresh vegetables, because their flavor is much more intense and healthy if they don’t sautee too long.

Turn off the stove and you’re ready to serve. Dole out the rice first and put the stir fry right on top, since that’s how the rice tastes best. Show the toddler your work and hope he doesn’t get all jealous and ask to eat dinner again. Toss something on the floor for the dog and call in your spouse for dinner. As my kid would say, “mmmMMMmmm.”

Pro tip: because you had very little time to marinate your chicken before cooking, this dish actually tastes a little better the next day, after the soy’s had a night to soak into everything. I usually cook a pound-plus of chicken and a good amount of vegetables and leave myself at least one serving for tomorrow. Because the last thing you want is to do this two nights in a row.

How industry consolidation affects you: beer

Beer! Microbrew this and craft-brew that, how can beer be victim to consolidation?

The business of hops, yeast and malt is still fairly unconsolidated, but it has come together rather strongly in the past decade, to the point where the most famous American beer brands are all owned by foreigners. Anheuser-Busch InBev is the world’s largest beer manufacturer, with 21% of global sales. Don’t let the storied names out of St. Louis fool you; AB InBev is a Belgian-Brazilian company headquartered in Brussels.

In second place is SABMiller, founded in South Africa, headquartered in London, and owner of the Miller-Coors brands that hearken back to the Colorado Rockies. SABMiller sells roughly 44 billion pints of beer each year. SABMiller just made an offer to buy Heineken, a brewing conglomerate of similar size, which the Dutch company has so far rejected; should a deal go through, the combined firm would also control 21% of the beer market. The Economist also suggests that InBev may just buy SABMiller, creating a behemoth with combined production of nearly 600 million hectolitres (or, in practical terms, 125 billion pints) of beer per year.

Despite this consolidation, local and regional brewing continues to thrive. From mid-size producers like Sam Adams and Brooklyn to do-it-youself brewpubs, a wide variety of beers exist alongside the majors—some 3000 commercial entities in all, ensuring some diversity in a consolidating field.

Update: Flowing Data made a nice beer family tree that visually represents the industry.

This is the latest in a series of summaries of industries whose corporate consolidation has led to a small number of players controlling the majority of a sector, creating oligopolies in the mass market. Previously

What the watch industry is missing

I’ve been following the Watch reaction since its unveiling last week, and I keep coming back to the short-sightedness of the luxury watchmakers’ reaction.

Mostly, the watch industry has been complimentary, in its way, of the Apple Watch. They are right to compartmentalize it as fundamentally different from their products, and to appreciate it on its own level. Sample quote: “I do not believe it poses any threat to haute horology manufactures, I do think the Apple Watch will be a big problem for low-priced quartz watches, and even some entry-level mechanical watches.” (Monday Note has a good roundup.)

But here’s the thing: anyone who buys an Apple Watch is going to stop buying other watches, regardless of price point.

I keep thinking about my own use case. I’ve been a daily watch wearer since elementary school. I wear a watch with a great degree of pride, as the accessory I rely on. My watches are carefully chosen, and whether an inexpensive Swatch, an oversized Nixon or a finely crafted Breitling, they are a fixture in my life.

Of course, I’m also a daily Apple user, and an early adopter of their products. I own the first-generation iPod, the first iPhone, the first iPad. I undoubtedly will buy the Watch, even though I’m not a rabid message-sender, even though I’m not a jogger, even though I’m not yet 100% certain where the new device journey will lead me. It’s a new Apple gadget and it’s a watch—I’m powerless to resist.

And once I have the Watch, I’m going to wear it regularly. I will tinker with it, find its ideal use cases, answer a thousand questions about it, be proud of it as I was my other first-gen Apple products and every one of my watches. As with the iPhone, I expect it to become part of my daily routine.

And once I’m doing that, well, my other watches don’t stand a chance. Because as the Watch assimilates itself to my life’s rhythms (or, perhaps, vice versa), not wearing the Apple Watch will feel like something’s missing. The vibrations and alerts and shortcuts that aren’t offered by my quartz Zodiac will be glaring omissions. Before long, I’ll be strapping on the Watch every day, just as I put my iPhone in my pocket.

If the Watch works for me, my workaday watches will slowly get relegated to my nightstand drawer, and future watch purchases will shift from investing in the next object of beauty and personal expression to saving a few bucks for Watch 2. And Apple will then own a thirty-year habit of mine, just like they came to own my music and phone habits, too.

Frankly, I’m not even sure I’m happy about this. But I’m going for it. I expect millions of folks like me will, too, and when they do, the disruption to the watch industry will not be pretty.