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October 31, 2008

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October 30, 2008

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October 29, 2008

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October 28, 2008

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  • Wow: "In 2009, the Monitor will become the first nationally circulated newspaper to replace its daily print edition with its website; the 100 year-old news organization will also offer subscribers weekly print and daily e-mail editions." I will be sad when the NYT does this in a few years, leaving me to download PDFs to a gadget
  • Alaska's main newspaper endorses Obama. The editors neatly sidestep any pro-Palin bias by focusing (rightly) on the two candidates for President, then politely put the governor in her place, noting her extreme lack of experience
    (tags: politics media)

MTV Music

Now online: MTV Music. So obvious and wonderful it's amazing it took this long. Not only is it great for archival purposes, it's also a chance to see videos that don't get much air time in this post-music video era. Shame it took MTV so many years to roll out an easy-to-use music video archive, but hey, better late than never.

What I've watched this morning, blissfully all over the map:
~ Godley and Creme, Cry (probably my favorite video, period)
~ Val Emmich, Get on with It
~ LL Cool J, Mama Said Knock You Out (live Unplugged)
~ Estelle, American Boy (she looks nothing like I expected)
~ Kiss, I Love It Loud
~ Queens of the Stone Age, Go with the Flow (check the similarities in the glowing eyes to the Kiss video)
~ Living Colour, Cult of Personality

I'm disappointed by some conspicuous omissions (Lenny Kravitz's "Are You Gonna Go My Way" is a huge lack; "Ray of Light," "You Oughta Know" too), but in general, it's both fun and fascinating.

October 27, 2008

On biking in autumn

First, an update: I have continued my bicycle commuting healthily since I took it up in May. Schedule and weather willing, I've been riding to work twice a week straight into the fall. I'm running out of time, though: once Daylight Saving Time ends this weekend, my route home will be quite dark by 5:15 p.m., which will probalby shelve the bicycle until spring.

Biking in autumn is quite different than jaunts in the heat of summer. For a while, it becomes easier: no heat and harsh sun means less fatigue and sunburn. Jeans are a comfortable (if floppy in the legs) riding outfit. Water bottles go untouched.

Very rapidly, though, the weather turns, and all bets are off. Beautiful days begin at 40-degree temperatures with icy winds, making the riverside route a touch more masochistic than expected. Layering nylon outerwear blocks the breeze but creates sweat. And the shorter days create dark areas and reduced visiblity, making the ride far more treacherous.

Which is not to say I'm enjoying it any less. The views have changed; morning light is more angular, evenings scenic and comforting. The once-crowded greenway has been steadily emptying, providing less to look at but more room to ride. I've watched a new park by Chelsea Piers take shape and witnessed the return of the Intrepid. Fellow bikers are either intense riders in full gear or civilians in warmer clothing--I spied a woman in skirt, hose and overcoat the other day, talking on her phone, astride her hybrid Raleigh.

And, of course, I'm burning roughly 500 calories each day during my commute. Part of the genius of the bicycle commute is that I'm getting a workout during time that would otherwise be spent doing nothing. For someone who hates going to the gym, this is a great efficiency.

But it's the pleasantness, above all, that makes the bike ride worthwhile. Instead of spending time underground, I'm cycling through a beautiful park alongside the Hudson River, watching the sun rise and set, listening to music, moving at my own pace. I'm already looking forward to the springtime.

October 24, 2008

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October 23, 2008

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October 21, 2008

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October 20, 2008

Review: Shake Shack UWS

Having long anticipated the opening of the Upper West Side branch of Shake Shack, I was thrilled to hear of its opening yesterday. My wife and I checked on it Saturday, with no luck; yesterday we were out of town, so by tonight we decided we'd waited long enough, and off I went to get us some take-out.

Arriving after 8 p.m. on the second day was a good move. The line took around 20 minutes, the service was chipper and efficient, the store clean and cheery. (A tip: wait time from the entrance of the restaurant is around 10 minutes. It's also 10 minutes from the corner of 77th and Columbus to the front door. Beyond that you'll have to ask the neighbors.)

To patrons of the original, the new Shake Shack is not particularly innovative or exciting. The decor is a proper match to the shack in Madison Square Park, right down to the metal mesh and backlit sign. In a nod to the neighborhood, the main floor includes indoor waiting-area seating, a section for stroller parking, and some new concretes like the Natural History Crunchstellation.

So, most importantly: how was it? In short, very good. The overall quality is still Danny-Meyer-playing-short-order-cook high; all ingredients were fresh and each item prepared to order.

Burger: The Shack Burger has the same allure as downtown, tasty and inviting. But the full flavor isn't all the way there yet. The original Shack has been grilling burgers 12 hours a day for years, and there's a flavorful char that provides the "ohmigod this is amazing" taste. This early on, uptown is missing that extra kick. Still solid, though, and my wife noticed the difference less than I did.

Hot dogs: We tried a Shack-cago and a New York Dog, both of which were enjoyable, basic hot dogs. The multitude of toppings on the Shack-cago was great, particularly the relish.

Fries: Best part of the meal. Crunchy, fluffy, bursting with flavor. The uptown fries are as good as Madison Square if not better, despite rumors that the ones here are frozen.

Concrete: Our Shacky Road went fast. Crunchies added afterward were a fun and unexpected twist. I'm still partial to the Shack Attack, but really, any concrete is a good concrete.

All in all, a solid start for the first expansion of the Shake Shack. In a few months' time, I will be fighting long lines (or showing up at 9:30 p.m., after most of the UWS has gone to bed) for what I've long declared is the best burger in New York City--now a short walk from home as well as 500 yards from my office. Heaven.

Welcome Interior Production line

links for 2008-10-20

  • I really, really, really want to do this with my kid next year
    (tags: kids humor)
  • "I look at these people and can’t quite believe that they exist. To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. 'Can I interest you in the chicken?' she asks. 'Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?' To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked."

On performance reviews

Get Rid of the Performance Review! in the Wall Street Journal tackles the outmoded concept of one-way personnel assessments. In it, Samuel Culbert makes the case that reviews slow productivity and breed animosity in ways that are not particularly useful. Employee "previews" are suggested as an alternative.

But a far better mechanism already exists: the employee-led performance review. Staff are given blank assessment sheets and write objective reports of themselves. These are then shared with management; the boss leads a sit-down session to discuss areas agreed upon as well as areas omitted by the employee.

I've been giving and receiving self-administered performance reviews for years and see many benefits. Employees are often more critical of themselves than their managers. They encourage improvement even before the face-to-face review begins. The process also eliminates the one-sidedness of employer reviews, because the process begins with a dialogue rather than a directive.

Some organizations do two-sided assessments, which is even better: employee fills out a form, employer fills out the same form, then both sides review the two sheets together. This provides great momentum for consensus-building and easily identified goals. It also clarifies why areas are included or excluded by either party (e.g. "I hadn't mentioned my early Friday departures because I thought my late nights offset them... I'm glad you highlighted this as something that's important to the company.").

My current employer has begun managerial reviews, which is an interesting twist: we've got one-way reports, but they're up the chain of command instead of down, so I've been reviewed by a project manager and am scheduled to review the president. I was reluctant to do them at first, and now I know why: they are the one-side-accountable, administered/received reviews outlined in the WSJ article. Fortunately, bubble-up reviews work differently--they've been excellent sessions of constructive criticism and a good chance to think objectively about peers. Very useful for continued personal growth, particularly in a small company.

October 17, 2008

On Manhattan

Emily Magazine: The kind of crazy you get from too much choice.

The truth [about living in New York City] is that we try to make it hard for ourselves by creating a lot of tasks and rules and very, very specific needs. The arcane evidence fills the shelves at every big Korean deli in Manhattan and every bodega in gentrified Brooklyn: we need almond butter and organic tempeh and unbleached cotton tampons. We might even need specific brands of these things. We need 24-hour access. We need to never be more than two blocks from an ATM. We need taxis and car services that know how to take us anywhere. We need free wifi and bottled unsweetened iced tea and perfectly decent sushi that costs less than $10. We need fresh lemongrass and thai basil and epazote and coconut milk and three different kinds of artisanal ginger beer and cane-juice-sweetened dark chocolate. We need $40 moisturizer from Kiehl's and perfect $10 bras from Target and Japanese bubble tea and two eggs and cheese on a toasted whole wheat bagel prepared in under a minute.
An absolute truism of Manhattan residents is that we define our existence by our cravings. We sacrifice significant comforts of space and money in exchange for convenience and specificity.

I can write a paragraph just like Emily's. My family lives in an utterly charming apartment, filled with light and two minutes from the subway, that also happens to consume an extraordinary percentage of our take-home pay and has no closet in the baby's bedroom. We have several boxes of Mighty Leaf tea (15 packets, $9) alongside the Lipton (48 bags, $4) in our cabinet. We bring our Chinese and Japanese food uptown from the Village because we haven't found restaurants on the Upper West Side that meet our tastes. I have over the years switched drycleaners no fewer than 11 times. My wife craves nice shoes like Sigerson Morrisons, of which she a pair, and also Sigerson Morrisons from Target, of which she also has a pair. Our stroller retails for nine hundred dollars and barely fits in the trunk of our car. That we even have a car is considered a luxury; that we share and street-park the car is considered cheap.

Yet this lifestyle is by choice, and it's one we are pleased to have made. We are in Riverside Park nearly every day with our son and our dog. We do have a 24-hour specialty grocer around the corner, and six places with baked goods within a five-minute walk, and we take full advantage. I ride my bicycle to work twice a week alongside the Hudson River. Our home is full of century-old detail that can only be found in an urban dwelling. We see award-winning theater on a whim, shop in fascinating locally owned stores, eat at world-class restaurants and walk home.

In some ways it is a peculiar living, but it is also a spectacular one. We made a conscious decision to stay in Manhattan, at least in the near term. And I, for one, don't regret it in the least.

October 15, 2008

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October 10, 2008

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In the elevator

Scene: two tall, thin women, one blonde, one brunette. The blonde is carrying lunch.

Brunette: "You go there?"

Blonde: "I like their egg whites. They're really good."

"Really? What do you order?"

"I get the egg whites, some brown rice, and a little bit of fat-free cheese."

"That sounds like it doesn't taste like anything!"

"Well, you can put, like, ketchup on it."

October 2, 2008

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On being an idiot, eating dinner, and customer service

Right, even when he's wrong on the Ai blog.

"I can check, it's no problem, if you don't want this I will see."

"Okay," I said, feeling extremely guilty. "Please let the chef know it's my mistake and not yours. I'll eat the lasagna if I have to, since I guess I ordered it."

"Oh, you ordered it," my wife said.