Food and Drink

Dave asked me if there was some way to bypass a bum sensor while waiting for the repairman to show up. But fixing Dave’s sensor problem required fiddling around in the tractor’s highly proprietary computer system—the tractor’s engine control unit (tECU): the brains behind the agricultural beast.

One hour later, I hopped back out of the cab of the tractor. Defeated. I was unable to breach the wall of proprietary defenses that protected the tECU like a fortress. I couldn’t even connect to the computer. Because John Deere says I can’t.

There is more here, interesting throughout, mostly about how farmers are no longer able to fix their own tractors, which by the way may cost $100,000 or more. This part is interesting too (“model this“):

There’s a thriving grey-market for diagnostic equipment and proprietary connectors. Some farmers have even managed to get their hands on the software they need to re-calibrate and repair equipment on their own—a laptop purchased from some nameless friend-of-a-friend with the software already loaded on it. There are even ways to get around the factory passwords that block access to the tECU to effect repairs.

But under modern copyright laws, that kind of “repairing” is legally questionable.

Manufacturers have every legal right to put a password or an encryption over the tECU. Owners, on the other hand, don’t have the legal right to break the digital lock over their own equipment. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act—a 1998 copyright law designed to prevent digital piracy—classifies breaking a technological protection measure over a device’s programming as a breach of copyright. So, it’s entirely possible that changing the engine timing on his own tractor makes a farmer a criminal.

In response, there is now a community of farmers looking to encourage “open source tractors.”

If this doesn’t concern you, I can assure you that in South Korea things are even worse.

For the pointer I thank the excellent Mark Thorson.

Parties that might have finished their dinner in a little over an hour instead linger for closer to two when they opt for dessert. And they stay the extra thirty minutes while consuming only a fraction of what they did during the first part of the meal. It would be different if people ordered drinks more often alongside cake, but they often don’t. It would change things if dessert wines were more popular, finer, and more expensive, but they aren’t, Cowen said.

From Roberto A. Ferdman at WaPo, there is more here.  File under “Oklahoma is different.”

I would add two points.  First, the rise of wait-in-line higher quality casual fast food penalizes dessert, because at say a Chipotle people don’t want to wait in line again for dessert.  Second, a lot of what is consumed at Starbucks and similar outlets is “dessert in everything but name” and that is proving a more popular and durable model for injecting sweets and cream into the body, perhaps because it does not need to be paired with an expensive meal and furthermore it is ever-present in most parts of the United States.

Are desserts in decline?

by on February 6, 2015 at 7:28 am in Economics, Food and Drink | Permalink

I hope so.  Todd Kliman writes:

The problem is that restaurateurs are unwilling to charge more than $30 an entrée. That number has held steady for years, the Maginot Line of the industry. Forced to look elsewhere, they’ve sought to recoup their escalating expenses by aggressively targeting the start of the meal, upping the prices of appetizers and “snacks,” cocktails, and glasses of wine. At some places, you’ll pay nearly as much for a six-ounce pour of Chardonnay as you would for a plate of chicken.

The question is why so many restaurateurs have opted not to jack up the prices of dessert, too.

“It’s just not worth it,” a successful owner told me, noting that the prices of dairy have gone up by as much as 150 percent in little more than a year. High-fat butter, a necessity for gourmet baking, sells for more than $4 a pound, double what it was in the summer of 2013. “A cocktail brings in twice as much money as a dessert, and it doesn’t hold up a table at the end of the meal. You have to turn the tables.”

And the higher urban rents rise, the more tightly space is squeezed and restaurants need open tables, and thus the more restaurant desserts will decline and indeed should decline. (“the rent is too damn high and where is my dessert!?” could be the new motto).  I would be happy enough if all desserts were simply dark chocolate ice cream or gelato, consumed rapidly and perhaps at a different venue altogether.

Birmingham bleg

by on February 4, 2015 at 1:17 pm in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

Alabama, that is.  C’mon people, spill the beans, I await your wisdom as always.  Food, but not just.  I’ve never been there, I am sorry to say, and so have much to learn.

Table 1 shows that adding estimates from the literature suggests that economists have already explained 177% of the rise in average BMI.

That is from this new NBER paper, by Courtemanche, Pinkston, Ruhm, and Wehby, which seems to be one of the most careful studies to date.  They do it right and then offer some more commonsensical conclusions:

A growing literature examines the effects of economic variables on obesity, typically focusing on only one or a few factors at a time. We build a more comprehensive economic model of body weight, combining the 1990-2010 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System with 27 state-level variables related to general economic conditions, labor supply, and the monetary or time costs of calorie intake, physical activity, and cigarette smoking. Controlling for demographic characteristics and state and year fixed effects, changes in these economic variables collectively explain 37% of the rise in BMI, 43% of the rise in obesity, and 59% of the rise in class II/III obesity. Quantile regressions also point to large effects among the heaviest individuals, with half the rise in the 90th percentile of BMI explained by economic factors. Variables related to calorie intake – particularly restaurant and supercenter/warehouse club densities – are the primary drivers of the results.

Here is a much earlier ungated version of the paper, with differing numerical estimates, use with caution.  A few related studies you will find here.

When I visited Santa Monica in January it struck me how much it reminded me of…Arlington.  Arlington is now essentially a part of Northwest, at least Arlington above Route 50 or so.  Arlington and Santa Monica have never been more alike, or less distinctive.

Parts of east Falls Church will meld into Arlington, and south Arlington will become more like north Arlington.  Real estate prices east/north of a particular line are rising and west of that line are falling.  Fairfax is definitely west of that line.

The Tysons Corner remake will fail, Vienna is not the new Clarendon, and the Silver Line and the monstrously wide Rt.7 will form a new dividing line between parts of Virginia which resemble Santa Monica and parts which do not.

Incumbents aside, no one lives in Fairfax any more to commute into D.C.  Why would you?  The alternatives are getting better and Metro parking became too difficult some time ago.  Fairfax is not being transformed, although some parts are morphing into “the new Shirlington.”  Most of it will stay dumpy on the retail side.  Annandale will stay with Fairfax, whether it likes it or not.

For ten years now I have been predicting various Fairfax restaurants will close — casualties of too-high rents — and mostly I have been wrong.  The good Annandale restaurants are running strong too.  Annandale won’t look much better anytime soon, thank goodness for that.

“Northern Virginia” is becoming two different places, albeit slowly.

“Let’s Play Two”

by on January 24, 2015 at 11:07 am in Film, Food and Drink, Sports, Uncategorized | Permalink

Very sadly Ernie Banks — the baseball player for you foreigners out there — has passed away.

Oddly, I have taken to quoting him lately.  If you are going out to eat with a small group, I recommend two stops.  No, don’t eat any more food than usual, but distribute your meal across two restaurants.  Have a few appetizers in one, and then leave and move on to another.  (This is easiest to do in Eden Center, with its wide selection of small-dish Vietnamese eateries, but other methods will work.)  Of course you must sequence your meals properly, the Greek eggplant must become before the Sichuan noodles, not vice versa.

This approach will improve the conversation at your table, if only by breaking up the original seating plan.  It also makes you more aware and more appreciative of what you are eating.

If you are going out to a movie, see two.  There is a fixed cost of attending, whether in terms of the traffic, the babysitter, or simply the will to spend time away from Facebook.  “Let’s Play Two.”

I have the impression that consumers “do fewer doubleheaders” than when I was growing up, I am not sure why.  Perhaps we have grown too impatient.

Banks’s obituary described him as “an unconquerable optimist whose sunny disposition never dimmed in 19 seasons with the perennially stumbling Chicago Cubs…”

Here are other quotations from Ernie Banks.  He said “The only way to prove you are a good sport is to lose.”

1. Toilet paper is shrinking, the size of the individual sheets that is.  (That is probably the closest we will get to hyperinflation.)  Does the average American really use 46 sheets a day?  That sounds like an overstatement.

In contrast to this commodity, I usually want for food portion sizes — especially ice cream — to be downsized.

2. I say both men and women are understating their number of sexual partners.  Contrary to what is portrayed in this chart, I postulate an American male average of about four.  I do not agree with the common claim that American men will overstate their number of partners.

The pointer is via Rayman.

Here is the latest:

It was not what Derek Nash expected to find in his 5-year-old’s school bag: A bill demanding a “no-show fee” for another child’s birthday party.

Nash said the bill from another parent sought 15.95 pounds ($24.00) because his son Alex had not attended the party at a ski center in Plymouth, southwest England.

Nash told the BBC on Monday he had initially accepted the party invitation, but later realized Alex was supposed to visit his grandparents that day. He said he did not have contact details to let the other family know.

The birthday boy’s mother, Julie Lawrence, told the BBC that her contact details were on the party invitation.

Nash says Lawrence has threatened him with small claims court but he has no plans so far to pay.

The link is here.  And here is yet another account.  I thank Drew for the pointer.

From a 2007 piece by Matheny and Leahy:

Campaigns directed toward pigs and cattle, however, could have a negative welfare effect by shifting consumption to poultry and fish products, which provide significantly less food per animal life-year. In fact, removing only poultry, eggs, and farmed fish from the diets of one hundred people would affect more animals than turning ninety-nine people vegan. If it is easier for consumers to shift consumption among animal products than to eschew all animal products, then this arithmetic has implications for both welfarist and abolitionist strategies.

That is from Natalie Cargill.  And the article is informative throughout.  You will note however that when it comes to environmental impact, red meat from the larger animals is typically the much larger problem.  So which do you care about more, animal welfare or the environment?  Or are you only willing to talk about margins where both improve?  By the way:

In the United States, there are only 220 veterinarians responsible for the care of more than nine billion farm animals.

Poker markets in everything

by on January 13, 2015 at 2:23 am in Economics, Food and Drink, Games | Permalink

All-In Kitchen, which will be opening in Haggerston, London, will see diners’ success at the poker table determine how much they pay for their meal.

There is more here, via Mark Thorson.  And here are some Chinese cars with guppy tanks.

The tables have turned on zoo-goers in China — where people are paying to be locked in cages while hungry lions and tigers stalk their every move.

The Lehe Ledu Wildlife Zoo in Chongqing city is giving people the hair-raising chance to learn what it’s like to come face to face with an apex predator, Central European News reports.

Visitors are forking over their cash to be caged inside the back of a truck as it makes its way through the animal park. Just to make sure they get the attention of the beasts, huge chunks of raw meat are tied to the bars to lure them as close as possible.

“We wanted to give our visitors the thrill of being stalked and attacked by the big cats but with, of course, none of the risks,” said zoo spokeswoman Chan Liang. “The guests are warned to keep their fingers and hands inside the cage at all times because a hungry tiger wouldn’t know the difference between them and breakfast.”

The chilling, once-in-a-lifetime experience has been a hit with visitors — the trips have been sold out for the next three months, according to CEN.

The link is here, via NinjaEconomics.  Elsewhere, in New York they are banning the tiger selfie, with or without huge chunks of raw meat.  Yet also in New York, Tough Mudder has added tear gas to some of its obstacle routines, via Hugo Lindgren.

Drive-thru metal is really a thing, or at least this L.A.-based band is trying to make it a thing. Mac Sabbath (yes, that’s really their band name) is a foursome of rockers who dress up as McDonald’s characters and perform covers of Black Sabbath songs. And they even change up the lyrics so they’re burger-themed.

On stage, they dress as Ronald McDonald, Grimace, the Hamburglar, and Mayor McCheese (with tusks and sans the top hat).

According to Mac Sabbath’s Facebook page, they’re not a joke band to sell t-shirts. They describe their shows as “Ronald Osbourne and the whole gang in full regalia playing all their hits like ‘Sweet Beef’ and ‘Chicken for the Slaves’ in a multi-media show with video, theatrics, audience participation and sing alongs.”

There is more here, including videos, via Robert Lawson.

The Flat White Comes to America!

by on January 2, 2015 at 7:35 am in Food and Drink | Permalink

In my 2013 report on Australian policy innovations I wrote:

The world owes Sydney baristas (New Zealand also) an enormous debt for the flat white, perhaps the best form of coffee yet perfected. The flat white has made its way to London but is only now becoming available in a few high end coffee shops in New York.  I eagerly await for this trend to extend to Fairfax as I am already jonesing for another.

Eater reports that I have only a few more days to wait:

In what appears to be an effort to regain some of its coffee credibility after years of slinging sugared up lattes and Frappuccinos, Starbucks is adding a Flat White to its menu. The espresso-based drink — which was created in Australia in the 1980s — has started to gain a serious American following over the last year.

Do I expect the Starbucks version to be as good as what I had in Australia? No. But I do hope that this move will increase coffee innovation throughout the market, pulling us closer to the Australian model. The Great Stagnation ends in 2015!

Los Angeles food bleg

by on December 31, 2014 at 5:27 pm in Food and Drink, Travels | Permalink

Where to eat?   Probably you can forget the rest, unless you ought to rationally think I do not already know of it.