Category: Food and Drink

How to improve conferences

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one bit:

The next time you are attending a formal presentation at a conference, ask yourself these questions: Is this better than all of those Zoom calls I am turning down? Is this better than the next best YouTube clip I might be watching? For most people, the answers are obvious. Conference organizers need to be willing to pull the trigger and usher the presentation into a gentle retirement.

Charismatic presentations still can be important to motivate a sales force or to build the unity of a crowd. But informational presentations are obsolete.

Earlier in my career, I went to presentations not to listen, but rather to meet the other people interested in the topic. That made sense at the time, but these days information technology provides superior alternatives. For instance, I have been to conferences that have “speed dating” sessions (without the date part, to be clear, and with vaccine and testing requirements) where you meet many people for say two minutes and then move on to the next meeting. This should become a more regular practice. Conference organizers also can create “speed dating pools” where everyone interested in a particular topic area has a chance to meet.

Another marvelous practice prompted by the pandemic that should be continued and indeed extended at all conferences: outside sessions, especially with group discussions.

Recommended, there is more at the link.  What other ideas do you have?

James Person’s Hawaii bleg

Could you please recommend or ask your readers’ recommendations for books about Hawaiian history and culture? I am visiting the state for the first time and like to approach my travels with a deeper understanding as you exemplify in your MR travel posts. Thank you for your time and help and especially for MR and Conversations!

Your assistance for James would be much appreciated!

Notes from Tavira, Portugal

The so-called “Lisbon earthquake” of 1755 in fact occurred near Tavira, which explains why so much of the city was rebuilt in a relatively consistent Portuguese Baroque style.

The best parts of town are scattered along the edges of the center, not in the center itself.  The overall Moorish feel remains, and oranges are grown in the surrounding countryside.

There is in fact nothing to do here.  That said, the town is consistently lovely and you will find few chain stores or fast food outlets.  The real problem is that Portugal is depopulating, and within depopulating Portugal Tavira is itself depopulating in both absolute and relative terms.  Many buildings are uninhabited and they are beginning to fall apart.

I am not sure I have seen an older town, and that includes a variety of stints in Japan.

It is very difficult to use one’s credit cards here, and it is not because they have leapfrogged to some more advanced means of payment.

For dining, I recommend the snack bar attached to the seafood market, on the far left corner as you look at the market.  They serve what is perhaps the best broccoli I ever have had.  It is also full of “characters,” salty men of the sea types.

More generally, I recommend the orangey snacky pastry thing, famous locally.  Pork and clams is a classic regional dish, cod to me is overrated.  Garbanzo beans are deployed profusely.  The seafood is excellent in quality, though too often it is put in a decent but not really interesting tomato broth.  It is worth a cab ride to the food market in nearby Faro, a larger town.

There are numerous Indian restaurants, but I haven’t run across a single Chinese locale, nor seen a single Chinese person here.

Visitors to Tavira do not regret it, but neither do they say “I wish I had come many years earlier!”

Bangladesh YouTube food facts of the day

The channel behind this operation is called AroundMeBD, and its success has created a whole new economy in Shimulia, which has since been dubbed the YouTube village of Bangladesh.

The YouTube village is a prominent example of a niche but is also part of a growing online trend across South Asia: As the internet reaches villages, rural societies are finding ways to showcase and monetize their unique food cultures to audiences across the world, using platforms like YouTube and Facebook. In India, Village Cooking Channel, which posts videos of large-scale traditional cooking, has over 15 million subscribers. In Pakistan, Village Food Secrets has 3.5 million subscribers. Villagers who previously had little presence in media are now using these platforms to take ownership of the way their culture is portrayed — and building businesses that support dozens, and occasionally hundreds, of individuals.

Here is the full story, via Zach Valenta.  The article is interesting throughout, and yes YouTube remains underrated.

My Conversation with the excellent Sam Bankman-Fried

Here is the audio, video, and transcript.  Here is part of the summary:

He joined Tyler to discuss the Sam Bankman-Fried production function, the secret to his trading success, how games like Magic: The Gathering have shaped his approach to business, why a legal mind is crucial when thinking about cryptocurrencies, the most important thing he’s learned about managing, what Bill Belichick can teach us about being a good leader, the real constraints in the effective altruism space, why he’s not very compelled by life extension research, challenges to his Benthamite utilitarianism, whether it’s possible to coherently regulate stablecoins, the implicit leverage in DeFi, Elon Musk’s greatest product, why he thinks Ethereum is overrated, where in the world has the best French fries, why he’s bullish on the Bahamas, and more.

And an excerpt:

COWEN: Now, for mathematical finance, as you know, we at least pretend we can rationally price equities and bonds. People started with CAPM. It’s much more complicated than that now. But based on similar kinds of ideas — ultimately arbitrage, right? — if you think of crypto assets, do we even have a pretense that we have a rational theory of how they’re priced?

BANKMAN-FRIED: With a few of them, not with most. In particular, let’s talk about Dogecoin for a second, which I think is the purest of a type of coin, of the meme coin. I think the whole thing with Dogecoin is that it does away with that pretense. There is no sense in which any reasonable person could look at Dogecoin and be like, “Yes, discounted cash flow.” I think that there’s something bizarre and wacky and dangerous, but also powerful about that, about getting rid of the pretense.

I think that’s one example of a place where there is no pretense anymore that there is any real sense of how do you price this thing other than supply and demand, like memes versus — I don’t know — anti-memes? I think that more generally, though, that’s happened to a lot of assets. It’s just less explicit in a lot of them.

What is Elon Musk’s greatest product ever, or what’s his most successful product ever? I don’t think it’s an electric car. I don’t think it’s a rocket ship. I think one product of his has outperformed all of his other products in demand, and that’s TSLA, the ticker. That is his masterpiece. How is that priced? I don’t know, it’s worth Tesla. It’s a product people want, Tesla stock.

COWEN: But the prevalence of memes, Dogecoin, your point about Musk — which I would all accept — does that then make you go back and revisit how everything else is priced? The stuff that was supposed to be more rational in the first place — is that actually now quite general, and you’ve seen it through crypto? Or not?

BANKMAN-FRIED: Absolutely. It absolutely forces you to go back and say, “Well, okay, that’s how cryptocurrencies are priced. Is it really just crypto that’s priced that way?” Or maybe, are there other asset classes that may claim to have some pricing, or purport to, or people may often assume it does, but which in practice is not exactly that? I think the answer to that is a pretty straightforward yes.

It’s a pretty straightforward answer that you look at Tesla, you look at a lot of stocks right now, you think about what determines their market cap — the discounted cash flow? Yeah, sort of, that plays a role in it. That’s 30 percent of the answer. It’s when we look at the meme stocks and the meme coins that we feel like we can see the answer for ourselves for the first time, but it was always there in the other stocks as well, and social media has been amplifying this all over the place.

COWEN: Is this a new account of how your background as a gamer with memes has made you the appropriate person for pricing and arbitrage in crypto?

BANKMAN-FRIED: Yeah, there’s probably some truth to that. [laughs]

Interesting throughout, and not just for crypto fans.

*Oceans of Grain*

A good book, think of it as a more general (non-technical) economic history of wheat, authored by Scott Reynolds Nelson.  The sad thing is the book’s subtitle: “How American Wheat Made the World” — yes it covers America, but a lot of the book, and I would say its best parts, focus on Russia and Ukraine.

I guess the publisher figured American readers don’t care that much about Ukraine?  Here is one excerpt:

Before Odessa [which had just been described as a major grain port], the Russian Empire had expanded slowly and defensively, one line of forts at a time.  After Odessa, Russia — just like the United States — possessed foreign exchange and could expand dramatically.  Wheat exports allowed the Russian Empire to fund its foreign wars, and so it surged into Poland, across the Caspian Sea, and toward China.  Nothing seemed capable of stopping the yeasty, kvassy expansion of the Russian Empire.  In fact, the spread of a different invisible creature, an invisible water mold, would further entrench Odessa as Europe’s city of wheat.

And this:

Fish sandwiches emerged as a regular meal for workers in Britain around 1870 once American grain arrived; a decade later this became fish and chips.

A fun book for me.

Against alcohol, #6437

This paper evaluates the impact of a sudden and unexpected nation-wide alcohol sales ban in South Africa. We find that this policy causally reduced injury-induced mortality in the country by at least 14% during the five weeks of the ban. We argue that this estimate constitutes a lower bound on the true impact of alcohol on injury-induced mortality. We also document a sharp drop in violent crimes, indicating a tight link between alcohol and aggressive behavior in society. Our results underscore the severe harm that alcohol can cause and point towards a role for policy measures that target the heaviest drinkers in society.

That is new research from Kai Barron, Charles D.H. Parry, Debbie Bradshaw, Rob Dorrington, Pam Groenewald, Ria Laubscher, and Richard Matzopoulos.  To be clear, the “policy measure” I favor is absolute individual boycott, not some kind of soporific Pigouvian tax scheme that won’t attract any real extra attention.

Against alcohol, part #6437

Utah’s shift to lower the legal limit for a driver’s blood-alcohol concentration successfully reduced car-crash deaths in its first year of adoption, according to a new report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The law, which took effect on Dec. 30, 2018, made Utah the only state in the country in which a driver can be arrested for having a blood-alcohol concentration between .05% and .079%.

NHTSA’s report found that fatal car crashes in Utah were down 5.1% in 2019 from the year before the law went into effect. Nationally, fatal car crashes fell 2% in the same period. Fatal crashes in which alcohol was detected dropped to 38 from 56 in 2019, the first time such crashes declined in three years, Utah Highway Safety Office data shows.

Here is more from the WSJ, via Tim Gillespie.

Update on the Sri Lanka Organic Farming Disaster

In Organic Disaster I wrote:

Sri Lanka’s President abruptly banned chemical fertilizers earlier this year in a bid to become 100% organic. The ban has resulted in reduced production and soaring prices that, together with declining tourism and the pandemic, have created an economic crisis.

Here is the latest update:

Sri Lanka has announced compensation for more than a million rice farmers whose crops failed under a botched scheme to establish the world’s first 100-percent organic farming nation.

…The government will pay 40,000 million rupees ($200m) to farmers whose harvests were affected by the chemical fertiliser ban, agriculture minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage said on Tuesday.

“We are providing compensation to rice farmers whose crops were destroyed,” he told reporters. “We will also compensate those whose yields suffered without proper fertiliser.”

The government will spend another $149m on a price subsidy for rice farmers, he added.

About a third of Sri Lanka’s agricultural land was left dormant last year because of the import ban.

A good example of central planning in action.

What are good long-term investments in your health?

Stuart asks:

1) what do you think are good long-term investments in your health? I know you’re a teetotaler and non-smoker, what about exercise? where do returns start not making sense?

I do not think I am the expert you should consult, but I can tell you where my knowledge base comes from.  I have endured a lifetime of people with very exact ideas about health maximization, but with a paucity of data or carefully controlled studies.  I thus tend to be skeptical of very specific advice.  At the same time, common sense appears to yield some broad dividends, or will involve no real cost.  I think the answers that follow are pretty stupid and uninteresting, but this was the highest rated reader request, so here goes:

1. Don’t drink.  It is fine or even beneficial for most people, but terrible for 10-15%  That might be you.  And even for those who are not “problem drinkers,” I’ve had plenty of people write me and tell me their lives are much better since they stopped drinking.  Stop treating “drinking” as a default.

2. Exercise every day.  For me the main options are basketball, tennis, walking, weights, and Peloton.  I am not suggesting those are best, they are simply what I bring myself to do.  And indeed that is probably the most important factor for you.  I am skeptical of very high stress exercises, such as risky rock climbing, and so on.  I don’t see the case for making your exercise into a health risk.

3. Get good sleep.  I am blessed in this regard.  For me what works is going to bed and waking up at regular hours, and not treating weekends any differently.  I don’t pretend that advice has universal validity, but perhaps for some of you it is worth trying.  Other people have theories about sleeping in the cold, sleeping with masks, etc.  I am not opposed!  Try those if you need them.  I don’t.

4. Don’t eat junk food.  Try to eat mostly unprocessed foods.  That said, I don’t think we understand diet very well or have good data on what works.  I just don’t seem the harm in eating mostly natural foods.  They taste better anyway, and there is possible upside.

5. Be happy.  Have goals and projects.  Have sex.  Have good social networks.  There is some evidence on these, I am not sure how strongly causal it is.  “Go to church” might work as well, but I don’t do that one.  It would frustrate me more than anything.

6. Unless you have strong evidence to the contrary, take a minimum of medications.  Don’t just pop random stuff because it might have some modest short-run benefit.  But yes I do believe in vaccines and most of all those kinds of medicine that have direct parallels with what we do to try to fix animals.

That is my advice.  I consider it mostly trivial, but still it is better than violating the advice.

Hunting smaller animals: is this also a theory of early economic growth?

We found that weighted mean body mass declined log-linearly through time. Mean hunted animal masses 10,500 years ago, were only 1.7% of those 1.5 million years ago. Neither body size at any period, nor size change from one layer to the next, were related to global temperature or to temperature changes. Throughout the Pleistocene, new human lineages hunted significantly smaller prey than the preceding ones. This suggests that humans extirpated megafauna throughout the Pleistocene, and when the largest species were depleted the next-largest were targeted. Technological advancements likely enabled subsequent human lineages to effectively hunt smaller prey replacing larger species that were hunted to extinction or until they became exceedingly rare.

Here is the full paper by Jacob Dembitzer, et.al., via Kobi Haron.

The supply chain that is Japanese

McDonald’s Japan has joined the unfortunate ranks of Toyota, Sony and other industrial titans that have fallen victim to a chip supply crisis.

The fast-food group said on Tuesday that because of delivery delays from Canada, it would only be able to offer the smallest serving of french fries at its 2,900 outlets. An emergency plan to ensure “continuous supply of french fries to customers” has been introduced, said a company spokesman.

And this I had not known:

For nearly half a century, Japanese consumers have ordered KFC chicken on Christmas thanks to an advertising campaign that successfully linked the fast-food chain with the holiday. KFC operates a family bucket pre-booking system to ensure that it meets the December 25 rush for deep-fried poultry.

Here is the full FT piece, via David Wessel.

Where to dine in Austin

The city is right now one of America’s better food scenes, and perhaps America’s most dynamic city overall?  It is radically different from even my recent visit a few short years ago.  Here are a few recommendations:

Loro: Asian fusion and smoked meats, don’t forget to get the sweet corn and also the cabbage.

LeRoy and Lewis: Outside dining from a food truck, first-rate beef cheeks.  Get there early.

Sammie’s: Doesn’t seem like it should be good, but excellent Italian with a Texas emphasis.

Comedor: Nouvelle Mexican, the quesadillas were the surprise with the biggest upside.

What is the income-happiness gradient for dogs?

Gunther the German shepherd spent a recent morning playing with his tennis ball, rolling in the grass, slobbering a little and napping a lot. Later, he had a “meeting” with the real estate agents selling his Miami mansion that his handlers bought from Madonna.

And of course Gunther was wearing his very best faux diamond dog collar for the meeting — his real gold collar is back at his main home in Tuscany. As crazy as it sounds even by Florida’s standards, Gunther VI inherited his vast fortune, including the eight-bedroom waterfront home once owned by the “Material Girl” singer, from his grandfather Gunther IV. At least that’s what the handlers who manage the estate say.

The Tuscan-style villa with views of Biscayne Bay went on sale Wednesday for $31.75 million — a whopping markup from the purchase two decades ago from the pop star for $7.5 million. The home also boasts a gilded framed portrait of Gunther IV over the living room fireplace.

The dog’s lineage dates back decades to when Gunther III inherited a multimillion-dollar trust from late owner German countess Karlotta Liebenstein when she died in 1992. Since then, a group of handlers have helped maintain a jet-setting lifestyle for a succession of dogs. There are trips to the Milan and the Bahamas, where the latest Gunther recently dined out at restaurants every evening — his handlers like to make sure he’s well socialized.

A chef cooks his breakfast each morning made of the finest meat, fresh vegetables and rice. Sometimes he enjoys caviar, but there’s never any kibble in sight. He travels by private jet, works on obedience skills daily with his trainer and sleeps in a lavish round, red velvet bed overlooking the bay.

“He lives in Madonna’s former master bedroom,” said real estate agent Ruthie Assouline who nabbed the listing with her husband Ethan for the 1.2-acre (0.5 hectare) property in a row of a half-dozen waterfront homes next to a public county park and on the same street where Sylvester Stallone once lived.

“He literally sleeps overlooking the most magnificent view in an Italian custom bed in the former bedroom of the greatest pop star in the world.”

Here is the full story, via Fred Smalkin.