Shared posts

24 Jul 15:11

The 40 Worst-Dressed Cities in America

by russiansledges
Russian Sledges

He's wrong about the lack of knit ties

I'm not going to defend Boston, though

1. Boston Boston is like America's Bad-Taste Storm Sewer: all the worst fashion ideas from across the country flow there, stagnate, and putrefy. To be fair, it's hard to be a fashion capital when half of your population is made up of undergraduate hoodie monsters, including those unfortunate coeds who don't realize that leggings-as-pants were supposed to be paired with tops large enough to conceal their cameltoes. Yet when they graduate, they can wear their Uggs and still fit in at the country's largest frat party on Lansdowne behind Fenway, where they can take breaks between body shots to admire just how long boot-cut jeans can stay in style in one place. And any classy lady from Beantown is bound to be impressed by formal sportswear. "But Boston is the epicenter of prep style!," you say? That's true, but it's with a little extra that ends up ruining everything: Khakis!—with pleats. Boat shoes!—with socks. Knit ties!—actually, no one in Boston seems to have ever seen one of these. For the more proletarian-minded, there are the modest little burgs of Cambridge and Somerville, where everyone dresses like the proprietor of his or her very own meth lab. If you wonder how a people can live like this, well, it's Jurassic Park for fashion troglodytes: life finds a way.—John B. Thompson
12 Jul 21:52

We made something insane today. #Video3forHYEDSE

by thestairsband
Russian Sledges

photograph on the right is mine. not pictured: overbey & me doing various nonsensical things involving pitchforks

We made something insane today. #Video3forHYEDSE

20 Jul 11:31

Letter to a Young Bartender, from Jackson Cannon

by russiansledges
Pick your destination. Think carefully about what you really want. Look at your shoes. Your first step: Get new shoes.
25 Jul 15:30

humanoidhistory: Space Age magazine cover, March 1952.

by ushishir


Space Age magazine cover, March 1952.

25 Jul 17:00

jordanelse: Astronomicum Caesareum Illustraions,...

by ushishir


Astronomicum Caesareum Illustraions, 1540. Bibliothèque nationale de France.


26 Jul 20:55

Daniel Radcliffe Wanders Around Comic-Con Pretending to Be Spider-Man

by Adam Chandler
Image Twitter
Daniel Radcliffe at Comic Con (TWITTER)

If going to Comic-Con is your idea of a dream excursion then you would also probably hyperventilate at the news that Daniel Radcliffe (neé Harry Potter) was ambling around the convention hall pretending to be "a normal" dressed up in a Spider-Man costume.  

Here's what he told the AP:

I did an American accent for the whole time. I even took a rucksack, so I look like I'm just coming to Comic-Con. I had a whole look. But it was great ... I took lots of pictures with people who did not know that it was me."

I'm sure if he used the word "rucksack," nobody there thought anything was amiss. Radcliffe had business at Comic-Con, the trailer for his new sci-fi flick Horns debuted.

In other Comic-Con news, the makers of Godzilla, which raked in nearly half a billion dollars worldwide this year, announced there would be a sequel to the latest Godzilla installment. For those keeping track at home, that's four major Godzilla movies this century.

Perhaps most notable was the surprise arrival of Ben Affleck and the rest of the Batman v. Superman crew at Comic-Con. The group included Superman (Henry Cavill) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and director Zack Snyder. It was there that a clip from the trailer of the upcoming movie was released to an ecstatic crowd.

Here's how MTV described the footage:

The footage begins with an overwhelming swell of drums, pounding louder and more intensely as the times passes. The dark screen quickly gives way to an outpouring of rain, as we see a man standing next to the Bat Signal. He slams the signal on, and we see it shine its logo right onto another hero — Superman.

The man operating the Bat Signal? None other than Batman himself. It’s Ben Affleck looking like a vision ripped straight from the pages of Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns.” He’s covered head to toe in an armored Bat Suit, complete with light-up blue eyes. He’s not the only one with glowing eyes: Superman stares right back down at him, his heat-vision swelling in his own gaze. The footage cuts right as the drums reach a fever pitch, and the battle presumably begins.

I'm sure this isn't the last we'll be hearing from this year's Comic-Con. 

26 Jul 18:44

Pope Francis Dines in the Vatican Cafeteria, Denounces the Mafia in Naples

by Adam Chandler
Image AP

Pope Francis dropped in on lunch at the Vatican cafeteria on Friday "like a thunderbolt out of the blue," according the restaurant's chef. As the Mirror reported, the pope went through the line himself, ordered cod for the Friday fish, ate and chatted with a table of Vatican workers, and then bussed his own tray.

After finishing his meal, the Pope blessed those gathered and praised the quality of the food."

The impromptu "First Supper" came just hours after speculation began about a possible American tour by the pontiff come 2015. The rumors have yet to be confirmed.

On Saturday, Pope Francis went on the road to Caserta, described by the AP as "main town in the turf of the Casalesi crime clan of the Naples-area Camorra syndicate." According to the report, the pope had come to speak out against the mob in the wake of the syndicate's illegal poisoning of farmland, which was said to have been done using trafficked waste. 

During his homily outside the 18th-century Reggia palace, Caserta's main tourist attraction, Francis drew applause when he urged his flock to have "the courage to say no to every form of corruption and lawlessness."

As we noted earlier, Pope Francis has taken an exceptionally aggressive posture against the mafia in Italy. Last month, Francis turned a number of heads when he decided to excommunicate the Calabrese mafia. 

05 Jun 01:28

Tickets for Restaurants

by Nick Kokonas
Russian Sledges

"It is incredibly important for any business, no matter how great the demand, not to charge a customer more than the good or service is worth – even if the customer is willing to pay more.

Economists looked at our demand for Next shortly after we opened and concluded that we should auction tables. I’m convinced we’d be doing terribly now if we had done that. All of those early customers would have had a great experience, but would in my opinion have been willing to pay too much… they would have left Next thinking – yeah that was great but it wasn’t worth $ 2,000 – even if they were the ones who chose to pay it."

Resos vs. Access Apps vs. Tix: More Than You’d Ever Care to Know

Ticketing for restaurants has been in the news a lot lately.  Here are just a few articles:

Ticket to dine – the restaurant reservation revolution

Are restaurant tickets the new reservations

Alinea’s ticketing system soon commercially available

It took a while for the media to catch up – and for start-ups to get in the game – but in fairness it was reported a while back as well:

Business Week

How Nick Kokonas is shaking up fine dining

New York Times

It’s been interesting to field the recent influx of emails and calls from the press, app developers, established software companies, and a handful of VCs.  Ticketing for restaurants – and more generally variable and/or dynamic pricing – is something that we’ve been wrestling with for years.

And the press articles have been frustrating to read, simply because they never include real data and they miss the differences between ‘tickets’, ‘reservations’, and ‘pay-for-access apps’… all of which are very different and have different implications for restaurants and customers alike.

This is my attempt to outline exactly what we’ve done with restaurant tickets, why it’s interesting, and the results of the experiment… along with real data from our restaurants.  People tend to treat business data as something that shouldn’t be shared, but I don’t really see the harm in openly examining the data.  So the numbers provided are the real numbers from Alinea, Next and the Aviary.

First, some background and psychology.

The Background Story – Warning:  Long

We began selling tickets right when Next opened in 2011.  It seemed, at the time, risky and speculative to open a restaurant and at the same time pioneer a new way of booking customers.  But after watching the absurdity that was the Alinea reservation telephone lines day after day for years it seemed worth the risk.  There were massive problems with the traditional methods of taking reservations over the phone:

  • A high volume of calls, especially around the days we would open a month’s reservations book, meant that callers often could not get through.  One time so many people called that the entire 312-867 exchange went down.  AT&T asked us if we were running a Groupon.  Ha!
  • 3 full time employees answering phones, mostly to say ‘no’ to potential customers since 70% of people request the same times:  Friday and Saturday prime times.  This was costly payroll, costly phone lines, and, most importantly, frustrating to the callers.  Saying ‘no’ to a potential customer is never a good thing.
  • No shows running at around 8% or more, depending on the time of year, meant that both potential customers on the wait-list and the restaurant itself were unfairly penalized by a small and thoughtless minority of diners.  This cost the restaurant several hundred thousand dollars per year in revenue.  And unlike an airline a restaurant cannot double book a table (or should not, some of course do just that).
  • Voicemail boxes with 100+ messages meant that it was a full-time job just to retrieve and call back customers… often to say that nothing was available or to play phone tag for days.
  • Customers felt like they were being lied to.  How could you be booked 2 months out on a Thursday?  There was no transparency to the system.

As an outsider to the restaurant industry this seemed to me a very antiquated way of doing business.  There were of course software programs to address the management of information about a customer and their booking, most notably OpenTable but also some small, less known start-ups.  Back in 2004 the process of purchasing the software, setting up the system, leasing hardware (!), training staff, and using the system felt very much stuck in the 1990’s – today it feels even worse!  It was a bit like an IBM salesman from an 80’s movie coming to sell you enterprise software complete with the sales brochure, your ‘package’ options, a wink and smile.  And of course these systems were ‘sticky’ in the sense that once you became a user you tended to stick with the system you bought – after all, your customer information and reservations for the next several months, as well as your customer history, are already in that system.  That bodes well for the business selling the software, but very poorly for any future innovation or features, an open API option, extensibility, or adoption of new hardware such as tablet computers.  Change would be slow to come and would only happen if the business itself were threatened.

There was also friction from within our own company.  Alinea was the first restaurant I was ever involved in and our own managers viewed me as an outsider to hospitality – and in many ways rightly so.  When I said, “We should just sell tickets,” it was mostly laughed off completely.  The attitude was – that’s not fine dining, that’s not hospitality, that’s not soigné.

The concept of Next was so far afield of a normal restaurant that it was an opportunity to do something very different with the booking process.  Though I hadn’t the faintest idea how we would sell tickets, Grant and I included the line:  “Tickets, yes tickets, go on sale soon…”  in the announcement ‘trailer’ for Next.  That was meant to do three things:  1) gauge the reaction from potential customers; 2) create interest and controversy; 3) force us to actually follow through.

(see  the 1:17 mark for the ticket announcement, in full vaporware form)

I assumed at the time, about a year before we opened, that I would simply adopt the ticketing software from a theater system, sports ticketing software, or event tickets to use at Next.  But it was immediately clear that none of these would work.  Restaurants have a very different type of seating template than a theater show or sporting event.  None of the ticket software systems met even half of our needs.

I then contacted a number of the existing reservations software companies to ask if they wanted to either open their API to us, or partner on creating a ticketing extension to their system.  All said no.  Actually, no is too kind a word.  Dismissive is far more accurate.  One of the big players told me, “We studied that years ago and concluded no one wants or needs it.”

Finally, I contacted several developers I knew personally.  They all found it to be an ‘interesting problem’ but also a difficult and expensive one to solve without a clear business plan.

About six months before Next was due to open I hired a single programmer and laid out visually, as a flow chart, what the system needed to do.  Talk about a lean start up model!

Fast-forward to a few days before Next’s opening night and we still hadn’t fully tested the system.  Building the software proved to be far more involved than either of us had imagined.  As well, 18,946 people had signed up to be notified when tickets went on sale, the press was hounding us about the opening, the usual pressures of building the restaurant and the opening night (just like the TV shows depict!) were on our shoulders, and one really important guy – chef Grant Achatz – kept calling me to ask how many people were going to show up for our first service.  All I could say was “Plan for a full house,” but really I had no idea.  When Grant pointed out to me that we didn’t even know if anyone would buy a ticket, ever, for a restaurant all I could say was, “What do we have to lose?  If no one buys a ticket we just open the phone lines and take reservations.”  That we had no phone lines ready was something we neglected to talk about.

Despite bugs, website propagation issues, and everything else that could possibly go wrong on a software launch – on the very day of the Next opening – tickets went on sale.  So many people logged on and bought tickets so quickly that I simply couldn’t believe it.  The table codes would turn from GREEN (unsold) to RED (sold) on a page refresh literally the instant I ‘unlocked’ a table.  I immediately called Grant:  “You have to come to my house, now.”  Grant responded, “We’re opening a restaurant tonight, I can’t.”  “Please come now.”  “No.”  “You must.”  He did.

I showed Grant how to click on a table on the calendar page to ‘turn on’ a ticket for a table.  He did and it turned from YELLOW to GREEN.  I then refreshed the page and it was RED.  “What happened,” he asked?  “It sold.”  He did it again, this time 2 months out on a Wednesday night at 9:30 PM.  Same result, instant sale.  “There are 8,432 people on the system hitting the refresh button right now chef.  As soon as you unlock one, it sells.  Here, look.”  I opened another window with our credit card processing transactions listed.  $ 57,293  in sales in the first hour of the system.  $ 358,483 in the first 24-hours.  Two days later $563,874 of revenue was in our bank.

It seemed that patrons would indeed buy tickets to a restaurant.  A few months later I took this video of 72 tables being sold for the last few weeks of our Paris 1906 menu.

(There is no way anyone could ever do that over a phone.  It would take an army of reservationists and a totally new kind of reservations software.)

Alinea moved to ticket sales in August of 2012.  Aviary, essentially an a la carte restaurant for cocktails, began selling tickets in November, 2013.  Trois Mec in Los Angeles and Elizabeth Restaurant here in Chicago have been beta testers for over a year each.

About our system and what it does right

That background story is important to understand because it illustrates the problems we are trying to solve and the process of getting there over many years.  As I’ll show below, the current batch of ‘tickets for restaurants’ apps attempt to solve only the customer-access-to-busy-venues issue.  That’s important to keep in mind as it does little to nothing for the restaurants themselves and it feels ‘off’ to the customers.  And the way to get tickets right for restaurants and patrons has as much to do with human psychology as it does with economic practice.

Here’s what our ticketing system does right:

1.  It creates transparency of process for customers and builds trust and loyalty.

I like to say that traditional restaurant reservations are predicated on two people lying to each other.  The restaurant says to the customer, ‘you’re all set for 8 PM for 4 people this Saturday night’ knowing full well that they won’t have turned the 6 PM table by 8 PM… at which time the arriving customer is told to wait at the bar (as depicted so well in the Sex and the City episode below).  In fact, this is actually a strategy for many restaurants.  Let the customer buy a drink before being seated – it’s an upsell and everyone has experienced it.  The customer, having been lied to so often doesn’t feel terrible about not showing up.  After all, there are plenty of people to ‘fill that table’ anyways.  This creates a cycle of subtle mistrust and becomes a problem for both the customer (bad service) and the restaurant (no shows, partial no shows, bad service).

That mistrust continues to the online booking process.  When you go to most traditional reservation systems online to book a table you are met with a default which represents the most popular choice:

DATE  /  7:00 PM /  2 People   :   Find a Table

More often than not when you hit that button the reply is:

There are no tables within 2 hours of your requested time.


The time you requested is not available.  9:30 / 2 People.

As a customer you see that and do what?  Almost every time I ask that question everyone immediately answers:  I call the restaurant. 


Clearly, customers have figured out that:  1) the entire ‘book’ is not in the online reservation system;  2)  a host on the phone can be cajoled into giving up a table;  3)  there may be no-shows;  4) restaurants don’t put prime-time tables online using the system to book shoulder times…early and late.

Here’s a typical example.  No tables within 2.5 hours of the standard request.  But even more interesting is the fact that for the whole week only the shoulder tables are available to a standard OpenTable user.  VIP users might see some prime time tables, but more often than not restaurants hold back the prime time for phone reservations so they do not need to pay the money to OpenTable for reservations that they know will for sure sell. (I use Girl and the Goat as an example because it is a popular, hugely successful restaurant and because I like Kevin and Rob… not to pick on them).

A ticketed system that shows the entire evening’s available tables and let’s a user select a table to purchase completely upends these trust problems.  Customers can see the seating template, understand which tables are already sold and which are available, and decide how to act.  They are not asked a question – ‘what is your desired time?’ – and then told “nope… you can have this instead.”  Saying no to potential customers over and over is a terrible thing – just really bad business.

From a restaurant’s perspective it is of course important to ‘hold back’ a few tables.  Inevitably there will be requests from visiting people in the industry, truly regular customers, press, personal friends, and relatives.  Or simply the delivery of xyz product did not arrive this morning and so we can’t service as many people this evening.  When every night is show time you need some pressure valves.  However, I argue that this too should be transparent.  We’ve always said that we hold a few tables back – and then like a theater we sell them as same-night or next-night tickets via social media.  This also allows for out of town guests and spontaneous diners to purchase tickets.

As well, eliminating that follow up call when there is nothing available saves a restaurant time, labor dollars, and yet another moment of distrust – the ‘gatekeeper’ syndrome.

2. It acknowledges that there are better / worse table times, and shifts demands accordingly.

Saturday at 8 PM is by far the most in demand table.  Tuesday at 9:45 PM is definitely not.  Is this at all surprising?  Why don’t restaurants acknowledge this and price accordingly?

Of course, the blue-plate-early-bird-special is nothing new.  Nor is the time restricted Groupon, 10% off Mondays, 1/2 priced bottle of wine on Tuesdays, and a myriad of other promotions designed to get diners in on a slow day of the week.

But such promotions are one-offs and are not a systematic, measurable way of moving demand in the long term or increasing demand slowly over time.  They also do nothing to address the busy times, the need to overbook Friday’s and Saturday’s to ‘make up’ for other days of the week, nor the stress on both staff and customers on those nights.

3.  It moves pricing in TWO directions, which is key.

Discounted nights feel like a desperation move by a potentially failing restaurant and that carries a stigma with the promotion all the way through to the customer.  The “early bird” special is used as a pejorative for dining early with the ‘senior citizens.’  The Groupon for a restaurant is often indicative of ‘soon to close’. Both promotions will get you on the death-pool list quickly.

Conversely… and even more importantly…

Charging a premium simply to get into a restaurant feels wrong as well.  Saying – “we’re so busy on Saturday nights that you can buy your way in” – is a throwback to slipping the old maitre d’ a $50 bill for a table.  Sure you can do that now on an iPhone app but it’s still the same – it feels schmarmy to me (is that a real word?).  You’re forcing a customer to pay for access…. And that’s my big problem with a host of new ‘ticketing’ apps that purport to give you access to the hard to get tables (see below).

Having either static or dynamically variably priced tables by day of week and time – in a fully transparent manner – simply gives customers the option of paying a bit more for a prime time table or saving a bit of money for an off-prime table.  It acknowledges the obvious.

No one pays $ 275 for a good seat at a Cubs game, looks up at the nose bleed seats and complains that it’s not fair that those guys up there only paid $ 25.  People accept the difference so long as the choice to buy either was their own.

4.  It supports the notion that table management should be visually simple for the restaurant managers and the customer alike. And ticket systems need table management!

Here’s a screenshot of our admin-side table management page for Alinea.  It’s so visually simple and informative that I won’t even bother to explain it:

If you want to block a table for any reason, just click on a GREEN table.  Want to unblock, click on the YELLOW tables.  Want to see the pricing matrix?  Just click View Prices.

Here’s the table sales page that a customer sees:

Pretty easy to see what’s available, the price of each, and the dates.  It’s also easy to see what IS NO LONGER available, which is equally important.  In the next version of the software we will keep every sold table and it’s price as an ‘x’ on this page.

And here’s the thing:  easy clear table management, simple template creation, and ticket sales and pricing management is precisely what all of the old reservations systems and new ‘access’ apps lack.  If you try to create templates for a restaurant using a leading system you know how frustrating that can be.  I’ll post a video of doing a whole year of template creation on our system soon.

5.  It creates a direct connection between restaurant and patron.

The ‘network effect’ of OpenTable and other reservation systems that aggregate restaurant reservations on a common network is on its way out.  I don’t see the advantage of joining such a network or the disadvantage of not being included for one simple reason:  Google owns search.

At one time it was definitely the case that if I were looking for an Italian restaurant in a certain neighborhood I would consult OpenTable, read the reviews, and book directly. Now I just use Google or Google Maps.  Google of course knows this and that’s why they bought Zagat.  I’d bet Google will soon begin the reservations game as part of Zagat ratings.

As a customer I get a broader overview of ALL restaurants by not using ANY ONE SYSTEM or APP.   Embedding within one of those systems AND paying the ‘toll’ of a per reservation referral charge is no longer necessary or desirable.  I also don’t want to crowd my phone with 10 different restaurant reservation or access apps.

What is critical is having a direct and AUTHENTIC connection with customers.  This is better accomplished through social media as people can opt-in to following or ‘liking’ your restaurant – and then you exist passively in their social media stream.  This is why for the past 3 years our content for Next has been posted to Facebook and Twitter rather than to our own website.  It is a strategy that has resulted in nearly 100,000 aggregate unique followers who are engaged and passionate about what we do.

The new Apps coming out such as Resy, Table8, FoodForAll, Killer Rezzy, and others (those are just the ones mentioned in the WSJ article) exist as yet another layer between the customer and the restaurant.  They are essentially yet another gatekeeper even though they ‘get you in’ for a fee.  As a customer I’d rather just deal directly with the restaurant – I’m then known to the restaurant personally, get better service, and the restaurant and not a third party app receives the benefit of my spending.  As a restaurant I can better engage with customers, do not have to pay yet another third-party service, receive 100% of the proceeds, and can better control both my image and sales pricing.  The restaurant also should not need to enter information on customers into multiple systems, resulting in increased labor costs for only marginal dollar gains.  I mean, selling a table for $ 20 on an app doesn’t get me much but could incur bad will, extra labor, and an unknown customer.


6. It does not penalize success

Most reservation and ticketing systems charge by the number of customer transactions, the number of restaurant admin users, for equipment, or a combination of all three.  The more business a restaurant does, the more they end up paying.

As a business owner I hate such models.  Adding an incremental user on my end costs a software company nothing – especially one that has a cloud based system.  Leasing touch-screen equipment in the age of the iPad seems downright stupid.

Our system is hardware agnostic.  The only thing we are biased against is Internet Explorer.  Other than that, you can use any platform as a customer or restaurant owner.  And you can have as many tickets sold or users as you wish.


The Results from our Restaurants – And Real Data

I hear a great deal from restaurateurs that “Sure it worked at Next because you’re changing the restaurant every 4 months.  And yes, sure it worked at Alinea because, well, you have so much demand.  But my restaurant is totally different.  We’re not Alinea.”

That’s definitely true.  It’s obvious now, in hindsight, that tickets will work for a certain kind of restaurant – small, chef driven, limited seating per night, high demand, etc.  Next, Alinea, Trois Mec, and Elizabeth are all of that type.

And that’s why we did tickets for the Aviary.

The Aviary

The Aviary is a cocktail lounge… but at its core it runs more like a restaurant for drinks – in fact that’s how our business plan framed the concept.  We have a kitchen not a bar.  The service team runs just like a restaurant.  We can do upwards of 330 covers on a busy Saturday night while doing about 150 on a typical Wednesday.  And the menu is predominately a la carte.

We ran the Aviary for nearly two years without tickets and so we have a ton of data on what our nights looked like before we offered tickets.  And now we’ve got thousands and thousands of tickets sold so we can compare both the guest experience and the restaurant operations in a statistically meaningful manner.

Before Tickets:

  • System was walk-ins, emailed / phoned reservations.
  • Percentage of customer no shows:  11.8%
  • Percentage of customers ordering prix fixe menus:  8%
  • Common complaint:  I have no idea how long the wait is on a weeknight so I’m reluctant to go all the way to the west loop only to find out it’s an hour.

Ticket Implementation strategy:

  • offer tickets as a DEPOSIT against the cost of the check.  This will allow the customer to know for sure they have a table at the desired time.  This will let the restaurant know that the customer will indeed show up, so we can more tightly manage our seating templates and confidently handle walk-ins.
  • offer tickets for our 5-course and 3-course tasting menus.  We consider this the best way to experience the Aviary.  By highlighting them on the ticketing site people can consider the experience before arriving instead of being confronted by the idea on a menu or from a server.  If all regular tickets are sold out, this is another way to get in without waiting.
  • keep 50% of all seating as walk-ins.  We want people to feel free to arrive and have a drink or two whenever they wish.  We have lots of capacity every evening and it’s far different than a small restaurant like Alinea where things need to be tightly controlled.

Ticketing Results:

  • Percentage of customer no shows:  < 1%.
  • Average per customer check: up 13.8% year over year by month.
  • We implemented the ticketing system in November of 2013 and the results were instantaneous.
  • Our customers liked the ease by which they could book a table.
  • Far more customers become aware of our premium tasting menus and ordered them.
  • We have almost zero no-shows every night.  Basically, if people buy a ticket to a show they go see the show, even if the deposit is only $20 per person.  This allows us to hold a table for them and eliminate any potential wait they may have had with a traditional reservation.  Thus we can serve them better.  We can also more confidently template the night of service delivering better experiences to every customer while maximizing the potential number of covers and revenue to the restaurant.
  • Number of customers has gone up 18% in aggregate and far more than that on weekdays when we had excess supply to demand.
  • Revenue is up 22%.  And as anyone who owns a restaurant knows, incremental revenue gains on the ‘back end’ fall to the bottom line more readily than the first money through the door.

Here are some interesting stats:

As you can see our 3-course, 5-course menus year over year have skyrocketed. This is largely because it is easier for people to read about the choices and decide ahead of time.

We’ve had so much success that we’ve begun tweaking the system to charge a larger deposit on Friday’s and Saturday’s and increase the percentage of tickets vs walk ins for those nights.  Note that this is a deposit not paying for access !  People commit to spending at least $20, $35, or $50 but they get that at the same price as any other customer.  They are committing to showing up… but not paying a premium for access.

And that’s one area where the economists, VC’s and access-App creators are wrong.

It is incredibly important for any business, no matter how great the demand, not to charge a customer more than the good or service is worth – even if the customer is willing to pay more.

Economists looked at our demand for Next shortly after we opened and concluded that we should auction tables.  I’m convinced we’d be doing terribly now if we had done that.  All of those early customers would have had a great experience, but would in my opinion have been willing to pay too much… they would have left Next thinking – yeah that was great but it wasn’t worth $ 2,000 – even if they were the ones who chose to pay it.  The same goes for paying directly for access but getting no other good or service in return.

I really, really disagree with those guys even though I like their blog and thought process.

Variable pricing within a range of value is fair and accepted by a consumer… as illustrated by every form of live entertainment selling tickets or premium seating for travel.  But paying for access alone is not because the discretionary dollar does nothing to improve the overall guest experience, and people know that intuitively.


Alinea moved from 7+ years of traditional reservations to tickets roundly 2 years ago.

Every year from April 14 until our Christmas break in December we were 96% booked – in case you’re wondering that’s the exact moment the busy season starts in Chicago, largely due to tourists returning to the city after a long, cold winter.  The waitlists for Thursday through Sunday often exceeded 150 requests even though we told people that they were so far down the list.  We spent roundly $ 140,000 per year on payroll simply to answer phones, enter customer information into a reservation system, and attempt to manage a wait list.

We also lost over $260,000 per year, on average, on no shows alone… with most of those being partial no-shows – so called “Short-Sat Tables”.  A party of 4 that books not knowing who they’ll be bringing along… then brings no other couple is just as bad for a restaurant as a party of 2 that does not show up at all.   That customer doesn’t feel ‘guilty’ because they showed up.  But they don’t realize that we held a table of four instead of a table of 2… and that we can’t simply call one of the 100 people on the waitlist with 10 minutes notice and expect them to show up.

Our ticket implementation strategy at Alinea was to create a “higher-touch” system than we had previously used at Next.  Every customer buying a ticket at Alinea must include a cell phone number where we can reach them.  About a week before they dine with us we call every customer to thank them for buying a ticket to Alinea, ask if they have any dietary restrictions or special needs, and generally get a feel for their expectations and whether it is a special occasion.  We can, in fact, spend more time (not less) with every single one of our customers because we are only speaking with the customers we know are coming to dine with us.  Previously, we answered thousands of calls from people we had to say ‘no’ to.  Now we can take far more time to say ‘yes’.

The results on Alinea’s business are staggering.  Bottom line EBITDA profits are up 38% from previous average years.  No shows of full tables are almost non-existent and while partial no-shows still occur they are only a handful of people per week at most.  That allows us to run at a far greater capacity with less food waste and more revenue.

Here are the numbers of no shows for 2013:

20,050 diners served for the year.

302 No shows or 1.48%.  Almost all of those were ‘partial no shows’.  And of course as the restaurant we collected that payment for the food up front.

And here’s the resulting chart that shows the CHANGE in the number of Short-Sat no-shows at Alinea

Definitely a dramatic improvement at the very moment we switched to tickets.

These are remarkably similar to Next’s numbers:

  • 23,288 dined
  • 364 no shows, or 1.54%.  Again, very few full table no shows… only 5 on the year.

The restaurant was losing hundreds of thousands of dollars simply from people not showing up.  We’d far rather people come, eat and enjoy and this system encourages that.  Keep in mind that we can actually charge everyone less and create a better experience through this efficiency.

And if you think that pricing variability does not matter on the high end you’d be wrong.

During January – April the percentage of out-of-town diners goes way down in Chicago and along with it demand plummets.  It’s pretty miserable here in February and dining at 9:30 on a Wednesday night when it’s -22F outside is not really on anyone’s bucket list.  That’s when we move our pricing downward to inch demand upwards.  Doing so has resulted in the best Q1’s we’ve ever had by far… in fact, I can’t give you a percentage because a typical January for us was break even at best.  Now it’s not July, but it’s running 12% to 15% to the bottom line each month of Q1.

Finally, Super Bowl Sunday.

This past year we had 28 diners booked on Super Bowl Sunday.  Makes sense.  There are always a few days per year when dining at Alinea is not a priority for people.  Oscar’s Sunday.  July 4th.  And the Super Bowl.

As of noon that day it looked like a losing day for us.  We still have about 30 chefs in the kitchen working, and the front of house is doing their side work and cleaning up.  Our costs have not changed.

At about noon I tweeted “Don’t care about football tonight?  Come eat at Alinea instead.  $ 165 super bowl special.”  We re-priced the tickets at roundly 35% off and did 74 covers that evening.  $ 23,800 of incremental revenue, after food and beverage sales, and service.  Not a normal night, but not a disaster.

And here’s what most restaurateurs and chefs don’t think about.

There’s an old saying that you don’t take percentages to the bank.  Most restaurants look at food costs as a percentage of gross revenue.  And that can be useful so long as you don’t bog yourself down in it.  Our food costs run far higher when we lower ticket pricing, but our revenue and bottom line go way up.  Incremental revenue increases are far more important than running a constant or low food cost percentage.

So if this is so great why is no one else implementing the idea?

I fully expected OpenTable to copy the tickets once I saw how readily people adapted to them and how beneficial it was for our restaurants.  And I knew that they could crush us… tons of developers, multi-billion dollar market cap, and a huge install base.  So we built it for our own restaurants and concentrated on servicing our customers and making our money that way, not through software.

When that didn’t happen I started to think about it more critically.  And I looked at their Annual Report.

Here’s all you need to know – 2012 Year End:

  • Total revenue:  $161.6 million
  • Revenue from Reservations, North America:  $ 78.9 million.
  • Revenue from Reservations, International: $ 12.1 million.

If OpenTable changes its model they miss out on roundly $ 91 million in revenue… or put another way, about 56% of their revenue stems from charging restaurants for booking reservations.

It is very much NOT in their interest to have restaurants connect directly with customers through social media.  It is not in their interest to have tickets reduce the number of no shows.  And with about another $15 million in revenue (from what I can tell, it’s not specific) from equipment leases they won’t be selling iPads independent of old servers and touch screens any time soon.

As for the rest of the start-ups they are trying to carve out a niche to add a layer on top of OpenTable rather than compete directly with them.  A few have created new and better systems that touch on the ticketing concept… I’d put SeatMe on that list – and that’s why they recently got bought by Yelp.  But for the most part the reservation systems that try to compete directly with OpenTable lose.  So the VC’s back companies and apps that try to layer on top of OpenTable.  And as a restaurant owner it strikes me that very few of these people have ever owned and operated a restaurant because if they did they’d be concentrating on a different method entirely.

It also strikes me that they’re only trying to solve their own problem of ‘access’.  The thought is:  yeah, I’d pay $ 50 extra to go to Per Se on short notice this Saturday night.  And certainly a lot of people are willing to do that.  But that’s only applicable to a minority of restaurants and their willingness to share that incremental revenue.  I’m not so sure why, other than convenience and a few extra dollars, they’re willing to do that.  Perhaps no other good option yet exists?

So what’s our strategy?

Too much software suffers from feature bloat and too broad a focus.  We’re going to be offering restaurants a narrow, powerful, and affordable system that measurably decreases their labor expense line while increasing overall revenue in immediate and measurable ways.  It will be:

  • web based, hardware agnostic system to quickly template restaurant reservations that offer a mix of sales options ranging from traditional, no cost reservations for customers, to deposit-based tickets like we use at the Aviary, to full-on tickets for daily reservations or only private events – or any mix thereof.
  • CRM is a mess on most reservations systems.  On many it’s just a glorified post-it note for info about customers.  We’ll have that if that’s all you need, but will also be able to ‘off load’ ticket sales data and customer information to other CRM’s.  In our mind CRM is a totally different problem to be solved than reservations.  At our restaurants we’ve built a custom Salesforce App that integrates with our ticketing system to handle CRM across all 3 (soon to be 4!) of our restaurants.  See addendum below.
  • Several methods and tools to automatically or manually dynamically price tickets and analyze the results.
  • Social media integration for customers and the restaurant.
  • No central network branded by us.  The ticket system is yours to use and you can promote your restaurant as you wish… but you won’t be lumped in our App or limited to our network of affiliate restaurants.
  • Flat monthly fee regardless of use, charged by restaurant location – one fee per restaurant.
  • Pass through web-hosting costs.  You pay exactly what it costs to host your traffic and data in the cloud on AWS.

Over the next several months we have several amazing restaurants that will begin using the current version of our software.   They include restaurants across the US as well as in Europe and Asia.  Most of them you’ll recognize and a few are switching from other ‘ticketing’ software… while one is giving the middle finger to no-shows in the best possible way instead of their usual way!

Concurrently we are rebuilding the entire system from scratch using what we’ve learned by selling over $ 60 million of restaurant tickets to patrons, having dozens of our staff members use the system, and feedback from our beta restaurants and our customers.  I won’t give a date (I’ve learned that lesson) but when we launch our platform a restaurant will be able to integrate our ticketing and table management software with their web site, on their own, in just an hour or two.

We welcome questions, analysis, and feedback of all types and will do our best to provide more information.

25 Jul 15:00

​How an Obscure 2nd Century Christian Heresy Influenced Snowpiercer

by Michael M. Hughes
Russian Sledges

attn overbey

I still like your buddhism theory better

​How an Obscure 2nd Century Christian Heresy Influenced Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer is shaping up to be the sleeper success of 2014. But no one has yet commented on one of the film's most unusual subtexts — its direct allusions to Gnosticism, the ancient Christian belief system that was damned by the Roman Church as heretical and virtually extinguished by the 5th century.


25 Jul 18:35

In Praise of Beer

by Dan
Russian Sledges

via overbey

We’ve mentioned Lama Pagpa (འཕགས་པ་) at least once in an earlier blog, on account of his successful lobbying effort with Qubilai Khan to end the culling (“weeding”) of the Chinese peasantry. Unwanted Chinese populations were gotten out of the way by hurling them into the river. Not once in all her long history has China ever deigned to say one simple Thank you for Pagpa’s compassionate intervention. Quite the contrary, since the Yüan dynasty they’ve been concocting and repeating the most derogatory stereotypes of the evil Tibetan monk.

In today’s blog, in an effort to lighten things up (or to reach a particular low point, depending on perspective), we translate — for what I believe is the very first time ever — Pagpa’s remarkable verses on the virtues of a good beer. I wonder about the circumstances of its writing, but to tell you the truth I have no idea. The Mongols originally drank a lot of kumis made by milking mares and fermenting their milk, but after going out into the wider world where still other alcoholic beverages were available, they found all of them to their liking.  One sign of their belief in variety was the famous drink fountain they had made for their drinking parties at the capital in the Mongol heartland along the Orkhon River, the city of Karakoram.  As you can see in the artist’s rendition, it had a trumpet-blowing angel at the top and four spouts for four different kinds of intoxicating brews. Some of the Mongol rulers probably drank themselves to death, and it may not be an exaggeration to say that if it weren’t for drink addiction they may have gone on to rule Eurasia far into the future. Again, depending on perspective, moderation may not always be all that much of a good thing.

However much our modern Mongolists may like to play down this aspect (sometimes you guys can be overprotective, admit it!), the Mongols in those days were famous for wiping out whole cities. Just look at what they did to Aleppo and Baghdad. Yet rather than slaughtering useful people, like goldsmiths in particular, they took them along with them and rewarded them handsomely for their impressive skills. One of these fortunate fellows was a Frenchman they picked up in Hungary by the name of Guillaume Boucher. I much admire and recommend a charming little book about him by Leonardo Olschki. I doubt anyone has bothered to put it up on the internet, so may I suggest you find a nice library in your neighborhood and sit down to read it? Well, at least consider it. They don’t write ’em like this anymore.

Some may doubt that a holy person like Pagpa ever advocated beer drinking. But I think the fact it is included in his collected works, his kambum (བཀའ་འབུམ་), is enough to recommend its authenticity, not quite enough to guarantee it (are there any absolute guarantees in this life?  I mean, besides death and taxes...).

I confess I tried to do something in the way of making Pagpa’s verses in English approach the poetic level of the original, allowing myself to soar ever so slightly above the deadly thud of literality, but no promises of success there. If you don’t like my rendering, feel free to give it a hand, but you’ll need to keep another hand free to pour the next round. I think you can handle it.

Flask of Ambrosia:  Verses in Praise of Beer

By 'Phags-pa 

(1235–1280 CE)

Homage to the Wrath King Swirling Nectar, Amṛtakuṇḍalin!

The essence of earth that sustains the lives of beings,

likewise the collections of flowers and fruits,

with the yeast starter prepared with varied tinctures and herbs

and the very stuff that serves as cleanser of beings, the pure water,

the vessels, required conditions, and varied recipes work together to

bring it to complete maturity over a good length of time

bringing out the pure essence of the pure essence.

These are its perfect causes and conditions.

It seems as if ornamented by strings of pearls,

but these strings are of bubbles shining like the sheerest crystal.

Seeing it is a glory for the eyes, 
hearing its bubbly chil-chilsound

a glory for the ears, with its fragrance

satisfying the organ that has the sense of smell,

its every taste both glory and pleasure for the tongue.

Depending if the weather is cold or hot, it brings on warmth

or coolness to our sense of touch, so we feel comfortable.

It is a sun for exorcising the dark tinges of suffering,

a moon that generates the coolness of happiness and contentment.

It is a wind that fans the flames of insight,

is the most glorious prod to eloquence for would-be speakers.

It generates vowed behavior in those entering into battle,

and increases the pleasure of those possessed by desire.

Yet this same drink, for minds desirous of peace,

endows its drinkers with holy meditative absorptions.

For these reasons this is offered as a drink.

It forms the very heart of wealth and leisure.

So it is a thing worthy to be offered,
and ought to be given to those worthy of the gift.

— Verses of praise to beer, Flask of Ambrosia.

༄༅།  །ཆང་ལ་བསྔགས་པ་བདུད་རྩིའི་བུམ་པ་བཞུགས།  །

༄༅།  །ཨོཾ་སྭསྟི་སིདྡྷཾ།









ཆང་ལ་བསྔགས་པའི་རབ་ཏུ་བྱེད་པ་བདུད་རྩིའི་བུམ་པ་ཞེས་བྱ་བ་ཨི་ཐི།།  །།

±    ±    ±

Reading matter for curious beer-emboldened souls

For the basis of the text you see above, you can look here.  For a biography of the author, go to The Treasury of Lives, and to this particular page of it. I also recommend this PDF.

Leonard Olschki, Guillaume Boucher, a French Artist at the Court of the Khans, John Hopkins Press (Baltimore 1946). Much recommend, as is another book by the same author on a different subject called The Myth of Felt.  

Olschki's note on his Illustration 3:

“This picture shows the reconstruction of Mangu Khan's magic fountain as described by Friar William of Rubruck and engraved by an anonymous chalcographer for Pierre Bergeron's Voyages faits principalement en Asie, published at The Hague in 1735. The lively illustration faithfully reproduces all the details enumerated by the missionary and shows in its background a fantastic image of Mangu Khan sitting on his throne like a Buddha, but stretching out his right hand to the butler who carries the cup to him while another butler goes down the steps on the opposite side.”
Oh, and check out those humongous basins!

Sarolta Tatár, “The Iconography of the Karakoram Fountain,” available at, here. Boucher's silver tree if not fully automated was still a rather complicated contraption, its working involving some human participation. In Indian terms, that makes it a perfectly fine example of a yantra.

Bod-grong-pa, The Dispute between Tea and Chang (Ja-chang lha-mo'i bstan-bcos), translated by Alexander Fedotov & Sangye T. Naga, Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (Dharamsala 1993). Translation of Ja'i lha mo shes rab sgrol ma dang chang gi lha mo bde ldan bdud rtsi gnyis kyi dbar kha shags 'thab pa'i bstan bcos — ཇའི་ལྷ་མོ་ཤེས་རབ་སྒྲོལ་མ་དང་ཆང་གི་ལྷ་མོ་བདེ་ལྡན་བདུད་རྩི་གཉིས་ཀྱི་དབར་ཁ་ཤགས་འཐབ་པའི་བསྟན་བཅོས.

John Ardussi, “Brewing and Drinking the Beer of Enlightenment,” Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 97, no. 2 (April - June 1977), pp. 115-124.

Ezra Dyer, “In Praise of Beer: A Heartfelt Paean to Humanity’s Greatest Achievement.”  Oh, my!  This popped up with a Schmoogle-search.    In prose, but not all that unpoetical.

Shen Weirong, “Magic Power, Sorcery and Evil Spirit: The Image of Tibetan Monks in Chinese Literature during the Yuan Dynasty,” contained in: Christoph Cüppers, ed., The Relation between Religion and State (chos srid zung 'brel) in Traditional Tibet, Lumbini International Research Institute (Lumbini 2004), pp. 189-227. If you read French, you might also try Isabella Charleux, “Les 'lamas' vus de Chine: fascination et répulsion,” Extrême-Orient Extrême-occident, vol. 24 (2002), pp. 133-151.

There are a number of Tibetan works on the evils of beer, including one attributed to Padampa Sangyé I thought I would write about sometime if I get the chance.

I noticed a title of something that is obviously a praise of a tasty beer in the catalogue of the Bodleian collection:  Zhim dngar chang gi yon tan phun sum tshogs  — ཞིམ་དངར་ཆང་གི་ཡོན་ཏན་ཕུན་སུམ་ཚོགས་ —  Bodleian Catalogue, p. 85. That isn't a title, just words of the refrain of a short set of verses with 9 syllables to the line, like ours. I leave that for the writer of Bod Blog to blog on about. Cheers, Charles!

Disclaimer: This blog was written free of any financial incentives whatsoever from the Guinness company (they warned me I've got to say that).

This comes from Dan's Tibeto-logic blog located at
25 Jul 18:00

Verizon Wireless to slow down users with unlimited 4G LTE plans

by Jon Brodkin
Russian Sledges

via overbey

I optimized your mom's network

Verizon Wireless today confirmed that it will begin slowing down LTE data speeds when customers who have unlimited plans and use a lot of data connect to congested cell sites. This "Network Optimization" was implemented in 2011 but previously applied only to 3G users.

"Starting in October 2014, Verizon Wireless will extend its network optimization policy to the data users who: fall within the top 5 percent of data users on our network, have fulfilled their minimum contractual commitment, and are on unlimited plans using a 4G LTE device," the Verizon announcement said. "They may experience slower data speeds when using certain high bandwidth applications, such as streaming high-definition video or during real-time, online gaming, and only when connecting to a cell site when it is experiencing heavy demand."

People who use 4.7GB or more per month fall in the top five percent and will thus see slower connections when using their devices in congested areas, Verizon says in an FAQ. When asked to explain the reason for the "minimum contractual commitment" clause, a Verizon spokesperson told Ars the company is focusing the policy on "customers who are still on a month-to-month plan" and have grandfathered unlimited data. "We discontinued offering unlimited plans to new customers in 2011," the spokesperson said.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

25 Jul 02:00

Safer Era Tests Wisdom of ‘Broken Windows’ Focus on Minor Crime

Russian Sledges

'“This is a good moment,” he said, “to re-evaluate what comes after ‘broken windows,’ now that the windows are no longer broken.”'

The death of a Staten Island man after officers tried to arrest him for peddling cigarettes is intensifying scrutiny of the Police Department’s push to arrest people over the most minor offenses.

22 Jul 13:02

Pikachu burger, I choose you!

by Low Lai Chow

Pikachu burger, I choose you!

We’ll be darned. In Japan, there is now an official Pikachu Cafe that dishes out Pokemon-themed cuisine, from the head of Pikachu, served on a chopping board as a burger, to the Pokeball made from a framboise dessert with yogurt mousse. Looking at these pictures, we would absolutely choose everything on the menu.

Pokemon food Pokemon food Pokemon food Pokemon food

The post Pikachu burger, I choose you! appeared first on Lost At E Minor: For creative people.

24 Jul 15:48

Reeder for The Old Reader

We’re excited to announce that Reeder for iOS and Mac now have support for The Old Reader.  We’ve been anxiously awaiting this new release as we’re big fans of the Reeder app.  If you’re on the iOS or Mac platforms and want a great way to keep up with your feeds in The Old Reader please give this app a look and let us know what you think.  Big thanks to Silvio for adding support and congrats on another great release.

And for users on other platforms, here’s a list of all the other great applications that work with The Old Reader.

21 Jul 09:44

femininefreak: intimesgonebyblog: Kathrine Switzer was the...

Russian Sledges

via kellygo



Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as a numbered entry.

She registered for the race under the gender-neutral “K. V. Switzer. Race official Jock Semple attempted to physically remove her from the race, and according to Switzer said, “Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers.” However, Switzer’s boyfriend Tom Miller, who was running with her, shoved Semple aside and sent him flying, and other runners provided a shield for her. The photographs taken of the incident made world headlines.

Was just talking about this to my mother the other day…Katherine Switzer’s interview in The Makers is pretty awesome.

22 Jul 04:00

The Truth about the Big Hair of the 1770s: Part One

by Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott
Isabella reporting,

Even people who don't know anything about 18th c. women's fashion know about the hair. Towering hair styles, wigs filled with maggots, clouds of powder making everyone sneeze - EVERYONE knows that!

They may know it, but that version isn't quite right. Negative myths about past-fashion like maggot-filled wigs and rib-breaking corsets are so easy to accept because they're self-congratulatory. We're so much wiser now in 2014, aren't we?

The truth about the elaborate hair styles of the 1770s is actually more interesting than the myths, and makes more sense, too. Yes, it's an extreme style, first worn at the French Court before traveling to England. It's a status-fashion, too. The complexity of the styles showed that the wearer had both the leisure-time to devote to her hair, and most often the wealth to employ a professional hairdresser or accomplished lady's maid to achieve it. The height framed the face, and balanced out the full skirts of the period, creating a proportion that was much admired at the time. (Anyone who believes modern fashion is beyond extremes like this need only recall the huge power-shoulders popular in women's clothing of the 1980s.)

The Duchess of Beaufort, above left, is going for the height of formal hair, with a very large hair style given a dusting of pale powder; her natural brunette color is just showing through the powder.

Big hair was considered stylish for less formal wear, too. Mrs. Vere, upper right, is simply dressed. Her hair is not powdered, and while it's free of ribbons and hats, it is still piled and pinned to a towering height.

Nor were the tall hairstyles limited to the upper classes. From contemporary prints and paintings, it's clear that women who aspired to fashion - maidservants, actresses, milliners, and mantua-makers, as well as the mistresses of wealthy gentlemen - also copied the taller styles. The bar maid, middle left, crowns her hair with an elaborate cap, the better to beguile her customers.

What astonishes me is that these styles were, for the most part, not wigs, but the wearer's own hair. Nearly all Georgian gentlemen cropped their hair short and wore wigs, but few women did. Women did not cut their hair, but let it grow as long as possible. This hair was augmented with pads and rollers (more about these in Part Two), and if necessary enhanced with false curls and switches. Further embellishment came in the form of plumes, caps, hats, swags of ribbon and strands of faux pearls.

Of course, the caricaturists had a field day. The extreme hair styles were exaggerated even more, like the lady, bottom right, who is wearing an entire flower garden (including a folly) in her hair. You'll find another print here, and here. Not only could such prints make fun of the tall styles, but they also mocked the vanity of women and the foolishness of French fashions: a triple-win for the caricaturists.

But how did those women in the 1770s make their hair do this? Thanks to some of my good friends (including mantua-maker's apprentice Sarah Woodyard, bottom left) from Colonial Williamsburg, I have the answers, plus more photographs, in Part Two here.

Top left: Detail, Duchess of Beaufort, by Thomas Gainsborough, 1778, The Hermitage, St. Petersburg.
Top right: Detail, Mrs. Vere, by Nathaniel Dance, 1770s, private collection.
Middle left: Detail, The Pretty Bar Maid, 1778, printed by Carington Bowles. Walpole Library, Yale University.
Middle right: Detail, The Flower Garden, printed by Matthias Darly, 1777. Walpole Library, Yale University.
Bottom left: Photograph courtesy of the Margaret Hunter Shop, Colonial Williamsburg.

24 Jul 04:00

The Truth about the Big Hair of the 1770s: Part II: How They Did It

by Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott
Isabella reporting,

Considering the towering hairstyles worn by women in the 1770s, the question that inevitably comes to mind is "how did they do it?" For the answer, I turned to two of our friends from Colonial Williamsburg, the manuta-maker's apprentices of the Margaret Hunter shop: Abby Cox and Sarah Woodyard.

These two young women not only dress in the clothing of the 1770s on a daily basis, but they are constantly researching the period to make their "look" as authentic as possible. Because they participated in the fashion trades, 18th c. milliners, mantua-makers, and their shop assistants dressed in the latest styles as a form of advertising as well as personal preference. This can be seen in prints like the one, right, where the milliners are wearing elaborate hair and caps. (For a photograph of the Margaret Hunter shop's interpretation of this print for a recent conference, see here - plenty more big hair!)

As part of her apprenticeship, Abby has been searching primary sources and prints for the secrets of these hairstyles, and of Georgian hair-care in general. Here are a few of her findings (and many thank to her for sharing them!)

First, forget 21st notions of bouncy, squeaky-clean hair. Eighteenth-century women did not scrub their hair clean, so much as cleanse it. Instead of daily lathering of soap and water (which can damage hair), they worked pomatum into the hair with their fingers, added powder, and then brushed and combed vigorously. The pomatum could have been made at home or purchased, and consisted of animal fat plus fragrance. The powder would have included some sort of finely-ground starch, with ground sheep or beef bones and ground orris-root for a light floral scent.

Following an 18th c. recipe, Abby made pomatum of mutton fat and pig's lard with essence of lemon and clove oil, to be kept in a jar. I can report that this mixture smelled absolutely, delightfully spicy – plus, as Abby noted, clove oil is a natural flea and tick repellent. The recipe for her hair powder came from The Toilet of Flora, first published in 1772 (and here online.) Think of the pomatum as a rich, deep conditioner applied as a kind of scalp massage, followed by the powder as dry shampoo. This treatment is hardly limited to the Georgians, either. Indian women, known for their beautiful, long hair, have long followed a similar cleansing regimen of oiling and combing.

This process was done frequently, too. No matter how elaborate the style, Georgian women always took their hair down at night and combed it out. For many women, this was likely a relaxing, aromatherapeutic ritual for the end of the day - although there were no doubt some lazy, slovenly hussies who didn't, giving rise to the myths about maggots.

Hair that had been treated like this made styling much easier, just as modern hairdressers rely on powdered dry shampoo to add texture and body before attempting up-dos. More powder was dusted on before styling to achieve the fashionable matte, "dusty" look of powder and to make dark hair paler. Unlike the beehives of the 1950's-60's, Georgian women did not tease their hair, but added extra volume with padded forms called rollers and cushions, middle right. Think of them as the 18th c. answer to Bumpits.

Sewn of wool cloth to match the wearer's hair, these were shaped pillows stuffed lightly with down or sheep's wool. The hair was wrapped around, (that's Abby demonstrating, middle left), or pulled through the forms, and smoothed and pinned (with u-shaped hairpins) into the desired shape. Side curls could be rolled and pinned into place, and extra touches could include braids or false curls. (Wearing a more elaborate style, above left, is the third of the shop's summer interns, Rebecca Starkins, a PhD candidate at N.Y.U. in English literature.) There was no mousse, gel, or hairspray; the pomatum and the powder offered the necessary staying-power.

How long would all this take a busy 18th c. apprentice before she appeared for work? If Abby and Sarah are any indication, not long at all. They accomplished these elaborate styles in about ten to fifteen minutes, or less time than many modern young women spend with blow-dryers and flat-irons. A skilled 18th c. professional hairdresser would have been able to perform the basics in less time, plus construct a more towering edifice of hair complete with flowers, ribbons, and strands of pearls.

More impressive still is the fact that both Abby and Sarah have both given up modern hair care products altogether, and "practice what they preach" with pomatum and powder. When they go visit their (modern) hairdressers for a cut, they're greeted with amazement, for their hair is healthy, strong, and thick - and, they swear, in better condition than ever. Hmm...perhaps the old ways ARE the best.

For the record: The length of Abby's hair is just below her shoulders, Sarah's is to the middle of her back, and Rebecca's is to her waist. Many thanks to them all!

Upper right: detail, A Morning Ramble, or - The Milliners' Shop, published by Carington Bowles, 1782. The British Museum.
Photographs by the Margaret Hunter Shop and Susan Holloway Scott.
23 Jul 16:00

Tips From My Forthcoming Medieval Lifestyle Blog

by Mallory Ortberg
Russian Sledges

via bernot

decameronPreviously: Lift like a serf, eat like a baron – My Medieval Diet Plan

9 Quick And Easy Dinners That Involve Sewing The Top Half Of A Pig Onto The Bottom Half Of A Peacock [Slideshow]

Fish: Is It Meat?

How To Cook Literally Anything With Buckwheat Groats Because That’s The Only Thing You’ll Be Eating For The Rest Of Your Life, Peasant

Shoving Bodies On A Spit And Turning Them Over A Fire For A Long Time: A Great Way To Serve Dinner And Justice

Water: Only If You Have To (Are You Drinking Too Much Of It?)

DIY Everything Because That Is Your Only Option

Stabbing Your Host And Seizing His Lands: The Dos and Don’ts

Tearing Bites Out Of A Big Old Roasted Turkey Leg And Yelling “More Wine!” With Your Mouth Full: A Primer For The Newly Ennobled

Tomatoes: What Are They, Can We Trust Them, Are They Poison

Breakfast Is A Sign Of Weakness

Fill An Oxen With Quail

Sumptuary Laws And You: Take Off That Hat, Your Grandfather Was A Blacksmith

Put Herring On Everything

How To Make All Of Your Own Clothes Because That Is Your Only Option

Porridge vs. Pottage: The Debate Rages On

The Six Most Common Mistakes First-Timers Make With Fountains Of Spiced Wine

Tired Of The Same Old Weeknight Dinners? Why Not Serve A Rabbit Trussed To Look Like Pegasus?

Miniature Edible Castles And You

How To Make A Cold Supper That Tastes Just As Good After Three Weeks In Your Saddlebag Riding To The Holy Land As It Did Last Night

Salt And How To Use It

Fill A Roasted Bear With Gilded Apples, Then Carve It At Table To Surprise And Delight Your Guests From Nuremberg Who Will Die Of Summer Fever Later That Evening

Read more Tips From My Forthcoming Medieval Lifestyle Blog at The Toast.

22 Jul 23:42

» Lasciviousness, libel, and letters Modern Books and Manuscripts

by villeashell
Russian Sledges

via otters ("unfortunately, R. did not work anime into this post like I suggested" FOR SHAME)

14 Jul 17:58

Men interrupt more than women

by Mark Liberman

Below is a guest post by Kieran Snyder, taken with permission from her always-interesting tumblr Jenga one week at a time.


About a month ago at work I overheard one woman complaining to another woman about a man’s habit of interrupting everyone in meetings. Then they went further. “That’s just how it is around here. The women listen, but the men interrupt in meetings all the time,” one of them summed it up.

As a moderate interrupter myself – I’m sorry if I’ve interrupted you, I just get excited about what you’re saying and I want to build on it and I lose track of the fact that it’s not my turn and I know it’s a bad habit – I started wondering if she was right. Do men interrupt more often than women?

Search for “do men interrupt more than women” and you will find a variety of answers. The answers loosely break into two categories: 1. no, they don’t, and 2. yes, they do.

The empirical linguist in me got to thinking, and a few weeks ago I decided to figure it out.

The setup: I wanted to find situations where I could observe groups of men and women interacting without being a significant participant in the conversation myself. I am not always a talker, but when I am a talker, I am a seriously big talker and I am a definite interrupter. So I needed to find contexts where I wasn’t going to be tempted to talk myself. I also didn’t want to eavesdrop, so I needed to find contexts where I was a welcome listener.

I defined an interruption as any communication event where one person starts speaking before the other person has finished, whether or not the interrupter intends it.

The reality: I spend a lot of my weekday hours in the office, and in the job I have, I am invited to a lot of meetings. I started looking at my calendar to identify meetings where I was mainly going to be present as a listener, where there were at least four other people in the room, and where the gender mix was close to even. Since I work in tech, this last one is easier said than done, so I wasn’t able to strictly apply it, but I got close. On average, 60% of the speakers in any given room that I observed were men, and 40% were women.

I wanted to understand four things: how often interruptions happen; whether men or women interrupt their colleagues more often; whether men or women are interrupted by their colleagues more often; and whether men and women are more likely to interrupt speakers of their own gender, speakers across gender, or some other pattern.

I took notes that covered fifteen hours of conversation over a four week period, and the conversations contained anywhere from 4-15 people (excluding me). It is totally possible that I missed some interruptions since I didn’t record the meetings like I would have done in a real field linguistics study.

What I found was interesting.

People interrupt a lot.

And the more people who are in a conversation, the more interrupting there is – until some peak rate is reached and holds steady no matter how many additional people are added into the conversation.

I noted 314 interruption events spread over 900 minutes of conversation, which means that collectively people interrupted each other once every two minutes and fifty-one seconds, or just over 21 times per hour. But the actual interruption rate (y-axis) correlated closely with the number of active participants in the conversation (x-axis):

This is interesting because it suggests that there are only so many interruptions that a conversation will tolerate before it’s not a conversation anymore. Keep in mind that all the conversations I observed were formal work meetings where people mostly adhered to a single conversation thread; it is very likely that in a more informal setting, many of the larger groups would have split themselves into smaller groups having multiple conversations. In fact, these results make me wonder if 7 people is the natural tipping point for that kind of splitting in social groups. Someone has definitely studied this, but I have not.

Men interrupt more than women overall.

All told and no other factors considered, men accounted for 212 of the 314 total interruptions, about two thirds of the total. The men I observed accounted for about twice as many interruptions overall as the women did.

It’s worth noting that the groups I observed were not 50/50 split between men and women to begin with. Among the individuals I observed, 60% were men; I worked hard to find rooms to observe that included high representations of women, which took some doing but luckily is not as hard to do in design as it is in engineering. That means that if men and women had shown the same rate of interruption, we would expect to find that 188.4 of the interruptions came from men. We actually see 212.

So there you have it: at least in this male-heavy tech setting, men do interrupt more often than women do.

Men are almost three times as likely to interrupt women as they are to interrupt other men.

Here’s where things start to get really interesting. Of the 212 total interruptions from men that I logged, 149 of them – that’s 70% of the total – were interruptions where women had been previously speaking. Men do interrupt other men, but far less often.

These numbers are a little worse than they look in terms of balance since the rooms had only 40% women to begin with. Although I didn’t track gender representation in overall speaking turns (I only tracked interruptions), I believe women in this setting are taking far fewer than a 40% share of speaking turns. That would make these numbers even more skewed than they already appear; whenever women take a speaking turn, they are getting interrupted.

Women interrupt each other constantly, and almost never interrupt men.

Of the 102 interruptions from women that I logged, a staggering 89 of them were instances of women interrupting other women. That is to say, 87% of the time that women interrupt, they are interrupting each other.

Let’s pause and dwell on this for a sec: In fifteen hours of conversation that included 314 total interruptions, I observed a total of 13 examples of women interrupting male speakers. That is less than once per hour, in a climate where interruptions occur an average of once every two minutes and fifty-one seconds.

Does anyone else think this is a big deal?

I’m used to thinking of myself as an irritating interrupter, and I probably am. I didn’t track my own behavior over the same time period because it’s impossible to get that right. But looking over the data has made me wonder whether I really exhibit the pattern that I thought I did. How many of my own interruptions are directed towards female colleagues?

There’s lots more to investigate here. If I were still a Real Linguist, I’d see this as an opportunity for a Real Study. For instance, how much does the male-centric nature of the tech setting bias these results? Like, if someone did the same observations during faculty meetings at an elementary school, would they find the inverse pattern? And what actually does happen in single-sex environments? And this is a whole other enchilada, but how much does sexuality play a role in interruption patterns? I didn’t attempt to track that this time, but my informal observations suggest that this would be worth a study unto itself.

So there you have it, take or leave: men interrupt more than women. And when they interrupt, both men and women are mostly interrupting women.

Above is a guest post by Kieran Snyder.

A relevant study, whose findings are somewhat similar and somewhat different from Kieran's findings, is Jiahong Yuan, Mark Liberman, and Christopher Cieri, "Towards an integrated Understanding of Speech Overlaps in Conversation", ICPhS 2007. The abstract:

We investigate factors that affect speech overlaps in conversation, using large corpora of conversational telephone speech. We analyzed two types of speech overlaps: 1. One side takes over the turn before the other side finishes (turn-taking type); 2. One side speaks in the middle of the other side’s turn (backchannel type). We found that Japanese conversations have more short turn-taking type of overlap segments than the other languages. In general, females make more speech overlaps of both types than males; and both males and females make more overlaps when talking to females than talking to males. People make fewer overlaps when talking with strangers than talking with familiars, and the frequency of speech overlaps is significantly affected by conversation topics. Finally, the two conversation sides are highly correlated on their frequencies of using turn-taking type of overlaps but not backchannel type.

Note that we looked at very different sorts of conversations — Kieran observed business meetings in a male-dominated technology company, while Jiahong, Chris & I analyzed telephone conversations among family and friends – the CallHome corpora in Arabic (LDC97S45), English (LDC97S42), German (LDC97S43), Japanese (LDC96S37), Mandarin (LDC96S34), and Spanish (LDC96S35) — and telephone conversations between strangers — the Fisher English corpus (LDC2004S13).

As Kieran notes, there are results pointing in several different directions on the question of whether men interrupt more than women. There are several obvious (and compatible) reasons for this variation: differences in types of people and types of conversations; possible failure to distinguish among the several very different sorts of speech overlaps; interactions among gender, age,  and status of interrupters and interruptees; etc.

It would be interesting to compare (for example) the ICSI Meeting corpus (speech and transcripts), which include about 75 hours of recorded and transcribed meetings held at ICSI during the years 2000-2002. These are multi-person face-to-face working meetings in a high-tech organization, and thus similar in that respect to Kieran's sample.


23 Jul 12:30

Which witch?

by Alice
Russian Sledges

voice h autoshare


By Anatoly Liberman

To some people which and witch are homophones. Others, who differentiate between w and wh, distinguish them. This rather insignificant phenomenon is tackled in all books on English pronunciation and occasionally rises to the surface of “political discourse.” In the thirties of the past century, an irritated correspondent wrote to the editor about “the abuse of such forms as what, when, which, wheel, and others”: “Dictionaries in vain lay down the law that the h should be heard in such words. If heard at all it will probably come from the lips of Scotsmen, as they do give full value to the h. In this way the difference of a nationality can, as a rule, be detected. Long ago I had to be present at King’s College when the prizes were given away. A Mr. Wheeler was a winner of the Elocution prize; but he was called out as Mr. Weeler by, save the mark, the Professor of Elocution himself.” We’ll save the mark and go on.

In Old English, many words began with hl-, hn-, hr-, and hw-. In the beginning, the letter h stood for ch, as in Scots loch or gh as in the family name McLaughlin. Later it was weakened to h and lost. The same change occurred in the other Germanic languages, except Icelandic and, if I am not mistaken, Faroese. Sounds seldom disappear without a trace. Thus, when h was shed, it devoiced the consonant after it. In Icelandic, voiceless l, n, and r can easily be heard, but elsewhere they merged with l, n, and r in other positions. Only hw developed differently. It either stayed in some form or devoiced w.

It has never been explained why consonants tend to disappear before l, n, r, and w. A classic example of this process, not related to the subject being discussed here, is the fate of kn- and gn-, as in knock and gnaw. One can of course say that such groups are rare and inconvenient for pronunciation. But such an explanation is illusory, because it presents the result of the change as its cause. Outside English, kn- and gn- cause speakers no trouble. Besides, the loss of k- and g- happened at a certain time. Why did it “suddenly” become inconvenient to articulate the groups that had not bothered the previous generations? We will accept the history of hw as we find it and leave it to others to account for the change.

The reverse spelling (wh- for hw-) goes back to Middle English and can only confuse those who believe that modern spelling is a good guide to etymology. The letter writer, whose displeasure with dictionaries we have just witnessed, made no mistake. The speakers of London, where in the late Middle Ages the Modern English norm was being forged, lost h before w and accepted voiced w (this happened as early as the end of the fourteenth century), while northern England, Scotland, Ireland, and, to some extent, American English have either hw or voiceless w.

Yet some authorities who taught as late as the first half of the eighteenth century insisted on the necessity to enunciate h before w. They may have trusted the written image of the words in question. In 1654 and the subsequent decades, such opinions could no longer be heard. After voiced w had won the victory in southern speech, the “true” (historical) pronunciation was often recommended as correct and returned to solemn recitation and sometimes even to everyday speech. Such cases are not too rare. Consider the pronunciation often and fore-head, which owe their existence to modern spelling. Some people believe that the more “letters” they pronounce, the more educated they will sound. “Ofen” and “forid,” rhyming with soften and horrid, strike them as slipshod.

It is instructive to look at some Modern English words beginning with wh-. Quite a few, including when, where, what, and why, did once have hw- at the beginning. As a result, southerners have homophones like which ~ witch, when ~ wen, whither ~ wither, whale ~ wail, and so forth. (Shakespeare could not know that woe and wail are related, but his ear and instinct made him write the unforgettable alliterating line in Sonnet 30: “And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste.”)

The pernicious habit of writing wh, sometimes for no obvious reason, resulted in the creation of several unetymological spellings. Whore, from Old English hore (a common Germanic noun), is akin to Latin carus “dear” (Italian caro, etc.). The Old English for whole was hal (with a long vowel). According to the OED, the spelling with wh-, corresponding to a widespread dialectal pronunciation with w, appeared in the sixteenth century. But why should this dialectal pronunciation have prevailed to such an extent that the spelling of an old and very common word was affected? Home also has a dialectal variant whoam, but, luckily, we still stay at home, rather than at whome. Equally puzzling is whelk (from weolc); here the influence of welk “pimple” has been pressed into service. Whig traces, though in a circuitous way, to a verb meaning “to drive”. Its wh- has no justification in history. Naturally, whim was bound to cause trouble, the more so as its earliest attested meaning is “pun”; no record of whim predates the seventeenth century. Then there is whiffler “an attendant armed with a weapon to keep the way clear for a procession,” from wifle “javelin” (Od Engl. wifel).

The consonant group hw- must always have made people think of blowing and light sweeping motions. Whistle, whisper, and whisk are rather obvious sound-imitating words (which does not mean that whisky ~ whiskey, from Gaelic, should have wh-; whisker, however, is derived for whisk, and its original sense was “brush”). Whir and whirl seem to belong with other onomatopoeic formations. Whew, an exclamation of astonishment, is an onomatopoeia pure and simple. Wheedle is late and has an obscure history.

Inglewhite, Lancashire.  (Cowfield. Grazing south of Langley Lane. Photo by Chris Shaw. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Inglewhite, Lancashire. (Cowfield. Grazing south of Langley Lane. Photo by Chris Shaw. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)

By way of conclusion, I may mention several thw- words in which thw- once alternated with hw-. Today we remember only the verb thwart, but the adjective thwart “obstinate, perverse” also existed, and over-hwart has been attested. Another archaic word thwite “to cut” is a cognate of whittle. Thwack and whack used to alternate, and thwack is a synonym of dialectal thack. Apparently, thw- too had a sound-imitative value. In the place name Inglewhite (Lancashire), the second element was thwaite “meadow.” The last name Applewhite goes back to the place name Applethwaite in Cumberland. The change of thwaite to white is a product of folk etymology.

All this is very interesting, except that wh- is often an unnecessary embellishment. For the benefit of those who like learned words I may say that this group is sometimes otiose.

Anatoly Liberman is the author of Word Origins And How We Know Them as well as An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology: An Introduction. His column on word origins, The Oxford Etymologist, appears on the OUPblog each Wednesday. Send your etymology question to him care of; he’ll do his best to avoid responding with “origin unknown.” Subscribe to Anatoly Liberman’s weekly etymology articles via email or RSS.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only language articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.

The post Which witch? appeared first on OUPblog.

23 Jul 03:42

ISIS Forces Mannequins To Don the Niqab

by Josh Marshall
Russian Sledges

via overbey

Who says extremist religious sects can't adopt to modernity?

It's actually not technically a niqab (which covers the whole face) because the theological reasoning is different. But, according to the Associated Press, the ISIS rulers of northern Iraqi city of Mosul have ordered shop owners in the city to cover the faces of the mannequins in their showrooms.

Rather than meant to protect female modesty the coverings are apparently an effort to enforce strict interpretations of Sharia law that forbid statues or other representations of the human form.

Read More →
19 Jul 07:00 Is Selling the One Ring as the Lord's Prayer Ring

by John Farrier

Until recently, this listing described this ring as being inscribed with the Lord's Prayer in Arabic. It is not not Arabic, but Elvish. It may have be an Elvish translation of the words from the Gospel of Matthew for all I know. Alas, I must confess my ingorance of that language.

But the customer reviews indicate that it is most likely the One Ring from The Lord of the Rings:

-via Fashionably Geek

18 Jul 01:53

25 Questions for Teaching with "Word Crimes"

by Ben Zimmer
Russian Sledges

via multitask suicide

The following is a guest post by Lauren Squires.

While "grammar nerds" are psyched about Weird Al's new "Word Crimes" video, many linguists are shaking their heads and feeling a little hopeless about what the public enthusiasm about it represents: a society where largely trivial, largely arbitrary standards of linguistic correctness are heavily privileged, and people feel justified in degrading and attacking those who don't do things the "correct" way. What's behind linguists' reactions are at least three factors.

First, while Weird Al talks about "grammar," most of his prescriptions do not pertain to what linguists consider the "grammar" of English, and this reflects a widespread divide between the use of the term "grammar" in everyday language and "grammar" by linguists. This divide frustrates linguists, because it makes them feel like everyone misunderstands the very substance and nature of their field of study.

Second, a little rumination on Weird Al's violent reactions against "bad grammar" raises deep and longstanding questions of social equity regarding class, education, race, age, ethnicity, gender, and how these relate to languages, dialects, and social registers. There is ample research on these issues (which any sociolinguist could point you to), but the upshot is that the notion of "Proper English" typically serves to prop up the already-privileged speakers whose native language variety it is (sort of) based on. This puts speakers whose native language variety does not approximate "Proper English" at an immediate disadvantage in society, the same way that privileging Whiteness puts those who are not White at an immediate disadvantage in society. It is not the linguistic differences themselves that do this (just as it is not the racial/ethnic difference themselves that determine privilege), but the *attitudes* about them. This is why many linguists are having a hard time laughing with Word Crimes: to do so feels like complicity in an ongoing project of linguistic discrimination that intersects with class, race, and other kinds of discrimination.

Third—and the motivation for this post—is that the view of "grammar" as "you must learn the rules or else be ostracized" just makes grammar no fun at all! Studying language—really digging into it, uncovering its remarkably complex yet orderly structure, investigating what makes it different across speakers and communities—is SUPER FUN! Giving people a list of rules of things to do in order to not be criticized is NOT FUN! I want my students to think language is FUN, and to have FUN thinking about language!

So as a teacher, I want to say: Weird Al can think what he wants about language, and you the audience can laugh along or not, depending on your views on language or taste in music or whatever. But please do not mistake the video itself for an educational video. It will not teach students about language. It will not teach students about grammar. I've seen many comparisons to Schoolhouse Rock, but would any student who didn't already know what a "preposition" was leave Weird Al's video understanding it? No. Rather, on its face, this video teaches people that there is a right way to speak/write, and if you don't do things that way, you're a bad person (or a sewer person? or a person with a disability?) who should not breed. Nothing about how language works, or why these "rules" are what they are.

There are certainly valuable linguistic lessons that can be taken from Word Crimes, but not without a teacher encouraging students to think beyond the video itself, to ask questions about the rules Weird Al wants us to abide by. In this spirit, I worked up an off-the-top-of-my-head list of questions for teachers considering using this video in the classroom. I teach college English linguistics classes, so that's the audience I'm familiar with, but I think these questions could be useful for teachers at any level to think through for themselves and maybe modify for earlier grades, different subjects, etc. Some are questions about language/grammar, while some are discussion questions to spark class conversation about some really important issues. Whether you like these questions or not, I hope that if you do use this video in teaching, you work up your own list of questions, rather than letting the video stand on its own. Have fun!

25 Questions for Teaching with "Word Crimes"

  1. What is the difference between "spelling" and "grammar"?
  2. What is the role of words in grammar?
  3. What is the function of dictionaries in society?
  4. Who makes dictionaries? Why? How do dictionary makers decide what a word means?
  5. What is the difference between "language," "English," and "literacy"? How does "literacy" relate to spelling and/or grammar?
  6. Weird Al points out that nouns can be divided into mass nouns (which are typically modified with "less") and count nouns (which are typically modified with "fewer"). Can you think of other sub-categories of nouns (that is, nouns that behave in different ways from other nouns)?
  7. When someone says "I could care less," do you interpret it as Weird Al says (that they DO care), or do you understand their intention? If you understand their intention, why would it matter which way they say it? Can you think of other examples when what someone says may be ambiguous, but their meaning is clear from context?
  8. Who decides what is "the right way" to say things?
  9. Why do you/we trust some people, but not others, to decide what is "right"?
  10. Weird Al discusses the difference between "it's" and "its." He says people need to use "the right pronoun" in deciding when to use one or the other. Are "it's" and "its" actually different pronouns, or the same pronouns with different functions? (not as easy as it may seem!)
  11. What is the difference between a "possessive" and a "contraction"? Give more examples of each.
  12. What is a "participle," and what would it mean for a participle to be "dangling"? Why do writers sometimes want to avoid "dangling participles"?
  13. What is an "Oxford comma"? Some professional editors use the Oxford comma, and others do not. Come up with an argument to support each rule.
  14. Weird Al claims that "B" "C" "R" and "U" are "words not letters." Do you agree? Can you make an argument that these ARE, indeed, words?
  15. Weird Al says you should NEVER write words using numbers (like "WORD5"). But people DO write words using numbers, sometimes (otherwise Weird Al wouldn't need to tell them not to!). When do you think people might choose to spell words this way? Are there times when it might be appropriate to do so? Are there times when it would be completely inappropriate to do so? Does the spelling affect how the words convey their meaning?
  16. Weird Al says it's ok to write words using numbers if you're 7 years old (or if your name is Prince…you probably don't get that joke). What do you think is behind his acceptance of spelling this way for children? Do you think 7-year-olds spell this way?
  17. Weird Al mentions "Proper English." What do you think he means by this term? What does this term mean to you? How do you think you learned the meaning of "Proper English"? Do you think you speak "Proper English" all the time? When do you or don't you?
  18. Do you use the word "whom"? (advanced: Do a search using an online corpus for "to who" versus "to whom" and see what you find. Is "to whom" in as widespread usage? If not, should we be worried? Why or why not?)
  19. Weird Al makes sentence diagrams! Try to diagram this simple sentence using Weird Al's system (which are Reed-Kellogg diagrams): "Weird Al hates bad grammar." What do you think the purpose of sentence diagramming is?
  20. What IS the difference between "good" and "well"? Would you say "I'm doing good" or "I'm doing well"? Why?
  21. Weird Al doesn't like people "misusing" the terms "literally" and "irony." Can you think of words that you and your friends use to mean something different than what other people might mean by them?
  22. Weird Al singles out emails and blog posts as places where particular bad grammar resides. What do you think is behind this? Do you think YOUR emails, blog posts, or Facebook posts contain different grammar than your school papers, texts, or spoken conversations?
  23. What do you think the function of emoji are is in online communication? Do you or your friends use them? Where do they usually go in a message (beginning, middle, end)? How does their position relate to their function?
  24. Weird Al seems to think that preschool is where proper grammar education begins. Do you remember learning about grammar in preschool? What are your first memories of learning about grammar? Do you feel satisfied with the amount of formal grammar instruction you have had in school? Why or why not?
  25. Weird Al says some pretty mean things about people who don't use "proper English." Where do you think his negative attitudes about such people come from? Do you think he's justified in his beliefs? Why or why not?

The above is a guest post by Lauren Squires.

22 Jul 14:00

1958. Toshirô Mifune.

Russian Sledges

via multitask suicide


Toshirô Mifune.

21 Jul 21:56

Caid. Yuhei Yamamoto.

Russian Sledges

via multitask suicide


Yuhei Yamamoto.

21 Jul 18:12

Ingesting pure caffeine powder maybe not as great an idea as it seems, says FDA

by Xeni Jardin
Russian Sledges

via multitask suicide


The US Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning to consumers that ingesting pure powdered caffeine sold in bulk online is not a great idea. Read the rest

21 Jul 11:49

Long after shipping accident, Lego never stops washing up on a beach in England

by Rob Beschizza
Russian Sledges

via multitask suicide

In storms 17 years ago, the Tokio Express listed so far it lost 62 shipping containers. One of them contained 4.8m pieces of Lego, and they're still washing up in Cornwall, "offering an insight into the mysterious world of oceans and tides"
11 Jul 19:22

Tipping Stereotypes

by Andrew Sullivan

A reader proves exceptional to the rule on lesbian tippers:

I’m sure this will resonate with any member of a group perceived as being bad tippers, but my partner and I – and most of our lesbian friends – strenuously overtip. (All current or former attorneys, and most former servers.) It’s not just to make up for the cheapness of our cohort, but SF is an expensive town in which to eke a living serving drinks.

(BTW, any mention of San Francisco’s Lexington? All lesbian, all of the time.)

Another veers from the thread:

I promise you that lousy tipping isn’t a lesbian thing; it’s a woman thing.

I waited tables for several years in a half-dozen restaurants (none catering to a gay clientele). If four guys walked in for lunch, at least two would fight for the check and the “winner” would tip 15-25%, guaranteed. With four women, it’s separate checks and you’d get stiffed by at least two of them, also guaranteed.

(By the way, keep up the great work, Team Dish … my $4.20/month is the best bargain in my life.)

Another reader:

I had to laugh when reading this thread. I waited tables for a good chunk of my twenties and ran across two stereotypes: one about women and the other about African-Americans. I was told by a black fellow waiter that “black folks don’t tip.” On that one I discovered that in general, they just expected more for their money. If I had a table of African-Americans and I took good care of them, I would be tipped very well. In fact my best, most insanely generous tips came from them.

I can’t say the same about white women. All of my waiting horror stories had to do with them. Horrible tippers, generally a pain to deal with. The exception there was if the woman had waited tables, but otherwise I would go way out of my way to avoid a table of women. (And for the record, I’m a white woman.)

Update from a reader:

As opposed as I am to stereotyping in general, I can’t disagree with your other readers on white women. I waited tables at various – mostly upscale – restaurants in three states during the bulk of my twenties. The worst experience I ever had was a table of ten white women at a fancy restaurant in Richmond, maybe ten or twelve years ago.

They hit all the marks – separate checks, high-maintenance, etc. But the worst was that they wouldn’t leave. We closed at 10pm, and after working my usual double-shift I was very ready to get off my feet. I was one of the first people cut, but obviously I can’t leave while a table is still sitting. If they had already paid, I perhaps could have bribed the closing busser to wrap things up but I’m not leaving when my biggest table of the night hasn’t closed their check out. After finishing my sidework – and helping several others with theirs – I eventually took to leaning on the wall next to the kitchen entrance, about ten feet from the table, maintaining a thin veneer of patience while they chatted away. As it closed in on midnight, they finally decided to leave brusquely after expressing visible irritation with the time it took me to run ten different checks.

I think I walked away with five percent. Complete waste of a shift. People who have never had that sort of experience just. don’t. get it.


For a couple of years in the ’90s, when I was in high school and college, I delivered pizzas for a regional chain in the South. For the first year, I worked for the store in the “nice” section of town, where most of the clientele were middle- and upper-middle-class. The tip money was ok, I guess. I was 17 years old at the time, and had no experience by which to judge. The following year, I was transferred to the store on the other side of town, which was solidly working-class. Being young and prejudiced and coming from a middle-class family myself, I was disappointed and expected to see a big decline in my tip income.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. The working-class folks were much more generous tippers than the middle class and well-off pizza buyers I had become used to. My nightly income increased by around 50% or more. Not only that, but they tended to be more welcoming than the wealthier clientele. On the nice part of town, people would greet you on their doorstep, quickly make the transaction, and then return indoors, locking the door behind them. The working-class people would often be waiting for you on the porch, relaxing and drinking a beer. The experience reversed my class prejudices and has stuck with me for all of my adult life.

And another:

What’s the difference between a Canadian and a canoe?
Canoes tip.

A Canadian

One more:

I am a white woman and am attending a professional conference in a major North American city. I should be in bed right now because of the 8 AM annual business meeting (yes, on a Saturday!) but just read all the posts criticizing my gender and race for tipping. I just came back from dinner with two women friends. Let me tell you how it went:

1. We did ask for separate checks. Do you know why? Because it is a fucking business dinner, and we all work for different employers, and this is going on our individual expense accounts so we need it to be on our individual credit cards.

2. Each of us on our individual checks tipped 20%. Do you know why? LIKE THE WAITERS, WE WORK FOR A LIVING.

Your commenter who mentioned “high maintenance” non-tippers has a point. Years ago, I was an employee of an upscale store. I worked for commission, not tips, so I tried to provide the best customer service I could so they’d buy more. That being said, I could always predict how a customer was going to treat me by just taking a few moments to observe her. If it was a Birkin bag and it was 2:00 in the afternoon, she was probably going to be horrible. If it was a Hugo Boss suit at 7:00 in the evening, she was probably going to be lovely.

Maybe these waiters could use 30 seconds of observation to try to do the same. If you’re pouring wine and they’re comparing yoga studios and one-upping each other on how great their Hampton rental is, you might prepare to get stiffed. If you’re pouring wine and they’re comparing budget processes and one-upping each other on how awful their management committee is, you might prepare not to get stiffed. As noted above, we ALSO work for a living and we ALSO have clients and customers and we know that excellent service is (pun intended) table stakes. Our customers expect it from us, and we expect it from waitstaff. And when we get it, we recognize it.

And when waitstaff treats us like crap?

We still tip 20%. Because, again, we also work for a living. And frankly, the awful service might not be the waiter’s fault, but the kitchen’s (although that is rare and you can usually tell). However, be it your fault or the sous chef’s, we will tell everyone we know in real life (and everyone we don’t know on OpenTable) that the restaurant has awful service and to definitely go someplace else. As businesswomen we understand that revenue is something, but reputation is EVERYTHING. So congratulations – you have our tip; you just lose the future ones from the customers we are now ensuring you don’t get. And businesswomen can provide or negate a heck of a lot more restaurant business than people think. Trust me.

19 Jul 16:34

Amanda Cohen on Why Tipping Is a Devil's Bargain - Dispatches from Dirt Candy - Eater National

by russiansledges
There's nothing wrong with someone leaving a little extra something to show gratitude. There is something wrong with that gratitude making up a majority of a server's salary.