March 18, 2013
How the Shutdown of Google Reader Threatens the Internet (Forbes Cross-Post)
In the early 2000s, the Internet was eclipsing other mass media like print publications and broadcasting. Panicked by this development, some scholars projected a dystopian future where Internet users would create their own "Daily Me" (a term popularized in Nicholas Negroponte's 1995 book, Being Digital [affiliate link]) of customized information sources. As people relied on their Daily Me instead of traditional media sources, the dystopians feared that people would only consume information that reinforced their existing beliefs, rather than being serendipitously exposed to content that challenged or conflicted with their existing perceptions. For example, in his 2001 book Republic.com [affiliate link], Cass Sunstein wrote:
For countless people, the Internet is producing a substantial decrease in unanticipated, unchosen interactions with others.
The resulting lack of intellectual diversity may produce "echo chambers," where only like-minded people talked to each other and reinforce each others' own increasingly polarized viewpoints. This in turn jeopardizes core democratic principles.
The past dozen years have suggested that these dystopian fears aren't completely unfounded. As one example, many people now rely on social media as a primary news source. In many cases--especially with "bi-directional" services like Facebook or LinkedIn where people only connect with "friends"--social media only surfaces content from people who are likely to share common viewpoints. Plus, those posts are culled by mysterious algorithms (such as the algorithm controlling Facebook's newsfeed) that further reduce exposure to diverse viewpoints.
Still, I never believed these dystopian predictions, mostly because I believed technological tools like RSS would triumph over them. (For my more detailed rebuttal to the dystopians, see this article). RSS makes it easy and quick to keep up with dynamically changing online sources. The effectively zero transaction cost means that readers can easily monitor a smorgasbord of sources--including a greater diversity of source--than was possible with other technologies. Plus, RSS feeds bypass third parties' black-box algorithmic filtering that might suppress countervailing views; RSS enables a direct communication from the publisher to the reader.
In my case, the costlessness of subscribing to RSS feeds, plus the simplicity and reliability of Google Reader, has helped me aggregate a vast number of RSS subscriptions (over 220). With that many subscriptions, I can track developments across a wide variety of industries, topical areas, databases, and yes, viewpoints. Rather than circumscribe my worldview, the Internet in general, and RSS in particular, have vastly increased the diversity of my information consumption compared to the heyday of mass-media offline publications.
People have been predicting the death of RSS for years (see, e.g., this 2009 TechCrunch article), but the death of Google Reader moves us closer to RSS's demise than ever before. Without an obvious RSS reader alternative to Google Reader (and with heightened fears that any replacement RSS reader might exit the market, just like Google and Bloglines), some folks will simply give up on RSS altogether and rely exclusively on social media, email alerts or bookmarks. Others will use RSS less frequently because the alternative provider isn't as reliable or elegant as Google Reader. Collectively, with reduced reader demand, fewer publishers may support RSS feeds, creating the possibility of RSS's downward spiral.
The potential death of RSS increases the odds that the dystopian predictions will come true. Without a viable RSS reader, I would dramatically reduce the sources of news I consult, probably by 90% or more. It's not feasible to keep up with hundreds of sources via bookmarks (seriously?!). Email alerts? I have a tough time managing my in-box as it is. Social media? I already use it extensively as a complement to RSS, but it's scattershot and much slower to read. Plus, some sources I current track don't enable any of these RSS alternatives today. Without an RSS reader as reliable and efficient as Google Reader, my information flows will be lower-volume, slower, more heavily intermediated by third party algorithms, and--as the dystopians predicted--less diverse. And if I and others circumscribe our reading sources, publishers will get fewer readers, and the entire Internet ecosystem will shrink.
I don't blame Google. It's their choice to kill a service, especially one they offered for free. Still, I'm hoping that one or more RSS reader competitors will emerge a trustworthy addition to my daily routine. RSS may not be a mainstream tool, but for those of us who use it, its loss would be a major blow. If Google Reader's demise accelerates that unfortunate outcome, we will have lost something of significant social value.
January 23, 2013
Wandering Buddha Restaurant, New Orleans
I dread going to New Orleans because it's not a city for vegetarians. But, on my most recent trip there earlier this month, I was shocked to discover that The Wandering Buddha, an all-vegan restaurant, had opened up...serving Korean food in a place not known for having a thriving Korean community. In fact, the Wandering Buddha may be one of only 3 Korean vegan restaurants in the United States--the others being HanGawi and Franchia in NYC. Pluses and minuses of my visit:
* It's a Korean vegan restaurant in a very meaty town. If you're a vegetarian or vegan visiting New Orleans, you MUST make the trek and support this bold initiative.
* The food tasted authentic. The cuisine wasn't clearly watered down for American or local tastes. Everything was fresh and good (not great, but good). We tried almost every dish on the menu and there were no standouts, but no clunkers either. On the plus side, perhaps I liked the side dishes to the braised tofu the best, and on the minus side, the lettuce wraps were so leafy that they were more lettucy than wrappy. The owner sold the scallion pancakes highly and my dining companions loved them. I thought they were fine but not hype-worthy.
* The bar was surprisingly clean and not too scary.
* We went on a Sunday evening and were entertained by two surprisingly excellent bands. No cover charge or drink minimum! It wasn't my kind of music (the first was zydeco and I'm not sure how to describe the second), but the performers were quite talented and overall I enjoyed the music a lot. With a full belly and good tunes in a completely unexpected location, for the first time I could almost understand why people liked vacationing in New Orleans.
* Prices were fair and I'm pretty sure we were undercharged.
* The neighborhood is sketchy.
* The restaurant faces out of the back of a dive bar, the Hi-Ho Lounge. There are a few tables outdoors. Alternatively, there are a few tables in the bar itself where the restaurant will serve food, but most drinks are ordered from the bar and are on a separate check. The arrangements were a little confusing.
* Though the bar was clean, like most New Orleans restaurants, it was smoky. The bar had high ceilings that prevented the smoke from being too oppressive.
* While the bands were great, there were some dramatic performers that acted out bizarre scenes in between the music. I had absolutely no idea what was going on or why they were there. And there was really no audience (the place probably had about 30 people in the joint, over half of whom were the band, the dramatic performers or the waitstaff) so I really didn't understand who they were performing for. Themselves, I guess. It was all too high-concept for me.
If you can handle the cigarette smoke and the sketchiness, go ahead and order in and enjoy the music. If not, order to-go and take it back to your hotel room if the weather doesn't permit outdoor eating. Either way, recommended.
January 22, 2013
Plant-Based Pizza, Willow Glen (San Jose)
Before Plant-Based Pizza opened in the Willow Glen district of San Jose in November, the Bay Area's leading vegan pizza spot was Pizza Plaza, inconveniently located in Oakland. Now, we have a hometown option! In fact, with the November openings of Plant-Based Pizza and Veggie Grill (just a few days apart), the South Bay vegan scene has gotten a lot more interesting.
Plant-Based Pizza has a small but clean facility with 5 eat-in tables, meaning they don't really expect most customers to eat on-site. On our visit, we got a peppers and shroom pizza slice and a 12" vegan BBQ pizza. The BBQ pizza had a thin crust, daiya cheese, an unobtrusively mild BBQ flavor, non-housemade fake chicken, and a few onion and cilantro here and there. Yet, the flavors worked surprisingly well together, creating an irresistible combination that meant we enjoyed every bite and had no leftovers.
Prices were on the high side but fair. The menu has many more intriguing options to explore. The world needs more vegan pizzerias! Please, let's support this place so it will remain a viable business.
Our photo gallery.
January 21, 2013
Advantages and Disadvantages of Taking an In-House Counsel Job
[This blog post holds my personal record for gestation of a blog post. The outline for this post traces back to a student talk I gave at Marquette University in 2004. I first started working on the post some time in 2005 or 2006. 7+ years later, I'm finally sharing it with the world. Sadly, I don't think the post is noticeably better for all of its incubation.]
This post provides my perspectives on the pros and cons of practicing law as in-house counsel versus at a law firm. Although my perspective is hardly unique, I am one of the comparatively few people who actually preferred practicing at a large law firm over in-house. When I tell people this, they almost always express surprise. My experiences may be colored by practicing in a start-up environment, with its advantages and disadvantages, and my conclusion may reflect my particular personality idiosyncrasies. Nevertheless, this post will provide my insider's view on life as in-house counsel.
Advantages of In-House Practice
The Lawyer Can Become a Business Decision-Maker. In-house lawyers take on business responsibility in several ways. First, to the extent the lawyer supervises outside counsel, the lawyer usually handles those vendor relationships. Second, the in-house lawyer often gap-fills any business decisions that aren’t owned by other people within the company. Finally, the in-house lawyer may share in making business decisions with the “business” people. Often, the in-house counsel’s co-workers prize the lawyer’s business input as much as his/her legal analysis.
The Lawyer Becomes Part of the Team. Most outside counsel have a “hired gun” relationship with their clients. The outside counsel is responsible for providing the best service possible, but then that lawyer flips his/her advice “over the wall” and leaves the implementation to someone else. In contrast, in-house counsel often become part of the execution team. Because in-house counsel are part of the team, they can be much more proactive than the outside lawyers. They can raise issues early and see the issues through to resolution.
i>In-House Counsel’s Interests Better Align with Corporate Objectives. Even with innovations in alternative billing and long-term multi-iteration relationships between companies and firms, usually an outside counsel’s interests do not align very well with the client’s. After all, the law firm has its own profits to manage, and doing so inevitably diverges with the client’s profit maximization. This is endemic to any customer/vendor relationship. Certainly hours-based billing creates numerous potential conflicts of interest between firm and client.
In-house counsel’s economic interests align much more closely with the client’s. There will never be perfect alignment, but the combination of being an employee plus possibly an equity interest makes a huge difference.
As an added bonus, usually in-house counsel don’t keep timesheets and don’t have billable quotas. This is often the #1 advantage cited by new in-house lawyers. However, this isn’t always the case. Some companies use a chargeback method to divisions/departments that requires keeping track of expenses; and companies may view in-house counsel as substitutes for outside counsel, which makes their goal to squeeze as much value out of the in-house counsel as possible.
Greater Ownership of Outcomes. It’s often easier for in-house counsel to point to specific favorable outcomes for the company and claim credit/ownership of those outcomes. A product counsel can point to a new successful product they guided through the development process and feel a sense of responsibility; a litigator achieving a favorable case outcome can have the same feeling.
Easier Prioritization. In-house counsel can often prioritize conflicting time demands easier because, after all, the requests are all coming from the same company and they can be prioritized based on profitability or the company’s strategic objectives. In contrast, outside counsel have a tough time prioritizing conflicting requests. Naturally, every client wants to be #1 but inevitability priority choices must be made, and telling a client that they aren’t #1 isn’t a path towards long-term client happiness.
On the other hand, it can be even harder for in-house counsel to tell a co-worker that they are not at the top of the priority list. So although it may be easier to prioritize tasks, it may be more painful to say no to people you have to work with the next day.
Better Work/Life Balance. The stereotype is that in-house counsel have a better work/life balance. I wonder about this in practice. Sure, in-house counsel can call up outside counsel and dump a project on them on Friday at 5pm while the in-house counsel goes on to enjoy the weekend. However, to the extent that in-house counsel are cost centers and the company is trying to maximize value out of a cost center, inevitably there will be significant pressure placed on the in-house counsel to do more and work harder. In the end, I think this is very specific to the company and the legal department. Some employers are going to provide better work/life balance than others.
Cons of In-House Counsel
You’re Answerable to a Boss. Some of you may find this an odd “con.” Doesn’t everyone have a boss? The answer, of course, is yes unless you’re self-employed. Even a CEO is answerable to the board or investors.
However, at some law firms, the supervisor/supervisee relationship can be quite attenuated. In firms with a power-partner model, the associate’s power partner is the boss; but at firms with a free-agency model for assigning new projects, it’s possible that no one partner views him/herself “responsible” for an associate. As it turns out, that was the situation I had when I was at the law firm. Although I had partners who nominally were accountable for my time, in practice I had a significant degree of autonomy. Partners have even more independence.
In-house, the lawyer will have a boss in the classic sense. The boss will conduct your performance evaluations, and your success will depend on doing what the boss wants you to do and keeping your boss happy. If the boss isn’t a lawyer but second-guesses your legal advice, that can get especially awkward.
Because bosses can change—they can leave the company or the position can be reorganized (a fairly common occurrence)—the job can change unexpectedly. Even if you love your current boss, your next boss may be a jerk. With a change in supervisors, a good job can become a terrible job overnight. There is almost nothing in-house counsel can do to avoid this risk.
Furthermore, job advancement in-house often requires a boss who will champion for your cause. Sadly, many bosses are not very good at being advocates for their supervisees, in which case in-house lawyers can get stuck in their career progression.
You’re Expected to Know the Answers. In-house, your clients expect you to know the law cold. Occasionally it’s acceptable to request some research time, but most of the time it’s not. In some cases, your clients will think you’re an idiot if you don’t know the answer off the top of your head. In particular, in-house can be a difficult place for newly graduated JDs because usually there’s no training.
Lawyers who start in-house face the added problem that the business clients don’t prize legal accuracy as much as they prize good business counseling. If anything, clients hate legally accurate answers that conflict with their business objectives. As a result, lawyers who start in-house, over time, often become more skilled at business counseling than legal counseling; they don’t necessarily know all of the relevant legal doctrine, and the clients don’t value that extra legal expertise. But in-house counsel are socialized to give clients what they want, which is that they want “yes,” not “no.” As a result, in-house counsel are constantly under pressure to distort their legal analysis to support a business conclusion of “yes.”
Finally, because in-house counsel often are viewed as more skilled at business counseling than legal analysis, their clients sometimes value outside counsel’s advice more than in-house counsel’s. (This is true with outside consultants as well, who often are hired to say exactly what someone internally has already said).
In-House Counsel as a Cost Center. As mentioned above, often employers hire in-house counsel to reduce expenditures on outside counsel. This means employers try to maximize the return from each in-house counsel and reduce in-house counsel’s ability to pay for outside counsel. In-house counsel are obvious targets in any layoff, and they are often expendable after an acquisition.
In-House Counsel as Too Generalist and Too Specialist. In terms of future employment opportunities, in-house counsel can end up in a weird squeeze. On the one hand, in-house counsel often are generalists. They handle any legal matters that appear on their desk, especially in companies where the legal department is small. Further, in-house counsel often are expected to keep up with a wide-ranging set of practice areas, making them the master of none. At the same time, in-house counsel can become incredibly specialized; they focus on the legal issues posed by a single company in a single industry, and thus they may lack the practice diversity across industries and competitors that outside counsel can develop.
Thin Infrastructure. Often, in-house legal departments provide light resources for attorneys. For example, secretarial staff may be spread thin or non-existent. The company may not subscribe to helpful publications or databases.
Consequences of Internal Conflicts. Inevitably, your clients will want to skirt the law, even if the company is fundamentally trying to be ethical. There are too many laws, too many stupid laws, too many laws that impose unreasonable compliance costs, and too many grey areas. In-house counsel have few good choices in these circumstances, especially if the lawyer advised the client on one course of action and the client rejected the advice. If the lawyer feels like he/she needs to “withdraw” from the representation because of the client’s now-possibly-shady behavior or because of the implicit vote of no confidence due to the client ignoring the lawyer’s advice, the lawyer’s options are limited. The lawyer can simply walk away from the job, immediately cutting off the salary (and foregoing any equity upside) and burning bridges with the remaining co-workers; or the lawyer can slowly try to find alternative employment, a time-consuming and costly transition. A standard “best practice” for law firms is to not become too dependent on any single client because it will create pressures to do unethical things. In-house counsel, by the very nature of the position, violate that best practice.
For more thoughts, see The Conglomerate.
January 10, 2013
Recommended Vegetarian Cookbooks for New Vegetarians
by Guest Blogger Lisa Goldman
[Eric's note: I am occasionally asked for vegetarian cookbook recommendations by people who are becoming vegetarian or looking to eat less meat. Given that my cooking repertoire is quite limited and usually involves the microwave as a key resource, I asked my wife Lisa--who actually does cook using cookbooks--for her expert opinion. Note: the links are Amazon affiliate links, but I recommend you try out any cookbooks from the public library before buying.]
Eric has requested many times that I write a guest blog post on Vegetarian & Vegan Cookbooks. I promised to deliver and then, much to his dismay & frustration, delayed many months because I wasn’t sure where to start.
The Vegetarian & Vegan Cookbook category has exploded in the last decade. Back when I started to cook (around 1993 when I moved into my first college housing with a kitchen), library & bookstore shelves had such a limited selection, it was easy to navigate and narrow down which books to select or recommend. But now, their shelves practically groan from the load. This is a good thing! However, it has become impossible to put together a well-researched list that’s truly exhaustive of all the choices available.
My thoughts and recommendations below reflect only my narrow and somewhat dated sampling (I haven’t purchased nearly as many cookbooks in the past ~3 years as I did the previous 5+ years before that). Still, I hope it’s helpful, and I welcome your feedback.
CATEGORY 1 – MY FAVORITES
(1) Moosewood Cookbook – I’m talking about the original from Mollie Katzen. I think this was my first cookbook and it’s one of the top 10 best selling cookbooks of all time *in any category.* Originally published in 1977 (updated in the 1990s), some of the recipes are a little dated. But, many are still great. Three of my favorites: Brazilian Black Bean Soup, Lentil Bulgar Salad and Gypsy Soup. This one will never lose its spot on my shelf.
(2) Veganomicon – Isa Chandra Moskowitz has published many cookbooks. If I could only pick one, it would be this one, although it would be tough to part with her original book Vegan with a Vengeance. There are a lot of great recipes here. If you want to “try before you buy,” check out the dozens of recipes she’s posted at her website. Favorites include: Snobby Joes, Pineapple Cashew Quinoa Stir-fry, Lentils & Caramelized Onions, Pasta Della California, Tamarind Lentils, Potato & Kale Enchiladas, Jambalaya & Manzana Chili Verde.
(3) Peas & Thank You – I picked this one up on a whim at Costco a couple years ago. Author Sarah Matheny has a very popular blog. Her recipes are simple and very kid/family friendly. This isn’t the book I’d necessarily use to impress guests, as some of her shortcuts result in less exciting flavors than in Veganomicon (for example), but it still very good and certainly beats microwaved frozen food.
MY “PRETTY GOOD, IT HAS AT LEAST 3 RECIPES I REALLY LIKE AND HAVE MADE MORE THAN 3x SO I’M KEEPING IT” CATEGORY
I don’t have a lot of bookshelf space, and as Eric will tell you, I can be pretty unsentimental and ruthless in sorting and giving away lesser-used items in my house. So, the cookbooks that have made this category, while not my favorites, still deserve consideration.
(1) Books by Dreena Burton. I own Vive le Vegan and Eat Drink & Be Vegan. I’ve found many of her savory recipes to be serviceable but not “wow this is amazing.” In my opinion, she really excels in the sweets category. If you are interested in baking vegan, look here first. I prefer her chocolate chip cookie recipe to anyone else’s (including Isa’s), but all of her cookie recipes are excellent. If I were buying today, I’d probably go with her most recent and well-reviewed Let Them Eat Vegan (but I haven’t tried that book myself yet).
(2) Books by Nava Atlas. I own Vegetarian Express (now updated/revised and called Vegan Express), Vegan Soups & Hearty Stews for All Seasons, The Vegetarian Family Cookbook and Vegetarian 5 Ingredient Gourmet. I think Vegetarian Express might have been my second cookbook after Moosewood. It’s sort of the predecessor to Peas & Thank You: a simple cookbook for getting healthy meals on the table for the family quickly. No “wow” recipes, but lots of reliable and easy stand-bys (Mexican Casserole is my favorite). Nava also has a website if you’d like to try out some of her recipes to see if her tastes suit yours. I confess that, in the past few years, her books have collected dust on my shelf. I cannot recall the last time I cracked one. It might be time to pass them along. If I had to keep only one, it would be her Soups and Stews book because I’m a real soup & stew lover.
(3) Moosewood Restaurant Books. These cookbooks are often confused with Mollie Katzen’s original Moosewood Book. In fact, Mollie has nothing to do with these, and they are written by a variety of chefs from the Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca. Still, these books are generally very good. I own Moosewood Restaurant Low Fat Favorites and Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home. I flip through these on a regular basis. I particularly like the Lentil Sambar recipe in Low Fat Favorites. I’ve also heard good things about the Moosewood Daily Specials cookbook. I’m not sure I’d buy these retail, but if you see a deal on them somewhere, they’re worth picking up. (Note, most of the Moosewood Restaurant books have a “fish” chapter, but they are otherwise entirely vegetarian.)
(4) Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World – If you’re really interested in vegan baking and cupcakes in particular, this cult favorite by Isa & her friend Terry Hope Romano is definitely fun. If I ever want curry favor with Eric, I know that the Banana Split Sundae cupcake recipe here will do the trick.
COOKBOOKS ON MY SHELF THAT I WISH I COULD SPEAK HIGHER OF, BUT RARELY USE
(1) Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone – Deborah Madison is a highly regarded cookbook author, and this book makes lots of other people’s “must have” lists. However, I have been disappointed with it. The recipes taste good; she does know how to cook! But they tend to be on the rich side, and she regularly does the “recipe within a recipe” stunt, which is a personal pet peeve of mine. I detest getting knee deep into a recipe only to realize that ingredient #7 is actually an entirely separate recipe (e.g. “add 1T of Romanesco sauce, found on page xx” which of course is complicated and makes a 2C batch, so now you don’t know what the heck to do with your 2C-1T of sauce). I rarely cook from this book.
(2) How to Cook Everything Vegetarian – This one was released more recently and is authored by Mark Bittman, whom everyone seems to love. And, while I have been impressed with several of his articles, I’ve been underwhelmed by the handful of recipes I’ve tried from this book. Nothing awful, but no obvious “must repeat” recipes either. Maybe I’ve just selected the wrong things. I’m not ready to toss this into the give-away stack quite yet, but it’s hardly at the top of my recommendation list.
(3) How it All Vegan – The was one of the first popular vegan cookbooks, and used to be talked about regularly, but it’s completely dropped off my radar in favor of more current vegan books like Veganomicon. I love the spirit of it, but I think Veganomicon supersedes it; no need for both.
(4) Vegan Brunch – I bought this because I thought Isa could do no wrong. And while I wouldn’t call this book “wrong,” I haven’t found a lot right with it. I like her coffee chocolate chip muffin recipe in here. Otherwise, nada.
(5) Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker – I LOVE the concept of the slow cooker. When I come home at the end of the day, I’m already too hungry to start cooking. It’s not uncommon for me to eat some crappy microwave dinner just to sate myself, and then start cooking a decent meal which I’ll have the next day (which rarely tastes as good as eating something freshly made). But with a slow cooker, I can prep in the morning, and then it’s ready for me when I come home later. But, there’s a price to pay for that convenience. Most veggie meals I’ve attempted in the crockpot come out mediocre. I bought this cookbook to help with that, but haven’t found anything amazing. Still, I’m holding on to it, because hope springs eternal. I’ll keep trying. The No Hurry Curry recipe isn’t bad.
(6) World Vegetarian – I like Madhur Jaffrey for some reason I can’t even recall. Maybe I saw her on a cooking show? Who knows. I also like the idea of this book. In general, I favor ethnic foods with interesting spices and flavors. So, I thought it’d be awesome to sample all sorts of exotic recipes from this book. Somehow, I haven’t ever found my favorites in this book though. Check it out from the library and see what you think. Let me know if you find some winners.
MY COOKBOOK WISHLIST
(1) Plenty or Jerusalem – Both of these cookbooks by Yotam Ottolenghi are bestsellers. With beautiful pictures and purported great recipes, there’s a lot of inspiration here. Yotam is a professional chef. I checked out Plenty from the library once and tried a couple recipes. They were very good, but pretty heavy (lots of oil) and somewhat complicated. I’d still love to have one on my shelf so I could have more time to peruse and try my hand at lightening some of them up a little for my tastes.
(2) The I [Heart] Trader Joe’s Vegetarian Cookbook – I am a loyal TJs shopper. I have previously purchased a cookbook devoted to TJs products before, but it wasn’t vegetarian and there weren’t many recipes that appealed to me. But, I’d love to give it another shot with this edition.
(3) The Indian Slow Cooker – I mentioned my unrequited love for the slow cooker. This book has good reviews, and I think many vegetarian Indian dishes may actually lend themselves to the slow-cooking methods. I wish my library had this book so I could try it out. Until then, it’s on my wishlist to purchase. (Not entirely vegetarian.)
(4) Super Natural Every Day – Heidi Swanson authors the very popular 101 Cookbooks blog. She’s based out of SF and I like her focus on health rather than diet. Her photography is beautiful too. Another highly reviewed cookbook that I’ve sampled from the library and enjoyed.
(5) Appetite for Reduction –Isa published this one a year or two ago. I’ve checked it out from the library a few times. The recipes are good. Not as amazing as some of the Veganomicon ones. There is a price to pay for cutting out so much of the fat and calories after all. But, if you’re interested in some lighter vegan recipes this is a good book to have around. Honestly, I can’t believe I haven’t put this on my shelf yet. (Hey Eric – do you SEE my spending restraint?!)
(6) The Sprouted Kitchen – I keep hearing great things about this one from people I trust. I’ll be looking to check this one out at the library soon. (Not completely vegetarian, but almost.)
December 23, 2012
Spring 2013 Travel and Speaking Schedule
Here's my tentative upcoming travel and speaking schedule for next semester. As usual, if I'm going to be in your neighborhood and you want to connect, let me know.
* January 5-7: AALS Annual Meeting, New Orleans. I'm speaking at the IP Section meeting Sunday afternoon. Other than that, I have some play time both Sunday and Monday, so let me know if you want to do some New Orleans tourism. Among other things, I'll be on the hunt for vegetarian food in unfriendly environs.
* January 15: talk at Los Altos High School about online content [I know! can you believe anyone would put me in front of high schoolers???]
* February 6-7, ABA Antitrust Section Consumer Protection Conference, Washington DC.
* February 20-21, Yale ISP, New Haven. I'll be giving a noontime talk that Thursday.
* February 21-23, Notre Dame, South Bend. Attending a marketing workshop on Friday.
* February 28, USF/Microsoft Trademark Conference, Los Angeles.
* March 1-9, Cancun and Cuba.
* March 15, 15 Year Retrospective of the DMCA, Santa Clara University.
* March 16, Internet Law Works-in-Progress Conference, Santa Clara University.
* April 11-13, Trademark Scholars' Roundtable, Bloomington, Indiana.
* May 2-3, ITechLaw Annual Meeting, Scottsdale, AZ (not confirmed yet).
* May 30-31, Rocky Mountain IP Institute, Denver (not confirmed yet).
December 07, 2012
Disability Leave Foiled By Facebook Photos--Jaszczyszyn v. Advantage Health
Jaszczyszyn v. Advantage Health Physician Network, 2012 WL 5416616 (6th Cir. Nov. 7, 2012)
Another entry in the ever-popular series of litigants foiled by social media evidence. Sara Jaszczyszyn (an even more impressive name than Balasubramani...is this her?) took FMLA leave from work due to back pain. This FMLA leave was intermittent, allowing her to be out only on days when she had a flare-up, but the court says "Jaszczyszyn appears to have treated the leave as continuous, open-ended, and effective immediately." For a while, company employees tried to accommodate her ongoing absences, but apparently the mood soured after "Jaszczyszyn attended Pulaski Days, a local Polish heritage festival. Over a period of at least eight hours, she visited three Polish Halls with a group of her friends. One friend shared approximately 127 pictures from that day with Jaszczyszyn, who posted, on her Facebook page, 9 pictures featuring herself." During that same weekend, Jaszczyszyn left another voicemail with her supervisor indicating she was in pain and couldn't come to work on Monday.
Her managers summoned Jaszczyszyn into the office and confronted her with the photos. The court recounts what happened next:
Jaszczyszyn did not agree with their characterization of the pictures, but she did not voice that disagreement at the meeting. She defended attending the festival by arguing that no one had told her it was prohibited. When asked to explain the discrepancy between her claim of complete incapacitation and her activity in the photos, she did not have a response and was often silent, occasionally saying that she was in pain at the festival and just was not showing it.
Apparently not good enough. The employer terminated Jaszczyszyn. Jaszczyszyn responded with a lawsuit claiming FMLA violations. The Sixth Circuit (how in the world did this case get to the Sixth Circuit???) affirmed the legitimacy of the firing.
The subsequent news is mixed for Jaszczyszyn. In a seemingly gratuitous footnote, the court recaps the good--and miraculous?--news that "Jaszczyszyn appears to have made a full recovery very shortly after she was terminated," but also the bad news that she was subsequently fired from her next job for excessive absenteeism. Oh, those millennials!
Other posts in the series:
* Plaintiff's Claims to Be "Bedridden" and "Vegetative" Rebutted by Facebook Evidence--Cajamarca v. Regal Entertainment
* Facebook Jokes About "Naked Twister" Could Undermine Sex Discrimination Claim--Targonski v. Oak Ridge
* Protip: Kegstands and Vertigo Are Inconsistent With Each Other--Johnson v. Ingalls
* Facebook Boasts/Taunts Undermine the Legal Defense for a Fight at a House Party--In re DLW
* Social Media Photos Foil Yet Another Litigant--Clement v. Johnson's Warehouse
* YouTube Video Impeaches Witness' Credibility--Ensign Yacht v. Arrigoni
* Facebook Entries Negate Car Crash Victims' Physical Injury Claims
* Contrary MySpace Evidence Strikes a Litigant Again--HAC, Inc. v. Box
* MySpace Postings Foil Another Litigant--Sedie v. U.S.
* Disturbingly Humorous MySpace Posts Used as Impeaching Evidence in Spousal Abuse Case--Embry v. State
* Latest Example of Social Networking Site Evidence Contradicting In-Court Testimony--People v. Franco
November 06, 2012
Veggie Grill Santana Row (San Jose): Opened November 8, 2012!
The Veggie Grill is an all-vegan restaurant chain that specializes in vegan "comfort food." It's got the kind of dishes you'd expect at an "American" restaurant--burgers, chicken sandwiches, fries, mashed potatoes, chili, etc.--but all veganized. The master chef behind the menu is Ray White, who was part of the brains behind Native Foods--another favorite restaurant of ours--along with Tanya Petrovna. Because of Ray's background, the Veggie Grill menu shares some similarities with Native Foods' menu, but we now prefer Veggie Grill over Native Foods. Customers place orders at the register and then have the food served to their tables. Prices are fair; entrees are in the $8-$10 range.
We first discovered Veggie Grill in El Segundo several years ago. See my prior review of that place. We fell in love with the restaurant instantly, and now we usually make a point of swinging by a Veggie Grill during our Southern California visits. Every time we go, we submit a suggestion card that they should come to the South Bay.
Our requests finally have been answered! This week, they are opening in Santana Row, less than 4 miles/15 minutes from my office. From the perspective of visibility and foot traffic, Santana Row is a great location for them; but it's a mild pain to get to/from--traffic is rotten and parking can be a challenge. The store is bright and colorful, although I could see them running out of seats during peak periods. It was hard not to notice the generational split in the crowd; I was about 20 years older than the average customer.
I like almost everything I've tried at the Veggie Grill (the biggest miss is the mac 'n' cheese--quinoa pasta is hard to do well). My favorite entrees are the V-burger and the Carne Asada, both excellent. I also especially like the chili and the sweetheart fries. I generally don't like kale very much, but their steamed kale is among the best I've ever tried, and I've chosen it as a side dish before.
Today, Lisa and I attended a soft launch lunch at Santana Row (our meals were complimentary). A report on the dishes we tried:
[see my photo gallery]
* V-burger with avocado. I rank the V-burger incredibly highly. I think it's one of the first-rate veggie burgers served anywhere, although the veggie burger at Source in San Francisco--a much different composition--may be my favorite anywhere. I don't think the avocado added much to the flavor, but I'm not an avocado fan.
* Sweetheart fries. These are outstanding sweet potato fries. I normally like potato fries more than sweet potato fries, but these are among the best sweet potato fries I've had. They are served with a ranch dressing for dipping (you can also get ketchup if you prefer) that complements the flavor nicely.
* Buffalo Bomber. This is a successful dish, but I liked it a little less than the V-burger. It's a big chicken patty with lettuce/tomato/onion on a wheat bun, with both buffalo sauce and ranch dressing. The servers warned that the buffalo sauce was spicy, but it was mild by my standards. I expected the sandwich to have a stronger "buffalo sauce" taste and more kick than it did. Still, a good sandwich.
* "Bean Me Up" Chili. The chili is hearty and flavorful. Personally, I think a cup is better than a bowl; the flavor can get a little tiresome after a while.
* Chill Out Wings. Their fried chicken strips with BBQ and ranch sauces for dipping. This was a satisfying appetizer.
* Carrot Cake. I'm not a big carrot cake fan, but this was an excellent carrot cake, especially for being vegan. Both the cake and frosting were moist and flavorful.
* Chocolate Chip Cookie. I thought this was average.
* Chocolate Pudding. Lisa was lukewarm about the pudding, but I thought it was tasty. However, like the chili, a little may go a long way. A small cup was perfect, but a larger serving could get tiring.
* Drinks. I tried the strawberry lemonade, peach black tea and pomegranate green tea. I thought they were all OK, but none of them did much for me.
I'm so thrilled to have the Veggie Grill in our neighborhood! I hope you'll check it out. I'd be happy to meet you there for a meal any time!
UPDATE: A group of 4 of us went back Wednesday night for another complimentary beta-test meal. This time, the place was so packed that all of the seats were taken, and a line formed outside the restaurant waiting until seats opened. I hope they are a success, but I hope they aren't so successful that lines out the door are common. Comments on our second round of menu sampling:
* Uptown Nachos. I loved the taste of these nachos, more so than most other restaurants' nachos. Recommended.
* Buffalo Wings. I would get either these or the Chill Out Wings; I wouldn't get both. These had a nice flavor, but once again I thought the buffalo taste was milder and less pronounced than I would like. What stands out about these wings is their texture, which is quite meaty. Our meat-eater companion raved about the texture.
* Blackened Chickin Plate. This was a big disappointment. Basically, it's a pile of the steamed kale, a pile of the quinoa pilaf--which is plain and thus indistinguishable from unadorned quinoa--and a cutlet of fake chicken, blackened, with a small dollop of papaya salsa. The steamed kale was fine, the quinoa was boring, and the chicken cutlet was surprisingly mildly flavored (tasted a little like a Gardein chicken cutlet), and the salsa didn't enhance the flavor much. If you like bland basic food, this could be a nice dish; but compared to the better options on the menu, I don't see any reason to pick it.
* Thai Chickin Salad. This had a great taste, and I recommend this dish as well. However, I could imagine eating the whole salad might get a little tiring. It might be better to split this dish with a friend; a half-salad might be the perfect amount before the flavor gets tiring.
* All Hail Kale Salad with blackened tempeh. My wife LOVES this salad! If you're a kale fan, this is a must-have; but even if you aren't (like me), this salad is very well-constructed. I didn't think the blackened tempeh added much to the flavor.
* Carne Asada. I still love this dish, but sometimes I love it more than others. I'm not sure why that is. The V-burger is a more consistent success with me, so I will probably pick the V-burger more frequently and save the Carne Asada for special occasions. Our meat-eater companion complained (quite fairly IMO) about the bun-to-meat ratio in this sandwich.
We also got samplers of the carrot cake again, and all of us loved it. The carrot cake is a crowd-pleaser! But then again, so is the entire menu, so if you haven't gone yet, definitely check it out.
UPDATE 2: We went back for Jacob's 10th birthday:
* I had the VG-Cheeseburger, El Dorado style. I enjoyed the burger, although I'm not sure if I liked it a lot more than just the baseline VG Burger. It was very, very messy!
* the red cabbage slaw. This is bland. Between the chili and slaw, pick the chili or pay to upgrade.
* Lisa tried the All-American Stack. We were both surprised that the stack isn't a single "patty' but instead loose strips. That made the stack messy. Personally, I didn't like it much better than the regular burger, but it's a fun and exotic option nonetheless.
September 09, 2012
Reflections on My Trip to Romania
When I told people I was going to Romania, I got a range of responses. Some folks questioned why I’d want to go there, implicitly viewing it as a second-tier tourist destination, or expressing concern about my personal safety. Oher folks favorably viewed Romania as an exotic tourist destination, a little off the beaten path and therefore “cooler” than the typical American destinations in Europe. (In contrast to, say, Paris, which is so common that it's not distinctive. “Paris? Oh, everyone goes there…”).
Having spent a week there, in my opinion, Romania is an excellent tourist destination, albeit with a few major flaws. Some of the things I liked best about Romania:
* excellent sights. Romania has some first-rate destinations that compete favorably with the best parts of Europe. Many of the sights from the late medieval or early Renaissance period are in good condition and worth seeing.
* relaxed vibe. The Romanians I encountered were relaxed and easy-going compared to my experiences in Northern Europe. I felt like I could be myself more without unintentionally offending the locals. This may have been a little specific to Cluj, a college town. Several people from Bucharest suggested that it was a little more uptight there. Another plus: I sensed less anti-American sentiments than I’ve encountered in other parts of Europe.
* genuine and welcoming people. The people I dealt with, virtually without exception, were extraordinarily gracious and eager to please.
Two other advantages: (1) The Romanian academics I encountered spoke excellent English, and in fact many of them had lived in the United States, at least for a short time. Unfortunately, outside of the academic circles and main tourism areas, English quickly became a problem. (2) Tourism costs were noticeably lower than Western Europe, creating the opportunity for good values. I wonder if Romania’s upcoming adoption of the Euro will lead to price inflation, so Romania might be worth a trip sooner rather than later.
Now, the flaws:
* Really poor vegetarian options. Even before going, I knew food was going to be a problem. The Romanians really tried hard to accommodate me as a vegetarian, but they simply don’t know how to cook for vegetarians. The result was that my “best” vegetarian meals consisted of a starchy carb (pasta, rice or potatoes), typically drenched in butter or oil, and a salad or some uncoordinated piles of vegetables. This reminded me of my meals in the UCLA dorms back in the mid-1980s, when I ate so many potatoes that my dormmates nicknamed me “spud.” The US vegetarian scene has improved so much over the past 25 years, but Romania’s vegetarian cuisine is still at square one. Less good vegetarian meals usually involved heavy doses of dairy, such as fried cheese. I did eat close to my normal daily calories (mostly because my hosts provided the meals—given the options, I would not have eaten out often on my own dime), but I can’t say that I had good food in Romania. One other downside: it’s still legal to smoke in restaurants. Yuck.
* Challenging transportation infrastructure. Romania is blessed with many cool tourist sites, but getting to them remains a challenge. I chose not to drive in Romania because of the difficulties navigating the street signs and confusing road system, plus the poor physical conditions of many roads. Even if you choose to drive, it takes substantial time to get between places that are relatively close as the crow flies due to the lack of good freeways. Because Romania is pretty big, in fact many sites are pretty far apart. If you don’t drive, then the choices are even more limited. The trains can be quite time-consuming, and buses are more so, plus they may pose language challenges. So there’s no ideal way to navigate Romania’s cool destinations on a time- or cost-effective basis. Ideally, Romania will eventually upgrade its transportation infrastructure, which may partially solve this problem as it creates others.
One more challenge: getting to Romania involves long flights. I got to Cluj on Lufthansa with a single stop in Munich (at a premium price for the more convenient itinerary). Still, total travel time was 16-17 hours each way. 2 stops would have been over 24 hours of traveling. Plus, Romania is a challenging 10 hours ahead of California, exacerbating the jet lag and making real-time communications with home that much more difficult.
Despite these limitations, I would definitely go back to Romania. I would leave enough time to get around to the far-flung destinations, and I would consider using professional help such as a guide or a tour company. If you get the chance to go to Romania, I recommend you take it.
* * * *
Some comments about specific destinations:
* Cluj City Center. Grade: B. The city center has a small number of nice highlights. I especially liked that the town presented itself as a working town/college town, so it was not very touristy. There was only one block of street vendors, and many sites didn't charge admission fees. My favorite spots were (1) Piaţa Unirii (Union Square), surrounded by St. Michael's Church dating back to the 14th century and numerous attractive buildings, and (2) Dormition of the Theotokos Cathedral, an imposing and incredibly well-done Orthodox church. Although it's a bit of a hike, I also recommend going to Cetatuia Park for nice panoramas of the city center and the river valley.
My photos from Cluj.
* Cluj Botanical Gardens. Grade: B. I’m not a huge fan of botanical gardens. I’d much prefer to go hiking and see the native flora that way. As botanical gardens go, Cluj’s botanical garden is pretty good. It had a wide diversity of flora, it’s a sizable park close to the city center, it is fairly well-maintained, and it had a cheap admission fee (less than $1.50). My favorite parts were the entrance area, with lots of flowers in bloom in early September, and the observation tower at the hilltop.
* Cluj Romulus Vuia Open-Air Ethnographic Museum (Parcul Etnografic Romulus Vuia). Grade: A-. I liked this museum a lot. It collects original buildings from all over Romania, restored to a different era. For example, it had a couple of gorgeous wooden churches from the 18th-19th centuries, well-restored to glorious condition. It also original farmhouses (both rich and poor) with the kinds of interior decorations and household items actually found in the house. The park is large, so the buildings to inspect and admire kept coming! Some buildings even had docents who would answer questions and point out features, although it didn’t appear that many (if any) of the docents spoke English. This museum is just over the hill from the city's main valley, making it a little challenging to visit from the city center without a car. Still, it's a gem worth seeking out. One sour point: the museum was cheap to enter (as I recall, less than $2)—a great deal—but unfortunately they charged an additional photography fee (nominal, but I still object to the fee on principle).
* Turda Salt Mines. Grade: too hard to assign a grade. Salt has been a vital resource since antiquity, and the Turda Salt Mines were a important source of salt since the Roman era. I haven’t been to a salt mine before, so maybe others are more interesting, but as my first introduction to a salt mine, it was fascinating. Admission cost was quite reasonable (as I recall, less than $3). We also had an optional English-speaking tour guide for 30-40 minutes (not sure how much this cost). It was helpful to have the guide—the signage of the various mine features was minimal—but the tour was not especially enlightening.
Then, when I got to the bottom of the mines, I saw something so amazing and baffling that it blew my mind. Many Romanians believe that the salt air helps with respiratory ailments, so they (especially kids) come to the Turda Salt Mines and stay for hours at a time for the purported health benefits. The result is that these Romanians are underground for hours every day, for weeks/months at a stretch, with no natural light. To entertain these folks while they breathe the salty air, the salt mines has an “amusement park” at the mine’s floor—including a ferris wheel, mini-golf, mini-bowling, ping-pong tables, pool tables, even an option to rent a paddleboat on the small lake at the mine’s very bottom. Other folks were reading, playing card games and playing board games. It was surreal to see Romanians “enjoying” leisure time activities a couple hundred feet underground in very dingy light. The amusement park “features” are not interesting enough to warrant their own trip to the mine; they are there for the people who don't have other leisure-time choices. It made the whole experience surreal and other-worldly. It was incredibly interesting, and I’m glad I went.
* Sighişoara. Grade: A-. Sigheşoara is a compact and well-maintained medieval Saxon town set on a hillside, with much of its original perimeter wall intact. With its German roots and hilly setting, it felt sort of like a German Alps mountain-top fortress. Some might seek out the town as the birthplace of Vlad Dracul (i.e., "Dracula"), but I didn't care much about that, and the birthplace site wasn't all that rewarding to inspect anyway. Instead, beyond the nice atmospherics of the town itself, I especially liked two things: (1) walking up a wood-covered stairway to the Church on the Hill. The church itself was average, but the walk to the top and the view once there were totally worth it. (2) the Clock Tower, a 13th century building with a colorful roof and atmosphere to spare. There was a so-so museum of various historical artifacts in the Clock Tower, but the real payoff came from the view from the top.
I knocked Sighişoara's grade down from an A to an A- due to the annoying tourist trappings. Unlike Cluj, virtually everything had an admission charge (although the costs were fairly nominal), even the rather average churches. Other fees: some places charged for the bathroom, and the Clock Tower imposed a pretty hefty photography fee (about $8). Plus, the streets were lined with vendors selling kitschy/cheesy stuff.
* Biertan. Grade: A-. Biertan is one of many fortified Saxon churches in Transylvania. Basically, it’s an relatively unremarkable 14th century Saxon church surrounded by fortifications located in the middle of a very dusty, sleepy and economically impoverished town. The fortifications are in outstanding condition and can be fully inspected without any admission charge. You do have to pay to get into the church (less than $3), which even at that low price may not be worth it. The main attraction inside the church is a door with 19 locks--a little steampunky, but still unremarkable.
* Opera Plaza Hotel. Grade: B+. I stayed 6 nights at the Opera Plaza Hotel, one of the two "5 star" hotels in Cluj. Though it may be 5 star by Romanian standards, I'd rank it more like a low 4 star or high 3 star by American standards; maybe comparable to a nice Hilton or Hyatt but with more personality. Things I really liked about the hotel:
- location. A convenient 10 minute walk into the heart of Cluj's city center
- room size. I had an upgraded room, and it was HUGE!
- quiet. Perhaps the most remarkable thing was that the room was very quiet. I rarely heard any outside noise, and I didn't hear any internal noise at all. Given how noisy most European hotels are, and given this hotel's location so close to the city center, its soundproofing was amazingly successful.
- breakfast (included in the room rate). The breakfast was extremely generous and served in a very nicely decorated room.
- fast Internet WiFi. That always boosts my feelings towards a hotel!
- price: 60 Euros/night (heavily discounted because it was a conference rate), an amazing bargain by European standards.
The hotel had several other amenities, such as an indoor pool, fitness center, business center and cheap massages, that I didn't take advantage of.
I knocked the hotel's grade down to a B+ because, despite its efforts, some of the amenities weren't up to snuff. Examples:
- incredibly overworked mattress, worse than what I'd expect at a Motel 6
- air conditioner wasn't powerful enough for the large room
- something (the shower?) leaked a lot of water onto the bathroom floor
Also, like most European hotels, the bed didn't have a top sheet (I ended up using a towel) and the hotel didn't provide shampoo or conditioner (I now always bring my own to Europe).
None of these limitations materially diminished my enjoyment, but they were inconsistent with a "top-of-the-line" hotel offering.
September 07, 2012
Bad PR Pitch to Blogger #852, This Time by netTALK
As a long-time blogger, I get pitches from press relations folks all of the time. Many times the pitches are not very well tailored. Instead, it seems like the PR rep gathers up a list of random bloggers' emails addresses and then send the same message to everyone, regardless of topical relevance. Tip to PR folks: spamming an announcement isn't press relations, it's spamming.
I recently got an email from Nelson Hudes, of Hudes Communications International, hawking a new product, the netTALK DUO WiFi, a phone-like device that makes free VOIP calls over WiFi. Normally I immediately delete and spam-block irrelevant PR pitches, but this one caught my eye. I don't currently own a cellphone, but I have signed up for Republic Wireless, a phone that, for a low monthly fee, rides on WiFi signals when available but has a cellular network backup when WiFi signals aren't available. Unfortunately, I'm buried on the waitlist for a phone, and Republic Wireless doesn't seem to be moving very fast. So I would, in fact, be interested in a WiFi-only option, both as a stopgap until Republic Wireless clears its waitlist, and possibly as a complete substitute if I found it sufficiently robust. Because a WiFi-only "telephone" is an interesting solution, I'd be willing to share my experiences on the blog, and naturally I would disclose my receipt of the device in my review.
The entire personalized text of the email Nelson Hudes sent to me before the cut-and-paste press release (emphasis added):
Below read below and let me know if you'd be interested in doing a story on the netTALK DUO WiFi, it is the World’s First Wi-Fi VoIP Device
If you are, all I need is your address and telephone number and I will send you one to try out.
If you've already received this email, please disregard
With great suspicion, I sent in my contact info. In reply, I got the following response from Nelson Hudes:
I will put you into the system and see if the client approves you. In order to do that, I will need all of your social media stats , how often you post and what type of blogger you are
Wait, what? Remember his initial email said: "all I need is your address and telephone number and I will send you one to try out." Somehow it seems like they needed something more than my contact info after all. (I'll also add that the info he requested is publicly available, and probably should have been reviewed before sending an email at all). I pointed out the initial email's language to Nelson Hudes, and he replied:
sorry about that, I should have removed that phrase before the email went out.
Go back and read the initial email. All two sentences of it. Let me know if you think my reply was appropriate:
I can see how you overlooked that. It wasn't a very important part of your initial pitch to me.
Tip to companies seeking coverage from bloggers: sketchy PR pitches to bloggers do not help build your brand.
Tip to PR "professionals": if you want some love from bloggers, treat them with respect. It's always safe to assume the blogger will publicly mock disrespectful emails.
Tip to netTALK: go ahead and remove me from consideration. At this point, it would be hard for me to provide an objective review in light of my annoyance about your bad PR pitch.