Tag Archives: food

Afghanistan’s TV Phone Users Offer a Lesson

By Jeremy Wagstaff

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There’s something I notice amid all the dust, drudgery and danger of Kabul life: the cellphone TVs.

No guard booth—and there are lots of them—is complete without a little cellphone sitting on its side, pumping out some surprisingly clear picture of a TV show.

This evening at one hostelry the guard, AK-47 absent-mindedly askew on the bench, had plugged his into a TV. I don’t know why. Maybe the phone gave better reception.

All I know is that guys who a couple of years ago had no means of communication now have a computer in their hand. Not only that, it’s a television, itself a desirable device. (There are 740 TVs per 1,000 people in the U.S. In Afghanistan there are 3.)

But it doesn’t stop there. I’ve long harped on about how cellphones are the developing world population’s first computer and first Internet device. Indeed, the poorer the country, the more revolutionary the cellphone is. But in places like Afghanistan you see how crucial the cellphone is as well.

Electricity is unreliable. There’s no Internet except in a few cafes, hotels and offices willing to pay thousands of dollars a month. But you can get a sort of 3G service over your phone. The phone is an invisible umbilical cord in a world where nothing seems to be tied down.

Folk like Jan Chipchase, a former researcher at Nokia, are researching how mobile banking is beginning to take hold in Afghanistan. I topped up my cellphone in Kabul via PayPal and a service based in Massachusetts. This in a place where you don’t bat an eyelid to see a donkey in a side street next to a shiny SUV, and a guy in a smart suit brushing shoulders with a crumpled old man riding a bike selling a rainbow of balloons.

Of course this set me thinking. For one thing, this place is totally unwired. There are no drains, no power infrastructure, no fiber optic cables. The cellphone is perfectly suited to this environment that flirts with chaos.

But there’s something else. The cellphone is a computer, and it’s on the cusp of being so much more than what it is. Our phones contain all the necessary tools to turn them into ways to measure our health—the iStethoscope, for example, which enables doctors to check their patients’ heartbeats, or the iStroke, an iPhone application developed in Singapore to give brain surgeons a portable atlas of the inside of someone’s skull.

But it’s obvious it doesn’t have to stop there. iPhone users are wont to say “There’s an app for that” and this will soon be the refrain, not of nerdy narcissists, but of real people with real problems.

When we can use our cellphone to monitor air pollution levels, test water before we drink it, point it at food to see whether it’s gone bad or contains meat, or use them as metal detectors or passports or as wallets or air purifiers, then I’ll feel like we’re beginning to exploit their potential.

In short, the cellphone will become, has become, a sort of Swiss Army penknife for our lives. In Afghanistan that means a degree of connectivity no other medium can provide. Not just to family and friends, but to the possibility of a better life via the web, or at least to the escapism of television.

For the rest of us in the pampered West, we use it as a productivity device and a distraction, but we should be viewing it as a doorway onto a vastly different future.

When crime committed is not just saved on film—from Rodney King to the catwoman of Coventry—but beamed live thro to services that scan activity for signs of danger, the individual may be protected in a way they are presently not.

We may need less medical training if, during the golden hour after an accident, we can use a portable device to measure and transmit vital signs and receive instruction. Point the camera at the wound and an overlay points out the problem and what needs to be done. Point and click triage, anyone?

Small steps. But I can’t help wondering why I’m more inspired by the imaginative and enterprising use of cellphones in places like Afghanistan, and why I’m less than impressed by the vapid self-absorption of the average smart phone user in our First World.

Now I’m heading back to the guard hut to watch the late soap.

Facebook’s Internet of Sharing

(This is a copy of my Loose Wire Sevice column, produced for newspapers and other print publications.)

By Jeremy Wagstaff

Get ready for a world where everything is shared.

Readers of this column will already know that our notions of privacy have changed a lot in the past couple of years.

That has made it possible for Facebook to announce a new initiative this past week, pretty confident it won’t get rebuffed in the same way its Beacon program did a few years back.

Back then we didn’t like the idea of companies having access to the things we were doing on their websites and then posting it to our Facebook feed (“Jeremy’s just bought an Abba CD!”)

Now, with Facebook’s Open Graph, we’ll actually go quite a bit further than that. In effect, every web page will become part of your Facebook world, because whoever runs that web page will have access to your Facebook world—and, in a way, vice versa.

If you “like” something on a music website, then that “like” will be broadcast on your Facebook feed. So your friends will see it. But so will that music website have (at least some) access to your Facebook profile, your Facebook network, as will Facebook have access to your profile on that music website.

In short, Facebook will become a sort of repository of all the breadcrumbs you willingly leave around the Internet—what some are calling your “social metadata”. These are all the bits and pieces you leave on websites about songs, pictures, books, food, hotels that you like.

Instead of all that stuff just being little fragments, all those websites that participate in Facebook’s Open Graph will collect it and create a much more complete picture of you than your Facebook stream currently does.

I’m not going to get into the privacy aspects here. Obviously there’s a lot that’s creepy about this. But then again, we willingly share much of this stuff with our friends, and all the applications that we use on Facebook, so maybe we have already made that choice.

Compare this with Google, which collects similar data but in a different way. Google collects your interests, intentions and preoccupations whenever you do a search, or access your email, or look at a map.

Google may be a search engine, and Facebook may be a social network, but they’re ultimately fighting for the same thing: Targeted advertising.

Facebook will do it through social metadata you intentionally leave behind; Google will do it through data you unintentionally leave behind.

I don’t know whether Facebook will win with this or not. But it’s an interesting move, and, if we continue to inhabit Facebook in the numbers we do, we’ll probably slide effortlessly into this world.

And, of course, as we get more mobile, this only becomes more powerful. A research company called Ground Truth found last week that U.S. mobile subscribers spent nearly 60% of their time on social networking sites; the next biggest category was less than 14%.

In other words, social networking is actually more compelling on a mobile phone than it is on a laptop or desktop. Kind of obvious really.

If you want to get futuristic about it, it’s possible to see how this coupling of mobile device and social networking is likely to give a big push to a new kind of device: wearable computing.

Expect to see more of the likes of Ping: a garment that its inventors say allows you to connect to your Facebook account wirelessly and update your status simply by lifting up the Ping’s hood, or tying a bow, or zipping up.

Heaven knows what our Facebook page is going to look like in the future. But it’s a natural succession to the basic principle of something like Facebook, which is that a life not shared is not worth living.

I know I have developed that instinct to share the absurdities of my day on Facebook, and I appreciate it when others do. I’m not talking about the average “my boss sucks” update, but ones which are funny, thoughtful, or both.

One day we’ll look back, as we did at email, and wonder how we lived without status updates.

By then we’ll be swishing our arms or doing up a button to update our page—nothing as archaic as actually tapping it out on a keypad.

I’m not quite sure how I feel about all this. Maybe I’ll update my Facebook status to reflect that.

Death of a ‘Toughbook’

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(update: after two days of nothing, the device is now booting again and Panasonic have offered to take a closer look at it and tell me what happened.)

My faith in my Panasonic Toughbook took a bath today when a waitress poured coffee all over it (and me.) It’s that absurd thing that waiters do of having to put coffee and food down right next to you when you’re clearly in the middle of a key discussion/interview/meeting/nap. It was bound to happen.

Still, I held out hope the Toughbook would be up to it. After all, the videos show guys doing stuff to their Toughbook we wouldn’t do to our partners (unless they asked us to.) I splashed the coffee off under a tap, knowing the damage coffee can wreak. To no avail: within minutes the screen went blank and the thing died.

Now I know why they call them ‘drop- and spill- resistant”. If it’s a spill, you might be ok, so long as it’s purified water. And “resistant”? It resists it, like Niles would Maris.

I bought a new one and am charging the hotel for it; they’ve agreed but I’ll send the lawyers home when I see the money. I happen to have a recording of the point when the coffee is spilt. It goes something like this:

Interviewee: in a fast growth  economy like India. Bangladesh, meanwhile.. [sound of crockery slipping, liquid spilling] oo shit!

Flaks (in chorus): oh no!

Me: (bizarrely quietly) Interesting…

Flaks (in chorus): oh dear!

Me: (still bizarrely quietly) OK…

[Sound of waitress disemboweling self with sugar spoon]

Lessons from all this?

  • Don’t order coffee in five star hotel lobbies when you’ve got a laptop in the area.
  • Don’t believe any waterproof claims from laptop manufacturers. Turns out that spillage only applies to the keyboard. You can see the waitress managed to get the latte everywhere except the keyboard.
  • Don’t settle for less from those responsible than full replacement immediately. I made it clear to the phalanx of hotel management that they would face serious claims if I did not check and rehouse the hard drive as quickly as possible and that meant buying a replacement computer immediately (it helped I was down the road from the place I bought it at the time. Singapore is like that.) It’s not about the computer: it’s really about the data, but it’s also about your day. You’re a working stiff and you don’t deserve to sit on your hands while they try to wriggle out of a full refund.
  • Back up your data regularly. I was lucky; the hard drive was safe. But I bet a lot wouldn’t be.

This, by the way, is what Panasonic say at the bottom of the page on spillage:

Furthermore, if you spill coffee, soft drinks, or similar liquids on the computer, the keyboard or other parts of the unit may become stained. Sugar and other substances may also cause corrosion, so liquids other than water are more problematic. Deal with such spills in the same way as directed for water and then have the unit checked.

Be aware that the spill resistance of these products in no way guarantees that liquids will not harm them or cause breakdowns.

What Price Tranquility?

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It struck me, as I lay on a chaise longue at the Conrad Bali trying to filter out the drone of the jetskis, that hotels are selling a complicated product. My wife, for example, loves the clean, crisp white sheets and thick feather pillows of a king-size bed. Others go for the food, some for the ambience, some for the adventure, others for the sun, some for the service.

But in this stressful age, money increasingly buys and hotels sell tranquility: a chance to relax, zone out, be pampered, wander around in a bubble of soft footfalls, bubbling little fountains, soft tinkling music and the absence of intrusion. Of course, there are different grades of tranquility: If you want total silence, you go to an Aman resort; if you want tranquility plus active night life you go to Seminyak or Kuta. Tranquility is actually quite a sophisticated product. You don’t actually sell it directly, but it’s implicit in every photo and description of your hotel: But it’s also, it struck me, more or less the one thing that hotels can’t guarantee.

Tranquility is the result of effort and a complex management of logistics behind the scenes: You can train staff to keep voices low, to not intrude upon guests, to keep the sound of crockery being piled high to a minimum. But there are events you can’t really control. Like, in the case of the Conrad Bali, jetskis swarming the beach in front of the hotel like Sioux around a wagon train.

“It’s beyond our control,” I Wayan Sumadi, the assistant manager, told me. Although the Conrad has a cooperation agreement with some of the jetskis operators–you can rent one from one of the poolside booths or from a guy on the beach sporting a Conrad-logoed ID card–the hotel, Wayan says, can’t prevent them from dominating the seafront. The result is that no guests venture into the water and a drone that can be heard from the hotel lobby.

I’ve seen this problem before in Bali, but usually the hotel is smart enough to find out a peaceful coexistence that doesn’t annoy the guests (Wayan says I’m by no means the first to complain.) Of course, public spaces are public spaces, but clearly the jetski owners rely on guests from the hotel, otherwise they wouldn’t parade in front of them all day.

I feel for the guests who have come thousands of miles to buy some peace and quiet, and have to retreat to their hotel rooms to find it. I feel, in a way, for the hotel management who don’t seem to have figured out that–despite an otherwise beautiful hotel and good service–the jetskis undermine the very product they’ve tried so hard to create: tranquility.

If I was the Conrad I would put this to the top of my agenda on Monday morning, and not rest until the situation is resolved. For more than a few guests, I suspect, tranquility is non-negotiable.

The Inanities of the Visionary

I have a lot of respect for Doris Lessing but her recent remarks about the Internet reveal an ignorance and lack of understanding that is depressing and unbecoming of such a literary giant. Here’s what she said in her acceptance speech for the Nobel prize for literature:

We never thought to ask how will our lives, our way of thinking, be changed by the internet, which has seduced a whole generation with its inanities so that even quite reasonable people will confess that, once they are hooked, it is hard to cut free, and they may find a whole day has passed in blogging.

Frankly, I’m not sure Ms. Lessing knows what blogging is. And I am also one of those people who are concerned that the Internet is changing our society in ways we haven’t thought through. But it’s certainly not killing reading, learning and writing. In fact the opposite: the Internet is actually offering us so much information, and so much knowledge, the problem now is being able to judge what is important and what is not, and to retain a sense of mystery about the world.

If we can look down from heaven on any point of the globe via Google Earth, if we can look up any fact on Wikipedia, if we can communicate with any person in any country via voice for free via Skype, if we can listen to any radio station on the planet (and watch 100s of different tv channels) or read more or less any newspaper, if we can read tens of thousands of different books for free via Project Gutenberg, not to mention hundreds of thousands of excellent blogs, I can’t really see what is “inane” about the Internet.

Ms. Lessing is concerned that amidst all this online inanity, books will die. Of course books won’t die. Books as books (pbooks) won’t die. They come in a form that has proved perfect for their content. They will also be available as ebooks, too, and in forms we can’t yet imagine or create.

The point is that writing will continue. Online it may be shorter — but not always — and it may be interspersed with other media. But I would say that there are more people reading and writing now than any time in history. As Ms. Lessing herself says, according to The Guardian’s Maev Kennedy:

She contrasted her experiences in Zimbabwe and other parts of Africa, where people were hungry and clamouring for books even though they might have no food, where schools might not have a single book and a library might be a plank seat under a tree.

In a way the Internet is the solution to this kind of problem; in some ways it’s easier to bring knowledge to people and institutions via the Internet than by bringing them books. Or, failing that, bringing them the single biggest repository of free, community-based knowledge in the world: Wikipedia — printed out, or put on a CD-Rom and given via a refurbished $100 PC. I don’t think that the One Laptop Per Child idea is necessarily the correct way to go about it, but I do believe on the whole the Internet has brought people in the developing world closer to knowledge than any physical library ever has.

I’m sad that Ms. Lessing, who has been considered a social radical and has written some great science fiction, has not seen the Internet for what it is: a great leveller, redistributor and repository of information and knowledge.

( PS I just looked up dorislessing.com and dorislessing.co.uk: the first is up for auction (and sports a picture of a young woman in white with a white laptop in a white chair; definitely not Doris Lessing) and the second redirects to a radio and TV tuning website where you can tune in to dozens of radio and TV stations. Meanwhile anyone online wanting to know about her can find it on Wikipedia. It all seems somehow fitting.)

Nobel prize winner Lessing warns against ‘inane’ internet | Special Reports | Guardian Unlimited Books

Sleeping, Frothing, Typing and Sealing

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 The Wall Street Journal’s holiday gift guide is out. My contributions, some of which would be familiar to regular readers:

Sleeptracker Pro $179. A successor to the Sleeptracker which I wrote about a couple of years ago (Sandman’s Little Helpers, Jan 13, 2006), the Pro is a watch which monitors your sleep patterns — more specifically, your movements while asleep — to wake you up when you’re at the lightest stage of sleep. The Pro improves on its predecessor with a better watch design and the ability to move your sleep data to a PC with a USB cable. Great for sleepyheads.

Aerolatte milk frother (about $30) I must have been through a dozen cappuccino machines, and they usually die slowly and noisily. I even once had a neighbor complain. The aerolatte won’t make you an espresso, but it does away with all the milk frothing side of things: a small, beautifully designed whisk powered by two AA batteries, just insert it in warm milk and the froth is delivered in an instant, sans noise pollution. And you can take it with you on trips or to dinner parties where their froth isn’t good enough for you.

iGo Stowaway Ultra-Slim Bluetooth Keyboard (about $150) Connects via Bluetooth with most gadgets — including a laptop — the Stowaway has the keyboard action, the compact size and the sleek look to merit a spot in your baggage or suit pocket. Makes typing an SMS or email on your smartphone a pleasure. Don’t settle for the cheap imitations; the guys behind these spent a lot of time ensuring the feel of the keyboard is up to snuff.

Clip n Seal (above, from $5) Another gadget I won’t travel without: the Clip n Seal is a tube of plastic clasped by another — a sort of clamp. It’s simple and will keep food fresh, bug free and unspilled, even in the tropics where I live.

WSJ.com

Let Your Fingers Do the Remembering

Maybe I’ve missed something, but why isn’t more work dedicated to understanding the link between passwords and memory? Given that we’re supposed to remember our passwords (as opposed to writing them down on Post-it notes and sticking them somewhere prominent) why don’t we look more closely at the process whereby we remember stuff — and forget it?

Danah of apophenia wrote recently about the somewhat lame password recovery system some websites use whereby “you have to choose three questions and answer them. The problem is that they are all “What is your favorite n” where n is restaurant, band, movie, song, actor, book, drink, food, place, past-time…” As she points out, favorites tend to change over time, and if they were stable, such information is likely to be available “all over the web on their profiles for dating and social network sites.”

One commenter says Bruce Schneier has written that such password recovery systems are less secure than your password, so advises against using them. Here’s the original link, I believe: Bruce concludes that “The result is the normal security protocol (passwords) falls back to a much less secure protocol (secret questions). And the security of the entire system suffers.”

This is all a roundabout way of writing about a recent experience: one password I have to enter is actually a four digit PIN as part of a SecurID token (one of those readouts that give a different number every few minutes). Four digits I’ve used since 2000, and yet, after two weeks off, I couldn’t remember. It was only when I stopped trying to remember, that I remembered, if you know what I mean. It’s not that I had forgotten the number, it’s that I could retrieve the number from my memory. (This is getting way to existential – Ed). The way I “remembered” the PIN was to stop thinking and just type it. My fingers, if you will, remembered it better than my memory did.

I haven’t looked hard, and perhaps there’s data on this kind of thing. But this kind of memory must be way more useful than favorite colors and books and all that kind of thing, which requires thought, which in turn is vulnerable to forgetfulness, or changing habits.

Dancing Queen and the End of Popular Music

The other night, as I lay sweating in my mum’s flat in boiling England in the early hours, a crowd of 20 somethings spilled out of a nearby club. The usual hubbub of indistinct chatter ensued as they prepared to disperse. Then the females (I assume; I couldn’t actually see anything) started singing something together, and, gradually the song they were singing emerged: “Dancing Queen”, by Abba, released as a single in 1976. The lassies, who can’t have been born when it first came out, all knew the words (no big surprise, perhaps, given it’s been covered by 20 other artists and was rereleased by Abba in the early 1990s) and sang it long after I felt the moment had passed and they should all go home.

Apart from keeping me awake, I realised something more important: I was listening to the last hurrah of popular music. And today marks, at least in the UK, the death of this era. That’s because today is the last edition of BBC’s Top Of The Pops, the long-running television show that broadcast (usually mimed) performances of the top selling single artists of the week. Everyone here in the UK is waxing nostalgic about the show, which first went out in 1964, and has been running pretty much every week ever since. But perhaps its greatest significance will be in its demise, as it reflects the end of popular music as a unifying force.

Ironic, really, given that folk like me weren’t allowed to watch ToTP as kids, at least with the sound on. Even as a late teenager my dad would make a point of walking in to the lounge when I was watching it, to mess about with the grate, or the wine cupboard (necessitating a move of the TV) and would make some sarcastic remark about whoever was on — and his entry always seemed to coincide with a particularly outrageous display by Roy Wizzard or Noddy Holder or Gary Glitter (turns out he was right about him, come to think of it). ToTP was a divisive force in our household, but nationally, culturally, it united. In an era when pop music remained fringe — only a couple of radio stations played it, one of them pirate, and there was scant pop music on TV outside ToTP — the program was a Mecca for anyone who wanted to know what was what. We really cared about who was number one; seeing bands and artists play on ToTP was sometimes the only chance we got to put a face to the voice we heard on the radio. And then there were Pan’s People, the dancers who “interpreted” songs to help fill up the show. They, dancing to the Chi-Lites’ “Homely Girl”, were my first glimpse of sensual womanhood and for that alone I’m hugely grateful.

The point about ToTP was that it gave everyone a cultural reference point. Watch ToTP and we knew all we needed to know to bond with friends, chat up those we wanted to chat up and to sing along at parties. We all knew who The Rubettes were, and while we may have hated ‘Sugar Baby Love’ we all knew it was number one, and hearing it on radios as we went on holidays or tried to steal a French kiss or two at a party, provided a cultural anchor that would forever make that the soundtrack of the summer of 1974 (or was it 1975.) The point? ‘Sugar Baby Love’ meant different things to different people, but it meant something. Listen to it now and I am transported back to the smell of hay (yes, those kinds of parties), feel the excitement of flashing lights and the electrifying presence of females through the gloom.

Of course, a lot of people will see the demise of ToTP as a good thing, the victory of the Long Tail of pop music (or whatever we have to call it now, given it’s not really popular any more.) They’ll say that the Big Head of mass commercialisation of popular music, where a few acts get disproportionate air play, promotion and media interest to the detriment of others, was never what people really wanted, and that now, with the Internet fostering better distribution and an increasingly sophisticated medium of recommendation, we can now listen to what we really want to, rather than what big business wants us to.

That’s true. But when are we going to be able to stand in car parks at three o’clock in the morning all drunkenly singing “young and sweet and only 17” because we all know the words? Or commenting on the silly hats that the Rubettes wore, or complaining about the number of appearances of Status Quo? And it’s not just about the Water Cooler culture — where we all stand around discussing last night’s TV, where we all saw the same thing because there was only one thing to watch — but of something else: cultural reference points that provide a shared soundtrack to our lives. Not a reason to keep Top of the Pops, necessarily, but perhaps food for thought about the world we are entering without it.

Inside the Pocket of a Productivity Porn Star

Merlin Mann does a great blog on personal productivity at 43 Folders. After foodies watching and reading about food without actually cooking anything (food porn) and travel shows about places you’d never actually go or activities you’d never actually do (travel porn) this is productivity porn: an obsession with the detritus, in this case the books, pens, notebooks and gadgets, of the action, in this case productivity, without actually becoming more productive.

Anyway, occasionally Merlin catches the zeitgeist, and when he posted something on this blog referring to a NYT/IHT piece about the Jimi, a minimalist plastic wallet with an ideological goal of reducing the amount of stuff you store and carry in your wallet, readers were excited. A request for readers to share how they carried their money and credit cards around drew a slew of responses – 130 at the current count – which manage to be informative and, perhaps unintentionally, hilarious at the same time. Always a risk, I guess, when you ask people what they have got in their pocket.

I personally prefer the Viz Top Tip-esque (“Don’t waste money on a lead. Simply walk your dog backwards holding its tail”) home-made money solutions, which may or may not be written with tongue in cheek (you never know with the productivity porn lot), like this one:

Five years ago, I bought a bag of rubber bands for $0.99 and they have been my wallet ever since. A few times a year, the band breaks and I grab another from the bag. Besides being economical, it adds practically zero bulk to my pocket, and it’s quick to access. Cash tends to get a tad crumpled, but it’s worth it.

WalletAnother guy said his favorite was a metal cigarette case. It held a few cards and some cash perfectly, and looked really cool. I used it for years, until one of the corners got kind of scraggly, and it started poking me in the ass. Another touts a red binder clip, another a bungie cord case, another a 3×5 index card wrapped around his stash, while someone called trevor uses his girlfriend’s “’Yasmin’ birth control pill sleeve. It holds 3 credit cards (MC, Discover, ATM) on one side, driver license, insurance cards (auto/medical) on the other. It’s super slim, pretty durable and I get a new “wallet” for free each time my girlfriend gets a new supply of the pills.”

Sadly none of these solutions work in a country where the highest denomination bill/note is less than $10 and you use a credit card at your peril. But that’s my fault for living in Indonesia.

Catering to the Uncommitted Diner

Here’s an idea for restaurants. It’s hard for us walk-in customers to get a good sense of what the restaurant’s food is like and whether it’s worth staying. Silly, really, because the people best positioned to help on this are sitting all around us actually eating the stuff: the other customers.

So why not encourage the prospective customers to wander around looking at people’s food and asking them whether they’re happy or not?
‘Excuse me, that looks nice, what is it? Any good?’
‘Yeah, it’s not bad, but I wish I’d ordered the fish. I heard some guy over there say it’s excellent.’
That kind of thing. Arm the prospective customers with a fork too and they can go around the restaurant not just requesting information but also soupçons from diners.

Of course, customers may not be happy to be interrupted by complete strangers prodding at their food and questioning them about it mid-mouthful, but if the maitre d’ had made it clear when they arrived that this might happen they can’t really complain. Well, maybe they can; there’s no guarantee the customer will say nice things about the food.
‘This steak tastes like a car drove over it. Don’t eat here. Get out while you can. There’s a McDonalds across the piazza.’

I can see all sorts of beneficial side-effects from this: complete strangers chatting with each other, whole colonies of inter-table conversations breaking out. People would come from miles around just for the ambiance. Chaos for the waiters, of course, but at least prospective customers get a chance to figure out whether it’s worth taking a table.

While I’m at it, here’s another solution to a similar restaurant problem: the ‘I’ll Have What She’s Having’ issue. You’re looking at the menu, you’re looking at the dish the diner at the next table is eating, and you can’t find it to order. You don’t feel comfortable asking the diner what it is they’re eating, but you also don’t want to confess that to the waiter.

Restaurateurs: Why not put little signs on the tables when your waiter serves the dishes? The signs could be as unobtrusive as all the other junk you put on people’s tables. It could say something like ‘I’m having the red duck curry. It’s on page two.’ You could even leave a place where the diner could give it points out of 10 (that might keep prospective diners wandering in off the street from prodding your food, as well as help prevent the person at the next table lean too far out of her chair trying to guess what you ordered.)

How about it?