Thursday, March 22, 2012

The best restaurant website in the world

I often search for restaurants online, and I'm not alone. It is convenient to find places at home, look up their menu beforehand, and ensure that the place is open.

Far too often, restaurant websites are unusable. They fall into the trap of doing too much and trying to make an artistic statement when they should be all about functionality. Before we go over to the world's best restaurant website, let's look at the cardinal rules of restaurant websites.
  1. Be short.  Your customer has little time to make the decision. Restaurant websites should load quickly. Forget pictures, reviews, maps. The customer can look those up separately. They're coming to your website for just the facts. Give it to him, quickly.
  2. State the location. Location is everything. Where the hell are you? The customer is online, and is certainly not at your location. Tell him where you are.
  3. State the hours. Are you open right now? Are you closed on Mondays? Tell me now before I make the long trek up to find you guys.
  4. No flash, no music. Your website is a signboard, not a concert. And the signboard better be visible on mobile phones and every computer in use. Don't let the website 'guy' convince you otherwise.
  5. Give your menu. Save the customer the hassle of finding out what you've got. It is better to disappoint the customer in his house than at your restaurant.
You might have noticed that all these are trivial to follow. As a bonus, these rules will ensure you spend less money developing your website. Of course, the website-maker 'guy' will try to convince you that you need some flashy music, some trendy layout and lots of words about the owner, links to reviews, fancy this and that. He is lying to make more money. Fancy websites are great for stuffing his resume and his wallet.

And as proof, I present the world's best restaurant website. The China Dragon restaurant in Morro Bay has followed every rule, and their website consists of one page. All the facts and no bullshit.

You could claim that it is a cheap site with boring lettering. And you'd be right. It is a damn cheap site with boring lettering that loads fast even on slow networks. It gives all the information in a single page and doesn't waste my time. Its website loaded up faster than the three other restaurants I was considering.

You attract customers by giving customers what they want.

(Image courtesy: China Dragon in Morro Bay).

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Book Review: The Continent of Circe by Nirad Chaudhuri

Want to read a possible theory about Hindus and Hindu behavior? Read the confusing book, "The Continent of Circe", by Nirad Chaudhuri.

"The Continent of Circe" is a book published in 1966 by Nirad Chaudhuri. He grew up in Bengal and writes about the Indian freedom struggle. His views are very different from mainstream views about India. He differs from both Western authors and Indian authors, which makes his writing unique. Some of the arguments made in this book are
  1. There is no religion called Hinduism. This is a name given to a group of people from a specific region.
  2. The Muslims and Hindus in India are completely different people. Conversions and intermarriages have done little to change the stock and behavior of the people. The two groups distrust one another and the relations are deteriorating over time.
  3. The Hindu caste system was the Aryan way of assimilating the local groups. It was never a barrier to professions, and that it might have done some good in maintaining social order and regulating competition between the competing groups: priets and warriers at the top were Aryan and the lower classes were local merchants.
  4. Hindus live among contradiction: (a) they espouse non-violence while their history is replete with butchery (b) they have a grand view of themselves while also professing humility (c) they hold a view of their unity while being deeply fragmented and divisive.
  5. The Indian weather molds Indian (specifically Hindu) behavior.
  6. Hindu thought is rather simple, and written analysis of Hindu thought makes it more profound that it really is.
That's as far as I made it through the book. As you can tell, some of the arguments are correct and obvious while others are strange andmoulds need explaining. And explanations are provided, though the language in the book is bizarre and complex. For one, the essays appear unedited. The language is complex, sentences are long and winding. The author rambles on, and paragraphs are disconnected and dry. Every other paragraph has some foreign phrase which makes it doubly hard to understand the intent. Here is a typical sentence:
Today, as an old man I would say that I have seen so much of this feckless tragedy of Hindu life on this green earth and under the blue sky, that the moment I see any sign of the Hindu dementia in me, I shall cry out, "Nunc dimittis..."
Entire passages from foreign languages are quoted. I gather there is some French, German, Latin involved, and I'm glad the typesetter did not have Cyrillic or Japanese or Chinese characters. I don't know what to make of the strange writing style and the profusion of Latin. I'm sure the words "De rerum indicarum natura: exempla gentium et seditionum" appeal to learned people. An illiterate villager like me has no idea what the hell just happened.

Is it pretentious writing? Did everyone write like this in 1960? Or am I too dumb to understand it?

One thing is certain. Nirad Chudhuri was original. He sees the vast difference between Indian and Western behavior and tries to explain the difference. He isn't pandering to either group: his observations are brutally honest and his analysis is equally impartial. The standard Indian reaction to him is to call him prejudiced and bitter. I don't agree with that. His brutal honesty hurts Indian sentiment. Indians prefer objectivity to be coated with lots of warm love about Indian greatness. Nirad Chudhuri also points out the poor aspects of Western behavior. His praise and condemnation is showered on both groups equally.
Read him, if only to see how honest and unabashed an Indian author can be.

(Image courtesy ManasTech's blog.)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Book Review: Life, in Pictures

Want to read a biographical cartoon book with literary depth? Read "Life, in Pictures", by Will Eisner.

I had written earlier about Will Eisner's book, "A Contract With God". I recently read "Life, in Pictures" which contains many autobiographical sketches about his life. It is comparable in depth and quality to A Contract With God.

The book is a collection of stories from Will Eisner's life. The first part is a story of how he got in the cartoon business. It is titled "The Dreamer", which describes the protagonist. It is a story of the harsh times during the depression when publishing was going out of business and a cartoonist was struggling to find work. Other stories are about his parents, about his life in the army. Each story is breathtakingly drawn and movingly narrated. This book, like others by Will Eisner, is a masterpiece dressed up as a graphic novel. It contains plenty of real life themes including betrayal, bigotry, and sexual adventures. Go get it, you won't be disappointed.

Will Eisner grew up in a world very different from ours. The economy was tumbling down, and there wasn't much for a young cartoonist to do: especially if he wanted to stick to principles and do the right thing. The World War intervened, and carried hundreds of thousands of young men to their graves. On their return, they found a different world and had to adapt to it. Their life  was a constant struggle and yet they did so well. I am reminded of "The Commander", Christopher Hitchens' father in Hitch-22. He fought in the Second World War, and returned to a victorious but shattered Britain. Through his life he wondered why his generation got such little credit, witnessing a country transforming every day. His generation should have been commended for the fine job they did, and instead they were snubbed every step of the way. The won the battle, and the war, and returned to a thankless, uncaring country.

Our generation is completely different. We grew up in times of plenty. Our lives lacked the constant struggle of our parents. We might have stumbled on our way to a good college, or towards a fulfilling job. But our struggles pale in comparison to the ones our parents had to make. Our lives would have been much harder a few years ago. The ones of us who moved from one country to the other have no idea how easy our lives are. Early immigrants to America had a crushingly hard life. In comparison, our generation is coasting along on its good education and upbringing, and doesn't realize it.

Honest stories about people's lives makes you reconsider your own circumstances and your definition of success. Biographies by famous people are often misleading. Their circumstances and opportunities led them to success or notoriety. The average person dies unknown, forgotten by everyone except their next of kin. If Will Eisner points out one thing, it is the brevity of life, and the foolishness of traditional measures of success.

(Image courtesy Google.)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

I am convinced this is news

The rise of blogging and the fall of newspaper readership is often blamed for the sad demise of newspapers. We are led to believe that the evil Internet is causing newspapers to die out. Nobody wants to pay for news any more, and the Internet and pimply faced bloggers are to blame.

I'm sure bloggers are to blame for providing local reporting at zero cost. The Internet is also to blame for allowing people to read rubbish at low cost, rather than having to pay a high-price for their rubbish. There's plenty of blame to go around. Craigslist is robbing the classified business of newspapers and hurting their revenue much more than amateur writers like me. Everyone is hitting news media.

What's really hitting news media is a realization that they aren't the best game in town. Newspapers used to be the only way to get reporting and to learn what the world was upto. You read what was in the newspapers because you had no alternative. And you imagined that their reporting was good. What blogging is exposing is how shallow and pointless reporting can be.

Here is a sample news article from one of the most respected papers, The New York Times. It is an article about Apple, and I would urge you to read the entire piece. My site not a spectator sport, so go read the article.

Yes, this article. Go read it. It isn't long.

Before I go on, I should point out that the New York Times is one of the best newspapers around. The quality of their journalism is high, the style and quality of writing is exceptional, and their opinion pieces are often thought-provoking.

Ok, now back to this article. The one you read a few minutes ago.

The entire article is:
Apple will make an announcement at 9am tomorrow.

That's it.

That's all.

And it is followed by paragraphs of completely pointless and completely inane speculation. That's what news has devolved into. One real point that can be summarized in five words followed by paragraphs of deeply worded and important sounding nonsense. Alright, I'm lying. The full article is "Apple will make an announcement about its cash at 9am tomorrow." That's eleven whole words and the summary is at least eight words, not five as I claimed. It is true that bloggers have no journalistic integrity.

Television news is a lot worse. There aren't that many newsworthy events in a day, and an even smaller number of events that the specific audience will care about. And considering that the audience might tune in at any time of the day, the same news has to be looped incessantly. Take the same point and restate it in a new way. Include commentary by the village idiot. I used to find it hilarious that television reporters would consult some random bystanders on their analysis of national events, like the government's planned budget. Enlightening as that was, the internet allows us to see what village idiots around the world have to say!

And media's obsession with celebrities is baffling too. So some actress goes to jail over some minor issue. Why do I care, and how does it affect my life at all? Unless she started teaching Mathematics at the local public school, I can't see how it will possibly impact me or my children. But media is obsessed with the smallest detail of celebrities: telling us just how white some person's teeth should be. Yes, please do tell me.  Wait, that's not sufficient. Could you include a panel of unknown dingbats to completely analyze the situation? Oh, that's so much better.

Celebrity gossip and inane commentary isn't news. And no amount of analysis can convince me otherwise.

(Image courtesy: Cox and Forkum.)

Book Review: Hitch 22

Want to read about the life of a brilliant and insightful political journalist? Grab Hitch 22 by Christopher Hitchens

I first came across Christopher Hitchens during the great Atheist resurgence of 2006. It seemed that atheism was everywhere. Richard Dawkins had written his brilliant book, "The God Delusion" and was debating the existence of religion in style. Dawkins was well known from his previous works on evolution and Biology like "The Blind Watchmaker". I hadn't heard about Hitchens at all, but I found his debating style witty and crisp. Here's a two hour debate in which Hitchens talks about why rationality and atheism is the only humane choice. I was intrigued.

I found out more about Hitchens, which is to say I learned everything Youtube had to say about him. I found that he had written a book about Mother Teresa, and that it wasn't complimentary. The title of the book says a lot about Hitchens' writing style and wit. It is called The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in theory and practice. I couldn't wait to buy it so I was delighted to find that my library had a copy of the slim volume. From beginning to end, it was a delight. It made me realize how little I knew about Mother Teresa before considering her a saint. To this day, when I meet someone who claims to idolize Mother Teresa, I ask them to list exactly what they know about her. Often, the answer is vague and unsatisfactory. We are quick to idolize and deify.

It was a rude awakening, and when Hitchens wrote his book "God is Not Great", I rushed to get a copy. Like his other works, it was brilliant.

In Hitch-22, Christopher talks about friends and family in his life. It is a rare insight into his insightful mind as he relates formative incidents in his childhood and early adulthood. I was struck by how many notable poets and authors he got to know very early in life. His socialist leanings were not a revelation, but the manner in which he decided that contemporary socialism was lacking values was a captivating read. Along the way, he points out valuable lessons that he learned about independence of thought and the importance of action. He talks about going to Cuba back when travelers to Cuba were monitored closely and how he learned the rotten-ness of Soviet communism rather early. He talks of what he saw in Iraq and why he was a rare Left-leaning supporter of the war in Iraq. I did not agree with his views, but I see his point clearly now.

His writing style is charming and a pleasure to read. At times he gets academic and his sentences get long and laborious. But all through, he guides the reader through his life and allows the reader to draw their own conclusions. The ending is poetic and does justice to the confusing name.  A rare insight into a genius.

I'll miss you, Hitch.

(Image courtesy Google.)