Saturday, December 16, 2006

A tale of two restaurants

I like dualities, I guess.

Last night, my wife and I went out to dinner at Zander Cafe in St. Paul. The night before, we and our kids had been to Sunsets in Woodbury. It's probably not fair to compare the two experiences, because aside from us paying for a meal they weren't very similar (small vs. large, couple vs. family, and so on), but then again fairness is looked for more often than it is found.

The upshot of the two experiences was that we took Sunsets off our list of restaurants to visit, and reminded ourselves that we need to go to Zander more often.

The best part of the meal at Sunsets was the dessert (creme brulee, which it is possible to screw up). The second best was our daughter's chicken fingers. The third... well, my wife's suggestion was "my Diet Coke wasn't bad...". Definitely the worst part of the dinner was her filet mignon. When you put filet mignon on your menu, you should definitely hire cooks who know how to prepare it.

The meal at Zander, on the other hand, was excellent -- I had a pork loin filet that was excellent, accompanied by a butternut squash that I ate every bit of. My wife had "the" jambalaya, which she pronounced "pretty good" and then when pressed clarified to "I mean excellent." She has a habit of understatement at times.

Apart from the entertainment value of making fun of last nigh's disastrous dinner, this got us thinking about restaurants and our tastes. I'm of the opinion that our tastes and expectations have changed (we have higher expectations now) even as the overall quality of food has fallen at chain restaurants.

The key problem, I think, is the economics of running a chain. When you have the opportunity to pursue volume discounts, you start making decisions based on having as many options as possible with your stuff, and not based on making the best stuff you can. TGI Friday's, for example, has in effect a menu matrix. You choose some kind of meat, some kind of sauce or topping, some kind of side, and so on. They're almost doing Garanimals with food. This approach works relatively well for cafeteria-style food, but I don't want to eat at a cafeteria when I am paying restaurant prices.

I need to remember to eat out more at smaller restaurants. It costs a bit more, but the quality is better, and I like voting with my daily behavior. Food isn't a commodity, and treating it like one is a disservice to ourselves.

Friday, December 01, 2006

This Internet thing could be big.

So the post preceding this one was an attempt by me to help the Internet work. I had a problem with my iPod, and spent many hours trying to resolve it before finally finding the (simple) solution.
Why did it take so long? Basically, because the way I was describing the symptoms was different from the way that Jeff Bryan over at the 5G iPod forums at Apple described the underlying problem. I was looking for something having to do with ipodservice.exe taking up 100% of CPU, while he was describing a problem with drive letters. Fortunately for me, I found his post and guessed the issue he was talking about might be related to the one I was experiencing.

Then I figured that I'd try to make the internet better by putting the information I had gathered in someplace where it could be found, so that others might benefit. Thus far, 3 people have left comments indicating that this was a good idea. I'm pretty happy with that.

This kind of highlights the problem with the web, though. Almost all of the information you want is somewhere out there in the long tail, but finding it, weeding out the useful thing from all the other crap, is a nigh-insurmountable task. Without a deliberate attempt by humans to wrest order from chaos, the internet isn't going to live up to its potential as a transformative mechanism for humanity.

Most attempts to create order from internet chaos have been top-down. Yahoo was my first exposure to someone attempting to categorize all the stuff on the 'net, and even early on, it was pretty obvious that the amount and variety of stuff was growing faster than the ability of people to come up with categories. I think the future of order-from-chaos lies in tagging and folksonomies. Yes, they introduce a lot of crap data, and have the potential for abuse, but I believe the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. Especially because we can build mechanisms for determining who to trust based on behavior, as Google has done with their ranking mechanisms for sites.