Restaurant tips

I almost always tip 20% of the alcohol and food bill, before tax. Sometimes the restaurant adds hints on the check for 15, 20, 25%, but they always calculate based on the total check, including tax.

Tips seem to be an incentive for good service and an understanding that the wait service’s salary is partially paid by the patron.

There’s a bunch of things that confuse me about tipping:

  1. Why would I tip the tax? Or is that a shorthand way of tipping more than 20% of the bill? If the latter I would rather choose the % I want to tip.
  2. Is the tip only for table service? There are often tip jars at counter service fast food places. They didn’t serve me, but they prepared the food to order. Are tips a component of their salary too? I never tip at counter service places.
  3. What if you are served by the owner? Their incentives and salary is completely different from hired wait staff. Do they expect a tip? I almost never tip ownership.
  4. Why is the tip based on the cost of the meal? Five patrons at a diner will generate the same work for wait staff as a four-star restaurant. Why are patrons expected to pay 4x the tip in a fancy restaurant because the food costs more? The price and quality of the food has nothing to do with the wait staff. It makes more sense to tip based on the number of plates served, not the check amount.
  5. If my tip is part of the credit card charge does the restaurant deduct the card fee from the $ they give the wait staff?
  6. What if service is ok but the meal was terrible because the food was poor or the kitchen was slow? Should that effect the tip? I usually tip 20% anyway if I think the issue was out of the wait staff’s control.

In the UK they think tips are insulting. I guess they are paid a reasonable salary and don’t need or want tips. That’s a better system. It shouldn’t be left up to the patron to determine what someone’s job is worth. Just add 15% or so to the price of each order. No one needs to do math after consuming alcohol, and wait staff won’t be stiffed by cheapskates and jerks.

The same theory applies to cash-only restaurants. I hate them. If the restaurant can’t afford the credit card fee they should just add 3% to the price of the food on the menu. At worst accept credit cards and offer a discount for cash payment. These days there shouldn’t be a need for patrons to be inconvenienced by a restaurant’s desire to skim from the register or inability to get a credit card machine.

Blood Pressure – Plant Based Diet

The doctor told me I had high blood pressure, which was supposedly the reason I had a recent vision issue.

I re-started eating a whole-food plant-based diet again, after failing to stay on it the last two times I tried. I’ve been compliant except for one restaurant meal of minestrone soup and salad (both with some fat, the soup probably had beef broth).

This time I am starting out eating a starch-based McDougall plan diet, with a lot of starchy foods (rice, beans, potatoes, lentils), a lot of salad, some fruit and cooked leafy green vegetables. The first time I truly went plant-based I used the Fuhrman plan, which was primarily leafy green vegetables and salad.

I lost weight (water weight and then fat) very quickly under Fuhrman’s plan and then switched to more of a starch-based diet after most of the weight was off. I like greens, but I prefer a higher starch diet.

It’s not surprising that my weight is coming down more slowly under McDougall’s plan. Greens are lower in calories than starch. I lost some weight but not an extraordinary amount in the week+ so far. My blood pressure is starting to come down already. I haven’t taken any medication, and likely will not take any going forward. If McDougall’s predictions are correct I might be at normal blood pressure in a week or so.

It’s really amazing how quickly my body responded to plant-based eating vs. the extravagant meat-eating I normally do. I expect to lose weight since I am consuming fewer calories, but it’s astounding that my cardio vascular system improved so rapidly. My friend has been on blood pressure medication for 10 years to keep him at normal levels. I won’t need medication at all (supposedly).

I ate plant-based for 2.5 years between 2013 and 2015, and gave it up despite great health, normal BMI and feeling terrific. Stupid, I know.

The big issue has always been how hard it is to fit in while eating this way. That hasn’t changed. I am eating different food than my family; I can’t share the family dinner. There’s really almost nothing to eat a restaurant; I used to order something ridiculous like two salads and two baked potatoes, or just eating whatever crappy salad they serve. There are no fast food plant-based food joints; Vegan restaurants all use oil, so I can find about the same amount compliant food at a vegan place as a steakhouse. Every time I want to eat something at home I have to make it (other than fruit); I can’t reach for a pre-made box or a bag of anything.

None of that has changed and I am likely to feel annoyed and isolated by this diet once I regain my normal weight, just like the last time.

The difference now is that my normal SAD diet has given me significant health issues. I suppose I could do what everyone else does – go to the doctor all the time. But I think I would hate that more than the hassle of plant-based eating. I AM NOT living a life on pills and stents and constant doctor visits.

At the moment I do not crave the old food, but it’s been less than 2 weeks. We’ll see what happens. I feel a whole lot better already.

Children’s Picture Book recommendations

Our kids are grown, but when they were young I loved sitting down in the evening and reading to them. We started when they were too young to talk, with books they could safely put in their mouths. As they became toddlers we starting reading board books, then picture books. The kids loved it, and so did I.

One of our friends has beautiful grandkids, the youngest just turned one and the oldest is four. We’ve been buying them some of our favorite books from 20+ years ago. Just thought I’d make a list in case anyone else is interested (in no order).

  1. Animalia; The Eleventh Hour; Jabberwocky by Graeme Base
  2. The Mitten; The Owl and the Pussycat by Jan Brett
  3. Make Way For Ducklings; Blueberries For Sal by Robert McClosky
  4. Pigs Aplenty, Pigs Galore by David McPhail
  5. Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear by Martin Waddell and Barbara Firth
  6. The Escape Of Marvin The Ape by Caralyn Buehner and Mark Beuhner
  7. Goodnight, Gorilla by Peggy Rathman
  8. The Giraffe And The Pelly And Me, Roald Dahl (only a few pictures, but a great book to read if you like doing funny voices)
  9. Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear by Nancy White Carlstrom
  10. The Rainbow Goblins by Ul De Rico (not actually that nice a story but I think kids can handle it, and the artwork is amazing)
  11. More Spaghetti, I Say! by Rita Golden Gelman and Mort Gerberg
  12. Morris Goes To School by B. Wiseman
  13. Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now!; The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins by Dr. Seuss (these are overlooked Seuss classics)

Plant based “meat”

Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat appear to be genuine sensations. Their products are so popular that Impossible Foods couldn’t produce fast enough. It remains to be seen if they are fads or a permanent trend. Based on how quickly fast food joints are reaching for fake meat products, it certainly seems like this is permanent.

What I don’t understand is “why?”.

People have largely ignored plant based diets. The diets lose out to Atkins style diets every year. Paleo, Keto, low-carb diets make loads of money for the food industry and the writers/publishers of diet books. That popularity is due to people’s preference for meat. If you tell people you can lose weight either by giving up meat or giving up bread and cookies, the majority give up the carbs despite the fact that Atkins-style diets rank among the worst of all diet plans.

So why are people so anxious to eat carb-filled fake meat? I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. It’s not better than meat health-wise, but seems to be better for the environment. But is that what’s driving demand – Burger King customers are suddenly eco-enthusiasts? Doesn’t seem likely.

Fake meat is a little lower in saturated fat than real meat, but since people generally prefer high fat diets I can’t believe that fear of saturated fat is big part of the demand for fake meat. Fake meat isn’t lower in calories.

So what is it? Do people go to Burger King or White Castle specifically for the fake meat? Or do they switch from real meat to fake meat? Does availability of fake meat drive demand from vegans or vegetarians who have been denied acceptable fast food up to now?

Who are the customers for this product and why are they eating it?

I’ve tried to find reporting on this, but there doesn’t seem to be an analysis of the demand so far. They just report that demand exists, not the cause or the nature of the customers. It would be interesting to know.


Altice Mobile

Altice is a cable TV company that goes under the brand Optimum. The company was formerly owned by Cablevision, which sold to Altice a few years ago. Tech-wise they are fine – tv works, phone works, internet works. Customer service-wise they are terrible. They answer the phone when you call, which is good. But their staff is untrained, clueless about the company’s products and it’s been enormously frustrating having to call them to add services or fix a problem.

I would leave them in heartbeat except that the only alternative is dish tv which doesn’t provide the same breadth of services.

Recently Altice released a new cellphone service called Altice Mobile, which would cost $20 per phone per month, locked in for life. The service provides unlimited phone, text and data plus hotspot. They claim you can bring your own phone (Apple, Motorola or Samsung) or buy a phone from them with no interest and no down payment.

Sounds like a good deal and it would save my family a lot of money. But …

  1. You can only “bring your own phone” if you have one of the few phones they support. Apple phones seem to be well supported but according to the salesman at their store very few non-Apple phones are currently supported. My Motorola phone is not, which means I would need to buy a new phone from one of their very limited non-Apple choices (only the Moto G7 Play and the Samsung S9) in order to try out their service.
  2. The service runs on ATT and Sprint, but according to an article I read Altice relies only on their cell towers not their network. The service will run on Altice’s own network, which might be accessed via wifi as well. Since this is a completely new concept, no one has any history with how well or poorly this works. From experience I can say that Altice’s wifi network is very hit or miss. They have access points in many places in my area, but the ACs often provide no service. I turned off automatic access to their ACs because my phone won’t function when connected to them. I wonder how this will affect performance of their cell and data network.
  3. The salesman said that the $20 deal will be around for a long time, and additional phones will be added to the roster over time (Altice Mobile came on line only 10 days ago). So there is no urgency to try it now, especially since it’s not the money-saver I hoped it would be given that I’d need new phones to use it.

I don’t know for sure if anything the salesman said is true in view of Altice’s history of weak customer support. But I’ll pass on this for now.

Katz’s Delicatessen

Katz’s Deli is an iconic NYC deli that has been in existence since 1888. It’s not kosher (they are open on Saturdays and the Jewish holidays), but it’s the style of food common to Jewish delis (pastrami, corned beef, hot dogs, brisket, chopped liver, potato knishes, potato pancakes, matzo ball soup, etc.).

Whenever tourists are touted to a quintessential NY eatery, Katz’s always gets mentioned.

But does Katz’s deserve it?

I am not crazy about Katz’s. But if I were a tourist coming to NYC I would definitely go there. There is no place like it, and I am not sure there ever were other places like it in my lifetime. If there were, I never heard of them.

  1. It’s usually crowded (nothing special about that). Prepare to wait.
  2. You can either be seated and served by a waiter, or order at the counter and seat yourself (nothing special about that either).
  3. They might accept credit cards now. I’m not sure. There was a time when they were cash-only, which is ridiculous given how much deli food costs.
  4. When you walk in you are handed a ticket, and warned that they will charge you $50 if you lose the ticket. Will they really charge you $50? I don’t know. I always cling tightly to the ticket, as I don’t want to find out. The staff writes whatever you ordered on the ticket, and it’s used by the cashier to figure out your bill.
  5. If you choose to order at the counter prepare to be annoyed. There are different counter areas for different kinds of food – if you want hot dogs and a corned beef sandwich, you have to stand in two different lines. The “lines” are basically masses of humanity and whoever is most aggressive and pushy gets to the front. It’s an uncivil way to order food.
  6. If you choose waiter service the experience will eventually be more civil, but when they are busy you either wait outside or inside in an indoor holding pen until a table opens up.

You can’t get a crazy experience like that anywhere else in NY. For good reason. But I wouldn’t pass it up if I were visiting NY for the first time.

Is the food fantastic? Is the praise heaped on them justified? Eh … no.

I can’t judge the pastrami, as I’ve never had it there. But I can tell you that the 2nd Ave Deli’s pastrami is amazing. By far the best I’ve ever had. So is their brisket.

The best item I’ve eaten at Katz’s is their potato pancake. I am not sure if it’s even on the menu. Regardless they have it, and if you go there you should get it. You’ll never eat a better one.

The rest of the food is nothing special, in my experience. It’s not bad, but not great either. The worst part is the bread. Deli sandwiches should be served on fresh rye bread. The bread that’s served at Katz’s is borderline stale, tasteless, cold and might not even be rye. I couldn’t tell what it was. It doesn’t taste like anything.

The matzo ball soup is also nothing special,  but no deli’s matzo ball soup compares to home-made. The soups are always very salty and the matzo balls are always dense and bland. No one’s grandma ever made matzo ball soup like that.

Whenever I see an article touting Katz’s I cringe a little, because I don’t want people coming to NY and think NYers don’t know what good food is. Come to Katz’s for the crazy atmosphere, but don’t expect to get the best deli food in NY.

For pastrami or brisket, go to the 2nd Ave Deli. For hot dogs, there are lots of places but my favorite is Dickson’s in Chelsea Market. For french fries go to Pommes Frites. None of these places are near each other, so you can’t make one meal out of the best deli food in NY. But if I had to pick one place to go it would be 2nd Ave Deli.

Acer R13 Chromebook

I bought an Acer R13 as I wanted to try out a computer running Chromebook and I thought it would be a good lightweight alternative to lugging my work PC around the house. I like it but I don’t love it. It cost $330 at Wal Mart.

The laptop is 13″ and has a flip design, which means you can rotate the display until it’s flat against the back of the keyboard and use it like a tablet. I don’t like tablets or touch screens, so I don’t know why I thought this would be a good feature. In any event the flip works, for what that’s worth.

The screen is better than my laptop screen. It’s an IPS (which means you don’t have to tilt it to get a good view) and has resolution up to 1900×1080 although it defaults to a lower resolution so text isn’t too small to see. You adjust the resolution in settings. Photos look good, screen brightness is fine although not amazing, videos look OK.

The CPU is an ARM processor (aka smartphone processor) called MediaTek MT8173C. Since it’s an ARM the battery life is better than an Intel processor. It supposedly gets up to 12 hours. I’ve used it for 8+ hours before recharging. The battery definitely lasts a long time.

Storage is 64gb of SSD and ram is 4GB, so it has enough space to load a variety of apps from the Play store.

Chromebook won’t run all Android apps, but most of my smartphone apps run well on it. The OS pretends that certain websites are apps and there are clickable icons for mail, maps, etc. that open tabs on the Chrome interface. The Android app icons open the app, not a website.

I connected it to my 27″ monitor and it ran OK on dual screen mode. Not as fast as my 3-year old work laptop.


Lightweight (about 3lbs), decent screen, ample ports (micro sd, usb-c charger, usb3, hdmi), long battery life, decent speed, log-in via smartphone, bluetooth and wifi connections work fine, can use it to text message, can run some (maybe most) Android apps, if you don’t load problematic apps it should be more secure than a Windows PC.


Trackpad works but it’s flaky (sometimes a tap doesn’t register. there are no mouse buttons, if you are going to click the trackpad it requires some effort), can’t run the full version of Office (there is a mobile version that’s free, but it is missing features and I can’t use it for work), speakers are fine for voice audio but terrible for music.

I would rate the device as “usable”. If I listen to music or videos via my earphones it sounds fine. The screen looks nicer than my work laptop and it’s smaller and light enough to tote anywhere in the house. The long battery life means I don’t have to plug it in to use it for hours.

It’s just a little underwhelming.


I recently learned that Google will stop releasing feature and security updates to Chromebooks after a certain number of years. It was originally 4 to 5 years, but I think it recently extended to 6 years.

This is truly hard to believe. My Chromebook was manufactured this year. But since it was originally released in September 2016 it will stop receiving updates in September 2021, two years from now.

Acer still has this laptop for sale on its website, with no warning about the two year cut off. In fact, they don’t post the release date on the website. I found the cut off date on a Google database of future “end of life” dates.

It’s possible that this Chromebook will not actually cut off in 2 years. I won’t know until it happens. Also, simply being cut off from new updates won’t make the Chromebook inoperative.

But if there are security concerns my Chromebook will be vulnerable. If new website technologies are implemented my Chromebook won’t be able to use them.

This seems bizarre. The manufacture date on my Chromebook is 3/23/19 only 2.5 years prior to its end of life.

If I had known that I would not have bought it. This information was not present on any retailer’s ads for Chromebooks. I just stumbled on it while browsing the web. Buyer beware I guess. We’ll see what happens in 2 years.