Monday, October 20, 2008

Check out your future check-in

By Mike Steere

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Space travel, security threats and increasing passenger numbers are forcing major changes in the way airports are designed.

Elegant space: the interior of the proposed Virgin Galactic spaceport in New Mexico

Elegant space: the interior of the proposed Virgin Galactic spaceport in New Mexico

In fact, when discussing the future of the airport it is now appropriate to consider both conventional air travel hubs we are familiar with, as well as the imminent 'spaceports'.

The rush of interest in setting up 'space tourism' companies has seen proposed spaceport projects in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, and California, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Florida, Virginia, Alaska and Wisconsin in the United States. Russia, Australia, Sweden and Portugal have also been rumored as potential spaceport locations.

Meanwhile, the air travel industry is continuing to expand operations despite the challenges facing some airlines.

And there are some radical new ideas being developed for future air and spaceports.

The adventurous views of Dave Evans, chief technologist at business solutions company Cisco Systems, highlight the types of changes we could soon see in airports and indeed the new features we may witness in spaceports.

Speaking at a FAA/NASA/Industry Airport Planning Workshop in 2006, Evans suggested that pilots of the future could fly without hands and from the comfort of their own home (using brain-machine interfaces, in which the human brain actually exchanges electronic signals with a computer).

He also said future airports would have virtual intelligence personnel to perform the jobs of many airport workers; and that people would be able to check-in remotely using a cell phone embedded with a RFID (radio frequency identification) chip.

But what will these new airports and spaceports look like?

Graeme Johns, who is an architect at British airport design company, The Design Solution, believes airports of the future will continue to expand, with bigger security and commercial areas.

Johns, who is involved in projects in London (the new Heathrow T2 terminal), Delhi, Mumbai, Doha, Abu Dhabi and Oman, said many new airports were being more adventurous with designs.

"I think there is definitely a move towards more avant-garde designs. People are trying to do things more site-specific rather than keeping to the same old formula.

"Definitely in the Middle East they throw everything at it, also in the Far East there are some large developments. They are all vying for transit passages," he said.

Johns said one of the biggest challenges was balancing commercial space with operational space.

"There's lots of pressure to make larger security areas ... but a big thing for us is trying to move up the commercial side of airports."

Future airports would likely include a better range of shops, he said.

"We are definitely looking at broadening the offering of shops and bringing in things that haven't traditionally been in airports," John said.

If all of this isn't exciting enough for you -- then of course there are spaceports.

Internationally renowned design company Foster and Partners won a competition to build Virgin Galactic's spaceport in New Mexico.

Company founder Lord Norman Foster said the project was one of the most exciting and futuristic he had been involved in

"This technically complex building will not only provide a dramatic experience for the astronauts and visitors, but will set an ecologically sound model for future spaceport facilities."

And what will this magnificent new structure include?

A tunneled entrance, a 'super-hangar' for the space-craft, and retaining walls that form an exhibition documenting the history of space exploration alongside the story of the region, are just some of the features.

So whether or not you have the money to make the space flight, Virgin Galactic's spaceport is going to be a place well worth visiting.

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How 10 American Towns Got Their Weird Names

Plan to hit the road next summer, but don't know where to go? We don't mean to be rude, but have you considered Hell? Hell, Michigan, that is. (And you thought you had to drive south.) For a different kind of vacation, check out this tour of off-road America, where unusual names are the main attraction:

Photo: David Ball [Wikipedia]

1. Hell, Michigan
If you've always wanted to see Hell freeze over, visit this place in winter, when the Highland Lake dam often gets icy enough to stop the water flow. In summer, when temperatures are moderate, the town has a "Satan's Holidays" festival and a road race called "Run to Hell." In October is the "Halloween in Hell" Celebration. The town got its name in 1841, when George Reeves, an early settler in this low, swampy place in southeast Michigan, was asked what the thought the town should be named. "I don't care," Reeves said. "You can name it 'Hell' if you want to."

2. Slapout, Alabama
Oscar Peeples, the town grocer in the early 1900s, was forever waiting on customers who asked for things he didn't have. "I'm slap out of it," Peeples would say. This central Alabama community, north of Montgomery, is now little more than a crossroads, with a church, bank, barber shop, and the tumbledown remains of Peeples' old store.

3. Noodle, Texas
In the late 1800s, Texans often used the word noodle to mean "nothing," which is exactly what they found when they arrived at this locale near Abilene. Now there are two churches, a store and an old gin.

For nearly a century, the population has held steady at about 40 people. (Photo: Jack Williams via

4. Joe, Montana
When quarterback Joe Montana signed on with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1993, a Missouri radio station urged the folk of Ismay, in southeast Montana near the North Dakota border, to change the town's name to "Joe." The sports-minded citizenry, all 22 of them, voted in favor of the change, and a new industry was born. In fact, money raised from selling, "Joe, Montana" souvenirs enabled the town to build a new fire station.

Photo: digitalhooligan [Flickr]

5. Lizard Lick, North Carolina
Since 1972, the residents of this town, 16 miles east of Raleigh, have held lizard races every fall to herald the farming community's unusual name. It dates back to the days when the area was home to a federally operated liquor still, and lizards were brought in to cut down on the insects. Traveling salesman noticed the creatures and dubbed the community Lizard Lick.

Downtown Chicken Alaska Photo by J. Higgs - via Wikipedia

6. Chicken, Alaska
The village, in the Alaskan wild near the Canadian border, is named for a bird, but not the one you think. In the late 1800s, gold miners found a reliable meal in the abundance of ptarmigan, a grouse-like critter whose white feathers make it look, from a distance, like a chicken. When the townsfolk decided to incorporate in 1902, none of them knew how to spell ptarmigan. So they went with the look-alike Chicken to avoid the jokes of misspelled name would incur. Unfortunately, poultry jokes now abound. The town has a full-time population of about 30 people and mail delivery every Tuesday and Friday. There's a saloon, but no telephones or central plumbing. Incidentally, the ptarmigan is now the Alaska state bird.

7. Spot, Tennessee
A dot in the road about an hour west of Nashville, Spot was named by a sawmill operator who was always writing folks about business. One day, pen in hand, the sawmill operator sat at his desk, worrying over a letter from postal authorities wanting to know what to call the town. A spot of ink dropped onto the sawmill operator's white stationery, and the town had its name. By town, we mean a couple of houses and a ramshackle store.

8. Peculiar, Missouri
In the spring of 1868, Postmaster E.T. Thomson decided to name his town "Excelsior," but postal officials told him it was already taken. Thomson reapplied with new names, and received the same response time after time. Exasperated, he finally told postal officials to assign the town a unique name, one that was "sort of peculiar." Peculiar, near the Kansas border just south of Kansas City, is home to about 1,800 people.

9. Zap, North Dakota
A Northern Pacific Railroad official, in charge of naming settlements on the line, named Zap after Zapp, Scotland, because both places had coal mines. The city, about 15 miles south of Lake Sakakawea, encompasses one square mile and is home to about 300.

10. Embarrass, Minnesota
If faces are red here, it's only because the town - 205 miles north of St. Paul - is typically the coldest spot in the continental United States. The midwinter temperature often drops to -60 °F, and snow has been known to fall in June. The name comes from early settlers, who used the French word for obstacle - embarras - to describe the hardships they faced in the frigid territory. Today, the population is largely Finnish. They celebrate their thriving community with a Finnish-American Festival every summer.

And Don't Forget ...

Think the preceding towns have nutty names? Here are some more:

- Idiotville, Oregon
- Knockemstiff, Ohio
- Monkey's Eyebrow, Kentucky
- Satan's Kingdom, Vermont
- Toad Suck, Arkansas

The article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Supremely Satisfying Bathroom Reader.

Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts.

If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!

Original here

Mobile phone radiation fries sperm - study

By Tamara McLean

MEN who talk for hours on their mobile phones could be jeopardising their chance of fathering a child, Australian research suggests.

An experiment on semen revealed evidence of DNA damage after 16 hours of exposure to radiation similar to the output of a mobile phone.

The preliminary study, presented at a fertility conference in Brisbane today, is the first of its kind, and supports US research showing heavy mobile phone users have up to 40 per cent lower sperm counts than lighter users.

Researchers at the University of Newcastle built a device to irradiate sperm at the same radio frequency as mobile telephone calls.

Professor John Aitken, director of the university's Centre of Excellence in Biotechnology and Development, said they were able to accurately identify high levels of DNA fragmentation in the sperm.

"After 16 hours exposure, there was clear evidence of DNA damage," Prof Aitken said.

"This is a very early finding from our analysis, but it does raise concerns."

DNA damage in spermatozoa has been associated with decreased fertility, increased risk of miscarriage and various kinds of disease in offspring, including childhood cancer, and a number of neurological disorders such as autism, bipolar disorder and spontaneous schizophrenia.

In the study, damage was caused by oxidative stress - when the generation of free radicals exceeds the body's own anti-oxidant defence mechanisms.

Prof Aitken said it was well known that sperm DNA fragmentation was predominantly triggered by oxidative stress which may arise from infection, smoking or older age, but there had been little research about the link with mobile phones.

Unsaturated fatty acids in foods such as margarine were also known to trigger free radicals and potential oxidative stress, he said.

"We also suspect components of acne treatment may give rise to potential free radical effects, but we have yet to find a dermatologist willing to participate in such a study," he said.

The team said if oxidative stress caused DNA damage to sperm, anti-oxidant treatments might provide a cure.

A recent German study suggested that seat warmers fitted in many luxury model cars may also be damaging sperm by raising scrotum temperature above optimal semen production conditions.

Original here

Doctors get death diagnosis tips

dead body
Doctors says that cases of an incorrect diagnosis are rare

Doctors are being given tips to help them diagnose when someone is dead.

Although a patient coming back from the dead is rare, there is enough ambiguity in diagnosing death that doctors need guidance, experts have decided.

Rapid advances in life support, where machines take over the breathing of the moribund, have complicated the diagnosis, for example.

The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges' UK guidelines cover situations like hypothermia and drug-induced coma.

Back from the dead

There have been instances when people exposed to extreme cold have been presumed dead but have later shown signs of life again when their core body temperature has risen again.

Sedative drugs can also make a person appear to be dead when they are not.

This new guidance for the first time clearly spells out when it is appropriate to diagnose death
Sir Peter Simpson, the report author

The report's author, anaesthetist Sir Peter Simpson, said diagnosing death could be difficult.

"There are issues when people die in unusual circumstances with unusual sedative drugs on board or other extraneous things like low body temperature when it is inappropriate to confirm death.

"This new guidance for the first time clearly spells out when it is appropriate to diagnose death.

"Diagnosing death in whatever circumstances is a sensitive issue, which comes at a very distressing time for everyone.

"We hope that the detailed way in which the working party has addressed the issues will give help and confidence to all concerned."

The guidelines say the definition of death should be regarded as the irreversible loss of the capacity for consciousness, combined with irreversible loss of the capacity to breathe.

They replace existing guidance on brain death and include new advice on cardiac death.

The authors also decided it was important to separate completely the diagnosis and confirmation of death from anything to do with the issues surrounding organ donation and transplantation.

This was to avoid any concern that the diagnosis is influenced by the desperate need for life-saving donor organs which are in short supply.

Professor Dame Carol Black, chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, said: "I am confident that by addressing the ambiguities of the old Code, together with issues that have arisen as a result of new areas of clinical practice and the law, this new guidance will help both medical and nursing staff and equally our patients feel confident in the diagnosis and confirmation of death and its consequences."

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Worrisome Infection Eludes a Leading Children’s Vaccine


A highly drug-resistant germ has become a common cause of meningitis, pneumonia and other life-threatening conditions in young children. The culprit — a strain of strep bacteria — can conquer almost all antibiotics in pediatrics, and has dodged a vaccine otherwise credited with causing the number of serious infections in children to plummet.

Since 2000, American toddlers have been immunized against Streptococcus pneumoniae, or pneumococcus, an organism that preys largely on children younger than 5 and the elderly. Pneumococcal meningitis can be fatal, and survivors are often left with deafness and other lifelong neurological problems.

And by most measures, the vaccine has worked: by 2002, rates of infection from these bacteria had dropped as much as 80 percent in some places. But progress has now stalled, and infection with a particular type of pneumococcus, Serotype 19A, is steadily rising.

“It’s very much a concern,” said Bernard Beall, a pneumococcal expert at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last year, in The Journal of the American Medical Association, pediatricians described an outbreak of Serotype 19A ear infections in Rochester that could be cured only by surgically implanting tubes, or by turning to adult medicines not yet tested for safety in children.

A greater worry, however, is the frequency of meningitis, pneumonia and bloodstream infections from Serotype 19A. Since 2001, rates of these and other invasive pneumococcal diseases have crept upward, to more than 10 per 100,000 children from about 2 per 100,000. A fourfold increase in life-threatening infections has also occurred among the elderly.

The vaccine, Prevnar, is aimed at seven types of bacteria that were responsible for 70 to 80 percent of pneumococcal illness during the 1990s. Because pneumococci come in 91 forms, experts have worried from the start whether bacteria that were just as deadly, but not wiped out by the vaccine, might move in as opportunists when the competition suddenly vanished.

“Nature abhors a vacuum,” said Dr. Steven Black of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Indeed, almost all pneumococcal infections among American children today are caused by versions not covered by the vaccine, and 19A is leading the way. “People hoped against hope it wouldn’t happen,” he said.

The vaccine’s manufacturer, Wyeth, says it has been working quickly to develop a new product to counter 19A and five other pneumococcal variations, along with the original seven. The company will release results of the first large studies of the newer version this month at an infectious disease meeting in Washington.

“There was no point where we said to ourselves, ‘We missed it, we need to put in 19A,’ ” said Emilio A. Emini, head of vaccine research and development for Wyeth. The company was always prepared to remake the product, he said.

Once a new vaccine demonstrates that it can protect against pneumococcus, it must work its way through the approval process — passing tests of effectiveness and safety — before it can be licensed. Researchers will also try to determine whether young children who have been immunized with the old Prevnar should be revaccinated to protect themselves from 19A.

The remodeling of a vaccine so soon after its approval is highly unusual, but so was the effort to tackle pneumococcus.

The bacteria live in the nose and throat, usually as microbial freeloaders of no consequence. Occasionally — often after a simple viral infection — pneumococci slip into inner areas of the body and cause disease. Weaker immune systems in the very young and the very old leave them most vulnerable. (The pneumonia shot in older people includes 19A, but many elderly people have not received the immunization.)

Not all of the 91 incarnations of pneumococcal bacteria are dangerous. They developed so much variety by mingling in the back of the throat, exchanging genetic material as eagerly as children trading Halloween candy. The variation in genes slightly alters how the bacteria function and how they are received by the immune system.

For vaccine manufacturers, pneumococci’s diversity presented a challenge: how to teach the immune system to recognize a target that may look a little different from child to child. “This is the most complex biological product ever made,” Dr. Emini said.

Serotype 19A was around in the 1990s, though uncommon, and the vaccine includes a similar version called 19F. The hope in 2000 was that 19F looked enough like 19A to set off an immune reaction. It did not.

Experts say it is hard to know what role the introduction of Prevnar may have played in the rise of the bacteria, which was gaining momentum in some countries before the vaccine’s adoption. For example, researchers from GlaxoSmithKline, which is introducing its own pneumococcal vaccine, reported last month that Serotype 19A became more common in Belgium from 2001 to 2004 — years when pneumococcal vaccination was rare in that country. Similar reports have emerged from China, South Korea and Israel.

Pneumococci ebb and flow in natural cycles, and some types have gained a survival advantage by growing resistant to a host of drugs. The vaccine may have simply amplified natural trends..

“I don’t think anyone can tell you the relative contributions of these factors,” said Dr. Sheldon L. Kaplan of Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. This summer, he and his colleagues described a growing number of cases of drug-resistant mastoiditis, an infection of an inner-ear bone, from 19A.

Experts are now watching to see how forcefully the organism will spread before the new immunization arrives. Wyeth says it hopes to file an application with the Food and Drug Administration in 2009.

Disease experts also wonder what organisms like 19A mean for the future of pneumococcal infections. Public health experts once hoped the infection could be defeated, but it now appears that pneumococci may be playing a game of cat and mouse.

“The pneumococcus has shown an extraordinary ability to evolve to our strategies,” said Dr. Beall of the C.D.C.

Yet he and others are quick to say that immunization remains highly effective, even if it leaves some children behind. “This is not a failure of the vaccine,” said Dr. George H. McCracken Jr. of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. Even with the rise of 19A, children are much less likely to become ill from pneumococcal infections.

Dr. McCracken hopes that researchers will one day avoid threats like 19A entirely by developing a vaccine that primes the immune system to recognize some element common to all 91 types of pneumococci — in the way a quiche, an omelet and a custard pie are all versions of eggs. But until such an immunization comes along, he said, pediatricians will be forced to battle the pneumococcus as they always have, by trying to stay one strain ahead of its game.

Original here

The Evolution of Trojan Man

By Kate Rope

When I was in middle school, I remember giggling at a condom ad that ran on late-night radio. A couple would be about to, you know, do it! when Trojan Man would ride up on his horse and give the amorous pair a simple weapon in the war against sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy: a small piece of latex. I can still remember the baritone voice-over announcing his arrival: “TROJAN MAN!” It seemed so mysterious and exciting! (Of course, I would later learn that the word exciting is not really the most apt one to use when describing a condom.)

My, how times have changed. Recently, MTV and Trojan launched a campaign, Evolve One, Evolve All, asking real people to upload their own videos about whether they use condoms and why (a grassroots ad campaign, if you will). If you post a video or comment on the site, up to five condoms are donated to Americans at risk. The plan is to donate one million condoms across the United States, but the larger plan is obviously to make talking about and using condoms a natural and normal part of sex in America.

Yes, it’s a lot less mysterious than Trojan Man, but that’s the point.

Original here

How much sleep do you really need? Probably a lot less than you think, says an expert

By Professor Jim Horne

Ask people whether they would like more sleep and the majority will say yes.

But does this mean they are not getting enough? I don't believe so.

Thanks to oft-repeated assertions that our ancestors slept longer than we did, not to mention claims that a lack of shut-eye can cause high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity, and it's easy to see why we think we are chronically deprived of sleep.

Wake up you sleepy head: Most people need less than 8 hours of sleep each night

Wake up you sleepy head: Most people need less than 8 hours of sleep each night

The fact is, most of us are probably getting more sleep than we strictly need - we've just convinced ourselves we're sleep deprived.

It's nothing new. In 1894, the British Medical Journal ran an editorial warning that the 'hurry and excitement' of modern life was leading to an epidemic of insomnia.

But far from being chronically sleep-deprived, I believe things have never been better.

Unlike the typical worker from 150 years ago, who toiled for 14 hours a day, six days a week and went home to a crowded, flea-infested bed, most of us sleep perfectly adequately.

There have been several large studies over the past 40 years into how much sleep people actually get. The findings show that the average healthy adult sleeps for seven to seven-and-a-half hours a night.

The much-repeated 'fact' that our ancestors used to sleep around nine hours is a myth and originates from a study in 1913 by researchers in California, which found that children aged eight to 17 slept for this amount of time.

Even today, this figure holds true for that age group - as the parents of any teenager will attest!

But adults do not need so much sleep. Some thrive on five hours a night, while others need seven.

The only part of your body that would be affected by a true lack of sleep - and that means several days without any sleep - is your brain.

Tests prove that there's no physiological difference in the muscles or organs of the body when you're asleep as opposed to when you're simply lying still and fully awake.

The brain however, is another matter. It needs sleep. Although it comprises only 2 per cent of your total body weight, it uses 20 per cent of the energy you consume in your body.

There are three main parts to the brain - the cortex, the mid-brain and the hind brain.

The mid and hind brain work flat out to control your motor functions, such as breathing, blood pressure, heart rate and liver function. They carry on working even when you're in deep sleep.

But the cortex, which controls thinking, speech, memory and perception needs time off - and that occurs when you go to sleep.

Without it, these functions deteriorate rapidly. After only one night without sleep, we are unable to deal with as much pressure, we get more irritable and we can't cope with disruption to our routine.

We forget things, we become like robots, unable to have conversations with people, unable to work out simple lists or sums.

Yet there are some parts of the cortex which are remarkably resilient.

In 1966, a 17-year-old high school student called Randy Gardner raised money for charity by staying awake for 11 days. It remains a record.

Four days into the experiment, he began to hallucinate. Towards the end he could barely converse with people or perceive what was going on around him.

But he could play pinball with remarkable ease. The part of the cortex which controls hand/eye coordination appears to be unaffected by lack of sleep.

There is a lot of fear-mongering about the so-called dangers of lack of sleep - but, in fact, the biggest danger of not having adequate sleep is having an accident, such as falling asleep at the wheel of a car.

Of course, I would never dismiss the distress that insomnia causes. But people who suffer from it tend to be very stressed - whether through work or a bereavement - and it's the stress that wears down their immune system and makes them more susceptible to infection.

Yet despite the fact most of us do get enough sleep, a whole industry has emerged to help us with our 'sleep problem' and I warn: 'caveat emptor' - let the buyer beware.

Herbal preparations or drinks are a useful short-term crutch for those suffering from sleepless nights, in the sense that people feel reassured that by taking them they will have a good night's sleep.

Drugs are inadequate in the long term because insomnia is not a physiological problem - it's a psychological one, usually caused by stress.

The only way to treat a true insomniac is by tackling their problems while they're awake.

Once the waking problem is sorted, they will find it much easier to drift off - and get the hours of sleep they need, not some arbitrary 'ideal' based on misinterpretations of history.

Sleepfaring - A Journey Through The Science Of Sleep by Professor Jim Horne (Oxford University Press, £6.99).

Lavender, silk... and turn off the TV

Room temperature: The ideal temperature is 18c, according to Chris Idzikowski from the Edinburgh Sleep Clinic. This will ensure your body's core temperature drops enough to encourage sleep. If the room is too warm (above 24c) your brain won't send the correct triggers for sleep. If the room is too cold (below 12c), the body will struggle to maintain temperature and disturb sleep.

Duvet: Have both a summer and a winter duvet. A 10-13.5 tog winter duvet will be far too warm for the summer months, when a 4.5 tog is ideal.

Ventilation: Always have an open window, even in winter. Fresh air encourages sleep.

Your bed: Don't scrimp - this is where you will spend 25 years of your life. The typical person sweats half a pint of liquid during the night and changes position 40-60 times. Dr Neil Stanley, from the British Sleep Society, recommends choosing a good, supportive bed base with a firm, thick mattress. Your mattress should be changed every 12 years and a futon should be kept for a maximum of three years.

Bed linen: Cotton and linen are best as they absorb more moisture.

Lavender: You could sprinkle a tiny amount of lavender oil on your pillow or spray some in the air. Extensive research shows it can improve the quality of sleep by 20 per cent.

Nightwear: Loose and made of natural fibres. Bed socks are a good idea as warm feet signal healthy blood flow to the brain, inducing restful sleep.

Alarm clock: Turn it down or preferably off. Dr Neil Stanley says: 'Anticipating a shrill alarm clock is stressful and will make insomnia worse.'

Curtains/blinds: As thick and heavy as possible. Ideally, a bedroom should be totally dark until 4am for optimum sleep. Darkness stimulates the pineal gland to produce the hormone melatonin, which induces sleep. Switch off your landing light, too - even low levels of light under a door can keep you awake.

Television: Don't have one in the bedroom. 'It should be a haven of tranquillity,' says Dr Stanley. 'When you walk in, your mind must get the message that this is the place for sleep.'

Partner: If your other half is a fidget or a snorer, consider separate beds. Dr Stanley says: 'People who have poor sleep have higher rates of divorce and separate beds can improve, not ruin a sex life.'

Warm bath: This will soothe you and relax your muscles, but avoid showering as this will wake you up.

Avoid alcohol: Alcohol encourages the production of nore-epinephrine, a hormonelike neurotransmitter secreted in response to excitement and stress. Hours after drinking, a burst of noreepinephrine can disrupt your sleep and is likely to wake you earlier than usual.

Original here

9 Tricks for Getting a Table (and Being a VIP) at Hot Restaurants

How do you skip the line and get the corner table? (photo: Thomas Hawk)

An evening out should be special, especially if it’s an expensive evening.

But too often it’s a disappointment. Does the following scenario sound familiar? After weeks of trying to score a reservation at that new restaurant that just got a great review, you finally get one – only to find yourself waiting until 9pm for the table you were promised at 8pm. When you’re finally seated, you find yourself waiting – for a drink, for your food, for your check, even for your coat.

It might be somewhat tolerable if you looked around and saw that everyone was treated the same, but that’s rarely the case.

There always seems to be at least one table getting the VIP treatment. It’s like a little oasis: The diners aren’t kept waiting; the waiters are particularly attentive; and the chef may even come out to say hello or send over some extra desserts at the end. Who doesn’t want to be treated like that?

I’m not fussy and I’m not high maintenance. I think those are two reasons I stumbled upon the secrets of being treated like a VIP…

For years, I was editor in chief of a publishing house and edited cookbooks by some of the world’s best chefs – so my friends always assumed that’s why I got treated so well. But the truth is – the restaurants where I was treated best never knew what I did for a living. Trust me: If you get pitched books all day, the last thing you want is to be pitched books over dinner.

Here are 9 tips for becoming a VIP who skips lines and gets tables. Test even a few and you’ll almost always get amazing treatment at the very restaurants others can barely get into.

1. Start at the bar. Try having a meal there. Chat with the bartender a bit; introduce yourself to the Maitre d’ and get her or his card. Ask if the owner is around and introduce yourself to her or him.

2. Ask the waiter to ask the chef two questions: First, What does everyone order, and Second, what does almost no one order but the chef thinks everyone should. Then order them both. Chefs want to show off their popular dishes, but often have an item on the menu they are really proud of, and really want people to try. I first did this at The Slanted Door in San Francisco. A cook actually came out to say hello because he thought it was so unusual.

3. Be one of the first customers. If you read local food-blogs, or visit sites like or, you’ll know what’s opening and who’s opening it. If it sounds good, go. Businesses frame their first bucks and treasure their first customers.

4. If you like it, come back for two more meals that very week. I went to a great NYC restaurant called Union Pacific for lunch the week it opened. I loved it and came back for dinner that night, lunch the next day, and dinner later that week. They never forgot me. After Union Pacific became white hot, I could score a reservation any time I wanted – even if I hadn’t been there for months. Even though the restaurant is sadly gone, I’ve kept up with some of the alums – and they now work in some of the city’s best restaurants.

5. Be forgiving. Even VIPs sometimes have to wait, get spilled on, or get the wrong dish. VIPs are often simply people who were good sports when all didn’t go as planned. You don’t have to be a milquetoast – but if the restaurant knows it messed up, you can score major points by not making a big deal about it or using it as an excuse to try to score freebies.

6. Send compliments to the chef – especially when you are specific about what you like. I know it sounds dorky – but it’s almost always appreciated. If you really love the place, send a note to the chef. Very few people do this.

7. Tip 25% if you like the place and got pretty good service. At very fancy restaurants, tip the Maitre d’ too. If you can’t afford to tip properly, then you can’t afford that restaurant. Go someplace you can afford.

8. Choose the cheapest wine. Or choose a wine you know and like. Or one that intrigues you. Or just ask for help. But don’t choose the second cheapest wine, unless it’s a wine you know and like. (The cheapest is often a good, smart value; the second cheapest is sometimes a sucker’s play – a bad deal put specifically on the wine list for all the people who don’t know wine, don’t want to ask, but don’t want to look cheap by ordering the cheapest).

9. Ask to be treated like a VIP. Okay, I saved the most obvious for last. But it works. There’s a restaurant called Matsuri in New York. I went and loved it. So I called the manager, told her that I was crazy about the place, and would entertain there a lot if I could be pretty sure that I would be nicely looked after. I’ve been treated like a prince there ever since. And I do entertain there whenever I can – both for business meals and with friends. There may be new restaurants cropping up all the time, but Matsuri is still one of NYC’s best and has me for life.

Original here

U.S. restaurant business toughest in 17 years: NRA

By Bob Burgdorfer

CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. restaurants are enduring their toughest time in 17 years as tight credit and falling home prices compel consumers to eat out less or spend less when they do, a National Restaurant Association economist said on Wednesday.

"This is the most challenging environment for restaurant operators since 1991," Hudson Riehle, NRA chief economist, told Reuters. "Depending on how consumer spending proceeds in the fourth quarter, it could be the most challenging environment since the early 1980s."

Using retail sales data released early on Wednesday, Hudson put restaurant sales growth at about 4.2 percent for the first nine months of 2008. But, when higher wholesale food costs are taken out, he said the industry's growth is flat.

"Restaurant spending in 2008 is definitely weaker than it was in 2001, the last recessionary period. The previous weakest year was 1991 for the industry, when real sales growth actually declined by .2 percent," he said.

So far in 2008, consumers are still spending about half of their food budget at restaurants, however it appears that spending has been at lower-cost restaurants.

"The lower the average check of the operation, the slightly more optimistic those operators are," said Riehle.

"Quick service restaurants, which have a lower average check, in general those operators tend to be somewhat more optimistic than higher average check operations," he said.

Tight credit and falling home prices have affected consumer spending as well.

"When consumers were utilizing the rapidly growing equity in their residences that translated into higher spending and the restaurant industry was definitely a beneficiary," he said. "That is definitely a dramatically changed situation."

In a recent NRA survey, NRA members named the economy as their top challenge, compared with a year ago when it was recruiting and retaining staff.

"The landscape has changed dramatically over the past year," said Riehle.

(Reporting by Bob Burgdorfer; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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Saint Arnold Brewery’s Tie-Died Bentley

Posted by HarleyJane

I live down in Houston, TX. A couple of times a month, I like to go and take ‘tours’ of the Saint Arnold Brewery, which also happens to be Texas’ oldest craft brewery. Of course, when I say take a tour, that really means that I pay $5 and listen to the history of the brewery, then I get to drink the freshest, most delicious beer I’ve ever tasted.

Well… over the weekend, I was at a local farmers market. It just so happened that there was a Vintage British Car Show going on at the same time. To my surprise, the (elusive) Saint Arnold Tie-Died Bentley was being showcased.

Images of Saint Arnold’s Tie-Died Bentley:

Saint Arnold's Tie-Died Bentley
Front View of Saint Arnold's Tie-Died BentleyRear View of Saint Arnold's Tie-Died Bentley
Side View of Saint Arnold's Tie-Died Bentley
Top of the Trunk

If you’re ever in Houston, I would highly encourage you to check out the Saint Arnold Brewery. Or at least ask to try a pint at whatever bar or pub you may be visting while you’re in town. Alot of Houstonian’s drink it, so most of the bars should carry it. My favorite beer is the Lawnmower, but they have many different beers that you may enjoy instead.

Learn more about the Saint Arnold Brewery on their wikipedia page. Or check out the story of St. Arnold, the Patron Saint of Brewers.

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