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HLG Notebook | April 2016

1. Organic Fiction on the Menu

Laura Reiley, a veteran restaurant critic at the Tampa Bay Times, decided to fact-check her own reviews of farm-to-table restaurants. The results are brutal. After hunting down the food sources of more than 50 “local,” “organic,” or “farm-raised” restaurants, she uncovers an epic scam. The result is a muckraking masterpiece:

This is a story we are all being fed. A story about overalls, rich soil and John Deere tractors scattering broods of busy chickens. A story about healthy animals living happy lives, heirloom tomatoes hanging heavy and earnest artisans rolling wheels of cheese into aging caves nearby. More often than not, those things are fairy tales.

2. Suburban Setting for Innovation

Hunter Oatman-Stanford has written a sprawling, exhaustive, and fascinating history of corporate headquarters. The photos alone merit a look. But what’s most interesting is the paradox that Oatman-Stanford finds in Silicon Valley: the world’s most innovative companies are building retrograde suburban campuses. The punch line is delivered in the first paragraph with an attack on the mammoth Apple headquarters under construction in Cupertino:

Countless employees, tech bloggers, and design fanatics are already lauding the “futuristic” building and its many “groundbreaking” features. But few are aware that Apple’s monumental project is already outdated, mimicking a half-century of stagnant suburban corporate campuses that isolated themselves — by design —from the communities their products were supposed to impact.

3. Los Jóvenes Norte Americanos

Pew Research Center provides an invaluable look at the Hispanic population in the United States. A few key findings:

  • About one-third, or 17.9 million, of the nation’s Hispanic population is younger than 18.
  • Hispanics make up 21% of all U.S. millennials versus 15% of all adults in 2014.
  • About three-quarters of Hispanic millenials are proficient in English.

4. What Creativity Looks Like

Ed Catmull, the co-founder of Pixar, describes the culture of a creative workplace that aspires to produce the highest quality work. Everything Catmull says in this McKinsey Quarterly interview is instructive:

People coming in from the outside, as well as employees, look at the process and say, “you know, if you would just get the story right—just write the script and get it right the first time, before you make the film—it will be much easier and cheaper to make.” And they’re absolutely right. It is, however, irrelevant because even if you’re really good, your first pass or guess at what the film should be will only get you to the B level. You can inexpensively make a B-level film.

5. Notes from the Early Days of Silicon Valley

Regis McKenna’s career as a Silicon Valley marketer is legendary. Fast Company has published his handwritten notebooks from the 1970s when he was an advisor to the fledging Apple Computers. One notebook includes a typewritten letter from an associate assessing the new prospective client:

Steve visited our office. He is 21. Along with 25-year-old partner, Steve has designed, manufactured, and is marketing a microprocessing system – the Apple-1 Computer…Steve is young and inexperienced. His system sells for $666.66. Though he moved a quantity into retail distribution, there is as yet no evidence that the retailer(s) are successful in finding customers.

6. How Writing Got Fast

Book Forum publishes this sentimental review of Track Changes, a new history of word processing. The reviewer tries to pinpoint why the switch from typewriters was so dramatic:

What made word-processing devices much more than just souped-up typewriters was not only that they gave you the ability to edit at the same time that you wrote, or that they eliminated or seriously curtailed the effort of correcting from typewritten pages. Seeing text revealed on a screen, even in the technologically costive form offered by the earliest word processors, provided an unprecedented opportunity to picture the manuscript as a whole and with an immediacy that typewriting didn’t permit.

Buffs of literary history might also be interested in this list of authors and the typewriters they used. And this site has pictures of 20 famous writers at work.