Thoughts on quirky news and life in Buenos Aires and Washington, DC

Race to the top: China’s lunch delivery guys rush to keep office workers well fed

From The Wall Street Journal:

Across China’s biggest cities, the scene has become as familiar as grimy skies and crowded subways. Helmeted, scooter-riding delivery people barrel through business districts at noontime ferrying bowls of noodles and skewers of lamb to hungry wage earners. Office tower lobbies are thick with drivers schlepping food bags.

In China, cheap labor and the advent of smartphone food-delivery apps have combined to transform office lunchtime culture. Meals appear with a few swipes on a smartphone, and customers get up to 30 deliveries for as little as $3 a month.

With the three major delivery services offering similar pricing schemes and food choices across China, the burden of competition has fallen largely on the speed of the delivery people—mostly young men popularly known as Waimai Xiaoge, or “Brother Takeaway.”

Young women smile and say the delivery men are better than boyfriends; unlike their male beaus, the Waimai Xiaoge always deliver.

The Journal compares Takeaway Brothers to Olympic athletes, but the real benchmark are Mumbai’s Dabbawalas, whose impeccable meal-time logistics have become the stuff of Harvard Business School case studies.  When can we expect a Brother Takeaway vs. Dabbawala race?

Keeping bourbon kosher, one distillery at a time

The Wall Street Journal reports on the daily travails of rabbis who make sure Kentucky bourbon stays kosher:

Since the first distillers started bottling on the banks of the Ohio River here, Kentucky bourbon has always been considered kosher, in line with Jewish dietary laws about what food and drink can be consumed and in what circumstances. Generations of observant Jews have reached for it without worry.

Well, not anymore.

The bourbon industry has exploded over the last several years, and that growth has brought new complications for Jews who like American whiskey. Bourbon still comes out of the barrel as kosher—if not necessarily as healthful—as mountain spring water. It is after that the problems start.

Companies that once distilled just a few barrels of bourbon every year are now churning out dozens of other drinks—sherries, brandies, flavored vodkas—which might not be kosher. They can contaminate the bourbon, Rabbi Litvin said, if the liquors are run through the same pipes or tanks.

Lemon vodka, for example, can contain not only citrus (which is kosher), but also glycerin, which contains animal fat (often not kosher). In some cases, spirits include red food coloring made from insects (definitely not kosher).

If you thought this was easy, it’s not.  L’chaim!

In Switzerland, old money means low numbers on license plates

From Bloomberg:

The Swiss system of the two letters indicating the canton followed by a number has been in place since 1933 and unlike most other European countries, it’s not the car that is assigned a plate, but a person. As every new car registering to roam Swiss roads just gets the next highest number in line, the ability to pass on license plates to your children has made low-digit numbers synonymous with old money.

And since vanity plates are not allowed, low-number aficionados buy (and sometimes steal) them from existing owners.

Just last week, industrialist Otto Ruppen forked out 160,100 francs ($160,400) for VS 1, with the letters standing for the Canton of Valais in western Switzerland. Even more common three or four-digit numbers are in high demand.

“It’s a question of prestige,” said Stefan Cardinale, who works at a dealership that sells Ferraris and Maseratis in Zug, a canton known for its wealth and low taxes. “People who invest in flashy wheels want the world to see how awesome they are.”

Buyers of luxury vehicles regularly inquire about low-digit numbers and are willing to pay a lot for them, Cardinale said. His boss Pierre Sudan owns Zug’s No. 1 plate.


“After the two license plates LU 100 were stolen from my son’s car — despite being more securely bolted-on than required — we attached our own LU 40 plate even more elaborately,” says Vreni Haeberli, who lives in Aesch in the canton of Lucerne. “We would never sell them, they’re now part of our family heritage.”

How long until the Swiss start getting married for license plates, Chinese style?

End of an era: British laws no longer printed on calf skin

The Telegraph reports:

The centuries-old tradition of printing new laws on vellum is to be abandoned after MPs bowed to pressure from peers and agreed to use paper.

The House of Lords – which is in charge of printing copies of laws – has been pushing to use archival paper, rather than calf skin, to save £80,000 a year.

Last year, MPs voted in the House of Commons to reject the suggestion, after Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock offered to step in to pay the extra cost.

The motion – which was non-binding – notified peers that the Commons “withheld its consent to the use of archival paper rather than vellum for the printing of record copies of public Acts of Parliament”.

However MPs have now backed down and agreed a compromise that the covers of Bills should be on vellum, but the inside pages on paper.

Laws have been printed on vellum parchment since the early 16th century.

Thanks, Brexit? First, they came for the calf skins, then (probably) the lawyers’ wigs…

In China, a marriage license may be the only way to a license plate

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Millions can afford to buy a car in China now, but in big cities the right to drive it is harder to come by. In Beijing, marrying the lucky winner of a license plate has become the best option for many, since a plate isn’t tradable but is transferable between husband and wife,

The license-plate lottery, which takes place six times a year, is famous for its low odds. In the latest round in February, the probability of winning a plate was 0.1269%.

One Xinjiang man living in Beijing with his family has posted offers online to pay for a fake marriage after applying through the lottery system for three years with no success.

“There are many people doing this online. Many of my friends got their plates in this way,” said the man, who gave only his surname, Liu.

A fake marriage is just the other side of a fake divorce, which has been used in China to game the real estate market.

Some Shanghai couples scrambled to divorce last year to take advantage of rules requiring a lower down payment from first-time property buyers.

“Marriage in China now tends to be utilitarian and practical,” said Ma Chunhua, a researcher from the Institute of Sociology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

True that!

Seen in DC

Note on parked car: “This is the Embassy of Mozambique parking spot.  You stole it.  Pay your parking.  Shame on you!!!”


Let’s hope no international incident is brewing.  Remember that Mozambique has an AK-47 on its flag.


AK-47 is the tool.  Don’t make me act a motherparking fool. Image:

Vibrators are the latest appliances that may be spying on you

And now for something completely different… Reports of home appliances spying on users are legion these days.  You may have heard that the CIA can (allegedly) get smart TVs to eavesdrop on conversations, or that former president Obama may or may not have used a microwave oven for the same purpose, and you have, of course, read Cheblogudo’s coverage of the misadventures of Cayla, the German doll.   But the last frontier in random household object cybersecurity has to be this:

Canadian firm Standard Innovation, has agreed to pay C$4 million (£2.4 million) to members of the public who bought and used its We-Vibe products – sex toys controlled via a smartphone app.

The firm, it was discovered, had been collecting data via the app, recording when customers had been using the sex toys, as well as information about the intensity of the vibration settings used. The data was collected without customers having been notified.


Following the suit, filed in the North District of Illinois Eastern Division District Court, anyone who used the app to control their We-Vibe device prior to 26 September last year will each now be entitled to C$10,000 (£6,120) – while those who bought the device but did not use the app will be entitled to $199 (£120).

Call me old fashioned, but I just don’t understand why a vibrator (smart or otherwise) needs to be controlled through an app connected to Wi-Fi.  Is this a sign that we’ve reached peak smart technology?

The Telegraph has the full story (but not the answer).