For Some Men, Mark Zuckerberg Is a Lifestyle Guru

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Anyone who has ever taken to social media to announce a self-improvement project knows that your “friends” cannot be relied upon to hold you accountable. Almost as soon as you proclaim your intention to learn French or cut out carbs, the world moves on, leaving you with only your empty promises and scone crumbs on your shirt.

It’s not so easy to slack if you’re Mark Zuckerberg. Each year, Mr. Zuckerberg, the Facebook co-founder and C.E.O., who is now 31, has made public pledges to improve himself. His efforts have been closely tracked by the press and by users of his globe-spanning social network who seem never to forget his promises despite the Internet’s ability to reset itself every morning in the manner of “Groundhog Day.”

In 2009, Mr. Zuckerberg decided to wear a tie every day. In 2010, he set himself the task of learning to speak Mandarin. In 2011, he vowed that when he ate meat, it would be only from animals he had slaughtered himself, a pledge seemingly confirmed by a leaked photo of him grinning while holding a chicken by its feet.

In 2013 he aimed to meet someone new every day. In 2014, he promised to write a daily handwritten (or emailed) thank-you note. Last year, he started his own book club, reading a new title every two weeks.

This year is no different. Even though Mr. Zuckerberg probably has his hands full with his company and a new baby, he has said he will run 365 miles over the course of the year and build an artificial intelligence butler for his home.

Mr. Zuckerberg’s efforts have made him the object of fascination and emulation among a subset of millennials in and around the tech industry. More than seeing Mr. Zuckerberg as merely an avatar of tech success and unfathomable wealth, they consider him a role model.

“I run three experiments each year inspired by Zuckerberg,” said Dave Fontenot, 22, a San Francisco resident who used to be an agent for engineers, but who said he is currently “focusing on myself.”

This year, Mr. Fontenot aims to improve his posture, meditate and spend more time alone. He also trained himself to send thank-you notes, either handwritten or as voice recordings via text, inspired by Mr. Zuckerberg. “For a period of time, I wasn’t thanking people at all, but then, for one of the most powerful person in the world to do it, I was like, wow,” Mr. Fontenot said.

In 2012, Mr. Fontenot was invited to Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., after winning a hackathon at the University of Michigan. There, he had a chance to see Mr. Zuckerberg up close.

Mr. Fontenot remembered a moment when Mr. Zuckerberg spotted someone juggling and expressed a desire to try it. “In 20 minutes, he kind of learned it,” Mr. Fontenot said.

Lukas Biewald, a co-founder and the C.E.O. of CrowdFlower, a crowdsourcing company in San Francisco, sees Mr. Zuckerberg’s efforts at self-betterment, maybe even including juggling, as emblematic of the tech industry as a whole. “I think taking on self-improvement projects outside of work is part of the zeitgeist of Silicon Valley,” said Mr. Biewald, 34. “People expect you to have things that you care about outside of work.”

By MATT HABER

Source New York Times

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How to Stay Sane on a Business Trip

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A specific condition afflicts business travelers: Call it hotel gloom, an amorphous melancholy that seems to thrive in the perfectly serviceable hotel rooms of the $200-a-night-and-under variety. Al Jackson has experienced it many times.

Mr. Jackson, 38, a stand-up comedian who has been touring for more than a decade, has stayed in Red Roof Inns and Wyndham hotels across this land. Inserting his key card can be like a gateway to existential dread. “When you open the door, there’s that rush of air, always that same kind of stale smell,” he said. “Sometimes the door shuts behind you. You’re in this semidark room. You drag your bag to where everyone sets their bag and it’s, ‘How did I get here again?’”
The hospitality industry tries its best to counteract this adult version of homesickness. Everything about the guest experience, from the smooth jazz playing in the lobby to the earth-tone décor, is designed to create a veneer of contentment and belonging. But hotel gloom has recently slipped into the cultural conversation nonetheless.

First there was “Hotels of North America,” a novel published last fall by Rick Moody told in the form of online lodging reviews. Then came “Anomalisa,” the Oscar-nominated animated film written and co-directed by Charlie Kaufman, which centers on a businessman’s stay in an upscale Cincinnati hotel that Tad Friend, writing about the movie in The New Yorker, described as “oppressively functional.” (Picture the best Hampton Inn you’ve ever stayed in.)

Curiously, both the novel and the movie center on drifting middle-aged motivational speakers. They use the hotel stay as a metaphor for emotional estrangement and societal disconnectedness. It’s a dark night of the soul rendered through free continental breakfasts and nightly turndown service.

“I used to stay in this Radisson in New London, Conn.,” Mr. Moody said. “I still have nightmares about the Edward Hopper-esque loneliness.”

He spoke of the “dread of the key being demagnetized” and the “mounting anxiety” that “whatever little shred of home or idea of home that you can carry into that room” will be lost. In this way, Mr. Moody, 54, resembles his novel’s narrator, who, while staying at a La Quinta Inn in Tuscaloosa, Ala., undergoes a “profound personality change” brought on by the hotel’s “nauseating pastels” and “faux-Mexican décor.”

Perhaps the artistic temperament is not suited to hotel life. The cartoonist Charles M. Schulz told his biographer: “Just the mention of a hotel makes me turn cold. When I’m in a hotel room alone, I worry about getting so depressed I might jump out of a window.”

‘The Movement Stops’

Carol Margolis, 56, has spent 30 years fighting off hotel gloom. She traveled frequently as a consultant for large corporations, once spending so much time on the road that she had a permanent room at a Marriott Residence Inn in Cleveland. Now she advises companies about business travel.

For her, Rule No. 1: Never let the gloom gain a foothold. “I was afraid that if it happened once, it would keep happening,” she said. “It’s kind of like one drink and you fall off the wagon.”

For Ms. Margolis, who is married and lives in Florida, the problem is not the travel itself. She loves to walk down the jet bridge and board a plane, and the feeling of touching down on a runway a thousand miles from home promises new experiences, new adventures. The challenge comes later in the journey.

“When you get to the hotel, the movement stops,” she said. “I’m picturing myself standing in the middle of the room, walking in circles asking, ‘What do I do now?’”

In recent years, the better chains have upgraded their designs, adding amenities like spas and fitness centers and making an effort to create a consistent experience across their properties. Yet, paradoxically, the quasi luxury may add to the sense of emptiness.

Mr. Jackson sees the midprice chain hotel as a social leveler. Although he is grateful that he doesn’t have to go back to the ratty motels he experienced early in his career, he said he wonders how far he has really come when he finds himself in yet another taupe-carpeted room.

“You fly first class, you’re blue chip at the rental car counter, you go through the platinum rewards member line at the hotel, but you’re still in that same lonely hotel room,” Mr. Jackson said. “No matter how ordered you try to make it, you have chosen a seminomadic lifestyle.”

Say No to Room Service

How do seasoned business travelers fight it off? Bill McGowan, 55, the founder and chief executive of Clarity Media Group, a New York-based firm that specializes in media training, said he minimizes the amount of time spent in the room, cutting it down to unpacking, showering and sleeping.

Room service is out; instead, he uses the Open Table app to find a restaurant with a lively bar where he can sit and have dinner, and eats there again on successive business trips.

Routine can breed comfort, he added. He is on the road eight to 10 days a month and books the same hotels in the same cities. In Silicon Valley, it’s the Westin in Palo Alto, Calif. “It’s so familiar, it’s almost like a home away from home,” Mr. McGowan said. “I don’t really have that horrible realization when I open the door.”

Ms. Margolis is also a believer in cutting down on the time spent in the room. Soon after check-in, she seeks a spot where she can work or relax. “I recently stayed at a Marriott Courtyard,” she said, “and they have these bistro lobbies with a fireplace and chairs. Oh, my gosh, I was right there.”

Sarah Cloninger, 35, a corporate trainer who writes a travel blog called Road Warriorette, said that fighting the gloom starts with the trip planning. She arranges to be away from her husband and three small children the least amount of time possible. And she tries to book a hotel downtown, within walking distance of shops and restaurants. “It’s easier to feel bummed when you’re in a Hampton Inn in the middle of nowhere,” she said.

Like many business travelers, Ms. Cloninger tends to stay in midprice chain hotels because they are company approved, and because she gets reward points. (She prefers Hilton chains.) But on the rare occasion when she is booked at a five-star hotel, like the time her company held a meeting at the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay in Northern California, the gloom magically disappears.

“The bathroom had marble floors and gorgeous amenities and a separate bathtub,” she said. “I was not sad when I walked into that hotel room.”

Mr. Jackson, the comedian, sees an upside in the near silence of those midprice hotels with carpeted hallways and tinted windows that don’t open. “I want my hotel to be kind of sad,” he said. “I can get some work done.”

And given his vivid memories of the rundown places he once stayed in, he will take bourgeois melancholy any day.

“It was a motel in Vero Beach, Fla.,” he said. “I walked into the room, and there was a gunshot through the window and ants all over the floor. I called the front desk and told them about the ants. The guy goes, ‘You can come down here and pick up some spray.’”

There is gloom, and then there is gloom.

By STEVEN KURUTZ

Source New York Times

Why a $15,950 Tourbillon Watch Is Considered a Steal

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With a price tag of $15,950, the new Carrera Heuer-02T wristwatch from TAG Heuer — a brand often associated with “starter” Swiss luxury watches under $3,000 — may strike budget-minded consumers as “mind boggling,” as one watch site, Monochrome, put it; perhaps even “incredible,” in the words of another, Hodinkee.

An entry-level timepiece for the price of a factory-fresh Japanese subcompact? I’ll take the Honda.

To the watch cultists who inhabit sites like these, however, the new TAG is not an egregious example of price gouging but rather a steal, a timepiece so jaw-droppingly underpriced that there must be, according to the site aBlogtoWatch, some sort of sorcery involved.

What the wizards at TAG have done is conjure a tourbillon — an intricate, gyroscope-like mechanism long considered a holy grail for watch enthusiasts — at the luxury-watch equivalent of a Kmart bluelight price.

Up to now, a (ahem) “cheap” tourbillon timepiece was the Montblanc 4810 ExoTourbillon Slim, for $34,500. At the G.D.P.-of-a-small-country end of the spectrum, the Greubel-Forsey Quadruple Tourbillon (which, yes, contains four of them) retails for $815,000.
TAG, in other words, has seemingly enabled buyers to take that Honda budget and snag a Bentley.

But is it worth it? You don’t have to explain to anyone why a Bentley costs so much. But a tourbillon? How could a feather’s weight of metal increase the value of an already expensive watch by a factor of 10?

For starters, a tourbillon promises at least a theoretical improvement in performance. To put things in watch-geek-ese, the tourbillon, which was pioneered by Abraham-Louis Breguet at the end of the 18th century, mounts the watch’s escapement, balance spring and balance wheel inside a tiny rotating cage, to fight the effects of gravity, and in theory even out minor deviations in timekeeping (phew).

It is widely debated whether tourbillons actually deliver better time; generally, they are considered a symbol of watchmaking virtuosity. But at least a tourbillon bestows undeniable marketing value, according to Hyla Bauer, the editor of Watch Journal.

“It is the ultimate complication for achieving accuracy in mechanical timekeeping,” Ms. Bauer said, “and many collectors who are obsessed with accuracy are willing, and indeed expect, to pay a handsome premium for this slight improvement in accuracy. In this case, seconds do count.”

Even marginal gains would hardly seem to represent bang for the buck in an era when you can summon atomic-clock accuracy with an iPhone app.

But as with any precious commodity, scarcity adds to the allure. Tourbillons are extremely difficult to engineer and manufacture, said Jack Forster, the managing editor of Hodinkee, meaning they have always been rare. “Before the late 1990s,” he said, “there were probably only a few hundred made since their inventor patented the idea in 1801.”

The talismanic appeal of the tourbillon is evident at the NoLIta offices of Hodinkee, where 3D-printed models of tourbillons are displayed with reverence, as if they are original Giacomettis.

No wonder. To the horologically minded, who fetishize engineering for engineering’s sake, the tourbillon is a form of kinetic art.

As Ms. Bauer said: “They are constantly in motion and are an endless source of visual stimulation. They are mesmerizing to watch, bordering on hypnotizing.”

Even so, the idea of spending a year’s apartment rent for a mechanism of negligible practical value and almost zero cachet to the general public (unlike, say, a Bentley, or even a Giacometti) would seem to defy logic.

And it does, said Adam Craniotes, the founder of RedBar Group, an international network of watch lovers. That is the point.

“If we accept that a mechanical watch is obsolete technology, which it is,” Mr. Craniotes said, “then an intricate escapement designed to address a problem that existed on an even more obsolete example of the genre, the pocket watch, is quite possibly the best way that we, as collectors, can telegraph to ourselves and others the permanence of watchmaking as a craft, particularly in the face of cheap, mass-produced and ultimately disposable tech.”

The tourbillon, he said, “is a testament to our ability to celebrate, and indeed cherish, obsolescence as art.”

By ALEX WILLIAMS

Source New York Times

Oscars’ Best Dressed Men? Common, Eddie Redmayne and Jacob Tremblay

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According to the tacit protocols of gala dressing, women, and not men, are meant to shine. Thus — whether by instinct or because that is what their Svengali stylists taught them — the best-dressed men at the 88th annual Academy Awards ceremony evinced faith in the simplicity of proper evening clothes, with the result that this was among the most stylish Oscars ceremonies in recent years.

Asked on the red carpet if he was going to any of the post-Oscars parties, Liev Schreiber said, “I’m so exhausted from tying my own bow tie, I’m not sure we’ll make it out,” underscoring an unvarying truth about the tuxedo and all that goes with it: Guys fear and despise the thing.

That is a pity because, as a uniform for formal dressing, it is hard to improve on a centuries-old formula constituted of four essential elements. While women confront a daunting array of choices when embarking on such an evening, men have it easy.

Imagine having to worry about whether to bare one’s shoulders or arms or back, or submit to torso waxing in order to allow for diamond peekaboo abdominal cutouts or décolletage. Think about how much can be concealed by a garment that leaves only head and hands unconcealed. Even the Spanx worn by a surprising number of men are easy to hide beneath a suit.

By GUY TREBAY

Source New York Times