Starbucks Moonshine

Livejournal has the best community blogs. I frequently read baristas even though it’s often full of petty grievances, tean angst and other Livejournal-flavored posts. But some are absolute gems. Like this story of an old lady who asked baristas to give her empty syrup bottles. After a month of getting the empties, someone curious asked her about how she was using them. Her response too honest for her own good, as she got no more bottles. It turned out that she was giving the bottles to her daughter for bottling moonshine.

Trump Brand – Down The Toilet

Donald Trump really takes care of the details. The man and the brand – they are inseparable. Here’s what he’s writing in his blog:

“If I were to put “Trump” on everything that came my way – from potato chips to paper clips – the power of my name would be diluted. I’m very demanding and selective about where that name goes. And I always try to make sure the letters are in gold.

I was at the Trump Tower recently – I came in to use the bathroom, as he keeps one of the cleanest public bathrooms in the city (I wrote about it in Crouching Tourist, Hidden Bathroom). I felt kind of guilty about mooching of the Donald, so I decided to buy one of the mugs (sold in a little stand near the bathrooms).

Upon examining it at home, I realized that my dreams of drinking latte out of a snazzy mug with Trump’s “family crest” were shattered. Here’s what I found at the bottom:

By the way, if I were Trump, I would kick out Starbucks out of the Tower and invite Joe The Art of Coffee.

Web 1.0

I am not suffering from writer’s block. Oh no. I have many, many, many things I want to write about. There’s a couple of dozen back-burnered posts in my Writely account, many with photos already uploaded. It’s just that I’ve been busy…

I was chatting with Joe Grossberg recently, an he said that my excuses are so Web 1.0. What do I have to say to that?

In other news: the steady supply of links, which it seems to mostly be an aftershock of the BoingBoing link to my Starbucks Mermaid post, has lifted deadprogrammer.com pagerank to 6. I wonder if all of my hotlinked and uncredited images going to myspace.com count towards pagerank.

I’d like to thank you all for your past and future links, as well as submissions to digg, BoingBoing and other fine MLP sites.

I am probably going to disclose my secret (well, not so _particularly_ secret) identity on “about me” page. I am still hesitant, but I’ll probably do it anyway.

Also, my posting frequency will go up. I’ll try for at least 4 posts a week, maybe as many as 7. I’m workin’ on it.

The Real Estate Hogs and The Coin Counting Robot

Remember that The Simpsons episode where Starbucks swallows every store in Springfield mall?

“… Bart, while walking through the Springfield Mall, passing several Starbucks, goes into a store called “In and Out Piercing”.
Employee: Can I help you?
Bart: I’d like to get my ear pierced.
Employee: Well, better make it quick, kiddo. In five minutes this place is
becoming a Starbucks.
Bart gets his ear pierced, and has a diamond-shaped clear stone inserted into the new hole. As he leaves the store, it, like all of the other stores above and around it, is transformed into Starbucks.”

New York City was one of the last markets that Starbucks entered, mostly because of high real estate costs. But besides Starbucks, there are two types of businesses that swallow an enormous portion of commercial space in NYC: drugstores and banks. Whenever you see a sizable store for rent, it’s almost inevitable that it will become a drugstore or a bank.

The drugstore business is not particularly profitable, but one chain, Duane Reade, seems to be opening store after store. In my neighborhood there are two Duane Reades one block from each other, and several other equally lame pharmacies. There’s an interesting article called The Mystery of Duane Reade which among other things, addresses a question just as interesting as “Who is John Galt.” Unlike Galt, Duane Reade is not really a person. The crummy drugstore chain derives it’s name from the first store that was located on the corner of Duane St. and Reade St. in Manhattan.

Banks are even worse real estate hogs, and are popping up even faster than Duane Reade and Starbucks. There are two stores that went out of business recently in my neighborhood, and both are being replaced by banks. There’s a bank across the street from where I live, and one or two on almost every block. Yet there are no supermarkets bigger than a tiny little Pioneer in a 20 block radius.

The stiff competition is forcing banks to offer new services to attract customers. Commerce Bank, for instance, offers a service called “Penny Arcade.” They basically have change-counting Coinstar machines without the fee. All you have to do is get the receipt from the machine, and the cashier will exchange it for paper money.

During the last major cleaning fit that I had, I took my overflowing coin bowl and dumped it into a canvas bag. I weighted it on my Health-o-Meter physician’s scale which is exact to within 1/4 lb. The scale read 29 1/2 lb.

Here’s what 29 1/2 lb of coins in a Strand bag look like:

I dragged the heavy money bag to the bank, and proceeded to empty it out, handful by handful into the Coinstar machine. I had to suffer loud and annoying cartoon voice aimed at kids and overall felt like a dork, but I got rid of all the change and cashed in my printed receipt. As I was curious of the how exact the coin count was, I asked the cashier for a copy of the receipt. She had to do it by hand for some reason, but here it is:

To calculate how much this should theoretically weight, I need to do a little bit of math. A dollar coin weights in at 8.100g, quarter at 5.670 g, dime at 2.268 g, nickel at 5.000 g and penny at 2.500 g (according to the US Mint)

This gives us: 5 * 8.100g + 358 * 5.670 g + 987 * 2.268 g + 659 * 5.000 g + 1928 * 2.500 g = 12.423876 kg

12.423876 kg = 27.3899581 lb.

That’s about 2.1 lb difference from my original weight. The machine rejected a Chinese coin, two Boston subway tokens and a few coins with gunk on them. The bag probably weights at most 1/2 lb. So it seems that the coin-counting automaton cheated me out of a pound of coins. That’s about 9 bucks by my calculations.

[Update] I’m told that pre-1982 pennies weight 3.1 grams instead of 2.5, so my calculation is a bit off.

Of course, my experiment is far from exact. It depends on the number of factors, such as the possibility of my scale being not as precise as I think or the possibility that coins lose some weight after being in circulation. But somehow I highly suspect that the Coinstar machines are undercounting. Wall Street Journal journalist ran an experiment with a remeasured amount of money. I can’t find the original article, but this quote about $87.26 seems to be floating around a lot:

“For consistency, we began with equal piles of $87.26 worth of pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters that we had gotten from a local bank in coin envelopes.

Talk about a tough economy. The machines at both Commerce Bank and Coinstar gave us less back than we put in — Commerce Bank missed by a whopping $7.02, while Coinstar was off by 57 cents.”

Where is Eliot Spitzer when you need him?

Ad:


Health-O-Meter Physician’s Balance Beam Scale: a must have weapon in the battle of the bulge.

A “rogue” (read “somewhat sloppy, but very interesting”) economist tries to answer tough questions, such as: What do schoolteachers and Sumo wrestlers have in common? How is Ku Klux Klan like a group of real-estate agents? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? Where have all the criminals gone?

The Pigeon Washer

I ducked into the Hidden Starbucks to get a sandwich and a Venti Quad Iced Latte for lunch, then sat down outside on the parapet of the weird little plaza to eat. There were a few salariemen and women sitting on the curb, eating, drinking coffee and smoking. But once I got up to return to my cubicle, I noticed something very strange. See, there was this woman sitting on the parapet, and she had a blue plastic bucket with soapy water and a washcloth. In her hand she held a particularly gnarly sick pigeon. She was giving the pigeon a bath. Unless she’s washing the poor bird for food (hey, you never know), Nikola Tesla, who lived and worked close by would have approved.

The Taste of the Old New Coke

Let me start with one of my favorite quotes from The Matrix:

Tank: Here you go, buddy; “Breakfast of Champions.”
Mouse: If you close your eyes, it almost feels like you’re eating runny eggs.
Apoc: Yeah, or a bowl of snot.
Mouse: Do you know what it really reminds me of? Tasty Wheat. Did you ever eat Tasty Wheat?
Switch: No, but technically, neither did you.
Mouse: That’s exactly my point. Exactly. Because you have to wonder: how do the machines know what Tasty Wheat tasted like? Maybe they got it wrong. Maybe what I think Tasty Wheat tasted like actually tasted like oatmeal, or tuna fish. That makes you wonder about a lot of things. You take chicken, for example: maybe they couldn’t figure out what to make chicken taste like, which is why chicken tastes like everything.”

There are certain things that you should really taste at least once, but are usually hard to get a hold of to taste, like let’s say top quality caviar, or kobe beef, Peter Luger’s steaks . Other things, like oysters, haggis, Gray Papaya and Nathans hot dogs, high quality sashimi and other notable foods, that might be hard to obtain everywhere, but are still more or less affordable. There are whole lists of “things to try at least once” out there.

Then there’s a category of items that were eaten in the olden times, but are not considered acceptable food anymore: whale meat, horse meat and other intelligent and/or exotic animal meats. I’ve had whale steaks back in the day, whale meat was widely available in the Soviet Union, as well as horse sausage. Since I ate a lot of hot dogs , I am sure I had my share of cats, dogs and pigeons.

And of course, there are commercial drinks with formulations that are not made anymore. The first Coca Cola (the one with cocaine), Starbucks Tazo Blended Drinks, Incredibly and Sharkleberry Fin Kool-aid (as well as many other discontinued flavors.)

I was always especially interested in one soft drink that I never got a chance to taste: the “New Coke.” The myth-shrouded beverage seemed to be out of reach for me, until thanks to the twin wonders that are packrats and eBay, I got my own unopened can or genuine New Coke. That’s a reason for the new installment of Gastronomic Adventures, of course.

I chilled the $10+shipping can of soda and photographed it in all its glory. Look, just look at it!

I was expecting the can, that is at least 13 years old (in 1992 New Coke was renamed Coke II) to be completely devoid of carbonation. I was ready for a foul smell, discolored soda, etc. To my surprise, the carbonation was mostly normal and the coke smelled just fine.

I kind of knew what to expect — in theory New Coke has the same formulation as Diet Coke, except with sugar instead of aspartame, and should taste similarly to Diet Coke With Splenda. I knew that New Coke was supposed to be sweeter than Coca Cola Classic.

Of course, taste tests are a tricky thing. I am pretty sure I would have a lot of trouble telling Pepsi from Coke from Mexican Coke (the one in glass bottles and sweetened with cane sugar) from Diet Coke (if it’s with ice).

In any case, decade old New Coke _did_ taste a bit like Diet Coke With Splenda. It was not as sweet as I expected, and had that weird little aftertaste that I always associated with the Splenda Coke. I think in Diet Coke it’s masked by the aspartame and in Classic by higher acidity.

I seem to have not suffered any stomach upset or anything of that matter. Upsettingly I did not acquire any noticeable superpowers, except the ability to say that I’ve tasted the New Coke.

P.S. Does anybody know how to obtain some surströmming online or in New York?

P.P.S. I Know about hufu. I think it’s a hoax.

The Naked Barrista

I haven’t written about one of my very expensive but ultimately rewarding hobbies for a while, so I will try to correct this. You see, I like espresso and espresso based drinks. One of these days I’ll write a long post about everything that I ever learned about making them, but for now, here’s a short progress report.

There are hundreds of cooking shows these days. Even the British, famous for their indigestible cuisine, field two awesome shows: The Naked Chef and Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. All of a sudden, London is referred to “City of Chefs.” In any case, I am sure that both Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay prepare very tasty meals in their restaurants. But I am also pretty sure that if you order an espresso or a cappuccino there, you’ll get the undrinkable crud. Jamie Oliver, for instance has a FrancisFrancis! – a beautifully designed, but highly mediocre espresso machine in his home kitchen. Would one show about coffee and coffee training for celebrity chefs and their restaurant staff be too much to ask for?

As my financial means increased, I’ve progressed through a series of espresso machines. For a year or so I’ve been a proud owner of a Reneka Techno. It’s a common choice amongst espresso enthusiasts who always wanted a La Marzocco machine, but finally gave up, as new ones cost too much (around 6K) and used ones are hard to come by and troublesome. The scarcity of used La Marzocco machines is a mystery to me – Starbucks replaced almost all machines that it used to own with superautomatics of unknown to me make, reportedly forcing the closure of the US La Marzocco factory. Where did they all go?

Anyway, strange as it is, but a French company, not an Italian one is making a machine that mostly replicates a La Marzocco for home users. So, what separates this machine from hundreds of competing espresso makers?

Well, for starters it uses a rotary pump instead of the most common vibratory one. Rotary pumps give a steady pressure, unlike vibratory ones that provide the same pressure in a series of very rapid pulses. This is similar to analogue vs. digital sound, and just slightly less controversial, as the results are easier to compare. For the record, I like analog sound better too.

The second highly desirable feature is the separate high powered steam/water boilers. Add to that a digital temperature control circuit tunable to 1F and you got yourself a great machine. With this little bit of digital trickery you get in-boiler temperature stability that the bigger machines get through great size and painstaking adjustment. The temperature stability at the group (the coffee holder) is another question altogether, but it’s not bad there too.

Of course, to get all that you have to suffer some difficulties – like having a 220V outlet installed. This is not too difficult – you just need to have access to two 120V lines on a different phase and have your electrician put in a special circuit breaker. You also need a direct water connection, as rotary pump machines don’t have water tanks and need to take in water at water line pressure. This is not too difficult as well – you need to have your plumber to lead a flexible copper water line from the sink. If you install the machine near the sink, you can also tie the coffee machine’s drain into the sink drain. I am not as lucky – my machine drains into a big vase.

Here is my Reneka Techno with the side cover removed. You can see the pump as well as the badly placed pressure gauge. Pressure is adjustable, mine is set at about Schomer-recommended 8.5 bar.

A new trend in espresso shot-pulling is the so-called naked portafilters. Techno came with an extra portafilter, which I had modified at Home-Espresso.com for only $25. The idea is that you get to see the cream formation and flow of espresso though the filter bottom, noting the evenness of extraction. Also, crema touches fewer surfaces, ending up mostly in the cup.

I’ve ordered some coffee from Victorola, this is a shot of their Streamline Espresso. The crema looks a little light, but espresso did not taste sour at all. Is that the mysterious “tiger flecking“? I don’t know. In any case, this was a trial shot, I’ll keep playing with my new toy and new coffees from Victorola.

I am sad to announce my continuing suckage at the fine craft of latte art. Look and laugh at this misshapen rosetta. Ewww. Well, practice makes perfect.


Ad:
Serious espresso making requires serious reading. David Shomer’s book is a classic that must be read by every aspiring barrista. Espresso Coffee : The Science of Quality by Rinantonio Viani, Andrea Illy (yes, that Illy) is a sophisticated scientific and scholarly work about espresso. It’s expensive at seventy something dollars. But when you spend that much on coffee machines, coffee accessories and coffee, what’s 70-80 bucks more for a good book?

Matcha doing?

I’ve been to Joe’s today and had one of their iced lattes. And then another one. It’s so nice to finally have a high quality alternative to Starbucks in Manhattan. I really, really hope they take off. I mean think about it — every espresso drink they make is light-years ahead of the same Starbucks drink. You can taste burnt beans and probably ass in Starbucks iced lattes, the Joe’s version is smooth and almost chocolaty, and tastes like the coffee smell (that’s the best way I can describe it).

I told Jonathan, the owner of Joe’s about Matcha teaa long while back, but he totally blew me off. I even offered to come over and make some for him. Anyway, *$’s is pushing Matcha based drinks and having some success with them. Why wouldn’t they – Matcha to tea is what espresso is to coffee. Maybe now he’ll consider it, and do it right for a change. Matcha should be enjoyed whipped in a bowl with water, although mixing it with milk, and even spreading it on a toast with butter is acceptable to me at least.

I guess I should stock up on Matcha though – Starbucks purchasing might raise the prices a lot. Somehow I doubt that they buy the good stuff from Kyoto. Maybe they figured out a way to get it someplace cheaper — at a couple of bucks a gram I don’t think high quality “thick” Matcha is attractive to them.

Logology

Listen, people. Let me do a little follow up, and then I’ll shut up about Starbucks and logos for a little while. Honest.

Firstly, earlier I wrote an article about the progression of the NASA logo – the Meatball, the Worm and the Vector.

Secondly, MTA logo is nicknamed the “Pacman” because it looks like the 25 year old video game character. Waka-waka-waka, watch out for the ghosts.

Thirdly, I wrote about the Roslyn Bank, the Blibbet and Starbucks logos too. All I can add to that are these two fine logos of the Microsoft products of the day gone by:

Funny enough this Microsoft product allows to bring Microsoft BOB back to life. Melinda Getes’ legacy endures beyound Clippy!

Fourthly, Amazon is selling this:

Incredibly, they also have Women of Wal-Mart and Women of Enron.

On My Way To The Subway

The Joel writes:
“New York is the kind of place where ten things happen to you every day on the way to the subway that would have qualified as interesting dinner conversation in Bloomington, Indiana, and you don’t pay them any notice.”

The same exact day I realized just how true that is. Let’s take my illustrated walk to the subway that is pretty typical of what I do to clear my head :

As I was taking this picture of people backlit by a sunset, a was shoved with a great deal of force. From the following stream of obscenity I understood that I inadvertently pushed (or more likely just simply got in the way of) an “apology enforcer”, and the shove that I got was my punishment for not apologizing.

Apology enforcers are this tiny subset of New Yorkers who will berate you for any tiny little bump that you might give them in the most crowded streets, subway cars and platforms. They will demand an apology even if you didn’t feel the bump yourself or even if they bumped into you. The crazier ones will return the bump back, taking it almost to the level of assault and curse you in the process. The only way to deal with them is to apologize and not try to argue your case. This does not always work, as the craziest of them will follow you, delivering an obscenity laced sermon on the importance of saying “excuse me” and “sorry”. Try to get away as quick as possible from them.

Walking down 8th I came into a White Castle to buy a diet soda. I prefer fountain soda to canned stuff. Most of the patrons took some time to study two wanted posters documenting the great White Castle rug capers of ’05.

The guy on the right kind of looks like Monzy a little bit (it’s not him though).

These thefts reminded me of all the stuff (including a webcam) that was stolen from DNA Lounge over the years. This also reminded me that the best way for hotels to stop towel theft is to use non-logoed towels. Stealing stuff without logos is just not as fun.

A little further down 8th I saw an elderly guy sitting on the stairs leading down to the subway. The guy was breathing heavily and holding his chest. “I really, really hope so” is not a good answer to the standard “Are you Ok?” from a gray haired gentleman, with a forehead overflowing with sweat on a cool summer evening, staggering to get up and sitting down again and strangely not emitting any alcohol vapors. I called 911, described the situation to the dispatcher and waited for a “radio car” to show up (it took about two minutes). The cops talked to the old dude, who happened to be a tourist from one of the Carolinas, and quickly called him a “bus“.

Meanwhile, I noticed another thing about NYPD uniforms – there is a little bar over the pocket that indicates in Roman numerals the previous round anniversary of the cop’s service. The guy responding to my call was a 10+ year veteran, the other cop was a rookie.

When I made it to West 4th the old school clock on the top of a building was showing time in those alien characters from Predator.

My good deed for the day done, I walked further. Guess what – there are fireflies on lawns in Manhattan too.

I reached 34th street and once again stopped to appreciate “Radiant Site” – and art piece by Michele Oka Doner. I like it, the hand made gold tiles are all different and look very good. But then again, I can’t stop myself from thinking that this is not really art, but something that any contractor with a good tile supplier could accomplish.

Down on the platform instead of a regular train I was met by the cool Mantis crane car.

P.S. Dang, that Starbucks logo is everywhere. It’s in two photos in this post.