Bring on the PNS registry

While I’m once again going through the hassles of moving, this seems like a good time to link back to my post from the last time I moved about why we should make mail more like email. Switching postal addresses is a pain, but:

Contrast this with moving a website or email address to a new server. When I switch servers, I don’t have to notify everyone who emails me, reads my site, or links to my content that I’m moving. They use the address they’ve always used and the Domain Name System (DNS) automatically associates the domain name that people remember with the numerical IP address that computers use to communicate. I just have to tell one entity about the move (the DNS registry) and it takes care of the problem for everyone else.

It seems like computing technology is cheap enough now that our postal system should work the same way. Why should we have to remember cumbersome physical addresses and update all our contacts when we move? It would be a lot easier to simply use the equivalent of a domain name address and associate it in a database with a physical mailing location. Call it a Postal Name System (PNS). Everyone could have their own, easily memorized address to use for life. When people move, they just notify the PNS of the change and their postal name keeps functioning seamlessly, associating their postal address with their new physical location.

In other words, there’s no longer any reason why the physical locations where we live and work should have anything to do with the postal addresses people use to send us stuff.

Read the whole thing here. I’m always hesitant to think I know how a business should be run better than do the people with money on the line, but since the US Postal Service is a giant, government-protected monopoly I’m willing to make an exception this time. This seems like a workable idea.


Pry my pump from my cold, dead hands

Tom Bell’s newly posted song lyrics remind me of another pathetic fact about Oregon: you’re not allowed to pump your own gas there. The state requires gas stations to be full-service, like it or not. Imagine this Texas boy reduced to having someone pump his gas for him! I’ll cringe every time I fill up.

The purpose of the ban on self-service is to protect the outdated jobs of gas station attendants, but the legislature goes to hilarious lengths to justify it on public safety grounds. Among the reasons for enactment listed in the law:

(2) Appropriate safety standards often are unenforceable at retail self-service stations in other states because cashiers are often unable to maintain a clear view of and give undivided attention to the dispensing of Class 1 flammable liquids by customers;

(3) Higher liability insurance rates charged to retail self-service stations reflect the dangers posed to customers when they leave their vehicles to dispense Class 1 flammable liquids, such as the increased risk of crime and the increased risk of personal injury resulting from slipping on slick surfaces;

(4) The dangers of crime and slick surfaces described in subsection (3) of this section are enhanced because Oregon’s weather is uniquely adverse, causing wet pavement and reduced visibility;

(7) Exposure to toxic fumes represents a health hazard to customers dispensing Class 1 flammable liquids;

(9) The exposure to Class 1 flammable liquids through dispensing should, in general, be limited to as few individuals as possible, such as gasoline station owners and their employees or other trained and certified dispensers;

(10) The typical practice of charging significantly higher prices for full-service fuel dispensing in states where self-service is permitted at retail… Discriminates against customers with lower incomes, who are under greater economic pressure to subject themselves to the inconvenience and hazards of self-service;

(17) Small children left unattended when customers leave to make payment at retail self-service stations creates a dangerous situation.

Yikes, it’s a wonder I’ve survived to 26 engaging in such dangerous activity all these years.

Number 7 is especially worth noting. If operating a gas pump is truly that dangerous, why is the state requiring station attendants to assume the risk on behalf of drivers? If the Oregon legislature is going to ban smoking in bars and restaurants to protect workers, it should ban full-service gas stations too. Or better yet, it should free both kinds of businesses to set their own policies and let employees and customers decide if it’s worth dealing with them. Yeah, that’ll be the day…


MxMo New Orleans

Green devil

This week’s Mixology Monday was supposed to happen last week, the day after dozens of cocktail bloggers descended on New Orleans for a long weekend of drinking and socializing at Tales of the Cocktail. The idea was that we’d all write about one of favorite drinks from the weekend, or about a cocktail inspired by New Orleans. A great plan, except that by Monday the lot of us were traveling, recovering, or shaking in fear at the smell of alcohol. So our fearless leader and MxMo founder Paul Clarke pushed things back to today, giving us all a week to catch up.

My cocktail for the month is Stephen Beaumont’s Green Devil, from his seminar on “How to View Beer as an Ingredient Rather than as the Drink Unto Itself.” Since I love beer possibly even more than cocktails (as do most other Americans), this was one of my favorite events of the weekend. The Green Devil’s also an apt drink for this MxMo. It uses absinthe, a classic New Orleans cocktail ingredient. The star of the show is the Belgian ale Duvel, which would have been perfect for our original MxMo date of July 21, Belgian independence day. And most importantly, Duvel threw in a free glass, and I’m a sucker for glassware giveaways.

Anyway, time is short as I have a ton of packing to do, so let’s go straight to the ingredients:

rinse of absinthe
1 oz gin (Beaumont recommends Martin Miller’s)
1 bottle Duvel

Rinse your glass with the absinthe and add the gin. Pour in the Duvel, aiming for a big, foamy head. The absinthe adds a nice anise aroma, just don’t add too much. It’s big, it’s tasty, it’s good — perfect for when an 8.5% abv ale just isn’t strong enough on its own.

[Gallup link via Sullivan]


Spirited stigma

Now that I’m off employer-provided health insurance I’ve had to apply for individual coverage. The application understandably asks if I consume alcohol. Weirdly, it also asks what kind of alcohol: beer, wine, or liquor. I don’t know how to answer that. How many people who drink limit themselves to just one category? Oddly enough, as I was completing the application I was experimenting with a cocktail made with spirits and beer; even at that very moment I couldn’t answer the question accurately.

A more interesting question is why they were asking that. The health benefits of moderate wine consumption are well known, but they appear to accrue equally from consuming beer and liquor, and the application specifically notes the equivalence among 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, and 1 ounce of liquor. I suspect that the question might be a kind of profiling, reflecting an assumption that people who admit to predominately drinking liquor are more likely to have problems with excessive drinking. Statistically, this might be true, but it doesn’t apply in my case. So I answered beer on the form, given that I enjoy it about as often as I do harder spirits.

Is there some other reason for the question of which I’m unaware?


Is this a sign?

I’ve only recently started following Oregon news, so I didn’t realize until this weekend that a state-wide smoking ban goes into effect there starting January 1. The state’s less paternalist tendencies were one of the things attracting me there over Seattle, and while the OR ban doesn’t quite reach Seattle levels of stupidity, it’s still pretty bad. It does, at least, include exemptions for existing cigar bars and tobacco shops.

I don’t smoke often and while working I do prefer being in a non-smoking bar, but still, sensible smoking policies are one thing I’m going to miss about tobacco-friendly Virginia.

Smoking ban unfair, insulting
The magic of politics


Axe the smoking bans

One of the common complaints about smoking bans is that with the cigarettes gone there’s nothing to cover up the scents from the bar and other patrons. Axe Body Spray has taken advantage of this with a clever new website,

Axe hired Dr. Alan Hirsch of Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago — he has credentials and a white lab coat — to examine the smells in a popular Chicago bar compared to other environments. His findings? The odor concentration in the bar was better than in a pig slaughter house, but worse than an animal rescue shelter, men’s room, or industrial site. A coffee shop was the best smelling place. (Was it Intelligentsia?)

And that’s where Axe comes in:

When smoking is allowed inside bars, cigarette smoke acts as a mask to the underlying bad smells that reside. But smoke doesn’t just hide these smells, it actually kills and temporarily paralyzes your “olfactory apparatus” (ability to smell). As a result, you cannot detect your own odors, the odors of others in the bar, odors outside the bar or odors on your way home that evening.

After being surrounded by smoke in a bar all night, any girl who leaves with a guy would not detect his underlying body odor later that night – or, potentially, the next morning. Thus, guys – unfortunately – could get away with smelling bad, and girls are unable to recognize it.

Furthermore, regular smoking impairs your ability to smell. A girl who smokes heavily could be much less likely to even recognize that a guy smelled badly.

Why should all this matter to you? Because the elimination of smoke allowed guys’ underlying body odor to come out – both at the bar and after they leave. And to a prospective “hook-up” – no matter how you look, how much money you make or how interesting you are – if you smell bad, the girl’s attraction to you will plummet. That fact is not rocket (or scent) science!

I realize it’s pure marketing, but I’m amused enough to post it anyway.


Bartenders for McCain?

San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic Michael Bauer complains about Healthy San Francisco surcharges still appearing on restaurant checks:

I’m losing patience with the way restaurants are handling the “Healthy San Francisco” initiative.

I’ve been supportive of restaurants such as Delfina (which charges $1.25 a person) and Zuni (4 percent of the check) adding surcharges because these are well-established, moderately priced restaurants. This allowed those businesses to keep prices stable while educating customers about the added expenses. I figured it would last a few months, and once the public was familiar with what was going on, the surcharges would be removed and incorporated into the menu prices…

I’ve talked to some diners who are subtracting that percentage from the tip, kind of as a way to protest about being taxed and taxed again. Those same people wouldn’t mind if each dish cost a little more, negating the need for an additional charge, but they end up feeling cheated when the surcharge lands on the bill. Diners are becoming more vocal, too. Wednesday, in fact, Eater SF began to build a map that details restaurants implementing surcharges.

It’s gotten to the place that I can’t hold my tongue any longer. Enough with the surcharges. Here’s my proposal of how restaurants should handle the situation: Incorporate all these expenses into the menu prices. At the bottom of the menu, the restaurant could say something like: “Our prices include the cost of buying locally produced, sustainable ingredients and providing a living wage, sick leave and health insurance for all employees.”

While it may be unpleasant to be reminded that social policies really do cost money, transparency is a good thing. One of the reasons the scope of government has expanded so much in the past century is that it’s gotten very good at obscuring the tax burden (income tax withholding and the bogus “employer contribution” to Social Security being two of the most egregious examples). The Healthy San Francisco initiative, which requires many SF restaurants to provide health insurance for their staffs, dramatically increases labor costs. Diners should know that the extra dollars appearing on their bill are going towards paying politically mandated benefits, not sourcing better ingredients or taking extra care in the kitchen.

In addition to raising costs, the initiative prevents businesses from expanding because the amounts they must spend on health care are tied to their number of employees. The LA Times reports:

“We will always have 18 [employees] now,” vowed Anna Weinberg, a co-owner of South, a 50-seat restaurant featuring Australian cuisine that opened in October. Weinberg plans to open her next eatery on the Westside of Los Angeles.

San Francisco costs already are among the nation’s highest, experts say. “It costs me triple to hire a waiter than a New York City restaurant,” Scherotter said. Health insurance costs at his Palio D’Asti are doubling to $120,000 a year under the new program, he said…

Local establishments, they point out, already are paying a $9.36 hourly minimum wage, the nation’s second highest and 17% higher than in any other California city. They also are the only employers in the state required by law to grant paid sick days to all workers.

All of which raises the unasked question of why restaurants should be relied upon to cover their employees’ health insurance. Our current system arbitrarily allows employers to pay for health insurance tax-free, but if an individual buys his own insurance he gets no break. This has predictably led to a market dominated by employer-provided health insurance that often leaves restaurant workers out in the cold. Businesses can’t afford to provide coverage, or employees are only part-timers, or they change jobs frequently and go without between gigs. For all of these reasons, making it easier for individuals to buy their own insurance would be better for many service industry workers than tying them to employer-provided plans.

While I’m hesitant to enter the minefield of health care policy, and especially reluctant to be seen as endorsing John McCain (or any other candidate), one bright spot of a McCain presidency would be a more favorable tax policy for workers in the service industry. Fixing the disparity described above is a cornerstone of McCain’s health care plan. He advocates health insurance tax credits for individuals and families, allowing people to buy insurance across state lines to increase competition and decrease costs, and expanding the kinds of associations that can establish group plans. All of these ideas would bring concrete benefits to those of us in the service industry. (Details here. Note that this does leave problems for people with high premiums, a subject McCain will have to further address.)

Is that enough to make me excited about a McCain presidency? Hell no, and I’m not seriously advocating a “Bartenders for McCain” movement. But the change would be a significant consolation if he wins and gets it passed, and one that I doubt many of my friends in the industry are aware of. And if the plan works, San Francisco might finally be able to drop those pesky surcharges.


Grape and Bean in The Post

Grape and Bean, Big Bear, and Murky all get coverage in The Washington Post today in an article by Michaele Weissman, author of the new book God in a Cup. Weissman’s book covers the new wave specialty coffee industry from seed to cup, profiling the people at Counter Culture, Intelligentsia, Stumptown, and other roasters, along with baristas, farmers, and importers. Though perhaps too personal at times, it’s an interesting and sympathetic look at our sometimes weird and obsessive subculture. Definitely recommended.


The $10,000 pizza delivery

That New York calorie law that was supposed to only target big chain restaurants? It’s sweeping up some smaller businesses, too:

A few restaurants appeared to be caught completely off guard by the calorie rules, especially the homegrown fast-food chains that pepper New York City’s outer boroughs.

“This has been an absolute nightmare,” said Enrique Almela, director of operations at Singas Famous Pizza, which has 17 restaurants, most in the borough of Queens.

The menu rule only applies to restaurants that serve standardized portion sizes and have 15 or more locations nationwide, a distinction that was intended to target fast-food giants. But in practice, the low threshold has swept up little-known outfits like Singas Famous Pizza and other local franchises that have never done nutritional testing before.

Almela spoke with The Associated Press from his car Wednesday as he rushed sample pizzas to a food laboratory. He said the calorie tests for his 35 different pizza combinations will cost $10,000, and he doubts they will produce accurate data.

“I may put 15 pepperoni on a pie. Someone else may put 12. We don’t measure the amount of cheese we put on,” he said. “If you put up roundabout numbers, how does that help anyone?”

The deadline also looked problematic for a unique class of New York City eateries: loosely affiliated, largely immigrant-owned restaurants that share the same name and sometimes the same suppliers, but operate independently.

Afgan Paper & Food Products, which distributes food and packaging materials to many of the eateries, said it was scrambling to get them calorie info.

“The stores are all calling and asking for information. We don’t have it,” said Mariam Mashriqi, a receptionist at the company.

In the meantime, Mashriqi said, some owners were paying for the laboratory tests themselves.

“These are small stores. They are barely making a profit,” she said.

$10,000 out of a guy’s pocket just to tell customers with dubious precision that pizza isn’t health food. Nice job, New York.

[Via Hit and Run.]


No more Clovers

I’m sure it’s been official for a while now, but this is the first time I’ve seen it confirmed:

Starbucks is willing to share custody, however, of the 250 [Clover] machines already out there, plus maintain and repair them, but it won’t sell any more Clovers to independent cafés. The company has already pulled the plug on CloverNet, the online database that tracks sales, maintenance, and brewing preferences for Clover owners.

That’s unfortunate. Despite all the hype, the real beauty of the Clover wasn’t in how it brews coffee, but in how it could reliably bring out clean flavors and refocus attention on the beans: their origins, their roast profiles, the way they were processed, etc. Putting Starbucks beans into it isn’t going to make Starbucks coffee magically delicious. It’s a great tool that now won’t ever live up to its full potential.

The Clover rollout
The Evil Empire just bought Clover!


Dry at any cost

For New York Mag, writer and self-proclaimed heavy sweater Corrie Pikul tests out advanced anti-perspirant techniques. The black tea baths sound wonderfully pleasant but didn’t work. The $140 device that bathes your feet in an electric current sounds much less pleasant and also didn’t work. The anti-cholinergic pills are promising if you’re willing to risk “constipation, impotence, loss of taste, dizziness, [and] confusion.” The best solution? Botox injections to the armpit, twenty to each arm. Costs $750 and feels like being stung repeatedly by bees.

As a new friend taught me this weekend, the people in New Orleans figured out the best solution a long time ago. Walk slowly, stay on the shady side of the street, and stop every block or two for a cocktail. Sure beats getting stung by bees.