Green Fairy at 20,000 Feet


So let me get this straight, TSA. Bringing a bottle of shampoo or a pair of nail clippers on the plane is a threat to national security, but letting passengers guzzle absinthe is A-OK? Priorities, people! (Meaning let’s allow both, not let’s ban absinthe.)

According to BoingBoing, Virgin America is going to start serving absinthe on its flights. I’m all in favor of improving the spirit selection on airplanes, but there’s some bad news here too: The absinthe they’re serving is Le Tourment Vert and it’s absolutely terrible. I don’t like to trash liquor brands on this blog, but absinthe is a new spirit in the US with a lot of buzz around it, so first impressions count for a lot. Le Tourment Vert is a slickly (and sometimes clumsily) marketed product with a sexy bottle and a high price tag; it’s also full of artificial coloring and tastes like mouthwash. People whose first taste of absinthe comes from Virgin America may be turned off of the spirit forever, missing out on some truly artisan spirits. If you’re flying Virgin, don’t waste your time.

Now if only some airline would feature Aviation Gin. That’s an obvious tie-in and a worthy product to feature.

Night with the Green Fairy


Twitter tools, pt. 2: Enemy of the good

When I first got into Twitter I entertained the idea of limiting myself to following just 100 people. This seemed like a feasible idea at the time, but now that I’m following 196 people I realize how ridiculous it was. I have no desire to cut the number of people I follow in half, but I’ve also reached the point where the volume of Twitter activity is getting a little unmanageable. Unfortunately I haven’t found any tools to make this better.

Take the problem of Twitter/Facebook interaction. Twitter posts and Facebook status updates serve similar purposes but aren’t exactly the same; responses to Tweets take the form of another Tweet rather than a comment, so the output can be overwhelming for Facebook users if the two accounts are integrated so that all Tweets become Facebook updates. The perfect solution to this problem is to designate which Tweets get sent to Facebook. Selective Twitter Status is an app that only passes on Tweets that include a “#fb” hashtag. That solves the problem for Facebook, but takes up precious characters in Twitter and pollutes the service with a meaningless tag.

A better solution would be to filter out any @replies. As a general rule on Twitter, any post starting with @somebody is directed primarily to that person and not particularly useful for Facebook users. Filtering @replies is an imperfect solution; some @replies are valued on Facebook and some non-@replies are worthless. However, this simple filter would take care of most of the problem and would require no effort from users. I’m amazed that, to my knowledge, an app that does this doesn’t exist. It’s a case of the perfect being the enemy of the good.

The same is true for handling the volume of Tweets from one’s contacts. I spent a couple hours this afternoon playing with Tweetdeck and Seesmic, two desktop apps using the Twitter API. They both allow users to separate their Twitter feeds into groups. For example, I could have an A-List for people whose updates I want to be sure not to miss and separate lists for cocktail, coffee, politics, and Portland people. I can see how this would be useful. The downside is that running these apps requires leaving my web browser for the Adobe Air environment, a tool from a company not exactly known for its trim computing resource demands. And worse than that, the apps haven’t worked all that well for me: Tweetdeck fails to include all of my contacts and the user interface for Seesmic is extremely unintuitive.

A simpler approach would be to offer people binary levels of contacts on Twitter: One A-List they never want to miss and a larger stream they follow only as time allows. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s an easy solution. It could be implemented completely within a browser if Twitter decided to make this happen. Yet as far as I know, this option doesn’t exist anywhere.

Programs like Tweetdeck and Seesmic are still young and might eventually take Twitter to the next level. I hope they do. Until then I’d really like to see some simpler, imperfect solutions to the problems Twitter’s rapid growth has caused. Since those don’t seem to exist, I’m stuck missing updates from people I’d like to follow and spamming Facebook friends with incomprehensible Twitter updates. I don’t seem to be alone in this.

Update: Barzelay notes that the Facebook Twitter appears to now filter out @-replies, a welcome and recent development.


Twitter tools

As in tools for using Twitter, not tools on Twitter (though there are plenty of those!). I may review a few this week. The first one’s easy, useful, and unlike some of the other ones, actually works.

The site is Backtweets. Search for a URL and Backtweets shows you who has linked to it on Twitter, including links that use URL shorterners. It’s a great tool for tracking commentary about your blog.

I’m currently testing out a few Twitter apps that are a lot more complicated and running into some problems. If I get them working I may post about them tomorrow.


Greening the green giant

Starbucks’ new “Global Responsibility Report” is now online. It’s an interesting example of corporate transparency (or greenwashing depending on your level of skepticism) and provides some insight into how difficult it is for a company that size to go green, even when it wants to. Encouraging recycling, for example, isn’t as simple as just putting out proper bins:

The world of garbage and recycling is complicated. We’d like the solution to be as simple as putting recycling bins in all of our stores. Unfortunately, residential garbage collection and recycling is usually controlled by city or county governments who either manage it directly or contract it out to private haulers. These local authorities can provide subsidies and sometimes mandate whether or not the haulers have to collect paper, glass, plastics or compostable waste.

For commercial recycling (such as at a Starbucks store), the items that get collected are almost always driven by the open market. This means that if the haulers can get a good price for recyclable materials (cardboard, glass, plastic, food-contaminated paper products), they’ll collect it from local businesses. But if they can’t get a good price – or when there’s not a critical mass of materials to collect – they may not collect them because there’s no financial benefit for them.

One other significant challenge is the fact that half of our stores are located in leased spaces where we don’t control waste collection and recycling. Our landlords often determine whether tenants can recycle based on space availability and commercial recycling services.

Paper cups are another difficult problem. According to the report, they make up half the paper the company buys in a year. An easy change is encouraging stores to return to using ceramic mugs for in-store drinks, which would be nice regardless of the environmental impact. A harder change is making the cups themselves more environmentally friendly. Starbucks deserves from being a pioneer here, putting a lot of effort into innovation to get cups with recycled paper content approved by the FDA. From an old Marketplace story:

So Starbucks asked its suppliers to take up a new crusade: Get the FDA’s approval for a beverage cup that contained recycled paper, not just on the outside, but the inside as well.

GEORGE MATTHEWS: We worked on this for about four years.

George Matthews is executive VP at Mississippi River Corporation, one of Starbucks’ suppliers. His pulp company had to prove to the FDA it was safe to drink from a recycled-content cup. That meant eliminating any potentially harmful substances from the high-grade office paper in recycled pulp.

MATTHEWS: The new regulations that the FDA had come out with required testing to be done to really infinitesimal limits. So we not only had to test to those limits but in many cases had to develop the test protocol itself, because it hadn’t been done before.

The FDA finally approved. Starbucks is now selling coffee in paper cups with 10 percent post-consumer fiber.

The cups themselves are often not recyclable though because of their plastic liners. According to the report, that’s the next technological hurdle SBUX is trying to overcome.

A technological advance I’d like to see? Not using a stupid Flash webpage that I can’t link to directly. So if you’d like to customize your own report, go here and start from scratch.

[Via Starbucks Gossip and Coffee City.]

Cups and councils


Links for 4/27/09

Webb puts drug legalization on the table

The Economist argues against optimism, for active central bankers

Why is American health care so expensive? Because it’s already socialized

Twitter, ballpoint pens, what’s the difference?

Behavioral economists tackle climate change

Hawaii’s other coffee regions

Indiana smoking ban defeated

VT may ban smoking in cigar shops

DC’s Gibson gets outdoor seating and *gasp* blenders


Let no link go unclicked upon

I just noticed on my WordPress dashboard that I had a draft saved as Links for 4/17/09. I don’t know what happened here, but somehow last Friday’s links never published and not all of the links saved (user error, no doubt). No point letting these go to waste though, so here’s some bonus linkage for you. I’m really curious to know how the party in the last link is going to go.

A nation of subsidies

The case against the FDA tobacco bill

Why local government isn’t always better government

SBUX retrenches, seeks new markets

“i am looking for a few clowns to roam around my party and make people feel uncomfortable”


DC’s anti-bar bias

Washington, DC blog 14th and You has a great post up today about consistent anti-alcohol bias in the city’s local government, this time directed against a popular U St. bar by politicians not even representing that neighborhood:

Thanks to a recent article in the Dupont Current, we learned of Saint-Ex owner John Snellgrove’s attempt to convert the liquor license of his business from a restaurant-class license to a tavern. The reason, according to Snellgrove, is that “keeping a chef on premises until two hours before closing time [as necessitated by the restaurant-class liquor law] makes no financial sense.” So he’s seeking to convert Saint-Ex’s license to that of a “tavern” which would significantly loosen the restrictions on the hours of food service. […]

… never mind that Saint-Ex doesn’t even reside within [Dupont Circle ANC Commissioner Ramon] Estrada’s ANC — he led the charge for a unanimous vote (with one abstention) by the Dupont ANC to protest them anyway. And yet, the most absurd statement made by Estrada must be this:

“On its face, I cannot accept that you can’t keep your kitchen open until two hours before closing.” To which I say: On its face, I cannot accept advice on running a food-serving establishment from someone who never has.

Go read the whole thing for more frustration with regulators who are standing in the way of a business that’s helped revitalize the U St. corridor.

[Thanks to Kyle for the link!]


Decent exposure

This is why Penn and Teller are quite possibly the best magicians working today:

It’s a fine line between exposure of methods that cheapens the art and exposure that increases the audience’s appreciation for it. Penn and Teller are masters of walking that line, revealing just enough of the work to show how much thought, practice, and attention to detail can go into the simplest acts of sleight of hand.

The video is from this fascinating Wired article about magicians’ contributions to neuroscience, which includes a simple yet devious secret to picking people’s pockets.

[Via TMN.]


Links for 4/23/09

“The Florida legislature has become the greatest friend that Big Tobacco could ever ask for.”

Bringing choice to Alinea

Interview with Portland bartender Kevin Ludwig

Our irresponsible deficit spending

A magic show I’d like to see

Brand advantage of early entry

Think tanks and tea parties

Veterans stand up to smoking ban

Ain’t got no cigarette songs

NJ gets on sin tax bandwagon

One more reason print is dying

Ed is coming to Portland


Liberty on the Rocks comes to the Horse Brass

The constant political happy hours and events were a bit overwhelming when I lived in DC, but now that I’m on the West Coast I do miss the regular gatherings with smart, politically active people. Fortunately, a little bit of DC-style socializing is coming to Portland next week:

Liberty on the Rocks!

Life, liberty – property – and the pursuit of happiness. Meet others who are interested in the same.

Wed., April 29
Horse Brass Pub
4534 SE Belmont St.
Portland, Oregon
5:00 to 7:00 pm

This is a social gathering. No formal program, no speakers, no dues. We’re simply building a social network that began in Denver, and has taken hold in San Francisco, Washington, DC and elsewhere.

I know Kurt, the organizer, and of course the Horse Brass is one of my favorite bars in Portland. If I can get my bar shift covered on Wednesday I will definitely be there, and hopefully I’ll see you there too.