Think Globally, Drink Locally and Stop being such a Snob!

A little over a year ago a couple of really smart guys did a study about what goes into a bottle of wine’s carbon footprint. Turns out that the vineyard itself is actually carbon neutral and depending upon fertilizer choice and harvesting techniques can actually go negative (if you believed Ronald Reagan in the 80’s you aren’t going to get that point). The biggest contributors to the production of CO2 in the manufacture of a bottle of wine are the packaging and the shipping. So what have wineries and wine regions been doing to either a) minimize the CO2 being created or b) exploit this fact to ensure that their wines are seen as the “greener” choice by consumers? More important, what can we, as consumers, do to encourage green behavior and make greener choices?
Continue reading “Think Globally, Drink Locally and Stop being such a Snob!”

Verizon can’t multiply

I’ve had a few exasperating customer service myself (most notably trying to get my Xbox 360 repaired) but this guy’s dispute with Verizon really takes the cake. Before a trip to Canada (outside of his unlimited-data plan), he checked on the rate for browsing the Web on his phone over there. He was quoted .002 cents per kilobyte. So, if he downloaded 5 kilobytes, that would be .01 cents (.002 x 5 = .01, one one-hundredth of a penny). If he downloaded one hundred times that, 500 kilobytes, he would be charged 1 cent. In fact, he downloaded about 38,000 kilobyes, and expected to be charged about 76 cents.

Verizon charged him 76 dollars. The problem seems to be that no-one at Verizon is capable of basic arithmetic. Their billing system is clearly set up to charge 0.002 dollars per kilobyte (0.2 cents / kilobyte), but the support reps consistently quote 0.002 cents per kilobyte (.00002 dollars per kilobyte).

He recorded the support call complaining about the overcharge, and all 27 minutes of it is a hoot. The guy has the patience of a saint, even when two different reps agree that 1 dollar is different from 1 cent, and half a dollar is different from half a cent, but somehow .002 dollars and .002 cents is the same thing.

This is the product of the American educational system. At one point the supervisor even complains, “I’m not a mathematician!”, but you don’t need to be a mathematician to understand decimal points and multiplication. This is grade school arithmetic, people!

Big boys and our toys

I have had a few interesting customer service interactions over the past week that have made me reflect on the kind of consumer I am. The short answer: a really good one.

First, I would offer what should be called the “gay male couple” corollary to the “the bigger the boy, the bigger the toy” rule. Pretty much all guys love gadgety stuff, from mobile phones to outdoor gear to expensive consumer electronics. Gay men (if I may generalize) are no different–but a gay male couple has to be every marketers dream because there is no wife to raise the issue of what’s commonly called WAF, or “wife acceptance factor.” Don’t get me wrong–I know lots of gadget-lovin’ gals, but women seem to retain their senses in the presence of silicon in a way that most men can’t. There was little negotiation involved when David and I decided it was time to buy a plasma. “A 42-inch screen, honey? Why not 50?” (As it turns out, 50 was too big for the room as we were both bummed to learn.)

I recently found myself in the Portland Apple store, lovingly contemplating a brand new 15″ MacBookPro when my traveling companion helpfully pointed out how much I’d save on sales tax if I bought one in Oregon. So–going out of my way to be a good partner and looking for a check on my technolust– I texted David a message so short and cryptic that I wasn’t even sure he’d know what I was talking about. He responded within seconds– “Sure– go for it!” I’m glad I asked, but it confirmed my diagnosis that we are gadget junkies. (It’s not a tough call as I’m embarrassed to admit that we have three TVs, three game consoles, two Nintendo DSs and five computers in the house. Clearly we need help.)

Sadly, all was not good in Mac-land… the MacBookPro had some mysterious issues that got worse over time, eventually leading David to declare it “crap” and make my impulse purchase seem foolish. So I dragged it off to the Seattle Apple Store and a Genius Bar appointment. After a 20 minute wait and maybe 30 minutes of tinkering, the geek-in-residence found and fixed a problem relating to file permissions. I decided to spring for another 512KMB of RAM ($100, which is cheap if you have any kind of historical perspective on memory prices) and went home with a machine as screamingly fast as all the ads promised. (Oh, and a laptop bag–another long story I’ll get to later this week). I’m now so happy with it that I don’t even mind the hiccup… it’s like getting a new Mac twice!

Which is a nice segue to a story about something else we are going to have to get for a second time. In a similar WAF-less fashion, pretty much as soon as we saw the Bose Sound Docks for the iPod that came out last year, we wanted one. It didn’t take long for us to get one, either– we just rushed out and plunked down the embarrasing sum. But it sounds amazing and we love it. Especially that tiny little remote.

But just as boys love toys, so do dogs. So imagine our chagrin when we came home last night to a panicked note from the new housekeeper, next to a little plastic tub full of thoroughly chewed up plastic and circuit board. She thought it was an iPod, which would have been… bad. Luckily it was just that lovable little Sound Dock remote. But we both expected a replacement to cost at least $50– it would have fit my preconception of Bose as good but damn expensive. David was irritated at the dogs, the housekeeper and (inexplicably) me. “If it’s more than 30 bucks, forget it!” So I popped open that super-speedy new laptop and Googled for a moment. Image my suprise when I landed here and learned that it was only $9.98 with free shipping!

I’m not sure what all that means, other than that we are hopelessly spoiled. But I suspect that realization lies smack in the middle of the carnival of . If you’re spoiled and you know it, isn’t it the same thing as being thankful? Here’s hoping.

T-Mobile. It’s like Kafka, but with hold music.

I recently switched from my beloved BlackBerry to a shiny T-Mobile MDA. I’m impressed by the new device, but the process of dealing with T-mobile to make the switch was a total nightname.

I won’t go into the details of the initial transfer, which involved porting my cellphone number from one account to another, but let’s just say that I spent at least 4 hours on the phone with T-mobile reps trying to get the mess they created sorted out, and lost much of my hair in the process. But it all got sorted out in the end, and I thought I’d put it all behind me.

I’ve had the phone for about 6 weeks now, so I’ve just seen the first bill for a full month’s service. Beyond the basic minutes plan, theres a $30/month charge on top so that I can access the Internet (and thereby my email) from the MDA. I love the way it syncs with my work’s Exchange server, much sweeter than the Blackberry, but $30 is pretty steep just for email, which is why I got the MDA in the first place. Anyway, that 30 charge is broken up two line items, cryptically described as “Discounted HotSpot Unlimited” ($14.99) and “VPN Total Int Addon”. Now, I don’t use a VPN for email, and I don’t use T-Mobile hotspots, so I thought I’d check if I could make things cheaper by eliminating one or both of these services.

No dice on that front: after calling T-mobile customer service the first rep I spoke with informed me they were bundled together (the “T-Mobile Total Internet” plan), and they were needed if I was going to get email on my device. Oh well.

Then I thought, well, at least if I can also use Wi-Fi on my laptop in Starbucks thanks to my T-mobile Hotspot subscription, it might be worth it. Let’s just check with the rep if that’s possible. She passed me onto another rep. He said I needed to transfer my SIM card into an Airphone card in my laptop, which I dont have. I said this seemed rather impractical, so passed me onto a third person who didn’t know if what I wanted to do was possible either. Finally I got transferred onto a Hotspot rep, who might have known but wouldn’t tell me, because the name on the account in their records wasn’t what she expected. (The phone account is in Jay’s name because we share minutes, but the Hotspot people only know about me, because Jay doesn’t have the Hotspot feature.) I was about an hour into the call by this point, and gave up. When I told that 4th rep I was out of time and about to hang up she casually mentioned all I needed to use my laptop in Starbucks was my phone number and the last 4 digits of the account holder’s social security number! At last! I haven’t actually tried it yet, but at least it sounds plausible.

I’m just not sure it was worth 60 minutes of my life, let alone $30 a month, though.

An ode to duckfat

A few weeks ago, Matt and I took advantage of a gift certificate to Cafe Flora, a well-regarded vegetarian restaurant just down the street from our new place. The menu looked almost promising, but as I broke down each potential option to figure out what it might taste like, I kept thinking things like, “that would be good, if only it had some lamb in it,” or, “yum, except risotto without chicken stock? I’m not sure that’s going to be particularly tasty.” Which, yes, I realize defeats the purpose of eating in a vegetarian restaurant, but remember, we were eating there because it was free, not because a meatless dinner sounded appealing. (And to follow up, indeed, the risotto would have been much improved with the inclusion of chicken stock. Flavor is a fine, fine thing)

One of the items in our appetizer plate was a vegetarian pate, which, while tasty on certain levels, lacked the unctuousness and depth of real pate, and just left me sort of pining for a bit of good old duck liver fat. A yearning I could potentially find myself nursing for the rest of my natural life if certain people have their way. It’s not bad enough that California is due to outlaw foie gras production in six years, but Whole Foods is now trying to do in the foie producers even quicker by strong arming their duck supplier Grimaud Farms, also Sonoma Foie Gras’ processor, if they want to continue doing business with the grocery store.

That is so not playing fair. First of all, it’s completely disingenuous to make such a fuss about force feeding ducks as being cruel when the average American eats a chicken that’s spent it’s life with it’s beak ripped off, in a cage it can’t move around in, getting pumped with antibiotics because it’s upstairs neighbor has no choice but to poop on it day in, day out. Compared to the chickens in this country, future plates of foie gras live lives of luxury.

Second of all, if people don’t want to eat foie gras, fine. Don’t. But don’t tell me I can’t eat it either. I don’t tell you you can’t eat e. coli strewn ConAgra produced beef in your Big Mac, and again, it just as cruelly produced, and at least as unhealthy, without being nearly as tasty.

To quote Thomas Keller, a national culinary treasure:

“I hope I’m retired by 2012…If force-feeding a duck is cruel, then packing chickens in a cage is cruel, and then the veal and the beef. We are all going to be vegetarians soon if they have their way. We should probably start converting now.”

Never thought I would say this, but Whole Foods has officially lost this customer.

I love the Shark

Our friend Jay came to visit this weekend and when he heard me raving about my Shark he asked me to post (thus is the life of a new mom– a freaking vacuum is exciting stuff these days…). 

So here it is:  I have a Shark rechargable stick vacuum and I love it.  It is light, recharges quickly, and picks up everything from bits of banana on the kitchen floor to sand on tile to general dirt on carpet.  Very inexpensive at Target. 

My god, I went to one of the best law schools in the country and this is what I do with my days…but you know, who doesn’t have dirt?