Friday, September 25, 2009

The Best Way to Recycle Packing Peanuts

Having recently moved from the West Coast and only just now completing my unpacking, it's been common to find my apartment as a mess of ripped-apart packing materials. Given the green guilt I feel triggered by stimuli as abstract as Moby, and my general quest to be more responsible about my own small stewardship of my community, it was hard to contemplate merely putting all this useful stuff out on the curb. Not moreover, but as an aside, it wasn't really convenient to do that either, since trash pickup is just once a week and leaving it out there any longer than a few of the late hours of Thursday night makes the neighborhood messy and I'm all about the appearance of high property value these days.

It occurred to me then that the very people who'd brought me this shit might still be interested in it. So I called the local UPS Store around the corner from my apartment and asked them how they felt about used cardboard boxes and packing peanuts.

They said they were thrilled about those things and would gratefully accept any leftovers I had to drop off. Done. After schlepping it all over, I quizzed the typically-hipster UPS clerk at the store about how many people do this very thing and he said 'a lot... we reuse it, it generally works out.'

And I've got say I see that. I got the convenience and the green self-image support I needed and UPS got packing perfectly usable packing materials gratis. So it also made me wonder why UPS isn't more active about promoting this virtuous readiness to accept and recycle used packing materials. It's clearly green and also convenient when you've got a lot of this material on your hands, plus writ large it isn't too hard to imagine this could do good things for UPS' bottom line.

And I supposed you could do the same at FedEx, or the US Postal Service, where I am not in product management or marketing, but maybe should be.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

John Phillips the Pervert Has Forever Ruined the Mamas and the Papas

The emerging John Phillips/Mackenzie Phillips incest story is really disturbing and it will be interesting to see what effect it has on the musical legacy of the Mamas & the Papas. For me its putting quite a damper on my enjoyment of the music. Suddenly, with the revelation that Papa was a deeply, disturbed pervert, there's a sinister subtext behind seemingly innocent songs like 'California Dreamin'.

Whatever coincidental ties they had to the fringes of the mid-'60s hippy movement (proximity to the Manson Family, for example) are much harder to ignore as aberrations in light of this story and its clear Phillips was never as naive as his music might have made him seem.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Duct-Taped Cat, Philly Grit and the Word on Street Cred

Look at the grit I wake up to in Philadelphia. How am I supposed to pretend I live in a civilized place when cute cats can't roam the streets without fear of hostile duct taping?

Many cities and areas lay claim to a birthright of street cred, as if by dint of being from Paramus you're endowed with gritty street-wisdom. This is declared by the applique of a clever nickname like 'The Dirty Jerze' or 'Strong Island' when referring to your native soil.

After three months in Philly, I'm here to level those claims as largely lacking in comparative grit and power. Particularly so when matched against anyone who truncates and appends their city as such: Nashville --> Nash Vegas. Good grief dude, look what I've got to deal with in Philly.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Introducing the $35 Six Pack

Now, to be clear, this is a world-class six pack and there aren't many single places on Planet Earth, let alone Philadelphia, where you could hand-pick six worldly cervezas this awesome without a passport. The Foodery is the one such place that I know of.

Here I have Belgian gnome-happy La Chouffe, Doghead Fish Brewery (and there truly bizarre Midas Touch), crazy wood-fairy brew from Amsterdam and something Norwegian called the Celebrator (so much friendlier than the German beers) plus some Peroni La Rossa which you can't see.

At the Foodery, my beer-drinking wonder was indulged and without realizing it I was traipsing giddily from freezer door to freezer door nabbing beers for my eco-friendly, recycled six-pack carton.

In the checkout line, where I pay attention to the commercial behavior of fellow patrons*, the girl in front of me had a Zima(!) and a pint of Haagen Dazs. Weird. Then I was on the spot and paid for my little trip around the world by crashing hard on the truth of my life in Philly and here you buy beer at blue, state-liquor-law prices which effectively means even your PBR is pricey. So, throw in transportation costs, pirate insurance and international tariffs on these imports and you have a six pack that checked in at $7 per bottle. Jeebus.

*This is ready-made fun for you fellow students of humanity's oddness. Sort of in the way of studying people in traffic who mistakenly believe they aren't plainly out in public, you get astonishingly honest confessions of truth, taste and weakness on display in the things people choose to buy. For example, at work the other day, I was behind a woman who checked-out with something she custom-made at the salad-bar and which I'm now referring to as the Ultimate Salad: hard-boiled egg crumbles, pepperoni slices, and shredded cheddar cheese. Amazing!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Google Fast Flip Just Blew My Mind

Two things of note here:

First, Google Fast Flip blows my mind as a way to browse current news as if flipping through a Magazine. It still links to the originating site for the full article, but it's fast, convenient and visually more stimulating than the original Google News interface.

Second, I took this screenshot in Google Chrome 3.0, which is only noteworthy because it is a 'currently selected window' screenshot (Alt + Print Screen) which was previously, and annoyingly, either extremely difficult or impossible in Chrome.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Remarkably Nice Thing Starbucks Did

I'm really excited about my new coffee maker, a Cuisinart DGB-600 Grind & Brew Therml 10-Cup Automatic, in 'brushed chrome,' which I received as a wedding gift over 2 years ago and have just now retrieved from my father-in-laws attic and deployed in my kitchen.

Next step was getting some coffee. So this morning I ran out to the nearby Starbucks and picked up 16 ounces of 'Shade Grown Mexico,' which only sounds like an exotic strain of marijuana. (Which 'coincidence' must have crossed the minds of Starbucks' marketers before it crossed mine. So you kind of think they're doing it on purpose, but hey... weird works sometimes.) As I pulled out my card to pay, the woman at the counter asked if I would like my free tall cup of coffee with that?

I'm not sure why, since a cup of coffee isn't really a huge freebie, but this really surprised me in a good way. Perhaps it's because I'm paying for my coffee at work these days. Anyway, I accepted the free cup of coffee, then tipped her a buck, thus negating the monetary advantage, and went on my merry way.

Sad it derailed my vision of my own carafe of home-brew, but that can wait in light of such remarkable marketing.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Cheer Up Oregon

0903 local BSU7
I couldn't resist this photo, courtesy of Idaho Statesman photographer Shawn Raecke, which depicts:
Ben Holland ... and Duckboy... who wouldn't give his real name... not enjoying the game as the Ducks lose to the Broncos 19-8 on Thursday night at Bronco Stadium.
The game was marred by general sloppiness of play by both teams, and extreme offensive frustration by Oregon at the hands of dominating BSU D, which, you probably know, culminated in LaGarrette Blount's show-stopping sore-loser-sucker-punch.

Sore feelings aside (what sore feelings? we won!), I hope for the sake of both Boise State and Oregon, that the ducks can put it back together again.

BSU will need Oregon to be a better team this weekend than they were last, and so on for the rest of the season (a win against USC and/or Pac 10 title would be ideal) if they are to realize grand hopes of a BCS bowl. Because, in order to over take BYU's gift of a win over Oklahoma, they're going to need this to look like a 'quality win,' and right now it (rightly or wrongly, TBD) doesn't quite have that luster.

I think you could say the same for BYU's win over OU, lacking luster that is, or at least being too soon to tell. The Sooners clear star and difference-maker, Sam Bradford, goes down and BYU squeaks out the 1 point win over a then lame and disabled team.

Somehow this is seen as a better win than BSU dominating a full-strength Oregon squad and now we're looking at BYU as our token 'non-AQS' team in the BCS this year. Why exactly? I don't think we have enough information to make that determination, but then BYU jumps like 11 spots in the polls and BSU is playing catch-up.

And once again it frustrates because Boise State might do everything right (should they go undefeated, again) and yet be reminded that they aren't the masters of their own destiny in this modern college football era of NCAA and BCS bureaucracy.

So screw the Cougs, and the Sooners (what jerks seem to choke when it matters most, 1-5 in last 6 bowl games) and Go Ducks Go!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Yelping in Philly

I wanted to write something today but didn't have any good ideas. A lot of the time, the blogging bit is inspired by something stupid or spontaneous that just somehow seems catchy. No such luck today, but still had the inkling to write, so I sat here for a while starting at this empy space and all I could think of at first was complaining about something. There's always plenty to complain about, Idaho wolf hunts, the economy, how disappointing I'm finding Obama's handling of the health care debate, but how productive is that?

So, I decided I'd point out how much I've gotten into Yelping recently, and I think I'm being creative there. Back in San Francisco, Yelp is taken for granted since it's a homegrown site everybody uses and the saturation level of reviews is high enough that most everything's got a gazillion reviews. As a result, I got used to making about 90% of my local consumer decisions using Google Maps and Yelp (and they're integrated of course) as my resources, but due to the abundance of opinions never felt like contributing my own.

Not so in Philadelphia. Here Yelp is still catching on comparatively. There's decent coverage, but not depth of reviews and you hear a lot of businesses don't know what it is (whereas they advertise their Yelp-savviness by sticker in San Francisco) so I'm finding a niche in promoting the technology and making it richer by bringing to bear my considerable, ahem, taste and opinions on the Philadelphia consumer market. So far I'm pretty bar and restaurant focused, as is a lot of the general blather online (evidenced by the surplus of banal Twitter and Facebook status updates about eating (who cares you're eating a sandwich)), but on Yelp at least it's solicited rather than forced upon.

But, to branch out and contribute usefully to the collective discourse in areas of life more fraught with import than the simple and regular filling of bellies, I've got reviews coming on a framing shop (results TBD), a barber (it takes a month to know how good a haircut is) and a home contractor (the first I've ever employed). I'll be thinking critically whenever I purchase a good or service and think the next guy might benefit should I pay it forward. Would this be a good forum for spreading the word amongst newcomers to Philly about the ugly necessity of automatic witholding of the dread Philadelphia Wage Tax and ensuring your employer's got your back there?

So I'm thinking big, but won't always blog about it, so I've embedded the Yelp map of my reviews on the right nav. I hope you'll follow.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Maggot Mistake

You learn something every day if you're careful enough to pay attention, and sometimes even if you're not the blunt force of an experience is enough to learn you anyway. In any case, the following is a bit of a long form apology to my sister-in-law, who suffered grave embarassment due to an act of goodwill on my part gone wrong.

Jill (The Special Lady) and I were until recently living with our in-laws waiting to close on the house, and during that time, after a decade or more calling my own shots, I slowly learned how to be a gracious long-term houseguest. It's small things that make a difference, chipping in for groceries, closing doors and turning out lights, putting stuff away, doing dishes, not pumping the AC out at 69 degrees.

Around a house with 3 children the ambient entropy creates a consistent list of chores and so it's nice to tackle a thing or two that slips through the cracks without expectation of praise or remuneration.

So, one Monday back in August we were really feeling generous and decided a civil thing would be to barbecue the five pounds of chicken Jill's sister had bought and hadn't gotten around to yet. We got home after work and opened the fridge to discover a full-blown funk odyssey underway. Raw chicken doesn't keep forever. No matter, I wrapped it in a plastic bag and took it out to the trash and we went out and bought more chicken.

Now, coming from San Francisco, where high taxes pay for niceties like twice-weekly trash pick-up and mild weather slows the decaying forces of archaea and insects, you can toss out 5 pounds of spoiled chicken and not think twice. In the Philly burbs, during the hottest week of August with once-weekly trash detail on Friday, this was a bad idea.

By Wednesday a new evil was in the air and accompanying that stink was a writhing maggot orgy that was even scaring off the supernaturally-ravenous Bala Cynwyd squirrel population (who had previously eaten squirrel-sized holes in the plastic lids of the garbage cans in their lust for human trash). At the same time as it was revolting, it was also kind of spectacular how life could respond with such abundance. I'm not officially-licensed in this kind of math, but if I had to guess I'd say there were 100,000 maggots in that trash can, easy, each one furiously wiggling like a grain of soft-cooked white rice on ecstacy.

The thought of a spray-bottle of bleach crossed my mind, as did gasoline and flame, but recalling how gross problems can unexpectedly snowball, I decided against introducing toxic chemicals or comustible fuel into the situation. Which made things a test of endurance to see how bad things could get before Friday.

Finally, on Friday, my poor sister-in-law had a run-in with the garbage men. She happened to be out on the drive way when they came, and had no option but to take their cold, judging stares as they removed our low-rent, little problem.

My excuse is that I was just trying to make a nice, home-cooked meal and take out the trash. But it was my mistake and that should have been me facing down those garbage men. Jo-Anne if you're reading, I apologize.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Most Wondeful Time of the Year

Geeze, I looked down for a smoke and a pancake and when I started paying attention again it was September. Here's an incomplete, annotated bullet-point list documenting my reasons for being really thrilled about this Fall:

-the end of East Coast-muggy hot weather
-Indian Summer
-looking good in my liberty-red capertons during the pending and glorious Fightin' Phils post-season run
-College Football in general
-Boise State Football, in particular, kicking off tonight against Oregon at 10:15 PM EST on ESPN, which means a lot of things, I'll be up late tonight, and I could be devastated or elated tomorrow morning based on the outcome, essentially being a single-game rite of passage for BSU's BCS aspirations.
-NFL Football in general
-Fantasty Football, in particular, my team 'Dickhead Banana' of the GFL led by Drew Brees.
-the return of my faithful sweater collection
-forgetting the compulsion to put lime wedges in my beers.
-chicken wings on the reg.
-Pearl Jam at the Spectrum on Halloween
-birthday parties: mine, my brother's, my nephew's, my niece's
-b-school lite at Wharton
-Thanksgiving Tropicalia in the DR