Dec 07

Delicious for Chanukah

Author NancyKay Shapiro was shopping in Balducci’s (a grocery store in Greenwich Village) a few days ago when she encountered something odd. It was a display of meat items with signs saying “Delicious for Chanukah.” That’s not unusual this time of year, but the meat items in question were hams.

I know, this sounds like an urban legend. But Shapiro has pictures. And despite what one commenter says, they are not Photoshopped; the Balducci’s website is currently offering an apology for the signs (which have since been changed to “Perfect for the Holidays!”).

UPDATE: As another of Shapiro’s commenters points out, it’s a good thing the sign didn’t say “Delicious for Ramadan”, or there would have been riots.
Source: Don Surber

Sep 10

Tessellate the cheese

Ruth brought this cartoon to my attention:

This reminded me of something from my own experience. When Bob and I were at university together, the main cafeteria at the student center had several serving lines, one of which specialized in Mexican fast food: tacos, burritos, chimichangas, and so forth. The food was pretty good, but the staff didn’t seem to understand burritos. They were folding the tortilla instead of rolling it, so the burritos came out square, which is just plain wrong.

Bob found this greatly annoying. The cafeteria had a suggestion box, so he wrote what was undoubtedly the most detailed suggestion they ever got: a page-long set of instructions on how to roll a burrito properly, complete with diagrams. (This was many years before either of us had any idea that Bob would end up pursuing a career in technical writing.) I don’t think the cafeteria’s burrito-rolling technique showed any improvement as a result, but at least Bob knew that he had done all he could to address the problem.

Since this story is all about Bob, you may wonder why I’m telling it instead of him. Actually, I suggested that he write a blog post about it, but he says he has no memory of the whole thing. Well, I was there, and it really happened, no matter what he says.

UPDATE: Ben points out this Consumerist post: Subway’s Incorrect Use Of Isosceles Cheese Actually A Vast Conspiracy

Feb 20

Wheel of Food

Want to go out for lunch, but can’t decide where? Let the Wheel of Food decide for you! (Or maybe it’s the Wheel of Lunch; the site uses both names in different places.) How does it work? Simple. Enter your ZIP code, then click Proceed. The Wheel is automatically populated with restaurants in your neighborhood and given an initial spin. When it stops, you have a randomly-chosen lunch location, complete with street address (and maybe even a rating from previous diners). If that location doesn’t appeal to you, just grab the Wheel and spin it again.
Source: CNET’s Buzz Out Loud podcast

Sep 02

Java joy

Coffee is good for you! According to a new study, it’s the best source of antioxidants — better than tea, fruits, or vegetables. And when journalist Aaron McKenna tested various methods of overclocking yourself, he found coffee to be the most effective.
In moderation, of course. Too much caffeine will be bad for you. You can even kill yourself with the stuff, if you drink huge amounts of it. Energy Fiend has a handy Death by Caffeine calculator that uses your body weight to determine how much of your favorite caffeinated beverage constitutes a semilethal dose (technically, the LD50). According to the calculator, it would take 56 cups of drip coffee (or 146 cans of Mountain Dew) to kill me.

Jun 06

Sinking the Sub Club

The Subway sandwich chain will phase out its Sub Club promotion during the next few months. (That’s the deal involving the card that you fill up with stamps and then redeem for a free sandwich.) Don’t get mad at Subway for this — they’ve been running the promotion for more than two decades. Blame the thieves and counterfeiters who have forced to Subway to pull the plug.

Mar 15

Coffee update

Monday, February 28, was our moving-in day at the new location in Research Triangle Park. There was plenty of coffee available that morning, because the management had provided coffee urns and trays of danishes to sustain us while we unpacked our stuff and put it away. But that was a one-time thing. On Tuesday morning I went looking for coffee and discovered the horrible truth: the new coffee clubs we were promised did not exist. Not yet, anyway. The only coffee in this building was inside vending machines.
I did my best not to panic. This has to be a temporary state of affairs, I told myself. Access to coffee is one of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. You can’t just cut off the coffee supply to office workers; they’ll scrawl revolutionary slogans on the whiteboards, set fire to the copiers, and eventually rise in open revolt. So I resolved to wait and see.
A week went by. By the following Monday, unrest had reached a level that management could no longer ignore. So an e-mail message was sent out to everyone in the building, announcing the location of the new coffee club facilities. I went immediately to that location with my mug in hand, and found that the message was somewhat premature. Yes, there was a coffee maker in that room. However, it had not even been completely removed from its packaging, and it was not connected to either water or electricity. With a shriek of frustration and rage, I slunk back to my office.
Today, two weeks after the move, I heard a rumor that the coffee club was finally operational. Initially, I was inclined to dismiss it. Then I saw that Brent Sienna had finally ended his coffee abstinence. Shortly after that, I read that a new version of Java has been released. Obviously someone was trying to tell me something.
Although I had seen no official announcement, I went to see if the coffee facilities were up and running. Lo and behold, they were. With trembling hands, I drew my first cup of workplace coffee since arriving in this building, added sweetener and creamer, and carried it back to my office. And it was good. I didn’t drink a triple espresso, so I wasn’t affected quite so dramatically as Brent was. But I wonder if it’s made me a bit hyper. Would I notice if my coherence or attention span were affected?
Dave Barry is famous for (among other things) pointing out that various phrases would make good names for rock bands. Well, lately, I’ve found myself doing something similar: I’ll sometimes look at a phrase and find myself thinking, “That would make a good name for a blog.” For example, wouldn’t “Not in the Face!” be a good blog name?
That particular thought came to me this morning as I was returning to my office from an errand that took me through a fire door to an adjoining building. I had to push it open, and I was careful to comply with the sign on the door that says OPEN SLOWLY, because if I were to fling it open quickly, I could hit someone in the face. On the return trip, I had to pull the door open, and I noticed an identical sign on that side of the door. Which makes sense, because if I were to yank the door open quickly, I might hit myself in the face. I’m sure that happened on a daily basis before the signs were posted.
Um . . . yeah. I’m definitely hyper.
UPDATE: What is it with the bizarre coffee-related coincidences? A few hours after I posted this entry, I got in my car and turned on my radio. The first thing I heard was a financial analyst discussing the stock price of Ciena, a company whose name sounds exactly like Brent Sienna’s surname. Oh, and I was sucking on a coffee-flavored hard candy at the moment this happened. Like I said, somebody is trying to tell me something.

Feb 24

Cold turkey

Tomorrow is moving day. The IBM site where I work in Raleigh is being closed, and everyone here is moving to the main site out at Research Triangle Park. Preparing for the move is no big deal for me; I’ve only been here for two years, so I haven’t accumulated very much stuff. And I have almost no paper files, just half a drawer full. I think I can fit everything I have, apart from my computer, into a single moving box. We’re getting all new office furniture at our new location, so we don’t have to move any of that stuff. This should be effortless.
But not painless. I’m currently going through caffeine withdrawal. Until now, we’ve had voluntary “coffee clubs” operating in all three buildings at this site. You can either pay by the cup or pay a flat monthly fee for unlimited coffee (which is what I did). But in preparation for the move, the existing coffee clubs have shut down. At first, this was a good thing; the coffee in my club has been free as the club used up its remaining stocks of coffee grounds, creamer, sweeteners, and other supplies.
About a week ago, the regular coffee ran out. There’s still some decaf left, but man cannot live on decaf alone. So now I’m stumbling through my day with an empty mug, trying to keep my eyes open. It’s rough. By a strange coincidence, comic strip character Brent Sienna (he’s the one drinking directly from the coffeepot) is going through the same thing.
We do have a coffee vending machine, but if I’m going to get my caffeine fix from a machine, I’ll just buy a Dr. Pepper or a Mountain Dew. Except that I can’t! The drink machines take dollar bills, but all I have is a five-dollar bill, which is useless! I’m going to have to go to the convenience store that’s diagonally across the intersection from here, which means going outside and waiting in the rain for the crossing signal to change. Twice. And then twice more on my way back! Aaarrgghh!!! Okay, gotta calm down. Deep breaths.
We start work at our new offices on Monday, at which point I’ll have access to coffee again. I’m not sure I’m going to make it.
UPDATE: Another strange coincidence. As I was standing on the street corner waiting to cross, a Toyota Sienna drove by right in front of me.
FURTHER UPDATE: About an hour after I posted this, the coffee maker on my floor was dismantled, packed up, and taken away. So now I can’t even have decaf any more. KHAAAN!!!

Jan 30


I have never seen the point of eating chicken wings. In fact, I’m not sure they actually qualify as food. Wings are more accurately described as breaded, seasoned, and deep-fried chicken bones with skin. Yes, there’s a little bit of meat on a wing, but it’s so minuscule and requires so much effort to ingest that it’s really not worthwhile. The increasing popularity of chicken wings is the result of a very successful marketing campaign on the part of the food service industry, which realized that you should never throw away your scraps if you can convince people to buy them. (That’s also the explanation for the breadsticks that pizza delivery places all sell now. Those used to be leftover dough that got thrown away, until some clever marketer realized that you could get people to pay for them.)
I don’t have any real problem with this; if some folks are willing to buy fried bones, that’s their own business. But now things are getting downright bizarre. Appliance maker Rival now offers the Wing-It, a deep-fryer whose only purpose is to enable you to make your own chicken wings. Why in God’s name would anyone want to do that? If you’re going to prepare your own chicken at home, would it not make more sense to buy the chicken parts that actually have meat on them? Why would you go out of your way to buy the most worthless part of the chicken and a special tool for cooking it? Someone please explain this to me.

Oct 12

Taco technology

In his latest Backfence column, James Lileks notes that Old El Paso has unveiled a new taco shell with a flat bottom, so that it stands up by itself while you fill it. Lileks has mixed feelings about this innovation. I do too, but for different reasons — it doesn’t seem necessary to me, because this particular problem is already solved by various sorts of taco holders or racks. But I might give the new shells a try.
As impressive as flat-bottomed taco shells are, I don’t think they are the most significant recent advance in taco technology. That honor belongs to Taco Bell‘s ingenious design for its Double Decker Taco, which addresses the fatal flaw of all conventional taco shells: they are brittle, and tend to fracture under stress. Frequently, the shell just cracks in two along the bottom, allowing the taco juice to drip down your shirt. Or (even worse) the shell shatters into multiple fragments, raining ground beef, shredded cheese, and lettuce all over you. The so-called “soft taco” (made with a flexible flour tortilla instead of a hard corn-tortilla shell) may have been intended as a solution to this problem, but I reject it out of hand. If I wanted my fillings wrapped in a flour tortilla, I would have ordered a burrito! No, a taco must have a hard shell, but it shouldn’t disintegrate when you bite it.
The Double Decker Taco solves the problem by using both kinds of tortillas. The corn-tortilla shell is enclosed in a flour tortilla, with a layer of refried beans in between. The shell gives the taco rigidity, while the flour tortilla holds the taco together and prevents leaks even if the shell cracks. Brilliant! It’s too bad there’s no Nobel Prize for fast food design; the taco engineer who achieved this breakthrough would certainly have won it.
While I’m on the subject of Taco Bell, I’ve been meaning to post a link to, a Web site dedicated to saving the Chili Cheese Burrito (formerly known as the Chilito) from extinction. Apparently, some Taco Bells have dropped it from their menus, so it can be hard to find. At you can sign a petition, order merchandise, or use the Chili Cheese Locator to find a Taco Bell near you that offers the CCB. (Lileks alludes to this site at the very end of his column, where he refers to himself as SavetheChilito.)

Oct 31

Get thee behind me, Mr. Goodbar

I’ve received e-mails from several imaginary readers asking why I didn’t say anything about getting some exercise, if I’m so concerned about losing weight. The answer is that I won’t have to go out of my way to do that. This first week of rehearsals is basically like choir practice, with the cast sitting in chairs and singing from sheet music. But I know what lies ahead. The schedule says that we’ll start working on the dance steps and blocking next week, and that’s as good an aerobic workout as you can ask for. Don’t worry, I’ll be getting plenty of exercise.
In fact, we took the first step toward that at tonight’s rehearsal. After a half hour or so of choir practice, Jane had us move the chairs back against the walls of the studio and start moving around while we sang. No dance steps yet, just walking in time to the music. But the idea is to get us used to singing while in motion — and to encourage us to put down the sheet music and start singing from memory. By opening night, we’ll have to be able to cope with pitch and tempo and words and dance steps and blocking and facial expressions, all at the same time. It got to be pretty overwhelming at times during last year’s rehearsals, but eventually everything started to fall into place.
This being Halloween, it wasn’t surprising that someone brought a bowl of miniature candy bars to the rehearsal and invited us all to help ourselves. I resisted temptation.