"Finicky" means very hard to please. "Finick" means someone like me, who is very hard to please.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Now people can have natural-sounding unique artificial voices. WOW.

I heard a great Ted Talk on NPR yesterday.

You are probably familiar with artificial electronic voices, as used by Stephen Hawking and others.

It's weird to have two people conversing who both sound like the robotic Hawking.

Now it's possible to create natural-sounding _unique_ voices for people with CP or other severe speech disorders, based on a sample of even two syllables. AMAZING.

http://www.ted.com/talks/rupal_patel_synthetic_voices_as_unique_as_fingerprints

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

I hereby pledge to never watch the San Francisco 49ers play football again.

This announcement has nothing to do with outrage over Colin Kaepernick and the National Anthem.
In truth, I have never watched the 49ers play in the past, so I won't sacrifice much by not watching them in the future.
The last football game I watched was between Lehigh University and Lafayette College in the fall of 1964. It was boring, like every football game.
Like most sports, football is a silly substitute for warfare, and the human race is long overdue to evolve beyond it.
Team loyalty is a mystery to me.
Why the hell would someone who never attended college be a fan of Notre Dame or Florida State?
I moved from The Bronx to New Haven when I was in first grade. I was beaten up because I was presumed to be a fan of the Yankees, not the Red Sox. In truth, I had no interest in baseball.
If San Francisco "defeats" Los Angeles, are LA Rams fans expected to move north to show allegiance to their new masters?
Football is only slightly less boring than watching lettuce wilt.
Hockey and basketball have nearly non-stop action and are not boring. I enjoyed two basketball games and one hockey game in the 60s, but have not felt any compulsion to watch more.
I've watched three live baseball games in my life. The first two, when I was five years old, were boring torture. The third, when I was about 55, was interesting, but too long.
I'm impressed by some of the super-human feats shown in the Olympics, but I don't care which countries win the most medals.
Also, getting gold instead of silver because of a difference of a few hundredths of a second is silly.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

A superb book about arming America in WW2 provides valuable insights about current Detroit's racial strife.


One worker shouted out, “I’d rather see Hitler and Hirohito win than work beside a nigger on the assembly line!”
=======================================


It's a superb book (with too many details for casual reading) about how the American auto industry converted to the production of vehicles and equipment for WW2 -- everything from bombers to bullets.

One big surprise in the book: Edsel Ford, who provided the name for one of the most notorious failures in business, was not a bumbling idiot. He was actually competent and creative, but restrained by his dictatorial, unappreciative father--company founder Henry Ford.


For many reasons, the transition from making cars to instruments of war did not go smoothly.
Because so many men were fighting overseas, the factories sought non-traditional employees: women, southerners and blacks.
The prejudice was overwhelming. Blacks were denied promotions and there were frequent "hate strikes" over such issues as integrated lavatories. White women thought they'd catch venereal diseases if they used the same toilets as black women.
The racial hate of the 1940s is a sad precursor of 21st-century Detroit.
==========================================

>>In 1940, African Americans made up 4 percent of the workers in the automobile industry and only 0.2 percent of the workers in the aircraft industry. Roughly 70 percent of black automobile workers were employed in the metropolitan Detroit area and worked primarily for a handful companies: Ford, Chrysler (Dodge), General Motors, and Briggs Manufacturing, which made automobile bodies.
The Ford Motor Company averaged 11,000 black employees between 1937 and 1941, roughly 10 percent of its workforce. Ford towered above the other automakers in the Detroit area in this regard, employing about two-thirds of all blacks working in the auto industry. In 1941, Chrysler employed 1,978 African Americans, 2.4 percent of its workforce, almost entirely at its Dodge Main plant in Hamtramck, a small city surrounded by Detroit. GM’s 2,800 black employees, scattered among plants in Saginaw, Flint, and Detroit, constituted roughly 3 percent of its workforce. Briggs Manufacturing had nearly 1,300 black employees, roughly 10 percent of its payroll.
The history of black workers in the Detroit auto industry before World War II is worth recounting. The Packard Motor Car Company, heavily committed to war work in World War I (Liberty airplane engines), employed 1,100 blacks in May 1917, the first automaker to hire African Americans in substantial numbers. Ford had only 50 black workers in January 1916 but employed 2,500 in 1920, still only 4 percent of Ford’s enormous workforce. By 1926, Ford employed 10,000 blacks, roughly 10 percent of its labor force, a share that remained fairly steady through 1941.
Dodge Brothers was one of the earliest Detroit automakers to hire black workers. John Dodge met with John Dancy, the head of the Detroit Urban League, in November 1919 to discuss the possibility of Dodge Brothers hiring African Americans. John Dodge hired black workers over the next year, but there is no record of the numbers involved. By the late 1920s, Dodge was the second largest employer of blacks among the automakers, with about 850 African American employees, but a distant second to Ford.
Many large employers such as the Fisher Body Corporation steadfastly refused to hire blacks. Fisher Body had 12,000 employees in Detroit in 1926, but only sixty black workers, all serving as janitors. The company’s hiring practices remained largely unchanged over the next two decades.
The automakers who hired black workers, including Ford, initially placed these workers in the most in difficult, dirty, unpleasant, and dangerous jobs in their plants, which helped minimize white workers’ objections to their presence. African American workers were rarely found in the mainstream production departments, which meant that they were segregated from white workers. Typically black workers labored in the foundries, paint-spraying operations, heat treatment plants, and sanding operations. They typically were employed as general laborers, hand truck operators, or sweepers, the lowest-paying jobs in the factory, without regard to education or talent.
Black workers at Ford had more opportunities than at the other automakers. While more than half of Ford’s black employees worked in the foundries, they also worked in assembly operations and in skilled trades, including tool and die making, and were admitted into Ford’s apprentice school.
The labor shortages brought by the expansion of war production coupled with the manpower demands of the military service eventually forced all defense producers including the automobile companies to hire blacks in large numbers. Nationally, the share of jobs in the defense industry held by blacks increased from 4.2 percent in July 1942 to 8.6 percent in July 1945. In early 1941 the Detroit-area labor force included 70,000 blacks, about 7 percent of the total, but only 30,000 of them (42 percent) were employed and only half of those employed, roughly 15,000 (21 percent), worked in manufacturing. The employment opportunities for African Americans had changed dramatically by 1945. Blacks made up 14 percent of a much larger Detroit labor force and held 95,000 defense industry jobs (21 percent of the total).
Most automakers-turned-defense-contractors, with a few exceptions like Fisher Body, experienced substantial changes in the mix of their workers in terms of race and by gender. The Chrysler Corporation was a typical example. Chrysler’s prewar workforce of 82,243 increased by more than 50 percent to 125,481 employees at the wartime peak level in March 1945. Chrysler employed 1,978 black workers in 1940 (2.4 percent of its workforce), but in March 1945 had 18,148 African Americans (14 percent of the total) on its payroll.
African Americans faced exclusion from work in many parts of the defense industry in the early years of the war and, once employed, experienced severe discrimination in terms of jobs, training, and promotions.
President Roosevelt, faced with heavy lobbying by black leaders, especially A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, issued Executive Order 8802 on 25 June 1941 banning employment discrimination based on race, creed, color, or national origin by defense contractors, labor unions, and civilian departments within the federal government.
Roosevelt created the Fair Employment Practice Committee (FEPC) to enforce his executive order. The FEPC received 12,000 complaints of discrimination during the war and settled about 5,000 of them. The commission launched educational campaigns against racial discrimination in the workplace and exposed numerous cases of prejudice. With fewer than 120 employees trying to serve all of wartime industry, its influence was at best marginal. The FEPC had some success in integrating workplaces and reducing discrimination in northern and western states but made very little progress in southern and border states.
There were significant advances made against racial discrimination in war industries, but not by the FEPC or other federal civilian agencies. Progress came as a result of policies followed by some labor unions, particularly the UAW, from the actions taken by employers independent of government mandates, and through the intervention of the military services.
In the automobile industry, black workers faced serious hurdles to job equality even after they were initially employed in foundries, paint shops, sanding operations, or in other dangerous, unskilled work. When employers moved black workers into previously all-white departments though promotions or transfers from other plants, white workers in the affected department and throughout the plant frequently would go on strike until the transfers were rescinded.
The UAW international union never authorized or supported these “wildcat strikes,” routinely referred to as “hate strikes” by the press, but UAW local unions nevertheless often supported these actions. These racially motivated strikes disrupted war production and at least temporarily slowed racial integration in the plants. There were periodic hate strikes in 1941 and 1942, substantially more in 1943, but then they stopped entirely the following year.
White hostility toward black workers was usually the result of deep-seated racism. Several Detroit-area automobile factories had disproportionate shares of recent white immigrants from Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Deep South. Their racism was part of the baggage they brought with them, and the plants in which they worked in large numbers were also the sites of most of the “hate strikes” early in the war. Frequently white workers refused to share bathroom facilities with blacks, and female workers were especially reluctant to share bathrooms with black women because they believed that black women were dirty and carried venereal diseases white women could contract by using the same bathrooms.
This issue produced a strike of more than 2,000 white women workers at the U.S. Rubber Company plant in Detroit in March 1943 after the company hired black female machinists. In spring 1944, when the Chevrolet plant in Flint failed to rehire seven white female workers who had refused to work alongside four black women assigned to their department, 1,500 UAW workers walked out. 18 The fear of sharing bathrooms was not limited to white women. A similar dispute arose at the Point Breeze plant of the Western Electric Company in Baltimore, which produced combat communications equipment for the U.S. Army.
When Western Electric eliminated segregated bathrooms in early October 1943, the union— the Point Breeze Employees Association— went on strike. Western Electric’s personnel manager also argued that blacks carried much more venereal disease than whites, so sharing common toilets subjected white workers to unnecessary risk.
With the strike still in effect after ten weeks, President Roosevelt ordered the army to seize the plant, which it did on 19 December 1943. Western Electric enlarged its bathroom facilities but kept them segregated, left the dining facilities integrated, and offered venereal disease testing to all. The army returned control of the plant on 23 March 1944, ending the dispute.
There were dozens of hate strikes documented in the greater Detroit area alone and probably many more that were so short-lived or involved so few workers that they went unnoticed. The well-documented hate strikes took place primarily at mid-sized automakers, at plants operated by Packard, Hudson, and Timken Axle, or at suppliers’ factories.
Chrysler experienced several of these disturbances at its plants, but Ford and General Motors had few. The outcome of these strikes was determined by a combination of factors: the attitudes of white and black workers, the positions taken by the UAW local union and the international union, the approach taken by company management to resolve the disputes, and the willingness of the military services to intervene.
The Packard Motor Car Company plant in Detroit was the scene of several of the largest hate strikes in the early years of the war. The plant had all the elements to produce an explosive environment: a workforce made up mostly of Polish Americans and southern whites, both very hostile toward blacks; local union leadership that allegedly had connections with the KKK; and an openly racist personnel manager.
The leadership of the Packard UAW Local 190 had pushed Packard management to promote blacks within the plant, but when the company transferred two black metal polishers from automobile production to defense work in October 1941, about 250 white metal polishers protested and staged a sit-down strike. The shop steward returned the men to their old jobs, and their fate touched off a divisive struggle involving the leaders of Local 190, the UAW’s national leadership, C. E. Weiss (Packard’s personnel manager), and federal officials. Weiss insisted that the local union leadership promise in writing to discipline any of its members who tried to prevent the transfers.
The local union leaders eventually agreed, and in mid-March 1942, six months after the controversy first developed, Packard transferred the two black metal polishers to their new jobs. 20 A similar dispute arose in January 1942 when the management of the U.S. Naval Arsenal in Center Line, Michigan, operated by the Hudson Motor Car Company, promoted two black janitors, who were trained as machinists, to new jobs. Two hundred white workers walked off their jobs in protest and the company returned the black workers to their previous jobs.
UAW Local 154 claimed it was powerless to enforce its own international union’s constitution or federal law regarding job discrimination. Hudson’s Local 154 elected several black workers to its executive board in April and the company, the navy, and the UAW agreed to upgrade blacks to better jobs. Hudson was desperate to find machine operators. On 18 June 1942, the transfer of a handful of blacks to machine jobs touched off a walkout of ten thousand white workers.
Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox threatened the striking workers with wholesale firings and blacklisting at other defense plants, while the UAW threatened to discipline the hate strike leaders by expelling them from the union. The white workers returned to their jobs within a day, as did the black machine operators, and Hudson fired four of the ringleaders with the UAW’s support. A unified stance against such strikes seemed to end them quickly.
Chrysler experienced two hate strikes in 1942 at several of its Detroit-area plants over the issue of transferring black workers from one plant to another. In early February 1942, Chrysler transferred black dock workers (boxers and loaders) from the Dodge Main plant to the Highland Park plant, which touched off three sit-down strikes at the latter plant. Richard Frankensteen, a UAW vice president in charge of the Chrysler plants, gave the strikers an ultimatum: return to work or be fired. They went back to work.
On 2 June 1942, when Chrysler transferred twenty-six black workers to its Dodge truck plant, about 350 white workers walked out and forced the closing of the plant, which employed 3,000. Chrysler, the UAW, and the WPB stood their ground and fired two ringleaders of the walkout. The plant returned to normal the following day, with the black workers at their new jobs.
Timken-Detroit, a large manufacturer of axles, promoted a single black hammerman helper to hammerman on 7 July 1942, touching off a strike of the white workers. Traditionally blacks had worked as helpers in this plant but never as hammermen, a more skilled and higher-paid job. The company withdrew this single promotion and the men returned to work. The UAW international union, the company, and the U.S. government combined to force the UAW local to agree “that all Negroes who were eligible should be upgraded” and that the first black man who had been promoted could remain as a hammerman.
Colonel George E. Strong, the Army Air Force contract compliance officer based in Detroit, informed the local union that he intended to enforce Executive Order 8802. The upgrading of a second black worker to the hammerman’s position touched off a very brief walkout by a handful of workers.
The most serious hate strikes of the war, but not the last, took place at the Packard plant in Detroit in May and June 1943. Some 2,500 black workers were employed at Packard at the time, mostly in the foundry. On 24 May, Packard upgraded three black men to jobs on the aircraft engine assembly line, which caused several hundred workers to immediately walk off their jobs. UAW Local 190 agreed to withdraw the three men and hold a conference to resolve the issue. In a heated meeting of the union Packard in November 1944 to protest the UAW local union’s caving in to its white members and returning black workers who had been promoted back to their lower-level jobs.
Among those seeking work in the defense plants during the war, black females faced the most pervasive, virulent, and persistent discrimination, far worse than that faced by black men. They are treated here as African Americans rather than as women because they faced hostility based on their race rather than gender. Automobile companies that hired thousands of white women by 1943 simply refused to hire any black women.
White female members of the UAW were as strongly opposed to the introduction of black women into the workplace as anyone. At a UAW Women’s Conference held in February 1942, Evelyn Scanlon, representing the women of UAW Local 3 (Dodge Main) but reflecting the views of most women workers, objected to a motion supporting desegregation of the shop floor. Scanlon proclaimed, “I don’t think we should consider bringing them (black women) into the shops— if we bring them in even in this crisis we’d always have them to contend with. And you know what that means— we’d be working right beside them, we’d be using the same rest rooms, etc. . . . I’m against it.”
A spate of incidents in the first half of 1943 likely reflected an increase in the hiring of black women by defense contractors. In late January 1943, the Hudson Naval Arsenal hired two black women to work in the cafeteria but fired them after white women workers threatened to quit. Sixteen busboys and cafeteria porters, all black, walked out in protest. The personnel manager claimed he fired the women because they “distracted” the other black cafeteria workers from doing their work. On 12 February 1943, Packard promoted three black women to jobs as drill press operators after they completed a training program. White women holding the same jobs walked out and the local union returned the black women to their training school.
The UAW brought in the FEPC and the U.S. Army in the person of Colonel Strong to pressure the company to return the black women to their new jobs and Packard obliged. The company, however, forced these women to use a segregated bathroom. The white women then returned to work, but when Packard added four additional black female drill press operators on 18 March 1943, about three thousand white Packard workers walked off their jobs in two different wildcat strikes.
The company, the union, and the government refused to cave in to these hate strikes and Packard remained racially tense for much of the rest of the year.
Even when black women found jobs at defense plants, they typically faced severe discrimination in terms of their job assignments and general working conditions. Black women employed at Chrysler’s Jefferson Avenue plant in Detroit found that they were to clean men’s bathrooms or were required to move barrels of metal shavings weighing two hundred pounds or more. They had been trained to work as elevator operators, but the male elevator operators refused to give up their jobs.<<

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A negative review for a book I have not read in the more than six years I've owned it




Back in February 2010 I bought a copy of Wingnuts: how the lunatic fringe is hijacking America. Written by John Avlon, it deals with the wackos on the far-right and far-left wings of politics, such as the 9/11 "truthers," the "birthers" who insist that President Obama was born in Kenya, and those who accept MooseMama Palin's "death panel" paranoid fantasy.
  • This is the debut publication from Beast Books, a joint venture between the Perseus Book Group and The Daily Beast, a website dealing with politics and pop culture.
Tina Brown is co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Beast. She's an author, talk show host, and an award-winning editor. She edited Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, created Talk magazine and is in the Magazine Editors Hall of Fame.

Although she is apparently not a trained designer, she is credited with redesigning The New Yorker and hiring Richard Avedon as staff photographer. So, Tina should know something about publishing production values. She cares enough about her own work to have claimed a copyright for the foreword she wrote for Avlon's book -- an extremely uncommon practice.

So why am I pissed-off about a book I have not read yet?
It looks like crap, feels like sandpaper, and costs too much.
  • The designer, Jane Raese, chose a compressed, bold sans serif typeface for the chapter titles, headers and other spots. The words are both ugly and hard to read. With the huge selection of available typefaces, both sins are unforgivable.
  • The pages are rough, pulpy semi-sandpaper, of a low grade I have not had the misfortune to touch since I bought 35-cent Signet paperbacks more than a half-century ago. I almost felt the need to wear thick work gloves to protect my fingers from splinters. This book has a cover price of $15.95 -- not 35 cents -- so the budget could certainly have covered a nicer, smoother grade of paper. I'm just an amateur publisher, but my own $15.95 books have paper that's as smooth as a baby's ass. I would not insult my readers by using  cheap paper that might be found in a hotel room john in a third-world country that just made the transition from wiping with tree leaves.
  • The book has 284 pages and measures just 5 by 7-3/4 inches. That size is commonly used for the "mass market paperbacks" which sell for less than $10 and are displayed near the cash register at supermarkets and Walmart. Wingnuts is not vital for college or business. It's basically entertainment, and not important enough to warrant an inflated price. Other entertaining books often sell for $2.99 or less.
According to The New York Times, "Perseus is paying The Daily Beast a five-figure management advance to cover the costs of editing and designing the books."

Based on what I've seen and felt, Perseus grossly overpaid.

An author's words are important, but so is the package that contains them. Be aware and be careful.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Michael's improved homemade egg cream recipe, plus a quick cheat


The egg cream is nothing like a creme egg and contains neither eggs nor cream, and is like an ice cream soda made with milk instead of ice cream. It has been a basic part of the New York City diet for over a hundred years.

It apparently was invented in a Brooklyn "candy store" and gradually became common at other candy stores (which were like rural general stores moved to the city -- with soda fountains).

The egg cream was copied by soda jerks in drug stores and ice cream parlors throughout New York City (but maybe not Staten Island -- which is more like Kansas than New York). The drink then followed New Yorkers to Long Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Florida, Las Vegas and California. Probably even Arizona and Israel.

I enjoyed my first egg creams at Morty & Etta's candy store on East 205th Street near the Grand Concourse in daBronx.

When my family moved from daBronx to New Haven, CT in 1952, my father taught multiple soda jerks how to make egg creams. I recently taught the owner of a diner in Milford, CT how to make them.

The origin of the name is open to debate, as are the techniques for making the drink. My wife and I have been making egg creams at home for many years. Hers are too foamy and sweet for me, and my own had too little foam and too little flavor -- and were never cold enough.

I recently found a 1970s- or 80s-vintage Pepsi glass with a bulbous top that has become my official egg cream glass because it enables me to judge the mix pretty well, and the large top surface provides plenty of room for the foam. 


Traditionally, there are only three ingredients.
  1. COLD Milk (whole is best, but you can use less fatty types)
  2. Chocolate syrup (Fox's U-Bet is the traditional syrup, but Hershey's is fine)
  3. COLD Seltzer (best from a real seltzer bottle, but you can use club soda)
A couple of days ago I started adding a fourth ingredient -- some crushed ice -- and the result is heavenly. For me, there is no such thing as a drink that's too cold. I love beer in frosted mugs. I'd probably love an egg cream in a frosted mug.



There is great controversy about the proportions and the sequence for blending the ingredients, and I recommend that you experiment. Here's what I do:
  1. Fill about 15% of the glass volume with crushed ice.
  2. Fill about 10% with chocolate syrup.
  3. Fill about 25% with milk.
  4. Stir with a long "ice tea" spoon.
  5. Fill the rest with seltzer. I pour the seltzer into the spoon and let it overflow into the glass.
  6. Stir until you get a thick white frothy head on top of light brown.
  7. If you want to get artsy-fartsy, drizzle some chocolate syrup onto the foam.
  8. Drink with or without a straw. Without a straw you'll get a telltale egg cream mustache, which is nice for people and dogs who kiss you. Drink quickly before the bubbles dissipate and the ice melts. You have only about two minutes of ecstasy.
The traditional accompaniment is a salty pretzel rod which provides good contrast to the sweetness -- but nuts, popcorn and chips are acceptable substitutes. Chili would probably not be a good choice. Last night I had an egg cream with a fresh onion bagel and it was an absolutely delicious combo.


You can also use other syrup flavors including vanilla, cherry and coffee.



Believe it or not, there is a National Egg Cream Day (March 15th) and the previous link will take you to a superb source of egg cream info plus videos showing various techniques for making this delicious drink. The site even has a list of places that will make you a professional egg cream.

Enjoy.

==========

But what if you don't have chocolate syrup? There is a compromise:

  1. Put some crushed ice in the bottom of a tall glass.
  2. Pour in lots of Yoo-hoo.
  3. Pour in some milk.
  4. Pour in some seltzer.
  5. Stir.
  6. Drink.
  7. Say "aaaaah."

    Quantities are not specified, to encourage experimentation.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

WOW. A 'Keurig' for milkshakes and smoothies




You may think of Cumberland Farms as a place to fill your gas tank, buy a newspaper, a lottery ticket, cigarettes or a beverage -- but it's much more. The 700-store chain has evolved into pleasant purveyors of all kinds of products. The stores are hybrid gas station/restaurants/convenience stores and more.


Today I stopped in my local "Cumby" to buy gas and a hot chocolate and maybe a muffin. While wandering around I was distracted by a sign proclaiming "MILK SHAKES" and I had to investigate.

Cumby is not an old-time ice cream parlor. There are no soda jerks to concoct beverages and ice cream sundaes, but there is a very talented milkshake-making robot. It's like a Keurig for cold, thick drinks, from a company called F'real.

The company says: "
f'real foods is a fast-growing company that designs, sells, and markets authentic milkshakes, smoothies, and frozen cappuccino blended frozen beverages -- all made from real ingredients - ice cream, fruit, milk, and coffee. Consumers freshly blend our products in our patented blender found in over 13,000 locations across the US and Canada, at convenience stores, colleges & universities, theaters, and military bases."

I'm used to interacting with lots of talented robots (even one that prints books), but none produce the ecstasy that F'real does. For $1.99 I got a big-enough, good enough, fast-enough drink with almost as much excitement as a video poker machine.

I could select from three thicknesses. Since this was my first test, I picked "regular." The machine whirred and clanked and in about a minute my drink was ready. There was about a half-inch of vacant space at the top of the cup, so I squirted in some milk from the coffee supplies and stirred with my straw.

The shake was delicious. It was thick enough so I knew it was a shake, but not so thick that it would not pass through a straw.

You can CLICK to see how the shake is produced.

CONFESSION: I was so delirious with my new discovery, I walked out without paying for the shake and forgot to buy gas. I'll pay next time.






Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Improving watery hot chocolate at Cumberland Farms


Cumberland Farms is a chain of about 700 gas stations and convenience stores in Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont. The privately owned company started in 1938 in Cumberland, Rhode Island and is now based in MA. Annual sales are abut $16 billion. That's a lot.

The company has inexpensive gas and lots of inexpensive snacks. The "New Concept" stores are hyoooooooooooj, kind of mini-Disneylands, with much joy for serious munchers and slurpers. They're not as fancy as a Wegman's, but there is no Wegman's near me.

Every Saturday morning while my wife gets her hair done I fill my gas tank and part of my belly at Cumberland.

For several months my local CF has been offering any size coffee for just 99 cents. That seems like a good deal, but I don't like coffee.

Fortunately, the 99-cent deal applies to other hot beverages, including hot chocolate. My favorite hot chocolate comes from Dunkin' Donuts, and there is one right across the street from my local CF. However, a large HC from DD can cost nearly three bucks, and DD does not sell gasoline.

My first HC at CF was very disappointing: watery and weak.

Rather than abandon the company, I thought a bit and devised a strategy for the following week.





CF allows customers to squirt as much milk as they desire into their cups of hot drinks. So I squirted a couple of ounces into the bottom of my cup, then filled it with HC, stirred it and slurped. It was fine.

If Dunkin' Donuts earns an A for its HC, with added milk Cumberland's entry rises from a D to a B. Starucks is a C minus. Boo!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Stupid pool float costs more to run than a real boat

Hammacher-Schlemmer, Home Shopping Network, Amazon and others have offered the Excalibur Motorized Pool Lounge, for $60 to $150 or so. It looks like your basic big ugly pool float; but in addition to the usual cup holder, it has two joysticks that control underwater propellers.

It may seem cool to be able to silently swoop and spiral around your backyard pool, but you better own an oil well -- or at least a battery factory -- if you're going to get one.

You can spend more money running it for an hour, than you spend to buy it. I received one as a gift about five years ago. I used it once.

The float uses 12 D cells (with no built-in charger); and a set of batteries will provide just a 15 minute cruise.

Alkaline D cells cost about a buck-fifty each. A full boatload will cost $18. That works out to $72 for an hour, plus sales tax.

If you want to emulate Gilligan's planned "three hour cruise," figure on spending close to $230 -- and you'll have to put Excalibur in dry dock every 15 minutes to change batteries.

Also, when you're onboard Excalibur, you're dry. You never touch the water, so why be in the pool? You may as well buy a boat, or stay in bed and save the money.


For comparison, a 80 horsepower outboard motor -- big enough for a 16-foot boat carrying six people -- will use about eight gallons of fuel per hour, costing about 16 bucks, much less than the cost of propelling the inflated motorized pillow with one aboard.

Friday, February 12, 2016

And now, something for the ladies in the audience

I get tons of spam email, at least 100 each day. In addition to the Nigerian princes who want to help me to get rich, and the discount Canadian pharmacies, and warnings from religious fanatics, I get a lot of sex stuff.

The spam senders are getting much more sophisticated. In the past I got an equal amount of promos for penis enlargement and for breast enlargement, but lately the spammers are about 90% correct in their gender assumptions.

Nevertheless, I recently got an email intended for the ladies. The product seems to make sense, so I'll pass it on.

I've always been a selective neat freak. I have no problem working with a messy desk, but I hate seeing messy, snarled, over-long electrical cords. I also don't like seeing bra straps. Actually, I don't mind seeing the straps on the bra of a well-built lady -- unless she's wearing something over the bra.

Now, in the era of hybrid cars, flat-screen TVs and VoIP, science has a solution. StrapPerfect, "the ultimate bra strap solution," is supposed to hide the straps, improve posture, give cleavage "a firm and youthful lift," and increase the apparent cup size by at least one letter. 

Sounds good to me.

Note: I have not personally tested this product.