Coffee Shops Restricting Use of Free WiFi

When travelling I always find it helpful when there’s a nearby coffee shop or other establishment which provides free WiFi. This is often how I check the moderation que to let comments through and catch up on the news. Others tend to spend even longer periods of time taking advantage of WiFi but The Wall Street Journal reports that this is becoming more difficult:

Amid the economic downturn, there are fewer places in New York to plug in computers. As idle workers fill coffee-shop tables — nursing a single cup, if that, and surfing the Web for hours — and as shop owners struggle to stay in business, a decade-old love affair between coffee shops and laptop-wielding customers is fading. In some places, customers just get cold looks, but in a growing number of small coffee shops, firm restrictions on laptop use have been imposed and electric outlets have been locked. The laptop backlash may predate the recession, but the recession clearly has accelerated it.

“You don’t want to discourage it, it’s a wonderful tradition,” says Naidre’s owner Janice Pullicino, 53 years old. A former partner in a computer-graphics business, Ms. Pullicino insists she loves technology and hates to limit its use. But when she realized that people with laptops were taking up seats and driving away the more lucrative lunch crowd, she put up the sign. Last fall, she covered up some of the outlets, describing that as a “cost-cutting measure” to save electricity.

So far, this appears to be largely a New York phenomenon, though San Francisco’s Coffee Bar does now put out signs when the shop is crowded asking laptop users to share tables and make space for other customers.

Some coffee shops say they still welcome laptop users, if only because they make the stores look busy. For some, the growing number of laptop-carrying customers with time on their hands is reason to expand. “I had to add more outlets and higher speed” in early June, says Sebastian Simsch, 40, the co-owner of Seattle Coffee Works. Starbucks Corp. coffee houses, which in some cases charge for Wi-Fi, and bookstore chain Borders Group Inc., which always charges for Wi-Fi, don’t have any plans to change their treatment of laptop customers. Neither does bookstore giant Barnes & Noble Inc., where the Wi-Fi is complimentary.

But in New York, the trend is accelerating among independents. At Cocoa Bar locations in Brooklyn and on the Manhattan’s Lower East Side, a five-month-old rule forbids laptops after 8 on Friday and Saturday nights. At Espresso 77 in Jackson Heights, Queens, owners covered three of five electric outlets six months ago after its loosely enforced laptop-use restrictions failed to encourage turnover. At two of three Café Grumpy locations — one in Brooklyn and the other in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood — laptops are never welcome.

At least this shouldn’t interfere much with my typically brief use of WiFi when traveling, but it will make things more difficult for those who use coffee shops as a free office. I was also happy to receive the email from Barnes & Noble a few days ago saying they were changing their policy to provide free access to WiFi. This accompanies their recent attempts to sell ebooks to compete with Amazon’s Kindle. It only makes sense that if they want customers to download books to view with their new software that they allow free access to the internet in their stores.

New York and the Internet

An op-ed in The New York Times compares going on line to moving to New York. For many young people who cannot afford to go to New York the internet does offer many similar advantages for “young aspirants to the creative class.”

…another destination beckons, a place that courses with all the raw ambition and creative energy that the hard times seem to have drained from New York. I am referring, of course, to the Internet, which over the past decade has slowly become the de facto heart of American culture: the public space in which our most influential conversations transpire, in which our new celebrities are discovered and touted, in which fans are won and careers made.

Wherever young creatives physically reside today, in their endeavors they are increasingly moving online: posting their photos, writing, videos and music, building a “presence” in the hope of winning an audience. Monetary rewards on the Internet are still scarce, it is true, but the cost of living is cheap and, more important, the opportunities for attention are plentiful. Every month more YouTube sensations emerge, more bloggers ink big book deals, more bands blow up through music Web sites and MySpace, and every day more young people seek their “big break” in the virtual megalopolis rather than in (or as well as in) the physical one.

The experience of moving online actually bears quite a few similarities to becoming a New Yorker. Disorienting and seemingly endless, the Internet conversation moves at lightning speed and according to unstated social rules that can bewilder outsiders. Also, like New Yorkers, residents of the Internet do not suffer fools, or mince words in belittling them, as anyone who has contributed a redundant post to Metafilter, or an earnest comment to Gawker, can attest.

In their scope, both the Internet and New York are profoundly humbling: young people accustomed to feeling special about their gifts are inevitably jarred, upon arrival, to discover just how many others are trying to do precisely the same, with equal or greater success. (For a vivid demonstration of this online, try to invent a play on words, and then Google it. You’ll be convinced that there is, in fact, “nothing new in the cloud” — a joke that a British I.B.M. employee beat me to last November.)

Moreover, the presence of an audience causes online residents to style themselves as outsized personae, as characters on a public stage. On the Internet, as in creative New York, everyone can possess a tiny measure of celebrity, and everyone pays attention to what everyone else is doing, all the time.

Boathouse July 2008

Despite all the similarities, going on line is just not the same as being in New York. For example, you cannot walk thorugh Central Park, stroll through the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and have a drink at the Boathouse while “living” on the internet.

Culture Wars Impact Wine Labels

Gladiator Wine

The wine label above is too racy for Alabama. AP reports that Alabama’s liquor control agency has ordered restaurants and stores not to sell the wine:

A wine label showing a nude nymph is too racy for Alabama’s liquor control agency, which has told restaurants and stores not to sell the product.

The label on Cycles Gladiator wine, produced by Hahn Family Wines in Soledad, Calif., shows a vintage 1895 bicycle advertising poster with a nude nymph flying beside a winged bicycle.

The Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board recently sent a letter to stores and restaurants telling them not to sell the wine because the label had been rejected by the agency. Alabama liquor regulations prohibit labels that are offensive or immodest.

Posted in Food and Drink. 10 Comments »

Waiting Topless

Waiting topless from The Sunday Best on Vimeo.

Grand View Topless Coffee shop in Vassalboro, Maine was founded in February 2009 and recently burned down in a case of suspected arson. This slide show looks at Lisa Beaudreau and Star Cunningham who have worked there as topless waitresses. The coffee shop has reopened in a tent.

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Now Terrorism Against Topless Coffee Shop

coop

What a sad week. We’ve seen right wing terrorism with the murder of an abortion doctor. We’ve had a case of Islamic terrorism with the murder at an Arkansas army recruiting station. Now an arsonist has burned down the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop in Vassalboro, Maine. The coffee shop had received national media coverage for having coffee served by topless waiters and waitresses.

I hope that they manage to rebuild and get this business back up and running. It might not be an appropriate time for joking about the coffee shop, but I can’t resist a comment from a post I had planned but never completed when the coffee shop previously made the news. I had been hoping for an R-rated  east coast remake of Twin Peaks. Imagine Special Agent Dale Cooper remarking on the “Damn good cup of coffee and damn good…”

Barack Obama Has Great Taste In Mustard

grey-poupon

I’m certainly not going to vote based upon a politician’s taste in food, but if mustard is a consideration then I did the right thing in voting for Barack Obama. Some right wing blogs such as Legal Insurrection and Gateway Pundit are upset about the mustard which Obama ordered on his well-publicized outing to Ray’s Hell-Burger.  They complain that he ordered his hamburger with Dijon Mustard. One commenter claims that if you play the tape backwards he was asking for Grey Poupon Dijon as if that would be something bad. While I often order more exotic types from Zingerman’s for variety, Grey Poupon is my favorite mustard which is commonly available at supermarkets.

Only the authoritarian right would get so upset about the type of mustard which Obama requested. This goes along with their ideas on politically incorrect lettuce, wine, and cheese. With all their distortions of the meaning of freedom and the free market, I often think that many conservatives don’t understand what either really means. Many of them would feel more at home with the blandness of Stalinist Russia. Enforced conformity would alleviate many of their concerns. What is it about our freedom to choose and the variety of choices offered by the free market which many conservatives hate so much?

There are also accusations that MSNBC covered up the request for Dijon Mustard. I don’t know whether they did, but I’m far more concerned over the manner in which Fox news covered up far more important things, such as how George Bush lied the country into a war.

A Pig By Any Other Name

The pork lobby has been upset about the way in which the latest influenza outbreak is being called swine flu. Some sources are giving in and are using the more scientific terminology of H1N1 flu instead. I noted that today the CDC is using H1N1 but still has Swine Flu in parentheses. They have defended the legitimacy of also calling it swine flu:

In a briefing Tuesday, Richard Besser, acting director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, acknowledged that the agency’s use of the swine flu label was fueling the misconception that people could catch the new respiratory disease from food. “That’s not helpful to pork producers. That’s not helpful to people who eat pork,” Dr. Besser said. “And so we’re discussing: is there a better way to describe this that would not lead to inappropriate action on peoples’ part?”The flu that erupted in Mexico earlier this month is a big worry because it is transmitted between humans, who don’t have any immunity to the new strain. Medical authorities haven’t found any cases of people catching this new strain from contact with pigs or pork, nor has the new strain been detected in pigs.

Still, many scientists say the CDC is well within its rights to describe the disease as swine flu even though it seems to have mutated into a unique human virus. Flu viruses tend to be named after the first species in which they are discovered, and H1N1 was discovered in pigs decades ago.

Genetic sequencing of the new form of the H1N1 virus shows that it clearly had a long history in hogs before it made the leap into the human population and acquired its deadly new traits.

“The vast amount of material in it is in pigs,” said Michael T. Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

So far I don’t know that the pork industry has lost very much money because of any misconceptions about eating pork products. I’m far more worried about the affects of the pig scare in the 100 Acre Wood:

swine-flu-in-the-100-acre-wood

Obama Road

obamsdfsda-1

People in Toronto who like the idea of going to an Obama-themed cafe now have a dilemma–deciding which one to go to. There are two of  them a few doors apart on Danforth Avenue. The Torontoist has information on both of them.

Starbucks vs. McDonald’s

While Matthew Yglesias’ predictions regarding taxation discussed in the previous post are reasonable, he sure does not understand the life style of affluent liberals.  He reviewed a study from the Pew Research Center which looked at whether Americans “would rather live in a neighborhood with more McDonald’s or more Starbucks.” The results:

Americans manage to typecast themselves by just about every demographic and ideological characteristic under the sun; overall, more Americans choose McDonalds (43%) over Starbucks (35%), but the split is more pronounced — and rather predictable — when analyzed demographically. Liberals want coffee; conservatives choose burgers. Younger Americans vote for caffeine; older Americans decidedly pick the value menu. When one controls for all the factors tested, the variables that do the most to explain whether someone chooses Starbucks over McDonalds are: having a college degree, having a high income, being a liberal, being a Westerner and being a woman.

Matthew responds:

But as someone who fits firmly into the Starbucks demographic, I can’t help but wonder what people are thinking. At the end of the day, if you want some coffee and there’s a McDonald’s nearby but no Starbucks, you can go to the McDonald’s and get some coffee. It’s not the same range of selection, and I do like Starbucks coffee more, but McDonald’s is a reasonably close substitute. By contrast, there’s no french fries at Starbucks. There’s no burger at Starbucks. No nuggets. No ice cream. And nothing that even vaguely resembles any of that stuff. It’s an assymetrical relationship where McDonald’s can imperfectly substitute for Starbucks but Starbucks can’t substitute for McDonald’s at all. And these days they both have WiFi. But McDonald’s has delicious Diet Coke and other sodas.

Long story short, the yuppies of America need to get real.

He fails to understand the tremendous differences between the Starbucks and McDonald’s experience. I ran this by a sample which was small but readily available–my wife and daughter. Both quickly voted for Starbucks. Actually my daughter’s reaction was the typical reaction of teenagers who think that adults don’t know what they are talking about. She thought the very question was ridiculous with only one plausible answer.

Of course this is a very biased sample. I suspect that my wife and daughter are responsible for the bulk of the profits at the nearest Starbucks. Ever since my daughter got her own car it has become common for one to go to Starbucks and be told by the baristas (who all know them both) that the other had just passed through.

Sure McDonald’s has more food choices, but I would very rarely actually eat at a McDonald’s. Some afluent liberals might eat there from time to time out of convenience but they could easily live without the McDonald’s. My wife will even drive through McDonald’s occasionally for a diet coke (which she does believe is better than that available elsewhere) but she would never give up a Starbucks for a McDonald’s coke. We would not use either Starbucks or McDonald’s as a primary place to get food, but have relied upon the limited food selection at Starbucks far more often than going to a McDonald’s.

People go to Starbucks for the experience, not just the coffee. We will go with other couples to a Starbucks after having dinner out with friends, but would never go to a McDonald’s for coffee after dinner. My wife will meet friends at Starbucks but would never do this at a McDonald’s. My daughter will even sit with friends and do homework at Starbucks but I can guarantee she would not be caught dead hanging out at a McDonald’s.

Incidentally, Matthew’s post is not the first time I’ve encountered people on line who did not understand the importance of the experience. While Starbucks is far preferable to McDonald’s, often I prefer to go to local coffee places which often have both better coffee and a better ambiance.

Last year while in South Beach (Miami Beach) we quickly found that coffee was available in the lobby at our resort and found a nearby Starbucks. While there were also many nearby restaurants and bars, we were unable to find any places we would like to go for coffee other than our lobby or the Starbucks. I did what I will usually do when wandering around a strange city–ask ChaCha.

ChaCha is a free service which researches questions submitted by cell phone and sends a text message with the answer. Generally they are very helpful, but this time I did not receive a response until the next day. They totally struck out on this one. I asked for coffee places near Lowe’s resort in South Beach other than Starbucks, hoping for a cozy place we could go at breakfast time or in the evening. The answer received was a Dunkin’ Donuts in Fort Lauderdale–hardly what we had in mind. Apparently people in South Beach hang out on the beach during the day and then at the clubs at night with far less interest in coffee places than we have in the colder midwestern cities.

Obama To Take US To World Leadership In First Term

During the Democratic primaries, the Obama supporters were often described as the more affluent wine drinkers (with Obama later building a wine and beer coalition to take the nomination). Perhaps this is one result of the change in the country. Wine consumption is expected to increase, with the Unites States projected to surpass Italy as the world’s top consumer of wine during Obama’s first term.