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.

1984 Goes Down The Memory Hole at Amazon

Being someone who spends lots of money on both books and electronic gadgets I have considered ebook readers. While there are some I might purchase, I have rejected the Kindle and cannot imagine why it is so popular beyond excellent marketing. It does have some advantages over other ebook readers such as the ability to purchase many books from Amazon wirelessly, the advantages ultimately are more for the benefit of Amazon than the consumer.

Despite its popularity, the Kindle looks like one of the weaker ebook readers on the market with the ability to read very few ebook formats. My biggest complaint is that it primarily uses its own format and that books one purchases cannot be stored and read on computers and a wide variety of other devices. My primary concern was in not being locked into a single company’s device forever but today another reason to desire a more open format came up:

This morning, hundreds of Amazon Kindle owners awoke to discover that books by a certain famous author had mysteriously disappeared from their e-book readers. These were books that they had bought and paid for—thought they owned.

This is ugly for all kinds of reasons. Amazon says that this sort of thing is “rare,” but that it can happen at all is unsettling; we’ve been taught to believe that e-books are, you know, just like books, only better. Already, we’ve learned that they’re not really like books, in that once we’re finished reading them, we can’t resell or even donate them. But now we learn that all sales may not even be final.

As one of my readers noted, it’s like Barnes & Noble sneaking into our homes in the middle of the night, taking some books that we’ve been reading off our nightstands, and leaving us a check on the coffee table.

The real irony here is that the books were 1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell. In 1984 the protagonist had a job dumping newspaper stories which the government found inconvenient down the memory hole. Imagine  if the Kindle was the only form the book was available on. Fortunately, my copies of these books are still safe on my book shelf. I wonder if Amazon has the ability to make copies they have sold of Ray Bradbury’s book Fahrenheit 451 burn up in people’s homes.

Update: I’m not sure why people are spending money on Orwell’s books when they are available for download in many formats on line. Boing Boing gives one such example. Under Australian copyright law the work of authors who died before 1955 are in the public domain and are easily available for download at sites such as here.  Another example is here, and I was amused to find that Amazon has an ad for the Kindle on this page.

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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


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…”

Area 51 Information Declassified


Area 51 is the site for conspiracy theories involving UFO’s. The Los Angeles Times reports that information related to the site has been declassified and people who worked there are now telling stories of what did happen there. I don’t know if conspiracy theorists will believe these stories, but they are interesting. Here is one from Kenneth Collins a CIA experimental test pilot:

On May 24, 1963, Collins flew out of Area 51’s restricted airspace in a top-secret spy plane code-named OXCART, built by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. He was flying over Utah when the aircraft pitched, flipped and headed toward a crash. He ejected into a field of weeds.

Almost 46 years later, in late fall of 2008, sitting in a coffee shop in the San Fernando Valley, Collins remembers that day with the kind of clarity the threat of a national security breach evokes: “Three guys came driving toward me in a pickup. I saw they had the aircraft canopy in the back. They offered to take me to my plane.” Until that moment, no civilian without a top-secret security clearance had ever laid eyes on the airplane Collins was flying. “I told them not to go near the aircraft. I said it had a nuclear weapon on-board.” The story fit right into the Cold War backdrop of the day, as many atomic tests took place in Nevada. Spooked, the men drove Collins to the local highway patrol. The CIA disguised the accident as involving a generic Air Force plane, the F-105, which is how the event is still listed in official records.

As for the guys who picked him up, they were tracked down and told to sign national security nondisclosures. As part of Collins’ own debriefing, the CIA asked the decorated pilot to take truth serum. “They wanted to see if there was anything I’d for-gotten about the events leading up to the crash.” The Sodium Pento-thal experience went without a hitch—except for the reaction of his wife, Jane.

“Late Sunday, three CIA agents brought me home. One drove my car; the other two carried me inside and laid me down on the couch. I was loopy from the drugs. They handed Jane the car keys and left without saying a word.” The only conclusion she could draw was that her husband had gone out and gotten drunk. “Boy, was she mad,” says Collins with a chuckle.

They deny the rumors of reverse-engineering alien UFO’s but do say that they did reverse-engineer some foreign technology including a  Soviet MiG fighter jet.

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.

Changing A Bad Law

Kathleen Parker is a conservative columnist who sometimes irritates other conservatives by writing the truth. Today she comments on Michael Phelps:

Our marijuana laws have been ludicrous for as long as we’ve been alive. Almost half of us (42 percent) have tried marijuana at least once, according to a report published last year in PLoS Medicine, a journal of the Public Library of Science.

The U.S., in fact, boasts the highest percentage of pot smokers among 17 nations surveyed, including The Netherlands, where cannabis clouds waft from coffeehouse windows. Among them are no small number of high-ranking South Carolina leaders (we knew us when), who surely cringe every time a young person gets fingered for a “crime” they themselves have committed.

Other better-known former tokers include our current president and a couple of previous ones, as well as a Supreme Court justice, to name just a few. A complete list would require the slaughter of several mature forests.

This we know: Were Phelps to run for public office someday and admit to having smoked pot in his youth, he would be forgiven. Yet, in the present, we impose monstrous expectations on our heroes. Several hand-wringing commentaries have surfaced the past few days, lamenting the tragic loss for disappointed moms, dads and, yes, The Children.

Understandably, parents worry that their kids will emulate their idol, but the problem isn’t Phelps, who is, in fact, an adult. The problem is our laws — and our lies.

Obviously, children shouldn’t smoke anything, legal or otherwise. Nor should they drink alcoholic beverages, even though their parents might.

There are good reasons for substance restrictions for children that need not apply to adults.

That’s the real drug message that should inform our children and our laws, rather than the nonsense that currently passes for drug information.

Today’s anti-drug campaigns are slightly wonkier than yesterday’s “Reefer Madness,” but equally likely to become party hits rather than drug deterrents. One recent ad produced by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy says: “Hey, not trying to be your mom, but there aren’t many jobs out there for potheads.” Whoa, dude, except maybe, like, president of the United States.

Once a kid realizes that pot doesn’t make him insane — or likely to become a burrito taster, as the ad further asserts — he might figure other drug information is equally false. That’s how marijuana becomes a gateway drug.

Phelps may be an involuntary hero to this charge, but his name and face bring necessary attention to a farce in which nearly half the nation are actors. It’s time to recognize that all drugs are not equal — and change the laws accordingly.

I agree with her ultimate conclusion that the law should be changed but, like Radley Balko, I disagree with the view that Phelps should be prosecuted because ” the law is the law.”

It’s easy to say “the law is the law,” but that ignores the reality that there are far more lawbreakers than there are resources to arrest and charge them all.

So law enforcement officials have all sorts of discretion. It’s precisely because Lott has limited resources and more important crimes to investigate that he could have blown this thing off. The county would likely spend thousands just providing security and logistics for Phelps’ court appearances.

Perhaps I overlooked something, but I’ve followed the case pretty closely, and I haven’t sensed any public pressure in the direction of arresting and charging Phelps. In fact, the first I heard of the idea came yesterday, when Lott himself volunteered the possibility. Even if Lott does arrest Phelps, the local prosecutor would still have the discretion to turn down the case and spend his resources prosecuting crimes that actually affect the public safety.

On the other hand, the spectacle of seeing a world class athlete like Phelps frog-marched in handcuffs, tried, and given a few days in the county jail might do wonders toward enlightening the public to the fact that the most dangerous thing about marijuana doesn’t come from smoking it, but from what the government will to you if it catches you.

John McCain on The Tonight Show

John McCain appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno last night and was reluctant speculate as to why he lost or place blame. I wondered whether his recent dispute with David Letterman would come up. Leno did ask about it, but McCain quickly changed the topic by saying, “You should have seen The View.

Videos are above and the full transcript is under the fold.


Starbucks Big Winner on Election Day

Latte liberals might be expected to stop by Starbucks on election day, but more people than usual visited. Starbucks offered free coffee on election day, and probably made a profit on the deal. Advertisng Age reports:

John Moore, a former Starbucks marketer, estimated that between 12% and 15% of customers are drip-coffee drinkers, and that each of the company’s 7,100 locations serves about 800 people a day. Those figures would set a conservative giveaway estimate at 568,000. Starbucks’ cost per cup is about 30¢, according to several executives familiar with the matter, which would put the cost of the giveaway at about $170,000.

Muffin with that?
However, about one in every five or six Starbucks customers buys food, executives said. If that held true during the giveaway, and each of those people spent even $2, the company could have made money on the promotion. Starbucks has said 75% of its sales are beverages sold in-store, and most of the remaining 25% are food sold in-store.

An executive familiar with the matter estimated the “Saturday Night Live” spot could have cost as much as $350,000. But the value of coverage relating to the giveaway — from The Wall Street Journal, CNBC and Newsweek, to name a few — as well as rampant blog chatter likely superseded the chain’s investment. Many of those organizations, including the Journal, posted the Starbucks commercial along with their stories.

The giveaway tactic also boosted the company’s buzz rating, according to Brand Index. Starbucks’ positive buzz rating jumped from 25% on Oct. 31 to 51% on Nov. 5. “This was a strong and well-timed promotion,” said Ted Marzilli, senior VP-brand group at Brand Index parent YouGovPolimetrix, in an e-mail. “There has been huge interest in this election (as measured by the voter turnout) and likely a lot of positive word-of-mouth, particularly given that the promotion ran on Election Day (a workday), when many people could spread the word to their colleagues.”

A Politically Safer Cappuccino

Coffee has come up in a number of posts over the years, including where one obtains their coffee. I’ve often recommended single cup coffee makers, such as my Tassimo. Besides making a variety of kinds of coffee, including types four from Starbucks, it makes tea, hot chocolate, and espresso. Not being a dedicated espresso machine, the espresso might not be up to the standards of those who drink it straight, but it is certainly good enough to make a cappuccino.

Being able to easily make a cappuccino at home has a number of benefits. It is certainly less expensive than paying for one at Starbucks. John McCain might not care about the cost, but if he had a Tassimo he could have saved himself the embarrassment of this news item:

A nine-car motorcade took him to a nearby Starbucks early in the morning, where he ordered a large cappuccino. McCain otherwise avoided reporters.

I’ve always thought the who talk about Obama supporters who drink lattes as being elitists was rather silly. Going out to Starbucks in a nine-car motorade from one of your eight or more houses definatley sounds elitist, regardless of what you drink.