Sunday, April 27, 2008

A stuffed weekend

Liz and I celebrated our 10th Wedding Anniversary on Friday, April 25th. We went out for sushi at Maki & Sushi in Arcadia, the in-laws treated us. Why does the second cup of Sake taste soooo much better than the first? And the third tastes even better still?

The kids went home with the in-laws and Liz and I hit the Starbucks next door where Liz discovered that good things really can come in small packages when she ordered a Short White Chocolate Mocha. We then stopped at Target and picked up a few snacks and goodies, for Amber's school and in preparation for Saturday night.

At home we watched Night Watch. Don't take it too seriously and it's quite an enjoyable movie. Some very clever special effects, interesting storyline. The Night Watch are the alleged 'good guys', the Day Watch are the alleged 'bad guys', but we get the feeling that things are not that cut & dried when we see a Night Watch patrol first mock a Day Watch patrol, then threaten to drive over the DW patrol's car with their truck. Day Watch (the movie) should be arriving within a day or so, and with the way Night Watch ended Liz and I are both looking forward to seeing what happens in Day Watch.

Saturday arvo we picked up JE and took him to Baseball. The kids were pitching for the first time this game (instead of using the pitching machine) and they didn't do too bad. There were a few wild pitches but nobody got hit; the kids were pretty good at dodging :D They were also allowed to steal Second Base, but only Second; no stealing Third or Home. It was a bloody hot day and by the time the last kid was struck out it was 3pm and my shirt was almost wet through. I left Liz at the Snack Shack where she was working and dropped JE with the in-laws; Liz called me shortly after, she was done with Snack Shack duties and was already on her way home where Xinh was waiting for us.

I made it home by 3:30 or so, had a quick shower and off we went to the Sports Arena (near USC) for the filming of Gladiator. Our tickets said to arrive no later than 5pm, we were there a little after 4pm and were admitted shortly after 4:30, after signing the NDA. The funny thing with NDAs is while they restrict your right to talk about what you see, they don't say anything about not talking about what you didn't see, so let's talk about what we didn't see :D

We were at a taping of American Gladiator but we didn't see any Gladiators, because we didn't watch any of the events where the challengers go up against the Gladiators. Notice I have not told you what we did see, only what we didn't see, and that's not a breach of the NDA ;) Now in knowing what we didn't see, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out what we did see, but I can't tell you what we did see because that would be a violation of the NDA :D

After leaving the Sports Arena and heading home we decided to dine at the Denny's close by our house; it being one of the few dining establishments still open at 10pm where they don't ask you "Would you like Fries with that?"

We ordered a plate of Nachos to share (very, very good Nachos) I also ordered a Boca Burger and a Chocolate Shake. I finished the Shake, the Boca Burger, some of my fries, and between us we ate almost the entire plate of Nachos. I was stuffed! We sat there chatting and picking at the Nachos until Xinh wisely covered them with her napkin. We were stuffed full but with Nachos still on the plate we felt compelled to eat them, until Xinh covered them and declared them 'dead'. It was almost 11:30 by the time we got home. Liz stayed up, claiming she couldn't go to sleep on a full stomach. I don't have that problem and was asleep within minutes of my head hitting the pillow.

Sunday was my office's 'March of Dimes' Fund Raiser, in the form of a Bowling Tournament. We picked up JE from the in-laws and a-bowling we did go. JE came second among the kids. Among the adults we had a couple of guys who brought their own balls...and shoes. They were able to do clever things with the ball, like throw it towards the gutter but get it to spin back into the center of the lane and knock down all the pins, and they could do this almost all the time. Pretty clever. For being a kid JE got to pick a couple of books from the assortment brought by the organizers. It cost us $62.50 which was two games each and all the pizza & soda we could eat & drink, plus JE got himself two new books. Not bad for an afternoon of fun and fellowship with family and coworkers, and all for a good cause, too.

When we got home I showed JE Ninja Gaiden:Dragon Sword for the DS. He thought it was pretty cool. It's a video game with Ninjas, what more could a 7-year old ask for? I left him playing Ninja Gaiden and went upstairs, where I fired up the Wii and began playing the latest incarnation of Mario Kart. I got busted when JE came up for help with Ninja Gaiden. We played some two player and I was disappointed to see that the two-player Grand Prix option is not in the Wii version. In almost every other version of Mark Kart that I've played two people can play together and race in the cups and unlock extra content. In the Wii version you can still do a Grand Prix of sorts, but it's not the official Grand Prix so winning won't unlock any extra content.

For a two-day weekend we sure packed in a lot of fun.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Starbucks and the case of the missing Short

I did a spot of research on Starbucks' mysterious 'Short' drink and discovered some interesting information. Way back when Starbucks was nothing more than a little known coffee shop in Seattle, they had just two commonly recognized sizes of drinks. They had their current Tall size, being the larger of their two drinks, and they had their shorter drink being, quite naturally, the Short.

Short and Tall. It makes perfect sense, and it explains why Starbucks' smallest drink is called a Tall, because once upon a time it wasn't their smallest drink, in fact it still isn't, because right now, at this very moment (hang on...) ok, right now I'm sipping a Short Cafe Latte from Starbucks, and typing one-handed, and burning my lip. Ow!

So originally you had a choice of Short and Tall.

Actually, originally you didn't have a choice of Short or Tall, because Starbucks originally just sold coffee beans and brewing equipment, then Howard Schultz came along and everything changed. Actually everything stayed the same because Starbucks' original owners ignored Schultz and his recommendation that they sell coffee drinks, so Schultz quit his job with Starbucks and founded his own coffee shop chain, Il Giornale.

Now Starbucks was still a successful chain in its own right, and in 1984 the owners bought out their original supplier, Peet's Coffee & Tea.

Meanwhile Schultz was also successful, and Il Giornale was growing, so much so that in 1987 Schultz made his move, approached his former employers, and bought them out. He then rebranded his Il Giornale stores as Starbucks and the coffee shop world changed overnight.

Accurately predicting the American consumer's desire for more, Schultz introduced a larger sized drink. Starbucks already had a Short and a Tall, so the larger drink was given the name Grande, which means Large in Italian. But the American consumer still wanted MORE!!! and so the Venti was born; Venti being Italian for Twenty. Seriously. You can check for yourself if you don't believe me.

In those days the price boards were the old style, with letters on pegs that you could move around to customize their appearance and change the wording, and Starbucks staff, or Partners as they prefer to be called, began getting tired of the clutter caused by four different sizes and their accompanying prices. With the American consumers' penchant for more, More, MORE, and one of the sizes needing to go, Short lost out and disappeared from the board, but it still exists. You can still order it. And with Starbucks policy of "Just say yes" you should not be denied your Short-sized drink.

You might get Partners telling you the Short is the Kids' drink, and so they aren't available for anyone over 12. They may tell you they don't have any Short-sized cups. Like Xinh said in her post on my previous thread, you may even be asked if you mean a Tall. But stick to your guns and insist on getting your 'Short' drink.

It's possible if you order your Short in one of the chains located inside a Barnes & Noble, or in my case my local Toyota dealer, that the staff really may not be aware of the Short drink, but it exists. If they try the "We have no Short-sized cups," smile at them nicely! and reply, "That's ok, I'll take a Short in a Tall-sized cup," but don't let them charge you for a Tall.

The Short does exist, it's $2.45 for a Short Latte, and it's a pretty good drink at that. You get the same amount of Espresso as with a Tall Latte (so the same amount of caffeine), but less milk so less fat & less calories. And because you have less milk you have a higher Espresso to Milk ratio, which means your Short Latte has a bolder flavor than the Tall. It really does. In fact I'd even go so far as to say that the Short Latte is one of Starbucks' better tasting drinks.

I wonder if Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf do an 8oz Latte...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Fast Food in the U.S.

I recently stumbled across the Blog titled Working as Designed, by Joseph Hewitt, an American living in Australia. One of Joseph's threads, a rant on Fast Food & Cashiers, inspired me to write the following. Originally this was going to be a simple comment on his Blog, but I get carried away sometimes and a simple comment turned into a post of my own :)

With me being an Aussie living in the U.S., Joseph's experiences and mine are almost mirror images of each other. In Joseph's case he has trouble placing his Fast Food order because his Cashier keeps cutting him off and trying to finalize his sale, in my case I have a Cashier who keeps wanting to add to my order.

Having a background in Retail I can tell you that corporate-retail in the U.S. is all about the Up-Sell, whereas retail in Australia wasn't so big on it (at least 15 years ago it wasn't). My Aussie manager was a real laid back guy, whereas my U.S. managers would always push the Up-Sell. It wasn't enough to point the customer in the direction of the requested item, you had to accompany them to the shelves, find the item for them and put it in their hand THEN recommend something else based on what they're now looking at. Good Lord, man! At least tell them about this week's Sale Items!

When working the registers we were told to always recommend Add-On items from the counter. Giftcards, Bookmarks, gadgets designed for slicing open the plastic wrap on CDs. It didn't matter what you pushed, all that mattered was trying to sell the customer something extra.

The Fast Food sector in the U.S. is the same, hence the very well-known (and often mocked) phrase, "Would you like Fries with that?"

Would you like a desert today? Apple Pie? Sundae? Coffee? Shake? Can I somehow convince you to spend more money here today?

My local Jack in the Box sells Gift Cards. Gift Cards! For Fast Food! Incredible!

But do you know what is the sneakiest Up-Sell of them all? When you order a Combo Meal, and the Cashier asks if you want the Medium or Large size.

What do you reply?

"Medium is fine."

What did they just do to you? Quickly now!

That's right. They just increased your order from the Small Combo Meal to the Medium-sized Combo meal. They Up-Sold you a higher priced meal! Oh yes, they did!

My local Jack has the Medium prices on their Drive-Thru board, but my local Carl's Jr? They have the Small Combo price listed, or they have a sign in the window that advertizes a Super Star Combo for $2.99, but when you go in and order a Super Star Combo what happens? They ask if you want Medium or Large. There's no mention of Small, being the $2.99 price. You say Medium, they ask for $4.33, you hand over $5, get your change & your meal and go to your table unaware that you just fell for the stealthiest Up-Sell of them all, and what could possibly be considered a Bait & Switch tactic.

Next time you go to your local Fast Food establishment and order a Combo Meal, when they ask if you want a Regular/Medium or Large sized combo, say, "Small, thanks."

You don't need to eat all those Fries anyway. Lord knows I don't. Waaaay too much sodium. You'll pay for it later.

When they ask if you want Curly Fries tell them "No thanks, and actually...hold the Fries."

"Excuse me, sir? But the Combo Meal comes with Fries. You don't want them?"

"No, no I don't. And don't worry about the drink, either."

"You don't want the Fries or the drink? You...don't want the Combo then?"

"No, no I don't. I'll just have the sandwich, thanks."

"Um...ok. Would you...like a dessert then? Maybe an Apple Pie? Or a coffee?"

"No, it's ok. In fact, don't worry about the sandwich either. I've got some bread & meat at home, I can make myself a sandwich. I think I've got some beer, too, so thanks anyway. See ya later...or not."

Ok, so I'm kidding about that last part, but unless you're really keen to supersize yourself, the next time your Fast Food Cashier asks if you want a Medium or Large Combo, ask for Small.

You'll save yourself some money, some calories, and maybe even some heartache of the most serious kind a few years down the road.

Monday, April 07, 2008

A weekend at Mammoth

One of my coworkers has a cabin up in Mammoth Lakes and for years he'd offered me the use of it, but it wasn't until he retired that I finally took him up on his offer, so last Friday Liz, the kids and I set out on the 320 mile, 5 1/2 hour trip to Mammoth. All I can say is all hail the mighty DS, the in-car DVD player, and he who shall henceforth be known as Mr. Bean, for without whom a 5 1/2 hour car ride with a 3 y/old and 7 y/old would have otherwise been unbearable.

We left around 9am and ended up stopping at a McDonalds in Lone Pine for a late lunch, and this was the view from our window...

The trip was fairly uneventful, although the kids kept asking "Is that The Mountain?" every time a new mountain covered in snow came into view.

The trip was also made easier by the acquisition of the In-laws' GPS/navigator, which the kids thought was funny when I changed the voice from a tinny American woman to a rather cultured sounding English lady. Then I changed the car from a sedan to a monster truck but that was about the limit of the customizing I could do. The GPS did try to do some strange things, like take us via the Angeles Forest Hwy. Sure it's 20 miles shorter, but we don't save a heck of a lot of time going that way. In fact after we drove past the recommended turn off and the nice English lady realized we didn't want to take the high road and recalculated our route, our ETA was adjusted by just 5 minutes.

The GPS also made it easy finding our cabin when we arrived at Mammoth Lakes and we were pleasantly surprised to find we were about 5 minutes from both the center of town, and from the mountain's lower lodge where we were booked for our skiing lessons. The GPS also made it somewhat easy to find the upper lodge when we needed to drop off our daughter at daycare. Yup, we spent the day skiing while our youngest spent the day in daycare.

After a huge mix-up that's probably fairly typical of most family's first day at the snow, we dropped JE at his Skiing class then Liz & I found our instructor. About an hour or so later our small class was broken up into two smaller classes and Liz and I went our separate ways. Despite having been skiing just once before, 15 years ago, I'd retained enough skills to move up into the novice group, while Liz remained in the beginner's group with a white guy who fell over and cried a lot, and a black guy who also fell over a lot then quit.

When one of the guys in my group lost his poles our Instructor informed us we didn't really need them, and he made us all leave our poles at the chair lift. With no poles we had to concentrate more on the skis so we probably did get better, faster, and by the end of the day we were skiing Blue Square runs and dodging trees.

By the end of the day Liz's feet and my legs were killing me. Liz's feet because her boots were a shade too small, and my legs because I'd mistakenly tucked the inner lining of my ski pants into my boots, and the clips chewed the hell out of my shins and calves.

Expecting the worst Liz stopped by JE's class and was surprised to find him having a blast and skiing like he'd been doing it for years. When Liz saw some toddlers learning to ski, who were clearly younger than our daughter, she decided that next year we'd all go skiing; no more daycare.

Finally, I leave you with a picture of the view looking out the back door of our cabin.Somewhere under there is a pile of firewood.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

What happens when...

you're going to be Out Of The Office so you set up an Autoreply on your Email Inbox to automatically email people who send you emails to let them know you're going to be Out Of The Office...then just to make sure it's working you send yourself a test email.

What happens is your email program receives your test email, then sends the sender an email to notify them that you're going to be out of the office, but you're the sender, so your email program sends you the notice. When that Out of Office Autoreply arrives in your Inbox, what happens? Oh yeah, your email program says "Hey! Another new Email! Send that Sender an Out of Office Autoreply!" So it does, and it sends itself another Out of Office Autoreply.

If the programmers who wrote your email program were smart they allowed for this eventuality, and your email program will realize what's happening after the 2nd or 3rd email it receives from itself and it will stop Autoreplying. If the programmers were not smart...well...I'd hate to see the results of the email bomb that you inadvertently sent yourself.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

John Barrowman aka Capt. Jack


John Barrowman was born in Glasgow, Scotland, but moved to Aurora, Illinois with his family when he was 9-years old. When his new school mates made fun of the way he spoke Barrowman imitated their accent, but continued to speak with a Scottish accent when at home and with family.

Openly gay, Barrowman was considered for the role of Will in Will and Grace but was rejected because the producers felt he was "too straight".

"The sad thing is it's run by gay men and women," said Barrowman, expressing contempt at the idea that all gay men act the same way.

Barrowman owns two homes, one in London, and one in Cardiff, Wales (the setting for his series Torchwood) where he lives with his partner of 15 years, Scott Gill.

Barrowman told Scotland's The Herald newspaper that he had no plans to marry, saying, "Why would I want a 'marriage' from a belief system that hates me?" They did become Civil Partners on December 27, 2006, but the couple insist this is not a marriage.

Said Barrowman, "We're just going to sign the civil register. We're not going to have any ceremony because I'm not a supporter of the word marriage for a gay partnership." Forty family members and close friends attended their ceremony ;)

Barrowman's autobiography Anything Goes was written by his sister Carole, and is due to be published in the US later this month.

In February, 2008, Barrowman and Gill adopted a Jack Russell terrier, whom they named...Captain Jack :D