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We Tried to Obey

June 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Two Mondays ago, Steve Jobs opened the annual Apple Worldwide Developer’s Conference in San Francisco with his keynote address introducing iPhone 4. I followed it live through the efforts of live bloggers such as Engadget’s Joshua Topolsky. This was the subject of my short post Our Master Speaks, written as I followed along.

Later in the day, Apple’s website had news of the new iPhone. Pre-orders would be taken starting June 15, with delivery at home or pick-up at Apple Stores on June 24. I put it on my calendar.

Tuesday, like so many others, I went to the site to order my new phone. In fact, we were going to get new phones all around — for me, Gail, and Joel. We have the second generation iPhone and all were eligible to upgrade to the fourth generation at the base cost. (If you haven’t been under contract with AT&T long enough, you need to pay extra for the new phone.) I was thus among the hundreds of thousands (millions?) who experienced the meltdown of the AT&T servers. I tried repeatedly at first, then intermittently, then not until late that night, but could never complete an order. By the time I tried the next day, delivery wasn’t promised until mid July. Even then, after adding my phone to the cart, I met with a failed server when trying to add a second phone. I haven’t gone back to try since. Way too frustrating.

No doubt the next disaster will occur next week when the successful first-round orderers get their phones and try to get them working on the AT&T network. Maybe waiting isn’t such a bad idea.

I tried. Really.

Categories: Business, Computing

Nocera Returns

April 17, 2010 Leave a comment

The NYT business columnist Joe Nocera has been on a book-writing leave since last Halloween, when he wrote a piece about four topics he wished he could explore at greater length. I must have missed the piece — it would have appeared on the day that we traveled all day by train from Grenoble to Venice, changing in Chambéry and Turin — but I knew of the leave because he announced it as well on his blog.

I set up a twitter account fifteen months ago, sent three tweets out (despite having no followers), and promptly forgot about it until a few days ago, when I decided I should follow someone other than just Glenn Greenwald, whose tweets I hadn’t actually been reading. I added a couple of people to my follower list, then forgot about it again until this morning, when I decided to be more systematic about finding people to follow. Among the candidates, I thought of that NYT business columnist who disappeared last fall. What’s his name? Five minutes later, I picked up today’s NYT. Out of lingering Saturday habit, I looked at the front of the business section for his column, and there he was! Joe Nocera That was a surprise. He is indeed back, with a column on synthetic C.D.O.’s and the SEC’s charge yesterday that Goldman Sachs was involved in securities fraud.

I’m glad Nocera has returned to active duty. As for twitter, perhaps more on that later. I tweeted a few minutes ago for the first time since the day I signed up for my account. Just before writing this post, I tried to link my twitter and wordpress accounts so that each time I publish a post, an accompanying tweet will appear. Let’s see if it works.

Categories: Business, Journalism

More on Real Deli

October 7, 2009 Leave a comment

pastrami

[Richard Perry, New York Times]

A month ago, when I was back in New York, I wrote about Ben’s, a deli that started on Long Island but now has additional locations in Queens, Manhattan, and even Boca. As I wrote then, it’s not the greatest, but it’s sure better than anything around here. Today, Joan Nathan has a piece in the food section of the NYT on the lost art of Jewish deli food and the steady disappearance of the delis themselves. Sad reading.

Nathan opens her article by introducing the Brummers.

Hobby’s Delicatessen & Restaurant in downtown Newark may have lost much of its more traditional clientele over the years, but it has held on to tradition. The corned beef and the tongue are cured for 14 days in stainless steel bins in the basement. The salamis hanging on the wall look as if they’ve been drying there, their flavor intensifying, since the Brummer family bought the place in 1962.

Samuel Brummer and his sons, Michael and Marc, even make their own matzo ball soup and potato pancakes.
But in Newark, as in so many cities, holding on has been tough for delis.

“In 1945, there were 12 delis in Newark,” said Samuel Brummer, 86. “Now we are only two.”

Read the article, but also I recommend watching the accompanying video, in which Brummer father and sons talk about the business.

Nathan’s article also introduces us to Save the Deli blogger David Sax*, who observes that “the best delis have a master cutter, not a slicing machine. When you steam a piece of meat for a long time, as with a good piece of pastrami once it has been cured and smoked, it will tear apart if it isn’t cut by hand.” Marc Singer of Irving’s [no relation] Delicatessen in Livingston, New Jersey, adds that “Hebrew National pastramis are a round cut intended for machine slicing at the local deli.”

This got me to thinking of how special Hebrew National once was, before it became part of ConAgra Foods and lost its identity. (See here for its self-provided history.) Growing up on Long Island, I didn’t know there was any kind of salami besides Hebrew National. We would always have the yard-long ones at home. At least I remember them as being about a yard long. Thirty inches at least. My father was in the food business, and Sonny, one of the salesmen in the company, would stop by the Hebrew National plant every week or two to pick up supplies on his way home from the city. Out on the Island, he would make another stop, at our house, appearing at the kitchen door with a box holding our share: a salami or two, maybe a tongue, and a line of franks all curled up like a snake. For years I had the mistaken impression that Sonny was a Hebrew National employee. The idea that Hebrew National delivered straight to our home didn’t yet strike me as odd.

My childhood summers were spent at camp in the Berkshires, close to the Massachusetts-New York state line near West Stockbridge. When my parents came to visit, they would bring a Hebrew National salami. Maybe they brought three, one for each of us. I would share mine with my fellow campers and it would disappear pretty quickly. Camp food wasn’t the greatest. The salami sustained me. (Well, what was great at camp was the corn from the adjacent cornfields. Once a week it would be picked in the morning and we’d eat it at lunch. Just corn. Lots of it. Best corn I ever ate. I learned that corn and salami make for a complete diet, when supplemented by cookies and milk.)

In recent years, I’ve come to find Hebrew National salami a little on the sweet side. I wonder if it always was. What I’d really like to eat right now is some of Hobby’s 14-day-cured corned beef. Too bad I won’t be getting to Newark in the near future.

*I need to give credit to my cousin John for pointing out Sax’s blog in an email this morning before I stumbled on it in my own reading of the NYT.

Categories: Business, Culture, Food, Restaurants

Kit Kat and Cadbury

September 17, 2009 Leave a comment

cadfinger

My favorite treat in my childhood was a Kit Kat bar. Thank god for Rowntree’s. Indeed, it’s the Kit Kat that introduced me to the city of York, which I made it a point to visit on the first Saturday of my five-week stay in Leeds in the summer of 1977. (Well, okay, not because of Rowntree’s, which by then was Rowntree Mackintosh, but because York is such a beautiful, historic city, with its Roman and Viking heritage.)

Calamity struck in 1969, when Rowntree licensed Hershey to produce Kit Kat bars in the US. Sigh. They’re okay, but the chocolate simply isn’t as good. When Nestlé bought Rowntree in 1988, they were stuck with the licensing agreement — see the wikipedia article on Kit Kat and its references — so here in the US we continue to be consigned to a life with mediocre Kit Kat bars.

Yet, there is an alternative. We need only drive over the border to Canada. Or bring some back if we find ourselves in the UK. We have yet to make a special trip just for this purpose, but if we find ourselves abroad, we don’t pass up the opportunity. Indeed, last April, on Gail’s return from Scotland, she bought me some Kit Kats at Heathrow. Bless her.

And then there’s Cadbury chocolate, another sad story, and one that just happens to be in the news in the wake of Kraft’s failed bid last week to take Cadbury over. Once again, Hershey is the culprit. The Wall Street Journal’s front page feature article on Monday told the sad story of Cadbury chocolate lovers forced to subsist here in the US on Hershey’s bland substitute for the real thing. “Hershey has been making Cadbury bars in the U.S. for 21 years. Under a 1988 agreement, the company has the rights to manufacture and distribute Cadbury brands including Dairy Milk, Fruit & Nut and Caramello in the U.S.”

I love the Dairy Milk. The woman described in the opening of the WSJ feature aptly captures my own feelings.

When Gayle Green has a craving for chocolate, she piles her two children into her car and drives 45 minutes to the British Pantry store in Aldie, Va., where she stocks up on Cadbury chocolates imported from the U.K.

“I know — it’s sick, right?” says the 40-year-old social media director for a wedding Web site.

Ms. Greene could buy American-made Cadbury bars at a grocery store just a few minutes from her house in Woodbridge, Va. But since getting her first taste of British chocolate on a high-school trip to the U.K., she wants nothing to do with the stuff made in the U.S. “Oh, it’s so yuck,” she says. “You might as well eat a Hershey bar.”

But my deepest Cadbury love is Cadbury Fingers. They are so small and light, one can easily eat a whole package without even realizing it. A few years ago our friend Cynthia returned from Vancouver with two packages of them just for me. The only problem was, Gail and I had just started phase 1 of the South Beach Diet, to last for two weeks. No cookies or chocolate. Absolutely none. What to do? I decided I would allow myself two fingers a day. Not a whole package. Not three. Just two. No point letting them get old. And that’s what I did. I remain proud of the discipline that I displayed, and I still lost weight.

I believe Cadbury Fingers would be an excellent addition to the South Beach Diet. If only we had ready access to them.

Categories: Business, Food

Warm Logos

May 31, 2009 Leave a comment

sysco

The Week in Review section of today’s NYT has an article by Bill Marsh about companies changing long-standing logos to warmer, fuzzier ones.

Behold the new breed of corporate logo — non-threatening, reassuring, playful, even child-like. Not emblems of distant behemoths, but faces of friends. … Bold, block capital letters are out. Their replacements are mostly or entirely lower case, softening the stern voice of corporate authority to something more like an informal chat. … Letterforms in many new emblems are lighter and rounder

Last year’s top influence, green for sustainability, remains; leaves still sprout across the corporate landscape. … blue was also gaining as a stand-in for the environment (think of earth’s blue orb as seen from space, or clear blue waters) as well as for fresh optimism. But please, make it a joyful sky blue — not dark, corporate-titan navy.

A graphic accompanying the article shows old and new logos for a variety of companies, along with a short discussion of the nature of each change. I was working my way through the examples, starting with Wal-Mart and Kraft (and ending with Blackwater, which has changed its name as well as its logo), when I stumbled on an example close to my heart. I didn’t even realize Sysco had introduced a new logo. As the accompanying text explains, “The old Sysco box logo — cleverly spelling out the food supplier’s name — made way for three newly popular features: sky-blue type, a green leaf and a warmly worded tagline.” I do miss that cleverly hidden name.

Categories: Business, Design

Zamboni

May 23, 2009 Leave a comment

zamboni

Who doesn’t love a Zamboni (brand ice-resurfacing machine)? And what better way to start the day can there be than to open the NYT to the photo above and a front page article about Zambonis? The caption for the photo is, “The first test for every new Zamboni is a turn down tkhe tree-lined streets outside the factory in a suburb of Los Angeles.”

Forget the article, at least for a moment. Instead, go straight to the on-line slide show. Among the many delights is a photo of Sonja Henie standing in front of a Zamboni. The accompanying text explains that the “second and third machines built by Zamboni were bought by the Olympic star Sonja Henie for use in her ice shows.”

The article ends with the concern that Zamboni has become the generic name for the ice-resurfacing machines:

Most would-be competitors have come and gone. But one, the Resurfice Corporation, of Elmira, Ontario, said it produces about the same number of machines as Zamboni. The companies are, in effect, the Boeing and Airbus of ice resurfacing.

Resurfice is owned and operated by the Schlupp family, with none of the name recognition of its competitor. Don Schlupp, the company’s sales and marketing director, says he is used to hearing people call its machines Zambonis.

“We refer to it as the Kleenex syndrome,” he said.

All the off-hand familiarity makes Zamboni a bit nervous. It has trademarked its name (and the block shape of its machines) but fears the name becoming a lowercase zamboni, suffering the same fate as Aspirin, Escalator, Zipper and other brand names that lost trademark protections.

The company also asks that Zamboni not be used as a noun (as it has been throughout this article) or a verb. The ice does not get Zambonied, then, and the vehicle is a Zamboni brand ice-resurfacing machine. Good luck with that.

Categories: Business, Language, Sports

Delta 510

May 3, 2009 Leave a comment

turkscaicos

Last week’s The Middle Seat column by Scott McCartney in the Wall Street Journal described the experience of Delta’s flight #510 from Turks and Caicos Islands (pictured above) to Atlanta one day last month. If you can’t resist horror stories, this one’s for you. Here are excerpts:
Read more…

Categories: Business, Travel

What Service Economy?

March 20, 2009 1 comment

gelogo

A few weeks ago I wrote about Jeff Madrick’s book The Case for Big Government, published last fall by Princeton University Press. I learned about it in Richard Parker’s New York Review of Books review and ordered it a couple of days later. I got about halfway through the book before getting distracted by other business.

As I anticipated from the review, I’ve enjoyed reading Madrick’s argument that government spending throughout US history has had much to do with the country’s becoming the world’s leading economic power by early in the twentieth century, as it moved from an agricultural to a manufacturing economy. This simply would not have happened without government investment in education and infrastructure, or without government land policies and land giveaways. Well, that’s a simplification of his argument, but part of it. In particular, the claim that government spending interferes with economic growth and initiative, which has come to be taken for granted since Reagan’s presidency, as Milton Friedman’s ideas have moved to the mainstream and dominated conservative-based economic discussion, is simply false, without data to support it.

Madrick also discusses the next stage in our country’s economic evolution, from a manufacturing to a service economy, and as one reads his discussion of this, one need only look at events of the last half year to realize what an illusion that was. You can’t make something out of nothing. Wall Street did for a while. Enron did. Madoff did. But eventually it collapses.

With my two recent trips to Detroit, this has been much on my mind. Michigan (and surrounding states) became the country’s manufacturing center in parallel with the growth of a manufacturing-based economy in the first half of the twentieth century. Now Michigan is an economic mess. Yet, I can’t help thinking that the revitalization of this region and more generally of our industrial base may be an essential component of the country’s economic recovery.

This was on my mind when General Electric’s annual report arrived in the mail yesterday. (Joel owns 10 shares, a Bar Mitzvah present from my brother, which is why we receive GE mailings.) Given GE’s own problems and its announcement three weeks ago that it was cutting dividends from 31 cents a share to 10 cents a share, I decided this morning to see what chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt had to say in his opening letter. It’s a long one, about six pages of small print. I still haven’t read it all, but I did come across a passage near the end that prompted this post and that I wish to quote. Here’s what Immelt says:
Read more…

Categories: Business, Economics, History

Electric Car Network

March 20, 2009 Leave a comment

betterplace

David Pogue, the NYT technology writer, interviewed Better Place chief executive Shai Agassi on the CBS News Sunday Morning last Sunday. Better Place has been much in the news lately for its plans to build an electric car network. You’ve probably read about it — this is the idea that you don’t have to charge your car at home or work and get limited range. Instead you can drive into the electric equivalent of gas stations when you’re on long drives and have the battery swapped for a fresh one. For shorter drives, charging the one in the car overnight or while at work should work fine, but for long drives you do battery swaps. Plus, the company owns the battery, so the price of the car drops. And as battery technology improves, the company drops in better batteries, so you don’t have to worry about having an out-dated battery that doesn’t perform as well as those in new cars.

I didn’t see Pogue’s interview of Agassi, but yesterday Pogue had a blog post containing an edited transcript of the interview that, though shorter than the full interview, is longer than what was shown on TV. It’s fascinating. I urge you to read it. The ideas underlying the network, as described partly above, fit together brilliantly. A short excerpt is below, but read the whole transcript.
Read more…

What’s Up at the NYT?

January 5, 2009 Leave a comment

Today’s first section had two shocks:

1. The 2 1/2 inch high banner ad at the bottom of the front page for CBS. (I can’t wait to see who buys that space tomorrow.)

2. The op-ed piece by John R. Bolton and John Yoo calling for Obama to respect the Senate’s treaty power when he assumes power.

I guess I can live with ads on page 1. Either that or I can cancel delivery of the print edition. But why do they have to print such dishonest op-ed pieces? Key members of the Bush administration now care about limiting executive power and following the Constitution? Yoo spent years writing memos justifying the president’s prerogative to do what he pleases, including imprisoning and torturing anyone in the name of the war on terror, but now he’s worrying about presidential abuse of power. Among the many comments today on this piece, see those of Eric Martin.

It is a happy coincidence that the Bolton-Yoo op-ed piece appeared on the same day that Obama announced his choice of Dawn Johnsen to head the Office of Legal Counsel, Yoo’s old home. See, for instance, Glenn Greenwald on Johnsen’s merits.

Categories: Business, Politics