Posts Tagged ‘things the world needs’

Attire Emoji

Posted in Ridiculum on April 12th, 2016 by Nathan – 1 Comment
Attire Emoji

Clearly I'm not a great attire emoji designer…

Weddings, Birthdays, Special Events: I'm at a point in my life where I'm increasingly receiving invitations that have the same basic format: who/what/when/where/attire. That last one being the newcomer, and a confusing newcomer at that. "Cocktail attire," "semi-formal," "business casual," and many other descriptions all serve the same purpose: to very loosely and confusingly tell me something that my latest idea, attire emoji, could have told me better.

What, for example, is meant by "cocktail attire"? Wikipedia ignores this concept altogether and redirects directly to the article on "Semi-formal." The only picture on that page, however, is decidedly formal: a Canadian historian in black tie. Indeed, the same article lists black tie as a suggestion, though that is also listed on the page for formal. Most other sources (sorry, Wiki, I usually turn to you first) provide a wide range of options for cocktail attire: slacks with a jacket, suit with no tie, and suit with tie are all considered options, though this is a fairly wide spectrum.

Or take, for example, "business casual," which in some parts of America means jeans with an untucked button-up are acceptable but in other parts implies French cuffs and slacks. And in both of these examples, I'm only touching on men's fashion; where women are concerned, these labels are even more cryptic.

My solution is simple: when you create an invitation, do away with the complex gibberish phrases that normally adorn the bottom right, and replace them with attire emojis. If men are expected to wear a suit and tie and women would be comfortable in a little black dress, you can try to get that across through age-old code-words like "evening informal" (as apparently that's what that means), or you can instead provide a set of two emoji that accomplish the same task.

I should clarify here that I don't intend to suggest a specific set of emoji; any custom images will do as long as they serve the emoji purpose of conveying information in a single simple character. These pictographs or hieroglyphics (which is really all emoji are) can get across a lot more information, perhaps a thousand times as much, as the old adage suggests, as the words we use today.

What's in a pint?

Posted in Beer on March 19th, 2015 by Nathan – Be the first to comment
Clearly marked pint lines on one of my favorite glasses: Great British Beer Festival 2013

Clearly marked pint, half-pint, and third-pint lines on one of my favorite glasses: Great British Beer Festival 2013

In the United Kingdom, it is illegal to sell a pint of beer with less than 568mL of liquid. This corresponds to 20 imperial ounces, which is about 19.2 US ounces. Similarly, "half pints" must contain no less than 284mL, and "third pints" no less than 189.3mL. To enforce this law, pubs in the UK serve beers in marked glasses, with clear lines that show at what point a pint has been reached. There are inspections. There are regulators. There are customers who politely ask for a "top up" when this line isn't met. And as a result, this line is met. Customers who expect a pint receive an imperial pint at a minimum.

The United States Treasury, through powers granted by Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, defined, in 1832, a gallon as 231 cubic inches. As part of the US Code obligations, every state has, on behalf of the Secretary of Commerce, a complete set of "weights and measures," that include a gallon and divisions thereof: half gallons, quarts, pints, half pints, and gills. Thus, a pint, according to US law, is 28.875 cubic inches, or precisely 16 US ounces (473mL).

And yet, when you buy a pint of beer in this country, there is no guarantee that you will get those 16 ounces. In fact the opposite is true: thanks to under-pouring and misleading glassware, you are likely to get much less.

The "standard American shaker pint" glass, the kind you probably think of as a pint glass, holds exactly 16 ounces. Exactly. No room for spillage, and in fact, pour a tall boy of beer into one and you'll note a "reverse miniscus" of liquid, as surface tension keeps the liquid from pouring over the side. But when was the last time you were served, at a bar, a nearly-overflowing glass of beer? When standard shaker pints are used, you're much more likely to receive around fourteen ounces of beer, accounting for head and empty space to prevent (or caused by) spillage.

And yet the problem compounds further: bantam-weight shaker pints, which have thicker walls, a much thicker floor, and are commonly used with a stainless steel Boston shaker to shake cocktails, hold a maximum of 14 ounces of liquid. Again, this is exact. Any more than 14 ounces, and that surface tension will break, sending liquid spilling over the side. And today, many bars have switched from the already questionable American shaker pint to that bantam-weight shaker pint, meaning that once you account for head and spillage, you're likely receiving only around 12 ounces when you ask for a pint. A 25% discount in liquid that surely is not represented in the price.

As it happens, the State of Texas actually does have a law that deals with this, but the Department of Agriculture, responsible for its enforcement, apparently focuses entirely on its application to fuel pumps. The relevant section that should be applied to bars and restaurants that under-serve is Section 13.035(b)(2): "A person violates this chapter if the person represents the price or the quantity of a commodity, item, or service sold or offered or exposed for sale in a manner intended or tending to mislead or deceive an actual or prospective customer."

I think it's time for this state, and any other state that has similar laws, to begin enforcement of this. The law provides for a fine for every infraction, and I think it's time that those fines be levied. States that don't have similar laws ought to legislate thusly. The customer is being cheated, lied to, and this is a disgrace. I'd like to see marked pint glasses that clearly and correctly show where liquid reaches 16 ounces. I'd like to see the demise of both the American shaker pint and its even more devious bantam-weight cousin as serving vessels. And I'd like to see establishments stop cheating customers, be it through good conscience or through proper application of consumer protection laws.

But it also requires action from the customers. Demand a full pint. Demand top-ups to get to 16 ounces when American shaker pints are used, and stop patronizing establishments that cheat you out of volume. Order cans or 12-ounce bottles and ask for a pint glass, to demonstrate the embarrassing pour that occurs when bantam-weight shaker pints are used. This cheating needs to end, but it'll take a lot of work for us to get our full pour.

Craft beer is underpriced

Posted in Beer on April 9th, 2014 by Nathan – 17 Comments

If quantity cannot increase fast enough, price must.I've written a lot about this topic in various other locations, but I figured it's time to talk about it here: much of craft beer is absurdly underpriced. I've touched on supply/demand before in this blog, but a quick refresher can't hurt. Basically, to the left is a supply and demand curve. It's basic. Where that dot labeled "equilibrium" is is the magical world where supply matches demand. In that world there's an equilibrium price and an equilibrium quantity. It's magical, of course, because it rarely exists with specific goods.

Craft beer is one of those goods where the equilibrium seems to be a fantasy, impossible to reach. Instead, we're at a point on the supply curve down and to the left of the equilibrium: quantity is low, price is low.

The symptoms of this are obvious in many craft beer scenes around the country: super quick sellouts, the recent Hunahpu's Day disaster, beer scalpers, etc. When demand outpaces supply, these types of things happen. These are simple market inefficiencies. And there's only two ways to fix these inefficiencies: increase supply or decrease demand.

Increasing supply is a somewhat nice idea, and in the market overall, this is already underway. More and more craft breweries are opening, expanding, increasing production. However, because beers are not perfect substitute goods, an increase in supply in the overall market does not translate to an increase in supply for particular beers. As a result, rare or limited releases continue to see the problems described above. In fact, this is precisely where the problem is most evident and these beers are the exact ones I would argue are underpriced.

Thus, demand must be decreased. And as the supply/demand curve image shows, if the quantity can't increase, the price must. And as it does, the consumer appetite will decrease, demand will drop as prices approach equilibrium. Note that there's nothing "fair" about this – it's a purely capitalist system, but it's also a system that, with the scarcity that exists, works.

Jester King's Aurelian Lure and Nocturn Chrysalis were priced at sixteen dollars per 500ml bottle. There were about 500 bottles of each. Every bottle sold out within three minutes. That's absurd. Jester King could have easily charged twice that and the sellout would still have occurred, albeit at a slightly slower rate. In fact, I would argue that Jester King could have charged ten times as much – an unheard of (some might say obscene) $160 per bottle, and still sold out in a reasonable amount of time. (Of course, they would have had to remove the "limit one per person" stipulation. And I wouldn't have gotten any.)

A six-pack of Saint Arnold Divine Reserve may run you as much as twenty dollars. Look on Craigslist a day or two after it's been sold out in Houston, and you'll see postings asking for fifty or one hundred dollars. No matter how often people flag the posts (myself included) as prohibited, those sellers will sell the beer they bought. If they wouldn't, then we wouldn't see the same thing after every somewhat limited release. The prices they request are closer to the market equilibrium, and the gray market rewards them for taking advantage of a massive market inefficiency.

Part of the problem, I believe, is that there seems to be some kind of "noble pricing" that breweries implement. Reputational risk is probably a concern, but honestly, a lot of breweries are owned by or started by people who find it abhorrent to charge more than what they think is fair. Freetail is a great example of this, and they have stated before that they purposely keep prices low, intentionally do not capitalize on the extreme demand for Ananke and other special releases, and do not plan to change this in the future. Honestly, I think that's noble, wonderful for my wallet and those wallets of my friends, and unsustainable.

The prices probably won't rise in the near future, unfortunately, because of this reason and other reasons. But I repeat that I believe this is unsustainable. The growth in craft beer demand looks to continue at ridiculous rates, while supply simply cannot keep up. The result will be increased gray market activity, more catastrophes at beer releases, more rapid sellouts and angry consumers, and ultimately chaos. It's not impossible to envision a future in which a brewer throws his hands up and sells out or quits, in retaliation to this chaos. And that benefits nobody.

The responsible but unpopular thing to do is to raise prices. Craft beer is massively underpriced and unless this changes, there may be a crisis ahead.

A brief, open letter to Saint Arnold (Ode to Icon Red Bohemian Pils)

Posted in Beer on March 24th, 2014 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

Dear Saint Arnold Brewing Company,

Please make Icon Red Bohemian Pils a year-round offering.

Love,

Nathan

++++

Last year, when the first in Saint Arnold's Icon series came out (Red: Belgian Pale Ale), I was immediately excited. Before Icon, Saint Arnold's offerings had changed very infrequently, or been limited release only. Icon represented a new world for the brewery: new, changing styles released with a volume high enough for everyone to have a ton of the stuff. And each quarter, that has remained true, each time with a delicious beer. The BPA was crisp and delicious, and then came the Cascadian Dark Ale (Blue), one of the few "black IPAs" (a term I dislike generally only slightly more than the style) I actually enjoyed. It was flavorful, malty, and unlike the typical CDA. Following that was the Amarillo Hefe (Green), which was unique and refreshing. And to cap off the first year of the Icon series was the Bière de Saison (Gold), a mixture of two styles, and in my opinion the best of the four.

When the second year of Icon began, it was clear that the series was going to continue brilliance, but it started with a letdown for me: Icon Red Bohemian Pils. I say "letdown" because when the style was announced I was immediately saddened; I simply don't consider myself a pilsner guy.

Or, more appropriately, I didn't consider myself a pilsner guy. The vast majority of pilsners I had had before the Bohemian Pils were disappointing, unbalanced, and not friendly to my palate. In fact, some of the worst beers I've had have been pilsners. So when Saint Arnold announced their second Icon Red, I assumed I'd give it a try, not like it very much, and wait a long three months for whatever came next.

I could not have been more wrong, as the "letter" above makes obvious. I drank a ton of Icon Red over those three months and now find myself wanting as it has dried up nearly everywhere, replaced by the newest (and also delicious) Icon Blue: Brown Porter. Don't get me wrong, I can't wait for more Icon beers, as each one has been delicious. But I want the Bohemian Pils to return as a year-round offering.

As Saint Arnold this past week added to their year-round offerings for the first time in two years (with the incredible Boiler Room Berliner Weisse), I don't think the timing could be more appropriate for yet another addition. So, I write the brief, open letter above to ask Saint Arnold to do exactly that. Make this one-time pilsner a year-round pilsner.

Give me ice or give me death

Posted in Travel on August 7th, 2013 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

I was in London two weeks ago and I intend to be there again this coming week. I'll have a lot to say when I get back (I've been thinking about a few things related to restaurants and beer and London and will likely put them together in the coming weeks) but I want to get this one out now, in case the Queen reads this blog and can decree a change before I get there on Sunday.

There's a serious ice problem in England. Actually in all of Europe, but I believe you have to tackle a problem one step at a time, and England seems as good a first step as any.

The ice problem is this: there's no ice.

Seriously. You like ice in your drinks? Too bad. England operates on an interesting conversion system (something to do with the metric system, I'm sure) that appears to be as follows:
Ice water –> Water
Iced tea –> Jail time

I actually did see a few cubes of ice at one point (a rare sighting indeed) when I ordered a Sazerac at a restaurant. I was a bit surprised, because at other bars, I had seen liquor bottles stored in a cooler so that bartenders could avoid needing ice. I kid you not. "Ridiculous" does not even begin to describe that.

Now as it happens, I particularly like having ice in my water, so this is particularly distressing to me. Also distressing is that I can't understand it: England is a first world country. Surely they have freezers, ice machines, etc. available to them. It's not like ice is a luxury or a precious commodity. There's no reason why ice should be hard to find. But in England, it's a scarcity.

England, I'm calling on you to be the change I wish to see in the world. Start freezing water, preferably in segmented-cube-shaped plastic trays, and put the resulting cubes in your water. It will blow your collective minds. Or freeze them.

It's time to care about politics again

Posted in America on July 4th, 2013 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

I often hear, "I don't want to talk about politics but…" or "I don't care about politics but…"

And I think it's time for that to stop.

You do care about politics. But somehow, you've been fooled by someone into thinking it's wrong to do so. You've been misled into thinking that you're less of a person if you have political opinions. You've been tricked into believing that political opinions are uncouth and should be avoided if at all possible. And all this serves to do is keep in charge those people with whom you'd vehemently disagree if you allowed yourself to do so.

Last week we saw a heroic effort from Texas Senator Wendy Davis, the TX Democratic Party and an "unruly mob" (read: the voice of democracy) that ultimately led to the death of a bill that, under normal state political rules, never had a chance to pass. Because Governor Rick Perry can suspend some of these legislative rules, he was able to skew the system to push forward an agenda shared by few outside of his fringe circles. And yet it did not come to pass, because a large enough group of Texans cared enough to stop it. Because they cared about politics. Because they cared about their lives and their future in this country. With Rick Perry at bat again, with the same agenda in another special session, will it pass this time, or will Texans care enough about politics to ensure a similar outcome?

The discussion about Edward Snowden has been skewed to be entirely about his asylum. Somehow we've ignored the topic of privacy. Of constitutional rights. Of how our forefathers would feel about the NSA spying on every American. "Don't tread on me," it seems, would easily adapt to "Don't spy on me," but somehow we've allowed ourselves to "not care about politics" long enough for the discourse to move away from that and toward the sensationalist flight of the whistleblower.

You're not wrong for having an opinion on these or other political things. Even if it's an opinion that I would find objectionable, I would not find it more objectionable than you pretending to have no opinion whatsoever, or suppressing what opinions you have.

You do care about politics. You care enough to vote. You care enough to call your elected representatives, even if you didn't elect them specifically. You care enough to make your voice heard. You care enough to share your opinions. These aren't just facts, they are encouragements and reminders to do so. Don't forget how you feel right now about political things, make sure you don't have to wait until November for positive change. But when November comes around, and I mean every November, not just every four years, go to the polls with this July 4 in mind.

Make a change in our country by making your voice heard. Make a change by being more than the water affected by the ripple of the drop, but rather, part of the drop itself instead. Happy Independence Day. Make the Founders proud by doing your part in progressing their vision. Make them proud by being an American who cares about politics.

Don't tear down Houston's Eiffel Tower

Posted in Opinion on June 11th, 2013 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

The Dome stands in disrepair, but don't let it suffer the same fate as the Oilers...The Astrodome's fate will be decided some time shortly after (or on) June 25, officially, though cynics would suggest it was already decided years ago. Demolition seems to be the most likely end for the Eighth Wonder of the World, as those with the most to gain, primarily the Rodeo, have wanted for years. But in the mean time, there's still a few weeks before the county weighs the nineteen proposals that have been suggested. My personal choice of the handful that have been made public (all will be made public on the 19th) is the "skeleton dome" plan that would strip the Dome down to its steel frame, repurposing the base as a park.

On April 9, 1965, the Harris County Domed Stadium opened for the first time, the brainchild of Judge Roy Hofheinz, a man clearly ahead of his time. It immediately became synonymous with Houston, a symbol that would stand for our city for nearly fifty years. The skeleton plan not only restores a great symbol, but allows that legacy to continue. As many before me have stated, it makes the Dome into the Eiffel Tower of Houston.

Houston is not just the fourth largest city and one of the fastest growing, it's also a city growing in culture and fame. It's a city whose restaurants are receiving national recognition, whose economy is a beacon to others in the recent times of economic turmoil, whose sports teams are present on the national stage (except for the Astros…), and where transplants (who are Houstonians upon calling themselves that and no later) who thought they'd be here only "as long as they have to" realize they don't want to live anywhere else. But it may soon be the largest city in America without an Eiffel Tower to call its own. Frankly I think that's unacceptable.

New York has the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, and many other landmarks. LA has the Hollywood sign and Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Chicago has Millenium Park, Navy Pier, and the John Hancock Center. Philly has the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. San Antonio has the Alamo and San Francisco has the Golden Gate Bridge. Seattle has the Space Needle. Even Saint Louis has an Arch! Saint Louis!

It would be insane to suggest that those cities would demolish those symbols or any other symbol of such magnitude. If Houston does so with the Astrodome, we will not have just torn down an old stadium. We'll have torn down a part of this city's soul.