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Comment Re:I Take Issue with the Phrase "Give Away" (Score 1) 450

The economic realities of the global coffee market are not as simple as you are making them out to be. Some historical perspective:

There was once a time when coffee was trading at high prices. Demand was increasing, supplies were not increasing as much, and there were countries capable of producing coffees that weren't. Getting people to plant coffee in these non-traditional producing areas was seen as a way to develop economies. This idea was not without precedent. Brazil was largely built on coffee money, after all. Now, it takes a few years from the time coffee is planted until it produces its first crop. Coffee isn't a crop where you plant it, harvest it a few months later, and know what you've got. It takes about 10 years before you really know what you have with coffee. All of the sudden you have a huge increase in global coffee production. Making the problem worse, these new coffee producers were exporting coffees of such poor quality that more established producers never allowed on the global market. Now, coffee does not really fit the definition of a commodity, but it was usually sold with contracts that specify a differential above or below the NYBOT C price with those differentials based on several factors such as the quality of the coffee (coffee better than exchange grade selling for more, worse coffee selling for less) and the producing country (a comparative advantage model doesn't really work because a specialty grade coffee from Panama isn't going to taste anything like a specialty grade coffee from Tanzania).

Up until this point, the NYBOT C was cyclical. Sometimes it would go bust, but it would recover. This time it was different. There had been a fundamental change in the market which kept prices depressed for a long period of time and the differentials weren't keeping up. Simply letting quality producers go out of business wasn't going to be good for the producers and it wasn't going to be good for buyers either because someone who wanted to buy a nice coffee from Mexico wasn't going to be interested in some garbage from Vietnam. By setting a floor price for some coffees, Fair Trade did a lot of good in keeping those producers in business. You might find it interesting to look into the details of some Fair Trade producers and see what they're doing with those premiums. In many cases they're using them to improve the quality of the coffee and diversify the local economy, both things which reduce long term reliance on the Fair Trade premium, which seems to be exactly what you're advocating (though you suggest doing that before getting the capital needed to undertake such projects).

Now we're back into a period of higher prices for coffee (NYBOT C is over 200 as I write this and the differentials aren't dropping quickly which is a big part of why many coffee firms either have or soon will be announcing price increases) and this is due to many factors. Looking at the fundamentals, this is cyclical and prices will drop again, but probably not substantially within the next 18 months. We also have a lot more diversity in price discovery mechanisms for coffee which is a positive development, particularly for producers of high quality coffees. Any Fair Trade cooperative ought to be looking into getting out of Fair Trade in the long term exactly because that's not a long term sustainable model. Some cooperatives have already made that jump, others will follow, but to argue that Fair Trade was not beneficial in the long term simply is not supported by fact.

Comment Re:Examples? (Score 1) 728

I only need two keystrokes to get a division sign (option/) so I'm not really sure what you're going on about there. That said, I don't think it matters so much in terms of writing the code. As others have pointed out, we've been down that road with APL. Where this sort of idea really shines, however, is in reading the code. One of the comments on the article touched on this, so I'll quote the relevant bit:

Robert Melton | Mon, 01 Nov 2010 02:11:13 UTC
What an odd combination of criticisms... first and foremost, I think you already hit on the correct solution... custom syntax and creation mechanisms are best explored as layers on top of existing tools, not a fundamental part of a new tool. I believe to try to integrate your ideas would have crippled Go, and given it nearly no advantages, at the cost of a huge degree of developer mind share. Bootstrapping a language is hard enough without giving yourself new disadvantages. I have never seen Guido van Rossum claim anything other the "readability" and that it was the natural flow as foreseen by Knuth (1974)

The problem here, however, is a cultural one. I suspect that most of the people who write software have never read through a non-trivial program and come out of it with an understanding of the program (contrast this with novelists reading novels) and most software is written in such a way that reading the code for understanding is more like assembling a puzzle from diverse bits scattered all about.

We already have pretty much all of these presentation niceties with CWEB. I frequently write my programs in literate C++ and can use goofy characters with subscripts if I want. TeX markup in comments is very nice. Especially useful is having something a bit more visually distinctive separating assignment from equality testing, but the big gain here is that it makes it easier to write programs as code narratives which humans can read to gain an understanding of the program. Once you have someone reading the program, how the code is represented starts to matter. Granted, this is another example from the pile of ideas that never really caught on.

Comment Re:They just need to treat it like it's a privileg (Score 1) 312

My experience does not agree with your hunch. We've been running an open hot spot on a DSL connection for years. The phone company has known that we are doing that for a long time and their only concern is that they don't want to provide tech support our network (fair enough, I don't want them supporting my network either). The only thing that has happened with that connection over the years is that it has gotten faster and cheaper.

Comment Re:They just need to treat it like it's a privileg (Score 1) 312

Interestingly enough, that's why I make a point of buying furniture that's slightly uncomfortable rather than the cushy sofas, to get people to stand up now and then and maybe wander back to the counter for another drink or eye the bakery case. Some other shops do the same thing with music that's slightly too loud, bad lighting, or keeping the place too cold. Once upon a time there was a coffee shop not that far from where I live that I'd go to. It was definitely a local youth hangout, but the owner kept the heat off, bad lighting, uncomfortable furniture. He didn't buy coffee from me, but he got good stuff and his staff knew what it was doing behind the bar. The place was always packed and did good business, but one day the owner decided to move back to his home town and sold the place to his employees. They sat down and rather than leave a good thing alone, thought it would be cool if they made it like the coffee house on Friends. They put light bulbs in the fixtures, turned on the heat, brought in the cushy furniture. The place was still always packed, but nobody ever got up to buy another drink and they were out of business in less than a year. I still miss them. None of the other half dozen or so coffee shops that have gone into that location since have been anywhere near as good in terms of serving a delicious drink. That said, I love my customers who stick around all day. They bring their out of town guests, have their meetings at my shop, and are really some of my best word of mouth advertisers.

Comment Re:They just need to treat it like it's a privileg (Score 1) 312

You must work for a phone company as they have tried to tell me the same thing, but the typical high volume use here is a guy doing video conferencing with his girlfriend, a girl playing some game on Facebook, someone else on youtube, a real estate agent uploading photos, others doing light web browsing/email/IM, in addition to the business use traffic. DSL plans around here are more than enough to handle peak usage and most of the time it's much lower. I just don't see a dozen people all trying to torrent half of the Pirate Bay. A DSL connection is all my shop has and nobody has yet complained about that. It works just fine. Then again, for places with heavier users, going with lower bandwidth could be a gentle way of making the problem self-correcting as the people who are only there for the network will find it not very useful and move on while it doesn't really affect the people who use it as the nice convenience that it's intended as.

Comment Re:They just need to treat it like it's a privileg (Score 3, Informative) 312

Right. I provided a breakdown in the first paragraph of what they're paying and it's mainly a one time expense that's insignificant when split among purchases (the AP, though some ISPs are starting to include that with service now) and an ongoing expense that the business would be paying if they offered the service or not (Internet access). There's nothing magical about the accounting, it just really doesn't cost that much. Now, if you start adding fancy features like receipt access codes, registration before login, and the like, the costs get larger but a shop that's just using a COTS wireless router and throwing it out there, my breakdown is accurate. Here's the real test for you. Have prices gone down at the shops that are no longer offering the service? I doubt it, just as there was generally no price bump to go along with introducing the service in the first place.

Comment Re:They just need to treat it like it's a privileg (Score 4, Informative) 312

I run a coffee roasting operation and do some consulting for other coffee firms so I can tell you that in a lot of cases it isn't. What are the costs here? There's the cost of Internet access, which the business would have been paying anyway because they're using it to order from some suppliers, check bank account balances, and so on. There's the cost of a wireless router, but that's a pretty cheap one time cost that amortizes to 0. There's the cost of the electricity needed to run the router, but if that's significant on a per-cup-of-coffee basis that shop has bigger problems than wifi moochers.

The trade journals have been covering this trend for a while, but wifi is really just a convenient scapegoat for the real problem of a lack of customer engagement on the part of staff. While wifi might bring in a different demographic of moocher, this isn't really a new problem. Some years back I went into another coffee shop, ordered my single espresso, a large coffee, and some food, then found no indoor seating available at all. The seating area had been completely taken over by students. You'd see even at the largest tables, one student with their stuff spread all over it. I was later in a meeting with the owner of that shop and I told him about this. I also told him about my customers who also like to take over a big table and spread things out, but when the place gets busy, they pack up and move to a smaller table. He was impressed as his customers never thought to do that. This was a place that didn't offer wifi at the time, but it was the same problem with the same solution. Get to know your customers and when seating starts getting scarce, get out from behind the bar and suggest to the person using the largest table that he could move to a smaller table so the family of 4 that just came in can sit together, introduce customers to each other and ask if they'd mind sharing a table, things like that.

My policy on wifi is the same as when I put it in (and customers know this policy). It's free, it's open, but if it starts causing problems I'll get rid of it. So far it's been beneficial. Customers who spend a lot of time in the shop (but keep buying things while they're there) are there longer (and buying more) because they no longer have to run home just to check email. It's brought in more customers. It's also made it easier for me to make certain workflows data-aware (for example, the computer in the roasting area communicating with a database keeps inventory figures current and makes the roasting log both more detailed and easier to use, see my homepage for more details) without running ugly cables all over the place. That said, the coffee market in many major American cities is such that some independent shops can afford to pick their customers and if your customers think you have the best coffee in town, they'll be willing to deal with the minor inconvenience of lacking access, or rather, instead of laptops, they'll be on their cell phones. Personally, I'd rather have the laptops, but then again, my customers talk to each other.

Comment Mac version now available. (Score 1) 1

Update: The Mac download is now also available. It might seem odd that the Mac version is the one that got released last since it's what I use every day at the coffee roaster, but people were asking for the Windows build. Incidentally, Windows is the most time consuming platform to build this on because QtSql or a PostgreSQL driver plugin needs to be compiled. Does anybody know why this doesn't just work out of the box like the Mac release of Qt does?

User Journal

Journal Journal: Typica 1.3 Released 1

Typica is the result of an internal data systems project at Wilson's Coffee & Tea which I started several years ago when paper roasting records and spreadsheets were no longer adequate. The first public release (Typica 1.0) came out in 2008 and further development continues. The program can record roasting data, track coffee inventory, save cupping data, and produce reports. Source code and a Windows XP (it might work on more recent versions of Windows, but I have no way to test that, we'

Comment Re:That's old hat for TCF (Score 1) 2

I don't know what they charge for overdraft. My usual pattern was to just make sure I had enough in the account to cover automatic insurance payments and put everything else on the credit card (for the points, balance paid in full to avoid interest). Maybe that's the problem. I wasn't generating enough fees for them so they needed to come up with a fee for nothing to make sure that I was. One of the bank employees told me that this was done to get money going into the bank, but at least in my case it had the opposite effect. I'd been meaning to get rid of them since they closed the branch that was a couple blocks away from where I worked, but this provided the push I needed to switch those automatic payments over and get rid of TCF.

User Journal

Journal Journal: I Made Money on Twitter 2

Late March I checked the balance of my accounts with TCF Bank and I noticed something a bit odd. There was a "Monthly Maintenance Fee" in the amount of $9.95 on one of these accounts. This is something that I had not seen before on an account which had not charged such a fee in the more than a decade I'd held the account. I thought this must be an error. After all, what could they possibly be maintaining at a rate of $119.40 per year? I had a couple paychecks that needed I needed to deposit,

Comment Re:Causation (Score 2, Insightful) 210

Anecdotally, I've seen people who did not start out with math anxiety but developed that later and observed a decline in counting skills. For example, my sister jokes that she forgot how to count after taking calculus. I'd say there's a pretty good chance that this really is causal, but of course further studies would be required to confirm that.

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