Tag Archives: Starbucks

Coffee Rant: Or Why Adjectives Matter

Some years ago, I found myself reading some article about the evils of Corporate America and amongst a crowd of folks who were railing against one of the members of the Economic Axis of Evil – Starbucks. Being the misanthropic curmudgeon I am, I’m usually on the side of anyone who takes an opportunity to “stick it to the Man,” regardless of which flavor of “the Man” that may be, but in this instance, I was perversely on the side of Howard Schultz and his mighty mochaccino monolith. I was also in the minority, which also appealed to my sense of curmudgeonliness [1] and there’s a good chance that I was hyped up on caffeine too. So here’s the response, unedited and expurgated.

So some folks think that Starbucks is “too corporate” and “bland?” So they prefer the small “mom-and-pop” local coffee houses that are supposedly unique and special.

Well I say “poppycock” to their smug, preachy elitism. Why should anyone listen to a bunch of aging, sandal-toed, tofu-eating, ex-hippies who are just mad because their “organic real coffee” stores barely makes enough to keep them in muesli? These are the air-headed boomers who wanted to change the world in the 60’s, failed miserably, then joined the very same corporate world they now despise, which in turn helped them earn the money to start up the pathetic, ersatz “authentic” java joints they now run.

Excuse me for pointing out the stunningly obvious to these self-styled entrepreneurs but they seem to forget that their success comes on the back of the “coffee culture” explosion that Starbucks was instrumental in fueling. Some 20 years ago, springing fifty cents for a cup of hot brown slop from the Micky D’s drive-through was about as much as folks were willing to pay and as sophisticated as their taste reached. Now the three-dollar offering made from quality freshly ground beans is not an unusual occurrence, and the kaftan-wearing, self-important arbiters of taste have no problem selling their own free-trade farmer-friendly Guatemalan dark roast sludge for prices just under the standard Starbucks price. Oh yeah, and sometimes, no matter how much these self-appointed guardians of coffee purity bleat, their stuff is crap. Just because you know Juan Gonzales from Colombia personally and have visited his small pueblo to spend time with his wife and children doesn’t mean his stuff is good. For every coffee place that sells good, drinkable java there are ten others that, like Hans Christian Anderson’s emperor, are wearing no clothes. They talk the talk, walk the walk, but churn our bland or burned buckets of semi-drinkable swill that makes four-hour-old gas station coffee seem like nectar.

So stop your whining, you bunch of goatee-coiffed, hemp-wearing, pot-headed, jelly-brains and come back and pontificate when YOU have a multi-million dollar international organization that’s having to make decision on this sort of scale. Otherwise, go stock up on some of those home-made $2.99 granola bars that take away the taste of your insipid brew.

I chose to share this because (a) I’m too idle at the moment to write a brand new post – or to at least finish ONE of the three “draft” posts languishing in WordPress – and (b) I thought it demonstrated how there are times when the excessive use of adjectives can be used to good effect. Although most writing guides recommend the spartan use of adjectives, sometimes it’s fun to let them loose and watch them cavort and gamble happily with an otherwise sleepy collection of nouns.

[1] I doubt that curmudgeonliness is likely to catch on, and a quick check with the Corpus of Contemporary American English shows only two uses of the word; once in 1997 and another in 2008. However, what is does illustrate is how to use the process of affixation can turn a concrete noun into an abstract. Here’s the route:

(a) curmudgeon (n) -> curmudgeonly (adj)
(b) curmudgeonly (adj) -> curmudgeonliness (n)

It’s possible to change a concrete noun to an abstract directly without the intermediate adjectification by using different suffixes e.g. boy (n) -> boyhood (n); friend (n) -> friendship (n); star (n) -> stardom (n).

And one last fun fact to slip into your next party conversation; sticking an extra “bit” (or morpheme) to a word that changes it from one part-of-speech to another is called derivational morphology, whereas if it stays as the same part-of-speech it’s called inflectional morphology. Curmudgeon to curmudgeonly is derivational;  sing to singing or sings is inflectional. Go ahead, nerd out with that!

The Dudes Do ASHA 2013: Day 1 – Of Pods and Paper

Regular readers of the Dudes’ blog will know that when we cover a conference, we rarely waste time on talking about the actual presentations. Those who were there saw them; those who were not can download them; and those who really don’t care don’t want to hear about them! So as ever, we’ll be using ASHA as the backdrop to topics of a much more global nature. We’re also keenly aware that as well as having regular readers, we also have some very irregular ones who choose us precisely because we’re a little like the really bad singers who try out for American Idol – off-key, off task, and off their heads.

Traveling to a conference is always an integral part of the whole experience. Flight delays, crying babies, crazy cab drivers, ending up in the wrong city – or country [1] – are not to be seen as “bad things” but life-enhancing events that can being hours of pleasure in their retelling over a few drinks in the bar with friends. So to make such expeditions more bearable, most folks have strategies for coping. In my case, it’s a book and my iPod. Except that three months ago, someone stole “my precious” along with my Starbucks card. If there’s ever a crime that cries out for at least felony status – and possibly the death penalty – it’s that of depriving someone of their iPod and Starbucks card [2]. And traveling to a conference without access to music and podcasts is pretty close to cruel and unusual punishment.

Starbucks at McCormick Center in Chicago

Typical ASHA Session

So a week ago, I bought myself a “new” iPod, and I say “new” in parenthesis because the Classic pod is now a rare example of a fossilized technology. The latest 6th generation (version 2) device is fundamentally exactly the same as the original except for a larger hard drive (160GB) and thinner case, it’s the same as it was back in 2001. Yes, that’s 2001 – over 12 years ago, which is positively prehistoric for technology. No WiFi, no apps, no BlueTooth, no touch screen, just a physical hard drive on which you store media files and then play them. That’s about it.

What makes this happen is that there is no competition in this category. If you want a portable music player with lots of memory for songs, the iPod Classic is your only choice. This is why, of course, there have been no changes – there’s no need to modify a product that has a monopoly position. Without the forces of natural selection working on it, the Pod has not evolved. I guess you can use cloud-based systems these days but I still count such technology as less portable because you need access to a wireless connection. No, what I want is to have my huge music collection available to me everywhere, 24/7/365.

A bonus to the pod is the ability to be able to load up with podcasts. As the world of wireless access expands, the idea of downloading a file to a hard drive for later use seems old-fashioned to the Technorati, but as I said, 24/7/365 and everywhere is what an iPod offers.

Which leads me on to recommendations for podcasts. What does this Dudes listen to? Well, here’s a list of things you might want to try:

1. A Way With Words: Described as, “an upbeat and lively hour-long public radio show about language examined through history, culture, and family,” co-hosts Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett talk with callers from around the world about slang, grammar, old sayings, word origins, regional dialects, family expressions, and speaking and writing well. They settle disputes, play word quizzes, and discuss language news and controversies. You may be surprised by its popularity – it’s heard by more than a quarter-million listeners each week over the air and by podcast.

2. A Word In Your Ear: Roly Sussex is an Emeritus Professor from the University of Queensland in Australia and has been talking about language to the radio listeners of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) for over 15 years. It’s a great opportunity to get a flavor of how Australian English differs from other variations.

3. In Our Time: Hosted by the UK’s Melvyn Bragg, I recommend this because it’s possibly the ONLY show where you hear academics talk about… well, almost anything! The last few episodes had topics like “Shakespeare’s The Tempest,” “Ordinary Language Philosophy,” “The Book of Common Prayer, “ “The Corn Laws,” “Pascal,” “The Mamluks” and “Exoplanets.” So if you want to know a little about a lot (instead of a lot about a little) then this is well worth your time.

4. Skepticality: This is a show dedicated to the promotion of science and critical thinking. It’s really about evidence-based practice without actually using the words “evidence-based practice” in the title, and it regularly takes on pseudoscience, superstition, and con artists of all shapes and sizes.

So once I’m loaded up with book [3], music, and podcasts, my pre-flight check for any conference includes making sure I have all the kit necessary to let me spend a day going to sessions and keeping notes on anything that takes my fancy, but without needing to carry a bag around. So for the curious, here’s what I usually end up  with:

Portable items for attending conferences

Conference Kit – portable

Going clockwise from 12:00 o’clock:

1. A 3.5″ x 5.5″ Moleskine Reporter’s Notebook. It’s small enough to fit into a jacket pocket – or even the back pocket of your jeans – so it counts as portable. Designed to be held in one hand so you can just flip upwards from page to page, this is much easier than the more common right/left flip of a standard notebook. The back cover includes a small pocket that can hold several essential “Speech Dude” business cards.

2. Motorola Droid 3 for Twitter, SMS, and maybe the occasional photograph. It’s smaller than the Moleskine so fits into another pocket.

3. Monteverde Invincia Stylus fountain pen. Not only incredibly stylish with a matte black body, a shiny black nib, and black ink, the end of the barrel has a conductive tip so I can use it on my Droid (or any tablet) as an electronic pen.

4. Cross Sauvage Azurite Blue Crocodile fountain pen. It’s just a beautiful pen and writes smoothly on ink-friendly paper. Sure you can use a freebie ballpoint that you picked up in the exhibition hall but that doesn’t say “stylish” or “chic.” It’s also a heavy pen so you feel like you are actually holding something of value.

5. Cross Torero Bordeaux Red Crocodile fountain pen. This one I keep loaded with red ink – something called Syrah from a company called Diamine – so I can contrast it with the blue of the Sauvage. This one is also a solid, heavy pen and one that I use quite a lot.

6. A 5.5″ x 8.5″ Rhodia Webnotebook with ink-friendly 90-gram ivory paper and 96 sheets of ruled lines. Not something you can slip in your pocket but you can lose it behind an iPad and it weighs less. And unlike most tablets, you don’t need to worry about charging it or dropping it – it’s very robust!

These low-tech solutions might seem a little dated, but what I find is that I can write, draw, and scribble numbers faster with pen and paper than I can with a piece of technology – and that includes my indispensable laptop. The other thing that writing-things-down does is to force me to look at stuff for a second time and then summarize information in a document on my computer. If I were to take notes straight onto my laptop or tablet (both of which I’ve tried) there’s a 95% chance I won’t look at them again! So the process of transcribing my notes is beneficial for me.

Late at the end of Day 1, the Dudes ended up at the bar in the Hyatt Regency drinking some rather tasty and markedly citrusy Anti-Hero IPA. We’d never heard of it as it’s a local Chicago brew from  Revolution Brewing but the concept of “Anti-Hero” struck us as interesting – in the same way that Arrogant Bastard seemed apposite at the ASHA 2011 Convention in San Diego. All we have to decide now is which of us is which!

Anti-Hero IPA beer from Revolution Brewing

Anti-Hero IPA


[1] After a long trip by train from Germany to Switzerland, I rolled into my destination hotel, the Holiday Inn in Geneva to find that strangely I was not registered. What I had failed to realize was that I was, in fact, checked in to the Holiday Inn in Thiory, France, not Switzerland. Fortunately this is classed as a Geneva Airport hotel because it’s just a few miles over the border and a cab ride got me there eventually. Nevertheless, it’s my one example of turning up in the wrong country. Still more fascinating was that the driver came from Spain and spoke no English – just a little French – and I speak no Spanish – just a little French. So between us we managed to have a rather interesting conversation in a type of Frenglish that L’ Académie française would have sent us to the guillotine for using.

[2] Another twist of the knife is that my card was one of the first gold cards ever issued by Starbucks. A friend’s sister works in Starbuck’s corporate marketing department so sent me one as a freebie over 10 years ago. Losing this card is like losing a little piece of history so even though I was able to cancel the auto-loading of the card, it’s the sentimental value that I miss.

[3] I’m plowing through Neal Stephenson’s technothriller Reamde, a hefty hardback version with 1,056 pages. It’s really quite entertaining but it’s almost like trying to read three novels rather than one. I’m getting close to my annual target of 52 books per year but I’m going to have to pick a few shorter ones to get back on track!

The Dudes Do ATIA 2013: Day 2 – Of Schedules, Starbucks, and Support

Having a Master’s degree may qualify you to practice as a Speech Pathologist or Special Educator but it doesn’t prepare you for one of life’s trickiest of tasks: planning your schedule at a conference [1]. If you have a Ph.D. in Cryptography or 20 years of Project Management experience, you might just be able to get through two days before everything falls apart and you end up crying into your cocktail at the pool bar. Otherwise the best strategy is to walk into any room at random and when the session ends, follow a group into another. Given that 75% of all the sessions at a conference are going to contain information you’ll find useful, statistically speaking you’re likely to find the random approach very productive.

However, this year, the folks at ATIA  made it really easy to keep track of your time by offering a free mobile app for Android and Apple platforms. You could also use a web-based version but that has been available before – and it’s the app version that’s more useful while wandering around the conference hall. Unlike some folks who seem to be happy to carry around a bag the size of a small car, I’m more inclined to adopt a minimalist approach and try to carry as little as possible. This means my wallet (back right-hand pocket), trusty Droid 3 (front left-hand pocket), fountain pen of the day (front right-hand pocket), and bright red Quo Vadis notebook (carried). And this year, instead of stuffing sheets of paper with session information into my notebook, I downloaded the ATIA app to my Droid and all was well!

ATIA 2013 app feedback

ATIA 2013 app feedback

The feedback on the app shows that most folks have it on an iPad, then iPhone, and finally an Android. It would have been nice if the feedback had offered a “No sir, I don’t like it” rather than the biased “Tell us what you like it on” but presumably the reasoning is that folks who don’t like it won’t use it. Still, maybe next time…

There was another amazing piece of Assistive Technology I stumbled across for the first time this year; the Starbucks vending machine! OK, so maybe you don’t count this as “assistive technology” but it certainly helped me.

Starbucks AT

Starbucks AT

All you do is pop a cup under the spigot, swipe a credit card or debit card, press a few buttons, and out pops a cup of Starbucks’ java without the need to talk to a human being. Or in the case of the Caribe Royale Conference Center, without the need to get into a car, head out of the hotel, take two right turns, drive about a mile, and pull up at the nearest actual Starbucks store.

The exhibit hall was busy during the morning. As might be expected, it was awash with tablets, all looking surprisingly the same as everyone and their dog joins in the frenzy to create the “next great AAC app” which looks just like the “last great AAC app.” And in an effort to adapt tablets to do the job of a dedicated AAC device, you can now attach an array of “peripherals” that are doing a great job of completely destroying the idea that having an iPad “makes you look like everyone else.” By the time you’ve bought a box to fit it in, speakers to make it louder, an interface box to add a switch, and a mounting kit to make it fit to a wheelchair, the thing looks more like a Rube Goldberg/Heath Robinson contraption than a sleek piece of technology.

In the new world order of consumer AAC, there is no “evaluation” along traditional lines. Rather than assess an individual to determine their needs and then select from a range of potential devices, the new consumer goes to Best Buy, asks the “expert” which iPad to buy, and then looks for anything on iTunes with 4 stars and downloads it. Problem solved.

But of course, it isn’t. Those of us who have been in AAC since the advent of the personal computer in the 80’s (and yes, there WERE devices with speech output before the iPad, whatever Apple may want you to believe) know that just dropping a device in someone’s lap – sometimes literally – does not solve the problem. In fact, simply providing a piece of technology and then walking away is called abdication, not intervention. There is a frightening tendency to think that “there’s an app for that” applies to everything, when there are many, many factors involved in helping someone succeed with an AAC system.

I’ll say again, because Apple zealots seem to disagree with me, that my beef is not with technology – and being in the technology and software vending game myself should be proof enough of the pudding – but with the lack of support given in the choosing, teaching, and long-term supporting of clients with communication needs, the solution to which is only partly aided by a device, whatever flavor that may be. I do not doubt the sincerity of anyone who is trying to help provide a way for folks with communication impairments to express themselves. But when there are over 150 apps labeled as “AAC” apps, how does anyone decide which to use? And more fundamentally, once a choice is made, how do you then support it – because I guarantee that no matter how much money your school district is spending on providing “communication solutions,” it’s spending a whole lot less on employing more staff to actually support it! If it took one teacher 2 hours a week to work with one kiddo with an AAC device, how many does it take to work with 5 kids with iPads? The answer appears to be “one, because that person has to work 5 times harder.”

Cartoon of man exercising

OK, rant over. I’ve taken a deep breath and a shot of tequila [2] and am beginning to mellow. Tomorrow sees me doing the first of my presentations and having to go to several meetings. Thank goodness I have the ATIA conference app to remind me of when and where I need to be for my session!

[1] There is another conference-based task that has a similar level of complexity; splitting the bill at a restaurant. It’s inevitable that if you’re doing it right, at some stage during a conference you’ll have a rollicking, riotous good time with a bunch of new and old friends at some great restaurant or bar. Until the check arrives and you have to split the bill 14 ways. This not only causes your server to suffer from raised blood pressure (“Can we have separate checks – all 14 of us?”) but there’s no way anyone wants to simply divide the bill by 14 because Annette, Betty, and Cheryl shared two bottles of wine, but Erica only drank water, and Frank and Gerry were having a shot-drinking contest, while Harry insisted on a fresh lobster but Ian only had soup and a salad, and only Jan, Karen, and Larry had a desert…

The best way to address this one is to wait until ONE person goes to the restroom and then everyone else makes a run for it. This won’t, of course, work twice with the same group.

[2] If you read yesterday’s post and recognized this sentence as an example of syllepsis, congratulations! If you didn’t read yesterday’s post, go there right now and find out what syllepsis is 😉