Sunday, February 27, 2005

More Starbucks ramblings

I'm sitting here at my unnecessarily small and round table at the local Starbucks, observing the floor layout. Every Starbucks I've ever been in, large or small, has two or three kiosks devoted to selling capuccino makers, travel mugs, teas, games, and the like. Each back-to-back kiosk takes up about 8 square feet of floor space; all total, we're talking 24 or more square feet of space wasted to these racks. And I've never seen anyone buy anything off of these displays. Never. Not that I'd ever question the wisdom of the Starbucks folks, but it seems to me to be a lot of floor space devoted to merchandise that simply doesn't move. Of course, given that Starbucks does devote the space, one might assume that said merchandise actually does move, at least well enough (given presumably sky-high profit margins) to pay for themselves. Now, in a largish Starbucks, it's no big deal. But in many of the older, smaller locations, giving 24 square feet is a significant portion of the total floor space; you could get two or three unnecessarily small tables in the same area. So why does Starbucks do it? Beats me.

Then there's the matter of power -- electrical power, that is. Many newer Starbucks are pretty good about providing electrical outlets along the walls, enough to satisfy the increasing number of laptop users who frequent the joints. But there are lots of Starbucks that simply don't have the outlets (or the wallspace for them). Is upper management considering this issue? Do they have plans to retrofit older locations with extension cords and the like? Inquiring minds want to know.

I'm also somewhat amazed at the amount of CDs displayed in the typical Starbucks store. Not just the Starbucks-branded compilations; apparently Starbucks contributed mightily to the sales of the latest (and presumably last) Ray Charles duets CD. Music seems to be important in a coffeehouse environment; I'll give Starbucks credit for doing it right. They have a good mix of tunes, both in terms of style and in terms of familiarity/obscurity. And the Starbucks Hear Music channel on XM radio is one of my favorite presets, believe it or not. Kudos to whomever does the music programming out in Seattle. They have good ears.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Round tables at Starbucks

This might seem like an unusual rant, but justified. Why must the tables at Starbucks be round?

A round table is great if you're a silly k-nig-it sitting at Camelot, or maybe if you're just sitting and sipping a cappuwhatchoo, but if you're trying to get any serious work done, they're extremely inefficient. Try positioning a laptop computer, some notes or papers, and your cappuwhatchoo, and you'll find that something has to hang over the edge. Which isn't good. If Starbucks insists on courting the business crowd (which they do), then why make it so difficult to fashion a usable workspace? There simply isn't room on the small round Starbucks table for everything a businessperson or student needs to work with. Just a laptop, maybe, or just a book or notes, but not both. Not enough room.

Although there would be enough room if the round tables were square. Take the diameter of a round table and make that the length and width of a square table, and all of a sudden you have lots of space. By cutting off the corners to round the table, a good third of the usable surface is sacrificed. A square table would fit in the same amount of floor space yet serve as a much more usable workspace. Anybody ever think of that?

Granted, square tables would give the appearance of taking up more space; all square tables would make your typical Starbucks look a little more cluttered. But why not have some square tables, especially in the larger stores -- and especially along the perimeter, where a curved table next to a flat wall is particularly inefficient? If Starbucks really wants to court business users (who happily pony up for that uber-expensive T-Mobile wireless access -- and drink more fancy drinks, as well), why not engage in some ergonomic studies to maximize the workspace? As it is, the only comfortable workspace in a typical Starbucks store is the handicapped table -- and, while I'm sure there are few if any penalties for usurping this particular handicap space, there needs to be more.

Fortunately, the local coffeehouse I prefer to use is an independent joint with nicely squared tables. Unfortunately, they don't offer WiFi. Life sucks.

But that's just my opinion; you're free to disagree.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

I hate cell phones

Well, more accurately, I despise the public use of cell phones for private conversations. (And I won't even get into cell phone use while driving... that deserves its own separate rant.) What these damned little things have enabled is the total breakdown of the public/private split. Too many people use their cell phones to conduct what should be private conversations in public places. I have sat in too many coffeehouses and restaurants and listened to too many people conduct too many conversations about topics that really should remain private. I don't want to hear about your girlfriend's bad habits, or your daughter's book report, or how big a prick your boss is (or your boyfriend has). It's not anything I am or should be interested in, or privy to. For some reason, large segments of the population have forgotten how to be discreet, and are airing all their private laundry in public.

This didn't happen before the advent of the cell phone -- not that you can really blame technology for human idiocy. Just because you can use your cell phone to talk privately in public doesn't mean you should. Not only are loud (and they're typically loud) one-sided conversations annoying in and of themselves, the content of those conversations shouldn't be made available to everyone in listening distance. Don't people realize that everyone can hear what they're saying? It's as if they think their cell phone generates some kind of "cone of silence" around them when they're talking. (What's next... Get Smart shoe phones?)

There are several solutions to this problem. First, people can simply learn to be discreet, and take their private conversations elsewhere. But, of course, this is unlikely to happen, because most human beings are self-centered and inconsiderate. A better solution is the return of the old-fashioned phone booth, sans wired phone, which people can use to conduct their private conversations. (This is an emerging trend in some trendier nightspots, BTW.) But the best solution may be some sort of portable cell phone blocking technology, a handheld device that one could use to turn off all cell phone signals within a given radius. The first one of these that gets on the market, I'm buying one. Even better, I'll buy a few dozen, and plant them in all my favorite public spots. That should fix things!

But that's just my opinion; you're free to disagree.

Friday, February 11, 2005

What is a curmudgeon?

One definition is "a crusty irascible cantankerous old person full of stubborn ideas." I like the stubborn ideas part, and can live with being crusty, irascible, and cantankerous, but take issue with the word "old." Curmudgeons do not have to be old, as I can attest. One can be a young curmudgeon, although some might prefer to call such a person a contrarian or an iconoclast or just a pain in the ass. The word "coot," on the other hand, almost always is accompanied by the word "old," so I cannot claim to nor aspire to be an old coot. Just a curmudgeon.

The Curmudgeon Speaks is live...

Greetings, gentle reader, and welcome to The Curmudgeon Speaks. I am the Curmudgeon, and it is I who shall be speaking -- about things interesting, annoying, and amusing. Stay posted to learn more...