Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Something About the Coffee ...

At one point in our lives we were reading a lot of Dave Barry, the Miami-based humorist. (Humorist means a comedian who is only somewhat funny, or funny to older people.) Our favorite essay is "Some of the Pluses of Having a Pet..." in which he describes the exploits of his "auxiliary dog" Zippy. Read the essay now if you want to avoid the spoiler below.

Dot... dot... dot...

While you are gone I'll mention that this post is really about Facebook, not Dave Barry. Specifically, it is about the placement of ads, which show that so far we have little to worry about from whatever algorithms bring us those ads. "We think you'd like a blue bathrobe!" is not very brilliant insight if I have just bought one. Which I have.

You're back? If so, you know that Zippy destroyed a rug despite being admonished not to. Repeatedly. In the tiny dog's tiny brain, all it could remember was "something about the rug." Leading him to rush to the rug with no clear idea what they had been saying about it.

And thus it is with Facebook, coffee and me. The tiny brain of its ad algorithm sees a lot about coffee on my feed, and therefore decides I will want opportunities such as this one:

Yes, indeed: I have the opportunity to buy the "highest rated K-Cups" and I must be interested, because I seem to have a thing about coffee. Heck, I even have a thing about K-Cups, though not exactly as a fan of the technology.

Aside from the ecological concerns, clearly the algorithm has not caught on to my concern for coffee care and the impossibility of getting good quality from this technology. As the ad indicates, the coffee will have been ground a week before it reaches a customer.

I have seen the nitrogen-flush packaging machines that fill the K-Cups, and they are indeed impressive. We used a similar process when I was in the rations business, and we could keep foods shelf-stable for up to three years. But coffee acts as a sponge, and fine grinding makes it stale quite quickly. This does not matter much for mediocre coffee like Dunkin' Donuts, but for "gourmet" coffee it does make a difference.

And any coffee that costs $23 a pound should be a specialty coffee, though I have my doubts about these. The offer above is equivalent to paying $23 for a $10 bottle of champagne, but having it opened and recapped a week ahead of time. Not quite a bargain.

I know these will sell, though, perhaps to people in offices on my own campus, where the coffee "bargains" are even less favorable. Keurigs and vending machines have been placed throughout so-called "green" buildings, even as students have worked with me to propose a much better alternative.

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