Coke’s Fizzy Math

I’m not a Coke drinker; I shy away from soda generally and may be one of the few people who actually prefer Coke Zero. But one of my closest friends loves the stuff, and I’m all for truth in labeling anyway.

That’s why I asked Coca-Cola on Twitter where they got the numbers they include prominently on their Fridge Pack:

Coke Calorie Count
Coke's Calorie Count on the Front of the Fridge Pack

The only calories in Coke come from sugar, and the FDA requires that nutrition labels use an estimate of 4 calories per gram of carbohydrates (of which sugar is one). At 140 calories per can, we should expect to find 35 grams of sugar in that same serving size. (140 / 4 = 35.) But look at the nutrition label:

Coke's Fridge-Pack Nutritional Label
The Fridge Pack's Nutritional Label (Click to enlarge)

Each can, according to the label, has 39 grams of sugar, not 34. This should result in an estimate of 156 calories per serving (39 * 4), not 140. I can’t reconcile these numbers, no matter how much research I do. And of course, Coca-Cola hasn’t responded to my tweet.

It sounds like a small difference, but ask your favorite dieter whether those 16 calories would make him or her a little less likely to have that second Coke this afternoon. Given the Fridge Pack’s popularity (PDF), even a small portion of customers passing on a can every day or two could hold back Coke’s revenue stream by some percentage investors find noteworthy. (It’s worth saying that investors—and especially market analysts—find very small percentages noteworthy.)

I have to think that a company with so massive a legal department wouldn’t let this kind of thing happen by accident, so I believe there’s some explanation for the strange math in play here. I just want to know what it is.

I’m no Doctor: Why I Work for Free

In an old episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry’s changing in a country club locker room and asks a doctor there to check out some spot on his back. When you work in the web, this kind of thing happens all the time. Just about everybody you know will come to you at some point with questions on web projects, presences, and possibilities: What do you think of my (or my organization’s) website? Why is my designer telling me that I shouldn’t have Flash on my site? Should I be on Twitter?

The doctor sets Larry off by telling him to make an appointment instead of taking a quick look at the thing on his back. I understand professional boundaries, but I’m just not like that. In fact, I may be on the other end of the spectrum: I spend between two and ten hours a week, perhaps, either giving people advice on these matters or actually working on their websites—making emergency content changes, getting them set up (and comfortable) with WordPress, and so on.

Once in a while, when the questions are big, complex questions that most non-professionals don’t understand are so big and so complex, I’m tempted to act like that doctor and say, “Hey, if you want to talk, let’s set up a time, get on Skype, and I’ll see when I can do for you.” Mostly, though, I’m pretty good at remembering why I give away so much of my time to so many different people:

  1. I love these people. As often as not, they’re family or very close friends. For example, I recently set up my wife’s website, helping her figure out what content she wanted and how to present it, doing some light image searching and manipulation, and finally building the site out. When it’s your wife, it’s an easy decision, but I’ve done the same thing for maybe half a dozen people in the last year.
  2. I love these organizations. I’m consulting pro bono with the excellent D.C.-area nonprofit Arts on the Block as they get going on a redesign project. Why? Well, yes, my very cool aunt runs the place, so see #1, but also, I love what they do (in brief, introducing creative youth to the worlds of art and work). It’s a great cause, and I’m happy to help.
  3. I know what’s in it for me. When I do right by somebody, my name travels. Sure, it’s rare that I end up with paid work based on my unpaid work. But it has happened. Other intangible benefits include broadening my audience for this blog, for example, getting put into contact with interesting people I wouldn’t otherwise have met, and feeling a little better about asking for help from others who can give it to me. (If I weren’t doing so much work for free, that is, I don’t think I’d feel okay about putting somebody out like that. But if they needed me and I had the time, I would do the same for them, and knowing that makes me feel fine about asking.)
  4. I know what’s in it for them. Helping feels good—even when I’m helping somebody I don’t know all that well. I’m not likely to spend too much unpaid effort on a stranger’s project, should I get cold-called about one, because I like to be able to keep the people and organizations I do hold most dear at the top of my list. But I do find myself spending a lot of time in correspondence with friends of my friends, people who know what I do but don’t know me until our mutual friend says, “Hey, you know Devan? You should ask him about that.”

The world I live in demands from me a certain amount of money, so of course I have to spend most of my time working for pay. But I do try to make time to give the proverbial milk for free. I suspect I’m far from the only one, too, given the web’s crucial role in just about every industry.

That’s the most relevant difference between being pixelworkers and doctors: On any given day, few of us really need to talk to a doctor, whereas tending to our (or our companies’) little corners of the Internet seems to be something a lot of us think about an awful lot of the time.

Macchiato Cowboy: Starbucks & the Gourmet Movement

Starbucks’ Tribute to Itself

This morning, hat in hand, a cowboy ordered a drink: “Two-percent espresso macchiato, ma’am.” The honorific belonged wholly to the cowboy, but the precious phrasing came right out of Starbucks’ own system of signification, according to which the default milk is whole and the default macchiato includes syrups and flavorings and, as often as not, whipped cream.

To order what you might call—or might once have called—a “real” or a “proper” macchiato, Starbucks requires cowboys and the rest of us to throw “espresso” into service as a qualifier. An espresso macchiato, we are told, is a “European-style beverage” whose “just enough” may satisfy us—”sometimes.” (After all, any American who spurns sweet, sweet caloric density must be doing so only as an exception.)

This morning, to recap, I heard a cowboy who had some familiarity with the language of a coffee-shop chain’s menu ordering a European-style beverage using once-foreign words with no shame. Forty years after the opening of the first Starbucks, I should not have been surprised, and perhaps it wasn’t surprise that I felt, but the shock of recollection, of the past intruding on the present.

Notwithstanding our brief, post-traumatic regression in the “Freedom Fries” years, we have grown more accepting of foreign foods. I was raised vegetarian, and my childhood memories are pock-marked with incidents of derision over tofu, over aloo palak, over falafel. I grant you that we warm to European influence more readily than to Asian or Indian or Middle-Eastern, but still: To hear this macchiato cowboy place his order is my vindication. It is the moment when my inner Carrie burns down the whole fucking gymnasium.

This morning, on hearing the macchiato cowboy speak, I wondered whether Starbucks is not merely one beneficiary of this movement (as David Kamp might have it), but is rather the social lubricant that made possible its most recent incarnation.

Strange words make us feel strange, at least until some force comes along and rubs our bellies until our nerves subside. Our perception of French culinary superiority intimidated us until Julia Child made words like bourguignonne sound as familiar as they do now. Likewise for Martin Yan and wok, and James Beard and barbecue, perhaps.

In this context, it seems possible that had we not ordered espressi and cappucini and macchiati at the Starbucks counter in the very early 1990s, would we not have been prepared, a few years later, to watch a man swish his ponytail — not judging; I’ve had one, too — and tell us how to procure fennel pollen, which Batali introduced to his viewers in 1995 or 1996. Without being forced to learn the language of ventis and talls and grandes, which Starbucks has smartly memorialized in recent months (as in the photo above), I cannot imagine us supporting the rise of arugula—also featured in Molto Mario‘s first few episodes—let alone those of chipotle, kimchi, rooibos, and hummus.

It seems possible, in other words, that those of us who prefer things as they have become owe Starbucks gratitude for more than just the spread of decent coffee (if not so much their own), that we owe them for their influence on the boundaries of our everyday language, for insidiously softening American masculinity just enough to let gourmet food in the door.

Time Edition vs. Stone Hill Time Card

My phenomenally bright and talented friend Nathan Peretic, of Full Stop Interactive, recently got caught up in a fit of uncharacteristic zeal and described Stone Hill Time Card as “a flawless time tracker.”

The contrarian in me bristles at such all-or-nothing language, but I swear that’s not why I’m writing this post documenting the flaws I see in Time Card—or at least, the ways in which the software seems not to be designed for me.

I’m writing this because I started to leave a second comment on Nate’s post, then started to compose an email to the developers, then decided to write the whole thing up here instead.

I want to admit quickly that TimeEdition, which I will continue to use, does crash too often, for example (though I haven’t lost any data), and has interface oddities like a mostly invisible, wholly undocumented AM/PM selector that can take days, nay weeks to decipher. I’m no fanboy, or whatever “fanboy” is in German, the native language in TimeEdition’s place of birth.

But I digress. As I mentioned in my comment on Nate’s post about Time Card, there’s a lot to like, and Nate covers that topic so well I won’t rehearse it here. In the comment, I go on to point out what I’d thought was “the one dealbreaker for me”: the lack of ability to specify separate projects for the same client.

Nate describes Time Code’s primary point of interaction—the “What are you working on?” field—as employing a magic ‘task for project’ syntax, though the help file suggests it’s actually intended as “task for client.” Either way, the lack of ability to specify both project and client for a given task—and to have that specification backed up by a data structure (just as the stuff that comes after the word “for” currently is”)—seems like an oversight.

It could be that, as a freelancer who works largely with agencies, I have a greater need than many to specify different clients as well as different projects. Still, I’m not the only one, and it seems to me that anyone who gets repeat business—either working on staff at an agency or freelancing with “direct” clients—would have the same problem I do.

As I acknowledge in my comment on Nate’s post, there are obvious ways around this problem, like creating and using your own syntax (e.g. “task for project—client,” “project: task for client”), but again, without the data structured behind the scenes, I can’t see using Time Card.

Here’s another issue: When I leave whatever coffee shop or ’40s-themed cocktail lounge I’m working in, I’m often in some kind of hurry, and sometimes I forget to stop my timer. Likewise, at home, I sometimes take a long phone call or have to change my work plans when I’ve just stepped away from my computer for a few minutes, and then I don’t typically go back to my machine to stop the timer. So I regularly have to edit entries after the fact.

In TimeEdition, editing an entry means editing start and end times—easy, since that’s pretty much how most humans keep track of their days. In SHTC, editing an entry means editing start time and duration (in minutes), which seems a needlessly complicated way to go. I’m not into having to figure out how many minutes have elapsed between the time I stopped working and the time I stopped my timer—some number of hours, typically—or how long I worked for based on. That’s the whole reason I use a time tracker to begin with: so I don’t have to do that math. Not that it’s running derivations or anything, but it’s some amount of hassle that I want to avoid.

As an aside, I can’t figure out the use case for the start-time/duration model. Somebody who just needs to fit their schedule to their budget or something? Seems a little shady to me, though it’s common enough in agency environments. And again, I’m probably missing the real purpose of this particular design.

Profitable Humanities, Cont.

Since it came up in a discussion of my previous post (and in the comments there), here’s my position on the bigger question (that is, should we be measuring the worth of the English department [or others] in financial terms?):

For me, the problems with addressing the financial value of the humanities are two: first, an in-principle objection: That’s just not the right way to think about it. Many commenters on Facebook have countered this objection with a real practical concern for which I have no solution, namely, that financial considerations seem to be the only ones that matter to administrators.

But to take one example of why this line of thinking can be troublesome: If we start working on these terms, don’t we have to mention that part of the reason we can be so profitable is that our faculty make less than in other disciplines and we rely so heavily on adjuncts and graduate students?

My second objection is more pragmatic: There’s no way to win this fight. There’s no meaningful way to cut up the numbers in which we come out even or ahead. Implication: The author of the original article‘s net-operating-profit-or-loss analysis is not “meaningful.” I feel like if he had spent ten minutes with a VP of the University, he might’ve realized that the road he’s on leads to dark places for the humanities. But no, he asked the Assistant Dean of the Humanities—responsible only for the operating budget of the humanities division and its departments—to crunch some numbers.

This feels a little like arguing that there’s no problem with the economy because my accountant told me that my family is saving responsibly. The ship is sinking; it’s pointless to think about whether any one cabin has flooded or not.