Tonx Acquired by Blue Bottle Coffee

Earlier today, the coffee-by-mail outfit that supplies half of my coffee beans announced that it is merging with Oakland, California–based Blue Bottle Coffee. Tony Konecny, Tonx’s co-founder and namesake, posted the announcement on the company’s blog.

As Tonx has grown we’ve added friends to the team, assembling top talents in green coffee sourcing, coffee roasting, software development, design, marketing, and customer service. One thing we lacked though was a dedicated production facility that would allow us to continue growing and improving. Getting there meant either raising a serious wad of venture capital (no picnic!) or finding a partner in the industry that shared our values and ambitions.

With Blue Bottle, we have found a more established company that still has an innovative startup culture, continues to evolve, and is dedicated to improving people’s experience of coffee on an ambitious scale. And they have resources we could only dream of.

Blue Bottle coffee has had a presence here in New York City for a few years, primarily through a coffee shop and roasting facility in Williamsburg.[1] Although I appreciate the dedication to their craft, they lack the quirkiness and personal touch of Tonx. They strike me as just another Bay Area–business that takes itself too seriously.

Waiting in Line @ Blue Bottle Coffee

With Tonx, I got both great coffee and a measured sense of excitement when our beans arrived. Whenever we received our biweekly box of Tonx, a ritual ensues at our place:

  1. We play a guessing game: “Africa or Latin America?”
  2. We read the card that describes the coffee.
  3. We read the charming note that the staff writes about our silly coffee obsession.
  4. Finally, we brew two batches: one of the newly arrived shipment and one of whatever beans we have left. With these two batches we can appreciate the new beans.

Even if the new subscription program remains just as good and quirky as Tonx, it won’t be the same with the Blue Bottle label. I liked that mail order was the only way to get Tonx coffee. it felt like something special.

The tasting notes to Tonx biweekly coffee, from Cotecaga in Rwanda, roasted on March 23, 2014.

The tasting notes to Tonx biweekly coffee, from Cotecaga in Rwanda, roasted on March 23, 2014.

With Tonx going under the Blue Bottle name, I may as well get coffee from any other “third-wave” coffee roaster, such as Ritual, Heart, Stumptown, or Counter Culture that all do mail-order. Or, better yet, I’ll just get it from one of the local roasters, such as Coffeed, Sweetleaf, or Cafe Grumpy.

Forgive me if I sound like a guy whose favorite band just signed to a major record label because nobody likes that guy. As a fan of their company, I’m happy for the folks at Tonx to see their success. They have come a long way in three years, and now apparently, their success has led to this acquisition. As a consumer, mergers and acquisitions are almost universally bad for us, with a diminished product, higher prices, or both. I hope that this one will be different, but I don’t see how it can be.

Also, it looks like Blue Bottle bought out Handsome Coffee, another Los Angeles–based roaster. I blame this on the Dodgers losing two out of three to the Giants this past weekend.

  1. They also had a short-lived shop in the Rockaways and continue to operate one in Chelsea.  ↩

Phonograph Micrographs

Do you know how a record stores sound?

Since I’ve been teaching undergraduate survey courses in communication, such as media industries or media technologies, I’ve had to learn how certain recording technologies work. One of those is the earliest sound recording devices of the nineteenth century.

Sound is vibrational energy that displaces air. To record sound you need to capture those vibrations.

The earliest sound recordings, such as those developed by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville in the 1860s and later by Thomas Edison and Emile Berliner in the 1880s, are like fossils of those vibrations. A needle that fluctuates carves those vibrations into a surface: Scott used lamp black, Edison used tin, and Berliner used zinc and beeswax. Those sounds and their vibrations are preserved inside of these tiny grooves.

The other day, I saw this image on the Facebook page for Copyright, a house music group from the United Kingdom. If you’re wondering if I am all of a sudden listening to house music, don’t fret. I’m not. It was shared via Goner Records, a rock ‘n’ roll label and music store in Memphis.

The shared image is two magnified photos of a record-player needle riding the grooves of a vinyl record. But with most things people shared online, it’s hard to tell whether the image is real. It looks plausible, but I’ve been burned before on sharing other things that “look plausible.”

After a few minutes of searching the web, I found a more reputable source for magnified images of a vinyl record. In 2005, students in an optics class at the University of Rochester magnified several small objects to demonstrate the capabilities of a scanning electron microscope.

One of the objects they magnified was a vinyl record.

The grooves of a vinyl record magnified 500x. Image courtesy of University of Rochester: URnano.

The grooves of a vinyl record magnified 500x. Image courtesy of University of Rochester: URnano.
The grooves of a vinyl record magnified 1000x. Image courtesy of University of Rochester: URnano.

The grooves of a vinyl record magnified 1000x. Image courtesy of University of Rochester: URnano.

These look a bit different than the viral image I saw on Facebook, and they’re not marked up with explanatory text and watermarks. However, they show how sound in its physical form as ridges along an otherwise smooth groove.

If you’re wondering about more modern sound recording devices, such as compact disk, they did that, too.

The pits of a CD magnified at 20,000x. Image courtesy of University of Rochester: URnano.

The pits of a CD magnified at 20,000x. Image courtesy of University of Rochester: URnano.

This image is actually magnfied 20x more than the vinyl record. I’m guessing they did so to reveal a perceptible variation in the disk surface. Because a CD is a digital storage medium, you’re not looking at sound. You’re looking at representations of digital information, which in turn, must be converted back into vibrations that we hear as sound.

I’m glad these students magnified both a vinyl record and a CD, among many other things. If the prognisticators are correct in predicting that we’ll one day buy more vinyl records than CDs, we may wonder what the CD looked like, how it worked, and why we resorted to such a complex way of storing sound when a simpler solution[1] existed for over a hundred years.

  1. and superior with respects to fidelity  ↩

Center for the Holographic Arts to Leave the Clock Tower Building, Throw a Party

IMG 7566

Speaking of art spaces in Long Island City making way for real estate developments, the Center for the Holographic Arts, which currently occupies the ground floor of the Clock Tower Building in Long Island City, will be leaving on April 13.

Before they vacate, they are staging one last party on April 11. There will be food, music, adult beverages, and, of course, holographic art. Tickets are available for a donation, via Eventbrite.

A notable highlight of this space is the subterranean lounge, located in an old bank vault, although the last time I was there it kind of smelled like pee.

Fool Me Once…

Today is April Fool’s Day. Since yesterday, I’ve been on high alert carefully scrutinizing anything that could be a prank. I usually forget about today—being too preoccupied with this, that, or something else, but this year, I was expecting it so I’ve been fully prepared. Although this heighten skepticism has taken most of the fun out of today, I did get a few choice pranks.

Make a Photo without a Camera

The folks at Lomography, makers of analog film cameras for the hip art-school set, has announced a new spray that will allow you to slowly expose an image onto a roll of film.

I fell for this one at first, partly because I saw it on March 31. It seems completely feasible until you read that it takes up to 24 hours for a decent exposure. I thought that was a typo. But the giveaway in this video was in the time-lapse sequence, where the guy stands with the roll of film in the dark. I’m no expert in Greek, but I know you need light to make a photograph.

Canon Wildlife Camera

Speaking of photography, I saw this announcement come across my RSS feed this morning from The Digital Picture, an expert website for Canon photographers.

Fake Canon 1D W (Wildlife) for April Fool's Day 2014

This is a very compelling prank. A camera like this makes some sense. However, as far as I know, no one has ever made a flagship (D)SLR camera specifically for one application. (Okay, fine, Canon has made two cameras specifically for astrophotography.) As I skimmed the article, I thought it was real, until I realized what day it was.

Bryan, the site’s owner, even included a link to the B&H website so you can pre-order this camera. However, that link takes you to an “April Fool’s” page, revealing that you have been had!

Apple Buys iFixit

A good April Fool’s Prank is one that seems plausible and incredible at the same time. Apple buying the hub for online do-it-yourself repair manuals seems both plausible and incredible. The press release includes some very humorous details, admitting they sold out.

“Everyone has a number”, admitted Kyle Wiens, iFixit’s CEO. “I didn’t think there was a reasonable number that would make me say, ‘You know I was going to change the world with repair documentation but here’s a number.’” In the end, Apple gave us a number that we couldn’t refuse.

I saw this from the spoil-sports at MacRumors, who not only revealed this and other “stories” to be April Fool’s hoaxes, but admitted that they did not intend to “participate” in any prank news stories. That makes sense since some of the rumors they reference are a bit unbelievable, even if some are spot-on.

Hulu Announces New Spin-Offs

Hulu announced two new spin-offs of hit series available on the streaming service, including one where Hannibal gets a cooking show.

The other is, The Field, a spin-off of the critically acclaimed series Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which I haven’t yet seen (shame on me, yes, I know). 

Honestly, I figured out that these spin-offs were fake. However, I was very impressed that they went through the trouble to make two very good looking videos. 

Fake United Jeff’s Improvements for United Airlines

The Twitter account for the fake Jeff Smisek, CEO of United Airlines, is one of the few Twitter feeds I read like a blog, where I scroll back to each tweet until I read them all. Today, he’s been dispatching fake announcements to improve United Airlines, such as this one to solve the labor dispute between the airline and its two sets of pilots (former Continental and former United).

Some, however, are more sensible, so much so that you know that they’re fake.

I really hate the new logo, and I’m not alone.

EFF Reports that MPAA is to Update its Copyright Curriculum for Kindergartners

The Electronic Frontier Foundation sent out a “very special” issue of its newsletter, the EFFector. 

A few of the stories were pretty obvious pranks. For example, they mention an NSA program, IMPENDINGSLUMBER, that is designed to “intercept children’s bedtime stories.” But one was a little too close to reality to be an obvious prank. Here it is in its entirety:

Citing numerous psychological studies that indicate children under the age of eight respond primarily to fear-based cues, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is adding another character to its “Sharing Is Bad” copyright curriculum: the “Fair Use Creep,” a four-headed monster in a trench coat. “We think these children will respond well to characters like the Fair Use Creep,” said MPAA chief Chris Dodd in a press conference Friday. “And by respond well, we mean cower in fear.”

Doesn’t it seem a bit extreme for the motion picture industry to infiltrate children’s curriculum with lessons on copyright maximalism? This must be a joke, right? Sadly, it’s not.

Whitewashed Artists at Jeffrey Leder Gallery

Earlier this year, the owner of the 5Pointz building and site destroyed the work of dozens of graffiti artists by covering the walls with white paint. This was the final step in clearing the site of the artists for a planned real estate development project.

Beginning this Saturday, April 5, the artists whose work was destroyed will be part of an exhibition at the Jeffrey Leder Gallery in Long Island City.

Jeffrey Leder Gallery is excited to present Whitewash, an exhibit featuring 12 artists that worked on or photographed the 5Pointz walls for many years. They have created artworks that explore their reactions to having their and others’ art painted over – Whitewashed.

The gallery is located on 45th Road, in Long Island City, just steps from the 5Pointz site. The opening is on April 5, from 6:00 – 9:00 PM. Because it’s not a school night, I recommend making your own after-party at the Shannon Pot, a bar that relocated down the street to make room for this same development at the 5Pointz site.

Evergreen Subscriptions are Perennial Pains

Magazines make money in two ways: consumer sales and advertising. Since advertising revenue has been steadily declining over the last two decades, magazines are likely to push sales numbers higher by pushing evergreen subscriptions.

An evergreen subscription is one where you provide a credit card number when you subscribe. It’s framed as a convenience since you don’t have to mail a check[1], and you can continue to receive your magazines without interruption. This way there won’t be any gaps in that rack you keep by the toilet.

As convenient as this is for you, the true beneficiaries of an evergreen subscription are the magazines themselves. This provides them with a steady stream of income since most people forget to cancel their subscriptions. And they have your credit card number.

I fell for this ploy when I subscribed to the cooking magazine, Saveur, last year. It was a one-year digital subscription for $5.00. The print issues are lovely. They have great looking layouts, beautiful photographs, and some great recipes. However, the digital version is shovelware. It’s nothing more than a digital reproduction of the print magazine. And everything—the text and images—are all graphic files that eat up a ton of storage space on my iPad. The experience does not translate.

The digital version of Saveur is difficult to read.

The digital version of Saveur is difficult to read.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the promotional rate was just a way to convert me to an evergreen subscriber:

Continuous Service Program: I understand that unless I tell you otherwise I will receive uninterrupted service and delivery of these digital magazines, and my subscriptions will be automatically renewed at the end of each subscription term, at the rates then in effect. I authorize that you send my information to the applicable publisher to fulfill my subscription and charge the credit/debit card provided. I won’t be bothered with any renewal notices; instead I will receive clearly marked reminder notices with the then current rates at least 45 days before my credit/debit card is charged or I receive an e-bill. I may opt out of the automatic renewal at any time and receive a refund on all remaining issues by contacting the applicable publishers’ customer service at

When I signed up, I fully understood the terms. I would be receiving a cheap promotional rate to start me as a reader, and since I had provided a credit card number for the subscription, they would charge me full price after the promotional period had lapsed. At the time, my plan was to stop the subscription before it renewed. However, since they were going to notify me at least 45 days in advance of the renewal, I didn’t bother to create an OmniFocus task reminding me to cancel this subscription.

But there was no such reminder.

This week, I saw a charge for on my statement. After some investigating, I determined that this was indeed a renewal for Saveur. In all fariness, the renewal rate was not predatory: $19.99 for nine issues over the next year, which is reasonable. However, I didn’t want to pay for the digital issues because, as I mentioned earlier, the iPad version of this magazine sucks.

After writing customer service, I received this reply:

The $19.99 charge was associated with an automatic renewal of a subscription to Saveur magazine, ordered 3/26/2013. Due to a processing error, many custoemrs[sic] did not receive the renewal reminder email- due 45 days in advance. We have canceled this automatic renewal, and issued a $19.99 refund to the card used in the original purchase.

Even if I don’t know what a “processing error” is, we did resolve this like adults. They’re refunding me money, and I’ll be made whole. But evergreening (if that’s even a real word) works because most people are lazy. What if I didn’t bother to spend fifteen minutes poring over my bank statement, investigating the charge, and kindly requesting a refund (and then spend about 700 words blogging about it)?

I’d still be out $20 and still be getting issues pushed to my iPad. And it’s not like I can put those “issues” in the bathroom magazine rack.

  1. A check is a transfer of funds from your bank account to another party. Crazy, huh?  ↩

Politicking with Errol Morris

Because of the tight control that Hollywood studios exercise over streaming their films and television programs, it can difficult to find great things to watch over streaming services, like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon.

Since leaving CNN to make room for Piers Morgan, Larry King has been hosting two shows distributed through Ora TV: Larry King Now and Politicking. Last night, after an exhausting day, I watched a few episodes of both shows. The most recent installment of Politicking was an engaging interview with Errol Morris. Morris has been making the rounds in support of his upcoming documentary on former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, The Unknown Known.

I rarely watched Larry King Live during its long CNN run, but I appreciated him revealing his opinion on this program, acting more like a commentator than an observer. He revealed his skepticism about invading Iraq at the time, which he did not do on his CNN show, and he was self-reflexive on how Rumsfeld’s charisma and double-talk was both deceptive and convincing.

As far The Unknown Known, it’s easy to see this as a sequel to The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003), as both are films about secretaries of defense responsible for two long, calamitous wars. Based on the snippets in this interview, both films also trace how each man arrived at these positions of power and how they reflect on their decisions. But it looks like both men reflect on their decisions in different ways. Perhaps regret is that “unknown known,” whatever that really means.

Watch the whole interview. It’s funny and infuriating at the same time. Also, not since The Fog of War have I been looking forward to watching a Morris film: Standard Operating Procedure was too depressing for me to watch at the time.

The IMP Girl and The Broken Bath

For as long as I can remember, the American film-history canon lists Florence Lawrence as the first movie star and that she was first featured as a star in the 1910 film, The Broken Oath. It’s a great story because it reveals that the established dominant players in the film business were too busy maintaing the status quo in the early 1910s that they missed audiences wanted more from them than a generic motion picture. They wanted something different.

Florence Lawrence, in 1908, when she was the "Biograph Girl."

Florence Lawrence, in 1908, when she was the “Biograph Girl.”

Film companies in the nickelodeon era, prior to 1910, would not promote their actors. The film manufacturing companies preferred to sell films as commodities, pricing them by the foot, and didn’t want to promote the actors for fear that they would demand higher salaries.[1] Instead, a foot of film was like a barrel of oil, a bushel of corn, or a pound of cotton.[2]

However, film audiences began to recognize certain actors and began to develop an affinity with them. One such actor was Lawrence, who appeared in the dozens of films produced by American Mutoscope and Biograph. Audiences clamored for more films with the “Biograph Girl,” although they did not know her name, and pressured theater operators to book her films.[3]

Biograph was part of a dominant film-making cartel in the first decade of the 20th century called the Motion Picture Patents Company, but there were competitors who often broke the law to make films in violation of patent laws. One such intellectual-property scofflaw was Carl Laemmle, who lured the Biograph Girl to this company, Independent Motion Pictures (IMP).

Laemelle didn’t just stick Lawrence in his movies: he used her for the first movie publicity stunt. Laemelle had newspapers report a story that Lawrence, the Biograph Girl, had been killed in a streetcar accident. It was a tragic story. Shortly afterward, Laemelle bought space in those newspapers to report that the rumors of Lawrence’s demise were greatly exaggerated: she was, in fact, alive and well. You can see that in this ad, where they “nail a lie.” Oh, yes, and by the way, she will starring in the upcoming IMP film The Broken Oath.[4]

The IMP Girl stars in The Broken Oath or is it The Broken Bath?

The IMP Girl stars in The Broken Oath or is it The Broken Bath?

The one part of this story that doesn’t make sense to me is the name of the film in the ad. The ad for the 1910 film, where they “nail a lie,” names the film The Broken Bath, not The Broken Oath, as every source I’ve read lists it. That raises a couple of questions:

Is this ad a fake? No, you can see the ad in the March 12, 1910 issue of Moving Picture World on page 365.

Did the name of the film change? Possibly, but in that same issue, on page 400, you can see the film listed as the The Broken Oath. Also, in subsequent issues of Moving Picture World, the film summary describes the film as follows:

To break a secret society oath requires a good deal of nerve, and there are certain situations connected with a sweetheart which also require nerve. Where these two come together it is quite likely to be doubly interesting.[5]

Clearly, the film is about an oath, not a bath. Besides, a “broken bath” makes little sense unless it refers to a broken bath tub.

Did I nail a lie? Or could the name just have a typesetting error?

  1. Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell, Film History: An Introduction, 3rd. ed., New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010, pp. 30.  ↩

  2. Film companies were called “film manufacturing companies,” not studios, suggesting that they were similar to a company that manufactures a good like rubber or cotton, not the content on the films.  ↩

  3. Thompson and Bordwell, 30.  ↩

  4. Eileen Bowser, The Transformation of Cinema, 1907–1915, University of California Press, 1994, pp. 112–13.  ↩

  5. Moving Picture World, 26 March 1910, pp, 467–468.  ↩

Spring Break Should Not Be Easter Break

My poor students need a break. We also need a smaller classroom than Kiely 264.

My poor students need a break. We also need a smaller classroom than Kiely 264.

Today, most New York City-area colleges return from spring break. Consequently, I had a lighter workload last week because I didn’t have to teach at Fordham and because my office at NYU was more in a spring-cleaning mode than in our usual panicked, fire-extinguishing mode.

But at CUNY, we didn’t have the renewing benefits of that break. Instead, students and faculty have to endure another three weeks before we get our break. Why? Because our break is tied to the Easter and Passover holidays.

Merging Easter and Passover break with Spring Break might make sense for primary and secondary schools because families schedule holiday travel around this break, although my family never did. But in college, where the workload is much more intensive on students and faculty, this break is more urgently needed: scheduling it at the half-way point of the semester makes a lot of sense.

Because Easter and Passover always fall on different days of the year, due to the incompatibilities of the solar and lunar calendars, the CUNY Spring Break can start as early as late-March or end as late as late April. This year, our break comes towards the latter end of this period. That means we have about eleven weeks of classes before we get the benefit of a break. Right now, I’m exhausted. My students are exhausted. We could really benefit from hitting the pause button for a week.

Moreover, because of this scheduling, my class will be on break for two weeks, not just one. We will have our last pre-break meeting on April 7, and then we won’t meet again until April 28. It’s going to hard to gear back up after two weeks off. When we return, we’re going to have only two weeks before final papers are due, and three weeks before the final exam. This isn’t a midterm break: it’s an intersession!

CUNY does a lot of things well for our students, but sometimes, we do things that disadvantage our students compared to other universities.

When is Easter and Passover?

Pascual Moon

Because we have the Internet, we can always lookup what days Easter and Passover fall. But since I like to know how things work, I wanted to figure out whether Easter will be in March or April. Also, when I used to create the schedule for the McCarren Softball league, I wanted to figure out whether I had to schedule a holiday for Easter weekend or for someone’s Seder.

There’s Holidays and Then There’s Holidays…

As far as I can tell, there are three kinds of holidays that we observe in the United States. Although most of this information is well-known, I’m posting it should this blog survive the fall of the American Empire and of Google.

First, there are those that fall on the same day of the year every year. Those would include New Year’s Day (January 1), Independence Day (July 4), Christmas Day (December 25), Valentine’s Day (February 14), May Day (May 1), St. Patrick’s Day (March 17), and Cinco de Mayo (5 of May). Those last two are fun, not only because those are both days of intemperance, but because they always fall on the same day of week as each other. Yes, really!

Second, there are those holidays that fall on a certain day of the week of a specific month. For example, Memorial Day is always on the last Monday of May as Labor Day is always on the first Monday in September. We do the same thing with other federal holidays, such as President’s Day (third Monday of February) and Martin Luther King Day (third Monday of January). The only exception to this Monday thing, of course, is Thanksgiving, which is on the fourth Thursday of November, not the last one as is commonly believed. Retailers love it when November has five Thursdays because it extends the holiday shopping season.

Third, there are the kinds of holidays that require the help of celestial bodies. The start of each season is not on the same day as last year, although it’s pretty close. The start of the northern-hemisphere spring is on the vernal equinox, around March 21, as the northern autumn starts on the autumnal equinox, also around September 21. But it’s never the same day because the seasons are a function of our planet’s orbit around the sun. When it reaches a certain point in that orbit, a new season has started. Our calendar doesn’t measure this exactly, but it’s pretty darn close.

Sheer Lunacy

Once you figure out the March equinox, you can start to figure out Easter and Passover, but you’ll need to figure out when you’ll see the next Paschal full moon. You have some options:

  1. Look at the sky each night after the beginning of spring. Is there a full moon?
  2. Look at a calendar. The Mexican food place down the street always gives me a calendar with the phases of the moon on it. I can check when I’ll see the first full moon of the spring.
  3. Internet.

With this information, you can determine that Passover begins on the first day before this full moon. The Seder will be on the evening of this first full moon.

Easter is trickier because the Paschal moon is calculated from a table, not the moon itself. This is presumably because the full moon might appear different, depending on your position on Earth. Either way, Easter is the first Sunday after this full moon. If the Paschal Moon falls on a Sunday, we wait a week.

As complex as this sounds, Easter and Passover are always in the spring and the moon above will be waning during your Seder or Easter egg hunt.