Starbucks New Rewards

I got an email today. From Starbucks. Dear Stephani it read. We’re going to give you what you want.  More stars. Starting in April.

OK. Sounds good. More stars = more free food = faster Gold status (which is what GIVES you the free food. And drinks).

Now it’s no secret I love Starbucks coffee.  Although I don’t love much of their food and I really don’t love the overly sweet, overly caloric cakes and brownies and such. Beyond the banana bread which thankfully was retained when Starbucks bought another bakery a while back and changed all the snack food.

Well – back to my email. So now, says Starbucks, I’ll earn 2 stars for every $1 spent on coffee, food, mugs etc. Well that’s way better than 1 star a visit isn’t it? The email says it’s the #1 request from members — stars based on what you buy. $$ you spend.

I kept reading. There must be a catch somewhere. Big successful companies don’t just give things away on a regular basis. And of course — they won’t.

Now I get one star per visit. And a star for each package of Starbucks coffee I buy at the supermarket. I can just buy a basic grande coffee or maybe splurge (calorically) on a cafe mocha with whipped creme. 30 coffees or  – say – 25 coffees and 5 bags of packaged coffee and I have 30 stars.  And I’m gold for another year. Then I need just 12 stars earned any which way – for a reward. One free ANYTHING in the store I can eat or drink.  As many rewards a year as I can earn.

In April I’ll need 300 stars to make Gold. And 125 stars for that free reward. It will take much longer to get there buying just one coffee per visit. So obviously Starbucks is gambling that it’s loyal customers will spend a lot more on food now to reach the gold levels faster. Hey – Starbucks hopes you will say — let’s have a Starbucks sandwich for breakfast or lunch instead of going to McDonald’s. Making Starbucks’ lagging food products more popular. Boosting revenue. Making Wall Street happy.

Who could ask for anything more?

Apple, Hillary and Change

I was going to write about the Apple controversy. And how CEO Tim Cook’s refusal to roll over and let the FBI tell him to create a backdoor to Apple’s vaunted iPhone encryption is a classic clash between two great rights – privacy and national security. I was going to add in antivirus software founder John McAfee’s post volunteering his band of hackers to break just the one iPhone in question –used by one of the San Bernardino killers. I was going to say that like many people, I don’t really know who is right. Which right has to give way for the greater good. And which right IS the greater good in this case. And finally I was going to add how I certainly don’t want any person or entity or agency or government to have the key to what’s in my own iPhone.

But tonight – listening to the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton make her victory speech in the Nevada caucuses – I decide to leave the Apple controversy for another, longer day. Because Clinton, mentioning how important small businesses and entrepreneurs were to the overall need to create good jobs, made me think about something central to this Presidential election. How do we create enough GOOD jobs for all the angry people left behind by the technological revolution? And all the young people who’ll need good jobs in the future?

You can’t turn everyone into an IT code writer. Or doctor. Or lawyer. Or basketball player. Or musician. Not everyone can graduate from high school with advanced placement credits. Or sail through college with a huge loan right into that great new high tech world. It isn’t just lack of the right education at the primary and secondary level. It’s interests. It’s native abilities. It’s caring about something enough to make it and you a success.

Almost everyone has something they really care about. Something they’d spend long hours learning about and doing. And I think many of those interests and abilities can be turned into small businesses.  Which may be where to find the good jobs we need.

In the small suburban towns where I live, Main Streets are alive again with all kinds of little stores and businesses.  Many women with kids find they can develop home-based businesses around something they always did for pleasure. Like making gloriously good cupcakes.

Maybe the entrepreneur part comes in when you look around and identify a need you can fill with your business and knowledge. Maybe we can foster this way of looking at the world and your place in it if we start early enough in school. And maybe we can use the internet to reach the older worker who’s stuck in a town where the industry has gone away. Even without broadband at home, everyone who can drive to a connected library (and most are) can have the benefit of an online career counselor. And basic courses. And whatever else might work.

Small businesses are the job engines of our world. Ask any economist. Maybe instead of making all these empty, grandiose promises, our political candidates this year might look around at the people who come to their rallies –and develop some targeted business programs aimed at them. Because if a small, one person business is successful, it will hire someone else. And someone else.

 

Maybe Print Isn’t Dead After All

I have one foot in the print world and one in the digital one.

The Real Thing

I still get my New York Times delivered every morning. But I usually read it on my iPhone or iPad, since a print subscription gets me through the digital pay wall.  My magazines are still piled in somewhat dusty stacks in the living room. But when I DO read them (again – print buys digital) it’s mostly on the iPad.  You get the drift.

I also read most of my books on my Kindle app. Currently I have maybe 10 in varying stages of consumption. I like the freedom to “carry” my weightless books wherever I go.  I read one entire book last summer on my iPhone during daily Prague Metro trips.

Digital is always there. Especially when you’re always on the go. But news apps and e-books have to compete constantly with Facebook and Twitter and all the other social media apps you carry along. Which can – and DO –  suck up all the air in the room. Or time in your life.  Note I said I read ONE book last summer. And that only because there’s no wifi connection underground.

I am not alone in this discovery, apparently.  The US Census Bureau data just released this week show that bookstore sales rose by 2 and a half percent last year — the first such increase since 2007! In fact, e-book sales fell in 2015 — while old fashioned print sales rose.  For many  –  that pile of  books on the kitchen table still seems to compel us to pick one up and retire with it to the couch.

Fact is — much as I love my digital print apps – when a newspaper is sitting in front of me, I can save one or two of the sections to read later. Which can be a lot harder to do with constantly refreshing digital content burying the older stories. You can say news is meant to be read immediately. And you’d be right. But there’s a lot which passes for news these days which can wait a few days. Just ask the geniuses at Twitter who are trying to destroy the much loved chronological timeline tweet feed in favor of Facebook-like, algorithm-chosen “most important” tweets.

As for magazines – unless I’m traveling – I tend not to read the digital versions — even after I’ve diligently downloaded them, chuckled approvingly at Time’s digital front page (which always comes together in ways weird and wonderful) and left one open at a video extra on my iPad as an incentive. The real thing is so much easier to leaf through, gulp down a thought or column or photo — and move on.

So I live in a world where print and digital mesh. Somewhat seamlessly. A kind of Never Land for pre-Millenial generations. Flexible. As portable as I want to make it. Always available anywhere in any form.

Right now I’m going to grab the Science Times section of today’s print version of the Times and read a few stories. While I eat a greasy, mayonnaise loaded tuna sandwich. Try that on the iMedia glass screens. You’ll never get them clean.

 

 

The Presidential Candidates and Me

Podium before GOP Debate Las Vegas
Podium, Las Vegas (AP Photo/John Locher)

Oh. You didn’t ask what I think about the current political scene? Well that’s certainly never stopped me.

In the wake of the latest GOP presidential candidate debate on CNN – the one on foreign policy and homeland security – I’m thinking of going into deep hiding. The rest of the 2016 presidential race  – only just getting started really with the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire primary coming up in February – should be a doozy.

And it’s not just the Republicans.  I’m not exactly thrilled by anyone who’s running on either side. I’d like to see a third party.  Drawing from the country’s majority moderates. And supporting  less “required” dogma for the parties’ base.

The problem as I see it is the whole primary system. It encourages what we’re seeing in the GOP – a lot of outrageous, “I’m in charge”  comments with no real actionable  policies behind them. Senator Rand Paul – the Libertarian – sometimes seemed the only reasonable voice in the tough-guy babel. Mildly pointing out that one candidate after another would violate the Constitution. Or take us into World War 3.

On the Democratic side – there’s Senator Bernie Sanders. With his well-meaning but costly and unrealistic ideas which have never worked. It’s unfortunate but the relatively unskilled jobs paying middle class wages – beloved by the unions – are not coming back. Nor are the big corporations going to stop combining and getting bigger. What can happen is better, more targeted education for today’s young people. And more targeted retraining for workers left behind in the rush to the internet of things.

That leaves Hillary Clinton. Who seems at this point an overwhelming force headed toward the Democratic presidential nomination. Right now – paired against any of the likely GOP candidates – Clinton is the only candidate on either side who has the real world experience to (perhaps) deal with the highly complicated mess the world seems to be in now. She’s been in the White House, she’s been a Senator, she’s been Secretary of State.  Of the Republicans, only Senator Marco Rubio seems to have any understanding of the world outside the US. He sits on the Foreign Relations Committee. And at least from what I’ve heard in debates and interviews he seems to be highly  intelligent.  Once he gets past the primaries controlled by the evangelicals and tea party  types –  he might come up with some reasonable ideas.

No Republican is going to stray far from the party line on macro issues like guns, abortion, education, immigration (total reform of which may be beyond any politician) etc. But I’m much more concerned with geo-politics and the migration crisis. How to deal with China’s rising prominence. How to handle Russia – who’s seeming “Leader for Life” Vladimir Putin is perhaps the most dangerous man on the planet right now. And of course how to destroy ISIS.  Before it completely destroys the Middle East.

Unfortunately ISIS or its successor (and until the core problems of the Middle East are solved there will be a successor) will keep radicalizing some Muslim citizens of countries like France, Belgium, Britain and the US as long as we – the dominant society – make those other citizens feel like outsiders. And having a presidential candidate talking about registering all US  members of the Muslim faith and closing the gates to all other Muslims doesn’t help.

Internal (homeland) security is not why I will ultimately vote for a candidate. We’ve been living with this same  threat since 9/11.  Actually well before but intelligence agencies were (and maybe still are) incapable of connecting the dots. It always takes something bad to wake us up.

I’m really afraid some of these issues are just unsolvable. By anyone in the West. How you get the Saudis and Iranians to agree to actually do something constructive about the Middle East?

No, you didn’t ask what I think. But I’m as angry as everyone else. And as afraid as everyone else. And I’m mostly afraid we’re about to have a Presidential election season which can only make everything worse.

 

 

Paris Attacks – Friday the 13th

photo of Paris Police at hospital from Daily Telegraph -UK
Paris from The Telegraph – UK

It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything here. Travel, home remodeling, work, inertia. You know. I was finally about to write a couple of news-based stories on Friday.

And then came Paris. Those horrendous, inhuman, coordinated attacks against perfectly ordinary people. Who went to dinner or for a glass of wine or to a concert. And never came back. Like those thousands of people on 9-11 here in New York City who went to work in the Twin Towers. And never came back.  Or the Russian tourists who flew toward home from Sharm el Sheikh last month. And never came back.

I’ve spent a lot of time this weekend reading and listening as the experts explain how ISIS developed and why Paris and the nation of France was, has been and will be again targeted. Much of it makes sense. But it’s been said before and still ISIS grows, recruiting often well educated young men – and some women – from every country where Muslim people live. Working painstakingly through the internet and messaging apps where intelligence agents can’t as easily follow. It’s seems quite clear that the  carnage will not be limited to the Middle East and France.

As for all the reasons and explanations — in the end… what’s done is done. We can’t undo it. Can’t rerack the disastrous war in Iraq. Or the intelligence inadequacies never corrected after the Cold War ended. As I am fond of telling myself when I feel trapped  – it is what it is.  We the civilized nations can only try to devise a strategy to deal with what we now see. I am not wise enough to know what that strategy should be. I only know half measures won’t work now and didn’t work then. They never do of course. Senator Lindsey Graham – running almost invisibly for the GOP Presidential nomination – wants to bomb ISIS into smithereens. Well actually he wants to solve every foreign quagmire that way. Others talk of feet on the ground, safe zones, education, integration — too many ideas to list them all. Maybe they all have some value. But we don’t have the time.  That was lost in the years we allowed ISIS and the civil war between the Sunnis and Shiites to grow. Something big has to be done right now. Immediately. Not just by us, the US, but by all nations who value our (relatively ) free way of life.

And what about the migrant crisis spawned by Syria’s inner battles? I haven’t even mentioned that. But with one of the Paris terrorists possibly coming through Greece, then Serbia and other Balkan states with the river of migrants – using what authorities now say may be a fake Syrian passport with a fake name and then moving on to France — what now?

These questions and issues are what the presidential candidate debates on both sides should be focused on. Along, of course, with President Obama and the current Congress who have the unenviable burden of doing something. Now. The West needs a leader. Some country has to produce one. It should be us.

 

 

 

Come Fly With Me

Dillon SC County Airport
Dillon SC County Airport

At the end of an I-95 exit ramp in South Carolina, just across from Missy’s One Stop, sits The Dillon County Airport. When my husband and I first saw it several years ago it was forlorn and forgotten.  Single runway rutted, runway lights broken, rusted tower with a battered old beacon light. There were a couple of old white trailer buildings with a faded “Airport Office” sign on one. And a dirt track winding through planted fields to the Dillon Motor Speedway. A relic of a past when much of America was tied together by tiny air strips and tinier flying machines.

I looked up the airport on the  FAA’s website. It was still an active airport as far as the FAA was concerned.  But I doubt a plane had landed there in a decade or more.

We came back a year later.  The airport looked even more abandoned. And the trailer buildings were gone.

Then – a small miracle. We came back in 6 months and the runway was newly tarred and striped. New runway lights were catching the sunlight.  And -OMG – an old Cessna 172 was sitting on the taxiway. It had a few rivets missing from the cowling and a paper map sitting on the passenger seat and looked pretty much unchanged from the 172 which I learned to fly (in case the pilot had a heart attack) when I did traffic reports in college.

3 months later – the 172 was still in the same place. It looked as if it hadn’t moved in years. And maybe never would.

Then this week we took our usual walk down the little road paralleling the runway. And there – high above us – was a brand new light with all the new electrical connections needed to make it a proper rotating airport beacon.

Cessna and Beechcraft
Cessna and Beechcraft

And even more amazing… a second small plane sat near the runway. An old Beechcraft. Looking slightly more as if it had actually flown there.  A brand new windsock soared bravely near the refurbished runway.

Our little county airport was alive! Never mind the reason (yes I know I’m a reporter and supposed to be pinning that down). It may have been simply, as one source suggested, that the FAA threatened to stop providing the county with maintenance money unless there really was some maintenance.  It doesn’t matter now.

So hop in your flying machine and fly in  – now that you won’t land in a rut. Walk across the road to Missy’s. Savor a good Southern, home-cooked meal.

Airport Cotton Field, Dillon
Airport Cotton Field, Dillon

Then walk it off in the cotton field just behind the airport- on the sandy path which still leads to the Dillon Speedway.

Update From I-95

On the Road Again
On the Road Again

On the road again. Cats quiet in their travel box behind us. Frank driving, me reading, sun finally up, cloudless blue sky. And oh yeah — I’ve been getting freeze warnings from NOAA in my iPhone for every town we hit in New Jersey!! With temps around 27! In a 2 day cold snap – I guess that’s not surprising.

In a few hours I’ll call the pet friendly hotel in Dillon where we always stay to make a reservation. Tomorrow we’ll have our favorite breakfast at Missy’s. Maybe doing these same things would be boring to others but to me there’s a reassurance in continuity. Every 3 or 4 months we touch the bases. You don’t get old if you follow your curiosity to new experiences. But you also don’t get old if nothing ever changes.

Road Trips

Mr. Bojangles and Stormy
Mr. Bojangles and Stormy

It’s a hallowed American custom — taking the kids and the dog, piling into the car and heading for the highway. Maybe it’s to visit Grandma, maybe to go camping, maybe a trip down memory lane on storied Route 66.

Well we’re taking the cats – Mr. Bojangles and Stormy – and heading south. I-95 all the way. Destination: St. Augustine FL, the oldest city in the US. But first we have to get to Dillon, SC. Home of the former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke (with an interchange sign to prove it). Home of the Dillon Speedway. And Missy’s.

Dillon is just south of the North Carolina border and we didn’t pick it to overnight because of the Bernanke connection. Actually it’s kind of the town the world left behind. A good 12 hour drive (with the usual comfort stops along the way). The cats just shut down in their fleece-floored, soft-sided carrier. Go to sleep. Occasionally Mr. Bojangles (Bo for short) gets up, looks through the mesh to be sure we’re still there, and goes back to sleep.  Stormy just sleeps.  Pretty much what he does all day at home anyhow.

So why do we head for Dillon?  Missy’s One Stop. It’s like stepping into the 40’s or 50’s with a home-cooked Southern breakfast, a crew of bearded, retired regulars and a steady stream of locals stopping in to fortify themselves for the work day. When I was a child I went to summer camp in Maine. Near a town with a general store. With penny candy. That’s Missy’s. A bit of old America you can still find off the blue highways.  If you take a road trip and let your curiosity be your guide.

Oh – sorry about the penny candy.  Missy’s has it but it’s more like dime candy now.

 

Ode to the Front Page

NY Times Front Page, courtesy Poynter Institute archives

I miss the front page.  Oh I know — I can see a digital front page on my New York Times iPad app. But social media editors are always adjusting the stories to encourage more clicks. Which often has little to do with late-breaking news.  I want what today would be called, I guess, a “sticky” front page.

I’m one of those half and half people.  I read almost all my news from all sources on my iPhone and iPad. Mostly iPhone. Seldom even on a legit website.  But I still get the print version of a few newspapers.  Like the New York Times. Daily and Sunday. I like to look at that front page in the morning — already outdated in our 24/7 world – and get a sense of what is or was important.

Most days I put the paper in the recycle pile without opening it.  Mondays and Tuesdays I save the Business and Science sections for the media and health stories I can read later.  On the apps — those stories are often moved to the bottom of the stack — or even dropped — before I have time to get to them.

But the front page — that’s the heart of any newspaper. The world at a glance. You just can’t get that from a stacked-up news app on the iPhone. It’s kind of like the legacy networks’ evening news broadcasts.  We know the news already, mostly. But that half hour neatly sums up the newsday.  Front page in the morning. Newscast at night. (Although I could certainly do without all the drug commercials with their ridiculously scary side effects). With so much information out there – true and false – most people don’t have the journalistic skills to sort it all out. Prioritize.

That’s what editors do.  The 3 who are left.

Well I suppose I’ll give in soon enough. Dump my print delivery with its front page of record. But before I go — one more thought.  When you’re reading and eating fried chicken or a sloppy tuna-in-a-pita sandwich –the real newspaper doesn’t care that your fingers are all greasy.  It neatly absorbs whatever your fingers slop on its pages.  Try that with the gorilla glass screens of the iDevices.