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Who Ate All the Funyuns?

Grab a snack while you read this.

Sure, sales slid during the recession as we all held onto our quarters… but brighter skies may be ahead.  Almost half of Americans are snacking at least twice per day – up from 25% just two years ago – and some experts even herald snacking as “the future of eating”.

Collectively, we get about a third of our calories each day from “empty snacking”, but we’re not all munching on the same things.  Nacho Cheese Doritos reign in California and the Carolinas, while the Heartland and Mid-Atlantic states wolf down Snickers and Peanut M&Ms.  The Central Gulf states stick to their Mrs. Freshley’s Jumbo Honey Buns.

With its handy “Planogram” layouts, Pepsico mysteriously recommends that vendors stock up on onion flavors for office workers in Texas (breath mints not included?) while education and industrial customers get more Grandma’s Mini Vanilla Cremes.

Pepsico Planogram Recommendations for Texas

Fortunately, my own office bucked the onion trend.  The guy stocking the vending machine in the break room reports that Snickers and Cherry Cheese Danishes were the biggest hits.  No one had bought a Nestle Crunch, he says.  Ever.  (Of course, we must not have bought much of anything because they came back this summer and wheeled the entire machine away.)

But he has other customers… and plenty of insights. Continued…

Posted in Food and Drink, Money, Various.

The Litter Box: Death Row Cuisine, Pollsters, and the West Coast Edge

  • The Circadian Advantage:  West Coast sports teams have an edge.
  • Pet owners, churchgoers, and NASCAR fans may be overrepresented in the current sea of opinion polls.  And give that pollster who calls during dinner a break… his response rate is down to just 9%.
  • This is no time to start a diet…  last meals on death row average a whopping 2,756 calories.  And everything’s bigger in Texas.  Take the guy who ordered 2 large baked potatoes with butter, onion, and chives; chef salad with blue cheese dressing; 2 ears of corn on the cob; 2 16-oz. rib eye steaks; 1 lb. turkey breast (thinly sliced); 12 strips of bacon; 2 large hamburgers with mayo; 4 Vanilla Cokes or Mr. Pibb; and 1 pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream…  bon appétit.
  • The Other War on Women.

Posted in Food and Drink, Litter Box, Various.

Texas License Plate Bingo: Find All 5 to Win!

The new Texas license plates have finally hit the streets. Not counting those fancy specialty plates that 5% of drivers opt for, that brings to five the number of license plate designs currently cruising around Texas roads… no small feat given the plates’ 7-year life span.

So it’s time for a little Texas license plate bingo — bragging rights for the first reader who can spot all 5 :-).

  1. Few and far between by now are the original “Texas Panorama”, set to retire in 2013.  The Panorama features “a little bit of everything”, with a kitschy collage of space shuttle, crescent moon, oil derricks, and a lone cowboy.  Continued…

Posted in Travel, Various.

Call Me Maybe: Where Have All the Pay Phones Gone?

When’s the last time you used a pay phone?  Turns out that ten years is about average.  Along Highway 95 in Chambers, Nebraska, customers at the pay phone outside the K & M Telephone Co. deposited a whopping $3.35 in coins during all of 2011.  Further west, the phones in Keystone and Lemoyne rake in about $2 per phone. Per year.  And the story repeats itself on roadsides throughout America.

With the rise of cell phones, gas stations and convenience stores are swapping their pay phones for ATMs, DVD rentals, and vending machines that can put the phone line to a more profitable use.

And not surprisingly, the number of pay phones in the U.S. nosedived from more than 2 million in 1998 to just over 550,000 in 2009, according to the FCC’s “Statistical Trends in Telephony”.  The American Public Communications Council puts the number today at only 425,000.

So where do more than 1.5 million pay phones go?


Posted in Money, Various.

The Litter Box: Olives in Oregon, Hot Cows, and Parenting by the Numbers

Posted in Animals, Litter Box, Travel, Various.

On the Road Again

Perhaps you saw them around town… Orange sherbet-y billboards with a handy history lesson:  “Austin Texas Founded in 1839”.  Punch into your phone (with someone else at the wheel, of course), and you’ll discover that it’s all part of a market research study to measure how well we can recall all those messages that whip past at 70 mph (or almost 2 mph during rush hour).

Pretty well, it turns out.  Before the signs appeared, only 2% of Austinites surveyed could name the magic date that the sleepy town of Waterloo became the new capital of Texas.  Then in May, Reagan Outdoor Advertising began rolling out new billboards throughout the city.  They placed a “50 Showing”, says Ken Foster, president of research firm Foster & Associates, meaning that 50% of the population should see one of the boards each day, based on audited traffic counts and average-persons-per-vehicle.

The Austin market ranks 6th in the nation for the number of miles driven and 7th for the amount of time people spend on the road each day, and we’re willing to learn a few facts along the way.  After just 30 days, 32% of us could answer correctly.  Not too shabby. Continued…

Posted in Travel, Various.

The Portaloo Olympics

It’s that time again… 16 days every two years that we spend glued to our TVs, all of us instant experts on underdog athletes with inspirational stories and hard-to-pronounce names.

Sure, we can dash to the bathroom during commercials from “Official Olympic Sponsors”…       But where do all those spectators live in London go when nature calls?

Previous Olympics in Athens, Sydney, Los Angeles and Barcelona all reportedly lacked a sufficient number of toilets, and even Beijing placed a last-minute rush order for Western-style units.

Other Olympic host cities tackled toilet planning with more gusto…  In a truly novel form of crowdsourcing, Vancouver tapped into the heat generated from raw sewage to warm its newly-constructed buildings.

In Salt Lake City, a multi-hundred page proposal included an estimated requirement for almost 3,000 portable toilets, analysis of local treatment plant capacity, a practice run to test antifreeze solutions, and contingency plans for snow storms or other snags.   Over 1.7 million gallons of human waste… really, what could possibly go wrong? Continued…

Posted in Travel, Various.

Calicos at Work

A quick Google search for “calico” drums up almost 27 million results to choose from.  So now it’s time to learn about a few other calicos out there:

  • Despite its folksy name, Calico Corners offers fabrics fit for a First Lady (along with custom window treatments, slipcovers, tableskirts, furniture, and free in-home design consultations).  Today’s trends for home decorating are happy, vibrant colors that “make people smile”, says Jan Jessup, director of communications for the retailer.  Yellow is uplifting, cheery and refreshing – the color of optimism.  Orange began popping up in Europe and then made its way across the pond.  And the Color Marketing Group crowned “Boyz-N-Berry” as 2012’s Color of the Year.
  • With Calico Light Weapon Systems’ patented high-capacity helical feed design, you can “spend more time shooting and less time reloading”.  As a bonus, their semiautomatic firearms are lighter than the UZI and MP-5, making them easy to maneuver for close-quarter combat. No one responded to my email for info, perhaps because they’re too busy packing orders.  Turns out that gun sales have been climbing since 2009 as owners “fortified their home arsenals” following Obama’s election.  “Initially, what spiked were the tactical rifles, the stuff Rambo might use,” gun industry analyst Jim Barrett told BusinessWeek.  “As a result, 2009 was ‘a blockbuster year’.  So was 2010. And so [was] 2011…. No one is entirely certain why sales are still surging. ‘Gun owners don’t like to be surveyed.’”  Continued…

Posted in Various.

The Princess Diaries

While on vacation in Alaska last month, we had the opportunity to take the Ultimate Ship Tour, a sneak peek behind those “Crew Only” doors on the Coral Princess.   A few of the highlights…

Galley:  The cooks on the Coral Princess whip up 900 pounds of pasta, 400 pounds of shrimp cocktail, and 2,400 eggs each day.  All that food gets loaded onto the ship in Vancouver, with passengers, staff, and crew munching through the stores over the next 14 days (or two cruises).  Salmon and halibut are added in Ketchikan.  Our northbound cruise, it seems, was gobbling up salmon at a faster rate than average, so the menus for next week’s southbound cruise would be tweaked to lure diners toward more chicken or steak.

But even with a little tweaking, there’s sometimes a hiccup in the plan.  During one restocking, the ship’s order for watermelon came in far short.  Ketchikan (population 8,050) may be the Salmon Capital of the World… Watermelon, not so much.

Next stop, Juneau.  This time, the ship called ahead to Costco, along with every other grocery store around.  And that evening, the capital city’s entire supply of watermelon sailed away… along with one relieved food director.

It wasn’t the first time she’d had to wing it.  Continued…

Posted in Food and Drink, Health, Money, Travel, Various.

Moneyball for the Supreme Court

Number crunching is hot.  From the Oakland A’s to Harrah’s Casino, data geeks are taking on old-fashioned conventional wisdom.  Punch in some numbers on rainfall and average temperate to estimate the price for Bordeaux while it’s still in the casks.  Or fill in a few questions about a court case, and voilà!  You’ve predicted Justice Kennedy’s vote.

Could it really be that easy?  A team of legal professors wasn’t so sure.  So in 2002, Ted Ruger, Pauline Kim, Andrew Martin and Kevin Quinn helped stage a match-up.  The Supreme Court Forecasting Project pitted the professional opinions of 83 legal experts (law school deans, professors, former Supreme Court clerks – not a shabby bunch) versus a statistical model fed by historical data from 628 previous court cases and just six factors about the case in question.

By the end of the term, the experts had lost.  They correctly predicted just 59% of the Court’s decisions, while the statistical model got it right 75% of the time.  And it was particularly effective for nailing more elusive swing votes like Kennedy’s.

So what do the super crunchers have to say about Kennedy’s potential swing vote for more recent cases… perhaps the long-awaited decision on healthcare reform?


Posted in Health, Various.