February 13, 2011

General musings for the week 13th February 2011

CarefulAs a bit of a Starbucks fan, I read with interest recently the decision to launch a brand new drink size (at least within the USA).

The size is known as a 'Trenta' (and it goes with 'Tall', 'Grande', and 'Venti' to complement and complete the line up).

But here's the problem as I see it. The Venti - coming from the latin for 20 - is a 20oz cup of coffee. That is a pretty large amount of liquid to digest all at once. So the introduction of the Trenta - which is a 31oz cup and therefore over 50% bigger than the current largest cup - is something of a monster. In fact studies have shown that the amount of liquid a Trenta can hold is approximately equal to the volume of the average contents of somebody's stomach.

So let me put this another way: If I go into a Starbucks with anything other than a completely empty stomach and I order a Trenta, I will physically only just be able to drink the contents.

So let's extrapolate this a little further. Suppose I go in after lunch - or maybe some other meal. Perhaps I've been out to a fast food restaurant of some type. Or maybe a pizza parlour. I've had my 12" thin-crust Hawaiian with the pineapple on the top and a nice, large 'big-gulp' cold drink. On the way home my friends and I decide we'd like to finish off the meal with a nice iced coffee. So, naturally we drop in to the nearest Starbucks.

If we order a Trenta size there is no way we will be able to actually drink the contents until a good deal of digestion has occurred in our stomachs.

So this poses a dilemma for the Starbucks people. If I had purchased this drink (and for the record I do not - ever - intend to purchase a Trenta other than for research reasons) I would have to drink it slowly enough that the other food in my stomach could digest and allow room for the coffee to fill the space. After a large pizza-style meal this could take some time. So what do I do in the meantime? Sit in Starbucks, of course. I use their free wi-fi and generally keep a seat (or a table) to myself and my group, chatting and updating Facebook and FourSquare.

Now let's imaging if 10 groups of people did that. Suddenly you might find that the Starbucks store is now quite full - which is good if you're a Starbucks manager. However these customers will not be buying any more drinks as they'll have no room in their stomachs for another one - nor will they be vacating the tables to allow other customers who have purchased drinks to sit down. This is not good for the Starbucks managers.

But let's look at this from the other side. As you will no doubt have realised at this point, the whole Starbucks operation is a scam. By that I mean they've taken a standard 50c cup of coffee and charged something like four times that amount for it. The basic ingredients are the same and therefore the profit margin has increased proportionally. Including the Trenta size cup must have increased that profit margin even more as the incremental cost of adding another 10oz of water  to a cup mustn't be as much as the relative increase in price - especially as the available drinks at that size are mostly ice. Therefore, all other things being equal, it must be more profitable for Starbucks to sell Trenta size cups than Venti or Grande.

So we therefore have a dilemma on our hands. Or rather Starbucks do. Should they sell as many Trenta size cups of coffee as they can, knowing that this will slow down repeat business in their shops but knowing that it will increase their profit margins, or do they not promote the Trenta to such an extent knowing that this will increase the throughput - and therefore turnover- of the shops but at a possibly smaller profit margin?

An interesting dilemma indeed.

Of course at the moment this is just an arbitrary discussion because - as I understand it - the Trenta size is not available as an in-house purchase but is only available for take-away. But does this mean that people will buy it and take it away? or will they buy one and sit in the shops with it? If three of you go in, two purchase 'tall' size drinks to drink in and one wants a Trenta, then would he have to take his outside given that the drink is only a take-out version. I don't think so.

So, in summary (and because 800 words is a lot to write on a single cup of coffee) Starbucks are selling a high profit margin drink that cannot be consumed in a single sitting unless on a completely empty stomach and which will therefore cause bottleneck issues within their stores.

Good idea or bad?

As a writer I like to try and find things that will make my writing easier, better and quicker. This can include tools which help generate ideas, one's which remove distractions form my writing or - as is the case with the one I want to talk about now - a tool which will deliberately force you to write and get the words out.

The tool is called Write Or Die, and it is basically a blank screen with a difference.

Prior to writing you tell the tool how many words you want to write and how long you need to write those words. Typically I put in 1000 words in 30 minutes but I have also done 1000 words in 15 minutes (well, 980). You also tell the system how severe it should be when you start to lag behind the target. This can range from very gently to 'Kamikaze'. The difference is most noticeable in Kamikaze mode. What the tool will do is monitor your keystrokes and let you know if you are slowing down to the point where you will not reach your target. If - for example - you stop typing and start to read back through your words, the screen will get redder and redder to warn you. If you still don't attempt to keep typing then the Kamikaze mode will start to eat the words you have written resulting in the loss of the last words in your piece. As you can imagine that is a pretty powerful motivator to keep writing.

The tool comes in two flavours. One is a free web-based version available here. The other is a desktop app available for the bargain price of $10. This provides a full screen, distraction free environment for your writing. It also provides top-of-the-screen sliders which show you your word progress against your time progress so you know how well you are doing.

The whole idea is - of course - to encourage you to get the words down on paper. It removes the ability or need to edit - in fact on the desktop version you can even remove the ability to use the backspace key or save during your work - and focuses purely on output. Of course once you have finished there comes the inevitable proof reading and correction phase, but this will always occur in any writing.

If you participated in the recent NaNoWriMo effort which attempts to make you write a novel in a single month, this tool is an excellent way of helping you get the words down on the page. For a typical 50,000 word novel over 30 days you will need something like 1500+ words written each day to reach your target. This tool is ideal for that.

I spent some time reading a very interesting article this week. The reason I say 'spent some time' is because it's an extremely long article from The New Yorker magazine. It's a piece of investigative journalism from that magazine which interviews screenwriter Paul Haggis on his decision to resign from the Church of Scientology. As a piece of investigative journalism it is fabulous - especially when the Scientologists respond to some of the accusations. Now don't get me wrong: I'm completely in favour of freedom of religion and I have nothing, personally, against Scientologists. It just strikes me as bizarre that Scientology is about the only religion whereby those that 'leave' it have damning indictments of the practises they followed whilst in it. I don't hear any lapsed Catholics complaining about having to take confession every week or the like. In fact the more I hear of lapsed Scientologists, the more the accounts sound like a cult rather than a religion. But I'll let you decide.

Video of the week goes to the second string quarterback at Uconn who has released a video of American Football trick shots. When you watch this remember this kid wasn't deemed good enough to be the starter on the team...

0 comments (See Policy http://tinyurl.com/5qgr5x):

Post a Comment