Monthly Archives: August 2014

On class, Tim Hortons, and Starbucks

While there is alot being written about the Tim Hortons/Burger King merger from the point of view of taxes and finances, this piece in the blog Worthwhile Canadian Initiative touches on something else: class

Can’t we at least get a decent class analysis of this question? There are two sorts of people: Starbucks people; and Tim Hortons people. And this class distinction is far more important than anything based on superficial differences like income and occupation. As a Tim Hortons person, who feels deeply ill-at-ease in a Starbucks, and who does not understand the menu, I cannot stop myself asking the “barista”(?) the subversive question: “Can I have a small double-double please?”

In my experience with going there, Tim Hortons is an establishment that seems to be staffed sith and patronized by working class people. As opposed to Starbucks, which seems to be staffed and patronized by middle class people. This is not to say that one class is better than another, but there appears to be this class distinction that differentiates them. The blog post linked to above talks about cultural or educated classes, but I think there is a case to be made that this also has to do with economic classes as well as a rural / urban / suburban divide.

Economically, the lowest coffee advertised by Tim Hortons is closer to one dollar (in Canada). In Starbucks, the lowest coffee advertised is closer to two dollars. While that may seem like much to some, for working class people, it makes a big difference. (Never mind that alot of the coffee bought in Starbucks is over three dollars once you start getting it from the espresso bar versus from the coffee carafe.) Likewise, a coffee and a donut costs less than three dollars in Tim Hortons, while a coffee and a snack at Starbucks is closer in the range of four to five dollars. (Based on the many coffee / snack combos I have bought at both.)

In terms of rural / urban divide, Tim Hortons has been over time making a move into the downtown core (at least in Toronto), while Starbucks has been slowly expanding outwards (e.g., Sydney, Nova Scotia recently got a Starbucks).

Those of you who say you have good taste may say: yes, but Starbucks is better. (And there will be others that say both are terrible and only indie coffee shops have good coffee.) I believe it is better too, though I don’t think Tim Hortons’s coffee is bad. (I have drunk bad coffee, and Tim Hortons is not bad.) I think for Tim Hortons customers, coffee is a hot beverage with caffeine that is good to drink while driving and at work.  Having it cost less makes a difference. Tim Hortons advertises that their coffee is fresh: that is the quality it has. Starbucks will talk of their coffee in terms of where it comes from and with terms you often hear wine experts talk about: those are the qualities it has.  Your values will determine where you buy your coffee from.

By the way, one of the stereotypes was that only middle class people (and pretentious ones at that) drank lattes. Now Tim’s has machines that make lattes and a wide range of milk based coffees too. They may not be as good as those in other places, but they are not bad and they have two other qualities: they are fast and they are lower in cost. Those two qualities are valued by working class people. And working class people like to try things too: they are no different from people with more money and more education who live downtown in the city.

Coffee is about class. It’s about the different classes we have in our society that center around money, education, where you work and where you live. Starbucks and Tim Hortons are based upon that as well, though as each attempts to grow more, they are expanding from their class base. As someone who comes from a rural working class background but lives an urban middle class background, I am comfortable in and recognize the value in both.

In Canada, we don’t talk about class much, but it is everywhere. Including the coffee shops we patronize.


All three volumes of the Feynman Lectures on Physics online

Yes, it’s true. The great Feynman Lectures on Physics are now online. Volumes one, two and three, cover everything from mechanics to quantum mechanics. A must for anyone interested in physics.

I’d also recommend it to anyone looking to write pieces on how to explain something technical.

A simple example of how to set up a PHP-MySQL application in IBM Bluemix (including the code you need)

While PHP is not one of the standard runtimes provided in the Bluemix catalog, the sample code in this git repo ( will show you how to bring your own buildpack, and this buildpack will allow you to have PHP code running in Bluemix that also can talk to a MySQL database running in Bluemix.

Among the files there is a PDF providing detailed instructions on how to set things up in IBM Bluemix.

P.S. This is sample code.  See the licence file in the repo for more details.

How much sleep do we need? Seven hours? Eight?

This WSJ article makes the case that you can probably get by with less than eight. Given the audience of the Wall Street Journal, I am not surprised they would have such an article.

For more reasonable people, this article in Real Simple (So Now We Only Need 7 Hours of Sleep? Not So Fast) makes more sense.

As I get older I lean towards getting more sleep, but to each their own.

Regardless, the weekend is coming up. Get some sleep.

P.S. The image, from the wikipedia section on sleep, shows the downside of lack of sleep.

Everyone should have a good minestrone soup recipe

And this one from Food52 could be yours. Once you get in the habit of making minestrone, you can really adopt any set of vegetables and beans you have to make the soup you want. Don’t like cabbage? Don’t use it. Out of chickpeas (garbanzo beans)? Use something else. It may not strickly be minestrone if you do, but who cares: it will still be delicious. Needless to say, this is a great way to use up bits and pieces of vegetables in your crisper.


Why Read the Classics? Italo Calvino has the reasons

It’s the weekend. You could use something to read. Instead of going to the latest books — which are no doubt very good — why not consider picking up a classic and reading it. If you are furrowing your brow at the thought, please take a moment and read Calvino’s argument for why you should in this NY Review of Books piece.

One thing that Calvino doesn’t mention is that the classics can be fun. Not all of them, of course, but many of them can be as delightful and engrossing as any book you might find.

Whatever your reasoning to select one, here’s hoping you start reading one this weekend. Enjoy!

(The image contains text from Calvino’s book, “If on a winter’s night a traveler” and it contains the best description of the process of reading. I don’t know if it’s a classic yet, but it will be and is also a great read.)

Teach your kids (and parents…and yourself) how to download software


Why? Because they are going to do it regardless of whether or not you teach them, and if you don’t teach them properly, there is a good chance they will download malware or at least the wrong software.

To back up, my son was complaining last night he could not download some software for his computer. He had gone onto Google, entered “download software XYZ” and clicked on the first thing at the top of the page. Now often times the first thing is NOT what you want: it is some company that purchased the right to show up first. I told him to instead look at the URLs that are displayed, and look for the company name in the URL. I told him to be careful about what you click on. (The software he wanted was on the first page of the search results, but about 3 or 4 entries down.)

The safest thing is to always have them talk to you before they download something. Or you email them a safe link instead of them clicking on what shows up in Google.