News of the Week: Christmas Wars, Computer Concerns, and the Case of the Confusing Yam

Starbucks cup
Phonlawat_51 /

Starbucks and the War on Christmas

Ah, the Christmas season. That time of year when bells jingle, choirs sing, snow falls, and people argue about paper cups.

It seems that the War on Christmas comes earlier and earlier every year. This year’s battle centers on Starbucks. This year the coffee shop chain decided to go with a plain red cup with their green and white logo, instead of something featuring Santa or reindeer or snowflakes, and some people are rather upset by that decision.

Here’s the thing: As E! Online illustrates, the company’s cups are always rather minimalist, and if they do have something on them it’s usually a drawing of snowflakes or a reindeer or ornaments and trees. And is there even any religious aspect to snowflakes and reindeer and candy canes we’re missing by having a bare cup this year?

To be clear, Starbucks says there is no directive for employees not to say merry Christmas to their customers, and they do sell coffee labeled Christmas Blend, a Merry Christmas gift card, an Advent calendar, and many other festive things. While I do think that there have been examples of companies and towns being overly politically correct during the Christmas season in the past, this isn’t one of those times. As even The National Review says, viewing plain coffee cups as an attack on religion is embarrassing.

Of course, presidential contender Donald Trump has weighed in on the controversy. While Trump said, “Seriously, I don’t care,” he also hinted he might end the Starbucks lease at Trump Tower, adding “maybe we should boycott Starbucks. … If I become president, we’re all going to be saying merry Christmas again — that I can tell you.”

And millions of people around the country are waiting to see just how he’s going to enforce that.


Computer in a trash bin
denisgo / Shutterstock

The End of the Personal Computer?

In an interview with The Telegraph Apple CEO Tim Cook asks the question, “I think if you’re looking at a PC, why would you buy a PC anymore? No really, why would you buy one?” And to answer that I would say, “Because I like them, that’s why!”

If he wanted me to expand on my answer, I’d say it’s because a laptop (or desktop) is the natural tech to use for producing content like writing. I haven’t used tablets or smartphones that much, but I can’t imagine working on them for an extended period of time. Movies? Games? Surfing the Web? Sure. But for real work I’ll go the traditional route (and there’s no way I’m going to start doing everything on a watch).

It’s a little disconcerting to hear the CEO of the company that makes the MacBook laptops say that the personal computer is going away because a MacBook is what I’m typing on right now. But I’m going to predict that we’re still going to have desktops and laptops for many years to come, so don’t worry about it.


Daniel Craig
Piotr Zajac /

Ranking the Bonds

Whenever a new James Bond movie opens, people love to rank all the movies and the people who have played 007. With SPECTRE in theaters now — and don’t listen to the critics, it’s a good flick — I thought I’d rank the Bonds.

The way it usually works is that you like the Bond you grew up with. I didn’t see any of the Sean Connery movies in the theaters — I saw all the Roger Moore ones there though — but I watched Connery’s Bond countless times on TV and he will always be number one to me.

  1. Sean Connery
  2. Daniel Craig
  3. Timothy Dalton
  4. Pierce Brosnan
  5. George Lazenby
  6. Roger Moore
  7. Barry Nelson (played Bond in a 1954 episode of the anthology series Climax!)
  8. Everyone who played Bond in the awful 1967 version of Casino Royale

Who’s your favorite Bond?


The Blackout of 1965

Where were you when the lights went out in the Northeast in 1965? I was around 5 months old so I was probably in my mother’s arms or, knowing me, crying because the TV just went out. The blackout, caused by human error, affected many states, including New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and even Ontario, Canada. While not everyone in those places lost power, the outage did hit 30 million people, and they didn’t have power anywhere from just a few hours to over 13 hours. Imagine this happening today, and people couldn’t post on Facebook for 13 hours. Oh the humanity!

This week marked the 50th anniversary of the event. Here’s NBC’s breaking news coverage:


The Return of MST3K

In the not-too-distant future, probably 2016 AD, we’re going to see the return of the original Mystery Science Theater 3000. After 15 years and the straightening out of some legal issues, creator and original host of the make-fun-of-movies show Joel Hodgson is bringing it back.

They’ve set up a Kickstarter and it has already reached $1 million, and there’s still almost a month to go in the campaign. The gang hopes to reach at least $2 million, so they can do three episodes on DVD/online. If they reach $3.3 million, they’ll do 6. $4.4 million will get us 9 episodes, and $5.5 million will mean a full 12-episode season.

Fa la la!


IBM WatsonBy Clockready (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons
IBM Watson
By Clockready (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Watson, The IBM Chef

Sure, IBM’s Watson computer can beat Jeopardy! champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, but can it make beef stroganoff?

I don’t really know. I would love to explore the IBM Chef Watson site more thoroughly, but you have to register with either a Facebook or IBM account. I have neither so what I can see on the site is rather limited. Apparently you can use the site — a joint effort between IBM and Bon Appetit — to create recipes and share them with your friends.

The recipes I’ve seen on the site include a Tomato Tart, Party Bourbon Punch, Salmon Tacos, and a Russian Celery Parsley Bread Lemon Juice Sandwich (yes), created by engineer and chef Florian Pinel for his TED Talk about food waste.


Potatoes and Yams
Brent Hofacker / Shutterstock

Sweet Potatoes Are Yams

I wonder if Watson knows the difference between sweet potatoes and yams? It will soon be Thanksgiving so I thought I’d investigate.

According to The Kitchn, there really isn’t any difference. The yams we eat here in North America are sweet potatoes, even if they’re labeled “yams.” A real yam is native to Africa and Asia and you’re probably not going to find one, unless you go to a specialty supermarket. And to confuse things more, there are two types of sweet potatoes, firm and soft. The yams you find at the supermarket are the soft, sweet potatoes and are labeled yams because they kinda look like real yams. Got that? Good. Maybe you can explain it to me.

I’ve been eating canned yams, the ones in sweet syrup, for many years, while at the same time refusing to eat the sweet potatoes at the Thanksgiving table. I guess it’s time to revisit sweet potatoes, as long as they’re covered in enough stuff like cinnamon and marshmallows to mask the taste. When you reach a certain age, it’s hard to change your eating habits. I yam what I yam.


Upcoming Events and Anniversaries

Suez Canal opens (November 17, 1869)

The 101-mile waterway connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea.

President Nixon’s “I am not a crook” press conference (November 17, 1973)

Nixon made the comments while meeting with 400 Associated Press editors in Orlando, Florida.

The “Heidi Game” (November 18, 1968)

The New York Jets vs. Oakland Raiders game had a really exciting ending. Too bad NBC interrupted it with a showing of the movie Heidi.

President Lincoln delivers Gettysburg Address (November 19, 1863)

Here’s the full transcript of Lincoln’s speech in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Nuremberg trials begin (November 20, 1945)

The post-World War II military tribunals prosecuted military and political leaders of Nazi Germany.

News of the Week: Caffeine, Cologne, and Charity Fights

I’d Like to Teach the World to Snack …

M. Unal Ozmen /
M. Unal Ozmen /

You probably don’t consider Coke “healthy.” You probably wouldn’t even call Diet Coke that. But the Coca-Cola Company wants you to, and they’re lining up some heavy-hitters to make it easier for you to think that way.

The company is teaming up with nutrition, dietary, and fitness experts to market the soda as a healthy snack. This marketing includes several articles written for places like American Heart Month and for many food blogs. The company is pushing their mini-cans of Coke as snacks, so it’s not like they’re saying that a Big Gulp is healthy. Still, it seems like it could open the door for others to suddenly say their foods are “healthy” just because of the portion size or because you eat them with a salad.

Besides, I’ve never even considered Coke (or any other soft drink) a “snack.” It’s a drink, a refreshment, a beverage. The word snack should be reserved for things you, well, snack on.

I’m waiting for the inevitable follow-up: “Funyuns: Will They Give You Six-Pack Abs?”

National Caffeine Awareness Month


If you are treating Coke as a snack, please be aware that March is National Caffeine Awareness Month. This is usually where I would link to the official site, but it seems they haven’t renewed their domain name. They probably need more caffeine so they’re more on top of things. Instead, here’s a link to everything you need to know about caffeine, including a chart that lists how much caffeine is in our favorite drinks.

Starbucks Vs. Racism

Levent Konuk /
Levent Konuk /

There seems to be a lot of caffeine-related news this week, but this news might actually solve racism!

Well, okay, maybe not — and it’s probably not supposed to — but Starbucks is trying to do its part to get a conversation started. The coffee shop chain and USA Today have launched a program called Race Together. Today in every Starbucks location, employees are being encouraged to write the hashtag #RaceTogether on the side of each cup. There will also be guides to the program available to customers in each store.

I’d like to know how the busy baristas at Starbucks are going to write something that long on the side of a cup while they’re also collecting customer names for coffee and scone orders. I order something, and “Bob” — not the hardest of names to write — comes out “Qx#b.” Hopefully they’ll write the phrase on all the cups before they open the doors in the morning.

New Cologne Smells Like … Books?


One reason to love print books — and there are many reasons — is because they smell. Older books have that certain smell that will instantly be familiar to anyone whose idea of fun is spending hours roaming the stacks of a used bookstore (like me). And even new print books have a certain smell. You don’t get that with e-books (unless someone comes up with an app that shoots the smell of books at you through the screen as you download something to your Kindle).

But now you can smell like an old book ALL THE TIME. Sweet Tea Apothecary has created Dead Writers, a fragrance that’s a mixture of clove, vanilla, and tobacco. It’s a clever idea, one that could start a new trend of creating colognes and perfumes with funky inspiration, but I don’t know about the name. Couldn’t they have called it Paper or perhaps Library? They already have a few writer-inspired fragrances, including Beatrix (after Beatrix Potter), Lenore (inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”), and Thoreau. May I suggest Hawthorne or Shakespeare, or maybe even Woolf?

It could go too far though. I don’t even want to know what Bukowski would smell like.

Mitt Romney to Box Evander Holyfield

I know, that sounds like something from The Onion, but it’s true! The former presidential candidate will box former professional guy-who-pummels-other-guys Evander Holyfield in a charity match on May 15 at the Union Pacific Depot in Salt Lake City. Money raised will go to one of the favorite charities of the Romney family, Charity Vision.

Now unless Romney has a hobby no one knows about, Holyfield will knock him out within 7 seconds. But it’s all for charity so I’m guessing Holyfield will go easy on him. This time.

Spring Has Sprung

Hey, today is the official first day of spring! According to the forecasts, we here in Massachusetts have a 90 percent chance of getting up to three inches of snow tomorrow and temps will be below normal, which has been par for the course this winter. But still, today is the official first day of spring! So no matter what the temperature is, put away your shovels and put on those shorts.

March Madness and Me Madness

Other people putting on their shorts will be college basketball players. It’s March Madness time, that special time of year when your favorite CBS television program is interrupted. I have to admit that I don’t like college basketball, nor do I understand the appeal of it. I mean, unless you go to the school, went to the school, or have a child that goes to the school, what is the obsession with filling out brackets and betting money? Do ordinary people — not people who follow college sports religiously — really know enough about college sports to do this? I’m more comfortable filling out these brackets.

But to each his own. I’m going to be rooting for that powerhouse University of Phoenix. They’re in it, right?

National Frozen Food Month

Question: If someone eats four Lean Cuisine meals at one sitting, is it still considered “lean”? Asking for a … well, for me. I’m asking for me.

March is Frozen Food Month, and yes, you could just go out and buy a bunch of frozen dinners and Hot Pockets and salads (yes, they make frozen salads now), but you could also make something at home that uses frozen food as one of the ingredients.

AllRecipes has a large archive of recipes, and so does Eating Well. You can also buy a cookbook by one of my favorite writers, Peg Bracken, the classic I Hate to Cook Book. That has many recipes in it that utilize frozen vegetables and fruit and they’re quite good. As a spokesperson for Birds Eye Foods, Bracken used a lot of the company’s products, of course.

Upcoming Anniversaries and Events

Erik Weisz aka Harry Houdini born (March 24, 1874)

Read about the famed magician and his long battle with phony spiritualists.

Elvis Presley inducted into the Army (March 24, 1958)

Here’s what rock music was like in the days of Dick Clark.

Scott Fitzgerald’s first novel, This Side of Paradise, published (March 26, 1920)

Fitzgerald wrote 68 stories for The Saturday Evening Post. Here is Jeff Glor of CBS This Morning talking to SEP Archives Director Jeff Nilsson about Fitzgerald’s work in the magazine.

Three Mile Island accident occurs (March 28, 1979)

Here’s a detailed explanation of the worst nuclear accident in the United States.