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March, 2010: circa 1996

McDonald’s. It is just about the definition of ubiquitous.

Its beloved golden arches blanket the country from coast to coast. It spends tens of millions of dollars a year on advertising. With 2 million monthly visitors, its corporate website is one of the top 1000 most-visited websites in the county. It has nearly 2 million facebook fans, 20k twitter followers and it even offers free WiFi in most of its American restaurants.

But McDonald’s was not always at the cutting edge of technology. In fact, back in 1996, its website looked like this:

It’s not clear why is “Your Dalmatian Location” as opposed to say “Your Big Mac HQ,” but what is clear is that in 1996, McD’s had little use for its web presence other than to remind visitors of minor trivia. Thanks to the Internet in ’96 project, this fact will live on forever.

Check out their website to catch a glimpse of what the websites of other Mega Corporations looked like 14 years ago.

(Hat tip: Dan R for sharing)

NYC’s newest park bans dogs [progress]

Worst 'No Dogs' Sign EverI’ve never really understood why people like dogs. They strike me as being primarily smelly, messy and a lot of work to keep around. But people apparently like them, particularly here in New York.  This poses a bit of a challenge for the rest of us non-dog people as dogs crowd the sidewalk, poop on the streets and bark loudly at night.

Fortunately throughout the course of history, there have been great patriots who have risen to the challenge and taken on the dog lobby.  The most famous perhaps was Fran Lee, who helped institute the nation’s first pooper scooper laws. But there is still more work to be done.

I’m happy to report that the anti-dog forces seem to have once again gained the upper hand. Today there was news that New York’s newest park, the much anticipated Brooklyn Bridge Park, will be a dog free zone. Canines will be banned from the parks great lawns. This means no dog runs taking up valuable space. No barking to interrupt your picnic. And no doggie landmines to step in.

Hopefully it won’t be long before New York adopts a 24-hour barking ban.


Michigan Senate votes to make texting while driving a primary offense [distracted driving]

Long Beach Harbor Patrol Say No Photography From a Public SidewalkWhile they can’t find the time to balance the state budget, qualify for $800 million in federal road funds, or reform the state’s broken tax structure, the Michigan State Senate did find time today to pass sweeping legislation criminalizing the use of cell phones in cars. This is apparently a pressing issue—despite the fact that our roads are safer than ever before.

Under the bill, texting while driving would be a primary offence. This means that a police officer can pull you over for texting while driving—not just write you an additional ticket for it after you’ve already been stopped.

The Detroit Free Press has more:

The 28-10 Senate vote means the House must now agree with the Senate change. That agreement is uncertain because many House members opposed allowing police to stop drivers for text messaging, as they can for not wearing a seat belt. But Rep. Lee Gonzales, D-Flint, sponsor of the original bill, said he prefers the Senate version and said he’ll try to muster enough votes in the House to go along with it.

How, exactly the police will determine who is texting remains to be seen. I don’t know about you, but when I use a cell phone in the car it is often on my lap—a place that is very hard for anyone not in the car to see. Does this bill mean that anyone who glances down can now be pulled over for suspected texting while driving? What if I’m looking down to put hot sauce on my Taco Bell and the police think I’m texting? Will I get a ticket for that?

Here is more Distracted Driving coverage, including a look at why it is silly to ban cell phones in cars.

Value eating with calorie counts [fast food]

One of the many little goodies inside the new health care bill is that chain restaurants nationwide will have to start displaying calorie counts on menus. The new regulation will apply to restaurants with more than 20 locations. Health advocates hope that giving consumers calorie information will “nudge” them into lower-calorie options at the local fast food joint.

I’m not sure that is going to happen.

New York City has had a similar law on the books for a few years now. Having experienced it first-hand, I can tell you that while the calorie counts haven’t dissuaded me from eating Big Mac’s they are quite useful for figuring out which menu item gives you the biggest caloric bang for your buck. Think of these calorie counts as a useful tool for fast food value eating.

Here is a graphic Slate published a few months back illustrating the point:

Marketing to Americans [travel]

Conrad Hilton was a visionary.

Not only did he build one of the world’s most famous hotel chains, but he also understood that the best way to make Paris and other European cities more appealing was, well, to make his hotels there more like America. This meant installing two things: air conditioning and steakhouses.

After all, just because you’re traveling in France doesn’t mean you have to sweat (and smell) like the French!

[Photo credit: lobstar28 via Slate]

What is the smell of America?

BBQ Ribs on the WSMIs it fresh-cut grass? Morning dew? Car exhaust? Fresh human urine on the sidewalk outside Starbucks* ? (maybe that was just the first strong smell I experienced this morning)

Well, here is the answer according to the Harper’s Index:

Percentage of Americans who describe “barbecue ” as the aroma that best defines America: 39

What say you? Is BBQ really the smell that best defines America?

*Presumably this aroma was complements of late-night partier or one of the local park’s many homeless residents

(Hat tip: Anne)

The Tanning Salon Tax [aka the Boehner tax]

Maybe if John Boehner spent a little less time in the tanning booth the Republicans could have defeated Obamacare.

I don’t like soda taxes.

I don’t like pizza taxes.

And I’d certainly appreciate if they lowered liquor taxes.

Like most Americans, I have a principled opposition to taxes: I don’t like any tax that applies to me. But if it is a tax that you pay and I don’t, well then, I’m all for it. After all, what is more American that opposing taxes but wanting more services?

This is a long way of saying that I’m pretty pumped about the new “vanity tax” passed as part of the healthcare reform bill. The tax, as far as I understand it, will levy 10 percent on customers of indoor tanning salons.

As I don’t frequent tanning salons but could use more government money to pay for my health insurance, this strikes me as a great tax—a win win, as they say.

What’s more, tanning salons always struck me as a little icky. I’m sure they can be used in moderation to good effect. But more often than not, the folks who come walking out of the tanning salon seemingly spent WAY too much time there and end up with a strange orange glow that leaves them looking, well, more Martian than sexy.

Maybe this tax will dissuade over tanning. If not, it’s still more money for healthcare that comes from someone else’s pocket. So I’m all for it.

God Bless America and God Bless ObamaCare!

New Jersey town bans dog barking [progress]

BEWARE OF DOGI’ll admit it, I don’t like dogs. I know they are man’s best friend and all—and a rather American pet to have—but I still don’t like them. They are smelly. They bite. They are not very self-reliant (unlike cats). And worst of all, they bark.  As anyone who has ever been kept up all night by a neighbor’s dog can attest, barking can be quite the public nuisance.

Visionary civic leaders in own New Jersey town, however, hope to make dog barking a nuisance of the past. reports that Piscataway Township has extended its nighttime anti dog barking ordinance to apply 24-hours a day.  Owners of noisy canines will face fines if their animals are a nuisance to neighbors.

“We periodically receive calls during the day, maybe from the home where a young child usually sleeps and a neighbor’s dog is keeping them up,” Mayor Brian Wahler said. “This ordinance will give police the mechanism to enforce the law during the day.”

I don’t know much about his politics, but this guy deserves to be re-elected for the dog barking ban alone!

Now you can inhale your coffee, literally [American innovation]

Have you ever thought, man, the problem with coffee is there is no way to inhale it.

No? Me neither.

But this being America, someone has finally come up with a solution to the ‘uninhaleability of coffee’ problem.

It is a disposable, lipstick-sized contraption called “Le Wiff” from which you can inhale either chocolate or coffee flavoring. Invented by Harvard professor David Edwards, Le Wiff is available online or in a few stores in New York and Boston.

Check out inhabitat for a diagram of how this device works.


Healthcare bill passes; neutralizes Europe’s last ‘zinger’ against us

Day 63/365: Stethoscope32 million more Americans will have insurance. Flagrant insurance industry abuses will be banned. And student loans will be reformed.

All of that is well and good, but of course the most important thing about the healthcare bill is that it is now much harder for Europeans to play the “at least we have healthcare” argument in debates.  Now they will have to increasingly rely on more bizarre lines of attack. Score America!

For a European perspective, check out this story from the Times of London.

Congress approved sweeping reforms of the US healthcare system last night that will outlaw flagrant abuses by insurance companies and bring near-universal health coverage to America for the first time in its history.

In a vote likely to transform the Obama presidency after a year of setbacks, anti-abortion Democrats dropped a threat to oppose the reforms and sided with their party to pass the biggest expansion of America’s social safety net since the 1960s.

The $940 billion measure, which was passed by 219 votes to 212, will extend health coverage to 32 million people who now lack it by requiring individuals to buy insurance and subsidising premiums for those who cannot afford them.

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