Meyer's Minutes Meyer's Minutes

  • Wine Vending Machines

    Posted by Kelly Meyer

    The Associated Press reports that Pennsylvania is introducing vending machines that dispense wine.  Can beer be far behind?


    HARRISBURG, Pa. - Swipe your driver's license, look into the camera, blow into the breath sensor and — voila! — you have permission to buy a bottle of wine from a vending machine.

    Pennsylvania, which has some of the most Byzantine liquor laws in the nation, recently introduced the country's first wine "kiosks." If the machines are successful in their test run inside two grocery stores, the state Liquor Control Board could place the high-tech alcohol automats in about 100 others.

    But does anyone want to buy wine this way?

    It seems the answer is yes. Customers using the machine at a Giant supermarket outside Harrisburg were thrilled that it could be a permanent fixture.

    "This is just convenient one-stop shopping," said Darby Golec, 28, of Enola. "It'll be nice to have it all in one area."

    The vending machines are a testament to both the wonder of technology and the obscurity of Pennsylvania's complicated liquor laws.

    Individuals can buy wine and liquor for home consumption only in state-owned stores staffed by public employees. Private beer distributors sell cases and kegs only. Licensed corner stores, delis, bars and restaurants can sell beer to go, but only up to two six-packs per customer.

    Numerous attempts at reform have been turned back by special interests intent on keeping their slice of the pie. So simply stocking Chianti and cabernet on supermarket shelves is not an option under the state's post-Prohibition liquor laws.

    The liquor board has tried to be more consumer-friendly in recent years, including opening 19 full-service state stores in supermarkets. The board touts the kiosks as another step toward modernization — "an added level of convenience in today's busy society," liquor board Chairman Patrick Stapleton said in a statement.

    Not everyone is swallowing that line.

    Craig Wolf, president and CEO of the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America, questioned the machines' efficacy in preventing sales to minors.

    Keith Wallace, president and founder of The Wine School of Philadelphia, described the kiosks as well-intentioned failures with limited selections and overtones of Big Brother.

    "The process is cumbersome and assumes the worst in Pennsylvania's wine consumers — that we are a bunch of conniving underage drunks," Wallace wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "(Liquor board) members are clearly detached from reality if they think these machines offer any value to the consumer."

    Conshohocken-based Simple Brands provides the kiosks free in exchange for the ability to sell ads on attached flat-screen monitors.

    The machines are about the size of four large refrigerators, though the wines are kept at room temperature. An ATM-type device sits at one end.

    A customer chooses a wine on a touch-screen display, swipes an ID, blows into an alcohol sensor (no contact with the machine is required) and looks into a surveillance camera. A state employee in Harrisburg remotely approves the sale after verifying the buyer isn't drunk and matches the photo ID.

    State officials say the process takes 20 seconds. The kiosks only take credit or debit cards, and they're closed on Sundays and holidays. A "convenience fee" of $1 would be added after the pilot phase.

    The machine got a warm reception at Giant, where customers asked lots of questions and perused brochures describing the 53 available wines, from Argentine malbecs to California merlots.

    Simple Brands President Jim Lesser doesn't anticipate much business from connoisseurs, but they're not the targeted demographic.

    "They were developed for the average consumer who wants a nice bottle of wine with their steak and seafood," Lesser said.

    Japan and Europe have beer vending machines, but Lesser said the self-serve alcohol concept probably wouldn't have worked in the U.S. until now. Today, he noted, Americans use kiosks for everything from buying movie tickets to checking in for airplane flights.

    Exit surveys show customers like the wine kiosks' convenience and easy use, and early sales have exceeded expectations, said Lesser. Eventually, the machines may be seen in other states, he said.

    Wendell Young IV, president of the union representing state wine store workers, anticipates some new jobs, from remote camera staffing to kiosk restocking. The number of jobs depends on sales, he said.

    Local vintners are watching the initiative closely. Lee Miller, owner of Pennsylvania-based Chaddsford Winery, said she'll support anything that might boost sales.

    "If they're not going to put it on the shelf, I think it's a great way to offer wine to people," Miller said.

    Bob Mazza, owner of Mazza Vineyards near Erie, is disappointed that none of the approximately 120 wineries in the state are represented in the kiosks.

    "You would think they would subscribe to the idea to support local industry," Mazza said.

    Liquor Control Board spokeswoman Stacey Witalec said the machines are stocked with proven sellers for the pilot period and will be re-evaluated based on customer feedback.

  • Time For Macha To Go?

    Posted by Kelly Meyer

    I believe it was toward the end of May when I was ready to give up on the Milwaukee Brewers for this season, convinced there was no way they could turn around their disastrous start and contend for a playoff spot.  Then a few weeks ago the pitching started getting more consistent, the team was scoring and the Brewers were winning series'.  Suddenly, there appeared to be a window of opportunity as the All-Star break approached.  The Brewers would play 16 of their next 20 at Miller Park.  If they continued playing well, they could really get on a streak and get within striking distance of the division leaders by the time they reached the All-Star break.

    So much for that.  That window of opportunity has slammed shut.  After Wednesday night's 15-2 thumping at the hands of the Giants, I am once again ready to give up on this team. 

    And what really stood out to me this morning - as I was reading about last night's game in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - was a blurb about Brewer manager Ken Macha's reaction to the loss.  He was talking about the out-of-sync nature of his team, beginning with the starting rotation's struggles, the bullpen meltdown, a slumping offense and, recently, costly errors.  Macha said, "That's the way the season has run.  Do we have people in place who can catch the ball?  Do we have people in place who can hit the ball?  Yes.  We have people in place who can pitch, too, and people who can close the games.  What we need to do is get it all together."

    Well if Macha truly believes they have all the pieces in place - and in my opinion that's debatable - then it would seem to me the blame for this team's woes would have to land at the feet of the manager.  He's saying they have what it takes to win, yet they're not winning.  In fact, they're playing truly awful baseball at times.  I think he just made the case for management to fire him.

  • Sheboygan Does the 4th Right

    Posted by Kelly Meyer

    I have to give a tip of the hat to the city of Sheboygan.  This is a city that knows how to celebrate the 4th of July. 

    People who have lived in Sheboygan for years may take it for granted.  But I must tell you, I've lived in areas where there was virtually nothing to do on the 4th of July until the fireworks that night.  Either that or what activities that were offered were so lame it wasn't worth checking out.  And in those communities it was just a one-day deal.  All festivities took place on the 4th and it was over. 

    In Sheboygan this year, for instance, things got underway Thursday night with a free concert at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center's outdoor stage.  Friday night there will be music featuring the Jerry Schneider polka band at Fountain Park at 6:30 and the Buffalo Joe Band at Deland Park at 7.  Plus there'll be the Venetian Boat Parade down the Sheboyan River.  Then on Saturday it's the big parade starting at 9am, the annual cardboard boat races on the Sheboygan River at noon at Rotary Riverview Park, live music starting at 12:30pm at Deland Park and then the big fireworks show Saturday night.  What a lineup!

    By the way, if you can't get to Sheboygan for the fireworks, you'll have many other opportunities in area communities.  Fireworks shows are scheduled for Friday night in Elkhart Lake, Saturday in Plymouth, Sunday in Kohler and Oostburg on Monday.

    If you can't find anything to do this weekend, you're not trying very hard.  Have a great weekend and make it a safe one as well.

  • The Flying Car Is Coming

    Posted by Kelly Meyer

    I can remember growing up and going through school in the 70's and early 80's.  We all thought there would be flying cars by the time the next century rolled around.  Well as it turns out, they're coming!

    Now granted, the price tag is a little steep.  It'll set you back $194,000.  According to "The Register" out of the U.K., 70 people have plunked down a deposit so far for the vehicle.

    It's called the Terrafugia Transition.  It's a light aircraft that can convert into a road-legal automobile.  It's a two-seater that can use its front-wheel drive on roads at ordinary highway speeds, with wings folded, at a respectable 30 miles per gallon.  The craft requires a 1,700 foot runway to take off, can fit in a standard garage, has a cruising speed in the air of 115 mph, has a range of 460 miles and can carry 450 pounds.

    Since it's classified as a "light sport aircraft," getting a license requires just 20 hours of flying time, making them much easier to obtain than full private licenses.

    Obviously for most of us the cost of this thing will prevent us from buying.  But that might not be a bad thing initially.  As is the case with many new inventions, the bugs need to be worked out before they function properly.  I'll let others be the guinea pigs.

  • Man Asks Police To Help Him Lie

    Posted by Kelly Meyer

    The "Herald Tribune" reports a Florida man - drunk and out of money - asked police to help him lie to his wife.

    The  27 year old man allegedly flagged down a police officer Thursday morning and said he had been robbed at gunpoint.  The officer became suspicious, however, when the man kept changing his story. 

    He eventually admitted to police that he couldn't tell his wife he had spent 300 dollars at a strip club.  He wanted the police to give him a robbery report so his wife wouldn't find out how he spent half his paycheck.  Officers declined his request and left him to break the bad news to his wife.

    No word on the guy's condition AFTER telling his wife.

  • Students Will Sue Their School

    Posted by Kelly Meyer

    Remember the California students who were forced by their school to remove their American flag T-shirts on Cinco de Mayo?  According to the Associated Press, three of them and their parents filed a lawsuit against the Morgan Hill Unified School District, the principal and assistant principal this week.

    The three were among a group of teenage boys who were told by a school administrator that they had to remove their patriotic clothing or leave the school because other students were wearing clothing depicting the colors of the Mexican flag and other attire related to Cinco de Mayo.  The students were told they could wear the shirts any other day but May 5th.

    The attorney for the students, William J.Becker Jr., said state law explicitly grants students the right to exercise freedom of speech by wearing "buttons, badges and other insignia" and prohibits public schools from interfering with their speech rights unless a "clear and present danger" exists. 

    "The U.S. Supreme Court has held for decades that students do not shed their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse gates," said Becker.  "Students who wish to show their pride for another nation's heritage should not have their speech protected more than those who celebrate America's."

    The suit seeks unspecified damages.

    This story begs the question:  Would these school officials force a student wearing a Mexican flag t-shirt to remove it on a day like Memorial Day or any other day in which America is being honored?

  • Food Police Threaten To Sue McDonald's

    Posted by Kelly Meyer

    Those fun-loving folks at The Center For Science In The Public Interest are up to their old tricks again.  This time they're taking aim at McDonald's, threatening to sue the fast food franchise unless it stops using toys to market it's Happy Meals to children.

    Stephen Gardner, the director of litigation at CPSI, said, "This is an instance where this corporation (McDonald's) has decided to go around the parents and market straight to the kids." 

    Gardner is right in that regard.  But what he fails to understand is THAT'S SMART ADVERTISING!  You identify your target audience and then advertise in such a way that will expose that audience to your product.  As long as you're selling a legal product, there is no problem.  However, there's another flaw in his argument.  Most kids who would be interested in a toy that's included with a Happy Meal aren't old enough to be going to McDonald's on their own.  The parents ultimately make the decision whether or not to take their kids there.

    Gardner also said McDonald's is "deliberately trying to supplant parental authority and parental responsibility by turning these kids into little screaming viral marketers sitting in the backseat demanding to go to McDonald’s to get some cheap piece of plastic."  I had to laugh out loud when I read that, because "supplanting parental authority and parental responsibility" is exactly what the CSPI is doing by trying to take away the right of a parent to decide what's best for their children.

    And it's not as if McDonald's doesn't offer healthy alternatives for parents to choose from.  You can substitute apple slices for french fries and milk for soda.  McDonald's has bent over backwards in that regard to appease the food police.

    I hope McDonald's fights this every step of the way and puts these busy bodies in their place.



  • Toy Soldiers Violate Weapons Ban

    Posted by Kelly Meyer

    It's been a few weeks since we've had one of these type of stories.

    This episode of Has the Whole World Gone Nuts? comes to you from Rhode Island.  The Associated Press reports 8 year old David Morales was assigned to make a hat for the day when his second grade class would meet their pen pals from another school.  David and his mother - Christan Morales - came up with an idea to add patriotic decorations to a camoulflage hat to honor American troops.  This included decorating the hat with an American flag and small plastic Army figures.

    But the hat ran afoul of the school district's no-weapons policy because the toy soldiers were carrying tiny weapons.  School superintendent Kenneth Di Pietro said the school district does not allow images of weapons or drugs on clothing.

    Banning the hat "sent the wrong message to the kids, because it wasn't in any way intended to cause any harm to anyone," she said.  "You're talking about Army men.  This wasn't about guns."

    It's just more evidence that "zero tolerance" means zero common sense and zero brains.  By the way, no word on whether or not those toy weapons held by the toy soldiers were loaded.

  • Why Didn't I Think of That?

    Posted by Kelly Meyer

    Sometimes new inventions or products seem so simple, you kick yourself because you didn't think of it before someone else.

    Case in point:  a 9 year old Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin,  boy has earned an inventor's prize and is now earning cash for coming up with better buns for brats.

    The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram reported Wednesday that Sydney Claxton, who just finished third grade, came up with the idea to make buns that are curved to fit the shape of a bratwurst for an inventor's fair at Parkview School.

    The buns were made with the help of Ralph Couey, the owner of Connell's Orchard Shop in Chippewa Falls, and earned the boy two ribbons at the fair.  The products have been dubbed Sydney's Curvy Brat Buns and are sold in packs of five for $2.50 at Connell's Orchard.  The buns have reportedly been rapidly selling out.