Monday, October 30, 2017

The Quest for Better Grapes

Do you ever wonder why superior grapes are so hard to find? We do.

In our family grapes are essential to survival. Well, perhaps not up there with air & water, but close. OK, clothing & shelter perhaps rank slightly above grapes, but not by all that much. We really like grapes.

First, grapes taste & look great. Second, grapes are good for you, particularly if you eat all varieties. Third, grapes are one of the few fruits or vegetables our teenage sons will each eat willingly & even ask for with neither reward nor threat of punishment. Fourth, forget First & Second. Third is all that matters. Reward & threats were never necessary for grapes even when our teenagers were real preteen brats.

This was never necessary at our house.

But here's the dilemma.

You go to the store, whether your local grocer, big box store or even the organic specialty place. You have one objective. You want & need a very large quantity of good grapes. You may need other stuff too, but we are only talking about grapes here. Nothing else.

Maybe you're planning a huge family reunion. Maybe it's a weekend youth group gathering for teens from 1/4 of the United States. Whatever. You simply need lots & lots of grapes. And you need good ones. Are we clear?

The problem is you can't find lots of consistently good grapes. Sure you can find them by the bazillions, but quality is all over the place - and not in a good way. Some are tiny, hard, bitter & gross. Some are huge, mushy, slimy & gross. And these can all be found in the same bag. How can that be?

How can one bunch contain under ripe, perfect & over ripe grapes? Did that bunch travel to different parts of the world in recent weeks & some of its members get confused? Are some of the grapes overly ambitious, some perfectly balanced & others just laggards? Are grapes kinda like your extended in-laws?

Technically a large collection of grapes is more properly referred to as a cluster, but bunch will do here. Cluster is a rather cumbersome word, plus it can lead back to confusion with extended in-laws. Let's stick with bunch to avoid both cumbersomeness & extended in-laws. Keep things safe & pleasant all around.

This grape enigma has baffled grape consumers for as long as the there have been grapes. And that's pretty long. Grapes have actually been around way longer than baffled human grape consumers, especially the baffled human grape consumers we've talked to. This issue merits looking into, and we aim to do that here.

Grapes ripen right? So why are some bunches in the same bag riper than other bunches? There should be some simple reason, perhaps a formula for grape success. bunch A + bunch B = AB  or maybe it’s Bag A= (1+2)B/ RF where RF is the ripeness factor. Did I mention I hate math? That’s why it is so much easier to purchase by sight. But why do they make it so hard?  Then why do we see it all the time, seemingly everywhere, bunch A ≠,bunch B, wherever we shop, with so few exceptions?

We just impressed ourselves with use of fancy mathematical keystrokes we didn't previously know existed. Maybe former our former math teachers are giving us a break unlike when we are in school & it really counted. But lets move on.

The absence of grape uniformity in stores is because all too often grapes are picked in the vineyard by different people.

Some folks have good eyesight & can choose well on what they put in the bag. But we bet there are some folks are nearsighted and  don’t choose so well. Maybe the tall pickers get the better bunches and leave the runts for the shorter pickers. Or maybe the short pickers are real short & just pick ‘em off the ground. How do you know a grape is ripe anyway? Which ripeness formula? Do pickers carry a grape calculator?

We think the pickers who see well must just be pickier than other less picky pickers. So why do grape growers & resellers tolerate this pickiness? Based on this fact there must be a margin of error of sorts. Maybe a mathematical or assumed consumer ignorance margin of error & they expect the grape consuming public to tolerate that same margin. How nice of them.

It does not have to be this way. Demanding grape consumers can unite & declare "We're as mad as hell, and we're not going to take this anymore!"

As well you should.

But before you go shouting cluelessly from your office & home windows it may be a good idea to gain some insight as to what you're shouting about in the first place & why. Yes, it's because of inconsistent grapes. But sit down & take a deep breath while we explore reasons why those grapes are inconsistent.

In the old days before there was today's massive population of grape consuming humans grapes grew naturally in their native habitat. And they ripened naturally too. Their reward was being eaten by grape consuming animals who ate only the superior grapes when they encountered them. Remember this was before humans, much less a massive population of them.

Then along came the human. Then came a second human. Then several. And they all liked grapes. This worked out quite well until humans procreated faster than grapes could. At some point there became a human-grape population imbalance. That's when all the trouble started.

Humans could no longer rely only on wild grapes. They began to plant & cultivate grapes. That also worked out well for a few thousand years. Until at some point it stopped working out well.

The point when it stopped working out well is frankly about when our parents were born. Or maybe when we ourselves were born. This is not to blame our parents. And it is certainly not to blame you or us. But we must blame someone. So let's blame "the masses".

When the human-grape population became severely imbalanced grape growers sought & found ways to stem the tide. Reverse the trend. In other words make way more grapes. Sometimes they did pretty good but sometimes they botched it up. That's why they call us humans. To err is human & all that.

Early grape growers were mom & pop types who tended to do things pretty good & cared a lot about their customers. Because those customers were friends & family who could yell directly at them if they produced bad grapes.

Over time moms & pops gave way to large scale grape growers who did not know their customers & could not be yelled at because they hid in large brick corporate headquarters buildings. That's when grape quality really started to go downhill.

But did it? It seems some headquarters get it right, even these days considering the great looming human-grape imbalance.

We don't pretend to be experts on grapes, but we've done a little research. We hope that's kind of apparent if you've read this far.

We are not here to shill any grape grower or company, but that won't stop us from calling attention to one if we feel like it. We did stumble upon one that looks both legit & wholesome.

Enough about them. We may hear from their attorneys even though we're only calling them out as a good example. They might just not like our attitude.

If we're lucky they'll never find out we exist. If we're luckier still they may like our attitude & pay us to write stuff for them. Or they may pay us to go away & never mention them again. Income opportunities abound but we'll explore those later on our time not yours.

Back to a point we made a while back. Grapes are good for you, particularly if you eat all varieties. There are many varieties. New exotic varieties are introduced every year. But there are three staples at our house. We provide healthy specimen images of each for those who were born yesterday or are really naive about grapes.

Green grapes:

Red grapes:

Black grapes:

Now that we've got your mouth watering we shall move on. Plus our teenagers are due home from school any minute & we are out of grapes. Best not to let them see what dad is working on lest they eat his computer.

As a consumer you may wonder how to find superior grapes produced by superior growers. Do their growers use special chemicals or secret methods? The way to get answers is simple. Ask questions wherever you buy grapes. If you know your local grocer ask him or her. They should be glad you asked & more than happy to accommodate you.

This is not our grocer, but he looks like a real nice & smart person who both knows good produce & would answer questions truthfully if someone asked.

If you shop at a chain grocery or big box store ask the produce manager if they know how their grapes are grown. They may explain those decisions are made by corporate buyers or purchasing agents. Tell them you know that because, well, you now know that. Ask them to ask those corporate people if they know how their grapes are grown... If the corporate people don't already know they will now - because you asked.

When you go back next time ask again. If your first request seems to have fallen on deaf ears ask louder & more slowly. Kinda like you do with in-laws who don't hear so well. Your grape retailer should get the picture even if your in-laws never do.

Ask your friends to do what you just did. Superior retailers listen & respond to their customers. That mantra seems to be woven into every retailer slogan. Put them to the test & make them earn your grape business on every visit to the produce aisle where the bunches are equal, the bags are equal and the buying experience is equal; “Out with the tiny, bitter, wimpdog grapes”, “Out with big mush and the color brown”. Let them know grape consumers are demanding animals when it comes to repeat business. And please don’t make us “mad as hell”, ever again... A superior retailer will ultimately thank you for it. So will friends, family & neighbors who will now be able to count on readily available superior grapes.

Don't even get us started about blueberries. We'll talk about the superior blueberry next week.

Big time disclaimer: Sun World did not approve or authorize use of their name or link to their website. We just happened to find them in our research, and they look legit & wholesome from what we can tell. This is the opinion of us as grape enthusiasts only. We hope they won't object.


Peter Stoddard
Stoddard Media
1400 Market Place Blvd
Cumming GA 30041

Saturday, October 7, 2017

North Georgia Houseboat Cruise Vacations

OK. This client does not exist but we really think they should.

There are houseboat cruise vacations all over the world. We should know because our global corporate HQ houseboat just sank.

Our sinking a houseboat does not make us an expert on worldwide houseboat cruise vacations. Google makes us an expert on worldwide houseboat cruise vacations.

Our sunken HQ houseboat is currently entirely unsuitable for a vacation but it's what got us thinking. Not thinking clearly but thinking.

You too can use Google to become an expert on worldwide houseboat cruise vacations. But you haven't done it yet & we have so that makes us your expert on worldwide houseboat cruise vacations.

This boat looks significantly more vacation suitable than ours at least for the time being.

This company does international houseboat vacations. We link to them only because they are continents away & probably speak some foreign language. They are therefore somewhat less likely to sue us.

There is no reason someone can't do here what foreigners do there. And since we are Americans & specifically since we are Georgians we could do it better.

That shirt happens to be very foreign Georgians who think they do it better but it's the only image we could find. When we talk about Georgians doing it better think of a houseboat vacation like it was a resort hotel. In case you have never been to a resort hotel it goes something like this.

There are plenty of American houseboat opportunities also. But let's focus on north Georgia. There are houseboat rentals on north Georgia lakes but not houseboat vacations. So let's focus on where there are neither houseboat rentals or vacations. North Georgia rivers.

North Georgia rivers are where we will focus. Portions of some are navigable by houseboat we think but are not sure. But we know more than you unless you just went & spent more time on Google than us.

Let’s discuss briefly the difference between the terms "vacation" & "rental". Vacation is when you relax, are pampered & have a care free experience. Rental is when you pretend like you know what you're doing, your boat sinks on the 1st day & everyone involved hates you.

Let's talk about houseboats. They are houses that float. Most of the time. Hopefully. Especially if you vacation on one & don't rent one. And especially if you are not Stoddard Media Global HQ.

Houseboats are most excellent for a vacation. Certainly more excellent than an RV. On a houseboat you travel beautiful waterways that have no lanes to the destination of your choice. On an RV you travel on gridlocked asphalt to where you are packed in like sardines at places named Jellystone.

This is definitely not north Georgia but you definitely can't get there by RV & it's definitely not a place called Jellystone.

Let's talk about the houseboat vacation experience. We have in mind a relaxing experience where someone else does the navigating & will not sink the boat like you would. He or she might wear a hat like this but probably otherwise dressed up a little better.

We're talking meals prepared by chefs & served by either the chef or a better dressed captain. All you do is relax & promise to stay out of the way. If you relax & stay out of the way successfully other people probably even remove & wash the dishes.

Now let's talk about north Georgia & houseboats. Very cool houseboats were once made in north Georgia very near where we're talking about you taking vacation. They were made there until they stopped making them there. But some very cool ones still exist & could be made available for purposes of this article that may otherwise not seem to have a purpose.

Now let's talk about the things you could do on your north Georgia houseboat vacation. If you have little imagination & didn't understand words featured on that link the recreation options look like this.

But first since we need to stick another graphic in here so let's make it what the interior of a nicely maintained vintage houseboat looks like.

Now back to the list of north Georgia recreation options:

Hiking & Backpacking, Canoe, Kayak, Tubing, Mountain Biking, Waterfalls, Fishing, Hunting, Horseback Riding, Stargazing & Wildlife. Pardon that wording in the above list is not right & there are so many hyperlinks. We copied & pasted without correction because it's late & we're lazy. We excluded golf but someone could probably make it available if you really want to spoil a good walk.

As we said it's late & we're lazy so we'll wrap up shortly. But we think this sounds like a good idea & wonder if other people do too. Let's close with an image that reflects that pampered theme.

We're not certain the above service would be offered on a north Georgia houseboat vacation. But if you look like that the CEO of Stoddard Media would take the day or month off & travel by RV if necessary to wherever you are & perform that service without it costing you an extra dime.

We'll pick this up again when we've had some sleep.

But there's still space for another nice houseboat vacation image to tide you over until then.

I dedicate this to Sarah whose WiFi I borrowed to put finishing touches on the article. She claimed she would be among the first customers of such a venture as she is overdue for a pampered vacation.

For more information or to let us know if you agree this all sounds like a good idea contact:

Stoddard Media
1400 Market Place Blvd
Cumming GA 30041

Monday, October 2, 2017

A Banking Event Like No Other ~ BAI Beacon ~ An Event Like No Other of Any Kind Anywhere

As a new but prolific writer I get requests to do all sorts of interesting things & write about them. Last week a friend suggested I attend an event he thought I would find interesting.

In this case "the thing" is an event that peaked my interest. "Event" means a lot of things to a lot of people. It perhaps means more to me than most, because I spent 20 years in my 1st career managing & mismanaging corporate events.

My 2nd career in real estate also involved me in very different kinds of events. And that career also involved me in banking. Without banks real estate does not exist & vice versa. Well, the dirt does actually exist, it is just a lot trickier to own without the help of a bank. But let's not get into the real estate weeds.

My personal experience with banks is that I owe them a lot of money. I know many honchos at many large financial institutions who know better than to loan me money. I am like the guy on the left below, just not as well off.

But there I go again back into the weeds. I shall try not to do that again.

I have never been to a banking event of any kind, even during the 20 years of my 1st events career. That is not entirely true. I have been to one or two ribbon cuttings for a new branch opening only to see if hungry & untrained new managers might loan me money.

The recommended banking event for this particular article was BAI Beacon at the Georgia World Congress Center, a place where I spent a lot of time but have not visited in 35 years. Since January 12, 1982 to be exact, also known as Snow Jam '82. True story, but it has never snowed in Atlanta on October 4 or 5, so six hours of road rage & poor traction was less likely to be a factor.

Okay, I hereby vow to get out & stay out of the weeds.

BAI Beacon's organizer is BAI. One would expect as much. But to figure out what the heck BAI is I had to use google to find an answer on the answer-to-everything website, Wikipedea. There I was able to learn BAI stands for the Bank Administration Institute.

To save time typing I will copy & paste a/k/a plagiarize from Wikipedea:

"Bank Administration Institute (BAI) is a nonprofit organization in the United States that provides research, training, and thought leadership events for the financial services industry. Headquartered in Chicago, IL, BAI also operates Banking Strategies, a daily online financial services publication."

This is a little scary because I owe banks so much money and also cool because I lived in Chicago for 14 glorious years. Go Cubs! But BAI Beacon is in Atlanta & not Chicago this year so I can't make too much of the latter. I can still be scared by the former however. This had all the earmarks of an IRS cocktail party to which I was invited last year that didn't go so well.

That party led to chronic & acute heartburn on my behalf & an illustration like this:

Back to BAI. BAI has been around since 1924, about the same year I went into bank debt. A little digging into BAI Beacon revealed the event was not likely an entrapment setup like that cocktail party. Here I copy & paste a/k/a plagiarize again to reveal the essence of an event unlike any I attended when I thought I was a corporate event honcho.

"Unlike other conferences, BAI Beacon’s immersive, easy-to-navigate open-campus fosters an integrated and collaborative learning experience, where you’ll engage directly with experts from inside and outside the industry, like-minded peers, FinTech companies and leading industry solutions providers. Dive into the new Innovation Zone to learn more about disruptive new technologies, collaborate in small group huddle discussions to understand how your peers are leveraging technology and meet one-on-one with experts to get answers to your unique questions."

This was clearly not going to be exhibit hucksters in booths inviting me to their hospitality suite before I could even figure out what their company did.

Here I will attempt to set bad writing aside. BAI Beacon was simply incredible. Unforgettable. Astounding.

I arrived at registration with little advance preparation beyond a press pass & open mind. I signed up to be seated among "marketing" professionals because they sounded less intimidating than other technical title categories I could not even pronounce.

When asked my role I had this elevator pitch rehearsed in advance:

"Hello Mr or Ms Bank Marketing Person. I am a freelance writer who knows nothing about banking other than this is a unique banking event I should attend & write about. Please give me some extremely dumbed down insight I can both (A) comprehend & (B) write about using no more than 3 syllable words."

While BAI should have given me the badge above they actually gave me this slick stuff. Absolutely no idea what that contraption on the left is. But if it's an Apple Watch I broke it.

To my amazement the lame elevator pitch worked & no one kicked me out. They even obliged my request by offering me valuable & comprehensive insight I could both (A) comprehend & (B) write about. Most of the time at least.

BAI Beacon attracts attendees whose time is valuable. To address this dynamic BAI creates a rapid fire environment devoid of extraneous diversions to which I was accustomed & in charge of in my corporate event days.

No song & dance, no canned spiels, no magicians or caricature artists. No hospitality suites. Or at lease none to which I was invited.

A couple of attendees even asked for my card & might hire me to write something if I promise to not try and sound bankish.

To plagiarize again, the BAI Beacon agenda offers "fast paced presentations, open discussions, and active peer dialogues in the conference sessions, or thought leadership and demos in the Innovation Zone."

Whew. That may sound intimidating but it was not. Not even to a banking coward like me.

I expected this:

But got something closer to this:

BAI Beacon covered an extraordinary range of topics via an extraordinary range of formats. They hosted an extraordinary panel of speakers. BAI Beacon offered Pre-conference Learning Labs in which I should have participated had I known about any of this pre-conference.

One thing I would have learned in Freelance Writing 101, had I taken it which I didn't, is to not put too many hyperlinks in a single paragraph. BAI Beacon made this extremely difficult by packing in so much good stuff in so little time I will not even try to conform to this Writing 101 maxim.

Back to the speakers for a sec. Patty McCord pretended to be talking to the whole auditorium full of bank mavens. But she was really speaking only to me, the most non bank person there.

Those words on that big old screen are what I am trying to demonstrate here. She did it with a whole lot fewer words.

Crystal Washington has forgotten more about social media & marketing strategy than I will ever learn. She is 1/2 my age, way smarter than me & it really ticks me off.

Like me, neither of the above speakers have anything directly to do with banking. Unlike me, they are savvy & articulate enough to score a paid speaking gig.

Having attended BAI Beacon I feel remarkably well informed on banking in a way I never thought possible. That said, if you ever see my name on a document like this run & hide. Make your children run & hide.

I shall not attempt here to duplicate a BAI Beacon content syllabus or demonstrate some overnight banking expertise I can not claim. Suffice it to say BAI Beacon is an event anyone (A) with a remote interest in banking & (B) whose time is valuable (C) absolutely, positively must attend.

Please pardon that the final link above takes you to register for the event just ended. Which is not helpful at all. BAI will host more & that is a very good thing. Go here for more information about future BAI Beacon events.


BAI Beacon
15 S. LaSalle St., Suite 3300
Chicago, IL 60603-3801