Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Another One Bites the Dust...

"The wisest man is he who admits he knows nothing at all" -Socrates

"he's stupid, but he knows he's stupid, and that almost makes him smart" -3rd Bass

Naturalistic philosopher John R. Searle says there'll never be a truly "conscious" machine, a la the android Data in "The Next Generation". As an argument against those who believe otherwise, he came up with a thought experiment called the "Chinese Room". Basically, he asks us to imagine a room, where a man sits, translating Chinese into English. But this imaginary man is no cunning linguist. Basically, he has a table that he works from; when he receives a piece of paper with Chinese calligraphy on it, he consults the table, which shows him exactly what that particular symbol translates to. Thusly, he's able to completely convey what the message says, but is at no point himself able to understand the original language.

Searle argues that this is essentially the case with even the strongest computer; it doesn't understand, it just performs the functions which it has been assigned.

Sometimes, surfing the internets, particularly with the "blogosphere", I get the sneaking suspicion that, rather than living in the Matrix (duuuude), we're actually all just in the Chinese Room. If you're the sort of Bozo who's inclined to get into arguments on the internet, you can plug a few key words into Google that will generally express your opinion and VOILA! You can now attribute your worldview to somebody with a lot more credentials, degrees and kudos than you yourself can ever hope to achieve, since you spend all your free time on your computer, arguing about which of the Star Wars prequels sucked most.

("Attack of the Clones", by the way. But only by a smidge.)

I mean, look at me. What gives me the right to comment on what makes a good coffee house? I've never owned a coffee house; the only time somebody would let me so much as manage one was when it was already run so far into the ground that they figured I couldn't make it any worse. Sure, I was a better barista than some of those places deserved... but I'm hardly an authority on what makes a successful business.

So when I say I'm not surprised that the Uptown Perk and Pub closed down, does that sound like an "I told you so"? While I had good words for that particular location, I've never been fond of the whole "Perk and Pub" concept. The business plan listed on their website is a manifesto that would make the unibomber jealous, laying out plans for world domination, neighborhood by neighborhood (Washington Park Perk and Pub! ... Uptown Perk and Pub!... Commerce City Perk and Pub!... Kabul Perk and Pub!) I've heard some rumblings that the owners intend on re-opening the location, though the "for rent" ad in Craigslist suggests otherwise.

Research and market trends are fine and dandy when you're designing a logo for a new brand of laundry detergent (or, yeah, okay, when you're Starbucks). But when you're attepting to (from the P&P website) "offer services in locations that have a more intimate and neighborhood feel to them, even in the most urban or suburban settings", and create "new vibe of togetherness that didn't exist before", It's better to focus on coffee, rather than "concept". Be the wise man; admit you know nothing; let the customers decide what the joint is gonna be.

Take, for instance, Fluid Coffee Bar, which, at only one (1) block away, was a no brainer for being my next stop after descovering the husk that was once the Perk and Pub. One of the P&P's best assetts was their beans, supplied by Novo Coffee, who are fast on their way to becoming my favorite roaster in town. Lucky for me, Fluid uses the same product. This, however, is the end of any similarities between the two. Where P&P tries to package a homey, neighborhood feel, Fluid knows their exactly who their clientelee is. The joint is located on 19th ave, in a prefab condos n' wine shop n' yoga studio ghetto where the denizens all survived the first dot com bust just fine, thank you very much. Fluid's design is neo-futuristic in a Jetsons (as opposed to Blade Runner) kind of way. If your laptop isn't working, they've even placed terminals along the bar facing the window, so you won't have to look at that forsaken "outside" place. The lighting is lounge-y without being self consciously hip (see: Xandos Coffee in NY), and if cyberspace isn't your bag, you can sit in the comfortable chairs and peruse the wall of books, among which are some science fiction classics, which certainly keeps in the spirit of the atmosphere.

As I said above, the coffee is quite good, and the workers were friendly enough when I asked to wait for the new pot to finish brewing, rather than take the old stuff. More surprising, and worth mentioning was the overall positive attitude of one particular barista (soma in the coffee, perhaps?)

To wit: I love me some gossip. Especially of the coffee variety (hence, the blog). One time, when I was still in the biz, I let slip to the employees of a competing shop that their employer grew hydroponic weed at his house. It turned into this big mess, and the owner showed up one day as I was closing and freaked out about how that he was so big and successful, and had so much to lose, and how, "When you're (Joe), you can't even go out to a movie without being recognized!" Because, apparently, when you own an espresso bar in the basement of an office building, suddenly you're as recognizable as Tom Cruise standing on Oprah's couch.

Hydroponic weed makes you paranoid.

Anyhoo, I was fishing around for some gossip with this particular barista at Fluid about whether she knew anything about the P&P's closing. She showed genuine concern for their well being and, with the utmost sincerity (this is sooo cute) said she hopes that they're back in the neighborhood soon!

Doesn't matter to me, one way or another... I'll be sticking with Fluid.

But what do I know?


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