BigCommerce Is Great

I recently set up a new online store for some friends using the BigCommerce store hosting platform. I have to say: e-commerce (and web applications in general) has come a long way in the last decade. The previous platform and setup that my friends were using before was simply awful for both usability and aesthetically. It really was a shame because they make beautiful handcrafted soap and their store simply didn’t reflect their high quality product.

BigCommerce offered many features that were especially convenient for them to manage as store owners, such as a nice back-end management interface, lots of reports, plug-ins to several third-party systems (like Google Base and Facebook) and a great order fulfillment process flow. As a developer, I was fascinated by the API and started working on a little project to make buying postage a little easier (using Stamps.com’s API), but I was highly disappointed that the BigCommerce API is presently read-only. This is a tiny downside in the vast upside that is BigCommerce. Customers will get many shopping features that they frankly expect, such as seeing order status and history, wish lists, instant shipping and tax estimates, and coupons.

The serious competitor to BigCommerce is Shopify right now. Shopify’s API is better and their app store is highly enticing to me as a developer. I couldn’t recommend it to my friends, however. Shopify takes a percentage of each sale in addition to a monthly fee, and I can see how this will cost my friends and clients more over the next year. I intend to find some more local merchants and see if they’d like to let me help them upgrade their stores to BigCommerce. If you’ve found this post and you’d like my help or advice in setting up your store, please contact me.

The Government Simulator

Last July, Scott Adams (cartoonist of Dilbert fame) decided to poll 500 economists to ask them which presidential candidate has the expert majority’s support, reasoning that the more experts that weigh in on a subject the more likely you are going to get the truth. (Updates here, here, here, and here so far, but no results yet.) Why stop there? Why not ask all of the experts in the world their collective opinion on what the ideal government would be like? One step further: replace all experts with detailed computer simulations that test all possible permutations of government and law, and then put the most ideal system into practice. It is as quixotic as Scott’s idea, and just as doomed. Continue reading

Time to Try UHT Milk Again?

Milk by Flicker user calliope

"eggs and milk" by calliope @ Flickr

As a subscriber to Scientific American, I just read one of their regular columns “Ask The Expert” which asked “Why does organic milk last longer than regular milk?” That column is online here. Here’s the excerpt that caught my attention:

Organic milk lasts longer because producers use a different process to preserve it. According to the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, the milk needs to stay fresh longer because organic products often have to travel farther to reach store shelves since it is not produced throughout the country. The process that gives the milk a longer shelf life is called ultrahigh temperature (UHT) processing or treatment, in which milk is heated to 280 degrees Fahrenheit (138 degrees Celsius) for two to four seconds, killing any bacteria in it. [...]

Retailers typically give pasteurized milk an expiration date of four to six days. Ahead of that, however, was up to six days of processing and shipping, so total shelf life after pasteurization is probably up to two weeks. Milk that undergoes UHT doesn’t need to be refrigerated and can sit on the shelf for up to six months. Regular milk can undergo UHT, too. The process is used for the room-temperature Parmalat milk found outside the refrigerator case and for most milk sold in Europe.

So why isn’t all milk produced using UHT? One reason is that UHT-treated milk tastes different. UHT sweetens the flavor of milk by burning some of its sugars (caramelization). A lot of Americans find this offensive—just as they are leery of buying nonrefrigerated milk. Europeans, however, don’t seem to mind.

To summarize: UHT milk lasts longer and doesn’t need to be refrigerated, but Americans wouldn’t buy it because of taste or unfamiliarity. I’ve always wondered if this is why soy or rice milk is refrigerated when, with proper packaging, it doesn’t need to be kept cold until it’s opened.

However, it’s likely true that major costs of milk nowadays (in the era of >$4 gas) have to do with shipping and refrigeration from minute it leaves the cow to the minute it’s poured on your cereal. Besides what’s done on an industrial scale, how could one begin to calculate the amount of energy used to chill the milk sitting in millions of home refrigerators, or how much milk is poured down the sink because it’s past due? Imagine how much smaller the carbon footprint of un-refrigerated boxed UHT milk (organic or not) would be compared to traditional milk. I don’t know for a fact that UHT milk is a net win environment-wise, but I have a strong hunch that it can’t be worse than what we do now.

Is it time us to try UHT milk again? If people have no problem spending more for UHT organic milk and don’t mind the taste (I buy UHT organic and didn’t even realize until looking in to all this), would the rest of the country try UHT nonorganic milk if it meant saving a dollar and/or helping the environment to boot?

Some additional links I found on the subject:

For Each URI In Blog(“barnabas.wordpress.com”)…

…URI.Host = “bkendall.biz”.

That is to say, I have moved all of my previous blog content about technology to my own domain, bkendall.biz. Generally speaking, the old link should work if you replace “barnabas.wordpress.com” with “bkendall.biz”. I appologize if you arrived here from an old link or search listing. Eventually I plan to use this blog for personal articles and whatnot.  It will take some time before the Intarweb forgets though…