It’s All About the Twitter

News Channel 12′s Bill O’Neil gave the Iconfactory a ring this past Friday to get our input into a story he was putting together on the power and appeal of Twitter. Our schedules didn’t jibe, but fortunately Bill was able to hook up with some of Greeensboro’s best known bloggers and Twitter users for a piece called Bringing Business Through Twitter.

In the piece Bill interviews two new friends I met up with for the Tastecasting of Table 16 a few weeks back – Ryan Robbins and Danielle Hatfield. They’re joined by local blogger and internet strategist Sue Polinksy as they each discuss how Twitter is changing the face of communication in the Triad. I’m really happy I’ve gotten to meet so many of the local online community lately, mostly thanks to Twitter. If you want to learn more about how the power of Twitter is being harnessed in the Greensboro area, head on over to the WXII.com website and check the piece out.

Wishful Dining

I’m going to apologize right up front to the scores of local folks who will read this post and complain that I’m poo-pooing the Triad’s dining scene. This post isn’t about the lack of dining quality in the Triad, it’s about the lack of establishments that meet the criteria to be on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Several weeks ago, a producer from Triple D emailed local bloggers to ask for suggestions about places in the Triad that might be right for the show. Ed Cone put up a post to ask for input and many people chimed in. The trouble is, none of these people actually seem to watch the show.

If they did they’d know that there are very few, if any restaurants in the area that Guy Fieri should be visiting. That’s not to say the diners, drive-ins and dives in Greensboro, High Point and Winston aren’t good, many of them are. Take one of my favorite sandwich places, Jams Deli, which is just up the road from my office on Friendly Avenue. I love Jams very much and I and the guys at work enjoy eating there at least once a week for lunch. Yesterday I noticed a sign on Jam’s window asking for people to email Guy and suggest Jams to be on the show. As much as I love Jams, they too, seemingly have never watched Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. If they did they’d know Jams isn’t Triple D material.

The eateries that are featured on the Food Network show have at least three things that make them TV worthy. First, they make all their food from scratch. Last time I checked, Jam’s doesn’t make their french fries, hot chips, onion rings, buns or rolls from scratch. Second, they usually have waiting lines out the door at all times of day. The closest place Triple D has featured, The Penguin Drive-In in Charlotte, NC typically has a 20-45 minute wait to get a table any day of the week. Third, they serve interesting food. Over at Cone’s, Liv Jones suggested Johnson’s in Siler City for their yummie burgers. While I respect Liv’s opinion, Siler City isn’t the Triad, and Johnson’s burgers have nothing on burgers featured on Triple D. The places the producers are looking for have notable items no one else has. Like homemade fried pickle chips or a giant hot dog affectionately called “The Homewrecker”.

Same goes for almost all of the other places I saw suggested at Cone’s blog: Country BBQ (it’s good, but it’s also standard NC fair) Beef Burger (ate there 2 weeks ago, absolutely over rated, not all food made from scratch), Texas Tavern (in Virginia, not the Triad, no interesting food items). About the closest I think would meet the show’s criteria is Yum Yum. Because it’s a college hangout, it’s always busy and people rave about the place, but I don’t know if the food is made from scratch or what.

At this point I can sense you really are upset with me. Upset because I’m not begging the producers of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives to come to Greensboro and film their show. Trust me, I’ve watched every episode and no one would love for them to come here more than me. I would just love to be able to point them at a place like Henrietta NY’s Dibella’s Old Fashion Subs and say “This is the place you’ve been looking for!” But I can’t. If there was a place in the Triad that deserved to be on the show, I’d be eating there every single day. Of course there are plenty of places in Greensboro I’ve never been, so go watch a few Triple D clips and get a sense for the kind of food they showcase. If you still think you know a place that can measure up, suggest it in the comments. I would love nothing more than to be proven wrong, wrong, wrong on this one. In the meantime, I’m heading to Charlotte to check out Penguin. Who’s with me?

Unpretentious World Cuisine at Greensboro’s Table 16

If you met me on the street it wouldn’t be difficult to deduce that I enjoy eating. My mother loves to say that I’m “big boned”, but the truth is I love food. I consider myself a fairly skilled cook and I find that as I grow older, my appreciation for well prepared meals has increased. So when I was invited to join a group of local bloggers to “tastecast” Table 16 here in Greensboro, I was only too eager to jump at the chance. I was not disappointed.

Located at 600 South Elm St. here in Greensboro, Table 16 offers up a fine dining experience unlike many others you have probably encountered. Chef Graham Heaton prides himself on crafting appetizers, entrees and deserts that are as varied in approach as they are filled with love. If you’ve never had the privilege of enjoying an 8 course menu the head chef has prepared especially for you, Table 16 is the place to start. Although only in his early 30′s, Heaton’s approach to the tasting menu he created combined thoughtful preparation and exceptional skill. This is the kind of dining you often see on television or read in very thick novels, but wouldn’t think to experience here in Greensboro. Now you can.

Our wonderful dinner began with a light vichyssoise served with yukon gold potatoes, georgia onion and crab salsa and progressed through items such as pan seared halibut with creamed corn & pernod to NY strip steak w/ tasso ham & fried green tomatoes. Each delightful dish that was brought to our table was proceeded by a special wine pairing that heightened each of the courses. I don’t drink myself, but judging from the reactions of my fellow diners, the wine choices were spot on each and every time.

Of all the dishes we enjoyed during our time at Table 16, my favorite had to be the second course. Ahi tuna and hot sausage poke (tartar) served on a wonton cracker with wasabi and fava bean pureé. This little heavenly delight had all the elements that make a dish great – varied textures and deep, rich flavors which were all cleverly combined in a way that, at first glance, seems simple. However, after just one bite you realize you’re in for something special. I gave the Chef several “thumbs ups” as he gazed from the kitchen to make sure we were enjoying our dinner. He smiled back and knew I was happy.

As incredible as the food was, the other great thing that struck me about Table 16 was how comfortable I was while we ate. It’s fair to say that five-star dining is a once-in-a-blue-moon experience for me and my wife. The cost, attire and locations one must endure to enjoy such an evening are usually prohibitive. While the expense of Table 16 is what you would expect to pay for such a wonderful and varied menu, the decor and atmosphere of the restaurant is just perfect for those usually intimidated by “fancy places”. It is true that the dining room offers a lovely view of Sound Elm and gives the hustle and bustle feeling of big city dining. This is offset by the warm and friendly staff who go out of their way to make you feel at home. From their friendly banter to the modest decor, Table 16 forgoes the usual stuffy nods to put all its attention into the food, where it belongs.

All too often I’ve wondered what it would be like to dine at a certain fine restaurant only to be turned back by the need to turn myself into someone I’m not. I don’t own fine suits, I don’t have all the money in the world and I certainly don’t need to be handled with kid gloves. While we ate, I saw other customers wearing much less formal attire than I (t-shirt & jeans) and having the meal of their lives. Thankfully the owners realize that customers come in all shapes, sizes and means and they are better for it.

Table 16 is a proverbial diamond in the rough. The menu is delectable and the kitchen is run by a Chef that obviously loves what he does and cares about his customers. The owners reached out to the local blogging community and generously offered to host our evening in the hopes that word could spread about this unassuming little eatery in the heart of downtown Greensboro. I thank both Table 16, as well as Scott Brewster, Adam Marney and all the other wonderful people I had the pleasure of meeting and dining with that evening. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Table 16 to anyone looking for a night of culinary discovery in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Don’t miss it.

When Will Brad & Britt Stand Up?

The momentum behind exposing Time Warner’s recent rate hike and bandwidth cap here in Greensboro is growing. Bloggers have been writing and setting courses of action. Local news crews have weighed in and the News & Record’s own Joe Killian has reported on the subject several times. Even our local officials, like Greensboro’s mayor Yvonne Johnson has spoken up and said she’ll do whatever she can to help bring Internet competition into the area. Everyone’s talking, with two notable exceptions: FM Talk’s own morning team Brad Krantz & Britt Whitmire.

Brad & Britt have always done a great job of bringing issues, especially local ones to the forefront here in the Triad. Although they have critics on both the left and the right, they always speak from the gut and give it to the listener straight up. Until Now. In an ironic twist of fate, Brad & Britt remain silent regarding an issue that has people in Greensboro upset and dying to vent on air. You see, Time Warner Cable is one of FM Talk’s biggest advertisers.

Britt Whitmire is extremely tech savvy and has dragged his older partner, Brad Krantz, kicking and grumbling into the world of Facebook and Twitter. Britt’s even joined the fake Twitterer’s club and created for-fun accounts for Fake Dan Rather and Little Rush so we can enjoy his musings at any time of the day or night. But even Britt seems powerless to rock the boat when it comes to corporate sponsorship.

When the news about Time Warner’s preposterous rate changes first broke in Greensboro, I sent an @reply to Britt to see if they could raise the topic on their morning show. Britt’s response disappointed me, but deep down, I understood it. I often must resist writing blog posts critical of services or companies for which I do design work for at the Iconfactory. But unlike Britt, my job isn’t to get people talking about national and local news & events. FM Talk’s management have no doubt cut the duo out of the loop on this important issue, which is unsettling.

At WOAI-AM in San Antonio, Texas, conservative talker Joe “Pags” Pagliarulo is taking the opposite approach and getting his callers to talk up a storm on the subject. He hasn’t bought Time Warner’s excuses for fleecing his listeners and is fighting the good fight against corporate greed. It pains me that folks in Texas can speak their mind, but thanks to FM Talk’s sponsorship from Time Warner, the Triad is left out in the radio cold. If it bothers you too, then head over to FM Talk 101.1′s contact us page and petition management to allow discussion of Time Warner on Brad & Britt. Be professional but firm and let the suits know the Triad needs to talk about this issue on air.

I often hear Britt plug Time Warner on my morning drive to work. I used to get a smile from hearing him promote Apple TV to download the latest movies and TV shows via his Roadrunner broadband service. Now, when I hear him talk about this latest internet gadgets I feel sorry. One day Britt’s going to go download a movie, find out he’s over his bandwidth limit and pay an extra $1 per GB just like the rest of us. We can only hope he and Brad will eventually wake up and do their part as Triad citizens to raise awareness of Time Warner’s greed. If it helps ease the sting of upsetting a sponsor, I’m willing to bet talking about Time Warner’s rate hikes would be a ratings bonanza.

UPDATE: Britt has responded in the comments below and states that it was in no way the management at WZTK that kept them from talking about the Time Warner situation in Greensboro, it was Brad & Britt’s decision alone. Since that’s the case, readers should direct their pleas to discuss the topic on air to the hosts themselves and not the station. Thanks.

Telling Time Warner What It Can Go Do with Itself

I received a call at the office yesterday from a Time Warner rep offering info on digital phone service and how Time Warner could “save me tons of money” on our phone bills. I told the woman to email me about the pricing structure, all the while resisting the urge to lash out in anger about Time Warner’s proposed bandwidth cap and rate hike.

Reports today that Time Warner is “revising” its plans and, as expected, increasing the limit on bandwidth to try and satisfy upset customers regarding the ridiculously low limits initially proposed. As a stop gap measure the company is now saying that for a mere $150 a month, users will have “virtually unlimited” bandwidth available to them.

So let me get this straight. I’m supposed to be happy that my current cable bill is going to go from $39 a month for a true unlimited connection to $150 a month for something that can’t even be guaranteed? That’s in addition to my cable TV bill. To top it all off, TW now says these new plans will start in August instead of the “fall”.

What planet does Time Warner thinks it lives on?!

As Time Warner continues to lose more and more respect in the eyes of consumers, events are starting to whirl and people are starting to take notice. Ed Cone points to an article at Wired that calls into question Time Warner’s excuses of higher expenses. Turns out bandwidth costs have been decreasing not increasing as they’ve insisted. More proof that this change isn’t about costs, as I said before it’s about control.

Our local leaders are starting to wake up too, which is a good thing because until the Triad gets some serious internet competition, Time Warner’s pretty much got us over a barrel. Don’t stop writing people and don’t stop calling to complain. The worst thing you can do as a consumer is to become complacent and think it’ll all just work itself out. And if you happen to work in the Time Warner sales force and made a call to me last Thursday, get ready for an earful when I call you back on Monday. Then go play my call to your managers so they understand they’re about to lose a valuable business customer thanks to your company blatantly screwing over its consumer division.

Time Warner Rate Hike Isn’t About Bandwidth. It’s About Control.

When my friend and co-worker, Louie Mantia, moved to Greensboro, NC in November of 2008, one of his first orders of business was to sign up for Roadrunner high speed internet with Time Warner. A few days later Louie had everything he needed. He could surf to his favorite websites, perform online banking, watch videos, rent movies online, download software updates and even work from home.

What Louie didn’t need however, was cable TV service.

Thanks to the recent rise in entertainment websites like Hulu, online movie rental services like iTunes, Netflix & Amazon and easy to use desktop software like Boxee, many computer users are deciding to forgo traditional TV. This small, but certain fact lies at the root of why Time Warner Cable recently announced it was adding Greensboro to a set of test-bed cities for a planned bandwidth cap and rate hike. Time Warner knows the sand is shifting beneath their feet and they are willing to do anything, including angering entire cities, to help stem the tide.

Local blogger Roch Smith has been out in front of this issue as has the Greensboro News & Record’s own Joe Killian. Both have outlined the potential problems as well as the frustration for typical computer users and word is starting to spread. Unfortunately, my attempts to get local talk radio personalties Brad & Britt to discuss the subject on air met with predictable, if disappointing results.

Bascially, Time Warner’s proposed bandwidth caps of 5, 10, 20 and 40GB per month are preposterous. To help put it in perspective, 5GB of bandwidth a month (the lowest plan) equals just 170Mb a day. Anyone who’s surfed to YouTube or listened to more than a few podcasts knows that 170Mb of bandwidth gets eaten up in the blink of an eye.

Time Warner’s highest proposed plan of 40GB doesn’t even come close to what modern internet goers use in an average month. Simply downloading 2 or 3 HD movies from iTunes will put you over this limit and into paying $1.00 for every additional GB. Over your limit and want to rent an HD movie from Netflix? That’ll cost you an extra $8.00 over and above the price of the movie itself. It’s nothing short of obscene.

Over at Ed Cone’s blog, noted Internet founder Vint Cerf puts forth the idea that bandwidth is constricted at the edges of the net, which could make it difficult for providers to keep up with demand. I’ve heard that this could be one reason companies such as Time Warner feel that rate hikes of 1000% (like the one Time Warner is proposing) are unavoidable. If this were true, digital movie downloads from Time Warner itself would also count against your total bandwidth usage, but they don’t. No, Time Warner’s move is an obvious ploy to keep control of what and how you watch. The cable that brings Time Warner On-Demand movies to your living room TV is the same cable that provides you with your favorite episode of Battlestar Galactica from iTunes. Since TW fears losing more and more television subscribers to free sites such as Hulu, they’ve decided split the difference and soak those of us who have changed our viewing habits from the TV to the computer.

I won’t stand for it, and neither should you.

If you think this cap and rate hike doesn’t effect you because you don’t live in Greensboro, Rochester NY or San Antonio TX, then think again. Once outrage dies down in these markets, Time Warner will begin to spread the same plans to other parts of the country. Other internet providers will adopt similar capping plans and your days of unlimited bandwidth will be numbered. To be clear: I do not support bandwidth caps of any kind. If you want to charge me extra for unlimited access, then do so to a reasonable degree. I don’t mind paying extra for premium services like unlimited bandwidth and faster speeds, but at the prices Time Warner is proposing, my next bill could be $400-800 and that simply is out of the question. That said, Time Warner’s own data proves the rates are just a smoke screen.

In the meantime, if you’re as upset about this as I am, then you should make your voice heard. Contact Time Warner and let them know you won’t stand for limits on your internet surfing. Contact Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Apple and others and let them know that Time Warner’s proposed rate hikes are about to force you to drop them as paying customers. Then call, write and email your local representatives and have them stand up to corporate greed. Like many places around this country, Greensboro’s unemployment rate is sky high. People are hurting, and yet a large corporation like Time Warner thinks it can impose outlandish rate hikes on average internet users with impunity. Roch Smith promises to have a list of contacts of local reps soon. Keep an eye on his blog for more info.

Lastly, don’t settle for bandwidth caps. Petition for unlimited access. Internet usage is only increasing and caps make absolutely no sense. Do you want to be tied to a bandwidth monitor while you surf? Do you like to be told that you can’t download what you want, when you want it? If not, I suggest you get off your butt and get moving. There’s very little time left.

UPDATE: Roch has posted an excellent bit about who to contact in Greensboro about this matter and how to approach the topic with them. I urge you to head there, check it out and follow up asap.

Greensboro Apple Store Opening Set

According to an unofficial announcement in the News & Record, the date for the opening of the Greensboro Apple Store has been set as Sat., February 21st. The new Apple store at the Shops at Friendly Center is reported to be North Carolina’s largest and promises to be a Mecca for Apple fans across the triad. All this is conjecture of course since there has been no official word from the Apple retail website.

Center hours are from 10am – 6pm on Saturdays, so I think it’s safe to assume the new store will open at 10am that day. I and a bunch of the guys from work will definitely be attending the opening so perhaps we’ll see you there. Just watch for the gaggle of geeks wearing the Iconfactory t-shirts. Just one more week folks!

FOX 8 Profiles The Iconfactory

If you’ve ever wondered just what I do at my day job, then this awesome 2 minute profile of the Iconfactory explains it pretty darned well. We were proud to be considered for WGHP’s “Made in North Carolina” series broadcast right here in the Triad. The goal of the series is to highlight companies that you may not realize are in NC, but that make things you know and use every day.

I didn’t realize that Texas Pete or Crest Toothpaste were made in North Carolina, so its fun to see just what the good folks of the Tarheel state are up to. Stewart Pittman of Fox 8 came by this past Monday and interviewed us to find out more about what we do and how we got started. The resulting segment pretty much nails what goes on at the Iconfactory each and every day. Stewart said he had a blast filming our office with all our toys we have on hand to keep our creativity up, and I think that comes out in the video. If you didn’t know better, you’d think we design toys instead of icons for a living. Our thanks go out to Stewart and everyone at Fox 8 for having us, we had loads of fun.

UPDATE: I’ve gone ahead and put up a better version of the video over at Vimeo that includes the Fox 8 intro and outro bumpers. Enjoy!

Dodging A Mean Bullet

Last night saw some of the worst storms come through North Carolina in a long, long time. Around 8pm I first started paying attention to the weather and then around 11:15pm it got really, really bad. I live in Colfax, NC which is just north of the Piedmont Triad Farmer’s Market. We started listened to Britt Whitmire on 101.1 FM Talk after our cable TV went out shortly after 10:30pm and I have to say Britt did a great job of describing where the storm was heading and alerting people to the danger.

Shortly after 11pm the police scanner started really going crazy. The sky was almost constantly lit up from hundreds of lightening flashes, and the rain started coming in buckets. We did not see high winds where I lived, but on the scanner many vehicles all around us were being reported overturned. Lots of damage on Sandy Ridge road, officers going on foot door to door to make sure residents were okay. The section of Sandy Ridge they were talking about on the scanner was only 2 miles from us, so I knew the bad stuff was close. It wasn’t until this morning on the news we found out just how close.

The map you can click on here outlines the intersections that are closed off this morning due to multiple power lines down, trees and buildings and business that have been damaged. The authorities have set up a command post at the Farmer’s Market just to the south, but you can see from here just how close we were to where the tornado touched down. Even worse, my friend and co-worker Corey Marion lives between me and the red zone, so he was even closer to the damage.

I thank God that neither we, Corey or Talos (who also lives in my neighborhood) were in the path of this tornado. Planes (Fed Ex cargo planes, not Sesnas) at the airport were blown off the runway, 18 wheelers were overturned and some people even lost their homes. This is one storm I think the Triad will remember for a long, long time. Scary!