My Dealings with the Sandwich Overlords

Lunch at the local Potbelly Sandwich Works franchise this week prompted the following exchange with the franchise through their website’s feedback form.

Hi folks,

I and others from my office have been visiting Potbelly for lunch about once a week since you opened stores in Dallas. When I went there today for lunch, an unpleasant surprise awaited me.

I orderd the same thing I always do. An italian on regular bread with mustard, no pickles, no peppers. I was told I was no longer allowed to have mustard on my sandwich. I said, of course, that without mustard, it was hardly a real sandwich and I didn’t want it.

They finally offered me some of those little plastic packets of mustard but said I’d have to put it on the sandwich myself.

They apologized and said they’d like to continue offering mustard but that some sort of official decision from on high now forces them to withhold mustard from customers who want it.

Perhaps I should point out here that I’m talking about real mustard. Yellow mustard. Regular mustard. Normal mustard. Mustard as God intended it. Not that discolored brown mustard. Not “spicy” mustard. Not so-called “gourmet” mustard. Actual, real, American mustard.

The other thing I should probably point out is that I wasn’t the only person around complaining about the mustard embargo. Hopefully I’m not the only one who visited the website, found the comment form and commented on it.

I find it bizarre that a restaurant that claims to offer sandwiches for lunch can’t put mustard on said sandwiches. Maybe this is how they do things in Illinois but here in Texas a sandwich has mustard on it. Maybe even extra mustard.

As long as our local Potbelly continues to at least offer do-it-yourself mustard, I’ll probably continue to visit occasionally but it would be nice if the corporate sandwich overlords would deem to allow us Texans to eat our sandwiches the way we want.


The very next morning I received this personal email not from the corporate office but the manager of the local franchise (cc’d to the corporate office):

From: Pam …
To: Steve …
Cc: Mike …
Subj: Re: Yellow mustard

I want to apologize for the inconvience you experienced im my restaurant, I assure you we would be more than glad to put yellow mustard on your sandwich at anytime. I have talked to all my staff about your concern and it is now understood that we will always take care of your requests. We appreciate your business and look forward to seeing you again soon. Please ask for me the next time your in so I can take care of your lunch and ensure that it is to your liking.

Thank you for taking time to let us know.

Pamela …
General Manager

To which I replied:

From: Steve …
To: Pam …

Cc: Mike …
Subj: Re: Yellow mustard

Hi Pam,

Thanks for the quick reply. I wasn’t actually expecting to get a reply from a real, live human. I thought my comment would generate an automated response at best. I’m impressed! And thanks also for bringing back mustard. I’ll be stopping by in the next few days to enjoy an italian (with mustard).


Robonexus 2005 Debriefing

I’m finally getting caught up on things since returning from Robonexus and one of the last things on my ToDo list is posting something here about the trip.

Before I get to that, I should mention that Susan and I went to the State Fair of Texas this year just prior to my Robonexus trip. Nothing new and amazing to report there but I used the Fair to test out a new camera, the Fuji Finepix A345. The A345 is an inexpensive 4.1 Megapixel pocket camera. I still shoot a lot of 35mm film but didn’t want to lug my Canon T90 and associated gear around Robonexus, so I picked up the Fuji to try out as an alternative. If you’re curious, take a look at a few of the 2005 Texas State Fair photos or the Robonexus photos I shot with it.

Okay, so on to the Robonexus trip itself. Like most trips, it started with the hassle of airport security and placing all my belongings into little plastic bins. I filled one bin with cell phone, camera, keys, change, belt and shoes. It took another for my laptop and a third bin for the laptop case. This was followed by some hopping around on one foot while trying to put on shoes and simulatneously hang to my other stuff so it wouldn’t get stolen.

I’ve been to a lot of places in California but this was my first trip to San Jose. Random San Jose info: It doesn’t look that different from the Dallas area. They’re still using incandescent traffic lights instead of LED lights. The cross walks emit all sorts of weird sounds that are presumably intended to assist the blind. We’ve got nothing like that here in Dallas. The Kinko’s in San Jose have service as bad as those in Dallas.

I ended up in Hotel Montgomery which is within easy walking distance of the convention center so I didn’t need a car. I got in on the first day and picked up two sets of credentials: a press pass as editor of and an exhibit staff pass for the Dallas Personal Robotics Group. Because the DPRG didn’t really have enough advance notice to prepare anything interesting, we ended up just placing some flyers on our table that described the group. I had the flyers printed down the street at a Kinko’s (see above comment on Kinko’s).

I only had time to sample a few of the talks including Matt Mason’s overview of robotics and AI research at CMU, Michael S. Chester on launching a robotics company, Max Chandler on robotic art, and Stewart Tansley on Microsoft’s plans in the field of robotics. I showed up to hear Phillip Torrone of MAKE but he was a no-show. Most of the talks were interesting but primarily technical in nature. One non-technical talk, Joanne Pransky on The Frankenstein Complex and Its Impact on Robotics, brought up more philosophical subjects such the human reaction to robots with intelligence, emotions, and sentience. The talk left a number of people, including myself, involved in debates with other audience members over the subject. Some people still seem to be made profoundly uncomfortable with the idea that machines made of metal and silicon may one day be as good as us meat-based machines at thinking and feeling. No mob of angry peasants with torches appeared however, so perhaps things have improved since Frankenstein’s time?

Along with several other Dallas attendees, I escaped the conference for a few hours on Friday and drove up to Stanford. Sanjay Dastoor, a DPRG member who is now a student at Stanford, arranged a tour of some of the robot labs for us. We checked out the Stanford quadruped and also got to see some of the Stanford Sprawl robots in action (they’re fast!). After the robot labs, we took a few drive-by photos of the Frank Lloyd Wright Hanna House which is on the Stanford Campus. I also got a chance to check out the San Jose Museum of Art since it was just across the street from the convention center, though I had to do that one by myself. It was worth the visit and I enjoyed the Sandow Birk exhibit in particular. Overall I’d say it rates higher than the Dallas art museums but not as high as the museums in Ft. Worth.

Back at Robonexus, I spent a lot of my time networking. It was good to meet so many people in person who I deal with online regularly including most of the fine folks at Servo Magazine. The conference includes an interesting mix of high-end commercial robotics companies such as iRobot, commercial hobby robotics suppliers such as HiTec, and non-profit organizations such as the Robotics Society of America. There were also demos of many robot contest formats including NATCAR, Botball, FIRST, Robo-Magellan, and the Trinity Fire-Fighting competition. One suprise this year was the arrival of Lindz Lawlor and his Electric Giraffe. The Electric Giraffe is a huge mechanical quadruped equipped with more lights and audio amps than your average dance club. It walked around belting out dance-velocity Kraftwerk tunes. The Electric Giraffe was created for Burning Man, which seems to be a venue increasingly used by robot builders to demonstrate their work. After talking to Lindz and others who’ve been there, I started thinking it sounded like a lot of fun.

I returned to Dallas from Robonexus with two general feelings. The first was that the DPRG needs to go to Robonexus 2006 with more people and plenty of hardware to show off. The second was that the DPRG needs to think about creating something worthy of Burning Man. Interestingly, I’ve discovered that when you mention attending Burning Man, people will either react by saying something like, “What?! Burning Man is jest a bunch of nekkid hippies runnin’ around!” or they’ll say, “I’ve always thought Burning Man looked like fun but I’ve never had a good reason to go”. The DPRG members seem equally divided but I wouldn’t be suprised if we manage to make it out there in the coming years.

Robonexus, Here I Come

I’ll be leaving for Robonexus in San Jose Thursday morning. I’ll be out there until Sunday. I plan to have fun, take lots of photos, cover the show for and maybe do some coverage for Servo magazine as well. In addition to myself, Roger Arrick of and Arrick Robotics will be going as will several members of the Dallas Personal Robotics Group. We’re hoping to take some time to tour the Stanford robotics lab and whatever else we can find to do. If there are any other robot folks or free software/open source people in the area who’d like to get together, let me know.