Beware of Yelp

I wrote a rather dark Yelp review of an old Dearborn mainstay on Friday. My folks and I had just eaten there. As of that moment, Yelp reviewers, apparently all with multiple sensory disorders, had given Richter’s Chalet an average of four stars of five — a lofty rating. Now I’m no gourmand, but this place was so exceptionally bad, I wrote:

I grew up in Dearborn, Mich., where Richter’s has been a mainstay. Went there tonight with my folks. How the mighty have fallen.

I agree completely with the reviewers commenting on the state of the decor — deplorable. The carpet dates from the Adenauer administration and is sticky like a fraternity after a nine-kegger. Menus dog-eared and Scotch taped. At least 80 degrees in the place, possibly to accommodate the octogenarians who, taste buds eroded, still drag their descendants into this sorry establishment.

Where I disagree is with those lauding the food. I lived in Germany on two occasions in my life and have had good German food there and elsewhere, and this ain’t it. I had sauerbraten, questionably cooked, oversauced, presented like a pile of rags. My mom’s meal one would need a mass spectrometer to properly identify. Some combination of possibly reheated meat hiding under congealed gravy. She couldn’t stomach it, and neither should you.

If you’re in Michigan, try Metzger’s on Zeeb Road in Ann Arbor. In Dearborn, just eat Arabic.

OK, so harsh. One star, obviously. Then my mom did her own review because she felt strongly about it:

My appetite had already been impacted by the fact that my feet stuck to the filthy carpet as I walked to the table, and was further impeded when I was handed a shabby, food-stained menu held together with tape. Very decent coleslaw was followed by barely-warm spaetzle, the latter not a good omen. But it  was totally over for me when I received my entree, a grayish glob of lukewarm pork covered with congealed gravy. My dining companions’ meals (plates of oversauced but undercooked beef) were only slightly better. I felt sorry for our waitress–she was lovely, tried hard, and offered excellent service. But  no amount of friendliness can make up for inedible food. I will not return to this restaurant.  For the record, I have lived in the area for many years, and have dined there intermittently. The quality was declining, but it has now  reached a point of no return–literally!

Also a one-star. But not harsh, really, and nice to the waitress, whom we felt bad for.

I hopped on Yelp today and noted the absence of both reviews on the Richter’s page, and the restaurant’s rating back up to 4 stars (we had dragged it down to 3.5). Scrolling all the way to the bottom, there’s a link, in parenthesis, to “filtered reviews.” Look closely or you’ll miss it. Click in and you have to fill in one of those Captcha things. That’s to make sure you’re not a computer.

Yelp doesn’t factor these filtered reviews into their overall ranking. And  a follow-up negative review, couched in less inflammatory language tonight, also landed there instantly. Auto-filtered. In Yelp-land, you have to be human to read bad reviews, but you don’t have to be human to decide a whether a review is actually “bad,” that is, inaccurate. Just search for pessimistic keywords and ban the whole thing. Bravo, Yelp!

This is nontrivial. Yelp’s bot means the service works for restaurants — not for prospective customers — in filtering out bad reviews automatically. Which means, simply, you can’t trust Yelp to tell you if a restaurant is bad, which Richter’s truly is. Yelp, less than no help, is misleading to the very consumers whose opinions it purports to aggregate. Skip it.

Non-green keyboard saves green

My external keyboard, a Microsoft thing, seems to aspire to being an IBM Selectric, clacking so loudly phone-interview sources get self-conscious. So I went online and found this HP Wireless Elite Keyboard on Amazon for $29.

HP wireless elite keyboard

The HP Wireless Elite Keyboard, so flat it disappears into the horizon

It was more or less what I was looking for, and I was on the ragged edge of going for it when pre-buyers remorse struck and I bailed on the cart. And what did I find but a solar-powered keyboard by Logitech. Never needs batteries. Great reviews. CNET.com’s Justin Yu, CNET’s headphone and peripherals guru, gave it his editor’s choice, a rave rundown. I’m thinking, yes, and it’ll further bolster my green chops — panels on the roof, panels on the keyboard, what more can you ask?

Logitech Wireless keyboard

Behold the solar keyboard

Well, you ask about the price. the Logitec Solar Keyboard is $60. The HP battery-powered version is $29. The HP keyboard uses two AAA batteries. Looks like you can buy 20 AAA alkaline batteries for about $10. HP says a keyboard goes a year on a pair of batteries. (Keyboards obviously don’t take much energy, which explains how a few square inches of solar panels can fuel the Logitech version such that, in two hours of indoor lighting, you get a three-month charge, according to the company).

So the payback on the extra green for solar-powered typing, in this case, is the cumulative life of however many batteries you can buy for $31 (omitting the productivity losses of me digging around for AAA batteries once a year, which will be hours).

Sixty batteries will last the HP keyboard 30 years, then. Landfilling alkaline batteries isn’t the greatest thing, of course, so I suppose I’ll spring for four Sanyo Eneloop batteries for the same $10 the alkalines would set me back. Eneloops can be recharged 1,500 times each and don’t self-discharge too badly (I use them in a voice recorder). So I’ll be typing effortlessly into the 60th century.

In other words, solar panels on the keyboard aren’t like the panels on the roof at all, because there the payback is real (even if it’s several years). CNET might have factored this into their rating. Logitech’s solar twist makes for a cubicle piece de resistance for sure. But it’s environmentally and functionally meaningless.

Water and electricity

I teach a narrative nonfiction class at the University of Colorado; a student did an good piece on water waste through sprinkling sidewalks and soaking common common greens to bogginess.

Curious about the energy of water usage, I did some hunting around and found a reference to the kilowatt hours per acre foot of water provided to residents of Denver, Colo. and Parker, a nearby suburb. Denver relies on runoff; Parker taps into an aquifer.

Turns out Denver water users burn about 2.5 watt hours of electricity per gallon of water they use, so a two-gallon bucket equates to about an hour of a burning night light (incandescent — LEDs use less). We used 13,000 gallons in the summer, equivalent to 32 kilowatt hours, or about two days production of our solar panels.

In Parker’s case, the pumps needed to suck fossil groundwater from the depths require more than five times the electricity per gallon — 13.8 watt hours. So a gallon of cold, clean Parker water embodies the energy to burn a compact fluorescent bulb for an hour. Water is power. Think about it next time you leave the faucet on when you’re brushing your teeth.