Route: annoying insurance upsell or online shopping data aggregator?

I've been increasingly seeing an item for Route Package Protection automatically added to my cart when I purchase things online:

Route Package Protection item in cart for $5.15
I went partially through the checkout flow of a shop that uses Route with a $278 item I have no interest in purchasing to illustrate this post.

If you haven't encountered Route, it's a company that offers package tracking and protection for lost, stolen, and damaged products for online merchants. Route offers plugins that integrate directly into common online store software platforms, and since Route is set up so the customer pays, it's free for the merchant. They have a mobile app that allows users to track packages, and companies can advertise within the app.

Later in the checkout flow, I have the option to remove Route Package Protection, but if I do so, it would be at my own risk:

Route Shipping Protection from Damage, Loss & Theft for $5.15 next to an on/off slider. By deselecting Route shipping protection, redacted is not liable for lost, stolen or damaged products.
I hate to say it, but I really wish this was just built into the price of whatever I'm shopping for.

It surprised me a little to see basic shipping insurance, something that's long been built into the costs of online shopping and shipping options, has suddenly shifted to a separate, explicit upcharge for shoppers. Part of the surprise is certainly because paying for it directly as a shopper feels like I'm being charged more for something that should be a core part of online shopping. It's a little unclear what value Route provides since insurance is available through most shipping companies: perhaps, it's difficult and time consuming to make claims with shipping companies, or maybe, it's just a belief that the customer paying for Route saves the company money.

The other part of my surprise lies in this third-party service automatically getting all of the information about my purchase, whether or not my package arrives safely. In an alternate universe, Route would have designed package protection to be an insurance service that companies buy into and request assistance when something goes awry with a package. Companies might increase costs slightly to cover Route's service fees, but they might not need to due to insurance pooling. Companies would get to save time dealing with lost and stolen packages, but most importantly, this model would significantly reduce the amount of customer data shared with Route.

Unfortunately, that's not the route Route chose (sorry not sorry), and instead, Route is gathering customer purchase data across a wide swath of online vendors. Purchase history data has a direct value propostion for retailers and advertisers, especially when it's tied to your actual personal information including your address and phone number - the latter being a common key for advertising databases.

Route seems to realize this is a likely customer concern, and their Privacy and Data Security Statement (July 26, 2021) implies they won't sell your data:

When do we share it? We share personal information when needed to fulfill our legal obligations and when our vendors, business partners, and affiliates need it to perform the contracts we have with them. We provide further detail about our sharing of personal information here. We do not sell or rent any personal information from any data subjects to third party data brokers or marketing companies.

However, the extended Privacy and Cookie Statement (July 26, 2021, linked at "here") clarifies that your personal information is not actually protected in the event that the company itself is sold:

Business Sale/Purchase
If we or any of our affiliates sell or transfer all or substantially all of our assets, equity interests, or securities, or are acquired by one or more third parties as a result of an acquisition, merger, sale, reorganization, divestiture, consolidation, or liquidation, personal information may be one of the transferred assets.

Of course, this issue around personal information privacy and company acquisition isn't unique to Route, but Route is a relatively young VC-funded company, the exact sort of company I expect to be eyeing acquisition. VC firms specifically want companies to grow fast and make large exits, and one common strategy to do that is to get acquired for a lot of money. In fact, it's plausible that an entity might even want to acquire Route solely for the vast amounts of customer data it has amassed from the various online stores that use it to save a little money dealing with lost packages. Sure, it's possible that Route's investors are simply happy for it to turn into a consistent business and have no aspirations of monetizing customer data, but I'm not willing to bet that VC firms are happy to leave potential money behind.

Footnotes

  1. So far, every package that's been shipped to me from a company using Route hasn't required the mobile app to get the tracking number from the shipping company. As far as I know, you don't have to use their app to know when your packages will arrive, and I haven't installed this app.
  2. In the same thread, another Redditor points out that customers might "think about the issues associated with buying online just at the time of making the final call on the purchase." By the time I, personally, want to buy an item online, I've usually already thought very thoroughly both about wanting it and wanting to buy it from a particular place online, so while I'm not likely to rethink my purchase entirely, having to decide whether or not I can afford to take a loss if something happens to my package sours my experience.
  3. I've also noticed that some companies choose to use Route for shipment tracking even if you don't opt into package protection, which unfortunately means they're sharing my customer data with Route no matter what I choose.
  4. Uploading your privacy statement as a .docx on Google Docs is an odd choice for public consumption. Among other things, it was weird to see Route's Head of Information Security and a Sr. Compliance Engineer looking at this document at the same time. Maybe they were curious who the Anonymous Crow was?

Updated colors for the Library Blanket color palette preview tool

Purl Soho added some new colors and discontinued some old colors of the yarns called for in Joelle Hoverson's Library Blanket. I've added the eight new colors to the Library Blanket color palette preview tool I made last April, and I also labeled the discontinued colors as such. Hopefully knitters haven't already fallen in love with color combinations featuring discontinued colors unless they already had those colors in their stashes!

I also alphabetized the Linen Quill and Line Weight colors within the dropdown menus so they're easier to find.

Finally, I made a new color palette that used all three of the new Linen Quill colors and all five of the new Line Weight colors called "Featuring September 2021 new colors." Here's the new combination:

My rendering of the color palette featuring the new colors
I was pleasantly surprised that all eight of the new colors happened to work together!

Yarn colors:

  1. Line Weight Clear Sky (new)
  2. Line Weight Clover Green (new)
  3. Line Weight Hydrangea Blossom (new)
  4. Line Weight Lilac Fog (new)
  5. Line Weight Mountain Blue (new)
  6. Linen Quill Heirloom White
  7. Linen Quill Clover Green (new)
  8. Linen Quill Blue Pansy (new)
  9. Linen Quill Green Turqouise
  10. Linen Quill Blue Blue (new)

Color combo list:

  • A: Linen Quill Blue Blue + Line Weight Hydrangea Blossom
  • B: Linen Quill Clover Green + Line Weight Clear Sky
  • C: Linen Quill Blue Blue + Line Weight Lilac Fog
  • D: Linen Quill Blue Blue + Line Weight Mountain Blue
  • E: Linen Quill Heirloom White + Line Weight Clear Sky
  • F: Linen Quill Blue Pansy + Line Weight Hydrangea Blossom
  • G: Linen Quill Heirloom White + Line Weight Clover Green
  • H: Linen Quill Blue Blue + Line Weight Clover Green
  • I: Linen Quill Green Turquoise + Line Weight Lilac Fog
  • J: Linen Quill Blue Pansy + Line Weight Mountain Blue
  • K: Linen Quill Blue Blue + Line Weight Clear Sky
  • L: Linen Quill Clover Green + Line Weight Clover Green
  • M: Linen Quill Blue Pansy + Line Weight Lilac Fog
  • N: Linen Quill Heirloom White + Line Weight Lilac Fog
  • O: Linen Quill Blue Pansy + Line Weight Clear Sky
  • P: Linen Quill Green Turquoise + Line Weight Clover Green
  • Q: Linen Quill Heirloom White + Line Weight Mountain Blue
  • R: Linen Quill Heirloom White + Line Weight Hydrangea Blossom
  • S: Linen Quill Clover Green + Line Weight Lilac Fog
  • T: Linen Quill Blue Pansy + Line Weight Clover Green

Notes on pandemic eats, March to mid-October 2020

I became vegetarian in February. It was a really, really long time coming, and becoming vegetarian before the start of a pandemic was really convenient. Few things beat having a bunch of dried beans, lentils, and veggies plus a bunch of rice on in my pantry while you're figuring out grocery delivery in NYC that doesn't exploit gig labor.

In March, April, and May, I made a lot of granola and ate it primarily with homemade almond milk. I have never been more grateful to have a powerful Vitamix blender than when we were making almond milk at least twice a week, and I can't believe I waited months before buying a nut milk bag to strain it instead of using a fine mesh sieve. I really cannot overstate how much time using a nut milk bag saves. Mexican Horchata also entered our regular drink rotation.

Toast slathered in butter that's topped with thinly sliced radishes and finished sea salt has become my favorite savory breakfast/afternoon snack. Toast slathered in one of Ayako & Family's many varieties of plum jam has become my favorite sweet breakfast/afternoon snack.

Photo of a piece of toast topped with whipped ricotta and a muted orange greengage plum jam on a plate
For my (semi-)sweet tooth: toast with whipped ricotta and greengage plum jam
Photo of a piece of toast topped with butter, halved thin French breakfast radishes, and noticeable salt crystals on a plate
For the side of me that loves sharp savory notes: toast with butter, halved French breakfast radishes, and a good helping of fleur de sel

Soy eggs are a regular snack when we realize we have accumulated too many eggs through our weekly farm share delivery. I use a regular sodium soy sauce and leave them overnight, and despite the warning in the ingredient list, they have never been excessively salty.

When I'm feeling uninspired regarding a veggie in my farm share, I decide whether it would rather be roasted or salad and just do that. Roasted veggies are always a welcome side or addition to a dish in my home. Salad tossed in any quickly homemade dressing is still an incredible and simple to prepare treat, and yes, I admit I will forever be a stock photo cliché.

Laura Wright's ginger, sweet potato, and coconut milk stew with lentils and kale is forever going to be in our regular meal rotation. We add about triple the chilli stated in the recipe. Also, her creamy corn and lemon pasta with thyme is a favorite summer treat.

It's decorative gourd season, so I made a vegan squash soup. Cooking red lentils in the spices I would usually add to a soup and adding those to the blender helped make this a full meal, alongside some crusty bread, of course.

Photo of two shallow bowls (one half cut off) of a smooth roasted squash and red lentil soup topped with drizzled olive oil and mustard sprouts, a plate with two slices of a crusty bread, and a small bowl of olive oil with ground chilli and pepper for dipping the bread in.
I (briefly) felt fancy by topping this soup with drizzling olive oil and mustard sprouts.

I've been craving mapo tofu for months. (I'm not aware of a good vegetarian version available in my part of the city.) My friends Alex and Erin sent me this very detailed recipe from Chinese Cooking Demystified, which made me feel confident I could make it if I gathered the right ingredients - though I wanted to have a minced protein instead of just omitting it to make it vegetarian. I use food processor minced fresh mushrooms instead of beef, which take longer to cook down and require more oil as mushrooms absorb it instead of releasing fat, and I replace the broth with shiitake dashi. (If you don't have another plan for the rehydrated shiitake mushrooms, they can be minced and added to the fresh ones to replace the beef.)

Photo of finished mapo tofu in a pumpkin-shaped Dutch oven, ground toasted Sichuan pepper on top but not yet mixed in.
Finished mapo tofu!
Photo of mapo tofu in progress: mushrooms fried in oil mixed with doubanjiang, douchi, ginger, garlic, and chili flakes make a paste.
The base of the sauce: mushrooms fried in oil, doubanjiang, douchi, ginger, garlic, and Sichuan chili flakes
Photo of mapo tofu in progress: mushroom broth has just been added to the paste. It's bright red.
A lovely bright red color after adding the shiitake dashi
Photo of mapo tofu in progress: tofu has been nestled into the broth.
I managed to not break too many of the soft tofu cubes.
Photo of mapo tofu in progress: chives are piled on top of the tofu with reduced and thickened sauce.
I used chives instead of green garlic or scallions because it's what I had on hand.

Tali sauce is still a fun way to transform a simple bowl of rice and beans, and it freezes beautifully. That said, a humble bowl of rice and beans is always a pleasure on its own.

Speaking of beans, I never throw out bean cooking liquid. If I don't want it as part of the beans, I save it to reheat and mix with miso paste, as a treat.

Close-up photo of a mug of pinto bean broth miso soup with sprouts
Pinto bean broth miso I topped with sprouts (I forget the variety)
Photo of a handled mug of black bean broth miso soup with chopped scallions and a small ceramic cup without a handle with matcha
Black bean broth miso topped with scallions

Soy curls are a delightful shelf-stable protein. I often use them in Japanese or Thai curries.

Eggplant parmigiana is a lot more delicious to me when the eggplant is roasted instead of fried. I use parm instead of the romano listed and my own tomato sauce recipe, which also has onions and uses Diaspora Co.'s incredible ground chilli instead of crushed red pepper. (Diaspora Co.'s chillies are brimming with flavor. I can't be anyone's barometer for spiciness because I don't notice it until it hits my digestive system, but I hear they're somewhat milder in heat than expected. P.S. All their other spices are incredible, too.)

Photo of a casserole dish full of eggplant parmigiana on top of my stove
Small fairytale eggplants made this delicious dish quite cute.

Lekka Burger's vegan chocolate chip cookie is made entirely of shelf-stable pantry staples and is absolutely incredible. I highly recommend microwaving any cookies you don't eat the first day for 15 seconds before eating.

Footnotes

  1. This is actually quite irritating. There's a whole lot of food out there that is praised for being delicious because it's "really spicy" but actually packs no flavor behind the heat my body ignores.

A color palette preview tool for Purl Soho's Library Blanket

When I saw the Library Blanket Joelle Hoverson designed for Purl Soho, I immediately fell in love. The marled combinations of oranges, pinks, blues, and purples were calling to me, so I ordered a kit right away. Other knitters commented that while they loved the pattern, the colors used weren't quite right for them.

As the varied blocks in the blanket are made by holding different pairs of yarns together, it can be difficult to imagine how a different yarn palette would knit up. To make it easier to visualize, I created a JavaScript and Canvas tool to render a digital mockup of the Library Blanket pattern in custom color palettes:

Side by side view of the Library Blanket and my rendering in the original color scheme given in the pattern
Photo of the Library Blanket in its original colors from Purl Soho next to my rendering of the original color scheme. (Photo from Purl Soho used in compliance with the policy in their FAQ.)

The tool will also generate the color combo list for the yarn names given, so you know which two yarns are held together in each block.

I've included a few preconstructed color palettes, including the one stated in the pattern, other combinations Purl Soho provided in the comments, and a few options I discovered while testing this tool. You can also create your own palettes either by selecting Purl Soho Line Weight or Linen Quill yarns from the dropdowns or by entering custom yarns in the text and color input fields. For each of the Purl Soho yarns in the dropdowns, I selected a hex color I felt corresponded well to the photo of that colorway. (Of course, a single color doesn't fully capture the subtleties in these yarns, and you may think a different hex color better matches a colorway than the one I chose! If you'd rather use a different hex color for a yarn, you can input it like you would for a custom yarn.) To preview this pattern with different yarns than the two Purl Soho specified in the pattern, you can enter your own yarn names and hex colors.

When you update any of the fields in the tool, the Library Blanket rendering and color combo list automatically update below.

P.S. I updated the colorways for Purl's Linen Quill and Line Weight yarns on September 16, 2021!

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or choose your own colors individually:

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Library Blanket rendering:

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Color combo list:

Cancel Like Everything

Tracy Jenkins's For Like Ever poster is an iconic piece of "the millenial aesthetic." I've made a new poster inspired by For Like Ever and the current need for social distance:

Cancel Like Everything poster (preview size)

The texture in the clouds below the text is made up of no symbols and small x's:

The texture in the clouds, which is made up of large no symbols and small x's

I've made an A4 paper, 300 DPI version of the Cancel Like Everything poster available for printing. The Cancel Like Everything poster is licensed under the Creative Commons - Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license, so you can print, adapt, and share it for any non-commercial purposes. By the way, I consider non-commercial purposes to include selling prints either at cost or with 100% of the profits going to COVID-19 relief.