05 November 2011


I'm trying to get a good "tropical" muffin recipe together. I have lots of crushed pineapple and dried coconut and I finally went out and bought a one dollar beat-up muffin pan from Goodwill, and this morning I made my first attempt.

This isn't quite the right recipe. I can't put my finger on exactly what needs to be changed, but no question I need more pineapple, less coconut, and probably something other than guava juice (really? On a blog called "Gin & Guavas" I'm posting a recipe that I need to cut the guava juice out of). But they are tasty.

I use the following recipe for my dry muffin mix:
1/3 c white whole wheat flour
1/3 c teff flour
1/3 c flax meal
1/3 c + 1 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Mix together and combine with 1 egg and 1/4 c applesauce, and you have a basic muffin mix. Of course I use teff and flax instead of just wheat flour because they have more fiber, more vitamins and minerals, and quite frankly more flavor. I think everyone should add flax meal to their recipes; the teff flour is harder to come by. But of course you could just use 1 cup of regular flour. And most people would probably use closer to a full cup of sugar (but I was adding pineapple, and that's plenty sweet).

What I added for the tropical part of it was:
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/3 c crushed pineapple
3 tbsp guava nectar
3 tbsp chopped coconut (rehydrated)
1 tbsp chopped rehydrated banana chips (I'd prefer a banana, but I didn't have any).
fresh grated nutmeg (maybe about 1/4 tsp?)

This made six muffins. I'm single; I don't need to be making a dozen muffins at a shot.

Next time around I think I'll try mango or maybe passionfruit juice instead of guava, and less almond extract (perhaps none at all), and a little more pineapple, and maybe one less tbsp of the coconut. Still, a good first effort.

Four Random Photographs

I haven't posted any pictures in a while. Well, I haven't done much with the blog in a while, but, more to the point, I have some pictures I took over the last couple months that I guess I intended to blog, but never did. And I also have two I took this morning.

My okra has succumbed to frost, and I don't think the tomato is long for the world (it's still ripening tomatoes, at about 1/3 normal speed, but we've had three frosts so far and it has managed to survive. I don't expect it make it to Thanksgiving but I'm also not going to complain if it does).But with the end of one season comes the start of another, and I have Brussels sprouts and arugula and fun things like that. And, this amusing little seedling. This is a red buckeye (Aesculus pavia), not a tree I even had on my list of trees to try to grow, mainly because my list is a couple years old and I don't know of any red buckeyes around here. But I collected this seed from a buckeye tree up at Biltmore, in Asheville, about six weeks ago. I brought it home. It sat on the kitchen counter for about three weeks. According to my notes the seeds need to be kept moist and planted immediately; if they dry out at all, they die. Very finicky seeds apparently.
Or not. I soaked it overnight and stuck it in a pot and figured there was no way it would grow. But here we are! I have no idea what this is going to turn into--I can't even tell if those are leaves or what. But it's sort of exciting. (The plant next to it is New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus), which has been growing for about two months. I have several of them sprouted now and I'm looking forward to actually trying the tea from them next winter.)

Back in the summer I made several ratatouilles. They were all delicious. I should post a recipe sometime. But it's a lot easier to just post this picture of the stew in the pot. So colorful. Of course summer is over; now it's gumbo season, so I'll have to blog the next time I make one of those.

I grew a lot of vegetables this summer and enjoyed them (the tomatoes and tabasco peppers were particularly great), but nothing was as exciting as this.I have three grape vines in pots here; some year soon they'll go into the ground but grape vines can live for 100 years or more so they'll be fine in pots for a few. How exciting to harvest my own grapes off my own vines... while living in an apartment. They were really good, too--although they were sold to me as "seedless," and they are anything but. But these are Concord grapes, the native Vitis labrusca, the ones Alton Brown talks about in the tv commercials for Welch's. Maybe some year the vines will be big enough to get enough grapes to try a few bottles of homemade wine. Not any time soon, though.

I've mentioned Schrodinger before. He needs a picture. Like all black cats he is very difficult to photograph. Most of my pictures of him are a black smudge with glowing green eyes. I have not yet managed to get a picture that matches up with the best picture ever taken of his mother, Batgirl, but eventually.

04 November 2011

Thoughts on Occupy Wall Street

This is the first essay-length philosophical thing I've written in four years. It took two hours to get everything right and do the cost research. It felt wonderful.

I was going to title this “What the Occupy opponents don’t get” but then I realized, heck, this is Occupy we’re talking about, and most of the protesters don’t get it, either. So instead it’s just some thoughts.

So, you’re a member of the non-struggling middle class. Perhaps you’re just an intelligent and reasonable person who knows what you want and doesn’t spend your time desperately trying to live a life well beyond your means. Lord knows that a real middle class salary can buy you a very nice life without credit, but if you’re constantly striving for more you’re going to always be unhappy and always be struggling.

Or, more likely (since there aren’t so many reasonable and intelligent people out there who live within their means), you’re actually part of the upper middle class or even the upper class but refuse to admit that to yourself or anyone else.

In either case perhaps you’re happy, satisfied, and not afraid, and you could care less about the Occupy protesters or the Occupy movement. Great! Good for you. You can stop reading now because I’m not talking to you. You don’t need a talking-to. You need to put a little money aside for a nice vacation and go pick up the kids from school.

But maybe you spend an inordinate amount of your time thinking about why the Occupy movement is wrong, why the protesters are boneheads or hypocrites or worse. Maybe you think that in reality if you just work hard and keep your expectations attainable you can live a perfectly happy life and shouldn’t be asking for handouts. Ha! You’re funny. You need to keep reading.

And maybe you think of yourself as just smarter than those idiot protesters, and you like to laugh at how they turn down job applications or refuse to offer their tents to the homeless. You, my friend, you are afraid of them. (And I haven't noticed you offering your living room to the homeless, either.) You don’t want to hear it—in fact, I just lost ALL of my readers who fit into this category because I’m not part of their preferred echo chamber—but the truth is, you are afraid of them. You are afraid because although you are comfortable now, you lack the requisite faith in yourself, your religion, or your society that, were things to change, and change meaningfully, you might not be able to make it. You are afraid that you could become one of the people Occupy is protesting for (or wants to think they’re protesting for; I suspect the majority of them are protesting to annoy Mom & Dad, who, ironically, were hippies themselves and protested mainly to annoy Mom & Dad. Who, of course, fought World War II and built the greatest nation-state the world has ever seen.)

The truth is, you’re afraid of something the protesters symbolize for you. It might be that you simply are afraid of anything that’s different; xenophobia is so third-millenium America, after all. Or it might be that, on some level, the bastards are actually right about something. But it’s too big of a problem or too difficult to really wrap your mind around and frankly life is so much easier and better if you don’t actually have to think about it. After all, the reason the echo chamber that is the modern opinionews industry (like that one? Infotainment is not the right word, since modern news doesn’t rely on information) is so successful is that frankly we all, all humans, want nothing more than to be justified, to have our feelings and opinions and attitudes reflected and justified by society (and Mommy and Daddy) to prove our own self-worth.

For people in subsistence societies this isn’t a problem—if you can help put food on the table in any way you’re justified. You’re all right. But for late modern humans in consumer cultures—and that’s about two or three of the seven billion of us—what we get from society every single day is that we aren’t good enough, that we need to buy more, have more, do more, see more or we aren’t worthy. We aren’t justified. Three generations have been raised now in this country and most of what we refer to as “The West” (Greece used to be a part of it, but not any more) under the guiding consumerist principle that your self-worth is entirely dependent upon your net worth.

(Aside: That WWII generation that was the last generation before this consumer culture spread its poison? Yeah, let’s not let them off the hook for their hand in creating said culture, okay? They were great. But when they came home they invented the American Dream, and that’s where it all started.)

If you conflate your self-worth with your net worth, some interesting things happen. First of all, you are never satisfied. Now, there’s something to be said (a lot, actually) for not being satisfied with where you are. But somehow not being satisfied with who and where you are no longer means that you need to learn more, or give more, or try to get better at your work, your hobby, or your life; it has instead come to mean that you aren’t satisfied with the income you have, the stuff you have, the material trappings of the life that you live. You strive to improve your position at work not because you want to be better for your own purposes, but because you need to get a raise to buy that cool new 3-D TV (hey, 3-D movie makers: you still haven’t improved on real life! How about just trying to write a good story for God’s sake? Damned sequel factory), the latest model-year car, and those seven dozen kitchen gadgets and new gas range from Williams-Sonoma you don’t actually know how to use. (Ever been through a model home in an upper-class development and seen the kitchen with the six-burner gas stove and commercial size fridge? Give me a damn break, more than half of the people who live in those homes don’t know how to cook anything more complex Spaghetti-o’s. But they have to have the best appliances!)

And so we come back to the anti-Occupy crowd (the ones who aren’t actually 1%-ers or investment bankers and actually have good reason to be scared). After three generations of self-worth/net-worth entanglement, these folks are, to be blunt, just scared that if society were in fact to change and we did in fact learn to separate our fiscal value from our human value, they’d have nothing to go on. They’d be unable to determine a self-worth, unable to find it, or, perhaps—and this is truly terrifying if you’re part of the crowd—that they might take a step back in relation to their fellow citizens.

This leads us, at last (hey, only two pages, that qualifies as brevity for me), to the original point, what the Occupy crowd (those who are protesting but also especially those who delight in making fun of the protesters) don’t get. We no longer live in a country where if you just work hard and do your best you’ll be rewarded and be able to afford the things you need and some of the things you want.

No, I’m not a communist. Hear me out. Now, the math for the pronouncement I’m about to make will be available after I tidy it up a bit because right now it’s scratch on paper. But let’s say we have somebody who is making minimum wage, works a 40-hour week every week without any vacation (52 weeks a year) and some occasional overtime, has an average commute and no car payment and lives in the cheapest safe apartment complex around, has a basic cell phone plan with a parasite company, eats hamburger and tuna helper and store-brand bologna sandwiches every single day except when ordering some stuff off the dollar menu at Burger King, never drinks any alcohol, doesn’t have health insurance and basically doesn’t go to the doctor, never goes out in the evenings to restaurants or clubs, and doesn’t have internet access or cable or satellite television. This person manages to spend $13,764 every year just for the bare minimums to sustain the above described existence in this country (and this is in a cheap part of the country). That’s before the poor soul has to purchase any clothing, or put any money aside for savings, or experience any sort of emergency from a car accident to an unexpected sickness to the need to replace something broken. And God forbid this person has children or other dependents. $13,764 is covering the basic needs for a safe but wholly uninteresting existence.

And how much does our safe dullard earn? Well, assuming he gets a bit of overtime here and there, we’ll give him a whopping $14,970 a year, after FICA but assuming no income taxes. So he’s got $1,206 at the end of the year he could put toward savings, pay for basic cable (which isn’t worth it; maybe he’ll get Netflix instead), or, given the way life goes, have to spend on some emergency (I had a $1400 unexpected medical bill this year. I sure as hell didn’t plan for that. That would break our poor hypothetical person).

Now, it’s all well and good for you to say, okay, but if this guy works harder, tries to better himself, earn a raise or a promotion, go to night school (which costs money he doesn’t have), get a better job, then he can rise out of that boring and meaningless existence and make something of himself. He doesn’t need the government’s (or my) help, and it’s just more evidence that everybody but me wants to get everything without working for it that anybody would complain about such a situation.

Fine. So our hypothetical man does get out of this job and makes a better life for himself. Good for him. But here is the key point: somebody else has to take his place. There will always be people who can’t make it, because there will always be a need in this country for people to do the minimum-wage scut work that the rest of us don’t want to do. Somebody is always going to have to be on the bottom of the pole. Somebody is always going to be barely getting by, if at all, and our economy demands that. You cannot take Homo economicus as an individual and say, he should get a better job, because the economy demands a H.economicus to work every necessary position, including the guy who cleans the toilets at Wal-Mart, and the guy who picks the tomatoes in Florida. Those guys cannot afford to live a decent life in America, and yet those of us who live better do so on the backs of those people. We aren’t standing on the shoulders of giants; we’re resting on the backs of midgets. And the last thing anybody wants is for the midgets to stand up and throw us off. That’s why Occupy is threatening, and why you feel a need to make fun of it. You rely on poor people to live even a moderately comfortable existence.

And here’s the kicker. If we decide, okay, those folks need to make $10 an hour. Everybody should earn a minimum wage that allows them to live decently, not just barely scrape by. Sounds good. I’m pretty sure I’m hearing that from Occupy types, some of them (some of them are just waiting for law and order to break down so they can get to looting, but that’s a tiny minority). So then what happens? Well, Wal-Mart’s salary expenditures go up by 50%, so their prices go up by a similar margin. Those of us who were previously comfortable now find that everything is more expensive, and we’re a lot less comfortable. Those tomato-pickers in Florida, the illegal immigrants you hate so much? Let’s let them earn a living wage, too, or, if you don’t like that, let’s throw them all out and hire unemployed Americans at the same living wage attested before; people would pick tomatoes for $10 an hour. But now your tomatoes cost $8.99 a pound (and that's for the nasty flavorless hothouse tomatoes bequeathed to us by Big Agriculture). A bag of lettuce costs $10. And because corn is doubling in price a whole roasting chicken now costs $3.99 a pound instead of 89 cents. But everybody’s earning a living wage! Except that wage has to keep rising because the cost of business keeps rising.

Know what doesn’t change in this scenario? How much money the 1% make. How much profit the corporations make. See, Wal-Mart will happily pay a higher wage, and raise their prices, whatever it takes to keep the profit margins where they are now so none of the high-rollers running the show have to take a pay cut and the stock price doesn’t fall. The richest, the ones with the power to change things, what the fuck possible reason do any of them have to change anything? The only way to create real change, change that doesn’t result in the endless inflationary cycle described above, is to fundamentally reevaluate how we value the wealthiest and most powerful people. And that is never going to happen.

That’s what Occupy should be protesting. And you can go home and listen to your echo chambers and make fun of the protesters, but bear in mind the echo chamber is owned by part of that 1%. You’re hearing what you want to hear because you’ve been told it’s what you want to hear by wealthy and powerful people who want you to think that way. As long as we continue to be lined up on opposing sides, we 99%, the 1% don’t have to worry. We’ll fight each other tooth and nail and let them keep the spoils.

H.L. Mencken once said that “the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” I might add that this is also the whole aim of modern capitalism. Capitalism is not bad (it's the best thing we've got, although no society has yet actually tried distributivism and nobody these days has even heard of the philosophy). The way capitalism is practiced in 2011, on the other hand, is not good. The protesters have a point. Their opponents have a point, too. But we’re all missing the bigger picture, and that’s exactly the way the power wants it to be.

02 November 2011

Hey, Asshole!

Yeah, you! The asshole who lives at 331 Shadowmere Dr., Pelzer, SC, 29669. You.

You know that fucking piece of shit dog of yours is going to attack anybody who comes onto the property. You know that.

You know somebody from FedEx (and probably somebody from UPS, too) is going to come to your house every single day, because you are constantly getting shit shipped to you for some sort of home-based cosmetics related business.

So you know a delivery person is coming to your house every day. And you know that fuckstick dog of yours is going to attack.

And you leave said fuckstick dog out, unchained, every. Mother. Fucking. Day.

You, sir, are the fucking lowest form of human life present on this Earth. I sincerely hope that your dog will die, your business will fail, your home will be reposessed, your wife and family will leave you, and you will die miserable and alone.


Fuck you.

Your (ex) FedEx man

25 October 2011

Lunch Break

This morning Schrodinger (the cat) brought a squirrel in the house. He brings animals in from time to time, though I always cuss at him and squirt him with the water bottle when I catch him doing it. Which I usually don't. At least one morning a week I wake up and find a dead mole in the herbarium (the rental company calls it a "dining room," but as I have no dining table and eat on the porch or standing at the counter I don't use it for that; it's where I keep my seedlings and tender plants and seeds I'm trying to sprout), and earlier this week there was bird a loving left for me on the edge of the couch. The brand new clean couch.

I can't get too upset at him for this. First of all I rarely actually catch him bringing an animal in, and you can't discipline an animal after the fact. But I know he's doing his part for the household, and after all, he is a once and future barn cat; I don't want him not hunting at all.

But it would be nice if he would at least kill things before he brings them in the house (he comes and goes through a window in the herbarium). About a month ago I came home from work and there was this odd sound coming from the laundry room, which I eventually determined was a baby squirrel, hiding in the utility closet. He was okay; tail was a bit mussed and bloody but Schrodinger had clearly brought the squirrel in as a toy and hadn't actually hurt it much. But the thing was little and terrified. I put on an old flight suit and gloves and collected the squirrel, put him in a box with water and food, and let him calm down, then deposited him in a pine tree outside about two hours later.

But this morning takes the cake so far. This morning as I was making breakfast--in fact, just as I was finishing up and looking forward to eating--Schrodinger bounds through the window with a live and squealing squirrel in his mouth. I cussed at him and squirted him with the water bottle, which was the wrong thing to do. He drops the squirrel and ducks back out the window, but does the squirrel follow? No. Squirrel goes nuts. Runs in circles around the room, through the kitchen, into and around the living room, then back into the herbarium where he takes up residence behind the bakers rack.

And then the cat comes back in.

You've seen Christmas Vacation. You know what happens when Snots the dog gets scent of the squirrel. This is what it felt like in my house this morning. I opened all the doors in the vain hope the squirrel would run outside, but no. Eventually he hid behind the entertainment center, so I jabbed an old tv antenna down there to flush him out. Didn't work. So I pulled it away from the wall far enough for Schrodinger to get back there, which he did. The squirrel disappeared. I didn't ever actually see it leave from behind the television. It could have gone outside but if it did, it gave the slip to both me and the cat. It's not under any of the furniture or in the dvd rack, and I had the bedroom and bathroom doors closed. So I assume it's gone.

I had a massage scheduled for this morning. This was a good morning for it. Now I'm having lunch, and I assume the squirrel is gone. But I have a lot of cleaning up to do this afternoon...

18 October 2011

BMW Interview Process: Physical

Okay, so, we're on to step four in the process of getting hired on at the BMW plant in Greer (Spartanburg County).

Step four is the physical. Assuming you make in through the first three steps and get your conditional offer of employment, this physical represents the condition. Now, I don't know exactly what they're looking for. I am neither a doctor nor an HR person at BMW. But here's what the physical consisted of.

First, a ten-page booklet of questions for you to fill out the night before the physical. Not hard questions, mostly "have you ever been treated for X." When you arrive at the clinic (there are two, one in Spartanburg and one in Pelham village (which needs to incorporate already so it doesn't just get absorbed by Greer)), you'll have four or five more pages of things to fill out. You should arrive early, although I managed to scrape in just one minute before my appointment time and didn't get tossed out.

A nurse or technician will call your name. First thing she'll do is take your blood pressure and pulse (with an electronic monitor, which I maintain are vastly less accurate than the old-fashioned kind), weight, and height. Then you'll go through a series of little exams in whatever order the stations are free. You'll have an eye exam (I was evidently the fastest eye exam any of the techs had ever done), a hearing exam (I passed and I have lousy hearing, so you should be fine), and a breath test. This is a weird test; you blow into a tube as hard as you can. I have no idea what the purpose of this test was. Per the description of the exam I failed; however the doc later said I did fine.

You'll also have your samples taken for drug testing, urine and hair both (not mixed together). Finally you'll go to a little exam room and have an EKG. Last time I had one of these (ten years ago) it took 15 or 20 minutes. This one took about one minute, maybe less.

Then you get to stay in the exam room and change into a hospital gown and await the doctor. The doctor will come in and ask you a few generic questions, test reflexes, check for a hernia, that sort of thing, standard exam stuff. Then he'll go through your medical history that you wrote out on all those pages and ask any questions that seem significant. I have a history of lower back problems and depression. I was very concerned about the history of depression, for which I've actually been hospitalized (it was voluntary, at least). But I'm used to flight physicals. He didn't ask one question about that and didn't seem to think it would make any difference at all (I asked).

About the back, he had lots of questions. So you get an idea of what BMW is mainly concerned about. The only medical records I have relating to it (apart from some chiropractic adjustments) are from the Air Force; doc said, well, I don't know how long it will take you to get military medical records... to which I was able to respond that I had a copy of all my records. This made things much easier; he said BMW would want to look over the records pertaining to my back, and if I could just make copies and bring them by that would speed things up a great deal.

The book of paperwork I'd brought home last night mentioned getting all your medical records and having to sign papers to allow them to be shared with BMW. I'm touchy about that (the hospitalization), but doc said just get the ones related to the back problems and that was all they'd really be interested in. This is a tremendous time-saver for you; if you can get access to your own medical records before the physical so much the better; if not, it appears you may not need to get them unless you have back or joint problems (repetititive stress injuries, too). That said, if you do have a history of such problems and you can get copies of those records yourself before you start the interview process you'll probably save yourself a bunch of time.

The doctor will sign a note to the effect that he sees no medical reason you can't perform the job. But that is not the final word; BMW has the final word, whether that's through an HR officer or an in-housel doctor I don't know.

If the doctor signs that note and you're cleared to proceed, you'll do a fitness test. This is an odd test. It consists of a couple of static strength exercises--grip strength, forearm strength, push and pull--followed by lifting a 25-lb weight four or five times. Then you get to play a sort of electronic Wack-A-Mole game, where you have to use hand-held wands to touch buttons that display a red or green light. Seems really easy, but the four tests are tougher than you think: the first is just on a board in front of you, and is simple. The second is somewhat over your head, at an angle, and you have to play this Wack-A-Mole game for about three or four minutes. The wands aren't heavy but having your hands up over your head for that long is tiresome. The third is the worst--you have to play on two separate boards, the lower one of which is at the floor. You can't bend at the knees to reach that board, so you're constantly bending up and down at the hips, and this one lasts even longer than the previous one. The fourth one is easy if you're 5'9" or below, because it's a board at a generic "waist height." I could reach all the buttons without actually bending at all. If you were any taller than me you'd have to bend to reach the bottom row and that would be a much tougher test.

Finally you'll do a step test: step up and down on a stool continuously (at I must admit a rather slow pace) for five minutes. Throughout all the tests you'll have your heartrate checked.

I found the fit test unusual but not difficult. Even if you're in lousy shape (and I am at the moment) it's not going to be real tough, and doesn't require any sort of herculean strength.

So. At the end of it all, do I know whether I passed? No. The folks in the clinic don't make the decisions, as I said. The doctor's assessment is probably of significant importance in BMW's decision-making but clearly it is not the whole story. No matter how bad you do on any part of it, they're not going to chuck you out; you will complete the physical. I got the impression that if there were any red flags they'd send your info off to BMW before putting you through the fit test, but that was just an impression. The tech who ran the fit test said she didn't have any idea what BMW was looking for in terms of a minimum standard on those tests.

My advice, just relax and have fun with it.

Now, I've been told repeatedly that this is the longest part of the process: the wait, after the physical. Drug testing can be done locally now (though not in the office) so the wait on those results should be two or three days, max. If they decide to request medical records and they have to get them from your doctor's office it could take weeks. How long it takes BMW to look over your records and make a decision is anybody's guess. Like the Supreme Court it seems they take their decisions on their own time and in their own way. So now we wait. And tomorrow it's back to work at my regular job.

Guava Buttermilk Biscuits?

To the person who landed at this blog after doing a google search for "Guava Buttermilk Biscuits:" did you find a recipe? Were they any good? Will you share the recipe with me?

17 October 2011

BMW Interview III

Okay, so, time for the update on BMW's interview process for production associate jobs in Greer (or Greenville or Spartanburg) through MAU.

This morning I went in for the second assessment. Show time was 7:15, although I know some folks from our group Friday ended up in a later sitting. The individual who conducted this assessment was very ex-military--and perfect for the job. He is a very nice guy--but he's also scary serious through the entire process. He cracked a smile about 10:45, three hours and change into the assessment, and then only because he was talking to the remaining people who'd passed the assessment. So don't be frightened of him; just echo his personality and take it all as seriously as he does. BMW is taking it seriously. And if I remember right, seems I said to take yourself seriously in each of the last two posts...

What to wear: jeans. Shorts if you must (below the knee, per the dress code). Comfortable shoes. I wore a polo; lots of people wore T-shirts. Worth pointing out a lot of the production jobs the uniform is a T-shirt, so at this point in the process if you're more comfy in a T go ahead. I wore tennis shoes. You could get away with anything comfortable but I wouldn't go in work boots; even though you'll ultimately have to get some, why not wear lightweight tennies for this? They recommend it. Worth noting, the first assessment, one girl wore glittery pink ballet shoes. She wore serious shoes today, though. And she passed this assessment.

There are two exercises in this assessment. Used to just be a single one, called the "rim mount," at least to judge by old commentary on the internets. In any event, now half the group will do a "bolting" exercise first, half will do a "mounting" exercise. Then you'll switch.

There is no bathroom break. Let me stress that. There is no bathroom break. If you can get by without your morning coffee or tea, this would be the morning. As it was three of the 12 of us snuck off (with permission of course) after the demonstration video for the second exercise, but the trainer did not (could not, given the tight scheduling) wait for us to do the actual demonstration, meaning we missed that.

Each exercise consists of thirty minutes of doing the same actions multiple times--just like factory work. Each includes multiple variations of "customer orders," so you're doing slightly different things each time, or maybe the same thing in a different order. Without getting into extreme detail (which I don't think they'd appreciate, although there's no commentary on not sharing information), the two exercises are as follows:

Bolting: you have to pick up bolts and washers, do a quality check, then assemble the bolts into a receptacle according to the customer order you're given. You hand-tighten the bolts for a couple turns, then use a battery-powered electric drill. After you finish the assembly, you disassemble the whole thing, then call up a new order and start again. You need to make sure you're putting bolts into holes in the correct order. Meanwhile you have to watch a display screen that contains temperature and pressure information, and if any indicator goes out of limits you have to press a button to fix it.

Sounds very complex, and in a way it is. That said, you don't need to know anything about how to do the job; it's all explained in the video you'll watch, and then the demo the trainer will go through. Additionally, you get a ten-minute practice session, during which you'll get error messages if you do something wrong. Make note of these: it's not necessarily immediately obvious what you've done wrong, and it's worth taking the time to figure it out instead of plowing ahead; it's called a practice session.

For this exercise the main thing you need is a good cross check--you need to be able to watch the gauges, check the bolts, check the order, all at the same time--oh, and there's a (virtual) forklift running around, and if you step into the forklift's path, you're dead. One forklift accident won't get you thrown out (I got smooshed twice at the end of the second exercise), but the trainer specifically said before the first exercise that getting nailed by the forklift multiple times was one of the most common reasons people failed the assessment overall.

Mounting: you have a bin of "spacers," two "wheels" (actually 10- and 25-pound barbell weights), and assorted other components, and a "mount." You have to mount three spacers and one wheel in the order specified in the customer order. Then you insert a locking pin, which must go into one of three positions again based on the customer order. Then you take the whole shebang apart and start over with a new customer order. You must scan each part before you mount it using a basic barcode scanner, and scan each part again as you disassemble. You have a little clock going the whole time telling you whether you moving too slow. And of course there's the forklift.

This one is less about having a good crosscheck and more about doing things in the proper order each time (the only thing you're really checking for is the forklift; this makes it a less mental job than the bolting, but it's easier to lose track of the forklift). During the practice session it seems I put a lot of things on in the wrong order, probably because I was reading the wrong line on the customer order chart.

I don't think either exercise is necessarily easier than the other. And, worth noting, you can't exactly practice for either one. Your best preparation would be to get a good night's sleep, wake up with plenty of time, and have a good breakfast. If you're hungry, sleepy, or you have to pee, you probably aren't concentrating on what you're doing (this is true in all areas of life), and you're probably going to fail.

Three-fourths of the people who were in the assessment this morning with me passed. Not all of us who did thought we were going to; the girl sitting behind me's heart stopped when the trainer told those of who were left that we'd all passed. I wasn't too confident myself (those two forklift accidents). Which is not to say it's easy; only that you shouldn't write yourself off mentally. Or maybe you should; maybe the surprise of having passed when you thought you didn't is better than the shock of failing when you didn't think you would. (For the record, at least two of the people who failed weren't surprised.)

Having passed, we were all given a "conditional offer of employment," contigent on our passing a physical and drug screening. They take the drug screening seriously: both urinalysis and a hair sample. If you wouldn't pass a hair sample test you may want to just skip the entire process and find another job.

So far this process has been very quick. I can't say how long that will continue; I've been led to understand that the physical and drug test results can take some time to come back. So we shall see. I'll update on the physical after I've done that.

14 October 2011

BMW Interview II

So this morning I went to BMW to take Assessment I. Again, there wasn't a whole lot of info about this on the web, either, but it was better than the first interview.

There's a bit more dress code info given to you, although once again there was at least one guy there in ratty shoes and a T-shirt, and again I say to you, please, take yourself seriously. Just because they don't say you can't dress like you're homeless doesn't mean you should, it's a job interview for God's sake. People.

Anyway, you'll have to present your ID to a security guard to get into the building. Then you'll sit in a holding pen for about fifteen minutes or so staring vacantly at all the other people there. If you're lucky one of them might actually attempt to make conversation. If you're really lucky that person might be you. We were herded into the testing room exactly one minute early. They try to be timely.

The test is 100 questions long. The first 24 questions are sort of problem-solving questions, like what should you do if you're late for a meeting and running through the factory you see oil dripping out of a machine onto the floor. These are the sort of questions that have an ideal answer and some acceptable ones, and at least one that's clearly wrong. But they aren't hard. There's scratch paper provided but there are at most five questions that require any math at all and none requiring anything more complex than simple multiplication.

The next set are personality questions. There is a section of questions asking whether a given action would be likely to make safety and efficiency better or worse. And then finally are a handful of questions about work situations.

The test is not difficult. You cannot study for it. That said, a sixth of the people who took it failed and were not invited to continue the hiring process. One of them struggled to understand the concept of putting the test answer sheet into the test answer booklet to hand it in, repeatedly trying to put the answer sheet into the question booklet. She also stole the pen and pencil we were given. She didn't strike me as the sort of person I'd want to work with anyway. One of the others was the guy wearing the ratty T-shirt, so, again, I say, take yourself seriously or don't bother.

Afterward we were all told when we'd need to come back for the second assessment. I can't tell you anything about that one, since I haven't had it yet.

BMW Interview I

So, I'm interviewing for a production position with BMW, which is just up the road a ways in Greer. They're hiring bunches of people. I'm hoping I get to be one of them, since it's certainly better than what I'm doing now, and pays better, and has benefits (not better benefits; it just plain has benefits, where what I'm doing now has nothing). But I wanted to get some inside scoop on the interview and the assessments and such and it was very very difficult to find anything on this here interweb about the BMW interview process.
So I thought I'd mention a few things about the BMW interview process in Greer (which is near Spartanburg and Greenville). And yes, I'm deliberately repeating myself so this will actually show up on search engines in case somebody else is looking.

So, they've got this system now where you apply on line through MAU; they have a separate section of the website just for BMW stuff, which is cool. I evidently filled out an application with them long enough ago that I don't remember, but it doesn't consist of much, mostly just basic work history and contact info. Then you get to schedule your own interview. This is quite awesome, especially if like me you currently have a job and can't skip work to do it. Earliest interview times are 8:30.

They have about 150 slots available for interviews but they aren't actually interviewing anywhere near that many people each day, so you'll probably be able to get the interview for the day after you apply and since there are at least four interviewers you should be able to get the timeslot you want without hassle.

What to wear? It would have been nice to find information about what to wear to the BMW interview with MAU (sorry, but this is how search engines work these days), so I figured, okay, it's a factory-floor job I'm going for here, I'm not going to do the coat and tie thing. But it's still an interview, and you should always overdress for a job interview. I wore my good black slacks and a long-sleeve dress shirt. I considered a tie but I just hate the things so much, so I skipped it.

I was far and away the most overdressed applicant in the office when I got there. Actually, I would say I was the most professionally dressed person in the office period; MAU is not a coat-and-tie sort of place. There were people there in jeans and t-shirts and ratty tennis shoes, no kidding. They may have been applying for positions with other companies, of course (MAU handles contracts other than just BMW, though I'd guess BMW probably provides about 60% of their business), but regardless, this was still an interview place, not a day-labor shop. (Ugh. I remember working at Labor Ready one summer when I was home from college. What a rotten job. I think there's actually a Labor Ready branch office here in Greenville, up in (surprise surprise) the hispanic section of town. I don't miss that.)

I would say you should probably wear khakis and a collared shirt. You want to look nicer than the real slobs there, but I was definitely overdressed. Clearly you could wear jeans and still pass the interview, but please. Take yourself seriously.

So the interview itself (the initial interview for a BMW production job with MAU in Greenville, Greer, or Spartanburg) is the easiest interview you'll ever go through. First they have you fill out a work history and contact information (including SSN) while you're waiting in the lobby. You'll take that paperwork in with you to the interview.

The interviewer will ask you if you'd be able to work any shift, any day of the week. The correct answer is yes. If you can't agree to that BMW doesn't want you and you don't want them. She'll ask if you have any scheduled time off in the next couple of months that you'll have to take--surgeries, weddings, that sort of thing. I mentioned that I hoped I'd get to take some vacation time at Christmas. This didn't seem to matter. She'll ask how many days you've missed from work without permission in the last three months. I misinterpreted this question and tried to account for sick days and the day I had to go to court, but of course I had permission for both of those. So I ended up saying two, which of course sounds like an awful lot to me, really; missing work without permission, that's Dollar General-cashier grade stuff. But obviously it wasn't bad enough to get me kicked out.

She also asked if I'd ever been convicted of any misdemeanors or felonies. To which of course I must answer yes because of the swimming incident in 2003. She started to write down what I was saying, got as far as the word "swimming," and then stopped me and said, "But you don't have anything major going on now, right?" So obviously a goofy misdemeanor several years old won't get you tossed out, either. I don't know how far you could push this; I doubt a single misdemeanor would knock you out, or even two or three if they were old. If you have a string of them maybe. I'm pretty sure you can get on there with a felony conviction if it was old and you haven't had any other issues.

And that was it. The very next question after the criminal history one was, can you attend the first assessment today at 11:30? Which I couldn't, I had to work, but I signed up for this morning instead. She seemed fine to push it until late next week if I had to, but if you're able to take a day off work and schedule an interview early you might be able to get interview and assessment out of the way in one shot.

01 September 2011

Arab Spring

The recent momentous events in Libya and Syria, as well as Egypt and Tunisia, have had me thinking of late. The Arab Spring seemed to have petered out there for a while, but now it looks as though Qaddafi is as good as done in Libya, and I get the feeling Bashar Assad cannot stay on long in Syria. But I got to thinking: why the long, dramatic pause?

And, having spent time in that part of the world in every season, I had a thought: what about the climate?

Winter in the Middle East can actually be very pleasant: highs are in the 80s, lows in the 70s, there's a constant breeze. It's not quite so awfully humid in those places that are awfully humid. During the summertime, on the other hand, it's horrendous. The Arabian Peninsula is completely unbearable, and most of north Africa is basically intolerable. During the day the wind blows constantly, like someone's holding a hairdryer in front of your face. At night, when the wind doesn't blow, it's like an oven. And within 10 miles of the coast there's 99% humidity any time the wind doesn't blow, or all night long, so even at night when the temperature is only in the 90s it's too awful to be outside. Given this reality, that the protests petered out as spring became summer doesn't surprise me at all.

What to make of the recent demonstrations in Syria and the rebel successes in Libya? This comes down to Ramadan. Now, Ramadan doesn't always occur in the summer (the Islamic calendar is lunar-based, so the months appear to precess compared to the Christian calendar), but it does always involve fasting and, at least in my experience, people react to this in one of two ways. Some seem to spend the entire day loafing and doing nothing but waiting to break the fast at sundown. Others seem to be extra-energetic, as if doing more will make them forget being hungry. In either case, and again this is just my experience, but during Ramadan regular work hours seem to fall by the wayside. I don't know if employers cut hours or what, but it's like a month-long siesta in some places. Why not go protest in the streets? Of course much protesting and fighting is being done at night in Syria, when the weather sucks less.

Ramadan, too, is the Muslim equivalent of Christmas, in the sense that it is a time of heightened spiritual awareness and attendance at religious services. Sure, those Muslims who attend a mosque where the imams preach the notion that good Muslims don't concern themselves with secular government probably aren't the one ones out in the streets; but there are probably many more who are going to the mosque and praying, thinking, and hearing about revolution. It makes sense to me that the holy month would see a greater awakening.

If my theory holds, then we might expect the Syrian demonstrations either to quiet down somewhat or hold steady--although they may also have developed uncheckable momentum, which would be no bad thing. And I would not expect any sudden new developments in new countries, including Algeria and Yemen and Bahrain, not yet. But, again if my theory holds, I do expect a fresh round of upheaval this winter, maybe starting as early as November. And I wouldn't be surprised to see it Algeria, in Yemen, again in Bahrain. I wouldn't be all that surprised to see it in Sudan. I would be surprised to see it in Qatar, or the UAE, or Oman, but Saudi Arabia, that remains the real question. If another three or four countries see successful revolutions this winter, it becomes a lot easier to look at Saudi Arabia--even at Iran--and wonder just how short those regimes' time remains.

21 August 2011

Homemade Buttermilk

If you're anything like me (and if you are, there are medications that can help), you love buttermilk in pancakes and biscuits, but find it absolutely vile by itself. Indeed, even if you've never used buttermilk in your baked goods because you find it vile by itself, then this is for you. Why? Simple: buttermilk pancakes are wonderful. Buttermilk biscuits are divine. Buttermilk makes quick breads better, that's all there is to say--you can use it in almost any quickbread recipe that calls for milk, although I don't know how it do in chocolate chip cookies.

But buttermilk doesn't last all that long in the fridge and, if you don't use it up, it just sits there and gets chunky and eventually turns into a cross between bad sour cream and rotten pumpkin, at which point you simply have to take it up to the police department and have the bomb disposal squad get rid of it because you can't open the bottle or it will kill you. And unless you bake biscuits every morning (and you don't, I know this), you can't use up the buttermilk.

But I have the solution for you! I learned this trick from Smitty-ex, The Former Lepidopterist (hereinafter TFL), who figured it out a couple years ago after a bomb-disposal situation with the buttermilk.

TFL is lactose-intolerant, like in fact the majority of humans (just not the majority of European-descended humans). But yogurt has no lactose (nor do aged hard cheeses, but that's another matter), and we found that a tub of plain fat-free yogurt was a good thing to keep in the house. You can substitute it almost one-for-one for sour cream and, except on quesadillas, you can't tell(we made stroganoff that way, and even though sour cream is supposedly what makes stroganoff stroganoff, I swear you would never know the difference). Well, she thought to herself one morning, why not try making biscuits with yogurt instead of buttermilk?

It worked beautifully. You get that same hint of sharpness the wonderful moist texture, but not only do you not have to keep buttermilk in the fridge, you can also avoid most of the fat by purchasing fat-free yogurt. They even make fat-free Greek yogurt now, which is what I used this morning for these biscuits.

Yes, that's right. I'm a straight bachelor and I bake biscuits. I never did this before I got married, but having got used to TFL's biscuits I find I can't go without them. So I had to learn to make the darn things myself. Of course I don't do it from scratch; I use Southern Biscuit premade biscuit mix, with yogurt-buttermilk (use about a 3:1 fat-free Greek yogurt to milk ratio, mixed together to a buttermilk consistency; regular plain yogurt (non-Greek) use about 7:1 yogurt:milk for consistency) and a couple tablespoons of flax meal*.

And there you have it. With homade jams and preserves (strawberry, apple butter, and Rainier cherry pictured here), you have a wonderful breakfast.

Of course keeping a tub of Greek yogurt in the fridge just to make buttermilk is kind of silly, although it does last substantially longer than buttermilk. But you can add a dollop or three of yogurt to almost any thin sauce once you bring it off the stove and you have a nice creamy sauce (I do this all the time with tomato sauces that seem thin; don't do it while it's still cooking though). It's wonderful stirred in to ratatouille, and you can make a quick raita with some chopped cucumber and mint (try this on the side next time you make a spicy dish; nothing cools the fire better). And honestly, it's a good mayonnaise alternative on sandwiches, especially if you're not real fond of mayo. (I haven't tried making tuna salad with it but now that I've thought about it I'll give it a go.)

*Flax meal is a great all-purpose baking ingredient to make unhealthy things seem a bit healthier. Basically it's ground up flax seed. Flax has all sorts of good things in it, particularly vitamin B1 and Omega-3 fats. It's relatively high in protein but not complete. Flax meal stores for several months at room temperature; just keep in a cupboard out of the light. A few tablespoons at a time mixed into any baked good provides no signicant textural or taste effects while significantly improving nutrition. I put it in everything: pancakes, waffles, cookies, biscuits, banana bread. I haven't baked yeast bread with it, mainly because I haven't baked yeast bread at all, but I intend to try.

13 August 2011

NCAA Conference Realignment

Recent talk of Texas A&M departing the Big XII for the SEC has me thinking. If they go, the SEC will have to invite another school, presumably one that could slip into the eastern division without violating sense. But then there's word that the SEC might want Oklahoma--the assumption being, obviously, that Texas is heading for independence, at least in football. I've heard FSU, Clemson, Louisville (really?) and Miami bandied about as possibilities to be A&M's doppelganger. Personally, I believe there's no way the SEC would be satisfied at 14 teams; for whatever reason the theory always seems to be that ultimately we'll have four 16-team "superconferences." I don't know why that should be so, why not 18? Why not 14? But that's the conventional wisdom. And it's got me to thinking. What would four 16-team superconferences look like? Which conferences would be the four?
The Big XII is done for. If A&M leaves, it's down to 9 teams; A&M only wants to leave because they suspect Texas is going to follow Notre Dame's lead and go independent. Then you'd be left with 7 teams that are only occasionally relevant nationally, and Oklahoma. So the Big XII is going to die.
That would leave either the Big East or the ACC as a conference that will either dissolve or become one of the four afterthought conferences (which would be made up of teams from the Mountain West, Sun Belt, MAC, WAC, and C-USA as well). I am a Clemson fan and therefore an ACC apologist, so it's easy for me to say the ACC would accrete four good teams and stay relevant and the Big East would dissolve or, more likely, take on some teams from C-USA or the Sun Belt.
But... the ACC does not impress me as being particularly forward-thinking. Last summer when we all thought the great realignment was about to begin, ACC commish John Swofford specifically said there were no plans to expand, nor any contingency for expansion. Which means, if A&M joins the SEC and the Big XII dissolves, the ACC is apparently planning to get caught on the outside while other conferences scramble to be among the Big Four. This would be disastrous for college basketball, but also for the teams that remain in the ACC. I hope very sincerely that there are more progressive voices in the ACC looking at how expansion to a 16-team conference could best be handled; indeed I hope there is a list of at least six schools that would be on the “immediate invitation” list should a major realignment kick off. But I doubt that’s the case.
Still, would the Big East really be able to poach teams from the ACC? It doesn’t seem likely, but say the SEC grabs (as examples) Clemson and FSU. Now the ACC is down to 10 teams. Either both the ACC and the Big East are going to poke along as conferences with too few teams to host a conference championship and with gradually decreasing relevance in the college football landscape, or one of the conferences poaches the other and joins the ranks of the superconferences. Would the ACC be willing to be progressive? Would the major basketball schools in the ACC be willing to move en masse to the Big East? Neither of those things seems particularly likely to me. The Big East is said to have had contingencies aplenty should major realignment have occurred last summer, so clearly they want to stay relevant. The ACC seems to simply think they can remain relevant because they’re just so damn awesome. That’s not a good place to be.
I really love the ACC, I do. But I’m a Clemson fan first, and an ACC homer second (actually I’m an Air Force fan second, and an ACC fan third, if we want to get down to it). If major realignment suddenly heaves into view this year, I sincerely hope the SEC asks Clemson to switch allegiances. As long as we can play NC State every year I’ll be satisfied; I’ll take Georgia over Georgia Tech, and I wouldn’t miss most of the other schools as rivals. I’d rather stay in an expanded ACC, make no mistake, but I have very little faith that the ACC would be quick enough to expand before the landscape changed so significantly we’d have to accept the likes of Texas State and Florida Atlantic to get to 16.
That said I’ve been wrong before and will be again. I hope I’m wrong now.
This brings me back to my original point, which was what four superconferences might look like. Why does being wrong bring me back to that point? Because I simply cannot conceive of four superconferences that include all the nationally relevant schools and make any sort of geographic sense. Four superconferences would include 64 schools. When I look out over the landscape I see 70 schools that could be relevant nationally in football (not that I’m saying they are or will be, but they could be) or are in any event not going to be left out of a realignment (such as Duke, Washington State, or Vanderbilt). Even if I assume Texas and Notre Dame remain/become independent, and add BYU to that list, I’m left with at least three decent schools on the outside looking in (maybe more depending on how generous you want to be), and a Pac-10/12/16 that is geographically unwieldy at best, unless they dumb down their admission requirements (the same is true for the Big Ten, but I see their additions as so obvious that they’d almost have to offer more wiggle room on academic standards).
Of course I’m mainly taking into account football here. If there is a quick realignment (when it comes I do think it will be quick), the NCAA will simply have to let things go until they can call a national conference to figure out how to handle the other sports—can a team be in a superconference for football but another conference for other sports? Can a team be part of a superconference for other sports but not for football? The answer, it seems to me, is that schools can realign into football-specific conferences, leaving the other conferences more or less untouched or, perhaps more realistically, allowing for some significant and probably geographically-based realignment for other sports in the aftermath.
This could, for example, allow us to leave Duke out of the superconferences for football, but have them remain in a somewhat reconstituted ACC for other sports. That said, it won’t happen that way; that would require advance planning, and when this realignment occurs it won’t be done with any advance planning. Existing conferences will conclude they must either go super or become irrelevant, and they’ll make a mad grab for whatever schools they can get.
What this means is that we’ll have a situation where some schools that are never relevant in football, such as Duke, or indeed ever relevant in any sport, such as Mississippi State, are going to be in superconferences, and other schools that simply couldn’t convince one of the majors to let them in, like Boise State, will be left on the outside. Which means we’ll be left with exactly the same situation we have now with the BCS—several relevant programs that can’t get the time of day, and a bunch of programs with no business being in automatic-bid conferences.
So, frankly, I’m not exactly looking forward to superconferences. They’re just a different form of the same sort of bad that we have now.
So we assume the SEC is going to kick this off, and that they’ll do so with Texas A&M. Okay. I’ll take that as my starting point. I’ve heard from Tallahassee that the SEC isn’t interested in FSU; I’ve also heard that they are interested in Oklahoma. Why would they want Oklahoma but not FSU? Market share is the only possible reason, and if market share is all that matters, they’ll be adding OU, Oklahoma State (like in VA, the governor won’t let the schools split up), and probably Missouri along with A&M. That said, Larry Scott over in the Pac-12 has said he’s interested in inviting Oklahoma if the Big XII starts to dissolve, and Oklahoma might be more interested in the Pac-12 than the SEC for competitiveness reasons. Larry Scott is the smartest conference commish out there, and he won’t be caught on the backpedal when this starts to break.
I figure, if the SEC is starting this, and they’re more interested in markets and money than anything else, then that will be what defines how the realignment occurs. And so on that basis I came up with the following:
South Carolina
Mississippi State
Louisiana State
Texas A&M
West Virginia

No, it’s not anybody’s ideal picture, but I look at it this way. A&M is first. Larry Scott swoops in and picks up Oklahoma and Ok State. If they don’t want FSU, they wouldn’t want Clemson, either, and Clemson may not be so eager to dash to the SEC—the pro-academic slant of the ACC is important here, as this is a school that wants to be one of the top-rated public schools in the country. Since the president has to approve a move, not the AD, is Jim Barker going to be more interested in hanging out with the likes of Duke, UVA, UNC, and Boston College, or with Arkansas, Kentucky, and Mississippi State?
So, Clemson stays in the ACC. With the Oklahoma schools gone, the SEC has to look either farther west (Texas Tech, which is in Lubbock (a city of 250,000) and has no national following), or somewhere to the north. Louisville is at least in a bigger city and locks in the entire state of Kentucky (WKU is a blip, economically). West Virginia doesn’t embarrass anybody academically (either way) and is the only relevant school in the state since Randy Moss left Marshall; plus the fans travel well. That leaves an opening in the west, and Missouri is the obvious choice. They’ve been spurned once by the Big Ten, so they’ll be happy to take an invite from the SEC (well, why wouldn’t they?), and the SEC gets to add Missouri to its empire. Works out well all around, I’d say.

This leaves us with a Pac-14 that includes Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, and is looking for two more schools. In the past, the Pac-10 made a point of only being willing to talk to schools with high academic ratings. This is nonsense. Oregon State and Arizona State compare academically with Mississippi and Mississippi State, and Oregon, Arizona, and Washington State aren’t on any top 10 lists. Plus, the Pac-10 went out and grabbed Utah, ranked 129th, but spurned BYU, ranked 75th. Why? Because BYU isn’t exactly West Coast when it comes to mentality, if you know what I mean.
And anyway, they’re getting Oklahoma and Ok State, which rank higher than Arizona State but don’t exactly help the conference average. Still, they want to get some good academic schools, but we’ve seen they don’t care for BYU. Let’s help them out. In the entire rest of the western United States, the only schools academically in the top 100 (per US News, which is an awful ranking but also the only credible one) are Baylor, TCU (99), Southern Methodist, the Air Force Academy, and (get this) Tulsa, which is ranked higher academically than either of the other Oklahoma schools.
What to do, what to do. Tulsa is at least near the Oklahomas; the Academy is near Colorado, which might be nice. The Academy probably wouldn’t pass muster as far as being a research university goes, though it would be worth investigating. Can’t be sure they’d accept the invitation, either, though they’d be the highest ranked academically of the bunch. Larry Scott likes the idea of picking the Oklahoma schools, which add nothing academically but raise the national profile athletically and stretch the conference geographically. If it was me, I’d invite Air Force and Tulsa, but I suspect the Pac-14 takes a look at their options and decides to go for academic value. That would be Southern Methodist (56) and Baylor (79). As it happens, those schools are nearby one another but stretch the conference again. Thus we have the new Pac-16:
Washington State
Oregon State
Arizona State
Oklahoma State
Southern Methodist

Of course, it may be another year after this before the eastern conferences decide it’s a matter of expand or die. As it happens, these conferences consider academics very important, too—in fact, the average ranking of the schools in these conferences is significantly better—by 20 points or more—than the ranking of the current Pac-12, and the ACC is ahead of the Big Ten.
By this point, the old Big XII is down to four schools, three of them in the Midwest. You can bet Kansas, Kansas State, and Iowa State will be desperate to join the Big Sixteen. The governor of Iowa will probably get involved. Academically these schools do not help the Big Ten, but it’s worth pointing out that the Big Ten decided not to invite Missouri, ranked 94th, but did invite Nebraska, ranked 104th. Well, Kansas is also 104; Iowa State is also 94. Might as well bring them both, and K State should come along for the ride. At this point they need an academic school. They could beg and plead with Notre Dame, but I’ll assume Notre Dame will be staying independent. They could try for Connecticut, say, but there are two better-ranked schools closer by: Pittsburgh and Syracuse. (For that matter, Miami of Ohio ranks well, but Buckeye Nation would never tolerate a second Ohio school in the conference.) That said, Connecticut is a big get for whatever conference gets it—and if the Big Ten moves faster than the ACC, we’d have this Big Midwest conference:
Kansas State
Iowa State
Michigan State
Ohio State
Penn State

This leaves us with the ACC, which I have to hope will have started to move before the Big Midwest consolidates. Academic standards are key here, and a good basketball program is probably at least as important as football, if not moreso. Several of the choices are obvious. Also, since the ACC would be the slowest conference to move, my revised and updated ACC looks like this:
Boston College
Virginia Tech
Wake Forest
NC State
Georgia Tech
Florida State

The only real trip here is USF, which has a rather bad ranking in US News. But they do bring the Tampa Bay area along, and the school’s athletic teams have been improving markedly over the last decade. Alternatives could include U Mass, which will be just joining FBS and is a second school in Boston; Navy, which brings a national audience and good academics but erratic athletic performance and may not take the invitation; Villanova, which would have to upgrade their football program but at least brings good basketball and stellar academics; and perhaps Tulane or Rice, both of which would be good academic fits but lousy geographic ones and don’t have huge fan bases in their cities. (Not that Houston would be a bad market to have.)

This leaves a number of schools on the outside looking in. Notre Dame, BYU, and Texas I assume would be independent, along with the military academies. I suspect Boise State might try independence as well, rather than join a revamped Mountain West with the likes of Idaho, Wyoming, and New Mexico. Texas Tech, too, loses out in this design—as would USF, if they were left on the sidelines while Rice joined the ACC. Cincinnati, too, has no home.
I don’t know. It’s quite possible that none of this will happen, that Texas A&M is just using the SEC to extract concessions from Texas, and this will all peter out and we’ll keep the status quo for some years yet. I have my doubts, though. The theory goes that superconferences are more or less inevitable. This is what I suspect it would look like when the dust settled, but it’s by no means what I think would be the best solution.

Comments, anyone?

05 July 2011


I have purchased a new braising pot, primarily for the purpose of making things like ratatouille and gumbo, for which neither non-stick nor cast iron are appropriate. It's a very nice flameware ceramic pan (pictures will probably follow, once I make something in it worth photographing). Made in France, and the booklet was translated amusingly from French. So I'm not 100% certain I'm doing this right, but the instructions for seasoning it before use are to boil a small amount of milk in it for 3 minutes.


14 June 2011

A perfect meal

Leaving work this evening I was thinking about how I didn’t want to cook dinner. I thought I’d just be lazy and grab some Chinese on the way home, but as it turns out the only Chinese restaurant on the way home is a regular sit-down type of place, not takeout.

I was going to try to find another one, but instead I just made the turn to come home to the apartment complex. I came in, had no idea what to do for dinner; the only meat I have thawed is some chicken I already have plans for (which require a day sitting with a spice rub, which I forgot to do this morning), and I can’t open a can of chickpeas or black beans to do vegetarian because I still haven’t bought a can opener.

I opened the freezer. There’s shrimp in there. Shrimp thaw fast. I got some out and put them in the strainer basket, sprayed warm water on them for a moment, then hopped in the shower. When I got out, I decided I could use up the mushrooms, and the last of that bottle of Chilean chenin blanc I’ve been enjoying, and have it over pasta.

I also took note of the capers and parmesan cheese in the fridge. I shelled the shrimp (Schrodinger ate one of the shells; the rest went into a sack in the freezer marked “seafood scraps for stock”), cut up the mushrooms and the rest of an onion, and time slowed down and I just dropped into the moment. I enjoy cooking a great deal, the smells, the activity, it’s wonderful. But I do like to have someone to cook for. It’s one of the many things I miss.

I used to cook for her a lot, almost every night. Sometimes I’d ruin a meal but, early on, that wasn’t a big deal. I enjoyed cooking for her that much more simply because I was doing it for her.

And gradually, gradually, it started to drop off. I didn’t cook as often. We’d both come home late and neither one of us feel like cooking (just like I didn’t “feel like cooking” tonight, but enjoyed it anyway once I started). I started to feel worse about occasionally flubbing a meal or just not making the right one. Portions became a concern. Mornings would go by and I would forget to set anything out to thaw.

She kept saying we needed to plan meals, and we occasionally succeeded at that, but it was the marital ‘we’ and I’ve never really been good at that kind of thing, so I never got into meal planning. It was one of many ways I felt I disappointed her. She suggested we didn’t even need to really plan every single week, just come up with a general idea—pizza on Thursday, fish on Friday—to at least make things easier. That would be simple enough, but again, we never followed through.

Towards the end it felt like we cooked at best half our meals. I know it was more than that but between leftovers and eating out I probably only cooked two or three dinners a week. It was just one of many things that stopped when the marriage started to fall apart—well, when the falling apart accelerated there in last few months.

When we separated I hadn’t made two of my most consistent and popular dishes (chicken marsala, and gumbo) in months. It seemed like dinner—and every meal on the weekends—was just another problem, not a chance to be creative, to have fun, to do something for my wife. Just another problem. By the end, everything felt like that.

I wasn’t willing to admit it, but I guess she was right: I was miserable. She didn’t make me that way, though (she says otherwise); I think it’s just something I do. I won’t ever acknowledge when I am because I don’t want to burden anyone—and I especially don’t want to burden her when I've already disappointed her by failing to plan for or make dinner.

I managed to have all these thoughts before the shrimp were cooked. Dinner was delicious. I wish I had someone to share it with—but I also wonder if I can ever be as happy sharing it as I am eating it alone. To me, it was fun to make and wonderful to eat (and the half-glass of wine I didn't use to cook went with it very nicely). I want to share those emotions with her. But what happens is that instead of enjoying the process of making it, and enjoying eating it, and enjoying sharing it, I share it, and worry about whether or not it’s good enough. I lose my own enjoyment in my fear of disappointing the person I want to share with.

Of course early in the relationship that wasn’t a problem—I was excited enough by the prospect of having someone to share my life with that I wasn’t nearly so concerned about disappointing her, so if I flubbed a meal or said something stupid, I didn’t fixate on it. But it didn’t take very long, just a few years, for that joy of sharing life to become a burden of trying to make sure everything I did for her was perfect.

She never asked me to be perfect. She didn’t need me to be perfect. But because I could not be perfect, I assumed I was a disappointment, and drifted farther and farther from the goal.

31 May 2011

Phase III

This blog is now entering the third phase of its existence, as I am entering the third phase of my own existence (at least since starting the blog). I do not know what the third phase of the blog will entail, if indeed it entails anything at all. Perhaps I will make regular posts. Perhaps I will not. It will become obvious in a couple months, I should think.

Previous posts to this one constitute the first two phases, which, if I can figure out how to do it, I will eventually condense into single archives. If I can. If not then I guess the archive list over there on the sidebar just gets really really long. So be it.

Things have changed, as in life they will, for both good and ill, largely through our own actions (regardless of how it feels at the time). I am about as dissatisfied as I ever was, because life is dissatisfying. At this specific time of my life I find that piyehi vippayogo dukkho, separation from the beloved is dissatisfying. But as I said things happen largely through our doing, because all that we control in life is our reaction to external events, and it is our reactions--not the external events--that determine the course of our life. External events force us to change, and change, as much as dukkha, is the fundamental nature of existence. So has change been thrust upon me; I do not yet know what course I will take in response. But this was something that was important to me at one time, and perhaps would be beneficial now.

The foregoing was supposed to be a brief statement of, things have changed, but I'm not going to go through the litany. If you know me you know, if you don't, you'll discover it over time.