GM bankruptcy / Southland killer

April 30, 2009

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A couple of news stories grabbed my attention today.

GM was unable to negotiate concessions with some of its bondholders and will have to file for chapter 11 bankruptcy.  This is reorganization bankruptcy, not liquidation bankruptcy.  The prevailing thought is that GM will emerge from bankruptcy in the hands of Fiat and the UAW.  Chryler will halt vehicle production for (at least) 60 days.  Their leasing arm will be folded into GMAC finance.  They will receive and additional $8 billion in bailout funds, which hopefully the taxpapayers will see returned to them at some point.  I have not seen any word on how this may affect the money that Chryslers spends on manufacturer support of Dodge teams in NASCAR (Dodge is a Chrysler brand).

On the bright side for buyers, this might be a good time to buy a Chrysler vehicle.  Demand will likely sag on the news, but the warranties will now be guaranteed by the government.  With the recent news of GM “temporarily” closing 16 of its 21 plants and planning to buy ou 40% of its dealers, Ford looks to be in prime position to pick up some market share from the segment of the population that will only buy American vehicles.

The other story came out of Los Angeles.  A 72 year old sex offender gave his DNA sample, as required by state law.  The DNA got a match with a rape kit from murder victim Ethel Sokoloff, a 68 year old woman who was killed in 1972.  As a result,  John Thomas Jr. has been charged in two murders (Sokoloff’s and another crime in 1976).  Police believe that Thomas may be the “Southland Strangler” who may have killed more than 30 women (and raped many more) since 1955.

This has to be the mother of all cold cases.  Even if you were able to crack the case of a serial killer who began his reign of terror 54 years ago, the odds of the perpetrator still being alive are not very good.  I have an interest in crime, and I intend to write a bigger article on the story next week, after getting a chance to sesearch it a bit more.

A day in the life of a chef

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Guest writer Phil Ossifer was formerly employed as a chef.  Today, he gives us a view of a day in the life of a chef.

Phil is also the author of the Stop the Auto Bailout article and a participant in the  Casual Observer Stock Market Contest (coincidentally, today is the deadline for submitting a prediction in the contest).

My Reoccurring Nightmare

aka – A Day in the Life of a Professional Chef

It happens about every two weeks. Eleven years after leaving the industry, I still have the panicky dreams. Everything exploding around me…confusion, smoke, sweat. Wait a minute, I never served in the military, did I?

No, of course not. This is one of the hotel’s kitchens into which I’ve been thrust. Employees struggle to serve two busy restaurants, room service, lounge food, and I’m apparently in charge. Looking down, I find to my great discomfort that I only have a white t-shirt on — no chef’s coat and no pants. Worse, I suddenly realize that I do not know any of the menus, nor any of the employees that I must have personally hired and trained. Why do I still work here; didn’t I quit years ago? Don’t I have another high-paying job — or, or did I get fired? Even though this dream invariably wakes me up, I’m always grateful for the end.

The real nightmare isn’t quite as bad. I know the menus, people, and have a pressed uniform. I know the job, and I know that the salary is pretty good, even if the 70-ish weekly hours makes for a sufficiently pathetic hourly wage. I also know that I will work nearly every day, excepting about three Mondays a month, and will work every night, weekend, and holiday. I do miss having Thanksgiving with my family for the last nine years, but that is part of the price.

The “normal” weekday runs from 9 am to 8 pm, unless a breakfast cook calls in sick, in which case I rush to make the 5:30 am opening. Thankfully, this occurs only about once monthly.

The day starts by greeting those on duty, then as quickly as possible retreating to the office to get a handle on events of the day. Seven hooks each hold a clipboard of the days BEO’s (Banquet Event Orders) and associated prep lists. Today is a normal weekday…4 lunch events and 2 dinners. The lunches are for various sizes of groups (25, 30, 180, 90), and are of routine composition. For example, the party of 25 Kiwani’s women will have a tossed salad, Chicken Piccata, fresh steamed veggies, Linguini, garlic bread, and a slice of pecan pie. Two of the other three parties also have tossed salads, so one cook will plate all of the salads at once, rolling the finished cart into the walk-in coolers for holding. The 180 is having a pork loin buffet, which is a great relief since plating 180 additional meals is rather taxing. Of course, all four events serve precisely noon, which coincides with the restaurant rush, so I may have to pull in a few draftees from outside the kitchen to get us through plate-up.

At 9:15, I take the elevator to the banquet kitchen, and meet the lead banquet cook for our daily catch-up, where he informs me of the status of “prep” for all of today’s banquets. By this point, he and his crew are done with prep for lunches, and are working on dinner prep. By 2 pm, they will be well into prep for the following day. I write all of the prep lists on Sunday for the week- one sheet for each day’s banquets that details all food items, quantities, procedures, and assignments for the day. The banquet lead works from this sheet. Prep includes any thawing needed, so that on Tuesday, the banquet lead is ensuring that Friday’s 400 chicken breasts are placed into a thaw area of the cooler. At about this time, a dishwasher delivers an electric warming cart containing a few hundred clean plates and lids. Hot plates = no cold food.

By 10:00, I am back in my office, working on the purchasing orders for the week. I spend several hours over two days, preparing to place orders with all five of our major vendors, and a few of about 10 specialty vendors (the fresh herbs guy, the coffee company, the specialty cheese/chocolate company). I meet with most of the vendors at the hotel to place orders and field sales pitches for new products. Each Wednesday and Friday, cooks take time to receive the deliveries into the walk-in coolers and freezers.

11:30, and the lunch rush comes…I jet up to a banquet dining room to inspect the buffet food which has been delivered to the chafing dishes and tables. There are mirror displays with fruit, cheese, vegetables, dips, and small fruit and vegetable sculptures. There are hot pans of sliced, roast pork with port wine chanterelle mushroom sauce, twice-baked potatoes, and more. The dessert table looks good, but there are only three varieties of desserts (instead of the requested five), so I jump back to the banquet kitchen to yell at the lead. Of course, extras are always on hand, so it’s only a 10-minute affair to correct this error.

I stay to work the assembly-line plate-up lunches, then head back to the restaurants to check in. Runners would have notified me if there were problems while I was gone. I grab a rueben and fries, and choke this down in five minutes.

This afternoon, I interview several applicants for a lunch-cook position. Having several applicants at one time is quite lucky, and I already know that at least one of them will have a job at the end of the day. In between appointments, I spend some time training a newer line cook for the tablecloth (aka fancy) restaurant, and help two new hires complete their paperwork. Why doesn’t HR do this? Uh…I dunno. Never took the time to find out.

By 4 pm, I am writing the nightly specials for the tablecloth restaurant, and may even prepare a sauce for it. This might be the only cooking I do today, depending on how the restaurant does tonight. The evening sparks up another round of banquet plate-ups (one is a filet mignon dinner for 220 – big bucks!), and checking over the 90-or-so meals that will be produced in the tablecloth restaurant tonight. I stand at the exit window for nearly two hours to ensure each order is correct – hot, cooked right, well-presented, timed with appetizers, etc. The family café restaurant is also in full swing, and will serve upwards of 150 – 200 meals tonight. The café is running pretty well at present, so I may only stop in for one minute tonight to greet the cooks, and while en route, will probably snag an extra filet mignon dinner from the banquet kitchen. We always prepare for 5% over estimated head count.

By 7:30, the main rush is over, and I begin to wrap up for the day – checking personnel schedules for the next day (making needed changes), checking the BEO’s for red flags, cleaning up the office a bit, then heading out by 8 pm if all’s well. If it was Saturday, I would be here until about 10 pm, then back in at 6:00 am Sunday for preparation of the Sunday brunch. Sunday night, I usually get off early (6 pm), as this is the slowest night of the week for the tablecloth restaurant.

I am keeping an eye on this weekend, as we have two concurrent wedding reception dinners, which tend to be a lot of work. Most Saturdays include one wedding reception, but two are not uncommon. This Saturday, I also have to do an ice sculpture for one of the weddings. Thursday, I will pull the ice out to temper it for several hours, then carve the sculpture Thursday night in the parking lot. This will take about 1 ½ hours, after which time I’ll cart the finished, fragile sculpture into the walk-in freezer, ready for the banquet in two days. Once in a while, the sculptures crack or shatter, thus I leave two days for margin of safety.

I get home, peel off the greasy, smelly clothes, take a shower, gulp a beer, and soon am asleep.

It was a day.

A mind laid bare

April 29, 2009

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No direction

I have lived my entire life with no real sense of direction.  I don’t mean this is the figurative sense – I am happy with the way I set goals and achieve them.  Rather, I am being quite literal.  My ability to determine North, east, south, and west has always been horrible.  Most of the time, I’d be better off just guessing.  I always assumed that there were a lot of people like me, literally lost in the world.  When I was in my mid 20s, someone shared a revelation with me.  My problem with directions likely stemmed from an inability to mentally rotate images.  This was a stunning revelation.  Indeed, I had always struggled with IQ test questions that involved mentally rotating images.

I was also stunned to realize that most people have some abilities that appeared to me to be quite supernatural.  Most people can go to the second floor of a house, walk around, and automatically know what room is beneath them! In order for me to do this, I would need to look out a window and try to remember which of the downstairs windows had the same view.  Normal people also have the ability to automatically retrace a route that they have just driven, even if for the first time.  This is definitely not the case for me – I’ll have the refer back to the directions on the way back.


How do I cope with this affliction?  First of all, I don’t let it bother me psychologically.  I lived for 25 years as a pretty highly functioning human being before I realized that I had this problem, so there was really no reason to panic once I knew the cause of the problem.

I am a big fan of Mapquest.  Unless I am traveling a route that I have committed to memory, I have written directions.  I also make sure to have an atlas with me – a nice, big version.  I also rely on technology.  It is quite possible for me to get completely turned around and not know if I am going north or south (although this is very infrequent).  Our car has a compass on the rearview mirror.  This allows me to have certaintly about the direction and not second guess myself.  Also, we recently purchased a GPS navigator for the car, which means that I will always be able to find my way back to civilization.

What if you’re completely lost and have no idea where you are going?  Watch the traffic.  It will likely be heavier in one direction than the other.  Follow the heavier traffic and you should eventually find your way back to a town.

More about images

I also have a second problem that is very likely related to the first.  I have extreme difficulty remembering facial features.  If you ask me if various friends have blonde hair or blue eyes, it is unlikely that I will be able to give you consistently accurate answers.  I have no problem recognizing photos of people, but I am simply unable to pull back individual features based on names.

I always hear people talk about the huge differences in image quality between various different formats (DVD / Blu-Ray, standard vs. HD), etc.  Really, I don’t notice the differences.  It’s not that I have any difficulty seeing the images; it’s just that I don’t notice hugh differences in quality.  My guess is that I don’t see the gradations of color very well.

This wasn’t meant to be a downer of an article.  These issues have very little effect on my life.  I just happen to find them interesting.

European Vacation

April 28, 2009

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Staff sports columnist Johnny Goodman shares his opinion of high school basketball phenom Jeremy Tyler in today’s edition of The Soap Boxers.

This one does not star Chevy Chase … No, it is a different type of European Vacation for high school Junior Jeremy Tyler.

He has recently announced that he will not only forgo his Senior year of high school, but will forgo college as well.  Not in order to enter the NBA draft as so many before him have done.  Instead, Tyler will take his hardwood game to the courts of Europe, to play professional basketball. The goal: Hone his skills and in the process earn some money while improving his stock to make it someday in the NBA.

The 6’11” Junior from San Diego has caught a lot of heat for his decision to head overseas.  So why, when a basketball player chooses to play for money before the NBA says he should, does everyone have an opinion? (including yours truly) Because we are sports hungry fans of college football and basketball. We find it easy to pick on those who would prefer not to follow the “rules” and instead cash in on their success earlier and not later. After all he could be the player to get my club over the hump. Thirty- Five years of season tickets and not even an NCAA tourney win to show for it. What if he played for MY school?

I’ll bet you a grande latte that David Stern is worried about the precedent this might be setting.

Some sports, such as football, have clear rules that define the amount of “time” a player must be out of high school in order to compete in their leagues.  NFL football, however, is more of a monopoly.  It is a captive market whose success has not caught on world-wide.  You want to play Americanized football, you do it here in the USA, or play on the slightly weird field with slightly different rules north of the border in Canada.

Basketball is a totally different sport.  The success of the Olympic Games has brought a lot of attention to this sport around the globe in the last two decades.  The NBA is now full of stars from a variety of countries – it truly has become a “global sport”

So what if this young man was a golfer?  Or tennis player?  Bowler, skier, motocross rider, gymnast?  Would there be such an outcry?  Would anyone even really care? Would the media cover it at all?


It all comes down to one simple thing for all of us who are raising a stink about this Tyler’s decision.  Money.  Money for the media, money for a college somewhere in terms of ticket sales and concessions. Money for an agent down the road when he want to actually come to the NBA.

It is quite likely he will develop his skills more than he would with a year in high school where he is dominating his competition. He might even get quite a bit better playing against older, professional players in Europe.  Of course there is always the chance that he could be a bust along the likes of Darko Milicic and Michael Olowakandi

Who knows, the final result may eventually end up the same, even if he happened to go to college first…. but at least this way Tyler will get something while enjoying the culture of Europe.

Money… and a European Vacation.

Draft questions

April 27, 2009

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Staff sports columnist Johnny Goodman talks about questionable picks in the NFL draft in today’s edition of The Soap Boxers.  We are pleased to announce that Johnny will be a weekly contributor to TCO in the future.

Now that the annual marathon that we call the NFL Draft is over, lets look at some of the biggest question marks in this draft.

Matthew Stafford  – over forty million guaranteed money.  Wow…Hope he turns out to be John Elway and not Ryan Leaf.  But I am not convinced.  Still the Lions had to try and sign this guy as they have nothing in the tank.   Duante Culpepper can keep the quarterback seat warm for a year or two if needed, but the Lions need this one to work out well.  Staffords proud parents appeared to be the happiest people on stage when the pick was announced.  Of course if I knew my son was going to be rolling in 40 Mil plus, I would be smiling too.

Is there a bigger question mark in this draft than the Raiders taking Receiver Darrius Heyward- Bey as the 7th overall pick?  I guess, not…after all, this is a pick made by the Raiders we are talking about.  I mean Michael Crabtree is still available at this point in time, I guess Al Davis figures if he can succeed under the Mad Bomber Mike Leach, who is possibly the strangest of all major D-1 College coaches, then he absolutely has no chance to succeed in the normal environment of the Silver and Black.  Basically Heyward-Bay has what Al Davis always seems to love, straight line, world class speed.  I see no reason to take the guy that high  and neither does anyone else.

The Jets traded up to get the glamour boy of the 2009 draft, Quarterback Mark Sanchez.  I actually like what the Browns did here by trading the pick away.  They did not get maximum value to move the #5 overall to the Jets, but they got the best deal they could find.  The Browns win here as they save the multi million dollar gamble on a quarterback.  The guaranteed money for the #5 overall pick would have been hefty for the browns, who have already seemed to position themselves for the future with the QB position.  The Jets gamble here in my opinion, putting all of their eggs in one basket.  I think this is a gamble, but remember I also think this is overall a weak draft.

Tampa Bay has a new coach and apparently a new quarterback.  The Bucs traded up to get Josh Freeman.  He is still very raw, but he is freakishly athletic.  Raheem Morris apparently fell in love with Freeman while a defense coach at Kansas State.  Byron Leftwich can provide a stop gap measure.  Not sure if I like this pick or not.  Freeman is the guy who beat much more talented Texas Longhorn teams on a regular basis, but also is the same guy that made Nebraksa’s defense look like the Blackshirts of the mid 90’s while they struggled against everyone else.  As a side note, I am a Husker Grad and …..did you know that Both Sanchez and Freeman had originally committed to come to Nebraska…but I digress.

The Dolphins chose Pat White in the 2nd round with pick #44 overall.  What???!?! Pat White? Do the fish plan on running the wildcat formation full time this year?  This was a HORRIBLE pick this high.  They could have easily nabbed White 2 rounds later in my opinion and picked up a number or players here with this pick that could have proven to be a lot more useful to the organization.

The Eagles are another interesting bunch.  I think they hit a home run with Macho Harris in the later rounds, but I still question the toughness of WR Jeremy Maclin.  Can he run?  Yes!  Is he explosive?  Yes!  Is he a great returner?  Yes!  Do I think he is another Reggie Brown for the Eagles?? Yes.  I have seen too much of this guy’s play in TV and in person and I am not convinced he has the toughness to play a lot of downs in the NFL.  Sort of a la Reggie Bush.  Great Athlete, explosive as heck, but soft in my opinion.

Last but not least we look at Percy Harvin going to the Vikings.  First Randy Moss, then the Love Boat, now Harvin.  Do they like problem in Minnesota.  I guess he forgot to leave the weed back home before the combine, and the Vikings overlooked that in the draft, although there were 70+  OTHER players they pulled off their draft board due to what their front office deemed as “character issues”  I guess potential talent outweighs character issues here.  Another player in the mold of Maclin.  Flashes of greatness but still a lot of questions.

As always it will take some time to see who turns out to be great players and who is a complete bust.  Overall this is one of the weaker drafts in recent years, and there was seemingly less “sure things” then I can remember in a long time.



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As a caveat – I follow football, but I am not a rabid fan.  If you’re looking for an analysis of how player X fits into a team’s 4-3 defensive scheme, you’re looking in the wrong place.  I’m looking to high a few interesting stories from the draft.

Stafford vs. Sanchez

Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford was the top overall pick in the NFL draft.  Stafford is a fine player.  However, his contract – 6 years with $41.7 million guanteed and  $78 million maximum value (if some rather lofty performance goals are met – quite unlikely) is staggering to many.  Try as they might, the NFL teams have not found a foolproof way to determine which players will excel and which will falter at the NFL level.  If Stafford goes the route of many before him (Akili Smith, Tim Couch, Ryan Leaf, et al) the Lions will end up eating forty million dollars and getting very little for their money.  Some players simply see the guaranteed money, decide that they are set for life, and just go through the motions until a team cuts them loose.  I’m not suggestion that this is the case with Stafford – just that the risk is there.  I’m opposed to a rookie salary cap, on the principle that I tend to oppose things that inhibit the free market economy.  I’m not really sure that there is a perfect solution.

The Jets traded to get pick #5 so that they could draft USC quarterback Matt Sanchez.  Some observers had Sanchez ranked ahead of Stafford.  Sanchez will likely see a contract that is much smaller than that of Stafford’s.  From a pure financial perspective, the Jet have a smaller risk and a player with possibly more upside than Stafford.

Another Sanchez note: The St. Louis Rams, with the #2 overall pick, bought a plane ticket for Sanchez.  This created considerable buzz that the Rams were considering Sanchez.  Most likely, it was a cheap way (in terms of dollars) to try to fake out another team so that the other team would try to trade for the #2 pick.  There’s very little downside to this move, even though it didn’t work out.  Well played, Rams.

On the subject of analysts: I heard someone mentioned that it is important to place a quarterback in a system that suits them.  Yes!  You always hear about guys who are “system quarterbacks”.  If this is a QB who can succeed in a particular system, why wouldn’t you attempt to build the system around them?

Michael Oher

Michael Oher  never knew his father, had a mother who was a crack addict, and repeated first and second grade.  He lived in various foster homes.  When he was 16, Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy agreed to have Michael live with them.  The presence of the African-American Oher in the house of the Caucasian Touhys caused concern from some friends, especially considering Michael’s troubled past.  The Touhys shrugged this off and became the only real family Michael has ever known.  Michael eventually sorted out a dismal academic record while he also excelled on the football field.

On Saturday, left tackled Michael Oher become the #23 overall pick in the NFL draft, a first round selection by the Baltimore Ravens.  He is a true testament to perseverance and overcoming adversity.

Rhett Bomar

Rhett Bomar was the starting quarterback at Oklahoma in 2005.  He was kicked off the team in 2006 when reports surfaced that Bomar had been overpaid by an employer – being paid for hours that were not acutally worked.  Clearly, this was a mistake by Bomar.  However, he picked up the pieces and transferred to 1-AA Sam Houston State – a school with about 1% of the publicity of Oklahoma (and that is a generous estimate).  In two years, Bomar shattered records at Sam Houston State and was a finalist for the Walter Payton Award that is given annually to the best player in division 1-AA.

On Saturday, Bomar was picked in the 5th round by the New York Giants.  Clearly, with Eli Manning entrenched at quarterback, Bomar will not be the starter next year.  However, Bomar does have an opportunity to prove himself.  If he goes into the situation with the right attitude, he might eventually be a starting quarterback in the NFL.


Not surprisingly, the Oakland Raiders made the “what were they thinking” pick of the draft, picking wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey at #7.  Most people agree that Heyward-Bey was a legit first rounder, but not at #7.  To compound the situation, Texas Tech stud WR Michael Crabtree was still on the board (he was taken at #10 by the 49ers).  It’s true that Crabtree benefitted by playing in Mike Leach’s wide open system at Tech, but the kid clearly has great skills.

TV Guide again

April 26, 2009

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Back in February, we experienced telemarketing from hell at the hands of TV Guide.  My friend at Lazy Man and Money took an interest, and I wrote another version for his readers – greatly expanding the audience of the story.

Incredibly, we received another call tonight.  Yep – 7:30 PM on a Sunday.  Apparently TV Guide does not have a way to flag people as alientated customers.

If you’re a TV Guide subscriber, take a look at your situation.  With the on screen guides for most cable and dish system, do your really need TV Guide any more?  Or does it just sit in your mail pile until it gets tossed into the recycle bin?  If you do decide to cancel, leave a comment.  I’d like to keep track 🙂

Restaurant Review: Monical’s Pizza

April 25, 2009

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First, I’d like to welcome the new readers who came here via The Digerati Life. Read the current articles, explore the archives, and consider becoming a subscriber. We’ve been pretty sports-heavy in the last week – if you look through the archives, you’ll see that we’re usually a lot more eclectic.

Second, I am happy to announce the release of my new eBook – Selling Yourself Short – An Introduction to Short Story Writing. Selling Yourself Short is a 2500 word introduction to the process of short story writing – from creating your writing environment to developing the plot. In an effort to keep this handy guide affordable to all of our readers, the everyday price is just $1.49. However, for the next week, the price is just 99 cents. Don’t like it? There’s a money back guarantee! Buy it today at the Hyrax Publications store.

And now, on to this vintage article – a review of my favorite restaurant in the whole world.


I find myself in the situation of living several hours away from my favorite restaurant, the result of a move six years ago.  If you ever find yourself in Illinois, Indiana, or Wisconsin, look up Monical’s Pizza.  You’ll be glad you did.

I travel into Monical’s country exactly once a year on a business trip.  After checking into my hotel, I always make a beeline for Monicals.  I also try to hit it at least one other time during the trip.  On my most recent trip, I ate there three times.

The menu at Monical’s features pizza, of course.  You can also get pasta and sandwiches.  I almost always get the pizza, but I’ve also had the spaghetti and meatballs, which are quite good.

Over the years, I have refined my order and have it down to a science.  I get the Individual Pleaser (a combo meal that includes a pizza, salad, and soft drink).  I choose the 8″ thin crust pizza topped with bacon, ham, hamburger, steak, green peppers, and premium blend cheese (a mozzarella/cheddar mix).  I get the salad sans tomatoes and carrots due to an intolerance of vegetables.

The salad comes out immediately.  In my case, simply lettuce topped with shredded cheese.  I’m not a big fan of salads, but the Monical’s salads are always good.  The lettuce is always quite fresh.  The best part of the salad, however, is the french dressing.  Monical’s has quite simply the best french dressing in the world.  If you don’t believe me, go to their web site and order a few bottles.  Unlike a lot of restaurants which give you only a small bit of dressing, Monical’s brings a bottle to the table and lets you use as much as you want.

The construction of my salad is an art.  First, I picked up the entire salad with one hand and hold the bottle in the other hand, laying down a solid base layer of dressing.  Then I drop 1/3 of the lettuce into the bowl and put down another layer of dressing.  By the time I am finished, the lettuce is swimming in the dressing – just as God intended.

When the pizza comes out, it is hot and crispy.  It isn’t burnt, but it’s just on the brink – at the exact level of crispiness that gives the crust a perfect taste.  My particular pizza presents a small problem.  I have a lot of meat toppings, and this gives to toppings a slickness that makes is difficult for the toppings to adhere to the crust.  I fight a small war against the pizza, attempting to take bites that contain equal bits of crust and topping.  Overall, I win the war, but I do lose a few battles, and some of the toppings slide off the crust just as I take a bite.

So the food is great, but what about the people?  Honestly, I’m not sure where they find their employees.  In the overall retail world, it seems that employees have become fairly rude.  This has never been the case when I have eaten at Monicals.  I have always found their employees to be extremely polite and friendly.

OK, but surely the high quality food and good service come at a price, right?  Yep.  I spend the incredible sum of $8.82 on my meal – a pizza with 6 toppings, salad, and soft drink.  I could spend almost that much on a burger at a fast food joint and get only a fraction of the enjoyment.

Is there a regional chain in you’re area that you’re a big fan of?  Tell me about it.

A sneeze and an apology

April 24, 2009

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Darren of Problogger calls this a “sneeze post” – check out The Best of the Casual Observer.  These are some of my favorite articles over the brief life of the blog.

On the eve of the NFL draft, I would like to apologize to B.J. Raji.  I jumped on the bandwagon and criticized him for testing positive for marijuana.  It turns out that the initial report were incorrect, and Raji did not test positive.

10 tips for novice bloggers

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I have only been blogging seriously for a couple of months few years, so I am by no means an expert.  However, I do think I have learned a few things along the way that brand new bloggers could find helpful.  If you want to jump to the next level and get advice from a professional, check out ProBlogger.

  1. Write often.  Without writing, there is no blog.  It is important to get yourself into the habit of writing.  I’m not saying that it is necessary to write something every day.  In fact, for some people (such as those of us with toddlers in the house), this may be a physical impossibility.  However, see if you can write 4+ days a week.  You may be pleasantly surprised to find that the act of writing spurs creativity.  Find a time and location that work for you.  I try to write between 8 and 10 PM each night in a quiet area of the house.  I also have a few notebooks strewn around the house so that I can always grab one to jot down ideas when they pop into my head.
  2. Post often.  I try to post about 6 times per week.  Sometimes I will have 2 posts in a day, but most of the time I will have exactly one posts each day.  Am I writing exactly one post each day?  No, of course not.  When I have productive writing sessions, I may write 2 or 3 articles.  Your blog platform almost certainly allows you to schedule articles to be displayed at a future date and time.  Note that this does not work for posts that are timely in nature – a Super Bowl article would not be very appropriate in March, for example.  However, certain topics lend themselves to so-called “evergreen” posts – articles that will be as relevant a year from now as they are today.  On most Fridays, I write an original short story for this blog.  Nobody will know if I write these the night before they are posted, or one month earlier.
  3. Write about something  you enjoy.  Most successful bloggers write about a niche that interests them – such as personal finance or sports.  In my particular case, my interests are widley varied, and I didn’t want to constrain myself to a single niche (I blame this on the fact that I am a Gemini).  I write about everything from a celebration of Simpson stamps to grief over meth users who are looting arhaeological sites.  This was a conscious choice that was made with the understanding that a lack of niche would likely limit my readership.  However, this is what I wanted to write, so I followed Sinatra’s cue and did it my way.
  4. Take advice graciously.  I fell into a lucky situation where I happened to encounter a successful blogger through another aspect of my “real life”.  This guy has already jumped over a lot of the hurdles that I face now and will face in the future.  It would be pretty stupid not to listen to his advice.  I might not always take the direction he suggests, but I always listen.  You might not have a fairy blogfather, but you’ll probably have friends and readers give you advice.  Don’t dismiss these ideas out of hand – consider them carefully.
  5. Read other blogs.  I read several other blogs.  Not only do these spark writing ideas for my own blog, but I ocassionally pick up some cool widget that is being used on another blog and end up incorporating it into my blog.  Also, some people see my comments and go to visit my blog.  Note: this does not mean you should leave “go check out my blog” comments on a bunch of blogs.  Only leave a comment when you are actually adding value to the conversation.  If a comment on another blog generates new traffic for you, that’s nice, but it should not be the sole reason for a comment.
  6. Encourage comments.  Make it easy for people to leave comments.  If you allow anonymous comments, you might get a few more spam comments, but you might also get more legitiate comments as well.  Also, allow commenters to link to their own sites or blogs when it is relevant.  The CommentLuv plug-in inserts a short “footer” at the bottom of the comment showing the commenter’s most recent post.  You will see this at work on my blog.  Another plug-in that I like is  the “related websites” plug-in.  This shows posts that are related to your current posts, but also finds related articles on other people’s blog.  The benefit is that your blog’s articles show up as related websites on the other blogs, as well.  You can also use plugins that change URLs within a comment from “no follow” (not indexed by Google) to “do follow” (indexed by Google) so that your commenters will see their own site become more popular in Google (yes, I realize that I have not yet implemented “do follow” on my own blog.  It’s on the agenda, I promise).
  7. Use guest writers.  Using a guest writer has a lot of benefits.  First, they provide blog content for you, reducing the number of posts you need to write in a month – while also providing a bit of a change of pace for your readers.  Second, if your guest writer is another blogger, you may get a link from their blog (you should also link to their blog from the guest post, of course).  If they aren’t a blogger, you may get a long term fan.  You might be surprised how easy it is to find guest writers.  I have approached about a half dozen people so far, and I don’t think any of them have competely turned down the request.  Many people in your social circle have interesting stories to tell – let the world hear them.
  8. Tell people about your blog.  You probably have friends who have interest that are similar to yours.  When you write something that they might like, send them a link to the article.  Don’t make them dig around in your blog to find it – send them the permalink. 
  9. Get some stats.  I like using Sitemeter and Google Analytics to take a look at my traffic patterns.  This allows me to see what my total traffic is, as well as analyzing various aspects of the traffic.  Do you have higher traffic on certain days or certain times of the day?  Why?  Are you seeing a lot of Google hits on certain posts?  It’s also just cool to look at the geographical data.  I get a fair percentage of my traffic from outside of the US, and it’s cool to see which countries are generating the traffic. 
  10. Have fun.

OK – does anyone else have any helpful tips for blogger newbies?


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