Three Products Which Must Be Brought Back

Every now and again, mostly when I go to my kitchen cabinet and find stuff like “trail mix’ or some other un-salted, and otherwise un-appetizing bird food, I think about some of the good old fashioned junk food that used to be available. Before anyone knew what “trans-fats” were, when “Big Macs” actually tasted like something and you could buy Coca-Cola made with real sugar in glass bottles, we had access to some fantastic junk food.

Sadly, these things have gone by the way-side. Now, you can still buy horehound candy – a grotesque abomination of the word ‘candy’ if there ever was one – and every now and again some marketing genius will spit out some crap like the “McRib,” but you cannot put your hands on the wonderful treats of yore that you really want.

When you think about it, the junk food we have today just isn’t worth the calories. A “modern” Twinkie is not the same cake I used to eat – it’s smaller and the filling has the consistency of vegetable shortening. Blech. I remember the grainy feel of sugar as I’d bite into one of those bad boys. The last time I had fried chicken of any real value was close to 20 years ago, I was in Mexico and these guys were frying this stuff up in 100% lard. Now THAT is fried chicken. Colonel, I don’t care if you have 15 chefs in each restaurant “perfecting” the recipe; if you’re not frying that stuff up in good old fashioned animal fat, it’s just not worth it to me. Here are three items I wonder where they went and why I can’t put my hands on them now.

Ah, the good old days when no one really tried to pretend that a donut might actually be a reasonable choice and when no one had ever heard of “high fructose corn syrup.” Please bring these beautiful, wonderful treats back to me before I have to eat one more cashew nut or rice cake.

Three products that should immediately be brought back:

O’Grady’s Au Gratin Potato Chips. Man, these cheesy, extra-thick cut potato chips were the absolute bomb back in the day. I’ve found some links that suggest there were several different styles of these beauties, but all I really care about is the Au Gratin ones. These things were probably way too salty, and insanely loaded with all of those things someone designing the food pyramid (or whatever that’s been changed to) would have a stoke over, but nothing – and I mean NOTHING – would satisfy a salty cheese jones like these things would. Dear Frito-Lay marketing/production/R&D/advertising person, if you read this, please please please reiterate the imperative nature of returning this potato-starch crack to the marketplace.

Some recent comments on the “O’Grady’s Au Gratin Chips… BRING THEM BACK!!!!” Facebook fan page: “I’d do 100 hours of community service for a bag of O’Grady’s right now!!!” and “They are beyond imagination – it takes the experience itself for you to understand our passion.” I, for one, have never seen similar words uttered about “Ruffles” or “Cheez Waffies.”

Dunkin Donuts “Bismark.” This was not a donut. This was not a pastry. This was a solid, unadulterated clump of carbohydrates and fat. Sadly, what I can find about this amazing donut online is not what I’m talking about – it was not chocolate iced and it most certainly did not have anywhere near 340 calories. No, this thing was a vanilla cream and jelly (yes, that’s right, all mixed together) filled raised cruller-type donut, with vanilla cream on top of it and sometimes with a glop of jelly on top of that AND sometimes it would be rolled in sugar for good measure. If this thing wasn’t worth 900-calories, we’re not talking about the same donut. For years Dunkin Donuts has trotted out information such as “our donuts have no cholesterol**” with the asterisks excluding the French cruller – which is quite possibly one of the finest pieces of work on their menu, if I do say so myself. Here’s a newsflash: I’m at a freaking donut shop, I DON’T CARE ABOUT THE FREAKING CARBOHYDRATES. Give me the biggest freaking bag of grease, fat, and sugar you can give me. Give me the Bismark donut I’m describing here, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about you need to go back to “Fred the Baker,” and make the freaking donuts.

CW Post Cereal. “What? You go from potato chips and donuts to a freaking granola cereal??” Yeah, that’s right. CW Post was awesome. It wasn’t just granola. It was different. It had these awesome clumps, held together with what I can only presume was some kind of sugar. They used coconut in the cereal, too, and man do I love coconut. You just can’t get granola like this anymore. Other kids were heavy into Trix or Fruity Pebbles. I was heavy into this stuff. I almost never ate it as a cereal – you know, in a bowl with milk. Nope, the milk only messes up the taste. Straight out of the box and leaning against the counter while I did it. According to the Wikipedia article on this stuff, the sugar content was just under 28% which was in the middle range for cereal then! 28%! If sugary food is addictive, this stuff would be something close to crack, and I could stand there and eat an entire box of this stuff if left to my own devices. And note, most granola isn’t 28% sugar….yeah. This is just pure awesome yum.


ADDITIONAL MATERIAL:
O’Grady’s Facebook Fan page – http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=83990504066

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Doubt and the Boy

His First MLB Game at Fenway Park
We converted "standing room only" tickets into an evening in the Fenway Park press box for his very first major league game. An amazing evening for the two of us.

Doubt.  Self doubt.  It’s so hard to keep everything in order and prioritized – so hard to know if you’re doing the right thing or keeping the right things in focus.  I am proud that I was able to find opportunity out of what could have been a loss of self and identity – to find personal and professional growth, and to have an opportunity of a lifetime to build a relationship with my son at a young time in his life.

I have a job I couldn’t love more, something that speaks to everything I’ve wanted my professional life to be.  I wonder, though, if in pursuing professional excellence, I’m compromising what I have built with my son.

I was away for a couple of days last week.  The night before I was leaving, he was anxious and couldn’t sleep.  I left before he awoke the next morning, I came home after he was asleep and wasn’t awake when he went to school.  I was gone for two days but it must’ve felt like all week to him. I picked him up at school that day and he gave me a huge hug.  We spent the weekend hanging around – haircuts, video games, snuggled on the couch.  But then there are the times he just “wants to be alone.”  I’m exhausted from the traveling, and actually take a midday nap – from which he wakes me up, just wanting to play, but I’m just not up to it.

I’m conflicted because I have more time with him than I ever would with a more traditional job, but not as much as I used to have and sometimes, like this past week, I have big chunks of time when I’m not available to him.  It makes me sad to be so happy with the direction of my professional life while experiencing this readjustment.  He’s used to his Dad being a “stay at home” dad, a student and available to him all the time.

This summer will be my first on this new job, and it will be one of the busy times of the year.  For two summers he and I had all that time for each other, and now it will likely be the polar opposite.  I’m trying to figure out a way to include him in my scheduling plans – hoping to be able to take him to some places he may not have otherwise have seen, but to him it will not be the same summers he’s become used to.  We both have had a gift, he just doesn’t know how much a gift it has been and I worry that I didn’t take full advantage of it or that I will lose what we had.

I’m writing this at 1 in the morning, because I can’t sleep…probably because I took that nap earlier, and as such the cycle will likely repeat itself – he’ll be up when I’m not and I’ll be grumpy when I do get up because I’m tired and then I’ll feel guilty about it.  And then my week will start again with more time away.  So, I’ll now go to bed, and when I get up I’ll make the conscious decision not to be grumpy.  I hope I pull it off, because I don’t want to let this slip – it’s far too important.

“He’s not perfect.”

“He’s not perfect. You aren’t either, and the two of you will never be perfect. But if he can make you laugh at least once, causes you to think twice, and if he admits to being human and making mistakes, hold onto him and give him the most you can. He isn’t going to quote poetry, he’s not thinking about you every moment, but he will give you a part of him that he knows you could break. Don’t hurt him, don’t change him, and don’t expect for more than he can give. Don’t analyze. Smile when he makes you happy, yell when he makes you mad, and miss him when he’s not there. Love hard when there is love to be had. Because perfect guys don’t exist, but there’s always one guy that is perfect for you.”
― Bob Marley

“He’s not perfect. You aren’t either, and the two of you will never be perfect. But if he can  make you laugh at least once, causes you to think twice, and if he admits to being human and making mistakes, hold onto him and give him the most you can. He isn’t going to quote poetry, he’s not thinking about you every moment, but he will give you a part of him that he knows you could break. Don’t hurt him, don’t change him, and don’t expect for more than he can give. Don’t analyze. Smile when he makes you happy, yell when he makes you mad, and miss him when he’s not there. Love hard when there is love to be had. Because perfect guys don’t exist, but there’s always one guy that is perfect for you.”
― Bob Marley

The Night Sky

This image of the “Pleiades Cluster”, or “Seven Sisters” as it is sometimes known, is one of the brightest open clusters to exist near our solar system, as well as one of the few clusters that can be seen with the naked eye.

Here’s what I appreciate about the night sky:  On a clear night, there’s a clear picture.  And here’s what it says about life to me.

From a distance, all these bodies are about the same size with only slight deviations – some are brighter, some are slightly more tinted in color, but they’re all about the same size to the human eye.  It’s our proximity to these objects that skew our perception: from our vantage point the moon – a body 27% the size of our own planet – is roughly the same size as our sun, an object 100 times the diameter of our own planet.  Jupiter, a planet 2.5 times larger than the rest of the planets, looks like a shiny dot in the sky, and about the same size as Mars.   On a really clear night, you may be able to see one arm of the Milky Way galaxy across the sky…but only one arm.

We see the stars organized as patters in the sky – Orion, the Great Bear – but at the end of the day, their alignment in these shapes are created by our view from our place in the universe.

Our proximity, or lack there of, creates a bias and an inability to see magnitude in the big picture.  We see patterns where none exist, we misjudge size.  When we’re so deeply involved in a situation, we overestimate the importance; when we’re invested in a situation, we create patterns where they may or may not exist.   When we look at the sky, we see millions of similar individuals in the sky when in reality they represent a diversity of size, color, depth, and magnitude.  Our sun is the most important star in the sky, it heats our planet and makes life possible; in reality its a mid-range yellow star with no particular features.  Its our dependence on this object that makes it important.

Yet, from a distance, we only see similarities.  Only barely detectable to the eye are the differences between Red Giants and White Dwarfs.  Betelgeuse has a detectable red hue to it if you’re paying attention.  Sirius is the brightest star in the sky, but how many of us could pick it out?  All those distinctions get lost in our distances.

How many times do we let distractions close to us cloud us from the larger picture – nearby lights or a cloudy, overcast sky that keeps us from seeing the stars at night?  Not unlike our every day life.

I appreciate the night sky.  It gives me a little perspective, perhaps because of the utter lack of proportion it shows us.  You can look out over millions of years, millions of light-year distances and see only similarities in the aggregate with the odd-outlier standing out among the many.   I don’t wonder about other life or about the vagueries of the universe, I’m far more simple than that.  The night sky puts much of human interaction into perspective as a function of our lack of perspective in the night sky.

The “Average” US Population Density

I started doing a bit of a thought experiment – according to the Census Bureau, the US land area is 3,531,905.43 square miles and with a 2010 population of 308,745,538 there are 87.4 persons per square mile.  There were 46,792,300 people living in the 50 most populous cities in the United States in 2010, or a little more than 15% of the population (15.15%).

Those 15% of the population live in just over 11,000 square miles (11,006 to be more or less exact) or 0.312% of the US land mass, for a population density of 4251.5 per square mile.  Clearly, because these are the 50 largest cities, they do not represent “average.”  So, I decided to remove those 46,792,300 people in their 11,006 square miles from the US population density to see how that changes things for those of us who do not live in the largest 50 cities.

If you do not live in one of the 50 largest cities, on average you live in a population density of 74.4 persons per square mile.

So then I increased the scope to the largest 100 cities.  That covers 19.4% of the US population – 59,847,102 – and .488% of the land mass who live in a population density of 3470.75 per square mile.

I then brought the list to the top 275 most populous cities in the US, places with names such as Temecula, California (population just over 100,000) and a little place called Green Bay, Wisconsin (104,000).  27% of the US population lives in .76% of the landmass with a population density of 3127 per square mile.   The other 73% of us living in 99.24% of the rest of the country live 64 to a square mile.  But it’s much more complicated than that.

According to the National League of Cities, there were 19,492 municipal governments in the US in 2007.  In 2007, 257 of them reached over 100,000, currently there are 275 so these numbers are somewhat out of date, but still point to the idea that the “Average” American does not live 87.4 per square mile.  The question is though, how much of that landmass is actually inhabited at all.

In “Fooled by Randomness,” Nassim Taleb talks about this idea – that we’re easily fooled by statistics and that there are plenty of examples where 90% of a given population can be above average.  His example: A village of 10 people – 9 of whom earn a salary of $30,000 and one desperately poor chap who earns $1000 yearly for an average yearly salary of $27,100.

There are 50 states and when their individual population densities are compared, 27 have an average population density greater than average.   Consider this for a moment:  New York State has the 7th highest population density in the country – 412.3 persons per square mile.  But the “average” New Yorker does not live in even that great a population density.  Remove NYC’s 42% of the state’s population – remembering that because it’s the largest city in the country, by definition it is not average – and its 303 square miles, and what you’ve got a density of 239.26 per square mile.

And here’s something else to consider, the 23 states with lower than “average” population densities account for only 19.1% of the country’s population, meaning the 27 states with higher population densities are where 80.9% of the population live.

In 2003, the Census Bureau classified 94.6% of the country as rural open space.   So, if we multiply the 3,531,905.43 square miles by the remaining 5.4% we come up with 1,907,228.93 square miles and a population density of 161.88.  If we go back to the beginning of this post by subtracting the populations and landmasses of the 275 largest cities in the US, the average population density decreases to 119.34.

Now after having done this analysis over a few hours, I came across the Thoreau Institute’s website detailing much of my own exploration – http://ti.org/vaupdate36.html with an XLS download no less.    Their agenda is different than mine – theirs is to explore the environment, mine was to explore numbers – but their data was helpful in that pursuit.

The real US population density would seem to be about twice what the official numbers show.  But I’ve wiped out 94.6% where people “don’t live” from the landmass calculation, how come it only affected the population density by 100%?  Because where people do live, we live in clusters, in areas where the land is largely developed.  If you remove from consideration areas where few people live  the actual density in which we live isn’t affected.  If no one lived in those areas, the real density wouldn’t have changed, so clearly some people are living there.  By removing cities with populations over 100,000 from the mix, the density number rises by about 36%.

The numbers are skewed and the “average” does not tell the true story of how close together we live.

The SS Norway

In April 2001, my new bride and I honeymooned aboard the SS Norway for a Western Caribbean cruise.  It was an enormous hulk of a ship – the largest passenger ship in existence at the time, surpassed in 2004 by the HMS Queen Mary 2.  As not only the largest, but also the oldest, It stood as a reminder of the not so distant transatlantic past of passenger vessels transporting passengers from Europe to New York and back over a period of weeks.

It served as a Caribbean cruiser – repurposed from its previous duties – among the specially built Carnival liners.  Its refined nature contrasted against the newer and far more garish ships set it even further apart.  Because it was built to withstand the pounding of the open Atlantic, it was a peculiar choice to cruise the shallower and more docile Caribbean sea.  Its hull was far too deep to dock along the shorts in most ports of call, so tender boats were called to duty to transport its cruising passengers to shore.   The trappings of the ship were clearly from another, more refined age with accents of real brass.  The cabins had been retrofitted – the interior largely renovated – and therefore had sometimes peculiar shapes and sizes about them.  Where there had once been a swimming pool in its life as the SS France, there was now a disco.

The existence of such a ship was a puzzlement.  It first sailed in 1962, a bold statement of the Compagnie Generale Transatlantic to create what happened to be the last of the year-round transatlantic superships.   When first conceived in 1956, it was to compete with Cunard and the United States Lines ships – and while built in competitive spirit, it was short sighted;  As the ship was being built in the late 1950s, air travel began to overtake transatlantic shipping as the preferred means of intercontinental travel.    It began life as a bit of a white elephant and sailed for a mere 12 years before being hulked in 1974 when oil prices soared and government subsidies for the running of the ship dried up.

It was then resurrected by the Norwegian Cruise Line in 1979 and rechristened, and renovated in 1980, into the SS Norway.  By the time we took our honeymoon, NCL had been purchased by Star Cruises and plans had already begun to circulate about plans to bring the Norway to Malaysia for Pacific cruising.   Even as the ship received facelifts, maintenance had been cut back and by the late 1990s it had experienced several incidents and breakdowns.  By 2001, NCL had introduced “Freestyle Cruising” on all of its ships except for the Norway – her repurposing showing as the design would not support the open concept of the more modern ship.

We cruised on the Norway one more time in January 2003 – well after the point at which we understood would be her final cruising before being recommissioned in the Pacific.  After having cruised on a Carnival vessel, we came to more fully appreciate the ship for what she had once been.   A few months later in May, the ships boiler exploded in the port of Miami killing several crew members and injuring others.   Upon hearing the news, we could not help but to wonder if any of those hurt or dead would’ve been someone who had served us a few months before.

While sad and shocking, it was not a surprise given the maintenance cut backs and other not-wholly dissimilar incidents in the past: in 1999 it was out of commission for three weeks after a fire in Barcelona.  And so it was that the SS Norway came to its end on an Indian beach after having been towed there for demolition.  It was a ship that seemed to be born just a little too late, never quite fitting in; but it was a beautiful ship, a destination in and of itself.

This is a video I put together  from smaller clips I had of a ride on one of the tenders back to the Norway from Great Stirrup Cay during a rather unsettled weather pattern on that January 2003 cruise:

An Open Letter to My Daughter

You’re becoming your own woman and watching you grow up has been one of the greatest gifts of my life.  You’re ever more the student than I was.  You’re beautiful, bright, and your own person.  I am very proud of the things you are and the things you are not.

You have situated yourself to be able to accomplish whatever you want to accomplish, and in a less than a year you will be start making the first decisions of your adult life and in a little more than a year you will accept what I hope is your first diploma.  It seems not that long ago I brought you home from the hospital, that I visited your Kindergarten classroom, that I walked with you on your first communion and now you’re on the cusp of some of your first adult milestones.

I say I hope your high school diploma is but your first diploma.  I want college for you, but I want for you to want that – and I think you do.  I don’t want you to decide to go to college because I want it for you, I want you to make that decision because you want it.  I want you to choose it because based on knowledge and belief, earning a college degree will provide you the best opportunity to follow your interests and passions.  Simply earning a degree will not get you a job or a career you love, but it will best position you to do so.

I want you to choose a college and a course of study based on your interests and passions, not what is the most cost effective or what has the most cache, or what has the potential to earn you the most money long term.  You have no idea what you want to do with the rest of your life, and it’s an unfair thing we do to young people asking them to know what they want to do with their lives.  If you don’t know what you want to major in, that’s fine – there’s plenty of time for such things.  You should know something about what you want, though.  If not a course of study, then a location where you think you want to study, what you want to spend, or what you want to pursue in sport.  Maybe that means taking time away from school and exploring the world.  Something, anything.  Without one anchor, you will have too many opportunities and choices to make.  Allow yourself to make decisions that make the most sense, and the more anchors you can put down, the easier your decisions are to make.

You’re coming up to one of the most exciting and scary times of your life.  I am here for you to give you as much guidance and love as you need – I will go to the ends of the earth to make sure you have the opportunities, but at the end of the day it will be your choice.  Whatever you decide, it will be the first decision of your adult life.  I am so proud of the young woman you have become and I love you.