Keep false friends out of your winner’s circle

I had the good fortune of working briefly in the equine business through 1997-98 while also selling exercise bikes to paralyzed people (true story). One lesson I will take away always.

Winning the Kentucky Derby is such a long shot that most people don’t even shoot that far. When it does happen through a series of happenstance, luck and skill, you have a lot of friends who want to crowd up on the winner’s circle and get their picture taken with the jockey, horse and owner just to prove they were there. But, it is most often these same people who probably less than a year ago were the horse’s worst critics. Or worse, didn’t care about the horse, the jockey or the owner.

Whenever a tech company gets acquired by a larger company, i.e., Zappos, Woot, etc, it kinda feels like a winner’s circle at the Kentucky Derby. Everyone with any bit of knowledge of social media, customer experience, marketing, etc, etc all crowd up on Twitter and congratulate, make YouTube videos on their concern about the death of the company culture, write blogs and stuff with keywords, blah, blah, blah. They all claimed to be instrumental in company’s success.

In truth, they are just leeching on the story.

Learn who your true friends and supporters are early on. And keep the rest out of your winner’s circle when it happens.

Making the perfect cheeseburger

This weekend, millions of people across the United States will be firing up their grills and plunking down hamburger patties and grilling them. And those millions of people are all cooking cheeseburgers the wrong way. In my feeble attempt to save your taste buds from yet one more badly cooked cheeseburger, I offer you the definitive guide for cooking the perfect cheeseburger. Use this power wisely as any mis-application may result in you being invited to many BBQ parties only for your cooking skills.

As with every recipe, the perfect cheeseburger starts with the perfect ingredients. Luckily, the list is not long.
Hamburger, 80/20 ground chuck no leaner. This is no time to be thinking healthy.
Kaiser rolls, do not be tempted to go weird like Ciabatta rolls or anything like that. Kaiser rolls are the perfect hamburger bun, no substitutes.
Sharp cheddar cheese, the big brick kind. Do not get shredded or pre-sliced.
Lettuce, iceberg, fresh, cold. Keep cold. Again, keep cold! Also, like the rolls, do not substitute for fancy gourmet greens.

You will also need a flat griddle pan or a large frying pan. if you insist on using your grill, make sure you get a cast iron griddle you can place over the coals or burners.

Prep the ingredients
The cheese and hamburger should be chilled. First, cut the cheese into square slices about 1/4″ thick. You can cut thicker, but not thinner. Set them aside and allow to reach room temperature. You may find if you wet your knife between slices, it will cut easier. Make sure your knife is very, very sharp and that you take safety precautions. If you have a cheese slicer with an adjustable wire, use that instead as you need all ten fingers to eat the cheeseburger once done.

Make the hamburger patties by first wetting your hands and breaking off a piece of hamburger larger than an orange, but smaller than a grapefruit. The exact amount of meat is not important, only it’s size in relation to the bun. My favorite size bun is a 4 inch roll, so my uncooked patty will be about 5-5.5″ in diameter, at 1-1.5″ thick.

With the ball of meat in your hands, pack it down to a solid ball. Then, transfer it from palm to palm by smacking and turning it slighting as you transfer, making sure to hit the center of the ball with the meaty part of your palm. The patty will get larger and larger with each smack. Do this until the patty is about 1-1.5 inces larger than your roll. Place it on a cutting board and press a slight indentation in the center. The burger will shrink up and out and the indentation enables you to have a somewhat flat patty when fully cooked instead of a “ball-shaped” patty that is higher in the middle. Do this for every patty. Season the top slightly with salt and pepper, nothing else.

Then, allow the meat temperature to increase to room temperature. Do not rush to put cold meat on a hot pan as it will only result in all the juices running out quickly.

Fire up the griddle
Why a griddle? To remain juicy and tasty, ground meats should cook in their own fat. If you are using a grill, the fat will drip away of the meat, leaving a lifeless, dry, tasteless burger behind. Rule of thumb: solid meat like steak, seafood, chops are grilled; ground meats are fried.

Fire up the griddle over a medium heat and allow to come up to temperature. Place the hamburger patty seasoned side down and immediately sprinkle a small amount of salt and pepper on top. Allow a crust to form, about five minutes. Turn over and crust the other side. DO NOT PRESS DOWN ON THE BURGER PATTTY AT ANY TIME DURING THE COOKING PROCESS!!! Please be kind to your meat. Never poke a steak, never press a burger. Give each side about five minutes of cooking time and then gently turn. Keep cooking and turning until the burger reaches your desired doneness. For reference, the burgers used here cooked for 20 minutes on medium to low heat, turned gently every five minutes.

Make sure the burgers are cooking in their own fat. If your griddle is not level or you see the grease run off to the sides, keep turning the griddle or pushing the grease back. But be careful, hamburger grease is very flammable.

While the meat is cooking, cut leaves of lettuce from the head by making small incisions at the stalk and gently peeling back the leaf. Remove the bulk of the stalk within the leaf and return it to the refrigerator. The lettuce leaf must be crispy, cold and flat for the final assembly.

Melting the cheese, toasting the rolls
The final steps require precise timing. if there are any noisy distractions in the kitchen, shoo her out now. Turn on the broiler. I use a small toaster oven, but if you are hosting a party, you may want to turn to your oven. Slice the rolls and have ready to toast.

Place a slice of cheese on each burger and place under the broiler. WATCH THEM LIKE A HAWK. You want to see the cheese sweat slightly and the corners start to droop. Remove the burgers and set aside to rest.

Immediately place your buns sliced side up to toast. The cheese will continue to melt slowly and the burgers will rest, making sure the juices will not run out when you bit into them. Once your rolls are toasted, everything is ready.

Some cheeseburger people say to use shredded cheese or melt the cheese under a steam cap until it is fully melted and gooey. I say they are wrong. When cheese is fully melted, it separates slightly become sticky, tasteless and a little bitter. When it is slightly warmed, it retains it’s taste and texture. Really. I’m right.

Assemble the cheeseburger
Place the heel of the bun on the plate, slide the hamburger patty with slightly melted cheese onto it, place a cold lettuce leaf on top, place the top bun on top of that and serve. The time from assembly to serving to that first bite should be no more than .00001 seconds.

If you have done this correctly, you will bite into a cheeseburger that has a juicy, flavorful beef taste, with a slight crunch and a full-bodied cheese flavor that is slightly al dente.

No. No, really I advise no variations on this. I don’t care if you like ketchup, mustard, pickles, mayonnaise or other condiments, they are simply not allowed on the perfect cheeseburger. They only mask the taste.

Ok, there is one exception, but only one. Swiss cheese and mushrooms. Prepare the cheese as you did for the cheddar; cut cold and thick and allow to warm to room temperature. Prepare the mushrooms by sautéing in a small frying pan with butter, not margarine. Set aside and keep warm until the cheese warming phase, where you can place a layer of mushrooms between the hamburger patty and cheese slice immediately before broiling.

I may have lied. There is another variation; blue burger. But — and this is one huge but — only use quality blue cheese slices. Do not attempt to cheat with blue cheese dressing. Since blue cheese is hard to slice and keep in tact at room temperature, you can pile it on either crumbled or in slivers. Be bold; blue cheese deserves no less.

There you have the perfect cheeseburger recipe. Now, go forth and rid thy neighbors of crappy, dry, tasteless, over-grilled, mashed-down burgers this Fourth of July. George Washington would want you too.


Unemployment vs unemployable

Yesterday, the GOP-filibustered Senate quit trying to extend the jobless benefits for 1.3 million Americans who have been out of work for two years. At the end of the week, these unemployed workers will not only be unpaid, but they will have entered into a state of extreme desperation. I’ve seen my neighbors desperate. Most of them own guns. Cutting them off abruptly is not a smart thing to do.

In the past two decades, major corporations have moved or downsized; US Air, DHL, Emery, Mead, Huffy, Standard Register, NCR and GM. Many others have downsized dramatically. All of these companies that moved away were major employers for Dayton, Ohio. All of them are now gone, leaving behind former employees who can’t afford to sell their homes because there is nobody out there willing to buy them. These are not the leeches the Republicans would have you believe are milking the unemployment system. These are hard-working people who have paid handsomely into the Federal and State unemployment INSURANCE program in the event they may have to draw from it should they find themselves out of work through no fault of their own.

The employers that have moved in all pay slightly more than minimum wage, but not much; Walmart, Payless and Caterpillar (coming soon.)

The average weekly unemployment benefit for someone out of work is a few hundred dollars. If the employee is paying for COBRA insurance, the cost of premiums must also come out of that meager amount. If they go to work at the local Walmart of Home Depot, they lose their benefits but more importantly, their ability to look for work. But that matters little; Walmart and Home Depot are not hiring.

In contrast, each US Senator who voted to cut off benefits to the long-term unemployed drew $3,346.15 last week. They will draw the same amount next week. And the week after. Their health insurance is paid for and they don’t risk being laid off when they show up for work tomorrow due to right-sizing or economic downturn.

Forty-one of them got paid for doing nothing other than showing up to vote “No.”

I can understand how easy it can be to draw the conclusion that the unemployment “safety net” is turning into a “hammock” when you don’t have to worry about being fired at will tomorrow. What I don’t understand is the failure of US Senators to understand that it is only because of tax dollars these “deadbeats” paid into a system that they are able to draw a salary that continues to adjust upwards to the cost of living, but never downwards based on the state of the economy.

Most of my neighbors would rather be working than hanging out and taking unemployment. They are unemployed and only unemployable because there are no jobs to be had. And the unemployment insurance is not a handout or a free entitlement like the GOP would have you believe; it has been paid into by the very people who need it but hoped they never would.

Cutting them off and then blaming them for their own unemployment can’t be a good thing, especially when forty-one Senators all got paid last week for doing what amounts to what they accuse the unemployed of doing; nothing.

The real tyranny in America

MSNBC Rise fo the New Right Image

I watched MSNBC Chris Matthews’ The Rise of the New Right yesterday. I learned almost nothing new about the Tea Party and the conservative movement, but Alex Jones’ quote, “We’re in deep tyranny. Deep, deep, deep…” keeps ringing through my head. This man is afraid and wants to make everyone else around him fearful. I guess fear sells as his website is chock full of ads. (By the way, everyone advocates for hoarding gold, water, guns and ammo, but nobody thinks a loyal dog would help. Except Hollywood. If this country collapses, I’m sticking with my pack.)

Then I got to thinking about who the real tyrants are in America. Alex Jones, his network and FOX News came to mind right away, but so did a lot of others. I’ve prepared a very short list below to get you thinking about how much non-government tyranny is wielded over us with little oversight and almost no recourse.

FICO Scores and Credit Agencies (TransUnion, Experian and Equifax)
Every American has now been reduced to a non-disputable, three-digit FICO Score between 450-850. A FICO Score is determined by a semi-secret algorithm that is held by a private corporation. Your FICO Score determines if you will get a loan, a job, insurance and an apartment. It determines where you can live, where you can work and how much in interest you will pay on a loan if you are deemed worthy enough to get one. It even determines whether or not you can serve your country in the military and to what capacity. If your FICO Score is too low, you can be denied a security clearance.

If you become unemployed and begin shopping at WalMart to save money, your FICO Score will be adjusted accordingly, thereby affecting your credit limits. If your identity is stolen, your FICO Score will be decimated with little recourse. If the credit bureaus make a mistake reporting your payment history, they do so with impunity and can erode your FICO Score with one typo on an account number, name, amount, etc.

Personal Debt
Nothing in this country paralyzes economic or personal mobility more than personal debt. Yet we embrace it every time we buy something on credit, lease something we can’t possibly afford, charge a new gadget that we have to have or buy something on late night TV for three easy payments. The credit card has become the new handcuff. Try renting a car without a credit card or staying in a hotel by paying cash. Try buying an airline ticket without a credit card (well, now anyway, not before the NYC car bomb thing.)

Homeowner’s Associations
If you think you own your own home, go ahead and try painting it lime green with chocolate shutters. Try putting up a large flagpole and fly an eight-foot American flag in the front yard. Try digging up your back yard and planting a vegetable garden. Try building a chicken coop and raise chickens. Try drilling for oil on your property. Try putting up a radio tower. Try putting up a wind turbine generator. Try doing something as Earth-friendly as hanging your laundry out to dry. You will find out very quickly how much power your homeowner’s association has and how forcefully they will wield it.

Health Insurance Companies
Regardless of how you feel about your health insurance, they are the only “death panels” in this country. Doctors want you to live as long as possible. So do hospitals, health care clinics and drug companies. Dead people don’t generate recurring income. The only ones that want you to die quickly when you are sick are health insurance companies. It is in their best interest to rush you to your end. Healthy people pay premiums; sick people rack up expenses. You do the math.

Parent Associations at Schools
If you think your child will succeed by getting good grades or get a place on the team by working hard and honing skills, you have never had an interaction with a parent association. Their members consist of self-appointed despots who have gone to the school and their parents went there and their parents went there. Getting “in” a parent association requires more humiliation than the worse sorority/fraternity hazing you can imagine. Staying in requires all the vicious deft of a hockey mom and the morals of a soccer mom.

These are just a few “unelected, non-government” groups that wield tremendous power over our day-to-day lives and have far more influence on where we can go, what we can do and to whom we can speak. They control what opportunities our children have, what homes we can buy, where we can live and what jobs we can have.

I could think of a few more like churches, energy corporations, your own employer, etc but I’ll leave those to you and the comments below.

Ironically enough, it is government that is most likely to protect us from these unelected tyrants. Or at least try to. Or want to try to. Or say they want to try to.

Our “free society” is at once our greatest asset and our greatest enemy. It enables us to plunder and pillage resources that belong to all of us for the purpose of personal enrichment. It is the hoarding of power with a select few — be that elected senators like McCarthy or fear-mongering activists like Jones — that is the real tyranny.

We should be vigilant and suspicious of both.

Great design, but will it survive a wet dog?

Today is Nate Berkus Day, declared by Joy and Janet @moggitgirls. For those who don’t know, Nate is (was) Oprah’s designer and is now going to host his own design show on NBC in September.

Whoopie. Another celebrity interior designer with his own show.

But wait! This guy has dogs! This is an interesting twist for us out here in design-lemming-land.

What if every design episode starts off with the question, “Can this design survive a wet dog?” During the course of the episode — as the design is coming together — Nate does a variation on the design for people with dogs and people without. “If you don’t have a dog, that white Italian leather sofa is a good idea; if you do, why not consider this equally attractive but not as expensive pleather look a-like that is easier to clean?” that sort of thing.

Real people have dogs. And dogs play havoc with design. Unless you start the design with the ability to keep it looking clean and nice and work backwards. (inspired by this post by Paul Anatar. If you can’t clean it, don’t install it.)

I am he and we are him and we are too big to fail but not too big to protest against

A friend of a close relative just got himself hired on as a firefighter with a department right up the road. They gave him a really cool light bar for his truck, a pager, a bunch of gear and most importantly, a paycheck. And now they are paying him to advance his training and certificates with the local community college so he can increase his skills and make more money.

But before he was hired on as a public servant for which tax dollars pay his salary, his benefits that are far better than my own and the education/training he is going to receive as part of his job, he went to a community college financed through Pell grants because his mom has been laid-off from her GM job for years and has virtually no income. And before that, he attended thirteen years of public school supported by property tax dollars.

And he is a Republican, border-line Tea Party supporter. And he thinks this country is becoming too socialist. And he thinks we should all be individually responsible for ourselves, the government is too big and should butt out of our lives entirely. Moreover, he believes he has achieved everything he has and is by hard work and his own initiative.

I need to know what I am failing to understand.