Friday, May 25, 2007

Serves Me Right for Skipping British Lit

A second-place finish for my trivia team ("The Curse of Rick Pitino") last night, as we missed a couple of easy ones, talked ourselves out of at least one correct answer, and couldn't remember a key film in Samuel L. Jackson's filmography. Next week, league play starts, and then I can really get my nerd on.

1. In the Canterbury Tales, how many husbands did the Wife of Bath have?
2. What legendary ballplayer was the last player-manager in Major League Baseball?
3. The Oval Office set used on The West Wing was originally constructed for what late-90's Hollywood film?
4. Which nation has bred the most Miss Universe winners?
5. In what year did Vanna White first appear on Wheel of Fortune?
6. The halftime category this week (and for the next several weeks, apparently) is "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon." Connect Samuel L. Jackson to Kevin Bacon in six (or fewer) steps. Do it in at most two steps for full credit.
7. Where in the human body are the only nerves that continually regenerate?
8. Below what depth in the world's oceans does no sunlight reach?
9. What is the oldest city in the U.S. that serves as a state capital?
10. What is the most earthquake-prone U.S. state?
11. What famous 19th-century American was fired from his U.S. government job for "writing an immoral book?"
12. What regal name did Jermaine Jackson bestow on the son born to him in 2003?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Vincent Van Lowe for Springfield Sanitation Commissioner

Okay, I've finished watching the end of VM, and for starters, the CW's streaming software... needs work. It took two hours to watch 45 minutes over a T1 connection, and there needs to be a better fix than "try waiting half an hour, because demand must be just so high." Crikey.
On to the show itself, and I have to give Rob Thomas & Co. credit for not slapping together a tidy, oops-we-though-we-had-another-season, wrap-everything-up ending (I'm looking in your direction, Deadwood). There are a lot of open questions that we're not likely to see wrapped up - How much trouble is Veronica in with "The Castle" in general, and Jake Kane and Clarence Weidman in particular? Whose lame idea was it to call Hearst's secret fraternity "The Castle?" Are we about to see a de-jerkifying of Dick? Will Veronica forgive Logan's latest transgression the next day, or will she need a whole week to cool off? And who wins the election? Okay, we probably know the answer to that one, but how long until Vinnie is caught with his hand in the cookie jar and is removed from office, giving Keith the Acting Sheriff job AGAIN?
On the whole, the episode was satisfying, although I did have two big questions, of the "you'll never get away with this" variety:
1) How is Weevil planning to keep the Magnetron or whatever it is a secret? The kids confessed, so they have nothing to lose by reporting that the third box isn't where they hid it, and Veronica's going to have a pretty good idea what happened to it.
2) How does Veronica think she'll keep a video which is currently being emailed to every male college student in America a secret from Keith? I'm surprised he hadn't already seen it by the end of the episode.
Speaking of which: If, as Wallace suspected, they were actually surveiling him, it would seem a bad idea for a society supposedly as secret as The Castle to essentially advertise that fact by distributing the video. But then, college boys don't always use their heads (the ones attached to their necks, anyway). Of greater concern to me was the fact that Wallace was such a sought-after member, given his near-expulsion for cheating during the fall semester.
As I said earlier, that "2400" kid did not look like a college freshman. But then, neither does Kristen Bell; she hasn't all year. What happened? She looked like a high schooler last year.
Anyway, that's the end of the show, unless something very strange happens. Hey, if Seventh Heaven can inexplicably get an extra season after its supposed series finale, why not VM?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Lotteries Are a Tax on the Unlucky

Feeling bad for the Boston Celtics is sort of like feeling bad for the New York Yankees, but has any team been more hosed by the draft lottery than the Celtics? In 1997, they had two lottery picks, and wound up with the #3 and #6 picks, missing out on Tim Duncan (they probably should have hung on to that Billups kid, but hey). This year, they stink it up again, there are not one, but two 19-year-old studs to grab, and... they end up with the fifth pick, the worst they could possibly do.
The NBA draft lottery used to be a great idea. Every team got an equal shot at the top pick; there was no difference between being the worst team in the league and being the first team to miss the playoffs. The best part of this scheme was that it kept the league competitive the whole season - it didn't matter if you finished one game or twenty-one games behind the eighth-place team, so if you still busted tail to win games until you were officially out, and even then you'd play hard, just to keep spectators in the seats. The point is, teams didn't tank.
Then, a couple of good teams had down years and wound up winning the lottery at key times - the Lakers got Magic Johnson, the Knicks got Patrick Ewing, a not-that-bad Spurs team got David Robinson - and the really bad teams cried foul, and we started the ping-pong-ball system. The first try at weighting the lottery was admirable - the best lottery team got one ball, the second-best got two, and so on. Unfortunately, the first time the system was tried, the one-ball Magic won their second straight lottery, and everyone decided to change the system again. Now, there's a weighting formula that gives the worst teams a much better chance at the top pick, and you get teams like the the 2007 Celtics, teams that could do a whole lot better, but who basically pack it in once they realize they're not playoff bound, in an effort to get more ping-pong balls. Or you get a team like the 1997 Celtics (come to think of it, there are more reasons not to feel bad for the C's), where the management fills a team with cheap stiffs while they wait for a couple of bad contracts to expire, because why bother to try fielding a competitive team? All it will do is reduce your chance of getting a good draft pick, keeping you mediocre longer.
Today, there is news that the NBA might re-examine the lottery system. Well, that's nice, and all, but who do they want to appease? The major issue with the current lottery (or no lottery) is that it provides weaker teams with a disincentive to compete, and that's a problem in the NBA the way it isn't in baseball (where the longer season weakens the effect of one team tanking) or football (where the short season keeps teams in the playoff race longer anyway). The original lottery system avoids this, but has the pitfall of often giving a high pick to a team that just missed the playoffs. As a fan, one might debate whether this is really a bad thing, but executives sure don't like it.
Here's my suggestion: go back to the original system, giving every team an equal shot at the top pick... but ONLY the top pick. If the worst team misses out, they get pick #2. You keep the excitement of the lottery, teams out of the playoffs have less incentive to lose late in the season, but the worst teams don't end up with the fourth pick in a league with a generally shallow draft.

And there's a... 30% chance it's raining right now!

Amanda Seyfried was Lilly Kane? I really should have watched the first season of this show.
Anyway, that's probably the end of Veronica Mars, and... hang on, that was it? She casts her vote, and that's the end? And wasn't this supposed to be a 2-hour finale? Crud, this show started at 8, didn't it? I guess I'll have more to say when the full episode is up on the network site.
Although, seriously, that "2400" dude was a freshman?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

By Popular Demand

When I posted the recipe for oatmeal chocolate chip cookies a while back, it was suggested that I post my peanut butter cookie recipe as well. Since I'm low on original recipes these days (I am beset by frequent cravings for macaroni & cheese - it's a darn good recipe, but not mine), this seems like a good time to put up a new dessert. Plus, it's got peanut butter in it, so I know it will be popular with a certain portion of my demographic.
The key to the peanut butter cookie is a) lots of salt and b) lots of peanuts - thus, it is recommended to use salted butter AND salted peanuts AND extra crunchy peanut butter. I also prefer dark brown sugar to light brown, but use what you've got.

Peanut Butter Cookies

2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup salted peanuts
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 cup extra-crunchy peanut butter
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
In a food processor, chop the peanuts until they are approximately the consistency of bread crumbs (about 15 seconds on the closest setting you have to "grind"). Set aside.
Mix together the butter and sugars until creamy. Beat in the peanut butter, then mix in the eggs (one at a time) and vanilla. Fold in the dry ingredients. Finally, stir in the ground peanuts until well combined.
Line cookie sheets with parchment paper (or use a silpat). Taking approximately 2 tablespoons of dough at a time, roll dough into balls and place on the cookie sheet. Use a fork to make a cross-hatch pattern on the top of each cookie (tip: rinse the fork with warm water every 3-4 cookies). Bake 11-12 minutes, until the cookies are brown on the edges - they won't look done, but they'll finish cooking out of the oven. Let the cookies cool on the sheet about 4 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Makes 3 dozen cookies.

My New Favorite

I'm going to take a moment to direct you to Rate Your Students, the blog that lets teachers vent about the behavior of lazy, disrespectful, uninterested students. While it lacks the radio-button numeric ranking system that so many institutions believe accuarately measures the quality of their faculty, it is generally more articulate than some of the complaints I've received on evaluations in the past.
While several of the posts do strike a chord, and I recognize the behavior of several of my own students in the descriptions (in particular, the ones who suddenly become very concerned about their grades just before/after the final exam, and assume that this last-second effort should automatically entitle them to a better grade), one thing this drives home to me is that I'm actually quite fortunate as an instructor. I teach a subject in which the students are fairly easily and objectively evaluated (I don't enjoy grading 300 calculus problems, but it beats 20 book reports any day). I've never taught more than 40 students in a term (and only that many when I have two sections), so I can learn all of my students' names before the first test - I consider this very important; a student who knows he/she is not anonymous is more likely to come to class, and less likely to be rude to the instructor. I teach an intermediate course; one where the students are often (but not always) more mature, both in terms of knowing the subject beforehand and understanding their role as students. And I don't teach at a public high school, where I would be little more than a babysitter.
I still plan on teaching when I'm done with this school thing. But stories like these will make me a little more open to those cushy private sector jobs.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Like A Child in His Fantasy, Punchin' Holes in the Walls of Reality

I'm sure it's coincidence that the last four times I have attended trivia night alone, I have walked away in first place. No, seriously.
Anyway, I did win tonight. Apparently, I was the only one in the entire restaurant to know who played Bill S. Preston, Esquire. And Mom thought watching Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure twenty-five times (and that was just June of 1991) was a waste of time. That wasn't the final question, but that's okay; no one knew that one. Here are my misses. A bonus point for identifying the reference in the post title. However, you lose the bonus point for correctly answering number 6 (thus indicating that you actually watched The Postman).

1. Where does the U.S. government safekeep its silver (as a hint, the category is "NOT Fort Knox")?
2. In what year was America's first nudist colony founded?
3. Who was the last man elected U.S. President who did not attend college?
4. What does the "WD" in WD-40 stand for?
5. Which California city was the destination of the Pony Express?
6. What is the name of the post-apocalyptic faction Kevin Costner battles in The Postman?
7. The pound symbol ("#") is properly known as... what?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Twelve Glorious Pay-free Weeks

So much for getting back to a regular schedule. Perhaps now that I can be in my own house again, things will be normal. I don't count on it.
This week's VM seems to exist mainly to tell us what everybody will be doing with their summer vacation. There are some interesting side stories, though; in particular, the sudden revelation that Vinnie Van Lowe might be something less than "an asset to the community" leads to what will certainly be an exciting season finale. Whoops, make that series finale. Sadly, One Tree Hill will be back, despite the fact that the main characters are all graduating. Please tell me they're not all going to Tree Hill Community College.

Edited to add: Omigosh, I almost forgot the strangest part of the show: the "Cover Girl for a Day" bits that were airing during the commercials. Very odd. And the hostess... where to begin? The outfit, the accessories, the mannerisms... no. Just... no.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The House Dressing is Parisian

There were two rounds of restaurant-specific questions tonight. Not specific to the restaurant business, specific to this particular place Fortunately, my predilection for single-malt scotch got us through one round. I'll be skipping those questions. Here's the rest.

1. How many different types of Samuel Adams beer are there?
2. What was the name of Usher's first album?
3. What two liquors are in a Sex on the Beach?
4. On the MTV reality show Adventures in Hollyhood, what is the name of Triece's girlfriend?
5. On The Steve Harvey Show, what is the name of Lydia Liza Gutman's lover?
6. What number was worn by John Elway, Mickey Mantle, and David Beckham?
7. What is Idaho's nickname?
8. Name the last thoroughbred to win the Triple Crown.
Final question:
9. In what year was Yuengling beer first brewed?

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

You're Older Than You've Ever Been

Time out to wish my younger sister a happy birthday. I, of course, stopped aging three years ago, so she'll catch up to me soon.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

I Haven't Thought of You Lately At All

A near-disaster almost delayed my return to Veronica Mars commentary for another week. Fortunately, I was saved by my own Luddite ways. The lesson: satellite TV is not 100% reliable, always keep an antenna on hand.
Anyway, what to say about this week's episode? I fear that this show is spreading itself too thin. It's good to have a reasonable amount of Wallace (and, to answer a question posed by Veronica earlier in the season: He's Rory). The Veronica-Piz relationship is horribly awkward, but in a good way. The Keith subplot was... not that exciting, and it felt tacked on. The Logan-Mac-Max thing also seemed an excuse to have Logan mope about Veronica (where was Parker? Did I miss something last week?), but was probably the most interesting story of the week. And the mystery of the week... was not a mystery at all. Seriously, Veronica, you didn't look at the evidence the first time?
Bring your leftover gum to the comments.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Festeja Adelante, Garth

There is a lot of food in this house right now. I am knee-deep in leftovers from yesterday's Cinco de Mayo party, plus I've been gnawing my way through a pan of homemade cornbread all day.
Yesterday's fiesta was quite the spread. Last week's chicken recipe was, of course, a big star. Also in attendance were fresh guacamole, homemade pico de gallo, a fantastic bean dish from my friend Jennifer, and today's selection, a slow-cooked pork roast that drew raves from the carnivores.
My favorite thing about slow-cooking is starting the dish the night before, and waking up to an entire downstairs that smells like the afternoon meal. It's all I can do to not to start eating right out of the crock-pot at 9:00 in the morning. Make this, and spend your day contemplating the merits of delayed gratification.

Cedar Creek Carnitas
For the dry rub:
2 tablespoons ancho chili powder
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano
4 cloves minced garlic
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar

one pork loin roast (1.5 - 4 pounds)
6-8 whole unpeeled garlic cloves

combine the dry rub ingredients - if you can, further mince the garlic after combining it with the other ingredients (I don't, because I cringe at the thought of what chopping salt is doing to my good knife). Coat the roast with the dry rub, using 1 to 1.5 tablespoons of rub for each pound of meat. Allow the meat to marinate in the refrigerator for 6 to 24 hours.

There are two methods for cooking the pork:
Method 1: Preheat oven to 275°F. Place the pork and garlic cloves in a heavy dutch oven or roasting pan, preferably one just larger than the roast. Cover the pan and cook until very tender, about 1 hour per pound (plus maybe 30 minutes extra).

Method 2: Place the pork and garlic cloves in a slow-cooker (if your cooker is much larger than the roast, wrap the pork and garlic cloves in aluminum foil, then place the whole package in the cooker) and cook on low setting for 8-12 hours.

Remove the pork from the pan and shred. If you can, allow the pork to rest for about ten minutes first (my experience, however, is that the roast falls apart upon removal). For additional flavoring, mash the cooked garlic cloves in with the shredded pork. Serve with tortillas, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, queso fresco, etc.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

A constant source of disappointment

Tuesday, I failed to provide one of my (somewhat) regular features: Thanks to the CW's Fox-like showkilling techniques, I forgot that Veronica Mars was back from hiatus, and thus have no comment whatsoever on this week's show. I did remember to catch One Tree Hill, but no one needs to hear about that.
Today, I will fail to provide another of my regular features: trivia night has been cancelled, because it's final exam week. Even if it had not been cancelled, I would have missed it, because - well, because it's final exam week.
Regular schedule returns next week, I promise. In fact, I plan to ramp up the content. Get excited, people.