Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Beer in My Future

Home Brew Update: I have read in various places on the web that if you use Munton's CarbTabs, some leftover particles of the tablets could show up floating in the beer. Some people suggested simply ignoring the particles while others suggested giving the bottles an extra turn midway through the carbonation period. Today, I gave each bottle of the latest home brew batch a couple of extra inversions. I did notice some particles in the bottles, particularly the bottles in which I put more of the carbonation tablets. There was also some white residue in the very bottom of some bottles. A few taps on the bottom helped with dissipating some of that white film.

I am finally adding a second beer to my list for 2011. I stopped by my favorite wine and beer store yesterday. I was in the store last weekend, and there had just been a run on the draft beer. Their shipment of new kegs had been a little short that week, so they were down to just two taps. Luckily, one of those two drafts was Reissdorf Kölsch, so I was good to go.

This week, the keg situation had been resolved, and there was a brew that was new to me. The new brew was Nostradamus by Brasserie Caracole which is located in Belgium and according to Wikipedia, is an "artisanal brewery". The store had this brew listed on their board as a brown ale. When I think brown ale, of course, I think about Newcastle which is an English-style brown ale. Newcastle is known for a taste that is malty and nutty. The Nostradamus definitely did not taste like that. It is categorized as Belgian Strong Dark Ale, and it is a pretty big beer at 9.5% ABV. The taste is strong and complex, and I probably would have enjoyed it much better if I had not been expecting the smooth malt taste of Newcastle.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Book About a Bar

As I mentioned in my first post of 2011, I have been intending to write more posts about books that I have read. Since I just finished at this very moment a book that I thought was really great, I figure it is a great time to get back to posting about books. The book in question is The Tender Bar which a memoir by journalist J. R. Moehringer. It recounts Moehringer's youth and early adult life. He grew up in Manhasset, New York with his mother. The town is on Long Island and is best known as part of the setting for the book The Great Gatsby. This book includes several references to The Great Gatsby, most of which I probably did not fully grasp since I have not read that particular book.

During the early part of the book, Moehringer and his mother live mainly with her parents. They move out on their own several times, only to end up moving back. The dilapidated house of his grandparents is also home to his mother's brother, Charlie, and frequently his mother's sister and her six children. Like he and his mother, his aunt and cousins also frequently move out of and then back into the house. Moehringer's father is largely absent, although he makes a few rare appearances throughout the book. Since his father works as a DJ, Moehringer grows up really only knowing his father as a voice (or the Voice) on the radio.

The book is populated by a variety of interesting characters. However, the star of the book as referenced by the title is not any of the actual people, but the corner bar and restaurant where most of the human characters congregate. At the start of the book, the pub is named Dickens after Charles Dickens. It is later renamed Publicans (after barkeeps and not tax collectors) and is reborn as Edison's in the epilogue. the author's Uncle Charlie is one of the pub's bartenders. As the book progresses, Moehringer gets to know and befriends the bar's owner, most of its employees, and many of its patrons.

The main theme of the book deals with Moehringer seeking out men to fill the void left by his missing father. The early parts of the book recount the misadventrues of his youth in Manhasset. Eventually, he and his mother leave New York and move to Arizona. Some of the stories about his teenage years in Arizona and summers back in Manhasset are painfully awkward. At the urging of his mother and two shopkeepers at the bookstore where he works, Moehringer applies to and is accepted at Yale. His time at Yale turns out to be as equally awkward as those of his younger years. He feels out of place among his fellow students who are mostly from the upper crusts of society. He eventually ends up playing lapdog to a beautiful co-ed. After she leaves him for someone that is more her social equal, he begins to spend most of his time drinking and reading as oppose to concentrating on his classes.

Somehow he manages to graduate from Yale, but he ends up back in Manhasset where he spending most of his time hanging out with the gang at Publicans. His continued misadventures include a stint in the housewares department at the local Lord & Taylor and his time as a copy boy with The New York Times. The main section of the book concludes with Moehringer moving out to Colorado to live with his cousin and a friend.

The book was published in 2005, so it is no surprise that the epilogue revolves around the author, who at that time was a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, returning to his hometown shortly after September 11, 2001. I imagine writing about the New York area around that time would be difficult particularly for a native. The book has a generally depressed feel, so I thought tacking on the even more depressing epilogue risked a complete nose dive. However, I think Moehringer manages admirably to convey the strong emotions of that time without having the tone completely bottom out.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Reality Mimics Fantasy

As I mentioned yesterday, the NFL's two conference championship games will be played today. I know that I can not cover anything here that has not already been mentioned over and over again on television, radio and the Internet. For instance, the four participating teams are some of the NFL's most historic. The Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, and Pittsburgh Steelers are three of the eight oldest NFL franchises. Those three teams are also among the five most successful in the NFL's history. Throw in the New York Jets and their upset victory back in Super Bowl III, and the four teams still standing have eleven Super Bowl championships and 28 championships overall. Another interesting note is that the Bears and Packers will be playing each other for the 182nd time but for only the second time in the playoffs. Then there is this completely pointless little nugget.

One fact about these two games that I find particularly interesting is that both the Packers and Jets have made their respective conference championship games as six seeds. As the worst seed, sixth-seeded teams generally have the toughest road. Wild card teams, the five and six seeds, have to play all their playoff games on the road. It is not surprising then that only one sixth-seeded team has even made it to the Super Bowl. That team was the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers who won Super Bowl XL. This year, the playoffs for the Packers and Jets have been particularly difficult since they both will have faced the top three seeds in their conference.

I know that people, mostly guys, discussing their fantasy football teams can be terribly boring. I broke the taboo twice last year with fantasy-related posts, one of which in particular was a fantasy geek-out. However, one of my two fantasy teams followed a similar arc to this season's Green Bay and New York Jets teams. My team was led by quarterback Michael Vick of the Eagles, running back Michael Turner of the Falcons, and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe of the Chiefs. The team finished the regular season with a 6-7 record, but I think my team was deceptively solid. During the regular season, they scored the third most points. They also had the most points scored against them which helps account for some of their losses.

Like this season's Seattle Seahawks, my fantasy team made the playoffs with a losing record. Like the Jets and Packers, my team was the sixth and lowest seed, and like those teams, my team had to face the top three seeds. In the first round, my team convincingly beat the number three seed. That team had opened the season with a seven-game win streak but had faded in the second half. In the semifinal round, my team faced the second-seeded team which was also the second-highest scoring team. My team won a shoot-out, and the losing team would have won the other semifinal game. My team matched up with the top-seeded team in the championship game. The one seed had dominated the season. They were the highest-scoring team during the regular season and were atop the power rankings for 13 out of the 16 weeks, but not the final rankings. The outcome was not decided until Tuesday since we had to wait for the Eagles and Vick to play the Vikings. My team managed to squeaked out a three-point victory to claim the league championship.

Obviously, I know that the performance of my fantasy team has no bearing on the actual playoffs teams, but I am interested to see if the Jets or Packers or both will be able to duplicate the success of my sixth-seeded fantasy team. I have no particular rooting interest in these games, but having the two six seeds end up meeting in this year's Super Bowl would make a riveting story.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Carolina Effect

Home Brew Update: Since I expect that I will be spending most of tomorrow sitting on my lazy ass watching the two NFL conference championship games, I went ahead and took care of bottling the latest batch of home brew today. This was my first time using Munton's CarbTabs. According to various websites, the number of tablets to use in my one-liter bottles varied from nine to fourteen. Therefore, I decided to try a little experiment. I have eight bottles. I put different numbers of tablets in the bottles and noted that number on the bottle cap. I expect the bottle with only nine tablets to be flat, while the bottle with 14 tablets will be extra carbonated. Stop by for a taste in two weeks.

This post is a continuation of a topic from a previous post. In that post, I discussed the new head coach of the Carolina Panthers and my prediction for his time holding the reigns. I based my prediction on the records of his three predecessors. While my thought process made sense to me, looking back over the post, I am not sure that I made it clear that I saw a discernible pattern of peaks and valleys in the records of the previous Panthers head coaches. Being the spreadsheet geek that I am, I made this graph of the head coaching records of the Panthers. The basic pattern is a mediocre year with a record around .500 followed by a peak year with wins in the double digits. Finally, there is a two-year decline with a mediocre year followed by a dreadful year and the coach being fired.

Dom Capers had one peak year in 1996 with the Panthers winning the NFC West division and beating the Dallas Cowboys in the first round of the playoffs. George Seifert did not have any peak seasons. His first mediocre year as head coach was immediately followed by a two-year decline. John Fox had three peak seasons. In 2003, the team won the NFL South division and made it to the Super Bowl. In 2005, the team made the playoffs as a wild card and went to the conference championship game where they lost to the top-seeded Seattle Seahawks. In 2008, the Panthers won 12 games for the second time in their history and the first since 1996. The team enjoyed a first round bye in the playoffs, but then got destroyed by the Arizona Cardinals in the divisional round with quarterback Jake Delhomme turning the football over five times. The Cards would go on to play in Super Bowl XLIII. My prediction for Ron Rivera's tenure was based on averaging the one peak season under Capers and the three peak seasons under Fox. I gave Rivera a total of six years with two cycles of a mediocre season followed by a peak season and then a two-year decline.

The Panthers even having a mediocre season in 2011 is not a gimme. The team is coming off a dreadful two-win season and in reality, might be looking at one or two rebuilding years before becoming competitive again. Perhaps, a mediocre 8-8 or 7-9 season is out of the question for next season. While change is the only constant in the NFL as it is in life, looking at the team's opponents for next season, it might be hard to find seven or eight wins. The Panthers did not record a win against their divisional opponents this past season. Atlanta and New Orleans should be strong again, and Tampa Bay will be looking to continue their improvement. Hopefully however, the Panthers can steal two wins next season and go 2-4 in the division. The Panthers will play the four teams from the NFC North. Tomorrow, the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears are playing for the NFC Championship. I have to assume those two team will be solid next season. The Detroit Lions have been improving, and much about the Minnesota Vikings is up in the air including where they will be playing their home games. At best, the Panthers might go 2-2 against that division, but 1-3 is more realistic.

Next season, the Panthers will also play the four teams from the AFC South division, and they might do pretty well. The Indianapolis Colts should be formidable as long as they have Peyton Manning under center. However, I think the games against the Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Tennessee Titans should all be winnable for the Panthers. I say that they will go 2-2. Finally, the Panthers have games against Arizona and Washington, both of whom also finished last in their divisions. Those two games could be wins as well, but I say the Panthers will split them. To add it all up, 2-4 in their division plus 1-3 versus the NFC North plus 2-2 versus the AFC South plus 1-1 equals 6-10. I guess that record would be considered mediocre.

On the other hand, both the Falcons and Saints collapsed in their playoff games. While Atlanta, New Orleans and Tampa Bay all had impressive double-digit win seasons, I think there is a good chance that those team are not quite as good as their records indicate. The Panthers were truly dreadful this past seasons, and since their fellow NFC South teams each had two games against Panthers, I think their records are a bit inflated. I call this hypothesis the Carolina effect. Other playoff team also had wins over Panthers, so those wins would have to be discounted as well. I wanted to see if the NFC standings would look different if the 10 losses that the Panthers had against NFC opponents were removed. Once again, I went to a spreadsheet. I used the final NFL standings by conference for 2010 which can be found here. I updated the records to remove wins over the Panthers, and the winning percentages were recalculated for the affected teams based on 15 or 14 games instead of 16.

Based on the result, it turns out that my great theory does not hold water. Removing the wins over the Panthers does not change the conference standings. The top three teams, Atlanta, Chicago and New Orleans, all had victories over Carolina, so discounting those victories was basically a wash. Philadelphia and Green Bay did not play the Panthers, but that did not help them gain any ground in the standings. Of course, it is impossible to say how the standings would be different if the games against the Panthers were replaced by games against better teams. The Packers could not have overtaken the Bears for the NFC North championship, but Green Bay might have gotten the higher wild card seed over the Saints. The Eagles might have gotten the second seed and a first round bye instead of the Bears. Those changes would have drastically altered the face of the playoffs.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Completely Unrelated

A friend of mine named Rob Segall has recently started a new blog focused on recruiting, particularly in the field of technology. Rob spent several years as a recruiter for IBM. Incidentally, IBM turns 100 years old this year. The company was incorporated in 1911 as the Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation (CTR). Back to Rob, he had a cup of coffee with Hewlett-Packard and is now with Cisco. I consider Rob to be an expert in recruiting. Granted, he is friend, and I think he is a great guy, so I might be biased. However, I think he has fabulous ideas in regards to the future of recruiting. Cisco is lucky to have him in their ranks.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Training Wheels

In my post from last weekend, I discussed using Munton's CarbTabs instead of sugar when it comes time for bottling the batch of home brew that is currently fermenting in the keg. Unfortunately, the store that I visited last Saturday was out of carbonation tabs and drops. I considered ordering the CarbTabs online, but I did not want to pay $5 on shipping for a $3 product. The good news is that yesterday, I was able to pick up a pack of CarbTabs at American Brewmaster which a great beer- and wine-making store located off Capital Boulevard here in Raleigh.

There was one thing that kind of irked me while I was in the store. I was in the line to check out, and the guy manning the cash register got a call from somebody asking about supplies for their Mr. Beer kit. The guy told the person that the store did not carry Mr. Beer products, but the store could help them with some of the necessary supplies. The particular problem is that Mr. Beer kits have a two-gallon keg while most brewing supplies support five-gallon batches or larger. What irked me though, was after hanging up the phone, the clerk snidely (in my opinion) commented something to the effect that the person should get a real brewing kit. I do not think that veteran home-brewers should be critical of the Mr. Beer kits. I think that is similar to making fun of kiddie bikes with training wheels. I hope someday to move up to a more full-functional brewing setup. That might not ever happen, but if it does, the Mr. Beer kit would have been the initial impetus for getting me to that spot.

Moving on to another topic, I have changed the title of my previous post from Thursday twice now. Since this is my site, I suppose I can do as I please. I originally went with just "Same Old, Same Old", but I was not completely happy with that title. The next day, I changed it to ""Same Old Story" which is closer to what I intended. This morning, I changed the title again, this time to "Same Old Song and Dance" which is the title of a Aerosmith song. We know that I like referencing songs. Perhaps tomorrow I will change the title once again maybe to "Same Ol' Situation" which of course is a song by Mötley Crüe.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Same Old Song and Dance

On Tuesday, my favorite NFL team, the Carolina Panthers, introduced Ron Rivera as their new head coach. Rivera replaced John Fox whose contract the Panthers let expire after the team went 2-14 this season. Fox was expected to rebound promptly, and just today, he was hired as head coach of the Denver Broncos. Before joining the Panthers in 2002, Fox was defensive coordinator (DC) for the New York Giants. He posted a .507 winning percentage in nine seasons with the Panthers.

To me, the hire of Ron Rivera is just a repeat of the same tired story for the Panthers. The magic number in this story is four, and the magic letters are 'D' and 'C'. During their search, the management of the Panthers interviewed four people. The four, Rivera formerly of the San Diego Chargers, Perry Fewell from the Giants, Greg Manusky from the San Francisco 49ers, and Rob Ryan from the Cleveland Browns, were all DCs.

Rivera is the fourth head coach for the Panthers, and all four were former DCs. Three of four, including Rivera, transitioned directly from coordinator positions. Only the team's second coach, George Seifert, had previous head coaching experience. Seifert was DC for the 49ers under the Hall of Famer, Bill Walsh. In 1989, Seifert replaced Walsh as head coach of the Niners and posted an impressive .766 winning percentage in eight seasons. He retired from the Niners in 1996 with the highest career winning percentage in NFL history before returning in 1999 as head coach of the Panthers. His stint with the Panthers would only last three years while he posted a .333 winning percentage.

The first head coach of the Panthers was Dom Capers. Capers was previously the DC for the Pittsburgh Steelers before taking over the Panthers. He posted a .468 winning percentage in four years. After the Panthers, Capers went back to a DC position with the Jacksonville Jaguars before getting another chance at breaking in an expansion team when he became the first head coach of the Houston Texans in 2002. Since 2009, he has been DC for the Green Bay Packers.

Getting back to Rivera, I only know what I have read about him on the Internet, but let me give a preview of Rivera's tenure with the Panthers based on the records of his predecessors. I am going to be generous and give him six years. As I mentioned above, Capers lasted four year, Seifert only survived three years, and Fox hung around for nine years. This year, Rivera will lead the Panthers to a surprising turnaround and go 7-9. In 1995, their inaugural season, the Panthers went 7-9 with Capers as head coach. The Panthers went 8-8 in 1999, Seifert's first year. The Panthers went 7-9 in 2002 which was Fox's first year.

Rivera's second year will continue the turnaround. The team will go 11-5 and surprisingly win the NFC South. In 1996, the Panthers went 12-4 and won the NFC West in their second year of existence. In 2003, Fox's second year with the team, the Panthers posted a record of 11–5, won the NFC South, and went on to play the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII. (Yes, I have the DVD yearbook for the 2003 Panthers). In Rivera's third year, the team will have a mediocre year and go 7-9. The Panthers went 7-9 in their third year under both Capers (1997) and Fox (2004).

I am going to say the Panthers will go 11–5 again in the fourth year of Rivera's watch which is what the team achieved in 2005 in Fox's fourth year. The Rivera yo-yo will continue in his fifth (and second-to-last) year with the team going 7-9. The Panthers went 7-9 in the penultimate seasons for both Capers (1997) and Seifert (2000). Fox fared slightly better in his next-to-last season (2009) as the Panthers went 8-8. In Rivera's sixth and final season, the team will limp to a 2-14 record, and he will be left go at the end of the season. The Panthers only managed a 4-12 record in 1998, their last season under Capers. They were an absolutely dreadful 1-15 in Seifert's final year (2001), and only managed two wins with 14 losses this past season.

Below is my prediction for Rivera's tenure as head coach of the Panthers in table format. I wish the new coach the best of luck, but based on previous experience, my guess is that his career with the Panthers with be an up-and-down affair.

SeasonWinLossWin %Finish
201179.4384th in NFC South
2012115.6881st in NFC South
201379.4383rd in NFC South
2014115.6882nd in NFC South
201579.4383rd in NFC South
2016214.1254th in NFC South

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Art of Label

This will be my first post of 2011. I intend it to be a recap of the year that was for my little site, but first, here is an update on the ongoing home brewing experiment. I have been meaning to mix up a batch of the home brew since I got back from China, but I have been busy with work and the holidays. Also, due to extenuating circumstances, I found that I did not have a whisk which is needed during the brewing process or any sugar which is needed for bottling. I took care of the first issue yesterday by picking up some whisks along with some other kitchen supplies including measuring cups and measuring spoons.

Instead of buying a bag of sugar which I otherwise did not need, I decided it was time to try another method for creating carbonation. The two main carbonation options are Coopers Carbonation Drops and Munton's CarbTabs. Based on information from various message boards, I understand the main difference between the two is that the Munton's tabs contain mostly glucose (a.k.a. dextrose or corn sugar) and the Coopers drops are a mix of sucrose (or table sugar, 73%) and glucose (27%). While the Coopers drops are suppose to be faster, I decided to go with the CarbTabs.

I also took the opportunity to visit Fifth Season Gardening Company which is located on Hillsborough Street over near the state fairgrounds. In addition to being a gardening store, they also have an inventory of home-brewing supplies. After mastering the Mr. Beer kit, I think I would like to step up to a more full-function kit such as this one from Brewer’s Best. Anyway, the store was out of both the CarbTabs and the Carbonation Drops, so I had to order some of the CarbTabs. Since I assume they will be delivered within two weeks, I went ahead with mixing up the brew and putting it in the keg. I used the last can from El's original gift which was Octoberfest Vienna Lager. Now I need to look into buying some refills.

Moving on, I am a few days late, but I published my first post on this site one year ago on January 3. No, I did not do anything in particular to celebrate this first anniversary. This post is sort of a follow-on to my State of the Site post from back in February where I summarized the first month of the site. For the full year of 2010, I had 62 posts which is an average of just over five posts per month and over one per week. I got off to a strong start with 15 posts in January and 11 in February. After that, my posting frequency dropped off considerably. I averaged only 36 posts over the next ten months or less than one a week.

I came up with the title for this post before I started typing it. My plan is to examine the labels that I have used so far. Of course, leading the pack is the "beer" label with 37 posts which is a whopping 60% of all my posts. I went back and added a new label for posts that were specifically related to home brewing. There are thirteen posts with the new "home brew" label. This post will be number fourteen. The next highest ranking label is "sports" with 22 posts. Those posts cover a variety of different sports including baseball, basketball, football, hockey, and racing. I also went back and added a new "NFL proposal" label to my four posts (so far) on that subject.

None of the other labels cracked double-digits in posts. Next on the list is the "books" label with six posts. As my Goodreads gadget will attest, I have read several books since my last book-related post in March. I just need to try harder to post about what I have read. The next three labels all tied with five posts apiece and are each related to entertainment. Last month, I had one post labeled with both "movies" and "television", and another post labeled with "music". To summarize, my site is primarily focused on beer, sports and various forms of entertainment.