Archive | July, 2011

The Ecosystem of Publishing for Visibility

19 Jul

Full disclosure, this is a business post:

iCrossing has posted a blog post I wrote for our company blog, Great Finds on the concept that as a marketer, WHERE you publish content is just as important as the content itself.  For maximum visibility, you should consider the Ecosystem of Publishing for Visibility – publishing in multiple places means your brand’s content can be viewed by as many people as possible, and found by those searching for it.

Great Finds – the iCrossing Blog

~ Stew

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A day nearly 19 years in the making

17 Jul

Today I did something I dreamed of shortly after my son Joel, who turns 19 in August, was born. As most of my close friends know, I’m a “car guy”. Love the things – the worst investment in the world, I know. But cars are one of the things in life that make me happy. Thankfully, I’m blessed with a wonderful wife, who, while not fanatical like me, does like a good set of wheels.

The other thing I like, which seems to go nicely with cars, is driving. And even more specifically, competition driving. As in “racing’. Now, I’m not one of those street racing jackasses who roam the expressways at night looking to throw down against others in performance cars, nor am I a drag racer. I love road racing – twisty, turny road course racing. With low budgets, and just production cars, you’re generally limited to a style called “autocross” – this is just you against the clock, one car on the track at a time, taking one lap at a time on a short course. Often they are cone courses set up on parking lots. Sometimes, they are on actual race tracks, and that is where it gets really fun.

Ok, so back up nearly 19 years. When we learned at his birth that Joel was a boy (yes, we went for the surprise!), the next day I was day dreaming about all the things we would do together – and a significant number of the dreams came around cars – going to the Indy 500 (we’ve gone together six times), going to the Chicago Auto show (many times), car shopping (all the time) and the big mac daddy – the day we would go do a track day or autocross together. That day was today.

Today’s race day was sanctioned by the Chicagoland VW Organization (aka “CVO”) – a club of auto enthusiasts dominated by drivers of the Volkswagen make. It was at Tire Rack’s testing road course in South Bend, IN. Tire Rack, if you don’t know them, is a great online retailer of tires. Highly recommend them. We’ve been driving past that facility for years, and every time, Joel and I have said to each other “we’ve gotta figure out a way to go drive on that course.” And we did.

We got up at the godawful hour of 4:20 AM – registration began at 7:30 AM and we would lose an hour driving there. We arrived about 7:45 AM just as registration was getting going. Got through a quick tech inspection (our car is box-stock, so no surprises there) and off we went. The road course at Tire Rack is interesting – it is a series of asphalt straightaways, turns and circles all linked together, so with cones, you can make an infiinte number track layouts. Here is a Google Maps look at where we were: Tire Rack. This particular course featured two passes around their high-speed circular skid pad, several turns, chicanes and slaloms and enough speed to make it very interesting.

We each got 12 runs on the day – our poor little VW GTI got one hell of a workout – 24 passes on that course today. I’d bet we took 5000 miles off the tires and at least that off the brakes! We each had five runs in the morning and 7 in the afternoon. First I drove, then Joel. Joel rode with me for my first 3 passes then went and got the camera, and after that first run, he says “Ok, let me tell you where you can be faster.” And it was at that moment, where my pride welled up, as did my eyes slightly and I realized just how much I had been looking forward to this day. With his coaching, I definitely found a lot more speed today. Awesome – the kid really has a talent for this.

When it was Joel’s turn though, suddenly he got very quiet and pensive, and I realized he was pretty nervous – I asked him “how’s your heart beating?” and he laughed and said “Fast!”. And with that, it was game on. He made a few rookie mistakes of course – overcooked a few corners, didn’t go as fast elsewhere as he could, but with each run, he tweaked, and thought, and focused and improved. And he LOVED it. And I LOVED that he loved it. I wasn’t surprised that he would, but nonetheless, I loved it.

At the end of the day, we are both bashed. It was HOT out there – upper 90s. And, well, this sport really takes it out of you – that heavy helmet is trying to pull your head off, and well, you’re seriously stressed in that car. But, what a satisfying day. And, he beat the old man. His best lap was 1.2 seconds quicker than mine – 66.8 seconds versus 68.0 for me. Boy did he lord that on me.

Every parent says at nearly every age (maybe not early teen years), that they wish they could just “freeze” their kids at a certain age – because they are just perfect. When they are babies and their personalities switch on. When they are 3 years old, still a baby, but being oh so grown up. When they are 8 years old and mom and dad are heroes. But as much as I’d love to “freeze” today, I don’t want to freeze Joel, nor do I want to freeze Alex and Brian. I want them to grow up to be the great men that I know they will be. And I know, as adult friends, we will have a LOT of fun. Just like today.

As you were,

Stew

And a few pics of us in action. I was number 355, and Joel was 35:

Road trip tunes – how a song and a place get indelibly linked together

16 Jul

This morning, I just read this article from NPR about road trip tunes, and that got me thinking two things:  1) Hey blog post topic! and 2) How I have so many of these … and so does Robin.

Here’s the article from NPR:  Road Trip Shuffle

This has always been a favorite topic between Robin and me over our 25 years of marriage – “what/where does this song remind you of”?

Here’s a few of ours:

Radar Love, Golden Earring:  This takes Robin back to sitting in an RV motoring across New Mexico on her way to see the Grand Canyon with a bunch of friends in 8th grade.

Turning Japanese, The Vapors:  While a goofy song, it is indelibly linked with driving through Peoria, IL at 11:00 at night on the way home from Purdue Univ. in Lafayette, IN, going back to Iowa City on freshman year pledge skip.  I was driving an RV that night.  RVs seem to be a theme.

Everything I do, I do for you, Bryan Adams (and any other summer of ’87 power ballad):  September 1987, driving in a rented minivan through West Virginia on the way out to Boston to visit Robin’s grandparents and bring back a china cabinet – that was the summer of the hairband power ballads – things from Poison, White Snake, Red Hot Chili Peppers and more.  That minivan did not have a cassette or CD player in it so we were relegated to the scan function on the radio, and when a station would fade out, we’d search for another that played rock – inevitably, a power ballad would be on when the radio would land on a station.

Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin’ by Journey:  A road trip with our family and three other families to Hamburg, IA to see the Hamburg rodeo – summer of 1978.  That song doesn’t go much with rodeo, but … it is linked to that moment.

All Right Now, Free:  This is an oldie/moldie/goodie:  I distinctively remember listening to this song (one of my all time favorites), as we drove home from Park Rapids MN and our summer fishing cabin vacation – the visual memory that goes with this one is that I’m sitting in the front seat, between my parents, in our 1971 Ford Galaxy 500 (an odd sort of metallic grass green with a black vinyl roof) and we were tuning the AM radio and came upon a station playing this.  Couldn’t tell you the year – most likely 1975 though.

She Loves You – the Beatles:  This is the first rock song I can remember that we had an actual record of – we had a 45 of this and I remember playing this on it – the visual I get through is the family room of that first house.  I guess the record player moved around.  Not a road trip – but a distinct visual memory.

I Want a New Drug – Huey Lewis and the News:  spring of 1986, driving in my new Mazda RX-7, from my parents house to work in Des Moines.

And finally:

Would I Lie To You by The Eurythmics:  Also, 1986 – it was my pump-up tune that I’d crank in the car while waiting in the staging line to take my Mazda RX-7 out on the track on track days.

There are dozens more of course, but …

They always say smells link you to places – but for me, songs put me in cars (and RVs).  What are some of yours?

As you were,

Stew

Houston, we have a problem: The end of the Manned Spaceflight Program

15 Jul

The recent liftoff of the last NASA Space Shuttle flight and knowing that our country’s manned spaceflight program is going into limbo has had me kind of speechless.  Anyone that knew me when I was a kid knows that I was flat space-crazy.  And well, I am having trouble believing that the age of Mission Control, “Houston”, “your ‘GO’ for …”, Tang, Velcro, inertial navigation, orbital mechanics and all that way cool stuff, at least from a governmental-sponsored viewpoint is going away.  I feel like it is a sad day for America.  I’m not going to riff on the politics here, though.  As I’m just not sure about that.  The issue is – the astronauts, the engineers and all from NASA were my heroes growing up.  Other kids idolized athletes.  I idolized astronauts.  Still do.

<<< That’s Alan Shepherd right there.  The Icy Commander.  A Steely-Eyed Missile Man.  America’s first man in space.  Part of the Mercury program.  I’ve read numerous books about the space program, and my favorite is still We Seven about the seven original US Astronauts in Mercury.  These guys had cojones like no one else.  All in their mid-30s to early 40s when they flew, all test pilots, most were family men, and all put their asses on the line for our country to crawl into a space capsule that was SMALLER than the driver’s seat cockpit area of a Smart Car (think about that), at the top of a barely-proven and fairly unstable Redstone or Atlas ballistic missile, strapped in and with a “we’re Go for launch” were fired into space at the insane speed of 17,000 miles per hour.  NASA had no computers in those days – hell they didn’t even have calculators.  All of the incredibly complex differential calculus equations that are used to figure out how to make a rocket send a spacecraft into that delicately defined balancing act called “orbit” were done on SLIDE RULES.  Riddle me that for a moment … we carry bloody computers in our pockets now.  I can still name them all from memory without even Googling it:  Alan Shepherd (Mercury 1 and Apollo 14), Gus Grissom (Mercury 2 – killed in the capsule of Apollo 1 on the pad), John Glenn (Mercury 3 – our first orbital flight, and a Shuttle flight when he was 78 years old), Scott Carpenter (flew once – Mercury 4), Deke Slayton (had an inner ear problem that kept him from flying until the Apollo-Soyuz joint mission), Wally Shirra (Mercury 5, Gemini 6, Apollo 7 – an interesting numerological sequence), Gordon Cooper (Mercury 6 and Gemini 5).

After the Mercury program – there was Gemini – a “two-seater sports car” of a spacecraft.  The interior of this thing wasn’t much bigger than the interior of a modern Corvette.  Imagine spending 2 weeks there.  Eating.  Sleeping.  Working. Peeing. Pooping (yes, astronauts do poop), etc.  Again, brass balls.  At least in Mercury and Apollo they had an abort system – a rocket attached to the top of the capsule that if all went bad, would pull the capsule away from the “BFRC” (Big F’ing Red Cloud – as the engineers liked to call an exploding missile).  On Gemini, these guys had EJECTION SEATS – can you imagine that decision being made?  “Umm, Gemini 6, your rocket is blowing up – we recommend you abort.  Your altitude is 70 miles and your velocity is 23,000 feet per second.   Good luck with that.”  And still NO COMPUTERS. (Interesting sidebar:  Neil Armstrong was the commander of the only American space mission to truly go out of control and still have  people live to tell about it – on his Gemini flight.  Steely-eyed missile man!)

Apollo is where most of America and I’d guess most of you picked up the story – and what a story it was.  When President Kennedy, in 1962 made his promise that America would put a man on the moon and return him safely from space, it was an absolute, biggest brass balls promise of the highest order.  One that would never be repeated and most certainly cannot now in this era of “you are from the other side, therefore everything you say or do is a bad idea.”  Again, no politics though.

The scale of an Apollo mission is just mindblowing – the program was going along so fast that astronaut crews had as little as four or five months to prepare.  They made the decision that sent Apollo 8, our first ever mission to leave the Earth’s gravitation field and fly to the moon, on its journey just five months before launch – it was originally supposed to be an earth-orbit flight to wring out the lunar lander – but the supplier of the Lunar Module, Grumman Aerospace, wasn’t going to deliver their product on time.  So with just five months planning, they decided to fly around the moon. One little problem:  they weren’t quite sure how to do it.  But they did.  Hundreds of engineers crunched the numbers on their slide rules and figured it out. Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders crewed that, and brought us that memorable moment when the Astronauts read from the book of Genesis, from near the moon on Christmas Eve, 1968.    From that moment to the middle of the next summer, it was literally a rocket ride – they flew Apollos 9, 10 and 11 – the first moon landing, within six months.

Apollo DID have computers, but I recently read an interesting stat – an iPad has more computer power in it than ALL of Mission Control did at the time we flew Apollo 11.  Crazy, huh?

Most of us of that generation can tell you exactly where we were on July 20th, 1969, the day Apollo 11 landed on the moon and later that evening, Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon.  We were driving for our annual vacation to my Grandparents in New Jersey, and we stopped somewhere in Western Pennsylvania overnight.  We listened to the landing on the car radio in the afternoon as we drove through the Cleveland area, and then that evening were in some Holiday Inn, watching the first man step on the moon.  I was 7 years old and I remember it like it was yesterday.  America was space crazy – everywhere you went it was Apollo-this and Moon-that.  We stopped to gas up the car at a Gulf oil station and their promotion was a Lunar Module made out of paper that you could assemble origami-style into a 3D model.  Well had to have THAT!  That item was on a shelf in my bedroom until after I graduated college.  Wonder where it went?

Watching an Apollo Saturn V lift off had to be one of the most spectacular things ever.  To this day, nothing has ever been bigger, louder, heavier, taller, etc. and still flown.   It had a takeoff thrust of 7.8 MILLION pounds – which was good because the fully-fueled monster weighed 6.5 MILLION pounds.  Some of the stats about a Saturn V are just crazy – the F1 engines on the first stage had fuel pumps that were powered by 24,000 horsepower turboshaft engines (basically jet engines) and pumped fuel at a rate of 24,000 gallons per minute – that’s enough liquid flow to fill a backyard pool in 45 seconds.  It was the loudest thing ever measured – something like 185 decibels at 500 yards away – which means next to it, it was something like 300 decibels.  A jet engine at full takeoff thrust, measured from 100 feet away is only 130 decibels.  The only night launch, Apollo 17,  the exhaust flames were so incandescent that from Atlanta to Miami it was like the sun came out – so bright in Orlando, 100 miles away, that the street lights on their dusk/dawn sensors switched off.  The rocket could be seen from as far away as Washington DC.  It is hard to imagine.

The Apollo astronauts were all heroes of course, but I found a new hero, as an adult, when I started using NASA’s problem solving skills and books about them as a study in how to solve business problems.  I knew about the brilliant engineers of Mission Control, and even knew a few names, but I really began to call Gene Kranz a hero after reading a book written by one of my “in law” relatives, Catherine Bly Cox and her husband Charles Murray – simply titled Apollo.  Apollo is a book about the people behind the mission – the engineers and planners, who made the flights possible and sweated and calculated.  Again these were YOUNG men – late 20s to late 30s – maybe about 40.  Gene Kranz is the Ed Harris character in the movie Apollo 13 – he’s a brilliant mind and he’s taught me the value of “don’t make things worse by guessin'”, and “work the problem, people” and Tiger Teams and a bunch of other brilliant management concepts.  At 38 years old, Gene Kranz was the mastermind behind bringing home the astronauts of Apollo 13 – even though every odd was against them doing so.  Now that’s a hero.

Which brings me to my primary point – the space program and moon race and NASA supplied major national heroes for our country – something we are truly lacking now.  No matter how excited we are about our favorite politicians, our President or whatever – let’s face it – these folks aren’t the brass balled, Icy-Commander, steely-eyed missile men of our youth.  They are not heroes. Important, influential, even perhaps inspiring, but not heroes.  Heroes are something we could use about now. In our pop-culture, 24×7 media-fueled culture we mistake entertainers for heroes.  We have several generations of people now in our society who don’t have any national heroes. And we really need heroes. THAT, my friends, is what we lose with the end of the space program.

As you were.

Stew

Vegeterian “Rib Fries”

15 Jul

Hi All – first cooking post on Stew’s Brew.

The other night, I decided to grill – it was one of those PERFECT nights for grilling – 73 degrees, low humidity, etc.  Robin had to take the boys for their annual physicals, so they wouldn’t be home until 7:30, so I was responsible for making a late dinner.  She had pulled out some Iowa Chops to toss on the grill – those were thawing on the counter when I rolled in the door at 6:30, and below them on the floor was a 10 lb bag of potatoes.  Meat and potatoes – my fave and oh the possibilities!

The Iowa Chops I just did in simple Argentinian “Gaucho” barbecue style – LOTS of coarse salt, and lots of black pepper.  Rub with olive oil first, then hit them hard with kosher salt and FGP and let sit for 15 mins or so before grilling.  Grilled them to an internal temp of 135, let rest for 10 mins, carved like a roast.  Heaven.

But this post is about my potatoes.  I wanted to do something roasted on the grill.  I had happened across some recipes for mustard-glazed grilled potatoes a couple of months ago in Cooking Light, and those are fantastic – I’ll share another time.  But, decided that I wanted a barbecue potato – as in smoky, tangy, tasting like barbecue food.  My process is always, “Imagine the flavor, think about the ingredients, Go!”  Most of the time, it works.  This time it ROCKED.

The recipe is simple – a quick whisk up of barbecue sauce, some dijon mustard, veggie oil and salt and pepper.  Quarter up the potatoes, toss them in a large bowl and tumble with the sauce to coat.  Then just scatter them out on a medium-hot grill, let grill for about 15 mins and it’s heaven.  Because this IS a recipe, here’s the official version with measures and everything, below:

  • 2 1/2  lbs of potatoes (about 7 medium russets) – quartered into big wedges – any kind works – russet, Yukon, C-size Redskins, etc.  Make sure you cut them large enough where they won’t fall through your grill grate.
  • 1/2 cup barbecue sauce of your choice.  I used good ‘ol Iowa-made Cookies.  Sweet. Smokey. Yum.
  • 1/4 cup dijon mustard – give your mustard a taste first and use more or less based on how strong it is – you want the acidity of the mustard, plus the emulsifying quality of it (makes things blend together nicely) more than the mustard flavor.  I had both generic and Grey Poupon.  I used a 1/4 cup of the generic.  Had I used the Grey Poup, I’d have used quite a bit less – perhaps 2T.
  • 1/4 cup veggie oil – doesn’t really matter what, although I don’t think Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the right play – too much flavor.  Goal is to provide some fat to keep the spuds from sticking to the grill and make the sauce coat nicely.  I used Canola on this batch.
  • 1/2 t salt (I only use kosher salt for cooking)
  • 1/2 t fresh ground pepper

Honestly, these quantities are guesses – I know I did 2x the amount of BBQ sauce to mustard.  Oil was equal to the mustard, or so I thought, and the salt and pepper were to taste, although this is probably a good guess.  A wonderful cook and blogger, The Pioneer Woman – and her food forum, The Pioneer Woman cooks, says “potatoes and salt are best friends.”  Have to agree.

Technique:

Pre-heat grill to medium if it is a gas grill – if charcoal, well, wing it – perhaps put the lid on your grill and damper it down a bit to lower the heat before cooking.  You don’t want it too hot or you’ll burn the sugars in the sauce before the spuds cook on the inside.

Mix up all the sauce ingredients first, and put them in a large bowl.  Wash and cut up your potatoes – you want the wedges the long way on the spud so they are nice and long.  As you cut them, just drop them into the sauce bowl.  Once all the spuds are in, toss them with the sauce to coat them well.

Out to the grill!  Set up your grill for INDIRECT cooking – that means on a gas grill that you shut off one or two burners – my big Weber Genesis, I shut off the middle burner, leaving the two outers running.  On charcoal, push all of the charcoal to one half of the grill.

Using tongs, place the spuds evenly over the “INDIRECT” portion of the grill – where there’s no burner running or charcoal under the  grill.  If you’re a savant for grill marks like I am, put them on a 30-degree angle to the grill bars – looks NICE!  But you want them cr0ss-way across the grates so they don’t fall in.  Grill for 5 mins, turn, grill 5 mins more, turn, then stick a fork in one and check for doneness – they should be close, but not quite – about 5 more mins and they will be PERFECT.  Test one before you bring them in.  Test as in EAT one.  “Car Fries!”

And that’s it!

So, about this name:  As we sat down to dinner the other night, Brian (son #3) grabs one, takes a bite and says “Oh my God!  They are like Rib Fries.”  My pal “GASHM” said “Oh, you should add ‘Vegeterian’ to the name.”  Therefore, Vegeterian Rib Fries.  Taste like Ribs.  But they are fries!

Yes, I know all good food blogs have pictures, and on this my friends, I have failed.  But I’ll make them again very soon, and I’ll repost this, with the pictures next time.

Enjoy!

Stew

Hello world! Welcome to Stew’s Brew

15 Jul

Well, today is the day I start a new chapter in my life – blogging.  After fiddling around for ages on a huge variety of online forums, from special interest forums like cooking, cars, vacation destinations, etc., to being a true Facebook-junkie (hey, I get paid for it.  Really!), I’ve decided to give this outlet for my creativity a try.

I’ve always been drawn to the written word – as a little kid, I was a tremendous reader, and for the most part, still am (although my wife, Robin would say otherwise of late – too much computer, not enough book).  In high school, I started to really tap my writing skills, and found Journalism to be my calling.  In college, with two majors, one in Journalism, one in Political Science, it seems all I did was write papers.  I wrote for the Daily Iowan at school for a semester, and in one of my first jobs out of school – selling ad space for the Des Moines Skywalker (a lifestyle paper like the Chicago Reader or Village Voice, albiet on a Des Moines-like scale), I even wrote columns for that.  I love to write.

So, why did it take me until 25 years after I wrote my last Skywalker column to do this?  Great question.  Part of it is time.   Part of it is deciding what I want to write about.  I still don’t know that.  I just know I want to write.  I hope you want to read and to listen.

So, what will Stew’s Brew be about?  Life.  That’s it.  Sometimes, it will be big, pithy tomes about anything from a political topic to the new fallen snow on a Shabbat morning (I’ll probably republish that here, come winter – that was a Facebook note from a while back.)  Definitely there will be cooking to be found on here – recipes, pictures of meals, observations of fun times had with friends, etc.   There might be observations about business and the business that I am in, though I am considering a professional blog instead for that.  And most certainly, there will be just commentary about life as I see it pass before my baby blues (albeit a bit more nearsighted than in years past).

I have a few insiprations for this that I’d like to thank.  First, I’d like to thank my cousin, Tom Cox.  Tom is a blogger extraordinare, and if you haven’t read his writing, you are missing out – his blog, Carpetbaggery (carpetbaggery.com) is a fantastic observational and humorous blog – much in the same vein that I’ll be doing.  And, I’d like to thank my pal Chris Wright – while not an avid blogger, he’s also done it awhile, but as of last night he couldn’t remember his URL.  Ooops.  And finally, a work colleague, David Deal.  I like to call David the “Real Deal” as he is entirely the real deal – a social networking wizard, fantastic writer, and the crafter and keeper of iCrossing’s social networking brand, just by reading his blogs (and he has more than a few), and talking to him, I feel like I’ve found my voice at this point.

So, as they say, “watch this space for things to come”, “stay tuned for …” and, quoting Rocket J. Squirrel (of Rocky and Bullwinkle fame), “Now here’s something we hope you really like.”

As you were.

Stew

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