The SkywalkerSwartz Blog

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Major Sleep Deprivation...

I'm about to leave on my flight back home...which was a fun time setting up (I had a little snafu where I mixed up CHS, Charleston International Airport, with CLT, Charlotte, NC's airport!). I'm even more sleep deprived than I amused the back row of my classmates by successfully falling asleep standing up. Apparently it was quite a show.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Nuclear despots separated at birth

Someone made the observation today that Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, "the Father of the Nuclear Navy," looks like Mr. Burns from the Simpsons:

Mr. Burns  ADM Rickover

What do you think? They are both old white guys with large noses who run/ran a nuclear program...

Rickover was known for his kooky interviews of nuclear propulsion candidates, feisty temper, skillfull politicing, and fun quotes like, "If you are going to sin, sin against God, not the bureaucracy. God will forgive you but the bureaucracy won't."

Mr. Burns is known for his kooky treatment of his assistant Smithers, fesity temper, backroom politicing, and fun quotes like "Behold! The greatest breakthrough in labour relations since the cat o' nine tails."

One almost wonders if the good Admiral helped inspire the loveable tycoon character...?

Sunday, December 14, 2003

You say Hellmann's, I say Best Foods...

Aside from actually having seasons and having the sun set on the wrong side of the water, the East Coast requires a whole new food product vocabulary. It seems that some companies decide to sell the same product on both coasts, but under different names.

To wit: What I knew as Best Foods mayonaisse is sold West of the Mississippi as Hellmann's. Same mayonaise, same label design, even the same jingle: "Bring out the Hellmann's and bring out the best!"

Best Food MayonnaiseHellmann's Mayonnaise

Now, I admit that I'm biased towards the version I grew up with, but the jingle "Bring out the Best Foods and bring out the best!" is actually a clever pun. Okay, not all that clever, but it is a pun. (Get it? You're bringing out the best mayonaise...and you're bringing out the Best (Foods)! Ha ha ha, how witty.) The East Coast version, by contrast, is merely another marketing jingle. (Buy Mennen! Co-stanza!) Somebody posted a restponse to another blogger's post on this subject, arguing roughly the same thing.

Why would they have two different names on the two different coasts? Wouldn't this unnecessarily increase their packaging and marketing costs--not to mention confuse their bi-coastal customers? Well, as one mayonnaise recipe page explains, in this case it's because Hellmann's and Best Foods started off as different companies. Rather than throw away one half of their brand loyalty, they decided to keep the original name on each coast. One could even argue that the names are better suited to each coast: "Hellmann's" seems to describe an old English recipe brought over by sailors to 17th century Boston, while "Best Foods" eminates the Western spirit of newness, optimism and cutting-edge technology.

Anyhow, I already knew about this whole Hellmann's and Best Foods conundrum before coming over here, thanks to my East Coast college friends. (I've spent many a long evening arguing the superiority of the Best Foods jingle. Yes, I was--and am--a total dork.) They also told me about the similar Dreyer's/Edy's Ice Cream line of comestible demarcation. (Learn more at the Dreyer's distribution website...although sadly they don't explain why they have the two names; I suspect it's similar to the mayonnaise brand loyalty thing. Dryer's also seems to have an affiliation with Häagen Dazs, which has its own interesting naming history: as this facinating article (PDF) points out, it was invented by a guy in Brooklyn, who gave it a Scandanavian-sounding name to give it some European chic. Sure enough, pretty much everybody thought/thinks it comes from Germany or Sweden or something. I also found an intersting article comparing the Häagen Dazs story to the new EPA chief's use of the Latin-sounding word "Enlibra.")

What recently threw me for a loop is learning that Oroweat (which, incindentally, I always thought was spelled "Orowheat") is known on the East Coast as "Arnold" bread. They're both made by a company called--I'm not making this up--Bimbo Bakeries USA. Well, not exactly. Bimbo Bakeries is a division of the Mexican company Grupo Bimbo (whose name apparently derives from the Italian "bambino" for child.... That's right, the Mexicans name their company to sound Italian. Apparently they also read about Häagen Dazs), which recently bought out part of the Canadian company George Weston Ltd's bread business. So it's all one big NAFTA three-way. Anyhow, it seems that the East Coast version (Arnold's) is actually made by GW Bakeries, which may or may not have a relationship with The Interbake Company, which makes Girl Scout Cookies. (And you thought that those poor girl scouts baked them at troop meetings!) Anyhow, I now feel entirely overwhelmed by the Big Business of packaged food.

...Oh, and while we're at it, they have some pretty funny grocery store names here in the Southeast: Harris Teeter, Piggly Wiggly, Bi Lo.... It's going to take a while to adjust.

Monday, December 08, 2003

School on Crack

So, I've successfully survived three weeks of "pre-school"...technically called Pre Nuclear Power School (PNPS), the academic boot camp of sorts that we "non-technical" majors go through to prepare for real power school (which starts this week).

My good friend Mike Ross (soon to be a Navy man himself) recently referred to Nuke School as "school on crack," a not-unrealistic description: We all get to school around 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning, and most people don't leave until at least 6:00 at night; we go through about a semester's worth of material in three different subjects every 3-4 weeks, you're expected to memorize everything that normal schools will let you look up (like equation sheets for physics), everything is marked as "CONFIDENTIAL" or "NOFORN" (i.e. no foreigners...sort of a "confidential lite").

Still, it's not too hard. The material itself is actually relatively easy: at least in pre-school (and I'm told that also in "real" nuke school), they give you a simplified, "cookie-cutter" version of many topics. While some of the material is supposedly at a graduate level, you're often not expected to know the theory behind what you're doing--only how to solve the problem. Thus, whenever an instructor makes a statement and it's beyond the scope of the class to discuss why that statement is true, we all press our imaginary "I Believe" buttons. For example, in physics, at nuke school we don't use calculus to figure out magnetic and electric fields (oh, the fond hours we spent freshman year in the Lag dining hall working out E&M problems!)...they basically just give you Faraday's law and tell you to "believe."

The hard part about Nuke School is the timing: first, the pace is really fast (many people quip that nuke school is the mental equivalent of "drinking from a firehose and not being allowed to spill a drop"), and second, the hours are really long (especially since we're required to do mandatory "study hours" in addition to the regular 7:00 am to 4:00 pm class schedule...the standard load of 25 study hours means that one has a minimum 70-hour work week. This ain't college, where you can sleep in, miss classes, etc.).

But, on the bright side, the people are really cool, and I actually like most of our instructors. For example, one explained forces of nature thus: "The gravitational force is actually very weak. Let me prove it to you: There! I did not fall to the center of the earth!"

Another silliness: the galley (i.e. cafeteria) has a big sign on it that reads, "REFUELING CENTER."

Yeah, we're all dorks, but we're cool dorks.

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