I sing a song at Quackers Bar in north Chico in October 2008. Photo by Olivia Drake.
I challenged myself to sing 200 different songs during karaoke in 2011. At the end of the year, I estimated I sang about 226 songs at karaoke — that’s about 14 hours of non-stop music. Here’s the list:
I think I did right by many of them, although some were challenging. I sang many of the songs by myself, even the duets, although I preferred a partner.
And, yes, all of them were love songs.
I’m planning to expand this later with thoughts about specific parts of my playlist, but it was a great year to have a song in my heart. I got to meet many new friends, and renew or expand current relationships. I sang in five Chico nightspots, plus locations in Paradise, San Francisco and Salt Lake City. In Oroville, I had a live band backing me and performed on a giant ballroom stage.
Thanks to Spotify, I was able to keep track of the songs (based on my tweets, notes and other recollections). It’s not a complete list because I started it in September. Despite my best efforts, I don’t think I remembered all of the songs. Also, Spotify is pretty good, but not all of my songs were in their library (and sometimes I had to substitute a cover version of the preferred one).
I haven’t started a list for 2012, but if you have a song you’d like me to sing, please let me know in the comments.
Photo: I sing a song at Quackers Bar in north Chico in October 2008. Photo by Olivia Drake.
Sometimes a joke that works on a late night Saturday sketch comedy show doesn’t always work in the grocer’s freezer. My heart had been set on trying the new limited batch of “Schweddy Balls” from Ben and Jerry’s the moment I read about it being released. Sadly, after an epic search for the confection, I found it to be ultimately underwhelming. Skip down to the review.
“Schweddy Balls” is named after a “Saturday Night Live” sketch from 1998. In the original sketch, two hosts of a public radio program called “Delicious Dish” interview a man named Pete Schweddy, who makes and sells confectionary balls for the holidays. He presents his creations to the hosts, who make a series of comments that would sound like raunchy double entendres to the fictitious radio audience.
Over the past few months, I have searched high and low for the product in Chico, but had no luck. I tried the Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop off of East Avenue, but I apparently missed it there (and the store sadly closed a few days later).
Later, I was outraged to read of a nationwide movement of mothers who threatened to boycott stores who placed such a product in their expensive ice cream sections and potentially expose presumably innocent children to a 13-year-old joke that would probably need to be explained to them in exacting detail because those young minds would have never — never! — been exposed to such crude humor in the first place.
Also — These children would also need to be at least four feet tall to even reach the expensive ice cream section of most fine stores. And what sort of irresponsible mother would let their child roam without supervision, randomly opening freezer doors or trying to peer through frost-glazed windows?
I was all set to declare that Chico had no “Balls” because of the mothers and the fact that the product isn’t being widely distributed. However, some friends have pointed out that they were able to find it at some Chico locations, so I may have either been looking in the wrong places or missed the boat.
Ultimately, I found my “Schweddy Balls” in San Francisco (which, because I’m 12, prompted a slightly immature tweet from me). I had actually struck gold twice. I had first found a pint in a liquor store near the Marina district. Although they wanted $5.99 for it, I was tempted but I had to say no because I had no place to keep it cold as I continued my day trip.
Heading back to the Embarcadero for the bus and train ride home, I stopped by a nearby 7-Eleven for one last check and I found it again.
This time, the price was $4.99, but there was some confusion at the counter because the barcode wouldn’t scan. The clerk grabbed some Dreyer’s MAXX and said they were the same and the same price — $2.99. I repeatedly insisted that it wasn’t, but ultimately relented to resolve the issue.
I headed to the Emeryville train station and started sampling the product. I knew most of it was going to melt, but I wanted to get enough of a feel for “Schweddy Balls” to write an adequate review.
Opening the carton of Schweddy Balls ice cream at Emeryville train station.
Schweddy Balls is described as “Vanilla ice cream with a hint of rum, with fudge-covered rum and malt balls.”
The vanilla had good visual texture, with flakes, etc, and there was a discernable, slight taste of rum in the vanilla. However, that hint of flavor was often overpowered by the numerous mini rum balls although I could still detect it toward the end of the serving.
The balls in “Schweddy Balls” were about the size of chocolate-covered raisins and were scattered throughout the pint, although mostly down the middle of the container (in other words, it really didn’t look like the photo). The rum taste from the rum balls was fairly pleasant, with no discernable chemical aftertaste. The flavor was similar to what one might find in cherries liqueur.
The texture of the rum balls varied — some felt like fairly solid, chewy chocolate bites, while a few had a bit of a liquid burst to them.
The malt balls were like Whoppers, but smaller and perhaps had a firmer crunch. They had a stronger balance of chocolate to malt, possibly because of the size difference.
Ultimately, “Schweddy Balls” is a pretty straightforward and simple offering — exactly what was on the label and little more. As I continued to sample the dessert, I found myself having more fun trying to guess which flavor the next ball would be. It was a pretty even mix of both types.
“Schweddy Balls” is merely an OK entry into the novelty confectionary world. Sure, there are a few slightly guilty chuckles (or stern outrage) over the name, but it’s probably not worth the 270 calories per serving (or the 15 grams of fat, 60 mg of cholesterol, etc.).
A window decal on a train at Los Angeles Union Station notes the arrival of Wi-Fi Internet service aboard Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner trains.
Taking the train to visit family in Southern California over the holidays gave me a chance to check out the new Wi-Fi Internet service from Amtrak. The service was convenient when it worked, but I often had problems connecting to the Web.
There was a cool surprise even before I boarded my first train. Many of the buses, which are operated by a contractor, also have Wi-Fi. When I started my trip aboard the Amtrak Thruway motorcoach from Chico to Stockton, I was able to get some work done as we sped down Highway 70. That’s something I couldn’t do if I was driving by myself.
As the San Joaquin train pulled out for Bakersfield, I sought to get online but ran into problems right off the bat. I’m not sure if it is a problem on my end, the network’s or a combination of the two.
Before getting into my difficulty, I should explain how the Wi-Fi works aboard the train. As I understand it, there is one car on the train that pulls in outside cell phone signals carrying the Internet connection. That one car then becomes the head of a local network providing the Internet connection to the rest of the cars in the train.
My issue wasn’t with the Internet connection. When it was available, it was fairly reliable and speedy for basic surfing for things such as email or Facebook. Amtrak Connect caps downloads to 10 MB and blocks some popular video/audio websites (but my Spotify streaming music app was able to make a connection although I didn’t fully test it).
There were some points where the connection lagged, but I suppose they were in areas where the cell phone networks aren’t as well established.
The biggest issue appeared to be how the Internet connection was established throughout the train. I could establish a connection in some cars, but very rarely in the cars where I was sitting for some reason. I was able to connect to the train’s network, but I wasn’t able to get the right connection to get on the Internet.
While I preferred the seats in the cars I chose (and I could do a whole series of posts about the different types of seats on these trains), I often moved to a different car for a while to get online.
I never was really able to determine what was going on. Unfortunately, I ran into this problem on nearly every train I rode during the Christmas break.
The immediate matter was that my computer couldn’t get the right Internet Protocol or IP address to connect until I moved cars, but I don’t know why. I thought it may be something on my computer because many Mac users have reported similar problems for different Wi-Fi networks (and I have had the problem at work). However, some people near me experienced the same problem.
I also thought it was possible the network ran out of addresses to give computers (but that doesn’t necessarily explain why changing cars often helped with the connection). I was riding on very full trains and I was surprised to see so many people on their smartphones and notebook computers. If that’s the case, I read it may be possible to change the network’s settings to allow more connections.
Regardless of where the problem originated, it would be nice if Amtrak Connect had some better help documents to assist people experiencing problems. Of course, if you can’t get online you may not be able to get to the documents.
When it works, the Wi-Fi is a great service to provide passengers. While many people, myself included, like to tout the ability to relax and be somewhat isolated from the hectic outside world aboard a train, Wi-Fi helps those who wish or need to stay connected or productive while traveling. It certainly helped me — I posted two blog entries while aboard the train and got the idea for this current post.
In addition to providing an amenity for passengers, I’ve read that the Internet access can also help with train operations. One component is being able to constantly relay train status data, including its location, back to a central office.
Conveniently, Amtrak Connect’s homepage provides passengers with an estimate of where the train is (although you have to reload the page to get updated locations). Unfortunately, it appears to triangulate its location based off of cell phone signals and sometimes the system gets it hilariously wrong.
This was apparent when the Pacific Surfliner sped down the coast toward San Diego. The map status showed the train running on (or under) the ocean. Based on my estimate, it was about 4.8 miles away from the actual tracks.
Rails? We don't need rails where we're going. Amtrak Connect guesses train location, sometimes to hilarious effect.
I’m watching the latest NHL Winter Classic on NBC. It’s been an enjoyable game between the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers. While the annual New Year’s Day game has become quite the spectacle, I think the game only pays lip service to the tradition of playing hockey outdoors.
While I’ve only laced up hockey skates once (and just for a free skate), I’ve seen the allure of homemade outdoor hockey rinks in people’s backyards or on a frozen pond. I also recall interviews from NHL players talking about how the Winter Classic brings back memories of those backyard rinks.
Why not play an NHL game on a backyard-style rink?
It tickles my imagination to think about the NHL holding an outdoor game in a pond setting. I’ve mentioned it to a handful of hockey fans over the years and they often love the sound of the idea.
While making accommodations for safety, TV and league rules, it would be fun to watch NHL players play an intimate game on a frozen pond somewhere up north.
I don’t even know if there should be boards — a line of snow marking the boundaries seems like enough. There should be some seating, but nothing like the accommodations for an arena or stadium. Also, a significant number of seats should go to the youth players who are learning the game on those makeshift rinks.
They shouldn’t eliminate the Winter Classic. I wouldn’t want to deprive the league or the host team of revenue, so I think the team that holds a pond game should also hold the stadium game. That way, the spectacle and crowd of the stadium game truly helps hockey get back to its roots with the pond game.
Also, the Winter Classic is a unique event that generates excitement for the NHL and hockey in the middle of a long season. Given the duration of an NHL season, there is enough time to have a stadium game and a pond game.
An aside: I will readily admit that the Winter Classic is geared to American audiences (although the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. airs the game as part of “Hockey Night in Canada”). The game has been played in American venues and features American teams. It’s irksome that much of the publicity around the game ignores the fact that the league has held outdoor Heritage Classics in Canada.
I don’t think NBC or the NHL should bend over backwards to mention the Heritage series, but it feels like it’s totally being ignored. For example, a USA Today preview of today’s Winter Classic speculated about possible future venues for the game. The irksome part for me was the writer mentioning possibly holding the game in Canadian venues (Toronto and Montreal). If you’re talking about Canadian venues, why not mention the two NHL outdoor games already played in Canada as part of the Heritage Classic series?
Given how few of these outdoor games there have been, it would be nice to have the two series considered together, especially for statistics and other such minutia.