One reason why I may go to Buffalo Wild Wings & one reason why I may never go back

Online trivia is probably the biggest reason why I'll go back to Buffalo Wild Wings, if it's available at the Chico location.

Online trivia is probably the biggest reason why I’ll go back to Buffalo Wild Wings, which appears to be available at the Chico location.

Buffalo Wild Wings completed its expansion to Chico this week. Judging by photos of early lines and posts in my Facebook feed, it seems a lot of people are happy about the development. Although I love saying “The game is on!”, thanks to the eatery’s unceasingly repetitive TV commercials, I don’t know if I would go back after a visit to the Natomas location in May 2014.

Why I may go back – While I was generally impressed by the huge bar area with a standing wall of giant TVs and the beer selection (although I think Sierra Nevada was largely missing), the food is pretty standard for this type of quick-service restaurant and the prices are higher than I think they should be (the Chico menu lists a wing combo at $16.79, otherwise fries and slaw cost extra). Ultimately, there was only one compelling reason why I could become a repeat customer and that’s online pub trivia.

When I dropped by the first time, I was pleasantly surprised to see the old familiar blue consoles of Buzztime trivia. I first played Buzztime when I was living in the Midwest from 2001-05, but no Chico tavern has offered it for more than a decade … until now.

With the blue console, a bar patron plays quick, 20-minute trivia matches with clues broadcast on one or two TVs scattered across the bar. The questions are nearly always multiple choice and the difficulty level is closer to the earlier rounds of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” than “Jeopardy!” After every question, you can see how you’re faring against other barflies. When the round ends, the scores are calculated across North America and you can see your nationwide rank.

There are multiple types of games in the primary trivia channel, but there are other channels including virtual poker. During football season, many sites offer QB1, which allows contestants to win points if they correctly guess the offense’s play.

During my visit, I was the only one really playing trivia (everyone else seemed to be focused on an MMA match featuring a fighter from Sacramento). Still, it was fun to play while I ate and had some soda.

I can get my fix through a number of online and smartphone apps that are available, such as QuizUp, but Buzztime can be a little more sociable as the pacing of the games aren’t rigorous. While you want to ring in promptly when there are questions, there are frequent breaks to continue conversations with your friends (if you have any) and to order more food and drink (which is what I’m sure B-Dubs and other bars want you to do).

Several of my friends and I have gone to live trivia at some Chico restaurants, which is generally fun, but can be quirky. Online trivia like Buzztime is generally available anytime, so it may be easier to get a bunch of friends and just go.

Here's why I may never go back to Buffalo Wild Wings -- the restaurant making Bud Light as its "Beer of the Month" in May 2014.

Here’s why I may never go back to Buffalo Wild Wings — the restaurant making Bud Light as its “Beer of the Month” in May 2014.

Why I may never go back – While I was generally uncomfortable with the prices, there was one incredulous discovery that baffled me. As I was leaving, I saw that the restaurant’s “Beer of the Month” for May 2014 was Bud Light.

I’m not a fan of Bud Light (although it’s not unpalatable), but that’s not the primary reason why I was turned off to the point where I may never go back. Bud Light is _the_ most popular beer in America by far. Although sales have reportedly dipped recently, a Vox chart shows it outsold its nearest rival (Coors Light) nearly 3:1 in 2013.

Given such market dominance, Bud Light doesn’t seem to really need to be highlighted as a “Beer of the Month.” It’s a default, go-to beer for a lot of people — you would expect nearly every bar in the country to offer this product. It’s like naming Christmas the Holiday of the Month for December, salt as the Seasoning of the Month or if Little Cesar’s named its ever-available pepperoni pizza as the Pizza of the Month.

One possible factor is that Budweiser’s owner Anheuser–Busch InBev advertises the brand quite heavily. Maybe there was an advertising consideration when Buffalo Wild Wings made such a banal selection for its beer of the month?

If you do choose to sample the exotic and unknown Bud Light, Buffalo Wild Wings offers these tasting notes for the American-style light lager — “Subtle fruity and citrus taste notes with a fast, clean finish.”

The price of this special brew was $4.25 in 2014, which wasn’t too bad, although one may find better deals on far more superior beers elsewhere in Chico.

Postscript – After writing all this, I checked the restaurant’s beer menu and found the _two_ beers of the month:

Here are  Buffalo Wild Wings' beers of the month, as seen on Aug. 10, 2015.

*sigh* Here are Buffalo Wild Wings’ beers of the month, as seen on Aug. 10, 2015.

It’s disappointing to see Bud Light nab this spotlight again. Buffalo Wild Wings also has an odd definition of “Import,” as Goose Island is a Chicago brewery. It’s worth noting who Goose Island’s owners are — Anheuser-Busch InBev. AB InBev _is_ based in Belgium, so maybe that was a criteria in defining “Import.”

On a slightly positive note, Sam Adams remains its own independent company. At least there’s that, although Sam Adams seems to have similar issues to Bud Light.

Another ho-hum Halloween costume, or I did it all for the burrito

A still from PSY's video "Gangnam Style" on my iPod touch. Dressing as PSY is an unrealized costume idea from a couple of years ago.

A still from Psy’s video “Gangnam Style” on my iPod touch. Dressing as Psy is an unrealized costume idea from a couple of years ago.

Halloween has come and gone. While some people strove to show off dazzling and creative costumes (or refined what is “sexy”), I once again phoned my outfit in. Although I love watching and reading of far-flung realms and imaginative characters, my efforts to tangibly submerge myself in another role have always been a bit lackluster and this year was no different.

One of the ironies of this Halloween is that I actually bought part of a costume months ago and forgot about it. By the time I remembered, I had missed the one big event where I may have used it and only donned it to get cheap eats from Chipotle.

I don’t know where my aversion to dressing up in costumes comes from, but things have been rough since trick-or-treating as a child. Part of it may stem from that I don’t necessarily want to dress up as someone that I’m not (I can easily try an accent or impersonation, but they can often be discarded with a drop of a hat without consequence). When I was in the sixth grade, people wanted me to play a drug dealer in a play for the D.A.R.E. program. I was pretty adamant in my refusal and they did something different.

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have played a drug dealer because I had no idea how to depict one, but the real reason why I didn’t want to take the part is that I didn’t want to portray such a negative character. I wasn’t extremely popular in grade school (or in high school … or in college or…) and I didn’t want to do anything that could make things worse.

Although it’s not great to say, I do consider what others might think of me if I dress up (which I view as different from people judging me for who I am). That’s why I don’t don silly masks or embrace the more cheesy parts of any given fandom.

I love “Star Trek” and frequent discussion boards about the show, but I sure as heck won’t dress up or adopt a goofy Trek-related moniker. I don’t have any problem with those who do, but it’s not for me.

I think I wouldn’t be so embarrassed to wear a costume if I had commitment to the costume and some measure of authenticity. However, I’m afraid many of my efforts would be underwhelming. For example, I would feel uncomfortable wearing an off-color foam Klingon forehead or a Starfleet uniform that’s a better fit for a bedroom than for a starship.

Since I don’t have the resources or wherewithal to commit to a truly great costume, most of my efforts in recent have been small and largely uninspiring.

It came from MySpace… "I'm not a real chef, but I played one during Halloween 2006."

It came from MySpace… “I’m not a real chef, but I played one during Halloween 2006.”

One of my last fun Halloween costumes was in 2006 when I dressed as a chef. It was easy enough to do an adequate job as I could acquire an apron and chef’s hat to complete the look. The only downside were the handful of drunken bros who asked me to cook something for them (partly because I wasn’t able to come up with a witty retort).

Since then, my best costumes were actually for events outside of Halloween. Every year, my college pep band picks a theme for the Battle of the Bands at UC Davis’ Picnic Day. I’ve generally been happy with my costumes, although wearing a bandanna for a rock ‘n roll theme was super low-key.

This is my idea of rocking out with the UCSD Pep Band at Picnic Day's Battle of the Bands. Thanks to Mike "Sparky" Sklar for the photo.

This is my idea of rocking out with the UCSD Pep Band at Picnic Day’s Battle of the Bands in 2013. Thanks to Mike “Sparky” Sklar for the photo.

The best costumes that I wore for Picnic Day were simple, but hopefully effective. For a video game theme in 2008, I donned a blue jacket, red shirt and yellow ball cap to match the title character in “Paperboy.” I also tried to bring my bike to the event, but it wouldn’t fit in my car.

The best-executed costume and prop was for a science-fiction theme in 2007. I wore a brown tank-top over a grey T-shirt to mimic the undergarments of a Colonial officer from “Battlestar Galactica.” I was proud of the prop that I made, although it wasn’t from BSG — I used PVC pipe and a black tarp to recreate the monolith from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Although it was plastic, I definitely strove for authenticity and made sure that the dimensions of my monolith matched the one from the movie (1x4x9).

My depiction of the monolith from "2001: A Space Odyssey" on display during the 2007 Picnic Day at UC Davis.

My depiction of the monolith from “2001: A Space Odyssey” on display during the 2007 Picnic Day at UC Davis. (Photo credit to the original photographer)

Outside of Picnic Day, my costumes have been bombs. One year, I wore a florescent green safety vest for reasons so stupid I don’t want to articulate it here.

This year continued the tradition of mediocrity. I wasn’t even planning to wear a costume because I was going to remain away from the public, but I remembered that I had bought something months ago. When the last Blockbuster store was going out of business in Chico in January, I snapped up one of their polo shirts from a table of clothing for sale.

I pulled the shirt out of the closet Friday. I felt embarrassed — my concept never really advanced beyond merely wearing it. Why couldn’t I do something more creative — like wearing ghost or zombie makeup with the shirt to portray the Ghost of Abandoned Technologies Past? On the other end of the spectrum, I didn’t have the tools to make it more authentic, I never worked at Blockbuster so I had no nametag or lanyard.

There was no time to refine the costume. I hesitated to put it on, but ultimately did to go to dinner.

The things I'll wear to get a cheap burrito…

The things I’ll wear to get a cheap burrito…

Even though it was a simple blue long-sleeved shirt, it still felt tight and uncomfortable. I made it to Chipotle, where the staff was doing a great job serving the line that at times stretched out the door. Before I was able to get into the building, someone from off the street came up to me and asked me for a movie recommendation — she wanted something serious for a mother who wanted to remain in her children’s lives even if they were reluctant to.

I was busted. Although I’m relatively conversant about films, I am by no means a cinephile (especially when my tastes typically run toward light-hearted fare). Even now, I can’t think of a movie that would match her request — maybe “Little Miss Sunshine” or “Silver Linings Playbook” (with the storyline involving Robert Di Nero as the father)? I’m horrible.

I finally got the $3 burrito and had a delicious meal that supposedly helps charity (although I’m curious about how much good Chipotle’s own Chipotle Cultivate Foundation actually does).

The shirt didn’t feel so awkward at the end of the night, but I was more than happy to change out of it. I don’t know when I might ever wear that shirt again.

I wish I was able to capitalize on one idea in 2012. As indicated by the photo at the top of this entry, I would have been more than happy to don a blue tuxedo in the style of Psy and his 2012 breakout hit “Gangnam Style” (video). Authenticity would still be a factor — I’m not Korean/Korean American, don’t speak Korean and really can’t do the dance — but the song is so satirical, I think I could fit in. Psy was also a popular male Asian music figure that one could look up to (move aside, William Hung).

I thought of it too late for Halloween 2012 and there was no real opportunity to wear the blue tuxedo since then (although one site was pushing blue costume tuxedos for Halloween and New Year’s Eve celebrations).

Maybe inspiration will hit me in time for Halloween 2015.

Taste Test: Sierra Nevada Nooner Session IPA

A bottle of Sierra Nevada Nooner Session IPA is on display next to a glass of the ale.

A bottle of Sierra Nevada Nooner Session IPA is on display next to a glass of the ale.

Last month, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. released a variety pack called “4-Way IPA.” A co-worker and I agreed to split a 12-bottle case from the Chico brewery that included Blindfold Black IPA, Nooner Session IPA, Snow Wit White IPA, as well as the ever-popular Torpedo Extra IPA. To make the math of dividing the case easier (and to accommodate my co-worker’s beer aficionado significant other), I opted for a bottle each of the new varieties and three bottles of Torpedo.

First up for me was the Nooner Session IPA. This bottle was packaged Jan. 22, 2014 and I opened it March 11, 2014.

From the label on the neck of the bottle, Sierra Nevada writes “Nooner IPA is light in body but big in hop aroma and flavor. This session IPA delivers a dose of citrusy and grapefruit hop character from the use of whole-cone American hops.”

On the side, the label states “There’s no better way to start a lazy afternoon than with a group of friends and a few beers. Nooner IPA is a session beer that’s light in body yet big in hop flavor. By using intense, whole-cone American hops in our Hop Torpedo we pack this small beer with a hefty hop punch.”

With an ABV of 4.8 percent, this definitely seemed to be in line for casual consumption.

Sierra Nevada Nooner Session IPA looks amber and coppery when it is held to the light.

Sierra Nevada Nooner Session IPA looks amber and coppery when it is held to the light.

The pour didn’t give off a lot of head. This is probably an ale that would benefit from pouring directly in to the center of the glass instead of partially down the side.

The golden copper hue appeared to become cloudier as it rested in the glass. Initially, the ale’s smell was a pungent combination of citrus and pine, but it seemed to have diminished as time passed. Later, there were times I could smell it clearly and times where there was nothing.

On the first sip, it seems to open like Torpedo but the finish veers in a different direction. A citrus tang lingers on the palate. Through the cymbal crash of citrus, a faint bitterness reverberates like the waning echo of a tympani.

What little precious foam this beer did produce clung to the side of the glass in a satisfying fashion, but there weren’t any glorious rings.

This ale packs a lot of diverse flavor, but it isn’t heavy or overwhelming. There was no point where drinking it felt like an endurance challenge to survive an onslaught of hops or other factors.

Nooner Session IPA seems to live up to its name. Although I only have one bottle, I can easily picture sharing some with friends over a BBQ.

I’ll sample my two remaining new ales over the next couple of days. I’ll be saving the Snow Wit for last because I’ve heard good things about it and I love saving the best for last.

My phone thinks I live at a bar and other digital foibles

Google Now on my new smartphone initially thought I lived at the Madison Bear Garden.

Google Now on my new smartphone initially thought I lived at the Madison Bear Garden.

Following my last post, I’ve made the switch from Sprint to Ting and got a refurbished Samsung Galaxy SII (Epic 4G Touch). It led to a little bit of drama when the first one I received was a dud, but more on that later.

One of the joys of getting a new-ish smartphone is trying out the new bells and whistles, including updating the phone’s Android operating system to a more recent version. That upgrade allowed me to test the updated Google Search app and came away only modestly impressed — the app’s Google Now feature aims to display cards of information based on your searches, location, preferences, etc.

It’s Google Now’s virtual anticipation that recently caught me off guard. I was about to leave work last week when I checked into the app. Anticipating that I would like to know how long it would take for me to drive home, the app displayed the approximate travel time to my “home” — Madison Bear Garden.

I was a little curious at first why Google would think I live at a bar. I could think of a couple of possibilities. I used the app at the bar one evening to look up some trivial items that came up during a discussion. Because I made that search at night when many people are at home, it’s possible the app guessed my home on my evening location — at the bar.

Thankfully it asked to confirm if the location was my home and I could correct it.

These types of tech gaffes point out how digital companies try to sort out relevant information from the bushels of data we submit everyday. While it may be wise to be cautious about such data mining, these shortcomings sometimes underscore the old programming principle of GIGO — Garbage In, Garbage Out. The difference is that sometimes the computer gets garbage out of what we would consider to be relevant information.

Here are some other recent tech peeves I’ve observed:

  • At the consumer budgeting site Mint.com, the service says I’ve been spending a lot of money lately at Chico’s — a clothing store I’ve never purchased from and don’t recall ever being inside. Apparently the site skims recent purchases and tries to determine where they should go.
    In this case, it sees a purchase from “Chico CA” and assigns it to Chico’s. The site currently applies this to all Chico purchases. There is no option to change it other than manually editing every entry … which defeats the purpose of having the site easily display how a user’s money is being spent.
  • Facebook tries its best to guess certain information about its users, often to hilarious effect. At various times, the map on my Timeline said I was born in Chico and identified one of parents. That’s all fine if it were true — at the time I said Chico was my hometown, but that’s not necessarily where I was born. Also, my parent isn’t necessarily my biological one so that doesn’t make sense either.
    Another time, Facebook finally correctly identified the town I was born, but then indicated I was born at the city’s airport. Boy, that would be a fun story for my parents to tell me — again, if that ever happened.
  • The photos feature on Google+ uses technology to try to identify people’s faces (Facebook has a similar tool). Sometimes that tech fails in a cruel way:
Google+ doesn't believe there's a face in this image.

Google+ doesn’t believe there’s a face in this image.

Although some of these goofs can be annoying or time consuming to fix, I’m generally content to let these inaccuracies stand if they’re not causing any harm. I’m leery at providing too much information online. These errors can stand as reminders of what these companies are trying to do and how far they have to go to accomplish their goals.

’Twas a month after Christmas, so here’s my holiday card

The latest version of my annual holiday cards.

The 2012 version of my annual holiday card. The caption says, “Although there’s no snow, you can make a snow angel in a hot town like Chico!”

Yes, this post is late, but then again my Christmas cards were delayed again this year. What were supposed to be Christmas cards quickly became holiday cards, meant to welcome the new year. If I had delayed them any further, they would’ve celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

In addition to the usual procrastination, I was stumped about the card’s concept. Since I’ve started making my own cards, I’ve tried to either include a humorous element, something about Chico or both. It took some last-minute inspiration for me to get this year’s cards out the door.

After teasing it a few years ago, I was all set to do the “Sierra Nevada Santa” — my take on the iconic Coca-Cola Santa ads, but with local brew Sierra Nevada instead of sugar water. There were some hurdles: I don’t own a Santa suit and I started getting cold feet about the concept.

While people don’t give a second thought to the Coke Santa concept (except perhaps to remark about soft drinks contributing to obesity), I started to see some potential pitfalls with the Sierra Nevada incarnation. Although it’s all in good fun, I wondering if people would question combining beer with an iconic childhood figure. And speaking of beer, what sort of image does it sent to have a man responsible for sleighing across the world in a 24-hour period to be indulging in an alcoholic beverage? Yes, the reindeer do the flying, but the jolly old man does all the driving, so drinking and sleighing seemed out of the question.

I thought about replacing the Celebration Ale with one of Sierra Nevada’s fine gourmet mustards, but the visual of Santa spreading mustard on a cold-cut sandwich didn’t seem to work.

Also, I don’t own a Santa suit and my line on one dried up. Buying a suit would have cost at least $30 and I had to again consider how much it’s worth to do a comedy bit, especially since I would need a fake Santa beard too.

So Sierra Nevada Santa was put on ice for another year, but the concept may show up again in some different form in upcoming years. I also had another idea to do a side-by-side comparison showing Santa and me, but that concept wasn’t fully baked.

Making a karaoke confetti snow angel on the stage of Feather Fall Casino Brewing Co. during the Karaoke Rockstaz show.  (Karaoke Rockstarz image from <a href="http://www.facebook.com/KRockstarz">facebook.com/KRockstarz</a>)

Making a karaoke confetti snow angel on the stage of Feather Fall Casino Brewing Co. during the Karaoke Rockstaz show. (Karaoke Rockstarz image from facebook.com/KRockstarz)

Christmas was fast approaching and I was still stumped. Thankfully, like most things in life, karaoke provided my salvation. I was at the Karaoke Rockstarz live-band karaoke show at Feather Falls Casino when I saw the show’s MC fire off an explosive canister of confetti.

Watching the colored debris waft gently the stage floor, I started thinking about making a snow angel with the confetti. During an intermission, I asked about how much the material cost and what a confetti snow angel look like. The MC was cooperative and we took a picture of me on the stage making the snow angel.

Unfortunately, I could see some problems — with the confetti all over the floor, the snow angel image couldn’t be easily seen. Laying on top of the confetti basically crushed it, but provided little context.

Sensing I was on the right track, I continued to develop the idea. Instead of paying a kingly sum for confetti, I thought I would make my own using colored construction paper and a paper shredder. However, buying construction paper would’ve cost about $30, so I looked for cheaper options.

A stop at the nearby Michael’s turned up some wrapping paper on sale for about $2.50 each. Sold.

There were different varieties, but all I needed were green and red. I supplemented those rolls with some old Ikea wrapping paper that I’ve held onto for years.

I ran home to shred up some confetti. I saved some time by cutting off large swathes of the wrapping paper, folding them lengthwise and feeding them into the shredder. In about 30 minutes, I had a big trash bag full of red, green and gold confetti. It was about half white colored because of the obverse side of the wrapping paper.

After that, I zoomed back to an area where there would be a relatively clean floor (to help make clean up a snap). For this phase, I had my friend Evan spread the confetti while I lay on the floor and waved my arms and legs in the customary snow angel pattern. Here’s sort of what it looked like:

After the initial snow angel was made, we took some photos to show the "making of." Given my relatively unflattering pose, I opted not to use it for the card.

After the initial snow angel was made, we took some photos to show the “making of.” Given my relatively unflattering pose, I opted not to use it for the card.

We tried to parody an early scene in PSY's "Gangnam Style" video, but the results were underwhelming and perhaps a little disturbing.

We tried to parody an early scene in PSY’s “Gangnam Style” video, but the results were underwhelming and perhaps a little disturbing.

We also thought it would be funny to take a photo of paper flying into my mouth, like that scene involving PSY in the music video “Gangnam Style.” Ultimately, the photo didn’t really turn out to be very flattering and it’s too hard to understand the context (it just looks like a bunch of colored paper on a fat guy’s face on the floor).

With the initial photos done, I needed to get the card ready for publication. At the same time, I was preparing to go to San Diego for the holidays.

It took a few days to get the cards ready to go. I tried to submit a design online, but I thought it would take too long to process. Thankfully, the people at the Carmel Mountain Ranch Costco were very accommodating on an in-store rush order. The design wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but I think they turned out OK.

The cards were finished by Dec. 23. Christmas passed and a little procrastination settled in. The priority of sending the cards out fell behind spending time with family and going through some old boxes. However, I was able to get the cards mailed out the weekend before the New Year. Upon returning to Chico, I distributed nearly all of my local cards by the end of the first week of January.

As always, sending out Christmas cards is an evolving process. I think I have some good ideas for 2013, so I will hopefully be able to get the cards out sooner.

In any case, here is the 2012 card for all to enjoy. Merry Christmas and happy New Year!

Cutting the cord on cable

That was Comcastic

A Motorola cable box from Comcast. That was Comcastic.

It’s been about a week since I turned in my Comcast cable box and decided to rely on over-the-air TV broadcasts. It’s been an interesting experience with some small frustrations, but I don’t know if it will help accomplish my goals.

Toward the end of 2011, I decided that I would pull the plug on cable, but it took awhile to get up the moxie to actually do it. Ultimately, it will be nice to save about $23 per month and I was hoping to regain some valuable time. There were many weekends or late nights where the hours would slip away while I was catching up on shows recorded to my TiVo. Even now, I’m still behind on some public TV programs that I recorded last summer.

I didn’t drop cable because I don’t love TV, like those who scoff that they don’t even own a set. I love television, but I can spend way too much time with it. There are so many things that I need to be doing with my life and that glowing box is just too much of a lure for me.

By setting aside cable, I hope to rededicate my time to writing more, cleaning around the house and just getting outside more. I know that cutting down on TV watching will only get me part of the way to these goals.

I won’t be quitting cold turkey. I’ve discussed with my friends about watching missed shows on Hulu or downloading them through iTunes Store, but I also feel that watching TV on my computer isn’t the greatest experience. I also have a digital TV converter box that I’ve plugged into my living room set, so I can watch programs the old-fashioned way — live.

I do like the over-the-air experience since the transition to digital TV. When everything works, the picture is generally pretty clear and shows are presented the way they were intended to. Comcast or NBC affiliate KNVN have recently started showing shows with the images cropped to fit old-school 4:3 TVs, which is annoying when they are meant to be viewed in 16:9 letterbox.

Although I imagine some of my viewing will actually be live, there are still options to watch shows later. After doing some quick Internet research, I was able to find an easy way to connect the converter to my TiVo digital video recorder. That was a relief because I had spent a couple of hundred dollars for lifetime service and I didn’t want to set it aside (although I have recouped the value of that plan over the past two years).

While my specific Series 2 model was meant to work with satellite/cable and not antennas, I was advised that I could set up my TiVo for satellite service and trick the unit into thinking my converter was the satellite box.

It’s not perfect, but I can get most of the broadcast networks (except for ABC affiliate KRCR 7, which is just too far away). Over the past week, I’ve tried to find a good indoor antenna but the cheap $12 unit I bought two years ago still does a decent job. I actually made my own, based on Make magazine’s instructions for using old, metal coat hangers (although I had to substitute copper wire for the increasingly scarce type of hangers). That antenna works all right, and both were superior to the expensive flat antenna that I tried briefly and just as quickly returned.

At the very least, this change has me thinking of new and different projects and challenges (like when I can’t watch a show when I would like). It’s been exciting so far and we’ll see where we go from here.

Sing, sing a song … or 226 of them

Singing at Quackers

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.


‘Balls’-y Ben and Jerry’s ice cream lacks punchline

Schweddy Balls ice cream from Ben & Jerry's
Schweddy Balls ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s

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.

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.).

Presenting the 2011 Christmas card

Christmas Card 2011 preview

Autofry and I hope you 'ring' in a merry 2012.

Continuing a proud tradition of homemade Christmas cards, I’m happy to present this year’s edition. On a positive note, the card was sent out to be received around the holidays… instead of mid-January, like last year.

As always, I started the card season with some great ideas, but I had to whittle them down to a concept that I could execute without investing in a Santa suit or driving deep into the Sierra Nevada in search for snow (but look for those in future years).

This year’s card plays up my desire to absurdly celebrate the season. While I didn’t want to mock the over-commercialized aspect of the holidays, I wanted to put a unique mark on the holiday. To accomplish this, I turned back to an old joke that a friend and I made several years ago.

In the early days of going to karaoke at The Maltese, my friend Ari and I would infrequently joke about the name of the bar’s fryer — Autofry. Because the name is so prominent on the otherwise unassuming metal box, the fryer became anthropomorphized as a benevolent provider of tasty, albeit slightly unhealthy treats.

We haven’t joked about it for years, but I thought about how silly it would be if Autofry and I posed for the holiday photo, much like a couple might.

With that basic idea in mind, I made a quick stop to Target for a Santa hat and a ribbon. As I continue to fashion my own cards, money has become a concern because I don’t want to break the bank making them. Thankfully, the materials for this year’s card cost about $8 — plus the onion rings.

While I was getting everything in order on the night of the shoot, I thought it needed a little something extra, and I was also hungry. I asked for an order of onion rings.

The rings turned out to a secretly smart move when it came to devising the caption for this year’s card. Because of that food product, it made sense that Autofry and I would hope that people would joyfully ‘ring’ in the new year.

I again used Costco’s photo service to print the cards (50 cards and envelopes for about $15 is still a heckuva deal). I also used one of their templates — although they can sometimes be a little underwhelming, I liked seeing my offering within the window sill frame.

Thanks for a Maltese staff for helping to letting me slip into the kitchen for about a minute. Also, kudos to Marcus for taking the actual photo.

‘All I want for Christmas is two less chins’ and other holiday thoughts

Christmas is just hours away. By this time tomorrow, all the presents will have been opened and most families will have concluded their holiday suppers.

As the holiday season reaches its annual peak, I pause and reflect on how this year’s festivities have gone thus far. In most ways, this season has hit the usual high notes and, sadly, some of the same lows. Part of the magic of the season to me is finding new, yet sincere and relatively low-key ways to celebrate.

Low notes include the fact that the Christmas shopping season appeared to begin earlier than ever this year. I thought I saw some holly and wreaths just a few days after we scarfed down hot dogs on the Fourth of July.

I’m kidding — the first Christmas shopping display was probably after Mother’s Day back in May.

A low note that I constantly try to avoid is the trite insincerity of some elements of the holiday. Because everything is so familiar, the desire to create something new or unique can lead me, and others, down some darker paths.

For example, I create an original Christmas card each year for my friends and family. I do it so I can add a personal touch and my patented brand of humor. However, some of my concepts are better left on the drawing board because they don’t ring true.

One year, I had the grand idea to poke fun at the holiday’s consumerism. My concept was to dress up in a gaudy, Cosby-style Christmas sweater and to go to a dining room arrangement at the local IKEA. While the dining room is geared to be an ideal, my posing among the price tags would expose the façade for what it was.

Or something. When I explained my concept to my mother, she asked why I would do that. I said that I thought it would be funny and that was probably all that was needed. After receiving that feedback, I went in a different direction.

When trying to break the mold, sincerity is essential. During the past week, I heard several dozen novelty Christmas songs. Most of them were fun (especially the Bob Rivers’ track “There’s a Santa Who Looks a Lot Like Elvis” set to “It’s Beginning to Look at Lot Like Christmas”), but many seemed dated or hokey.

That brings me to my latest idea — giving a modern take to a Christmas classic song, shifting from the innocence of youth to the side effects of an obese America. That song is, of course, “All I want for Christmas is two less chins.”

On one level, I think the song could be a reflection of where we are today. I don’t think I’m picking on others — I consider myself to be festively plump and would love to be a little thinner.

Asking for this gift from Santa is similar to the young boy’s wish for two front teeth. They are both things that Santa really can’t give, although the boy’s new teeth will eventually emerge. I know, and hopefully others know, that becoming physically fit requires dedicated, personal effort.

There were a couple of flaws to my song concept. One — many people thought I was referring to the family name of “Chin,” and that I wanted to be rid of two such individuals. My quick rebuttal was that anyone who thought that was racist, but it seems like a regrettably easy association to make and I should probably come up with a different take on the song.

Second, I like the phrase and it’s gotten a chuckle from people when I try it out. However, I don’t know if anyone else has used that phrase before. I’m leery to search Google and find that it has already been done, much how like my brilliant idea of the awkwardness of a four-man nude bobsled was already a David Letterman punchline from 1994.

I suppose I can look it up now that I’ve committed my thoughts to digital paper, but I want to savor the possibility that I came up with a slightly novel, mildly amusing twist on an old chestnut.

Trying to come up with something new might amp up the pressure to deliver on an ideal Christmas. While I appreciate adding touches to make Christmas special, people need to be realistic in what they can do.

To paraphrase Otto von Bismarck, Christmas is the art of the possible. The holidays are supposed to be a joyous time of year. If you’re not having fun, maybe you need to change things up.

For me, I’ve got silly Christmas cards and spending time with family. I hope you find whatever makes your holidays merry and bright.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.