2010 – Day 3(ish) of the 9 Days of Christmas Cards

OK. I missed a couple of days because of work and because … I was mailing this year’s card to friends and family. Thankfully, I’ve already written about two of the three days so it should be fairly easy to catch up.

I haven’t yet written about my 2010 card, which was the first year that I almost didn’t do a card. In December, I was still recovering from two medical scares from the summer and fall. I recall not having a lot of enthusiasm for the project, especially if it entailed physically making the cards as in the first two years. Despite this and other challenges, the 2010 card turned out to be one of the more whimsical designs that I’ve created.

I definitely sought about creating a playful card. My first concept of depicting me placing the star atop the Christmas tree didn’t come together because the images didn’t look great. The best pic of that shoot on Dec. 14 came out too dark:

This was the best pic from my initial effort for the 2010 Christmas card.

This was the best pic from my initial effort for the 2010 Christmas card.

So, I went back to the drawing board for another concept. Thankfully, it came together fairly quickly once I had the idea of “popping” into the card from an unexpected angle and located the needed headgear (from Wal-Mart). As I pondered how unbreakable the unshatterable ornaments were, I bought a pair of wearable reindeer antlers with a mini Santa hat.

I tried a couple of different places to shoot the primary image, including Woodstock’s Pizza. The images were just OK, but it did produce this fun, if a bit blurry, “Christmas buddy cop” pic with my friend Heather.

The Christmas buddy cop pose

The Christmas buddy cop pose

Eventually, I think I went back to my apartment to shoot the main pic with the Cybershot. My primary concern is that I wasn’t happy with my hair. Given my medical issue, my hair decided to go on a temporary vacation. At the time, I was worried that it was a symptom of a far larger problem, but thankfully the hair grew back (for now).

The 2010 card

The 2010 card

The primary pic turned out pretty dark, but Photoshop was able to salvage something usable over the neutral background of the hall last seen in the 2009 card. If you look closely, my ability to “cut out” the ball on top of the cap was pretty limited. I hopefully know how to fix that now.

When it came time to finishing the card, I think I used the text tool in Photoshop to add the seasonal message. I’ve looked at the card templates at places like Costco and online with iPhotos/Photos. Although I’ve ended up using templates over the years, I generally don’t like how they leave a limited amount of space for the photos. At the same time, the photo cards I received from other friends and family looked presentable and perhaps a little more professional than my earlier, artisan efforts.

This was the first year that I used Costco for my cards. I realized in 2009 that Costco was fairly economical for their standard-sized photo cards to the point that it was cheaper than my printing out the photos separately and pasting them on cardstock. It also saved a lot of time — I could have 50 cards and envelopes ready in a day when I would take me considerably longer to make the cards myself. The only real downside is paying for the annual membership, but I’m fairly strategic on when I renew so I only have membership when I really need it (every December).

Despite the difficulties, the 2010 card got out of the door (although they were probably late). I liked the main image so much that I usually use it as my avatar online at least once or twice whenever I’m feeling in the holiday spirit.

By the numbers:

1.94 — miles traveled for the card (although I ended up using pictures shot in my apartment.

3 — days before Christmas when I shot the primary photo for my card.

14 — number of pictures taken for the 2010 card:

The photos of the 2010 Christmas card

The photos of the 2010 Christmas card

2009 – Day 2 of the 9 Days of Christmas Cards

Continuing with my look back on nine years of Christmas cards, 2009 marks the second year and the final year of doing entirely homemade cards.

While the card production was simplified from the first year (no elaborate cutting), the main image was a bit more complicated as it featured me twice.

The theme of the card was intended to convey passing the spirit of Christmas on to others. What turned out has been described as “creepy” by a dear friend because of the black gloves in the picture (although the right glove is dark blue even if it didn’t come out that way). That was certainly _not_ my intention, but my hands weren’t photo-ready that year and I needed to improvise.

My previous blog entry on the 2009 card doesn’t go into too much detail, but I used Photoshop so I could play both giver and receiver of the tiny tree. It’s nice that retailers sell trees of all sizes — I decided to use trees sized as lawn ornaments for the card. This was my first deviation from doing holiday cards focused on Chico or Northern California, but time was short that year and I still incorporated a personal touch to the design.

I again used the family Sony Cybershot for photos. I set it up on a tripod in my apartment facing a hallway wall that I thought had sufficient light. I abstained from using the flash, especially because I wanted the Christmas lights to stand out on the tree.

My “noir” look.

Unfortunately, the light in the hallway wasn’t sufficient (at least for my camera and my personal technical ability). I turned on more lights around the hallway (which opened into the kitchen/living room) and arranged a directional light on the “set.” A friend liked the noir look of one of my test shots.

I primarily focused on getting the left side of the card right — making sure the angle and presentation of the tree was correct. As the test shots below indicate, it was difficult to get everything _just_ right (especially when working with a camera timer) but I eventually got a shot I was satisfied with.

I also tried to hide the power cord connecting to the tree’s lights. I was only partially successful, as one can see a power plug hanging from my coat sleeve.

I changed coats and gloves to shoot the right side of the card. I was worried about the shadow that the arm cast against the wall, but I was pretty confident that I could use Photoshop to edit out the shadow.

After getting my shots, I used the computer to compose the primary image. I attempted shot a neutral background as a canvas, but the final product doesn’t particularly reflect that. I remember the image came together pretty quickly as there were only really three elements. That said, doing any sort of cutout of a pine tree is a painful experience (one that I’ve repeated in the 2016 card).

The 2009 Christmas card.

The 2009 Christmas card.

For the last time, I printed out the image as prints at a local store. I switched up the white cardstock for red for a little more visual pop.

I also used a printer for my message “Spreading a little holiday cheer… and wishing you a Happy New Year.” Although it was a bit tricky to align everything correctly, I liked the clarity of the printed text although I missed the personal touch of the handwritten cursive of the previous year.

I used a glue stick to attach the photo to the card. It was time consuming and I strove to make sure the image was centered correctly.

I earlier wrote that I eliminated folded cards after 2008. My memory may be hazy — I seem to recall a fold in the 2009 card because I wrote on the inside of the card. However, I think the fact that I didn’t have a great message for the card’s interior was a key reason for moving away from folded cards.

The other reason for moving away from folded cards also included the realization of the relative economy of photo cards purchased from a warehouse store, but that’s a story for the 2010 card.

By the numbers:

0 — miles traveled to photograph the card (this was the only year so far shot entirely at home, although 2010 comes close).

3 — Trees included in the lawn decoration set.

5 — Days before Christmas when I photographed the card (again, not really enough time to get everything done).

18 — photographs taken for the 2009 card.

Day 1 – 2008 – The 9 Days of Christmas Cards

Christmas Time is here and I’m starting my annual effort to spread a little cheer. For the past nine years, I’ve been making my own holiday cards. While I’ve generally tried to follow a theme of Northern Californian elements, sometimes I’ve focused on some aspect of my life or followed whatever fancy suited me that year.

2016 will be a bit different … but mostly the same. I’m back in Utah, so the “local” theme now applies to the Intermountain West instead of Chico. Some other things that are staying the same — I shot on location this year as I did 87 percent of my previous cards AND I’m working to make sure they get to people’s mailboxes before Christmas.

To help encourage me to make my deadline, I’m doing a countdown to look back at the eight previous editions of the card culminating with the online debut of my 2016 card. I’m (unintentionally) timing this to end on Dec. 23, which will hopefully allow enough time for the new cards to arrive in the mail and for me to wrap up this holiday special before St. Nick arrives the following day. Aiding my card quest is the fact that I’ve written about four of the eight past editions of the card (to keep things fresh, I’ll be adding some pictures from years past and add some recollections).

In all the cases, I try to do something new and something fun. Sometimes the cards are planned months in advance while others come together very quickly. Procrastination rarely helps the execution of the cards, but sometimes inspiration drops a good idea on my head like Santa and a bag of presents down a chimney.

I wanted to give this to you for Christmas …

I wanted to give this to you for Christmas …

Without further ado, here’s a look at my 2008 Christmas card…

I previously wrote about my first card just after it came out and blog posts around the time detailed my creative process in developing my first Chico Christmas card.

The first card was probably one of my most ambitious ones in terms of execution. I loved the giant (functional) wooden yo-yo at the Bird in Hand store in downtown Chico and thought it would make a great sight gag.

In order to pull the gag off, I needed the front of the card to isolate the yo-yo, letting the joke reveal itself when the reader opened the card.

Inside of the 2008 Christmas card.There was a decent amount of stenciling and cutting to get the front of the card properly show the toy. After everything was cut, I needed to glue the photo of the yo-yo in the exact proper place or the illusion wouldn’t work.

I also chose a heavier white cardstock to help with the presentation (I worried that regular paper was too flimsy). If I recall correctly, the weight became a bit of an issue because the cards were right on the cusp of being too heavy for a single, first-class postage stamp. I remember not wanting to take the risk and bought a little extra postage to make sure everything go to their destination on time.

This first card was a lot of work and cost a decent amount of money (photos, paper, crafting supplies, postage, etc.), but I liked this initial effort. I wasn’t super happy with my handwriting as a key element of the card itself despite the homemade touch of it. Future cards wouldn’t feature handwritten elements (although I still pen a general message to every recipient). This is also the only folding card that I’ve made in the series — the 2009 card was still mostly handmade, but then I discovered the economy and efficiency of photo cards from a certain well-known wholesale retailer.

By the numbers:

0.71 — miles traveled to shoot the card.

5 — number of days before Christmas when I shot the principal photography (obviously not enough time).

13 — photos shot for this card on my family’s Sony Cybershot that I received from my sister. While I’m excited to share photos from upcoming cards, this one’s pictures don’t have a lot of variation to them (aside from trying to find the best angle and camera settings). Here’s a look at the thumbnails:

Here's a look at the 13 shots I took for my 2008 Christmas card at Bird in Hand in Chico, California.

Here’s a look at the 13 shots I took for my 2008 Christmas card at Bird in Hand in Chico, California.

Turning the voting kiosk into a photo booth OR How I stopped worrying and learned to love the ballot selfie

In just over 24 hours, the grueling 17-month-long election cycle will grind to a merciful halt. Even after weeks and weeks of ceaseless discussions, debates and squabbles, there are still some issues that haven’t been analyzed to death. One of those issues is the ballot selfie.

For those needing an explanation, the ballot selfie is where a voter takes a self-portrait with his or her ballot primarily to show who he or she voted for. In years past, it generally wasn’t an issue because people generally don’t take standalone cameras with them into the voting booth, much less wait for the photos to be developed and then converted into a format that can easily be broadcast to others. It became more of an issue in the past decade as nearly everyone now has a camera on their smartphones and can share anything with the tap of a screen.

States have conflicting laws about whether these self-portraits are permitted. USA Today publshed a breakdown, showing about two-fifths allow them, while two-fifths ban them and the rest is a muddle. For example, California law doesn’t currently allow them (despite a last-minute appeal by the ACLU), but a law overturning the ban will go into effect next year. Conversely, Utah allows selfies.

When I first heard about the issue about two years ago, I was generally opposed to allowing such photos. I theorized that the photos could provide proof in any sort of vote-buying arrangment. Such a thing could undermine the integrity of a secret ballot.

At the same time, that’s merely a theory. At least one federal court has ruled that it’s not a compelling reason to abridge a person’s First Amendment rights to express themselves in this manner. That makes sense — under strict scrutiny, a government needs to be able to show a compelling reason for a narrowly tailored law that abridges a constitutional right (and that the proposed law is the least restrictive means to accomplish this compelling purpose). That said, I’m not a lawyer and I’m not 100 percent certain that strict scrutiny is the standard here.

In any case, my concern about any hypothetical vote buying diminished when I thought about some of the practices around voting. Of note, if a voter incorrectly marks a ballot, I know some states allow the voter to return the mismarked ballot and ask for a clean one.

So, it’s possible for voters to take a photo of a ballot marked one way and then to ask for a clean ballot and cast their votes as originally intended. Given that possibility, it would be a pretty inefficient and unreliable way to manipulate the system. (Note: there may be ways around that, perhaps by checking the ballot receipt.)

Theoretically, someone could take a photo of a blank ballot prior to filling it out and subsequently  use Photoshop or a basic redeye tool and virtually mark the ballot as they see fit.

With those potential safeguards, I reached a measure of peace about the ballot selfie. Ideally, people use these photos to show they are engaged in civic participation, something we generally need more of in this nation.

Then again, there’s the old adage: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.” We’ve certainly seen a lot of family and friends prove this saying on social media during this election cycle and posting a ballot selfie may only provide additional confirmation.

I’m tempted to take a ballot selfie myself Tuesday, but I would have to obscure my actual choices. It’s professionally unethical for me to disclose who or what I voted for and that suits me just fine (especially after what I mentioned about people proving themselves the fool).

In any case, Tuesday is the big day. If you haven’t already voted, this is your chance to have a say (balanced against others, of course). I’ll see you at the polls.

Provo smokestacks before and after


Click to embiggen

It was certainly interesting to watch the demolition of the Provo smokestacks Sunday. Although I’m new to the area, I can certainly understand at least a small portion of what it’s like to lose landmarks like the duo that towered over the skyline for more than 67 years (77 years for the older stack to the north).

In the end, the stacks were practically in their birthday suits after having asbestos-laden paint stripped off of their structures a few weeks ago. While children waved glow sticks that looked like the towers of old with the branding of “Provo City Power,” the actual towers were bare, aside from a column of numbers stretching up the side.

I was excited to cover the event. It was great that the Daily Herald was able to have a reporter, photographer and online staff on the site. We were able to focus on our particular strengths — I reported while Issac Hale shot pics and Phillip Morgan captured live video of the moment. I’m bummed that I forgot that the Provo Mayor’s Office already suggested the #provosmokestacks hashtag and initially went with the shorter #provostacks tag. Hizzoner’s recommendation carried the day on Twitter and the posts using the tag were fun to browse through.

I also got to be a bit of dork and talk about the smokestacks before the event and later during a live, online interview with Assistant Power Director Scott Bunker (who was a pleasure to speak with). Although I’ve done radio broadcasting for years, I definitely saw room for improvement in my presentation.

We were able to cover the event from multiple angles and I was happy to shoot slow-motion video of the destruction. If you watch the top of the northern stack on the left, you can glimpse a small cloud emerge as it falls to the ground. Although the stacks were last used for power generation in 2000, it seems oddly fitting that they funneled either smoke or dust in their dying moments.

Before I left the Provo Recreation Center to write up the story, I snapped a final photo of the view without the towers framed to match a shot I took earlier in the morning. Using the Juxtapose.JS tool, I created the graphic you see at the top of this entry. It’s interesting to see just how much of an impact the old smokestacks had on the Provo skyline. One can only wonder what views we will see in the years to come.

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 2.17.44 PM

Last call for Google’s Picasa photo service

A screen capture showing Google's Picasa desktop software running on a Windows 7 computer on Thursday, March 10, 2016.

A screen capture showing Google’s Picasa desktop software running on a Windows 7 computer on Thursday, March 10, 2016.

After years of languishing behind projects like Google+ and Google Photos, Picasa is finally going to the great software and Web service cemetery beyond the clouds. Google announced last month that Picasa was being retired, and the end begins March 15 when the company stops support of the Picasa desktop app. Picasa’s online Web albums will be changing starting May 1.

I’m writing today so people may have the chance to download the Picasa’s free software for Windows and Mac before it’s taken offline. Although I started with Picasa’s Web service, the desktop software has become an invaluable way to quickly sort images and do some basic editing (although the editing tools are closer to Instagram than Photoshop). Although Google is seeking a single service that works on mobile and desktop, that solution isn’t ready today.

At first glance, Picasa is a tough sell as it was first developed when software companies were determining how to bridge software that resided on local computers with cloud services. Picasa was both a desktop app (that Google initially acquired) and an online photo service and it could be hard to explain the difference between the two to others. The two services even had different Web addresses — the app was available at picasa.google.com while the Web service was available at picasaweb.google.com.

A screenshot shows the desktop software at the top of this blog post. Readers may contrast that with a view of the Web albums below.

Here's a look at the Picasa Web Albums service as viewed in Google Chrome on March 10, 2016.

Here’s a look at the Picasa Web Albums service as viewed in Google Chrome on March 10, 2016.

Compared with modern applications and Web services, both versions of Picasa look a bit dated but they were still generally effective.

When it came to sharing photos online, Picasa Web Albums made things simple without the clutter of other photo-sharing services, like PhotoBucket. You could embed individual Picasa images on other sites or share slideshows of entire albums. These features are not currently available in Google Photos.

The biggest advantage of Google Photos is that it can store all of your photos at a usable size (Google+ Photos had a pretty small image size limit). I’ve found it extremely convenient for locating and sharing individual photos, but I’m less inclined to share whole albums. To be fair, I didn’t choose to share many albums with Picasa Web Albums, but I miss the ability to view other’s public photo profiles and share my own.

Ultimately, I’ll likely miss the desktop software most of all, especially when it came to processing screenshots. As someone whose personal computer is a MacBook, it’s easy to take cropped screenshots with the Command-Shift-4 keyboard shortcut. On a Windows PC, it’s initially easy to take the screenshot with the PrtScn key, but then you have to go to an image app like MS Paint, paste the screenshot into the image, crop it and then save it.

Picasa for Windows allowed users to skip a couple of steps. When Picasa was running, the PrtScn key captured the desktop directly to Picasa (alas, no secondary screens). With the image already saved, it was easy to go into Picasa, edit and crop the image and export it from a bitmap to a JPEG or PNG file.

The rest of the desktop app’s tools were straightforward. You couldn’t cut out or easily modify smaller elements of an image (something that had me running to Photoshop a couple times last year). The tools were useful for basic photo editing and caption information was saved in an IPTC format, which saved a lot of time for work. Users could also add text to an image, which saved me a lot of grief when I was working on my Christmas cards.

As much as I liked the desktop software, it could get a bit difficult to manage images, especially as it tried to cope with updates from other developers. For example, it was great that Picasa was able to read Apple’s iPhotos image database, but that advantage is practically wiped out when the image database splits up images by date (instead of albums or something more useful).

Ultimately, it makes sense for Google to let go of Picasa as the desktop app was last significantly updated more than four years ago. It will also reduce some of the confusion of Google’s image programs (which will still include Google Photos and the Snapseed mobile editing apps). I hope Google Photos will pick up some of the features of the Picasa services. Google Photos offers some incredible advantages, especially with facial and object recognition, but I think it has some ways to go before it can be a suitable replacement for Picasa.

Is Google Photos the future?

Is Google Photos the future?

Vital discussion on media consolidation not aided by false quip

Yes, Comcast is a huge conglomerate, but it and 5 other companies really own 90 percent of _all_ media?

Yes, Comcast is a huge conglomerate, but does it and 5 other companies really own over 90 percent of _all_ media?

It is ironic that a letter to the editor about media literacy would contain a wild, unsubstantiated claim about the media. Both the Enterprise-Record and the Chico News & Review ran a letter from Richard Sterling Ogden promoting a community radio program focusing on media literacy. Unfortunately, both copies of the letter ran the claim that “Six corporations own over 90 percent of media…” This claim has been floating around for years and, as far as I can tell, it’s a bit of easily repeated hokum that doesn’t have a scintilla of proof.

It’s frustrating when these unfounded and demonstrably false claims are repeated without any verification because it can diminish otherwise valid concerns about media consolidation. Because I loathe to see inaccurate, feel-good noise drowning out valid, useful information on the Internet, I often respond whenever I see this unproven claim repeated and taken as gospel (Here’s an example from Business Insider). What follows is generally what I post.

The simplicity of the statement “six corporations own over 90 percent of media” is its undoing because “media” could mean everything, including print, radio, broadcasting, recorded music, cinema, pay-TV, online media, etc., in every country across the world. Six corporations may have their fingers in many of those categories, but not all, and not in all countries.

Even if you generously narrow the definition of “media” to just the United States, one can quickly deduce that there’s no apparent merit to the claim.

For example, of the 1,774 full-power TV stations in the United States, about 20 percent of them are public television stations. Public television stations are licensed by various schools, colleges, non-profit entities — not, as far as I can tell, the nefarious six corporations.

The remaining 80 percent is less than 90, even if the rest of them were owned by these corporations (which they’re not). Yes, most TV stations air programming from broadcasters like Disney-owned ABC, CBS Corp. or Comcast-owned NBC, but the actual stations are owned by different companies. There are only about 79 stations owned and operated by the sinister six — that’s just 4.5 percent of the total number of stations. Again, 4.5 percent is not 90 percent.

The linked table itself acknowledges that the six companies control 70 percent of cable networks. I don’t have the time to verify that claim, but it’s not necessary because 70 percent isn’t 90 percent.

I could do the same thing for radio stations, newspapers and news websites. When you add them all up, I don’t think you’re going to get to 90 percent.

Ultimately, people who decry the potential for mass manipulation shouldn’t engage in it themselves.

From the vault: UCSD’s possible Division I move isn’t enough to bolster school spirit

Scaffolding is in place around the Sun God sculpture at UC San Diego at some point during my time there before 2001.

Scaffolding is in place around the Sun God sculpture at UC San Diego at some point during my time there before 2001.

Author’s note: I started writing this in the spring of 2012, the last time UC San Diego students voted on whether to move to NCAA Division I (it failed with 56.7 percent of students voting no). It’s unfinished, but I’m finally publishing it because students will again vote on D-I this spring. Aside from modifying the original headline (from “UCSD’s possible Division I move won’t bolster school spirit alone”), everything else is presented as-is from four years ago. I’ll definitely have more thoughts in the weeks to come.

UC San Diego’s possible move to NCAA Division I has been on my mind since the student vote started last week. The proposal has stirred deep concerns, but I sort of didn’t want to speak out about it. While I have strong spirit for UCSD, it’s not really my opinion that matters — it really boils down to the current students and what they want.

After doing some research and witnessing a relatively small crowd watch the women’s basketball team in the playoffs (at a tournament UCSD was hosting), I’ve concluded that D-I likely won’t accomplish what proponents say they want — an increase in the campus’ prominence, a bolstered campus life and a more involved alumni community. At least not alone.

Ultimately, having students each pay nearly $500 more per year for Division I seems pound foolish without a concerted effort to pursue complementary, pennywise solutions.

Campus prominence — This is a tempting lure. After all, at D-I, there’s always the possibility of the men’s or women’s basketball teams making it to March Madness. And for 21 other sports that struggle for the spotlight, there’s the ability to play slightly bigger rivals. And think of all the other Division I programs that you can name.

Unfortunately, campus prominence seems like a tease. There are 346 D-I schools. Name recognition gets sketchy after the 47th team in a basketball tournament or the two teams facing off in a 35th-tier football bowl game sponsored by a bail bondsman.

Other schools have made the argument that D-I would bolster their regional and national appearance. When I was going to school, UC Riverside students made that argument when voting to go to Division I in 1998.

Does the fact that UCR is now D-I really improve that campus’ reputation in your mind? The same argument could be made for UC Irvine and even UC Santa Barbara (outside of their basketball team, at times). These are schools known largely for things other than their athletic legacy.

Proponents also assert that UCSD has outgrown D-II after 12 short years, arguing that the school is too big for its conference, the California Collegiate Athletic Association, in both student population, academic prowess and athletic performance. I’m not too concerned about campus size or scholastic performance, but there’s still room to grow athletically.

Yes, UCSD excels in the conference, but it has earned three national team championships in Division II in 12 years, according to NCAA stats. Compare that with the 20 team titles UCSD won in Division III (where UCSD clearly exceeded average school size and dominated the division).

If UCSD goes to D-I, I predict its prominence will still languish on regional and national stages. Locally, UCSD would still be in third position — behind San Diego State University and University of San Diego. (USD is another example where a school’s D-I status is relatively unimportant — except for Jim Harbaugh for football and a rare March Madness basketball win.)

If UCSD were an athletic Goldilocks, Division III was obviously too small, Division I is likely too big, while Division II is still just right.

Improved campus life

Solving the Starbucks holiday cup conundrum

It’s been a couple of weeks since people appeared outraged about Starbucks eschewing a definitive holiday/Christmas message on its seasonal red cups in favor of a minimalist design. Instead of viewing the situation as an absolutist, I think it’s possible to find some common ground (or grounds, since we’re talking about coffee).

While I was walking through the office, I spied some of the smaller cups that Starbucks provides for people getting coffee to-go for large groups. They were the right size for my proposed solution to this seemingly intractable controversy (that people may have already forgotten after two weeks).

I “liberated” the cups and I used straightened paper clips to fashion handles so they could be affixed to another object. I then made my way to the nearest hardware store to take advantage of their Christmas tree displays.

After a few minutes of prepping, my solution was ready…

Hopefully everyone will be happy with this solution for the Starbucks holiday cup controversy.

Hopefully everyone will be happy with this solution for the Starbucks holiday cup controversy.

To paraphrase “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” I never thought it was such a bad little cup. Maybe it just needed a little love.

A procrastinator’s guide to Beer Camp Across America

Beer Camp Across America included a special 12-pack of beers featuring Sierra Nevada collaborations with different breweries. These are those ales.

Beer Camp Across America included a special 12-pack of beers featuring Sierra Nevada collaborations with different breweries. These are those ales.

It’s been more than 13 months since Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. led craft beer aficionados and brewers across the country to its new facility in Mills River, North Carolina. The Chico-based brewery organized several beer festivals under the Beer Camp Across America banner and invited as many craft brewers as possible.

I wasn’t able to make it to any of the festival stops, but I was able to get the next best thing. As part of the celebration, Sierra Nevada collaborated with several breweries on unique one-of-a-kind creations. Twelve of the collaborations were released in a special 12-item case. I waited too long to buy the special case and they were pretty much sold out when I tried to purchase one. Thankfully, I had a second option.

Living about a mile away from the Chico brewery means that I have easier access to some of Sierra Nevada’s releases. The cases were gone, but they had single bottles of each beer, so I could make my own six-packs. I quickly seized the opportunity and grabbed the bottles before they flew off the shelves.

And then I waited to drink them.

I know that I shouldn’t wait too long to drink most beers because they’re not made to stay on shelves and refrigerators forever. I was reluctant to crack open these bottles. I had already tasted some of them before, at the tap room, at festivals and elsewhere, but when I finished drinking these bottles and cans, they would be gone forever.

So over the last 13 months, these beers have been in a relatively cool, relatively dark place (my bedroom). They sat by me waiting for the moment … and now it’s here.

I have just moved and I’ve figured that it’s now or never for these beverages.

After I moved, I placed the bottles in the fridge. I resolved that the next time I took one out, I would drink it.  Over the next few days, I’m going to share some brief notes about each one.

These aren’t going to be full reviews — there are certainly some beer rating sites that have tasting reviews down to a science, putting my earlier attempt to shame.

Also, neither the fridge nor my bedroom are perfect storage places and that will probably affect how each of these taste.

Some of the beers may have held up better than others based on their style and preparation. I shared my tale with a fellow traveler in the tap room. He estimated a third of the 12 beers could probably have been safely stored this long.

Without further ado, here’s the first one I tasted:

1. Yvan the Great

Yvan the Great is a collaboration between Russian River Brewing Co. and Sierra Nevada.

Yvan the Great is a collaboration between Russian River Brewing Co. and Sierra Nevada.

(50 IBU, 6.3% ABV) A year ago, I wanted to save this for last, but now I want it to be first. If I can no longer save the best for last, I may as well start with a blast.

Brewed in collaboration with Russian River Brewing Co., Yvan is a Belgian-style blonde made to honor Belgian brewer Yvan De Baets, according to the label. He was a friend of Russian River brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo and Sierra Nevada’s Brian Grossman.

On the pour, it looked like it had retained a lot of carbonation although the head quickly dissipated. I loved the light, golden hue of the cloudy liquid. I smelled a pleasant floral note.

I could also taste that note when I took a drink, although it also seemed a little pine-y. Repeated sips unveiled some citrus and It had a mildly tart finish. On appearance and taste, it seemed reminiscent of white wine.

I would totally agree with label notes that state the ale blends the yeast character of a farmhouse ale with the citrus taste of American hops. I definitely reminds me of some of Sierra Nevada’s more recent farmhouse ales, although those draw in elements from other nations.

On the bottle neck, it reads that “This hoppy Blonde Ale blends the dry, complex yeast character of Belgian farmhouse ales with the bright, citrus-like profile of American-grown hops.”

On the back, it notes “As longtime friends, Russian River brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo and our own Brian Grossman are no strangers to brewing experiments. For this collaboration, they honored their friend and renowned Belgian brewer Yvan De Baets. This Belgian-American mash-up harmoniously blends Yvan’s penchant for yeast with Vinnie and Brian’s affinity for hops.” (opened Sept. 2, 2015)

2. Torpedo Pilsner

Torpedo Pilsner is a collaboration between Firestone Walker Brewing Co. and Sierra Nevada.

Torpedo Pilsner is a collaboration between Firestone Walker Brewing Co. and Sierra Nevada.

(45 IBU, 5.2% ABV)  My second selection was the hoppy pilsner brewed in collaboration with Firestone Walker Brewing Co. This is a slightly less bitter beer with lower alcohol content, so I’m a little worried that I may not enjoy the full flavor after Yvan the Great. However, I’ve cracked open the bottle so I’m committed.

The label states “This hoppy lager features intense fruity and floral notes from fresh New Zealand hops balanced against a crisp and clean malt body.”

I guess we’ll see how fresh hops fare against Father Time.

The golden color looks similar to Yvan the Great. Still a decent amount of carbonation.

I swirl the sample glass to get a better sense of the pilsner’s smell. I’m not detecting much, maybe a faint echo of the fruity note that it’s supposed to have.

After taking a drink, it feels lighter than Yvan, but it’s still flavorful. A lot of the flavor is toward the front of my palate. It definitely seems more flowery than Yvan.

I’m not totally satisfied by the finish. Overall, it may not be as balanced as it once was. It’s fine, but I was hoping for a little more oomph.

The back of the bottle states: “Torpedo Pilsner is a hop-forward take on the crisp, classic lager. We and the folks at Firestone Walker share a passion for New Zealand hop varietals, so we loaded our legendary Hop Torpedo with the southern hemisphere’s finest hops for a fruity, floral twist on the pilsner style.” (opened Sept. 2, 2015; bottled May 29, 2014)

3. Chico King Pale Ale

Chico King Pale Ale is a collaboration between 3 Floyds Brewing Co. and Sierra Nevada.

Chico King Pale Ale is a collaboration between 3 Floyds Brewing Co. and Sierra Nevada.

(45 IBU, 6.5% ABV) Chico King is a pale ale brewed in collaboration with 3 Floyds Brewing Co. I actually had a couple tastes of this about a year ago at a brewing festival. If I recall correctly, it was good but didn’t sing to me.

The bottleneck label states “This pale ale stacks plenty of bright, fruit-forward resinous hop varietals atop a robust malt body.”

When I opened the bottle, I definitely got a strong whiff of hops with a sweet scent slowly emerging. It makes me giddy to have a sip.

Tasting it, it definitely tasted like a pale ale. It doesn’t seem to knock my socks off, but it was pleasant with most of the flavor standing out on the finish. Put another way, I seem to taste the malt first and then the hops. There also seems to be a hint of heat from the alcohol.

Overall, it seems well balanced. Nothing seems to knock my socks off, but there’s a lot of flavor there.

On the back of the bottle, the label says “3 Floyds has a reputaiton as the Midwestern kings of alpha (hops), and it seems our flagship beer helped lure them down the lupulin-paved path. Chico King is a mash-up of our mutual passion for hoppy pale ales and we suspect you’ll find it fit for royalty.”

(Tasted Sept. 7, 2015; bottled May 15, 2014)

4. Myron’s Walk
Myron's Walk is a Belgian-style pale ale brewed with coriander.

Myron’s Walk is a Belgian-style pale ale brewed with coriander.

(38 IBU, 5.3% ABV) This is a Belgian-style pale ale brewed with coriander. It was made in collaboration with Allagash Brewing Co. The bottleneck label states “This Belgian-style pale ale combines the best of our two breweries. Intense piney-citrus hop notes counterpoint the complex fruity spice of Allagash’s Belgian yeast.”

It definitely sounds intriguing. When I poured it into the glass, it had a light amber hue. The scent wasn’t fairy strong, but it smelt a little of pine with a bit of spice.

When I took a gulp, it didn’t seem to make a huge impact on my taste buds. There was carbonation, but the head dissipated quickly.

After a couple of sips, I could feel a little bit of the spice. It seemed to blend well with the hops and kind of reminded me faintly of gingerbread.

It’s pleasant enough, but I don’t know if it did enough for me to select it as a standout.

On the back label, it states “This collaboration honors Myron Avery, a founder of the Appalachian Trail which spans our North Carolina brewery and Allagash’s home in Maine. We share a great love of the outdoors, and Avery and the AT are great reminders of the wild spirit of exploration that connects us both.”

(Tasted Sept. 9, 2015; bottled June 3, 2014)

5. Electric Ray

Electric Ray is an India pale lager brewed in collaboration with Ballast Point Brewing.

Electric Ray is an India pale lager brewed in collaboration with Ballast Point Brewing.

(70 IBU, 8.5% ABV) This India pale lager was brewed in collaboration with Ballast Point Brewing. The bottleneck label states “This nautically named India Pale Lager combines intense citrusy, floral American hops with the clean, classic male body of a blonde lager.”

Right out of the gate, I was a little worried about this one — there was some cloudiness on the bottom of the bottle, plus some suspended in the liquid. It’s probably fine, but I’m definitely keeping an eye on it.

When I poured it out, whatever was creating the cloudiness appeared like the burnt orange that I saw when I held onto my Bell’s Oberon for too long. It gave the liquid a pleasant, fiery appearance that made it opaque — probably the most opaque of the ales and lagers I’ve had so far.

My first impression was an oaky scent. It had a heat from the alcohol and it felt heavier than the Myron’s Walk. It seemed like the malt and floral accents had merged together.

On the back of the bottle, it states: “As ever, San Diego’s Ballast Point looked to the sea for inspiration. A play on the fish’s scientific name—Torpedo californica—Electric Ray pays homage to our Hop Torpedo, the source of much of this beer’s big flavor. Its massive grapefruit and floral notes deliver a high-voltage hit of hop flavor.”

I’m not quite sure I detect the grapefruit, but it’s certainly robust.

(Opened Sept. 9, 2015; bottled June 3, 2014)