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

Raiders seem to have enough money to build new stadium without public help

An Amtrak California train passes by O.co Coliseum on Aug. 2, 2014.

A Capitol Corridor train passes by O.co Coliseum on Aug. 2, 2014.

As everyone ponders what may happen to the Oakland Raiders after the NFL owners cleared a path Tuesday for the St. Louis Rams and the San Diego Chargers to relocate to Los Angeles, I wondered if the Raiders and owner Mark Davis could finance their own stadium without significant taxpayer subsidy.

My math may be a little off, but I think it’s pretty darn likely given the numbers that have flown around the past few months. Still, it’s probably not in the Raiders’ best interests to go it alone when it could probably find some city willing to fork over hundreds of millions of dollars.

First, before it was shot to heck with the owners’ decision, the Chargers and Raiders had developed a joint proposal to develop a shared stadium in Carson between Los Angeles and Long Beach. The initial proposed cost for the privately financed facility — $1.7 billion, according to ESPN. I don’t immediately know the breakdown of the partnership, but if the Chargers and Raiders were equal partners, I would guess that the Raiders would be responsible for $850 million.

Second, the three teams that were planning to move to Los Angeles were expected to each pay a $550 million relocation fee. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the Raiders have asked that the relocation fee be waived because they didn’t get to move to LA. Nonetheless, before Tuesday, the Raiders were prepared to pay $550 million and their share of the new stadium (maybe $850 million). That’s already $1.4 billion.

Third, the Raiders didn’t get the brass ring of moving to Los Angeles, but they got a lovely $100 million parting gift. Add that to the previous totals and you’re looking at $1.5 billion.

The pool of $1.5 billion may not be enough to build a stadium along the lines of Carson — which would’ve required locker rooms, offices and more for two home teams. The Rams’ Inglewood stadium was expected to cost $1.86 billion, according to the LA Times.

Levi's Stadium is pictured behind some youth soccer fields on Oct. 14, 2104, in Santa Clara, California.

Levi’s Stadium is pictured behind some youth soccer fields on Oct. 14, 2104, in Santa Clara, California.

A better example may be found in Levi’s Stadium, the home of the Raiders’ Bay Area rival Santa Clara San Francisco 49ers. The estimated price tag of Levi’s was $1.2 billion, according to the San Jose Mercury News in 2012. Although the football experience has been criticized at Levi’s Stadium, it is apparently packed to the gills with fan amenities and expensive accommodations to help pad the owners’ wallets.

If the Niners were able to build that for $1.2 billion, surely the Raiders would be able to build something similar for around $1.5 billion. Contemporary proposals for new stadiums in St. Louis and San Diego called for spending about a billion apiece.

[An aside: The cost to build a building that will be used by its primary tenant 10 days a year is flabbergasting. AT&T Park, one of the best Major League Baseball stadiums, cost $357 million when it was built in 1997. That facility was privately financed and gets used by its primary tenant for about 85 days a year.]

I’ll readily admit that there are a lot of factors that I don’t know about. For example, the Wikipedia article about Levi’s Stadium notes that the Santa Clara Stadium Authority — the entity that actually owns the facility — borrowed $850 million from banks, a $200 million NFL loan and some local taxes. Who knows what sort of hoops the Raiders would have to jump through to secure enough funding? Also, some of the funding for the Carson proposal may have been contingent on the value of the team jumping considerably by moving to the giant media market that is Los Angeles.

Nonetheless, it would appear that there are ways for the Raiders to privately fund a stadium without extensively relying on taxpayer support.

There’s not much I can add to the ongoing criticism of the use of extensive taxpayer funding for massive edifices for a pastime. It is worth noting that Oakland, St. Louis and San Diego taxpayers were all burned to some extent by financially supporting the last generation of stadiums — OaklandSt. Louis and San Diego are all stuck paying off new buildings or expansions done within the last 21 years. San Diego also entered into a ruinous ticket guarantee leading to the city buying tickets to cover its obligation until the contract was renegotiated nearly 12 years ago.

One would think that these examples of taxpayers still holding the bag on three facilities would be cautionary tales to other governments. Alas, they weren’t even cautionary tales for two of the cities losing their NFL teams, as governments there tried assembling deals that would fork over hundreds of millions of taxpayer funds (nearly $400 million in St. Louis and $350 million in San Diego) for new stadiums. By comparison, Oakland looked absolutely frugal by declining to directly contribute to a new stadium but offered $90 million in infrastructure improvements.

To compound matters, the league didn’t particularly care for any of these proposals going to voters for approval because NFL officials wanted certainty in any of the cities’ offers. Apparently, St. Louis was preparing to move forward without a plebiscite, while San Diego officials were inexplicably optimistic a proposal would pass in a city that has dealt with owner shenanigans for 20+ years.

It’s hard to blame the NFL and the team owners for how they handle obtaining funding — it’s a business and they’re looking at their bottom line. However, the onus must lie on local governments who seem to bring truth to the saying that there’s a sucker born every minute. Serious questions must be asked about issuing 30-year bonds for facilities that may only get used for 25 years — in addition to the Chargers and Rams bailing on facilities built or remodeled since 1994, the Atlanta Falcons are preparing to leave a facility opened in 1992 (and the baseball Atlanta Braves are soon to ditch a stadium built in 1997).

I don’t know if Raiders owner Mark Davis really wants to stay in Oakland. Even if it doesn’t come with the benefits and relative safety net of taxpayer assistance, it still seems possible and potentially rewarding to use solely private funding.

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)

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.

Who had the most airtime during the GOP debate? Advertisers.

Here's a breakdown of how much airtime each candidate, and advertisers, received during Thursday's GOP presidential candidate debate aired on Fox News Channel.

Here’s a breakdown of how much airtime each candidate, and advertisers, received during Thursday’s GOP presidential candidate debate aired on Fox News Channel.

Thursday’s debate of Republican candidates running for president in 2016 on Fox News Channel turned out to be pretty exciting. While most of the post-debate analysis has been focused on what the 10 candidates said, some are looking at how much airtime each candidate received. I took it a step further and considered how many commercials aired during the program.

My findings? Advertisers handily won the airtime battle.

I didn’t have a stopwatch, but based on my review of the broadcast, I estimated Fox News aired a total of about 16 minutes of commercials during six breaks. If it’s correct, that means that commercials took up a larger portion of the 2+ hour-long debate than any of the individual candidates. That’s more than current frontrunner Donald Trump’s 11 minutes and 14 seconds, as calculated by The New York Times. Ads had nearly triple the airtime of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who was one of the leading candidates.

Since Fox News was running the show, it could and did take commercial breaks during the event’s scheduled two-hour running time (it ran over by about four minutes). During the first break after about 30 minutes, The New York Times’ graphics department tweeted a breakdown of how long each candidate spoke during the initial segment.

I was interested to see how little time some of the candidates received, especially compared to Trump, who has become a major attraction in this election’s early going. By that point, each candidate had relatively little time to speak — Walker got only 34 seconds, but even Trump got less than two minutes. I was amused by Fox News airing commercials during a civically-oriented event, especially because I’m used to commercial-free debates before the main general election (less than 15 months away!). I was curious if Fox News would have more commercial time than airtime for some of the candidates.


Ultimately, I was surprised to see that it’s likely that advertising outpaced _all_ of the candidates instead of just a few.

I didn’t have a good way of keeping time of the commercials during the debate, so I tried to collect the data after it ended. Thankfully, I was able to find a Washington Post transcript of the event and a YouTube user’s upload of the entire debate sans ads (that YouTube link may be yanked down due to possible copyright infringement).

The video was 1 hour, 49 minutes. Thanks to Fox News showing the time on its rotating channel logo, I could see the recording started at about 5:58 p.m. Pacific daylight time and ended after 8:04 p.m. PDT — about 2 hours, 6 minutes. My math determined there was a 17-minute difference between the two durations. I subtracted about a minute to account for short teaser promos that the YouTube user also edited out, but I don’t have a firm idea of how long those teasers really were.

The transcript indicates there were six commercial breaks during the broadcast. If the breaks were of equal length, each one would be 2 minutes, 40 seconds. It’s plausible that there were 15 total minutes of ads — that would make each break about 2 minutes, 30 seconds.

So, by my estimate, Fox News aired 15 or 16 minutes of ads. By comparison, here’s the final airtime tally as calculated by the Times:

Although advertising time dominated over the candidates, 15 to 16 minutes of ads over a two-hour period (or 8 minutes per hour) is extremely light by today’s broadcasting standards. It’s common for networks to air 18 to 20 minutes of commercials an hour. We could have seen nearly 40 minutes of ads during this two-hour event.

I initially lamented the intrusion of advertising into a civic event, but many people noted the breaks were relatively short and some enjoyed what was being advertised. On the other hand, some were frustrated by the total number of breaks in the broadcast.

While we may argue which presidential candidate won the debate, Fox News and advertisers seemed to win the night as there were predictions of record-breaking cable news audiences.

Pin-a-Go-Go transforms Dixon into pinball paradise

The multi-ball feature of Star-Jet pinball machine on display at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go show in Dixon, California.

The multi-ball feature of Star-Jet pinball machine on display at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go show in Dixon, California.

Looking for something with a little pop or an idea to bounce off your friends this weekend? People can find endless hours of fun with unlimited gameplay on more than 100 pinball machines at Pin-a-Go-Go at the Dixon May Fair this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The A-Go-Go pinball machine on display at the 2014 Pin-a-go-go festival in Dixon, California.

The A-Go-Go pinball machine on display at the 2014 Pin-a-go-go festival in Dixon, California.

My friends and I made the 2-hour drive to the festival last year and we were amazed at the machines on display in three large spaces on the fairgrounds. Newer novelty machines were on display and playable (like one based on the most recent “Star Trek” movies). The machines went back decades, including some of the first tables that were based on releasing a ball and watching it bounce of pins, giving the game its name.

Getting to Dixon was straightforward — it’s off of Interstate 80 between Davis and Vacaville. The fairgrounds are just south of the downtown, so be ready for a little bit of off-highway driving. Parking was free and the lot was fairly expansive.

Entry into the event _wasn’t_ free, but the $25/30 admission was worthwhile to both the attendee and the town, as the proceeds benefit local community groups. Be forewarned — much of the event is cash only, although an ATM card can be used for some transactions.

After you get in, all the machines that are playable are set to free play. If the machine is open, you can just walk up and give it a whirl. You can usually play a couple of short games before common courtesy prompts you to give the machine up to anyone waiting in line.

A panorama of one of the rows of playable pinball machines at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go in Dixon, California.

A panorama of one of the rows of playable pinball machines at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go in Dixon, California.

Some of the machines were provided by museums, like the Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda. Many of the tables were provided by private collectors who thankfully share their treasures with others for a few days.

The playfield board for the Monopoly pinball game on display at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go show in Dixon, California.

The playfield board for the Monopoly pinball game on display at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go show in Dixon, California.

Spending a few hours among the tables gives you a more expansive view of this gaming world beyond the couple of neglected pinball machines that you might find at a pizza parlor or bowling alley. There are vendors offering parts to help keep the machines running and modernize the devices somewhat (like switching out old bulbs with LED lights). One vendor had a playfield for the old Monopoly game which underwent the LED conversion. I played that machine for years at Madison Bear Garden. I still love how it looked, especially with the upgrades.

Each of the tables includes a small white card detailing who the owner is and if the machine is for sale. Some machines trade hands over the course of the weekend (and some of those purchased devices are sometimes taken out of play once a deal is completed).  There is also a fundraising raffle of a couple classic tables, which we did NOT win last year.

The number of machines available for play are overwhelming. The main room has several rows containing dozens of tables and there are two more halls beyond that. One hall appeared to be dedicated to more vintage machines, like “Classy Bowler” or a rocket-themed game called Star-Jet which featured one of the earliest examples of multi-ball.

Backglass art for the Classy Bowler pinball game on display at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go show in Dixon,

Backglass art for the Classy Bowler pinball game on display at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go show in Dixon,

The third hall is in a separate building a short distance away and appeared to feature mostly newer machines, although there were some gems from the 1970s and ’80s, including a giant-sized “Superman” table that Atari later adapted into a failed video pinball game (which I played in Alameda).

It seemed impossible to play every single one of the machines in a day. There’s little seating so you begin to enter something of a fugue state after a few hours of standing and ceaselessly bouncing silver spheres through ramp- and trap-filled cabinets.

There is some respite — there are a handful of tables and a snack stand selling hamburgers, hot dogs and the like. On Sunday, there is the free All British Motor Vehicle Show & Swap Meet on the fairgrounds so you can enjoy a different sort of chrome than pinball. There are also clinics for people to learn the best pinball tricks (I never learned to really bump the table) and mini tournaments geared to people with different playing experiences. Basically, you’re not going to get bored here.

Backglass art for the 1978 KISS pinball game

Backglass art for the 1978 KISS pinball game

As our visit progressed, I lost track of the different pinball machines we played. Generally, the earliest tables were the hardest to play — some of the early bumpers were too short and the ball dropped out of play too quickly. The tables from the 1950s and ’60s showed a considerable amount of creativity and were fun to play as a novelty, but they were still missing a lot of features found in more modern games.

Things change after electronics take hold in the pinball world. Manufacturers also threw a lot of ideas against the wall to try to combat the rise of the arcade machines (which fell prey to home video gaming in a few short years).

There were some brand tie-in machines that looked good, but weren’t necessarily a lot of fun. Some of these boards included KISS and “Doctor Who.” The KISS machine was definitely very unique, but it wasn’t easy to get into the game before it ended. However, people will have another shot at the game because they’re bringing it back.

A portion of the playing field for 1994's World Cup Soccer pinball game on display at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go show in Dixon, California.

A portion of the playing field for 1994’s World Cup Soccer pinball game on display at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go show in Dixon, California.

Doctor Who brought back a lot of nostalgia because it was made after the series’ original run ended in 1987. The game has a complex array of options as each incarnation of the Doctor offered a different set of bonuses, but it wasn’t too hard to get into a multi-ball. It also featured a lot of moving parts (which lead to a higher rate of breakdowns, from what I hear).

World Cup 1994 is a machine that would seem be instantly dated after the competition ended 21 years ago, but it seemed to gain some relevance as soccer has surged in popularity in the United States. The machine had some unique challenges, including trying to deflect the pinball of a whirling soccer ball into a goal (just like in real life!).

Some of the playfield art for 1994's World Cup Soccer pinball game on display at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go show in Dixon, California.

Some of the playfield art for 1994’s World Cup Soccer pinball game on display at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go show in Dixon, California.

There also appeared to be some odd attempts to add sex appeal — like depicting the referee as a buxom woman in a form-fitting uniform. Throughout the history of pinball, there were many shameless attempts to use sexualized images. It is something that has regrettably continued to this day with such machines like “Whoa Nellie! Big Juicy Melons,” which features a cute, cartoony farm theme marred by gratuitous, over-the-top references to female anatomy.

Ultimately, Pin-a-Go-Go is a great event for people of all ages. Even after hours of pulling back the spring-loaded plunger to launch the pinball into play, it’s a loud, colorful buffet of entertainment that makes you want to go back for more.

New Muni map offers cleaner design, but misses key info

A side-by-side look of the the old and new Muni maps.

A side-by-side look of the the old and new Muni maps.

The San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority launched a Muni service increase over the weekend. Called Muni Forward, the changes included a new map that offers a cleaner, more readable perspective of the bus, light-rail, streetcar and cable car routes, but I’m wasn’t happy. Most of the following post is adapted from a comment I left on the SFMTA site.

I suppose it’s nice that it’s a cleaner presentation, but there are so many things missing from this new map compared to the last version. As someone who is only a frequent visitor, I appreciated being able to orient myself with the Muni map by comparing routes with landmarks that I’m either near or where I would like to go. Most of that is gone with the new map.

To give a recent example, I wanted to visit the first weekend of the Cherry Blossom Festival in Japantown. I knew the general location and the route, but I was much more comfortable telling my traveling companion where we were going when I could point it out on the transit map at the nearest shelter.

A side-by-side comparison of how Japantown is depicted in the old and new Muni maps.

A side-by-side comparison of how Japantown is depicted in the old and new Muni maps.

I couldn’t do that with the new map. There’s no neighborhood labels, even for the more commonly known ones (including Chinatown). If I wanted to know where Haight-Ashbury, North Beach, Castro and Mission were located, I couldn’t easily know for sure with the new map. While major streets are identified, the names of many smaller streets are omitted.

If I wanted to go to a specific place in the Presidio, like Fort Point, Crissy Field or the Walt Disney Family Museum, I could easily find those locations before whereas this new map of the Presidio is a relatively blank, green canvas. The new map is even missing the Palace of Fine Arts, which is one of the most-common sights in the city.

A side-by-side comparison of how the Presidio is depicted in the old and new Muni maps.

A side-by-side comparison of how the Presidio is depicted in the old and new Muni maps.

The map does have some advantages. Even looking at my examples, the map is easier to read and discern information about transit routes. It’s easier to follow some routes and determine when some limited-stop Rapid routes don’t stop for boardings and alightings.

Perhaps the map doesn’t need to provide as much information as it used to. After all, we’re in a world of smartphones, where most knowledge is available near instantaneously. Even before that, there were tourist guides and maps in multiple languages to guide people through this city.

However, cellphone batteries die and people don’t always have tourist guides on hand. Tourist guides and maps also tend to focus on the most popular or common, whereas the old map featured playgrounds, museums, community centers, even pier numbers.

I don’t know what the priorities were for this new map, but it doesn’t seem as user-friendly as it could be for tourists, visitors to the city or residents traveling to new neighborhoods. It’s missing many of the landmarks and detail that give much of San Francisco its vibrant identity. The map is ultimately a disservice to many transit users and will force them to turn elsewhere for less-optimal solutions.

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