Presenting the 2011 Christmas card

Christmas Card 2011 preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is the party over for ’80s nights?

I recently attended ’80s night at LaSalles Bar, but it didn’t turn out as advertised when the DJ started mixing in dance hits from the ’90s and the aughts. Although that was fun in its own way, I was expecting ’80s music and didn’t appreciate the bait-and-switch (especially when there was another DJ out on the patio playing similar music). If there isn’t enough interest or desire to sustain an entire ’80s night, maybe it’s time to rethink the theme.

I’ll admit I don’t know exactly why the DJ started mixing in more recent music during a night ostensibly dedicated to Michael Jackson, Madonna and their pals. However, I found some possible insight in a Facebook item from a friend about the demise of a once-popular ’80s night in the Seattle area.

As the CHS Capitol Hill Seattle Blog reported, the host of the 17-year-old Seattle event, DJ Trent Von, noted a diminishing audience in recent years. He observed that the audience for such music is still out there, but not necessarily at a nightclub on a Thursday night.

That sentiment was echoed by Seattle Gay Scene writer Michael Strangeways who observed that theme nights go away when the likely audience grows older and drifts on to other activities (like careers or families).

Perhaps we’re seeing something similar in Chico. While the 1980s were arguably one of the greatest periods of pop music, many of the people now going to LaSalles or most Chico nightspots were born in the mid-to-late ’80s and came of age in the 1990s (or later). While people still just wanna have fun when they go out, maybe they think more of Katy Perry instead of Cyndi Lauper.

So what should places like LaSalles do? I don’t particularly care for continuing an ” ’80s Night” event when there are fewer and fewer songs from that era. Maybe a refocusing of the evening would be appropriate.

Although it sometimes sounds silly and wishy washy, perhaps radio stations are on to something when they promote “playing the hits of the ’80s, ’90s and today.” The way it is now, the music of the 1980s are just a part of the Saturday entertainment at LaSalles and the marketing should reflect that.

On a related note: I loathe the bait-and-switch when it comes to publicized events. In addition to an ’80s night that kinda isn’t, LaSalles also hosts a sorta karaoke night Sundays. I say sorta because the disc jockey spins dance music in between singers.

Perhaps it may be sometimes necessary to play a tune or two while waiting for more singers, but it’s infuriating if you’re patiently waiting for your turn to sing. It essentially doubles the waiting time.

Some of the other bars in town are guilty of this practice too. I stopped trying to sing karaoke at Buck’s Crazy Horse Saloon because the DJ did the same thing — interspersing dance music with live singers. It’s not worthwhile for me.

Petty thieves turn Sierra Nevada events slightly skunky

Enjoying Old Chico Crystal Wheat during Sierra Nevada OktoberfestIt was wonderful that Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. threw several events this year, including an Oktoberfest dinner next to its on-site hop fields and a 30th anniversary party in one of the brewery’s warehouses on Nov. 15. They also donated the beer for the Chico Chamber of Commerce’s Industrial BBQ. These soirées were huge and accommodated hundreds of people.

It’s unfortunate that some of the attendees were less-than-gracious guests when they started walking away with items. I don’t know if this would ordinarily be worthy of mention, but I was disappointed to see it happen at both events.

During Oktoberfest, there were large green metal buckets adorned with the Sierra Nevada logo filled with pretzels atop tables. There were tons of them throughout the tables under the gigantic white tent where the bulk of the event took place as well as outside in the beer-serving area.

As the night wore on, I started seeing people walking around with the buckets, presumably to take home. I also saw heaping piles of pretzels strewn about the tables where the buckets were.

I don’t know if the brewery intended for people to take the buckets or assumed that they might. In some situations, it’s common for guests to take home table centerpieces.

At the very least, I thought it was inconsiderate for people to merely dump the pretzels on the table, adding to the mess for people to clean. Also, the buckets cost $10 in the gift shop — not cheap, but they’re not priceless and immensely unique items either.

I thought it was a little telling that the table decorations for the brewery’s anniversary bash were less desirable as souvenirs.

During the anniversary celebration, the pretzels were set out in simple, shallow and utterly unremarkable baskets. The table decorations included trios of bottles of varying sizes with electronic tealights placed through holes cut in the bottom of each container. Perhaps more valuable were small, cylindrical vases about the size of juice cans filled with a modest bouquet of flowers and 30th Anniversary coasters used as cards.

I didn’t think these items would be worth taking, but some people proved me wrong. I saw people walking with the vases. Near a table, I saw an overflowing bag on the floor with a broken brown bottle of the same variety as the ones used on the tables. I have no idea why someone would take a common bottle with a hole cut in the bottom.

It seems people weren’t just content to take table decorations — someone stole my souvenir anniversary glass. This happened in the 30 seconds it took me to walk 15 yards to put my dinner plate in a compost bin. It was funny because I briefly thought about taking the glass with me, but I thought it would be safe in the sparsely populated part of the dining area in the short time I would be gone.

I don’t think it was an overly attentive staff person cleaning up my table — a newspaper I was reading was still on the table. I suppose someone could’ve assumed that I was leaving/left and didn’t want my glass (although a courteous person would’ve asked). However, I was gone for such a short time, I can only assume that someone swooped in and deliberately snatched their prize.

I was disappointed at this turn of events. Thankfully, one of the event staff was nice enough to give me a second glass when I told her my first glass “walked” away. She said it had been happening a lot that evening.

Needless to say, I did not let go of that second glass until I got home.

These incidents definitely speak more to the guests than to the hosts, who were absolutely gracious. I also wonder why people felt the need to scavenge. I don’t think money was a factor because each event cost about $30 to get in, but perhaps people felt they were entitled.

Aside from these minor moments, both events were great fun with wonderful food and fun music. Sierra Nevada’s events staff ran the events well, aside from running out of food toward the end of Oktoberfest.

Oktoberfest featured glass-blowing demonstrations of steins and other drinking implements. The anniversary celebration had 30 beers on tap, including several rare and unbottled varieties. I loved the dark and rich barrel-aged Life and Limb, but the author in me was partial to the name of the beer Writer’s Block.

Ultimately, a few bad apples were just a minor note on two extremely fun events celebrating a Chico landmark.

Photo: One of the buckets of pretzels at Sierra Nevada’s Oktoberfest celebration with a commemorative stein filled with Old Chico Crystal Wheat.

Tech failures: FLO’s mobile TV doesn’t go far in Chico

FLO TV unavailable
I haven’t been convinced that mobile television will catch on in the United States, but the tech demo for FLO TV doesn’t help sell the service for Chicoans.

Looking at the FLO display at a local discount store, one round purple sticker stood out — “Service not available in this area.” With one stroke, FLO undermines its key feature — the ability to watch TV on the go (channels include mobile versions of NBC, FOX, Adult Swim and others). Without a signal, you’re paying $200 for a small box that doesn’t do anything. In addition, there’s a $5/mo. subscription fee.

The sales clerk noted the service is unavailable, but also said a friend was able to get a signal in part of town. The coverage map shows some areas south of town and in the foothills can get a signal from the Yuba City area. While there appears to be decent coverage in metropolitan areas, there’s currently no FLO service between Yuba City and Eugene, Ore.

Although mobile TV appears to be popular in other countries, I think
those services are free over-the-air signals and not a subscription

Failed tech demos aside, I think people will stick with streaming video sites like YouTube or whatever sites they can reach over a regular broadband cell connection. The same goes for Sirius XM’s portable TV offering via satellite — the range has to be better than for FLO, but its similar monthly fee for a limited service is probably a dealbreaker.

The death of KPIG in Chico: A look at the numbers

Old KPIG Paradise logoWhile much has been made of KZAP-FM 96.7 switching formats from a simulcast of KPIG‘s Americana/folk music to talk radio, I don’t think there’s been much talk about audience numbers. Laura Urseny’s article about the change does quote market manager Vince Shadrick saying there weren’t enough listeners to support the ‘PIG. Looking at the radio ratings for Chico, it would appear that Shadrick is on to something — KZAP’s ratings last fall were about half of what they were five years ago.
According to numbers from Arbitron, Inc., KZAP in spring 2006 had 4 percent of all listeners in Chico — good enough for eighth place in the crowded market. KZAP switched formats from hiphop-oriented Club 96.7 to KPIG in summer 2007. By fall 2009, listeners had dropped to 2.1 percent and the station was in 16th place.
Interestingly, KZAP once ranked as high as second place in spring 2005 with 6.3 percent of listeners.
In Chico, Arbitron’s ratings are based on diaries that selected listeners fill out twice a year. There can be some fluctuations in the numbers — KZAP’s numbers went from 3.2 percent in spring ’09 to 2.1 in the fall.
I only have access to the broadest ratings available from Arbitron, Inc. These are total listeners older than 12 listening at some point from 6 a.m. to midnight everyday. Many radio execs will tell you that they look more closely at more detailed breakdowns based on specific time periods and listeners’ ages and buying habits.
Still, looking at the overall numbers can tell an interesting picture. Three years ago, when KZAP picked up KPIG, market manager Michael Kemph said KZAP had the weakest numbers in a station group that included KFM (KFMF-FM 93.9), The Point (KQPT-FM 107.5) and KALF-FM 95.7. That appeared to be the case last fall, when KZAP again trailed behind its sister stations in total listeners.
KZAP’s switch to “Bold Talk” and its stable of right-leaning talk shows may lead to higher numbers. The news-talk-information format appears to be doing well in Chico. KPAY-AM 1290 was first in the market in fall 2009 with 6.8 percent of listeners. Out-of-market talk stations also pulled in decent numbers. Sacramento-area stations KFBK-AM 1530 and KSTE-AM 650 both ranked higher than KZAP in the Chico market.
And although it isn’t exactly a “talk” station, Northstate Public Radio (KCHO-FM 91.7) and its mix of news magazines from National Public Radio and music programming was third with 6.4 percent. (Disclaimer: I am a volunteer disc jockey at KCHO.)
While news-talk does well, I don’t know if the Chico market _needed_ another station in the format. Also, KZAP has switched formats four times in just over 10 years (from Star to Club to KPIG to Bold Talk). Who knows if news-talk will fit the station any better than the other choices?

Seasons greetings with the 2009 Christmas card

The 2009 Christmas card.

The 2009 Christmas card.

Another Christmas is upon us. To celebrate 2009, I created a new card for friends and family.

I sent most of the cards on Monday, and I hope they were received by today. If not, I’m sharing the card with everyone here.

From the bottom of my heart, I wish everyone the merriest of Christmases.

Sharing was this year’s theme. Last year, I tried to combine something uniquely Chico with the holidays and came up with the yo-yo card.

I thought about revisiting the Chico themes for 2009, but I didn’t feel I could pull anything off in time.

I still liked the Sierra Nevada Santa idea, but I grew a little reticent. After all, it seemed a little less than wholesome, but it could be pulled off if it was done tastefully. I worried about my ability to do so.

It’s still an idea I may do in future years.

I settled on “spreading a little holiday cheer” because I wanted to do something active beyond the traditional holiday photo. I settled on the tree because I thought it was an unlikely object one would give, but it’s also an icon that embodies the spirit of the season.

So with many, many test shots in my apartment’s small hallway and some Photoshop magic, here is this year’s card. Merry Christmas.

Cold snap may turn City Plaza fountain into skating rink


With overnight temperatures in Chico dropping into the low-20s, the fountain in City Plaza may be turning into an accidental skating rink after the sun sets. During the summer, the fountain is a ground-level delight for children and adults to splash in, but it may be a potential safety hazard when the thermometer drops below 32º.

By its very nature, the fountain creates a wet surface that doesn’t drain completely when it is shut off at night. The remaining water freezes in the evening’s chill.

It’s hard to say how big of deal it is. When I walked across City Plaza to head home after an early Tuesday meal, there were only a few patches of ice over the fountain. I stepped on a few patches to glide along on the friction-reduced ice, but they ended quickly.

One element that may reduce the patches is the roughened surface caused by what appears to be pebbles and textured concrete.

It’s fun to shuffle along and pretend I’m ice skating, but I am concerned some reckless person may slip and injure themselves. It’s possible people may not notice that the fountain has frozen — at night, the plaza is often illuminated solely by street lights (and during December by the Community Tree).

I noticed this issue a couple of years ago. I called the police to let them know about the safety concern. They indifferently brushed the matter off, suggesting that I call the city’s blandly-named General Services Department the following morning. I never did pursue the matter.

This seems to be an issue that comes up just once or twice a year, but the early cold snap has piqued my curiosity.

Speaking of skating rinks, seeing the ice in the center of City Plaza reminded me of all the cities that have outdoor rinks in the winter. I’ve seen setups in colder cities, like Salt Lake City, Chicago and New York City, but they’ve also cropped up in warmer places like Sacramento and San Diego.

It might be cool to put a small rink in the center of Chico City Plaza for a few weeks every year. By my eye, an oval stretching about a half-block might be possible in the shadow of the Community Tree.

It’s unlikely for a number of reasons — including cost and the generally warm temperatures — but it would definitely add a strong touch of winter fun to our city (especially because we don’t currently have any ice rinks at all).

Photo: Chico City Plaza’s fountain is depicted in part of a photomontage I created over the summer. I find it funny how subjects show up multiple times.

A graphic example of recycling plastic bags

20091204_recycling.jpgThe time arrived last week to recycle all the plastic bags in my apartment. It’s funny how this time just happens to coincide with a family visit.

I hate to throw things away that I know can be easily recycled. It’s led to some messy stashes around my apartment because my landlord doesn’t offer multifamily recycling (in flagrant violation of Chico city code).

As I waited to take plastic bags to the recycling center (or supermarket), I’ve tossed them in a old mattress bag in my bedroom. Over the past 18 months, this bag has gotten stuffed from the numerous places I get bags — grocery stores, convenience stores, newspapers, etc.

By the time, I threw the bundle in the car, it was about four feet tall. The bag was almost like its own entity — it certainly had more presence in my apartment than almost anything else.

Half of the bag filled one of the store’s recycle bins. I planned to return later to drop off the remaining bags.

I had mixed feelings having so many plastic bags. Part of me is glad that I’m keeping these out of the landfills or in that giant plastic mass in the Pacific Ocean. On the other hand, I know I should reduce the number of plastic bags I take while shopping.

Already, I refuse bags when I buy just a handful of items. I can easily carry those to and fro.

I also have a ChicoBag and other reusable bags for larger purchases, but I don’t always have them handy. For the ChicoBag, I recently found mine in my car trunk, being used to wrap up a pub glass.

Hopefully, I’ll keep reducing the plastic I use and it will take a lot longer than 18 months to fill the bag again.

Photo: A mattress bag stuffed with plastic bags on display outside a downtown Chico business on West First Street on Sun., Nov. 29, 2009.

Generic ‘Chico’ T-shirts a disservice

A generic "Chico" shirtThere’s nothing wrong with wanting to show your hometown pride, but I wouldn’t recommend doing it with this frightfully misleading “Greetings from Chico” T-shirt. It says it’s from Chico, but it could really be from Anytown, U.S.A.

I don’t want to name the store where I found this shameful garment, but I discovered it at a local drug store next to a burrito restaurant across from One-Mile Recreation Area.

Aside from slathering “Chico” all over the shirt, is there any aspect of the shirt that is appropriately Chico?

Do any of the elements (police and fire stations, a post office and bus) resemble anything in Chico? Has anyone ever gone to school at “Butte County School District”?

There’s a farm in the background, which might satisfy Greenline supporters, but it’s not a specific image I would associate with the city of trees and roses.

It’s not too bad that the T-shirt is trying to evoke the idea of an idyllic town, including the cute dog. My beef is that it’s not an idyllic image of a town named Chico.

Change the words around a tad and the shirt could’ve read “Greetings from Chino,” Oroville, Walla Walla or Poughkeepsie. Surely they too must have police and fire stations, post offices and farms.

It’s this T-shirt’s relative lack of effort that raised my hackles. It must be fairly easy to take a basic design and slap a couple of words on it. To this shirt’s credit, the word Chico was placed in five areas.

I became aware of the practice of customizing generic shirts when I bought a sweatshirt from my university as a gift. It was dark blue with a line of white tropical flowers and the school’s name. Although I was happy with my purchase, I was disappointed to come across an identical sweatshirt with a different university’s name emblazoned on it.

Ultimately, Chico may be a “great place to live!” but there are better ways to express oneself.

The Sierra Nevada shirt is a pretty common sight around here as is Chico State garb. Anything that is uniquely Chico or of the north state would be a terrific improvement over this generic garment.

Presenting my 2008 Chico Christmas card

As diehard readers know — I’ve been working on a Chico-themed Christmas card for 2008. A lot of people, myself included, wanted me to create the Sierra Nevada Santa. However, logistics and time constraints made that really difficult to do. The good news is that I’m on course to do it next year.

With Sierra Nevada Santa out of the picture (no pun intended), I was scrambling for another idea. At the last minute, inspiration struck me and I went with a toy theme. Chico is home to the National Yo-Yo Museum and that is where I took this year’s card photo. I went to the Bird-in-Hand store and photographed a yo-yo — with a twist.

Here’s the front of the card (click to see the inside):

I wanted to give this to you for Christmas …
I wanted to give this to you for Christmas …

Click more to see the inside of the card.

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