Monday, February 27, 2012

iPhone users have Siri…I've got Sami!

(left: Speaktoit, right: Eva)

By now you'd be hard pressed not to know that Siri is the amazing "personal assistant" app that came with the new iPhone 4S during Fall 2011.

You've heard the commercials with the calm female voice offering up info on things from gas stations to rodeos, and can apparently pin point your location in a matter of seconds.

This was what made the jump from the iPhone 4 to iPhone 4S a little more palatable despite still being within a 2 year Verizon contract.

When Siri first came out I wondered why there wasn't something like that for Android. I actually discovered a program called Iris. In all honesty, it seemed to be more about being a sarcastic takeoff of Siri, which added little to my cell phone experience.

Recently, I saw a reference to several new Android apps that would take on Siri. Intrigued I checked things out, planning to avoid what Iris offered. This lead me to Speaktoit Assistant.

Speaktoit is interesting in that it's not just a computer screen on your phone. It's actually an avatar, where you can change hair, eyes, clothes, voice and gender. There are three different skin tones, and both male and female versions for your selection. You can also give her any name you want, in case Sami isn't good enough for you.

After launching for the very first time, she asked me to provide my name. Doing so, I was immediately greeted with a computer female voice that sounded remarkably close to Siri saying, "Hello Robert. My name is Sami!" Fortunately, I had the ability to change Sami's voice to something more naturally sounding, so I choose one with a soothing English accent.

Calling people is as simple as saying, "Call Robert Marshall mobile." Sami tells me "Calling Robert Marshall mobile" and it dials. Sending an SMS text message is just as easy. After it recognizes the person from your address book she asks you want to send? Sammi was able to recognize pretty much whatever I threw at her consistently. It was only when I was using uncommon words that she had a few hiccups. Still, I was quite impressed.

Calling up programs is as easy as saying "Open GMAIL." If you want to look up some info, such as what's the temperature," it's not as polished as the Siri commercials make the iPhone out to be. Sammi says let me check that, and opens its own browser window, which you have to maximize to really see it properly. If you try to maximize it, you're prompted which browser on your phone to use. One funny thing is that when she acknowledges something with OK, she reads it as "awk" not "O-KAY."

Now, for the really annoying feature missing. To use Speaktoit, you have to either push a microphone symbol on the screen, or type your command in. The app does NOT listen for a push of your Bluetooth headset's button. For that matter, even after you've pushed the button on the screen, it does not use the microphone on your headset, and you have to speak into your phone's main microphone. This is a lack of a MAJOR feature as far as I'm concerned. I'm in a Hands Free state, and if you're caught doing pretty much anything on the phone's screen, you could be subject to a citation. At the very least I cannot understand why they wouldn't allow using of the Bluetooth microphone.

Additionally, the app resides in memory so your battery does take a hit, but it's not bad if it's just sitting there. However, any regular usage at all, and it seemed to eat my HTC Thunderbolt's battery for lunch. Granted, the Tbolt is known as a battery hog, but I've got it rooted, and am using SetCPU to turn down the CPU's speed to 300mhz when not in use, which has usually given me a full day's worth of standby life.

* * *

There's another app, called Eva (or Evan if you want a male avatar) which has the major plus of working through the Bluetooth headset. Unfortunately, it's only as good as the headset you're using. There is a huge delay with my Samsung WEP460, which probably explains why I've been having problems with the built-in voice dialing sometimes. It opened any apps on my phone with the command "Open app name" and even reminded me I'd have to upgrade to the paid version when I told it to update my Facebook status. Eva doesn't rely on her own built-in browser. When I asked her where I was located, she actually used the Google Maps app I've installed.

Downfall with this app is it does not come with any normal-sounding voices. However, it works with the SVOX Classic engine, and any of the English-speaking voices they offer. Unfortunately, each voice you add is going to set you back $2.99.

Eva's paid version is a whopping $9.99. However, there is a free version, with most of the same functions. It's missing a few things, but what exactly is missing, beside the updating of your Facebook status, is unclear.

* * *

For those wondering, yes, there is a voice navigation system already built into Android, called Voice Navigator. Frankly speaking, I've never had any success with it, and usually takes four or five attempts for it to understand what I said. Either that, or it will hear me, but then offer to dial some number in some far off land. Rumor has it they're working on a new version called Majel, which is to be the official Google response to Siri. I will believe it when I see it. It will most likely require something like Ice Cream Sandwich or Jelly Bean to work, despite 90%+ phones still being on Froyo or Gingerbread.


Just a quick follow-up to my original blog posting. I emailed the maker of Eva asking them what the difference is between the free version and the paid version. Turns out the free one (Eva Intern) runs for a limited amount of time, and then you have to buy the $9.99 version to continue using it. WHY Google Market allowed for a crippleware version in their market is beyond me.

Additionally, I've ended up uninstalling both Eva and SpeakToIt at this point. My battery life was absolutely hideous, to the point of not making it more than a few hours if I used the product much at all. Your mileage may vary, as the HTC Thunderbolt is known as a battery hog. If you experience something different, please post a comment.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Your government at work!

Tonight I attended the Albany City Council meeting. On the agenda was a conditional use permit for a beer pub and package store on San Pablo Avenue.

Notice I did NOT say brew pub. It has been called that for months now in the media and documents, which drives me nuts. A brew pub is where they brew their own beer onsite. a beer pub is where they bring in kegs from others to serve. A package store is where you can buy bottles of beer to take home, just like you do from a liquor store or even Safeway these days.

Staff people gave their recommendations first and one of the comical things was that she said it was "beer to go" which the mayor had to ask what type of container it left in. I honestly think some of the city council thought it was being taken out of the store in 7-11 style go cups. No people, we don't live in Louisiana, home of the drive through daiquiri stands.

After Staff gave their recommendations, the owner of the property and the proposed businesses gave their quick presentations. Basically, they want to open a store like Beer Revolution (Oakland) or City Beer (San Francisco) where you can get upscale micros and European beers on tap, or purchase bottles to either take home, or consume on premise after paying a corkage fee. Apparently, their type of BATF license applied for will require them to serve light food along with the beer, which is a positive that Beer Rev and City Beer currently don't offer (although Beer Rev will allow places to deliver food for you!!).

The public comment period was interesting. All the people that went first were those that were against the pub/store. It was only after the half dozen, or so, people went, that the proponents of the establishment went. I had planned to wait to go very last because I had prepared my comments and wanted them to be be the last things the council heard. However, I was a couple from the last.

Everything had been timed so that I would fit into my three minutes of time (barely). Unfortunately, part of the way through I screwed up and the remaining two minutes were paraphrasing and adlib, which didn't come out nearly as good. (Lord knows I missed that teleprompter from my days at the University of Montana Radio-TV school!!).

Here are my comments, as prepared prior to the City Council Meeting:

Here we are again at the City Council with an appeal for the pub and package store on San Pablo Avenue. This has been before Planning and Zoning twice, and now the City Council twice. Hopefully, the situation gets resolved with tonight's meeting.

We have heard MANY MANY references to people stumbling to their cars and puking outside. Public urination and sex. This sounds more like an episode of The Simpsons set at Moe's Bar, than at a package store like what is being proposed. People are wanting the city to assure there will be no drug usage or public sex in parked cars in the area. That can probably be more easily assured on a major street like San Pablo than on a quiet secluded neighborhood such as Madison or Adams Streets.

The same people also keep bringing up the Hotsy Totsy, Club Mallard, the Ivy Room and Albany Bowl. Albany Bowl caters to youth and has absolutely part being in this conversation. As for the others mentioned, no disrespect meant, but that's like comparing Denny's to a Four Star restaurant. Those places are Depression Era bars that serve hard alcohol and cheap beer. If you want to compare the pub and package store to another locale in Albany I'd suggest looking at Solano Cellars with its upscale wine offerings from around the World. However, comparing Apples to Apples, I'd like to use Beer Revolution in Oakland as an example.

Beer Revolution also has high end domestic and imported craft brew available in bottles. Additionally, specialty beer is available on draft, which averages between $5 and $8 per 10 ounce pour.

Some people complain there are too many liquor stores in Albany. That's a red herring as if you look at the beer selection being offered at any of the liquor stores you're hard pressed to find any type of selection that comes anywhere close to what is being proposed. The closest competitor would be Beverages and More. However, there is very little crossover in selection if you compare what they offer to that of the new package store proposed.

There has been complaints about the parking waiver requested. I have to ask where was Planning and Zoning, and the City Council when that building was built? Whether it was three separate businesses, or one large business, it would still have zero off-street parking meaning no matter what business moved in they would have to apply for a waiver.

Regarding the litter and noise question. Look at places like Beer Revolution and Triple Rock, which is in Berkeley. While there may be considerable noise INSIDE the buildings, you are hard pressed to notice it from the street. Beer Revolution may appear to have unacceptable noise, but that's only because it has a large patio area that's used in the evening, such as what the Club Mallard has. There is no patio involved with the proposed pub and package store. As for litter, both places are clean outside despite being in Jack London Square and on Shattuck Avenue.

The applicants wanted to be open till Midnight on Friday and Saturday, while the police have recommended 10pm. I suggest a happy medium of 11pm, such as what city Staff have suggested. However, I would also suggest the hamburger side of the business should be able to stay open longer.

In closing I ask that the application be finally granted, and then the situation can be reviewed after one year.

After all was said and done, the City Council decided to approve the conditional use permit, allowing the business to stay open until 10pm Su-Th, and 11p Fr-Sa, with a review in front of the City Council six months after they open their doors. The opponents have now threatened to oppose the license at the licensing level. The inane part of this is it's apparently all over their staying open one extra hour on Fridays and Saturdays. We're not talking until 2am, like the bars in town do because they've been around so long.

Knock on wood, the new Albany Bottle Shop and pub will be open for business by the Fall.

* * *
You can watch a replay of the City Council meeting at

It should be posted sometime tomorrow, hopefully.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Is it that time of the month already??

As if most didn't know, it's that time of February when you start to see little girls, in uniforms, in front of stores hawking their cookies!! Lot's of little boxes of sugary goodness.

Just yesterday I was at the Albany Safeway and there was a table set up. After shopping inside the store, I ended up shopping outside the store as well. Walked away with three different flavors – Thin Mints®, Samoas® and Do-Si-Dos®. Took me a while to decide on the last one. They have two peanut butter flavor ones, and I wasn't sure which one to get. The Tagalongs are dipped in chocolate too!

Probably spent as much outside the store as I did inside the store. (Cost per box $4.00).

If you're in a search to solve your cookie fix, check out Girl Scout Cookie Page where you can search by zip code.

Not good enough for you? There are Android and iPhone apps which will tell you where the closest stand is to your current location, based on help from your device's GPS.

Sales go on through mid-to-late March here in the San Francisco Bay Area, with eleven different flavors to choose from (according to their website) so I'm sure there's something for everyone's sweet tooth.

* * *

I have one caveat. Buy the cookies from a stand with Girl Scouts doing the selling. It doesn't teach the girls anything if they're not there and Mommy is the only one selling. The mothers at the stand tells the girls that I am "their" customer, and the girls are the ones that figure out how much I owe, and how much change there is. They're learning basic commerce skills at a very young age.

At one place I worked at there were three mothers who had daughters in the Girl Scouts. If you bought from one, then the other two were angry at you for not supporting their daughter's sales. Funny thing is you never saw their daughters once in the office selling them. Almost got to the point where management had to declare the office a "no cookie zone."

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Getting a LOT more than you paid for

I'm pretty sure most people are familiar with the phrase "you get what you've paid for" when it comes to free, or very cheap, versions of tools, and to be fair, that's accurate a great many times.

Today, I'm going to introduce you to some software that's FREE and can replace many packages that cost several hundred dollars without sacrificing too many features.

Generally when people think of free software they think of stuff that runs on the linux operating system. While that may have been true a few years ago, it's not so much the case anymore. Authors are coming out with applications that run on Windows and Apple's OSX as well. You may ask why they'd do that? For some it's just the kicks they get out of doing it. For companies, they see the value of "wetting someone's appetite for their product. The trade-off for that free price is sometimes they may include advertisements, or have some of their features disabled compared to a paid version (crippleware), or they affix a price tag to it, hoping the person will find it useful enough that they would pay for it on an honor system (shareware).

The three applications I'm going to mention today are totally freeware. No price attached. No strings attached. There may be add-ons offered by companies, which will enhance your user experience which cost money. But, I'm not going to go into any of those.

* * *

LIBREOFFICE (word processing, spreadsheet, etc.)

Today the gold standard of office suites is, no doubt, Microsoft Office. If you purchase the student or home version, this will typically include a word processing application (Word), a spreadsheet (Excel), a presentation program (PowerPoint) and a note organization program (OneNote). Several years ago, Microsoft made the decision to bring out tiered packages. This allowed them to give you more options the more you pay for them. As a result, Access, their database application was pulled out, and is now only available with the Professional version. You can look at paying between $119 and $349, depending on which suite you purchase.

In the long run, not bad as Microsoft Office is accepted as the standard in pretty much any industry. However, why pay that kind of money if you don't need to?

The best option for people to consider is LibreOffice, from the Document Foundation. LibreOffice is a fork of OpenOffice, which has been the premiere open source productivity suite for years. (A fork basically is when someone takes a software package and creates their own package, but adds their own improvements moving forward.)

While LibreOffice does not include a notes application, it has equivalents for the other applications included in the basic office package, in addition to database, drawing and simple math editors. LibreOffice will open any .docx files sent to you by others. You can edit them and still save them in a Word format (.doc). A person could use Evernote to make up for the loss of OneNote. In January 2012 PCWorld did a good comparison of Evernote vs. OneNote and actually rated Evernote as a better option.

As far as I'm concerned ANY first year college student should be able to use LibreOffice in lieu of Microsoft Office, and your professor will never know as long as you remember to save your files in Office format (.doc, .xls, etc.)

* * *

THE GIMP (photo and graphics editing)

If you're a professional photo editor chances are you will be using Adobe's Photoshop Suite. This has been around for years, and has carried a triple digit price tag for years due to its acceptance as a standard and not many alternatives doing as much as it can. If there's a graphics format out there, I'd bet Photoshop will be able to open it. Standalone Photoshop is a whopping $699, and the cheapest suite is the Design Standard package, for $1299. However, that includes a whole bunch of other graphical production programs as well, which are generally overkill for anyone that's not in a professional graphics house. Adobe does offer a stripped down program, called Photoshop Elements, which probably gives most people all the items they'd need out of Photoshop, at a LOT less money (currently $99).

If you want a more powerful editing program, then you might want to consider The Gimp. (Gimp stands for Gnu Image Manipulation Program – a mouthful for sure, which is why they chose to use the rather ungraceful acronym which has stuck despite suggestions to change it).

It needs to be said that the current released version of Gimp (2.6.12) looks about as alien as it can get when compared to Photoshop. Instead of having a single application window, it's divided into multiple panes. This has its plusses and minuses as it allows you to arrange your desktop as you wish, and you can even close some items that you don't need. Not all hot keys work with the same functions as in Photoshop. However, we're on the cusp of the release of Gimp 2.8. This version will offer you the option of a one window screen, as well as the traditional multi-window interface. Gimp will open standard Photoshop (PSD) files, and allow you to edit on the individual layers. It will also let you work on a whole slew of other file formats, including many of the raw formats produced by the camera manufacturers (I was pleased to see it does Canon's recent .cr2 format when I checked). There was a fork of Gimp called GimpShop, where developers tried to mimic the more familiar PhotoShop interface. However, that has fallen behind in development, and cannot really be recommended anymore. There's plenty of tutorials online (Youtube and many user forums are available).

A big Achilles' heel for some people is that it does not have a robust support for 16bit color-depth formats as Photoshop does. If you don't understand what I'm talking about, chances are you won't miss it. Basically, this has to do with the richness of your photo's detail and how much info is available for editing.

* * *

AUDACITY (audio editing)

I haven't really used any of the paid audio editing applications, such as Garage Band, so it's going to be a little harder for me to compare others to it. However, I'd like to mention a wonderful freeware application that lots of people are using, especially for producing podcasts. It's called Audacity. Don't let Audacity's pretty plain looking website scare you off. This application has a great support community.

Audacity allows you to import many different audio formats, and if you have the correct plug-ins installed you can export in a multitude of options as well. I've personally been using Audacity for years to burn the .mp3 versions of our church's sermons for posting to the web.

It allows you to edit a sound file, removing all those coughs and other imperfections that happen when recording something live, and you don't have the opportunity to go back and do it over. If done properly you honestly cannot tell if something was cut out. You can also copy parts of a file so you can transpose them to other places. For instance, I recently had a situation where a subject gave a verse number wrong. I was able to find another place in the original recording where the correct number was used so I copied it and went back to the original problem. Magically, It's fixed. If something wasn't recorded at a high enough level you can amplify recordings too, and it won't let you over amplify the sound without your actually telling Audacity it's OK to do so. Levels can be equalized. Pitches can be adjusted. All pretty cool stuff!

As I mentioned earlier, there are plug-ins available, written by other users, that allow you to manipulate files in certain ways, or to generate other sounds. At present I'm not aware of any instrument packages to add, so if you're looking at laying down a drum track, or something like that, you should look elsewhere. However, you any instrument that you can hook up to a pre-amp or some sort, or that can use a microphone to record can easily be used with Audacity.

* * *

These were three programs picked at random that I use and thought other people might find useful, in case they wanted to get their feet wet, but didn't want to spend a whole lot of money. I made sure to choose applications that have Windows, Apple (OSX) and Linux versions to make sure that most people reading this will be able to use them. Please note, I don't believe there's IOS (iPad) support as of right now, but I'm sure you'll eventually see that down the road since that's the way it seems Apple is moving for consumers.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

You've got chicken breath!!!

20111025-FNS-RBN-School Lunch

Earlier today a friend shared a news link on Facebook coming out of North Carolina that's a bit on the bizarre side.

At West Hoke Elementary School, in Raeford, they are part of a state program that monitors student's lunches, and if they decide it's not a fully rounded meal they can substitute the student's lunch with what is being offered at the school that day. This prevents a parent from slapping a Twinkie and can of Coke in a brown paper sack, and calling that lunch, as Jani Kozlowski said. Kozlowski is a policy manager for the state's Division of Child Development.

You know, that makes perfectly good sense. Childhood is when the brain is developed, and good nutrition is paramount to keep the human computer fully functional.

Unfortunately, some adult human computer must've blown a fuse because Mommy didn't put in a Twinkie and Coke. Nope. The homemade lunch included A turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips and apple juice.

Honestly, I cannot see what's wrong with that. And apparently officials cannot explain it either, but the principal at the school said they would investigate.

The inspection is to make sure that any lunch brought from home meet USDA guidelines. This includes one serving of meat, one serving of milk, one serving of grain, and two servings of fruit or vegetables.

Looking over what Mommy had packed that day, and comparing it to the USDA guidelines: Turkey would be meat, cheese would be dairy, bread would be grain and the banana and juice would be fruit. Strangely, Kozlowski told the Carolina Journal reporter the lunch had to include a fruit OR a vegetable, but NOT both. Ignoring the potato chips for a moment, what is more illogical than saying you can have your banana, but don't drink that apple juice, or vice versa. A four-year-old is going to think there's something wrong with one of them.The more natural fruits and vegetables the child gets, the better!

I have to wonder what happens with a student from a Vegan or vegetarian home? Would the lunch person have a clue just what tofu is made of and how much protein it has, or would they be sending that student home with "chicken" breath?

Now, let's look at what the student was given to eat as a healthy alternative. Chicken Nuggets, milk and cooked vegetables (I saw an article earlier with a picture, but cannot find it now that I'm looking for it). I suppose the chicken nuggets filled both the grain (from breading) and meat (from chicken) for the guidelines? Assuming they were not deep fat fried (and that's a BIG assumption on food from the Deep (fat fried) South, the breading was probably loaded with salt and fats. Tastes good, but is it really nutritious? As for the vegetables? I can remember the vegetables we had at the university cafeteria. Generally way over cooked, or mushy from sitting under a heat lamp, in water, for too long. People that study nutrition will tell you that when you cook vegetables they usually loose most of the natural goodness that Mother Nature put in them. Granted, most students won't eat raw carrots, celery and snow peas, but they will certainly eat apples, pears and other things that can be served naturally. (I still won't eat raw carrots and celery! Hate the taste. But, I will eat raw cauliflower. Go figure!)

The final insult to Mommy in all of this was that she didn't get a note the day of the incident, and had to learn about it when her daughter brought her original lunch home untouched, and asked her about it. However, the school DID find it necessary to send home a bill for $1.25 for the cost of the replacement lunch that mostly ended up in the garbage because the child wouldn't eat it.

* * *

School lunch programs around the country are getting a bad reputation, and in many circumstances, rightfully so. Speed is the key when you have to serve hundreds of meals in a short amount of time, and so precooking, freezing, and then deep fat frying are the methods of choice. Do you recall what the most popular offerings were when you were a child? For us it was pizza, burgers and fries, Sloppy Joes, and tacos, laden with fat and salt. Made it taste really good, but not really good for you.

British chef Jamie Oliver decided he would try and do something to improve on things. Season One of  Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution was shot in Huntington, WVA. Eager for bigger and bolder things, Season Two moved out west to a Carson, CA school. His reality TV show revolved around his triumphs (and frustrations) throughout the whole thing. Students loved what he had to offer and started flocking to his alternative.

That lasted only a few days before the school district clamped down on the school, and booted him off campus, claiming he didn't submit a proposal to the Los Angeles Unified School District.

PLEASE!! Don't tell me he just showed up, took over cafeteria space and started giving away his food. Someone approved him to be there. My guess is the company that was contracted was embarrassed by the negative publicity and so complained to the right people to get him kicked off. That's why you didn't spend any time looking at what he had to offer (his expertise) and what his customers (the students) had to say about the product.

* * *

This whole thing reminds me back to when I was in high school. Albany High had both a cafeteria and a snack bar. I never ate in the cafeteria, nor did I frequent the snack bar like many of my classmates did.

I seem to remember that sometime in my junior or senior year they talked about closing the cafeteria, but keeping the snack bar open because it was a money making proposition. Don't honestly remember how long that lasted, if at all. Granted, this was before any substantial guidelines were developed, but it was certainly a warped way of looking at things. Of course, students were going to buy sugar-laden drinks and fries over whatever was being offered.

* * *

Preschooler's Homemade Lunch Replaced with Cafeteria "Nuggets." February 15, 2012.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day 2012


…also known to some as, "Just another day."

This won't be one of those smarmy oopsy woopsy smooshy Valentine's Day blogs. No, it's going to be one of those other ones.

I always find it ironic that people will tell single people "It's OK to be single. Don't go looking." And it seems like that's particularly magnified on one particular day of the year. Guess which one? But, the biggest annoying thing about that is that it usually seems to come from people that are married or in a relationship already. Sorry to insult anyone but do they realize how goofy that sounds, especially the former?

Today is also the day when single people notice the hand holding, the extra close hugging, as well as other forms of public affection, more than normal. NO, we don't go looking for it. It's just splashed in our faces at every turn, lest we decide to hibernate, or lock ourselves away in our house for 24 hours.

Then there are those that are single who laugh about it, but had any number of Valentine's Day offers come their way, but they were so picky they they ended up on the couch eating a quart of Hagen-Dazs, and saying to themselves, "Oh, there's always next year."

And last, but not least, there are those that call it Singles Awareness Day. Can you think of any better way to stick a big spotlight over your head than, perhaps, eating at a table all by yourself today? (Actually, experienced something similar. I bought tickets to a Garth Brooks' concert back in the 1990s. When I got to the old Arco Arena I couldn't seem to find my seat. I asked the usher and she, rather loudly, says, "I sure hope you're here alone!!" and then points to this one seat tucked away all by itself by the stairs).

And of course, this week seems to be the one where you're bombarded on television with pathetic commercials for jewelers, flowers, and commercials that suggest to a guy that all they have to do is buy a certain product, or drink a certain beer, and women will be falling all over them for the picking.(OK, so I'll admit I DO find the latest commercial for Axe Anarchy deodorant hilarious, especially the women's basketball team that climbs out of the bus that's laying on its side, only to saunter up to the nearest men and give them that "come hither" glazed look.).

Now, please don't think I'm bitter, or begrudge anyone having a Happy Valentine's Day, it's just that having never experienced one of them, makes it a drag every time it comes around. I can only imagine how much more magnified that feeling is for women, since society seems to think it's the male whose responsibility it is to take the lead, and that if she's not asked there must be something wrong with her.

So I hope that all my friends, who are lucky to have someone to share today with, have a wonderful Valentine's Day with whatever they're planning. Me? There's a local brewpub that's going to have Alesmith My Bloody Valentine, or Stone's Bitter Valentine, a bitter and chili chocolate pairing on tap. Though I might just spend some time with my little 365 day a year valentine Sally, the Jack Russell, who sits next to me, through thick and thin. We'll try and find something that's not one of those cutesy films that seem to air today, about some gorgeous girl that's looking for, but can't seem to find, Mr. Right, or the right relationship.

Monday, February 13, 2012

An open letter to the NHLPA and NHL Board of Governors


In early December the NHL Board of Governors approved a plan that included a new team realignment and playoff structure. Along with these, all teams would play each other at least once in each home city. Everyone that talked about it seemed to be greatly in favor, and it looked like a no-brainer, that it would be approved. I was shocked to find out the NHLPA pretty much stopped the plan cold in its tracks, with a virtual certainly it wouldn't be implemented for the 2012-13 season. I urge the NHLPA to reconsider the offering, and I also urge the NHL Board of Governors to consider allowing more input into the plan from the players, as it seems that has been the biggest complaint coming from their side. And if both parties have decided it is too late to work things out for next season, I urge the NHL Board of Governors to, at least, take care of the oddity of Winnipeg playing in the Southeast Division, despite being located nowhere near any of the other teams.

As a fan, I'd like to bring up my take on the points. Let me preface them all by saying I have been a full season ticket holder with the San Jose Sharks since they dropped their first puck back on October 4, 1991.

Fans have been without home-and-home series for several years now. When you went away from the balanced schedule it was said to be to save on travel costs, and to build on "natural" rivalries. While I'm sure it can be said that the travel benefits have been realized by teams on the East Coast, it can also be said the teams in the West have had some crazy road trips that call for insane amounts of travel. Just looking at mileage stats from this season's schedule there's nearly a 20,000 mile difference between the top team (Los Angeles Kings) and the the bottom three teams, who just happen to be from the New York metropolitan area (Rangers, Devils and Islanders).

To the NHLPA's problem in this, I think it's irrational to demand a sample schedule to examine things without also recognizing how hard it is to draw up a schedule every year, and how long that process takes.

It is only fair to the fans that you return to a balanced schedule so we can once again expect to see all teams play here at least once.

Realignment was also a hot button topic. Now that we have apparent stability, and are no longer practicing Franchise Roulette, it makes sense to look at the current layout, and how things might be tweaked. Obviously, you need to get the Winnipeg Jets back into the West. It's completely understandable that there was no time to make the change for the current season, and as a result they're playing more games against Florida and Tampa Bay than they are against Calgary and Edmonton. However, now is the time to fix this before having to repeat that avoidable mistake.

In looking over the approved four conference realignment it's pretty obvious it was drawn up based upon geographic lines. Makes perfectly good sense, and it does ease the burden on the westernmost teams that have, year after year, been spending the most time on the road. I will readily admit I am disappointed to see the Sharks would no longer be playing Dallas as many times, as they have become one of our biggest rivals. But, I'm eagerly anticipating more games against Vancouver.  Additionally, it breaks up the Southeast Division, which has got to be THE softest division of any of any since it's creation.

One of the complaints from the NHLPA has been the way playoff slots will be given out. Instead of the tried and true division winner, along with teams ranking in the top eight of their conference, regardless of division, the plan was to balance it out as four teams from each of the conferences. I will concede this is a big change, and creates a situation that mirrors many a complaint from fans of other sports; namely, why would a team with such a poor record make it into the playoffs over another team just because of the playoff makeup format. I would suggest scrapping that part of your plan, and go back to the top two teams from each conference, along with the next four ranked teams based purely on game results. That's enough of a happy medium to make sure most of the best teams aren't left out in the cold at playoff time, and that teams will fight extra hard to make it into the top two of their conference.

Going hand in hand with complaints about playoff structure is the NHLPA complaint that with the two eastern conferences have two less teams they would have an advantage when it comes to getting into the playoffs. While I can understand that, mathematically, I see of no easy way of pulling one team out of the middle western conference and placing it in the central, without causing a big change in rivalries.

Once last thing, and it has zero effect on schedule, player conditioning, or team layout. PLEASE don't call each of the conferences. They should be four divisions, which make up two conferences. Even before realignment that's what it was called; and I see no change in structure that would necessitate making such a strange change in terminology.

As we come careening towards the end of the current collective bargaining agreement, and what is going to, no doubt, be a very contentious negotiation, I can think of other things to cause divisiveness between the NHL and NHLPA than a schedule and realignment, and exactly how much input and/or approval they will have in such matters. What will be next, approval if a franchise wants to relocate?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Prost…It's San Francisco Beer Week 2012!!


Did you wake up today wondering when your first beer was going to be today? A whole bunch of  people probably did, but not because of any problem they have. It's because today is the start of the annual San Francisco Beer Week.

For those in tune with the craft beer scene this comes as no surprise as they've been eagerly awaiting the week long festival's return since last February (It's actually nine days, but who is counting?). For those that haven't heard of it, or have just in passing, it's a celebration of commercial breweries in the greater San Francisco Bay Area whose capacity isn't large enough to fill a pool the size of Lake Tahoe!!

But take heart. You don't have to be in San Francisco itself to enjoy the festivities, as brewers from Santa Cruz to Healdsburg, San Francisco to Pittsburg (and beyond!) will be having special festivities during this week. (the official web page has a full schedule posted, along with iPhone and Android apps for download!).

San Francisco Beer Week officially started only a few years ago (2009? Their website actually doesn't say) and has quickly grown to national fame, being mentioned in non-brew media outlets, such as the Huffington Post.

Generally speaking, most brewers are pouring beers of thick and syrupy goodness, like barleywine, imperials, porters, and unique tasting sours. Beers that take a long time to brew and then lovingly aged for quite some time. Sometime even aged in oak and/or whisky barrels to give it that rich mellow flavor that you just don't find in a beer that's bottled as soon as it's finished fermenting.

However, it's not just about the beer. Many places have special beer dinners that promote what foods to pair with which type of beer. On the other end of the spectrum are things as simple as beer and and chocolate, or beer and cheese, pairings.

Beer Week starts off with tonight's kick-off festival. Over 50 brewers will be pouring their finest at the special celebration, which also includes food and music. Unfortunately, if you haven't got your ticket already, it's too late as it's listed as Sold Out on their web page.

Some of my highlights I hope to hit will be Triple Rock's Keyser Soze release and Sour Sunday, as well as Pacific Coast's Vintage Ale tasting (You haven't had anything till you've tried Don Gortmiller's 20+ year Hammerhead Sour Barleywine!!).

Please remember these are beers to savor and enjoy, and not to slam to get drunk on. If you do the latter, you'll endanger yourself, others, and the next morning will remember why you should remember the former!! (most of these special beers will be pushing to 10% alc. level, and some are even up above 14%, which is what you'd find in a heavy Cabernet or Zinfandel).

* * *

Picking up when Beer Week ends, and worth mentioning even by itself, is the annual Toronado Pub Barleywine Festival, in the Haight/Ashbury area of San Francisco. This is now the 19th rendition of the event.

On any day, the Toronado is an epic experience with dozens and dozens of taps, and a beer cellar of bottled beers to choose from. They were probably the best Belgian-style beer bar outside of Brussels for the longest of time. On a normal day it's crowded and noisy. However, during the Barleywine and Belgian beer festivals that's taken to a whole different level. They have so many offerings, and the noise is so deafening, that you literally have to yell at the bar tender the beer's number, as opposed to the name. Trust me, it works better than trying to say some unpronounceable Dutch or Belgian name. They probably rotate through over 100 different barleywines over the festival, so you'll be guaranteed of having something you've never had before.

Be forewarned parking is lousy at best, especially after normal weekday work hours, and all weekend long. Better than driving, consider taking Muni to get there and don't worry about parking, or if you should've had that last glass of Angel's Share.

* * *

Links to look over when planning your Beer Week itinerary:
San Francisco Beer Week (official site)
San Francisco Taxi Tips
511.ORG Go Green transit page
San Francisco Muni
Bay Area Rapid Transit
AC Transit
Golden Gate Transit trip planner
Valley Transit Authority (San Jose area)
SamTrans (Peninsula)
County Connection  (central and eastern Contra Costa County)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

This contains cancer causing chemicals, but eat your potatoes!!

Kind of a short blog tonight.

I was at Andronico's Market, in Berkeley, today. I don't go there very often and really the only reason I sent there today was because I wanted to check out their frozen food section to see if it really was the place where Hall's filmed that goofy commercial where the drill sergent is chewing out this Asian stock clerk over her cold. (Turns out it wasn't as the shelves are different).

When I go there I usually make a serpentine route. First I go through the produce and frozen food, and then over through beer and soda area. Continue on to the prepared food section, and finish up by wandering through the isles to see if there's anything that looks interesting. This can be a dangerous way to shop, especially if you're hungry. But I digress.

One thing that caught my eye was over in the frozen food section. There was a Proposition 65 mandated warning sign in front of the frozen onion rings and french fries. It said,

WARNING: Cooked potatoes that have been browned,
such as potato chips, contain aacrylamide, a chemical
identified under California Proposition 65 as causing cancer.
Other cooked foods that have been roasted or browned
such as coffee, cereals, French fries, potato crisps, breads,
crackers, cookies and nuts, also contain acrylamide, but
usually at lower levels than in certain cooked potatoes that
have been browned.

Acrylamide is not added to these foods but is created when
these and certain foods are browned
The FDA has not advised people to stop eating potato chips
or any foods containing acrylamide as a result of cooking.
For more information, see FDA’s website at www/

Honestly, this is the first time I've ever noticed this warning. I kind of chuckled at it and moved along. Mind you I'm not chuckling because of what it says, but how it says it. Namely, the bad stuff wasn't put in there, but it's created when cooking. But we're not telling you to stop eating it.

In my wandering I went to buy some potato chips for some of the spaghetti sauce dip I blogged about on Sunday. Sure enough, there's that same sign!!

What's interesting is you DON'T see the warnings in the other isles by coffee, nuts, crackers, etc. Granted, they say it's in lower levels. But, poison is poison, isn't it? And while we're on that track, why aren't there warnings in the raw potato section telling us not to fry them?

In doing some further research, it turns out this whole "potato chip" warning stems back to 2005 when Attorney General Bill Lockyer filed suit against several companies to get these labels on packaging.

We're not talking cigarettes here, we're talking potato chips!! It reminds me of the person in New York State that sued MacDonalds because they didn't tell him their burgers contained saturated fats that would make him fat, and that the more he ate of it, the more obese he would get. Utter nonsense.

Anyways, that's it for the night.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

movie reviews: Fantastic Four (2005)Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer(2007)


(reviews may contain spoilers for those that have never seen the films or are unfamiliar with the characters.)

* * *


After a long awaited period, Marvel comics finally brought the Fantastic Four to the big screen. The Fantastic Four comic book debuted 1961, and was the first project worked on by legendary comic book writer Stan Lee.

Fantastic Four stars Ioan Gruffudd (Reed Richards), Jessica Alba (Sue Storm), Chris Evans (Johnny Storm) and Michael Chiklis (Ben Grimm) as four astronauts transformed by a space storm, modifying their DNA, and giving them all sorts of beyond human abilities.

The other main member of the cast is Julian McMahon, as Victor Von Doom, who, as you can imagine with a name like that, turns out to be the villain in all this.

We're first introduced to them as normal people aboard a space station studying a strange storm coming towards Earth. It's assumed they have several hours to do their work, and return to safety. However, just as Richards gets outside it's realized they have mere minutes, and Richards rushes to get inside the station. Von Doom, fearing the loss of his ship moves to close the shields while Richards is rushing to get inside. The storm catches up to him just as the shield closes in front of him. However, the shield is no match to the cosmic storm, blasting through the shield and engulfing the four.

After returning to Earth, the astronauts are booked into the base hospital for observation. The next morning, as Richards and the Storms go to visit Grimm, they hear a terrible noise coming from his room. This is where the film kicks into full gear, around their new found abilities.

As someone who never read the comic book series when I was young, this was my introduction to the characters. The first few minutes of the film explained what happened and what the results were. There is just enough back story revealed  to set up conflict between the good guys and the villain. We really feel sorry for Ben Grimm as more and more events take place that show him just how far he's been taken from his normal life.

Special effects were absolutely fantastic. Nothing was crazy overblown as in other comic book characters brought to life. They did not look cartoony, and textures could easily make you feel as if you were standing in front of them.

As would be expected, there's an epic battle for good and evil at the end which wraps the film up into a good ending.

Acting was sufficient since the character's abilities were the main thing people were watching the film for.

Despite being a person who was unfamiliar with the comic book franchise I went away happy, not wondering what I missed, as the movie stood on its own.

RATED: 8 out of 10 STARS

* * *


After the overwhelming popular response of the first film, Marvel decided to produce a sequel, releasing it a couple years later.

The film starts with the Fantastic Four preparing for the wedding between Reed Richards and Sue Storm (reprised by Gruffudd and Alba). As with many super hero comic book storylines, things are going smoothly until the government comes calling, needing their help.

Now we're introduced to the main villain through most of the film, The Silver Surfer, as a strange silvery character crashes the the wedding, and Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) "flames out" and flies after him. Unfortunately, for Johnny, he catches up to the character, who doesn't seem to be effected by fire, and he incapacitates him by snuffing out the oxygen around him.  Johnny recovers just before he is about the plummet to his death. Back at headquarters the other Fantastic Four members aren't sure what to think of his stories.

Meanwhile the Silver Surfer (played by Doug Jones, voice over by Lawrence Fishburne) hooks up with a mysterious hooded character somewhere in the Artic. Just as he's ready to surf off, the hooded villain gives him an intriguing proposition, which stops him dead in his tracks.

The government quickly looses faith in the Fantastic Four, and decides their best hope is to rely on another person that had magical abilities cast upon him, Dr. Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon). He had returned from the original condition we was left in at the end of the film, and is promising to help. But, the Fantastic Four are just not sure on trusting him.

As opposed to the first film,which really didn't threaten the Earth till the end, this film pretty much introduces that a third of the way into the film. I guess they could do that since the Fantastic Four, and their abilities, would be known to anyone already who had seen the first film.

Things are moving along at a relatively good pace, and we finally are given the motivation on why the Silver Surfer wants to destroy the Earth. This plot is intertwined with Von Doom's evil intentions. While this could have made for a richer (read longer) running time, it seems like the end was thrust upon us all of a sudden, and things are wrapped up in a matter of minutes. I would have preferred another half hour, or so, to resolve the World's crisis.

This film is dotted with one-liners and scenes that have nothing to do with advancing the plot. Some are cute. Some are just dumb.

While most the special effects are of the same quality as the first film, the work on the Silver Surfer bugged me. Sure, he's supposed to be like liquid silver, but there's no texture to give it a three dimensional quality on the screen. It's particularly bad in the flying scenes. Had this film been produced in the last few years, with the advances in 3D, this might have been different.

The returning actors give another solid performance with what they're given, and I don't have any particular complaints about Doug Jones' acting as he's pretty much replaced with a 100% computer based character by the time it gets to the screen. Only a few scenes look like it's a person in a silver suit. On the other hand, the deep voice of Lawrence Fishburne felt odd for such a svelte figure.


* * *

After reviewing the films I looked online to see if there's any further news on the franchise. Apparently, there are plans to reboot the movie franchise after only two films. I don't understand that. They had a good cast. They have plenty of source material to draw on from the comic book series. 3D is now pretty robust. Why totally recast, and take it in a different direction?  Of course, those plans have been in the works for several years now, so they may not come to fruition.

Reviews are based upon viewing of both movies on the FX Network earlier today. As they both films were edited for time and content, it is quite possible some scenes were missed which would have varied the ratings. - rjm

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Caucus Conundrum

As I'm writing this the Colorado Caucus has just opened its doors, and they are in the process of counting the votes in Minnesota, and in the non-binding Missouri Primary.

Most states use the primary system to cast votes in presidential elections. However, there are eleven states that use the caucus system for all parties, and three states that use it for one of the majority parties, but not both.1

For those that are confused by the caucus process, you're not alone. Most Americans scratch their head when asked exactly how it works. Basically, people from the party get together and then discuss things before voting. Once voting is completed they announce the vote for their precinct and that tally is passed on for the state convention.2 Honestly, it reminds me of what it must've looked like back at the time of the Founding Fathers.

But, that's the problem. While that may have worked when the population of the country was below 1 million, it's an outdated system when you're talking about states that have millions of people, and those people work all sorts of different schedules so they cannot necessarily make it to a particular time on a particular day. With few exceptions, caucuses usually see turnout below 10%.3 You'd be hard pressed to find a primary turnout at that low of a level.

What does it say for the caucus process when votes can be tallied on a notepad? To me it says you have such a low turnout that it has to question the cost of the process. The plus side is that those who show up to "caucus" get to also select who will represent them at the state convention, as opposed to the state party handing them out depending on party politics at the state level. Additionally, the state party generally pays for the caucus rather than the state as a whole.4

Frankly, I'd rather see all states go to a primary system so people can cast absentee ballots, which will cause more turnout.5 Additionally, I'd rather see a national primary date set for sometime in April. A national primary would not preclude having a whole bunch of debates as we have seen with the Republican presidential candidates this year and it would still give the national committees over two months to prepare for their national conventions.

* * *

More troubling is what happened with last weekend's Nevada Republican Caucus, where it was decided to have a separate caucus for the Orthodox Jewish population of the state. This special caucus took place in Las Vegas and you had to sign a letter saying that you could not take part in the normal state caucus due to religious reasons. (Orthodox Jewish people are not supposed to work on the Sabbath, which is considered sundown Friday to sundown Saturday).

However, people supporting Ron Paul decided to attend this special caucus, even though they weren't necessarily prevented from attending the normal caucus due to religious reasons. As a result, Ron Paul received a vast majority of the votes as the special caucus, despite the state going to Mitt Romney overall. Additionally, a major Newt Gingrich financial backer chose to attend even though he had publicly said he was not an Orthodox Jew.6

This special caucus was arranged a month prior to the actual date of the caucus. There was no special caucus in 2008 even though it was also held on a Saturday. The 2004 Republican Caucus was held on a weekday, while the Democratic Caucus was held two weeks prior, on Saturday, January 21st. Again, with no special caucus.

My feeling is that if states are going to continue using the caucus system then then should plan ahead for contingencies like this. And in this circumstance, the date of the Nevada Caucus was moved to make sure it was held prior to the Florida moved it's primary.7 And was done quite some time ago.

Having special caucuses, due to religious reasons, starts moving us towards that slippery slope of supporting one religion over another. What would happen if a Christian group demanded a separate caucus due to religious reasons? Not as widely known, members of the 7th Day Adventist Church were also allowed to attend the special caucus as well, though they weren't the catalyst for it being established.

1, What states have presidential caucuses, (Feb. 06, 2012).

2,3 The Caucus System in the U.S. Presidential Nominating Process, (Feb. 06, 2012).

4 What Happens at a Presidential Caucus, (Feb. 06, 2012).

5 Caucuses Will Still Lack Absentee Voting, (February 06, 2012).

6 Special Nevada caucus participants sign religious declaration, (February 06, 2012).

7 Nevada Presidential Caucus Moved to January 14th, (February 06, 2012).

Monday, February 6, 2012

Monday morning commercial quarterbacking

Get the particulars out of the way. That had to be one of the most boring Super Bowls I've ever watched. For sure in a long time. For party food I had onion dip, blue corn chips, salami, cheese and to wash it down Russian River Pliny the Elder IPA. Good stuff.

Now how about the really important stuff from yesterday….the commercials!! (comments below are from first impression notes I made while watching the Super Bowl)

If you missed any, or just want to relive what I was talking about, you can do so at They also have an archive of previous seasons as well. Has it really been over 12 years since we were introduced to Subway's Jared?

*  *  *

Hyundai "Rocky" commercial – UGH! Sure hope they didn't pay full price for that one. Wouldn't been cuter if they had stuck Sylvester Stallone or Burt Young in there somehow. But that would've taken the commercial in a different direction.

Budweiser platinum – The commercial was over even before I realized what it was and it did nothing for me. WHY do I want it?

Audi Vampire commercial – Pretty funny, but I wasn't completely sure where they were going till the end when they mentioned Daylight. That's going to be wasted on a lot of people who have no idea about color temperature of different types of light.

Pepsi King -  Ehh, yet another Pepsi is the people's drink commercial. I drink Pepsi and this did nothing for me. BTW: Who was the woman, BeyoncĂ©?

Hyundai Cheetah – OK. So I get your car is fast. Such a short commercial I didn't see much of the car. Not sure why I'd want to buy it. Better than the Rocky commercial.

bud light feeling good – eh. Another strange commercial for Platinum that totally absolutely nothing about the beer.

M&M Naked – Made me chuckle, and I had the first reaction everyone else seemed to. Are they making M&M's without a shell now? They have had brown before. Haven't they? It's not like it's a new color.

Best Buy  We Create – Are they saying they're just as important as people like Ray Kurtsweil and Phillipe Kahn? You're a retail store for Christ's sake!!!

Coke Polar bear 1 - Getting long in the tooth IMHO. The graphics didn't even look as crisp as they have in the past.

Mayan Apocalypse – Going to make me run out and get one…NOT. Love the Twinkies reference. Not sure Hostess should.

missed something here !!!

GoDaddy – Body paint. I'm getting REALLY tired of GoDaddy showing us some skin ad, and then telling us to go to their website to see "more." Trust me, I've went to their website and really haven't seen anything like what they were hinting at. If you want me to go to your website how about give me a coupon that I have to use?

Lexus change – teaser.

Battleship movie – All right. The movie commercials finally make their appearance. Kept me interested through the whole thing. Thought maybe it was a sequel to Independence Day.  Hopefully, it's not a dog like Battle: Los Angeles apparently was last year.

Bud Prohibition commercial – Glad to see the Clydesdales are back. I though I'd heard they had been banished to the barn.

Doritos – Cute, but not nearly as good as last year's Doritos pug commercial.

Chevy stolen car – They actually started airing last week. Love the ending where the guy drives away in the car. One of the better ones so far.

GE turbines – Pretty boring till they said beer!

John Carter movie – Been airing this for some time now. Looks good. Looks like Star Wars'' pod racing graphics to me.

TaxAct – kind of nasty, but kept me watching. That famous fountain in Europe recently FROZE due to the bad weather.

VW double commercial – A commercial within a commercial? Been done before, but I still liked it. Wonder if that's the same dude who got wacked in the Star Wars cantina way back in the 1970s. Sure looks like him.

Howard Stern – American's got talent. Thanks for the warning. One more reason not to watch the show, as if I needed another.

Bodywear Bechkam – OK ladies a little eye candy for you amongst all the cheese cake. Man, that guys has a LOT of tattoos.

Coke polar bear 2 – They had several cases. Why were they worried about one bottle?

Chevy Sonic – Why show us stunts that are obviously done with a non-stock car and tell us not to try them? First music video? Is that supposed to impress me?

Star Wars saga 3D – YES!! So it's obviously not a 3D commercial, but it still sent chills down my spine. Been seeing commercials for this for a couple of weeks now, but they only made it sound like it was just Phantom Menace. This commercial alluded to all six films being done in 3D. Just make sure you don't eat a heavy lunch before going. Some of those battle scenes might make you queasy on a full stomach.

Marvel Universe – Putting all their eggs in one basket.

Teleflora – Plays on your imagination. Could be really interesting depending on how warped you are, and nobody else has to see it.

Mr. Quigley – Awesome job Sketchers! When he stopped before the finish line I was thinking of Yusen Bolt, only to have him Moonwalk across the line.

X-box – Was this a commercial or a Public Service Announcement? – How could they possibly afford the $2million for that spot? If they go the way of, after their Super Bowl commercial, it won't surprise me at all.

Doritos nag – Creative, funny

eTrade nursery – Not sure why,  I actually pay attention to the eTrade baby commercials. Not going to make me buy their services, but I watch.

GI Joe – Could've sworn I saw Electra in there somewhere. Is there a crossover for us? Judging from these commercials looks like this is going to be a season of nothing but explosions, special effects and fighting.


Party like a millionaire – NFL fantasy. Why is the NFL spending $2m on an add where they give away  $1m? You've already got me watching? Hope they didn't have to pay for that.

Citibank breakfast – Been airing this one already. Not a Citibank customer, and not likely to switch just to just my cell phone to send money.

Xfinity fast house – Creative commercial. Monster truck houses are rad.

Roundtable 3 pep pizza – Lots of pretty pizza shots.

beverages – smaller sizes, labels, options Who ran this?

Citibank yard work – Better than the breakfast commercial, but still didn't do anything for me.

Camry effect

Hulu – Continuing on a great campaign from previous years. Wish Alec Baldwin was still here.

Bridgestone/Bud light -  Huh?

Leno – Nice intro to Madonna. Talk about awkward for someone in Leno's shoes.

Wasn't planning to watch Madonna, but the whole Trojan/Greek think hooked me big time. Loved the dancing covers of Vogue on the field. And as for the Lip-sync, or no lip-sync debate? I say LIPSYNC!!

The Voice – Jakey started barking as soon as Christina started singing. What does that say? I love you Betty White. We should all be active like you when we're that age.

Detroit – Eastwood. Almost sounded like a freaky' political commercial at the beginning, but I'm still not sure WHAT they were advertising had they not had a Dodge logo at the end.

3rd Quarter

NBC – Smash nothing new. Been airing this for awhile now

Fiat 500 – I got to brush up on my Italian!! Grin!!

Pepsi by Cola – I feel so sorry for the Coke guy. He's always being caught drinking the other guy's drink.

Camry Invention – Pretty cool.

Coke Polar Bear 3 – Someone needs to explain that one to me.

Oikos yogurt – Now who hasn't wanted to head butt john Staimos.

Century 21 – Eh, Move along. Nothing to see here.

Seinfeld Acura – Damn you Lenoooo! Ha-Ha!

GE fridge – Another building America type of commercial Just not understanding this campaign.

Bud Prohibition – The rap music to totally out of place in this one. Advertising that they've been with us since prohibition.

Bridgestone – basketball  better than the football one, I guess.

4th Quarter

NFL – Canton ad. Another self serving NFL I just see as a waste.

EBAY Blue Jeans – Retread. Nothing special

Jack in the Box: Marrying bacon – Nice hook. I'm getting married, but it's not a woman. Heh!? Someone is going to complain I bet.

Ferris Buehler – Oh yeah!! For those that remember Ferris, this is awesome. For those that don't they're scratching their head.

Act of Valor movie – With real life soldiers. Oh Boy. Haven't we seen enough shots of real life soldiers already?

Cartoon MetLife – This was pretty neat. Speaks to everyone with all the different characters.

Smash – Ehhh. Odd NBC series that is a one year wonder.

Hyundai – heart attack. Cute I suppose.

Budweiser – adopted dog – What an ugly mutt. But sure was funny. Like the tie in at the end for helping rescue dogs. Wonder if Wigo was a real rescue dog. Sure talented if he was.

Motley Crue – What a hodge podge dream sequence

Monkeys – a retreat of an old idea. snooze.

Samsung Galaxy – Take that iPhone!! But a stylus? You really get excited over that? First thing I did with mine was throw it in a drawer.

Cadillac ATX – Green Hell. Oh, I'm impressed. eh.

GoDaddy cloud – Another taunting to go there.

Awake – This looks like an interesting series. Which is the real reality? What a quandary to have.

NBC Sports –

Carl's Junior – Miss Turkey Funny, cause I bet they couldn't air that in Turkey. Been aired for quite some time.

Chevy Sonic instruments – This is really really stupid!!

Act of Valor  2 – Really hyping that real soldier tie in

GEICO pig – This guy is awesome!!!

Chevy Sonic bugs – Why did they wait to air this after the game when people may have turned off? Hands down beat the two other Sonic commercials with lots of time to spare.

* * *

My three personal favorites were:

1 – VW "Dog training/Star Wars Cantina"

2 – Sketchers "Mr. Quiggly"

3 – Honda "Ferris Bueller"

H/M – Xfinity Race Houses, Budweiser Rescue Dog and Audi "Vampire Party

Sorry for the rambling length here. Tomorrow will return to the normal format.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Super Bowl Sunday

As if I had to tell you that's what today was. One of the few events that basically shuts most of the country down for four hours, and causes water pressure to go down significantly for 30 minutes during that period!

I'll admit I'm not nearly as crazy about football and "the game" nearly as much as I used to be when I was a child. Biggest reason is I've been a season ticket holder for the local National Hockey League franchise, the San Jose Sharks, since they begin playing. But, they're a topic for another time.

Most people, if they spend any time, will probably come up with their first Super Bowl memory. I had to sit and think quite some time. The first game I can remember watching was probably Super Bowl V. But, all I really remember were the teams playing (Baltimore Colts vs. Dallas Cowboys).

We were always Raiders fans in our house, and it seemed like every year they'd get to the playoffs, only to be defeated. It looked like they were headed for a date in the AFC championship game. In fact they were only 22 seconds away from squeaking a 7-6 win out when it happened. The play that went down in history as the Immaculate Reception; a strange bounce that has been argued about in football circles to this date. It was back to Oakland for the Raiders, with the Steelers heading on, loosing the next week to the undefeated Miami Dolphins.

My parents invited my best friend at the time, Mikey, over and we had our first Super Bowl party that year. Nothing extravagant. Biggest thing I remember was having Spaghetti dip (mix a package of dry spaghetti sauce mix into sour cream, just like you do with onion soup mix), and potato chips. Probably had Coca Cola to drink. And that the Miami Dolphins won the game, becoming the first, and only, team to go undefeated through the 1972 season, playoffs and Super Bowl VII.

We continued to watch the game every year, but the next big memory I have was when the Raiders finally got to the big game, Super Bowl XI. The NFL was guaranteed of a new champion this year as both the Raiders and Minnesota Vikings had been to the Super Bowl, but never won. This was also the first time the NFL played the game at the Rose Bowl, the largest venue to hold the game up to that time, and the third largest crowd in Super Bowl history.

The 1980s were a wonderful decade if you were a Bay Area football fan. The Raiders returned to the Super Bowl in 1981, defeating the Philadelphia Eagles, and then the following year it was that team over in the West Bay, the San Francisco 49ers, to win their first Super Bowl after a last minute heroic fling from Joe Montana to Dwight Clark, known as The Catch. The Raiders and 49ers would appear in three more Super Bowls that decade, winning them all. The Raiders appearance was a little bittersweet as they'd moved to Los Angeles the prior year. I actually rooted for the Washington Redskins that year. The Raiders won 38-9….sigh!!

Another neat thing was that for the first time the game was played in San Francisco in 1985. I guess I shouldn't really say "in" San Francisco as it was played down in Palo Alto, on the Stanford Stadium campus. Adding intrigue to this was the fact that the San Francisco 49ers were playing (they won!!). Ironically, I was 1000+ miles away at college at the time the game was played, and as a poor college student there was no way I would have been able to fly home for the weekend, nor buy a ticket. While they were below $100 face value, scalpers were asking for a whole lot more around here.

The only Super Bowl memory actually from college was when the Bears played the Patriots. Everyone in my fraternity house was going for the Bears except for me and my friend Roger. When I say everyone, I mean EVERYONE; from the brothers, to the Little Sisters to any house guests who were over. Became a really ugly game for Roger and I pretty quickly. The Bears were just that much of a better team.

For whatever reason our family never really did the big blow out Super Bowl parties that you see and hear about. Also, I generally never went over to any either. Probably watched a handful of games with my father. However, if the Raiders or 49ers weren't involved, there's a good chance he wasn't' there either. That's OK, because we did other father/son type stuff.

In fact, the last time I went to a party was a get together some of the men from church had, where we had an unofficial chili cooking contest. Nobody really received an award, but it was all good comradeship. I honestly don't even remember which year that was, but think it was a couple Super Bowls ago. The last few I've stayed at home and watched with my trusty sidekicks Jake and Sally. Not much for conversation, and if they had their choice they're rather be watching Animal Planet's Puppy Bowl instead.

You can probably count me amongst those that actually enjoy watching the commercials just as much as the game, if not more. It's crazy what they're paying for spots these days. But, they realize they can catch the casual football fan, and the spouses of those that are just tagging along, if they're memorable. Unfortunately, those are even being leaked by way of the Internet days before the game. What happened to suspense people!!?!?!?!?!I

And one comment. What's up with the design of Lucas Field? It looks like an old barn with it's boxy shape and huge window at the end.

Catch you later! It's less than 60 minutes before the kickoff.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Going to the library without leaving home!


Today I want to share with you a tool that, perhaps, some people don't realize they have at their fingertips.

In the past, when you needed a book at the library you had to get on the bus, or drive down to the library and fight for parking. There's an alternative out there that's pretty awesome!!

There is a growing, collection of books you can borrow from your library and use on any number of devices. But you say, "I don't have an Kindle Fire, Nook Color, Nook Tablet (or any of the many other specialized readers that are out there nowadays). You're not stuck having to buy one anymore. Do you have a smart phone? According to a 2010 study, there are over 12 million advanced cell phones in the US which would be able to do the job; not to mention most desktop, laptop or tablet computers can as well.

Chances are good your library is a member of a digital system which has copies of eBooks that you can check out. You ask, "Isn't the library pirating the book if they hand out copies to everyone that wants one?" It doesn't work that way. Through the use of some ingenious software you need to "check out" a title, and the file has an expiration date with a limited number of copies; typically one or two copies at most, depending on the type of subject. An added benefit of this system is that you don't have to worry about all those late fees because you couldn't get down to the library as you won't be able to use the downloaded book once the expiration date has past.

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Obviously, the first thing you need is a library card. If you're hunting down a library that particularly offers eBooks, check their website. I'm in the San Francisco Bay Area. I have cards from the Oakland Public Library and San Jose's Martin Luther King Jr. Library. And according to their website, the San Francisco Public Library has a huge eBook collection, though I've not used it.

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You will need to install some specialized software to be able to borrow the library's eBooks. Here are some to consider:

Overdrive Media Console: Overdive has computer versions for Windows and  OSX (Apple). Additionally most of major mobile devices and tablets are covered with versions for Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone 7 and IOS (iPhone/iPad). (Note: not all operating systems support all types of books and/or media files. Check with Overdrive to see what you can access, along with any additional system requirements you have to fill). Of all the software I mention Overdrive is the one I am the most familiar with. A big plus in Overdrive's favor is that it supports audiobooks and music ,as well as the traditional written form.

Adobe Digital Editions: This software, from the originators of the Portable Document Format (PDF), is available for Windows and OSX (Apple). Unfortunately, ADE will not run on mobile devices and tablets at the present time due to (DRM) copy protection software used (Digital Rights Management).

Bluefire: Android and IOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) devices have another option. With Bluefire you can open library books, as well as eBooks you have purchased from the major bookstores, as it handles the DRM without the need of having Adobe Digital Editions installed on a computer to move the file to your device.

'txtr, which also runs on the same devices Bluefire, does not support library books, but does support purchased eBooks, and eBooks without copy protection.

Calibre eBook Management:  I mention Calibre only because it is the only program that I'm aware of that has a native linux client. Granted, not very many of you reading this will being using linux. However, just the fact they built a linux version is something I enjoy sharing. They also have Windows and OSX versions. Unfortunately, this only allows reading of eBooks that are DRM-free. However, some people have been able to use it to transfer eBooks to their phones.

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There are also many virtual libraries online that give you access to books that have been scanned because their copyright has expired and thus are in the public domain with no copy protection.

The oldest one worth mentioning is Project Gutenberg. ProjG has nearly 40000 books available to freely download, in multiple formats, and you can keep the copies for as long as you want, and pass them around to other people. While being one of the oldest, people may not have heard of them.

There's little doubt most people have heard of Google Books because of the flack over copyright issues that arose in the past few years. Google has formed a relationship with several large universities, with the intention of scanning their entire collection. While older books in public domain are not the issue, it's the newer ones the have become controversial. This is clearly bypassing copyright laws, and lawsuits have been the result. As of right now, you can search Google Books and public domain books are available for download. Other books are available for purchase, and some search results have links to libraries where you can borrow them. You will probably need a card to get them though.

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Some book publishers are now offering the ability to buy memberships that give you access to their publications by way of a normal web browser. A great example are O'Reilly Publications and Pearson Technology, who pooled their titles for the Safari Books Online portal. You get access to thousands of titles by purchasing a subscription. The bad news is that the subscription fee can get quite expensive (the all-you-can read plan is nearly $500 per year!!) and you have to have an internet connection to read them. However, the good news is that many libraries give you FREE access simply with having a library card. I access the Safari titles with my MLK card. You log into your library account from home and then read away. Pretty slick!

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I have purposely not mentioned any of the proprietary software installed on the Amazon or Barnes & Noble tablets, as I'm not familiar with their capabilities. I own a Nook Color that has been rooted since January 2011 so I could install what I wanted on it, and have never used any of the Amazon Kindle versions.

Hopefully, this has helped to expand your reading horizons at little to no out of pocket expenses, and you'll give it a try soon. While not every book under the Sun is available in electronic format, the number is getting bigger all the time, and most books that are newly published have a digital version for purchase from the first day they're released, and generally cheaper than the printed version.