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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Backglass art for the 1978 KISS pinball game

Backglass art for the 1978 KISS pinball game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Limiting Oakland night protests unlikely to solve vandalism problem

An older BART neighborhood map of downtown Oakland shows City Hall and Frank Ogawa Plaza (then known as Green Water Plaza).

An older BART neighborhood map of downtown Oakland shows City Hall and Frank Ogawa Plaza (then known as Green Water Plaza).

Two of the San Francisco Chronicle’s columnists, Chip Johnson and Debra Saunders, recently called for the city of Oakland to restrict evening protests in light of several recent events devolving into vandalism and other acts. In response, an SF Weekly writer stated the proposals would throw out the Bill of Rights.

I am not a legal expert, but it is theoretically possible to limit evening protests. However, this so-called solution may be difficult to enact and doesn’t seem to address the actual problem of vandalism and similar violence. Don’t get me wrong — there are a lot of problems that people of all walks of life protest, but I’m focusing on this situation for the purposes of discussion.

Regarding limiting protests: Courts have found it can be constitutional for governments to set reasonable date, place and time restrictions on the use of traditional public forums (although any such regulations would need to be content neutral and meet strict scrutiny because it is limiting individuals’ rights).

Regarding strict scrutiny and reasonable date, place and manner restrictions, any proposed regulations have to meet four conditions:

  • That there’s a compelling governmental interest.
  • That the proposed regulation isn’t too broad.
  • That it’s the least restrictive means to achieve that interest.
  • And that there are ample alternatives to communicate.

The compelling governmental interest seems to be the easiest condition to meet. An argument can be  made about limiting evening protests when similar events demonstrably devolved into violence.

It would be up to the city to clearly specify what the other communication alternatives would be (and whether they would be valid alternatives to those wishing to protest). Ultimately, the second and third conditions may be significantly more difficult to meet and I’m not sure Oakland can meet those.

Restricting evening protests may be overly broad as it restricts many of the hours available for protest and assembly (especially when the sun sets early in the winter). A large segment of the working population is simply unable to participate in protests during the day. Also, many governmental bodies meet in the evening and people have a constitutional right to petition their government.

It could be difficult to prove barring night protests is the least restrictive means because the proposal doesn’t appear to directly address the illegal activity and vandalism that is the heart of this specific matter. Even couched as civil disobedience, breaking windows, destroying cars, and shutting down BART and highways has been and remains illegal. There isn’t much in the proposals to address that. Sure, it may be easier to detect illegal activity if legal protesters went home at a certain time, but it seems to unduly burden those peacefully expressing themselves.

The other factors mentioned by the columnists don’t seem practical for informal protests and assemblies that are formed quickly. I understand the desire for governments to recoup their costs for things such as street patrols and traffic controls and to require that groups stick to a specific route. They all seem reasonable (albeit potentially costly), but it just doesn’t seem workable for more spontaneous protests which would be likely to take place regardless of any potential reasonable regulations.

I don’t think I’m in a position to suggest the best solutions for a city and residents 160 miles away. While possible, imposing new restrictions doesn’t seem to be a move in the right direction.

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New Muni map offers cleaner design, but misses key info

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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‘How I Met Your Mother’ subject of my top comment of 2014

My top comment of 2014 was about "How I Met Your Mother" -

My top comment of 2014 was about “How I Met Your Mother” – “They had the option to not run the pretaped segment and shoot a different ending.”

Kids… in May of 2014, your father tuned in for the final episode of a television program called “How I Met Your Mother.” Coincidentally, watching the show is how I met your mother.

Just kidding. The only thing I met in the spring of 2014 was a new chicken wing place, but that’s a story for another time.

Anyway, the show had long been a favorite of your father’s. It featured six friends your father’s age as they made their way through a Los Angeles TV studio made up to resemble New York City. The main character, named Ted Mosby, was on a quest to find his ideal partner.

What attracted your father to the show was relatively inventive and funny storytelling and an energetic set of characters played by actors whose individual dynamics played well off each other. The show, especially in its early years, seemed like a worthy descendant of “Friends” and “Coupling.”

Ted’s quest continued for nine years through numerous twists and turns, including dating one of his friends, Robin, but it was finally leading to the final episode where Ted would finally meet the woman who would become his wife.

After eight seasons where each season took roughly one year of time, the final season was primarily set in a single, long weekend where each of Ted’s friends met the mother before fate (and the show producers) finally allowed the story to reach its natural conclusion. Ted met the mother… but that wasn’t the end of the story.

And kids, much like this poorly thought-out story-telling mode that I’m struggling to stick with, the story of “How I Met Your Mother” went slightly off the rails.

You see, despite nine whole years of saying the story was about how Ted met the mother and spending an entire season of episodes expressly building up to this resolution, the show’s producers made it clear in the last five minutes of the episode and the entire series that we were all wrong — the story was about how Ted, who was
telling the story in a series of flashbacks, was indirectly seeking his kids’ blessing to rekindle an older relationship years after the mother had died.

Needless to say, that resolution didn’t sit well with a lot of people who took to the Internet to voice their dismay. One of those people was your father. Back in 2014, websites encouraged readers to leave comments at the end of stories (and to help prove Sturgeon’s Law everyday). People could also click to approve comments that they
liked or found useful.

Your father would comment on various topics from time to time. His comments were only sporadically liked, but he would see his most success in 2014 when he wrote the following on a review at The A.V. Club:

“They had the option to not run the pretaped segment and shoot a different ending.”

At the end of the year, 233 people had liked the comment making it by far the most liked comment your father had written in the 2014. Your father had been responding to speculation that the show’s creators, Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, had to stick with the ending that they filmed with the actors that played Ted’s children when they were teenagers several years ago. The actors had obviously aged and didn’t look like they did nine years ago.

My simple point was that Bays and Thomas didn’t have to stick with the ending that they planned out years ago. Had the producers wanted to choose a different ending, they certainly had it in their power to do so.

But they didn’t.

In interviews after the show, Bays and Thomas have said the ending was what they had envisioned all along.

Although Bays and Thomas had set their course several years ago, their vision of the destination was unsatisfying given the direction the show actually took. One can set out with a destination in mind, but the goal can change based on the actual journey.

The journey of “How I Met Your Mother,” especially in the early years, had a strong focus on Ted and the woman he would ultimately end up with. As the years progressed, that relationship ended and future stories focused on other relationships Ted was seeking or other hi-jinks involving the rest of the group.

The earlier relationship was still a component of the series, but it didn’t seem like a primary focus despite some fans wanting the two characters to get together. I was satisfied from a line from the very first episode where Ted said this woman wasn’t the mother.

From that very first episode to the last season, I had bought into the premise that the show was about Ted meeting the mother.

Practically every aspect of the show, up until the final five minutes of the series, had been pointed in that direction and I would’ve liked to see the series end with a happy or satisfying resolution along those lines.

However unsatisfied I may be with the ending, I can respect the creators’ decision to end the show as they feel fit. I didn’t feel they had to be constrained by the ending they filed years ago, and it doesn’t seem like they were.

And that kids, is how I met mango habanero chicken wings. Oh, but the place closed so I went back to Chipotle after a respectful mourning period.

The end.

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Racing home to the Mexican National Anthem

While one can’t go home again, sometimes it’s nice to visit. My semi-annual return to Southern California this week was filled with great time with family, seeking out new experiences and reliving fond memories. Turning on the radio on my way home from the train station tonight sent me back to my college years, more than 14 years past.

I first tuned into KPBS, but after a minute of their evening classical programming, I spun the proverbial dial to 91X (XETRA 91.1). The last few minutes of their “Loudspeaker” program reminded me of San Diego’s local music scene, which I only was able to sample briefly after college before I moved away. I was a little surprised to hear what sounded like profanity during one of the songs, but I quickly reminded myself that 91X broadcasts from Tijuana into San Diego.

I was served another reminder of 91X’s cross-border origin when the disc jockey announced that regular programming would be interrupted for “The Mexican National Hour,” which typically airs on Sunday evenings.

I was surprised by what I heard. The Spanish-language “La Hora Nacional” sounded much better than it did 15 years ago. Back in the day, the show sounded like it was initially recorded in an empty gym and relayed to local station via shortwave before it was played back on 91X on a shoddy, beat-up tape. It sounded echo-y and awful, and I would quickly turn to another channel until the alternative music returned (or “Loveline,” but that was a different time).

Although I was only able to understand a portion of the show (show archive), the current “La Hora Nacional” sounded reasonably entertaining (for a 77-year-old government-produced program geared to promote national unity among other things). It featured an upbeat set of hosts discussing a variety of topics. It is something I may seek out and listen to later.

Hearing “La Hora Nacional” brought back other memories of listening to 91X in college. After studying late at the library, I would often be on the road home at midnight when the station was obligated to play the Mexican National Anthem (conveniently and simply named “Himno Nacional Mexicano”). I don’t why the station chose the version it did, but they would play an instrumental version of the song that lasted about four minutes. One of the TV stations broadcast a version that featured children singing, but the radio version was about four minutes of the anthem melody repeating over and over until you thought it was finished and then it would repeat a couple more times.

The song isn’t quite an earworm, but it was fascinating listening to it to see how many times the melody would repeat. It also became a bit of a challenge for me to see how far I could drive while the anthem played. I joked I could get home without speeding in the time it took for the song to play, but I never made it.

Since I moved away from San Diego, I would occasionally try to tune in for the Mexican National Anthem, but 91X only plays it over the air and not on their Internet streams. I was finally able to tune in for the nightly event about a year ago, but it was a bit different and shorter than in years past.

As someone who has loved radio for decades, I get a kick out of the tradition of U.S. stations playing a patriotic song as they signed off, or signed on, for the day. It is something that has definitely gone by the wayside (unless you’re Adult Swim and air an off-kilter sign-off).

While U.S. stations moved away from the sign-off tradition, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. still started and ended its broadcast day with “O Canada,” during the years I lived in Michigan. The CBC has since started broadcasting around the clock, so it too has ended this tradition.

The version of “O Canada” that I saw was an elaborate production with a bold orchestral arrangement of the song set against a wide array of images evoking the Great White North and its diverse population (YouTube video posted by eastest566). It’s something I still enjoy seeing and listening to years later — even the cheesy prelude segment about how essential the CBC is.

In the years since I’ve become a volunteer DJ, I taken to keeping the tradition alive in a small way. Since my weekly program ends at midnight, I nearly always end with a jazzy performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” I certainly don’t do the specific jargon one uses when actually ending the broadcasting day (because I’m not), but I like to end with Duke Ellington’s take on the National Anthem although I sometimes switch to versions by Bonerama or Branford Marsalis and Bruce Hornsby.

Who knows? Maybe there’s someone in a car listening to my show trying to see how far they can get by the time the song’s over.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe inspiration will hit me in time for Halloween 2015.

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Sacramento may need lessons on cheering

A view of Power Balance Arena during the Portland Trail Blazers - Sacramento Kings game on April 15, 2012, in Sacramento, Calif.

A view of Power Balance Arena during the Portland Trail Blazers – Sacramento Kings game on April 15, 2012, in Sacramento, Calif.

These are exciting times for Sacramento, with the plans for a new Kings basketball arena moving forward and the attendance-record-shattering launch of a new minor league soccer team. After attending a Sacramento River Cats game over the weekend, I can see a huge area for improvement — Sacramento needs to learn how to cheer better.

I first spotted this shortcoming when I attended a Sacramento Kings game on April 15, 2012. There was pretty decent turnout for a game that didn’t matter too much (the Kings were well out of contention by that point).

However, the only cheer that had any traction was the ol’ “DE! FENSE! *clap, clap.*” The team and fans would crank up that cheer every time the Kings were on defense.

As I noted to a friend in attendance, the cheer got pretty old early in the third quarter. When you yell “defense” every time your team is on defense, you’re going to be shouting it for half the game — about 24 minutes of game time.

It was ridiculous and there seemed to be little enthusiasm for other cheers. By the end of the game, I tried shouting other cheers or jokingly use other words in the rhythm of the defense cheer.

A large crowd watches the Sacramento River Cats take on the Las Vegas 51s in minor league baseball on Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, in West Sacramento, Calif.

A large crowd watches the Sacramento River Cats take on the Las Vegas 51s in a minor league baseball game on Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, in West Sacramento, Calif.

There wasn’t a lot of spontaneity at last Saturday’s River Cats game against the Las Vegas 51s. There was another large crowd with a great family atmosphere at Raley Field in West Sacramento. Once again, there was an odd lack of cheering.

Yes, the crowd generally clapped along with the PA system prompts and celebrated the on-field performance. They even briefly broke into The Wave, although the stadium doesn’t have seating around the field.

However, there wasn’t a lot of clapping, chanting or cheering during at-bats. After watching Oakland A’s fans clapping for potential strikeouts earlier Saturday, I was struck by how quiet this Sacramento crowd was.

As I usually do, I shouted out my own positive encouragements during some at-bats (I was ecstatic at the coincidence that the River Cats batter usually put the ball in play after I started a cheer). The crowd seemed very laid back, although there was some amusement and laughter when one of my later cheers for “Sac-ra-men-to” degenerated into a Muppet-esque “Aaaaaaaaah!”

In a slightly ironic moment, I started the “Defense” cheer in the ninth inning when the River Cats were struggling. They needed two outs, but had given up three runs. Moments after I started the cheer, the 51s player batted into a double play and the game was over.

I don’t know who could do it, but someone should offer to help revitalize cheering and chanting during Sacramento games. The River Cats had a green crew that tried to lead some cheers as they collected trash, but they moved elsewhere in the stadium before building any momentum.

I would generally support anyone or anything that helps get the crowd into the game without resorting to insults or derogatory language. Supporters groups or pep bands can add a lot of energy to a crowd experience, but I’ve also seen situations where the band or group drowns everyone else out and makes it hard to get the fans engaged.

I’ll admit that my experience going to Sacramento sporting events is limited, but I certainly hope these two games are not typical of the game atmosphere. Sacramento has a great fan base — as shown by the recent fight to keep the Kings in the city. I hope there is an effort to make sure that enthusiasm consistently shows up at games.

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The night I nearly tripped over Tony Gwynn

A mourner looks up at the Tony Gwynn "Mr. Padre" statue outside Petco Park Monday, June 16, 2014, in San Diego. Gwynn, an eight time National League batting champion and a member of Baseball Hall of Fame, died Monday from cancer. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

I’m still in shock that Tony Gwynn has died. He was one of those icons you thought would live for decades, sort of like fellow slugger Ted Williams, but Gwynn left us at age 54 after battling salivary-gland cancer. Gwynn’s presence loomed large over baseball and San Diego, yet he seemed like one of the nicest, most relatable people around.

That was certainly true one day late in the 1997 season when I almost tripped over him.

It was the San Diego Padres’ last homestand of the season. I was working as co-news editor of the UCSD Guardian when we heard Chancellor Robert Dynes was going to throw out the first pitch that night (IIRC, it would’ve been the Wednesday, Sept. 17 game against the Colorado Rockies).

We thought it would make for a decent photo, but our photo editor had other assignments. We were on deadline, but I called for a press pass and headed for Qualcomm Stadium after grabbing a camera.

By the time I found parking (in the VIP area!) and got into the stadium, I was starting to run a bit late. After riding in a cramped and creaky old elevator to field level, I jogged down the tunnel toward the field where I was directed.

As I made my way through the cold, grey corridor, I started going a bit faster before I realized the tunnel had a slight downward slope.

I was going faster, faster and then I suddenly saw a player sitting on the floor, lacing up his shoes. If I didn’t do something, I would’ve crashed into him. I felt I couldn’t stop safely so I kind of skip-hopped to the right.

As I passed him, I heard a kind voice saying something like, “Woah, slow down there buddy” with a little chuckle.

It was Tony Gwynn.

I’m pretty sure it was him, although I passed by in a blur. I shouted out “Sorry, sir” and continued toward the field. I was able to get to the photographers’ area near the dugout with just a few moments to spare before Dynes threw out the first pitch (with three other people — it was Community Day or something).

The photo didn’t run — it was double-exposed somehow.

As I’ve retold the story over the years, I’m deeply thankful that I didn’t run into him. I would’ve been horrified if Gwynn was somehow injured because of my actions. Also, in hindsight, I appreciated his polite response, other people may have not reacted so well to such an interruption.

That was my only near-encounter with Gwynn. It would’ve been great to have known him better and to share some firsthand encounters like Keith Olbermann (video).

At the same time, nearly every San Diegan who was around during Gwynn’s 20-year career knew him in some fashion and his death leaves a hole in the city’s psyche. Even when the Padres were in the dumps (as they were in 1997), San Diegans could always look to Tony Gwynn — I had to check, but he won his final of eight National League batting titles in 1997.

After Gwynn retired, he remained a fixture of the San Diego community, coaching the San Diego State University baseball team. He was also a subtle, yet well-regarded presence in the north San Diego County city of Poway where he lived (one of my sisters has stories of trick-or-treating at his house).

To be sure, Gwynn was a great baseball player and one of the greatest hitters of all time. When I look back, I’ll recall those performances and remember his dedication, persistence and enthusiasm at both sport and life.

R.I.P., Tony.

Cover photo: In this July 29, 2007 file photo, Tony Gwynn holds his National Baseball Hall of Fame plaque during induction ceremonies in Cooperstown, N.Y. Gwynn, the Hall of Famer with a sweet left-handed swing who spent his entire 20-year career with the Padres and was one of San Diego’s most beloved athletes, died of cancer Monday, June 16, 2014. He was 54. (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File)

Photo 2: A mourner looks up at the Tony Gwynn “Mr. Padre” statue outside Petco Park on Monday, June 16, 2014, in San Diego. Gwynn, an eight-time National League batting champion and a member of Baseball Hall of Fame, died Monday from cancer. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

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Taste Test: Sierra Nevada Nooner Session IPA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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