Sunday, May 31, 2009

A prescription for what ails you...

This is a Prescription Pale Ale from the Magnolia Gastropub & Brewery. More on this Haight-Ashbury (Hashbury), San Francisco, institution soon.

Days of Future Passed for Starbucks...

Back in 2007, Loews Hotels Chairman and CEO Jonathan M. Tisch wrote a book entitled Chocolates on the Pillow Aren't Enough; which, by the way, has just been re-released in paperback. This 256-page book ended with 9 pages dealing specifically with Starbucks (Starbucks and the Tricky Art of Brand Extension). A lot of what Tisch said in these nine pages seemed to foretell the 'Bucks' current troubled existence.

Let's look at a few brief excerpts showing what Tisch wrote and thought then about SBUX' soon-to-arrive-future (the final italicized comment is my own)...

You (can't) simply tack on new offerings to your exiting menu and assume they will delight customers. Goods and services that don't fit your organization's existing mission may confuse customers and end up weakening instead of enhancing your brand.

... it's obvious that there are limits to the number of Starbucks outlets... the world can support.

CEO (Howard) Schultz has always maintained that Starbucks is not about coffee.

(According to) Geoffrey Moore, a partner at the venture-capital firm of Mehr, Davidow... (he) calls the (Starbucks entry into) the music (selling) foray, "a very interesting experiment. If I was on (Starbucks) board of directors, I'd be more concerned that they not corrupt the brand... If Starbucks is just trying to monetize the traffic that comes through, this is a bad idea. At some point, the customers will start to feel abused.

As Starbucks has discovered, it's wise to expect... mistakes when exploring new customer offerings. Joe, Slate and book sales have all proved to be disappointing for Starbucks, while CD sales are struggling to take off.

Starbucks coffee shops have (been successful in) pulling customers off the street for a brief break (for coffee). Can the same formula be applied to the very different market for music CDs? Don't assume that the delivery system you've honed for one product... will automatically work for another.

In the end, it is the customers who will decide whether expanding Starbucks into a music business is "not inconsistent" [to use Schultz' words] with the company's... brand image. What will they decide? Stay tuned. - 30 -

Today, I've decided to head to Peet's Coffee for a bold one!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Coming up next...

We'll look at what a big business CEO wrote in 2007 about the future of Starbucks' business model. Very interesting...

Nobody Move: A look at a new novel from a National Book Award winner

Here's what several well-placed sources have said about author Denis Johnson's new novel Nobody Move.

The Washington Post by Sarah Weinman
A Leading Literary Light Goes on a Crime Spree

It may seem odd that Denis Johnson has followed up on his National Book Award-winning Tree of Smoke, a sprawling novel about the Vietnam War, with its diametric opposite, a slim, blackly comic crime tale reminiscent of those published by Fawcett Gold Medal half a century ago. But John Banville made a similar move when he adopted the name Benjamin Black for his crime novels after he won the Booker Prize; Kate Atkinson refashioned her voice within the detective fiction template; and for each the change fits like a sleek leather glove. The same can't be said of Johnson, but, like his literary colleagues in crime, he displays a wicked sense of fun.

Johnson originally wrote Nobody Move for serialization in Playboy last year, which explains the narrative four-part arc of cons, scams, grifts and guns. Jimmy Luntz, an occasional barbershop quintent singer, is a small-time hood with "a Santa Anita sheet folded up in the pocket of his blinding white tux," still feeling the itch to bet despite constant disappointment. Anita Desilvera is the embodiment of the femme fatale, ready to play her trump card -- an embezzled stash of $2.3 million -- after becoming "a vagrant, a felon and a future divorcee" in a single morning. Among those zigzagging through Bakersfield looking for the money are Anita's soon-to-be-ex, a crooked judge and Jimmy, whose collision course with her sets up for a cascading-domino sequence of violence.

The brevity of this novel limits Johnson's scope, but he still has room for zinger (like a character who gets "thirty percent drunk"); observations of human nature (Anita: "Do you always talk about people like they're invisible?" Jimmy: "Usually just women"); and an extended gunfire sequence that plays like an outtake from Tree of Smoke. Nobody Move does not rank as a major work, but enjoy it for what it is: an idiosyncratic journey through familiar terrain.

Publishers Weekly

With its crackling dialogue and mercilessly bleak worldview, this stark and darkly funny chronicle of a four-way race to the bottom is a testament to Johnson's sublime sympathy for lowlifes.

Booklist by Keir Graff

Readers won't know who will win -- Will it be the ballsy gambler or the psycho...? Indeed, they may not even know who they're rooting for. But getting there is all the fun, with dry dialogue and surprising turns of phrase all adding up to something that seems both fresh and inevitable.

USA Today by Bob Minzesheimer

And now for something completely different... Nobody Move is a hard-boiled, modern shoot-em-up in which nobody's hands are clean but everyone gets great lines. Set in grittiest California, it involves a complicated embezzlement scheme. The real attractions are the dialogue and the writing. One character "wasn't wearing a Hawaiian shirt at the moment but undoubtedly possessed several."

A Nice New Travel Blog from USA Today...

USA Today has a relatively new (three months old) website-blog-online community called Hotel Check-In. This is said to be "A Road Warrior's Guide to the Lodging Landscape" and is hosted by business travel reporter Barbara De Lollis. The site includes news, interviews with lodging CEO's - sometimes inviting questions from actual road warriors like you and me - news on frequent traveler and loyalty programs, advice and just interesting tidbits.

Here's a sample De Lollis post from April 13, 2009 (first seen in PC Today):

Hotel Guests: Where's my newspaper?

Some of you have already complained to me and my colleagues about how it's getting less common to find a USA Today or other newspaper outside your room in the morning. Hotels have recently started buying fewer papers, and in some cases, placing them near elevators instead of in front of doors for the earliest risers. And now, Marriott International said it's going to end automatic paper delivery to its rooms, citing a drop in guest demand.

It's not all bad news for newspaper junkies who stay at Marriotts. Guests at full-service hotels such as Marriott and J.W. Marriott (have) a choice between USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, a local paper or no paper. Starting April 20, guests at Marriott's less-expensive chains such as Fairfield Inn and Courtyard will be able to grab free papers in lobbies. And Marriott's loyalty club members [members of Marriott Rewards] can still receive their preferred paper automatically by updating their online profiles.

Commenting on my Twitter call for reaction, travel analyst Henry Harteveldt of Forrester Research says he likes the idea of having more papers to choose from. "This won't get Marriott any new market share," he tweeted, "but it should help improve customer satisfaction."

And don't forget to travel to our Twitter site:

Friday, May 29, 2009

Running through the recession...

Is running the perfect activity for lean times? Click on the orange link, below, to read an article on running as a way to handle the stresses and strains of hard economic times:

Photo: flickr (super-structure)

Google continues to innovate...

We all know that Google is a great search engine, and it is far and away the most used search engine. So it is good to see that the company is engaging in some positive employee retention practices as noted in this article by Scott Morrison (abridged here) from the Wall Street Journal of May 19, 2009.

Concerned a brain drain could hurt its long-term ability to complete, Google Inc., is tacking the problem with its typical tool: an algorithm.

The Internet search giant recently began crunching data from employee reviews and promotion and pay histories in a mathematical formula Google says can identify which of its 20,000 employees are most likely to quit.

Google officials are reluctant to share details of the formula, which is still being tested. The inputs include information from surveys and peer reviews, and Google says the algorithm already has identified employees who felt underused, a key complaint among those who contemplate leaving.

Applying a complex equation to a basic human-resource problem is pure Google, a company that made using heavy data to drive decisions one of its "Ten Golden Rules."

Edward Lawler, director of the Center for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California, said Google is one of a few companies that are early in taking a more quantitative approach to personnel decisions. "They are clearly ahead of the curve..." Mr. Lawler said.

The move is one of a series Google has made to prevent its most promising engineers, designers and sales executives from leaving at a time when its once-powerful draws are diluted by its growing size. The data crunching supplements more traditional measures like employee training and leadership meetings to evaluate talent.

Google's algorithm helps the company "get inside people's heads even before they know they might leave," said Lazlo Bock, who runs human resources for the company.

Concerns about a talent exodus have revived in recent weeks amid the departures of top executives. Meanwhile, midlevel employees continue to decamp to hot start-ups like Facebook Inc. and Twitter.

Current and former Googlers said the company is losing talent because some employees feel they can't make the same impact as the company matures. Google spokesman Matt Furman said the chance to contribute to "constant and often amazing innovation" keeps employees engaged. The company is determined to retain top product managers and engineers.

If you would like to see this article in its original length and format:

Photo: flicker (keso)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

If you don't feel hungry yet...

You may after reading this article - click on the orange link below to do so - from The Daily Trojan, USC, May 28, 2009. Courtesy of USC News; photo courtesy of La Grande Orange.

If you like Bright Eyes...

If you like - or love - the band Bright Eyes, you may well be interested in this review of the new CD Outer South by Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band. Written by Chris Holehouse of The Epic Times.

Conor Oberst knows how to tell a story. The Midwest native and front man for the band Bright Eyes, also has quite the knack for casting his poetic hymns across a great melody. Enlisting the help of the Mystic Valley Band, Oberst and friends venture into some interesting musical territory on "Outer South," a soothing ride through an acoustic countryside, brimmed with ample twang and polish.

"Potential, you're a loaded line," opens the 29-year-old indie songwriter in "Slowly (Oh So Slowly)," a rock-enthused number that mixes rowdy with playful and features Oberst's patented metaphor-doused reflection.

Potential may seem like a dismissible idea to Oberst, who's 10-plus years ascent to stardom has been seemless, granting him showers of praise and Bob Dylan comparisons, and winning him Rolling Stone's Top Songwriter award in 2008. But on "Outer South," we see Oberst sidestepping the reigns and letting band mates Nik Freitas, Taylor Hollingsworth, and Jason Boesel sew their vocal seed.

"Big Black Nothing" features a haunted Freitas sporting his Tom Petty camouflage in a tension-mounting groove that seeps into Hollingsworth's tongue in cheek, "Air Mattress," an innocent plea with spunky synths that Elvis Costello could call his own.

Still, the tracks where Oberst does take the vocal lead tend to dwarf his collaborators throughout the disc. While it's not totally apparent who wrote which songs, Oberst's magical ability to transcend intimacy and sing as if he was in the flesh and not echoing through a speaker ("White Shoes," "Ten Women") is what truly brings weight to all the Dylan comparisons and makes "Outer South" memorable.

"To All the Lights in the Windows" takes props from R.E.M.'s "Bang and Blame," but it's not a bad thing.

Outside of just a few different cuts, "Outer South" actually keeps Oberst's usual plaintive melodies on the down low and marches toward a more optimistic appeal. With a blend of different vocalists and six contributing members, The Mystic Valley Band sit well next to Oberst and help him chisel another accomplished notch on his songwriting belt.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Twitter means foodies flying in for great food...!

The following article by Shaya Tayefe Mohajer (abridged here) was originally entitled, "When Twitter and foodies collide: Fans flocking to Internet-savvy good trucks," and published in The Stockton Record on May 20, 2009.

For some foodies, tweets lead to great eats. Twitter recently became the communique of choice for the almost cultishly popular Kogi BBQ trucks, roving Korean-style taco vendors in Los Angeles that use the 140-character, cell-phone friendly missives to alert customers to their whereabouts and menu items.

And the trend is spreading to other wheel meals as more food trucks - a fast-growing food phenomenon in major cities, especially in the West - are using the social networking site to draw customers.

While it's not clear which truck tweeted first, the Kogi folks have shown themselves to be adept at turning these mini missives into a hugely successful marketing machine, says Jane Goldman, editor-in-chief of Chow Magazine.

"Kogi special at the trucks and the Alibi! Grilled asparagus with Yellow Nectarines and Sesame Seeds!" read one recent Kogi tweet.

The decision to Twitter was a practical one, says Kogi brand manager Mike Prasad. He says Kogi - which has become famous for its Korean-Mexican fusion - needed a way to inspire repeat business while solving "the problems of being a moveable venue." "Twitter... (is) separate from the venue itself (and) creates a virtual home," says Prasad. "It was perfect."

Kogi's food is cheap and unique, but there's another payoff to securing this moving meal, the thrill of the chase. Since Kogi's launch in November, hungry herds have been following the pair of white trucks that rove the city selling tacos, burritos and other gourmet tidbits steeped in traditional Korean flavors.

In short order, the Kogi name has become recognizable to foodies around the country. No small accomplishment for a pair of taco trucks, says Kate Krader, restaurant editor for Food & Wine magazine. "That's 90 percent thanks to Twitter."

And she thinks the success of food truck Tweets likely will inspire a broader use of Twitter across the food world. "Chefs will be tweeting from the farmers market about the mushrooms they just picked up and will be part of their mushroom pasta that evening," she says.

Elsewhere, it's the diners who are Twittering about truck food. In Portland, Ore. - home to food carts offering dishes from Bosnia, Iraq, Peru, Thailand and many points between - fans use the high tech tool to track the low-tech vendors. Portland Twitter users, such as PDX Foodcarts, track the arrival of new trucks, which have exploded from just a few in 2006 to more than 170 this year, representing 24 national cuisines.

"OK, Poompui, a new Thai food care on 8th and Couch is PHENOMENAL," read a recent tweet by PDXfoodcarts. "Like Thai food in Thailand. GO, JUST GO."

Photo: Matt Sayles, AP

Next: Are you a fan of Bright Eyes?

Ladies of the Canyon: A Review of the book Girls Like Us

Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and the Journey of a Generation by Sheila Weller

This is, quite simply, a fabulous book about the careers of three key singer-songwriter-musicians of the '60s and '70s and beyond; and the three just happened to be women. There was a big surprise for me in the reading, as I had read earlier that author Weller interviewed both Carly Simon and Carole King. She did not have the opportunity to directly interact with Joni Mitchell.

Based on this, I fully expected this to be a book strong in details about Carly and Carole, and weak on information about Joni. This was not the case... As someone else said, Weller spoke to virtually every musician, friend and intimate in Joni's life and it shows!

The next surprise is that I was sure the tales of Carly and Joni would sizzle like steak fajitas, while Carole's life story would sit to the side like a bland order of re-fried beans. Instead, both Joni and Carole come off as fascinating early hippie-earth mothers, who happened to be blessed with both tremendous intelligence and natural musical skills. (Despite my initial doubts, Weller fully and effectively makes the case for Carole's stature in modern rock and music history.)

Carly, sadly, comes off as a patrician - daughter of the extremely wealthy founder of Simon and Schuster - who married a fellow patrician. This, of course, was James Taylor, whose father ran the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. "James was a... lifelong-privilege man."

Here, Carly's career appears to be a product of social connections, luck (she was often said to be the least talented of the singing Simon Sisters trio) and blatant use of her long-legged sex appeal. "(There was) a sex-teasing leitmotif in every one of Carly's early albums."

Also, a lot of Carly's story is devoted to James' drug use and abuse; a topic that simply does not make for interesting reading. The days of wine and roses, this is not. Concerning Carly's patrician status, Jac Holzman, founder and president of Electra Records said that he and the singer "were from similar backgrounds - haute Jewish New York, although she was certainly more Brahmin."

Further, Weller notes that Stephen Holden of Rolling Stone wrote of Carly with-faint-praise-turned-full: "She has the whitest of white voices and uses it well, singing... with her faultless enunciation. Her almost literal note-for-note phrasing of songs is... ingenuous."

Weller has to be given props for finding the fascinating details you won't find in other musician/band bios. I'll provide just one example here... Weller writes of a young man who cleaned apartments in the Bronx in return for using the occupants' pianos. While most immigrant families managed to scrimp and save enough to purchase a piano, this young Italian immigrant's family was just too poor to do so. We came to know him as Bobby Darin, and one of the tenement flats he regularly cleaned belonged to the parents of a young woman who came to be called Connie Francis!

Weller may not be quite as talented when it comes to describing the turbulent culture and times of the '60s and '70s, but then this is still a rock and folk-music tale after all and not a pure historical overview. All in all, this is a fabulous read that adds heft to the musical reputations of Joni Mitchell and Carole King, as it somewhat dilutes the career of one Carly Simon.

Images: Amazon, Powell's Books.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Who is this?

This is the fabulous Havanese super-puppy, Stella. You can follow her adventures at This is the blog for Lexi the notoriously cool Maine Coon cat, who shares her blogging space with both the San Francisco-based human being Pook and the super-pup Stella.

(Click on the photo to see a larger version.)

A Tribute to Joni...

The actress Edie Falco, formerly the female lead of The Sopranos, said this about Joni Mitchell:

"I'm an old-school, embarrassing Joni Mitchell fan. Her music made a hook in my soul and hasn't let go for all these years. I even sing her songs as lullabies to my (two) kids. All I want for them as they're falling asleep is to be complete in the knowledge of the love I have for them. And one of the surest things I know is my own love for Joni Mitchell. It seems to somehow connect me to the love I now have for my own children."

Add this post-script from novelist-essayist Meghan Daum:

"If there's anything I've learned from listening to Joni over the years, it's that if you don't write from a place of excruciating candor, you've written nothing."

Monday, May 25, 2009

A preview of a coming attraction...

Oh, wait, this Los Angeles Times advertisement is from May 20, 1959!

Michelob's Two Premium Wheats: which is better?

Shock Top Belgian White

"Unfiltered Belgian-style wheat ale brewed with orange, lemon and lime peels and corleander... naturally cloudy with a light golden color."

When poured, this bright yellow-gold ale looks like Heineken. Medium-bodied with a smooth citrus taste... Its original title was perhaps a more accurate one, Spring Heat Spiced Wheat.

Summary: This is a great lager-like ale that will mix well with burgers and chicken on the backyard grill.

5.2% ABV

Hop Hound Amber Wheat

"Unfiltered American amber wheat ale brewed with a blend of imported and domestic hops for a balanced... citrus hop aroma and caramel, malty, taste."

This Spring seasonal ale is medium-bodied but it looks and tastes like an eight-tenths scale version of Gordon Biersch's Marzen lager.

Summary: This is a very, very good ale but it is just not quite good enough to match Gordon Biersch's brewed-in-San-Jose Marzen lager. I'll buy it again if I can find it at a savings of $1.00 to $2.00 over the Gordon Biersch Marzen; if not, I'll find the way to San Jose.

5.3% ABV

The win goes to Shock Top Belgian White this round, but don't try to match up these big brewer premium ales against the best from craft brewers like Gordon Biersch, Pyramid, Sudwerk, Rubicon Brewing Company, Redhook Ale Brewery, New Belgian Brewing or Oregon's Deschutes Brewery.

See also:

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Ghosts - a song by Mark Geary

When I laid in the sand I thought about you
When you laid in the sand you said you saw
I don't know how much time we're given
Am I fighting for your fight to fail?

And then just after you left the dream was broken
Just your shape in the sand
No words were needed
I don't know how much time we're given
Fighting for your fight to fail

When you're driving your boats
And you're waiving me in
Run around with your ghosts
Who're perpetually grinning
No, god only knows if you're calling me

And I played in a band
And I thought about you
You said you'd lend me a hand
When you felt you could
I don't know how much time we're given
Fighting fire right to fill?

You're just a nail on a cross
With a call coming in now
Dividing your highs and lows
But you won't let me in
You know god only knows if you're calling me home
When you're driving your boats
And you're waving me in
Run around with your ghosts
Who're perpetually sinning
God only knows if you're calling me home

Photo: flickr (Scott M Duncan)

Note: The song Ghosts by Mark Geary is included on the Hear Music CD, This is Us. See our earlier review of This... at:

Sacramento's Boon Boon Cafe is a leader looking for a following...

Click on the orange link below to read this restaurant review from The Sacramento Bee:

A leader looking for a following - Dining -

Posted using ShareThis

The glory of Kitchenette, San Francisco...

Kitchenette of San Francisco is a unique type of restaurant. Here's a recent write-up by Amanda Gold of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Kitchenette:: The Dogpatch neighborhood is largely defined by industrial warehouses and storage garages, and based on its facade, Kitchenette fits right in.

At this space in the American Industrial Center, however, you'll find a gaggle of hungry lunch patrons sitting on benches out front. Some are waiting for food to come out of the open door a few steps above the street; others have already dug into the lunch boxes on their laps.

This out-of-the-way gem is the brainchild of a group of chefs who boast impressive pedigrees - think Chez Panisse, Incanto, Foreign Cinema and Betelnut, among others. Their daily-changing, street-food-inspired menu is posted online, or you can follow them on Twitter, where they post the daily menu.

On any given day, look for items like Korean pork tacos, Fatted Calf knockwurst on an Acme roll, pan bagnat or spring chopped salads (prices range from about $5 - $10). 4505's spicy chicarrones ($3), freshly bakes cookies ($0.50-$1) and one drink - a strawberry rhubarb refresher ($2), for example - are available for purchase to round out the meal.

Get there early for a guaranteed lunch - with just one or two main items each day, you're out of luck once the food runs out.

Vitals: 958 Illinois St. (near 20th Street), 11:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. (or until food runs out) weekdays. No alcohol. Cash only.

And don't forget to follow us at:

Photo: yelp!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Zooey Deschanel's Big Role...

Zooey Deschanel is the "she" of the rock group She & Him, the younger sister of Emily Deschanel of the TV show Bones, and a movie actress. On Friday, July 24, 2009, the movie 500 Days of Summer will be released in which Zooey has the lead female role. Early reviewers are also raving about the rock music soundtrack to this film!

The following abridged review and preview of the film is by Alex Billington, from the website

There was a magical feeling in the air when I sat down in Eccles to watch the world premiere of Marc Webb's 500 Days of Summer. As the lights dimmed, a chill went down my spine, as I somehow knew I was about to watch a phenomenal film. There are always outstanding indie films like this at Sundance every year, but it's even more amazing to set high expectations (and) have them still be surpassed. 500 Days of Summer did just that - it took everything I was hoping this would be and gave me so much more. Unless something comes along by surprise in the next few days, this will easily be my favorite film of the festival.

500 Days of Summer is not a love story. If anything, it's more than just a love story, it's a look at life and love told in an offbeat way that remarkably we can all inherently understand. This is a story about a woman named Summer (Zooey Deschanel) who doesn't believe true love exists, and the young man named Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who falls for her. Webb fragments the 500 days that Tom and Summer spend together by showing us pieces at a time, out of order, and using title cards to identify which day (out of 500) it is we're seeing. It starts at end, jumps to the beginning, then shows us nearly every moment in between.

I thought I had seen everything in the way of relationship comedies, but obviously not. It's an immense challenge to be able to make a new indie comedy that succeeds past the numerous classics in the genre, but the script did push those boundaries. It's (director) Marc Webb's wonderful shooting style and his use of the greatest music selection I've heard in the last 12 months that gives 500 Days of Summer the edge it needs to stand out. There are so many wonderful moments in 500 Days, that it is truly impossible not to fall in love with it.

There was a moment where the music switched to a score instead of a pop rock track and the laughter had settled. And I sat there, awe-struck, realizing that it had flawlessly floated across the line between being a light-hearted comedy and a sensible and emotional romance... As the scene continued and just as tears began to well up in my eyes, it picked up with some humor. It's that impeccable mesh of laugh-out-loud comedy and utterly realistic storytelling that made this the film that I've come to love the most at Sundance. 500 Days of Summer is a wonderful, must see, authentic indie gem.

Sundance Rating: 10 out of 10

Just a beautiful photograph...

Of Ocean Beach, San Francisco.

Friday, May 22, 2009

You read it here first - Green Day will play Sacramento!

That's right, we have this music news flash for you... Green Day will play at Arco Arena in Sacramento, with or without Wal-Mart's approval, on the evening of Monday, August 24, 2009.

Put it on your calendar now!

A BIG Brewer Goes Small...

Anheuser-Busch (A-B) seems to have learned from the local, premium, craft brewers. And the company has, at least in part, adopted the philosophy that if you can't beat them, join them. Which explains why although Redhook Ale Brewery of Seattle, Washington remains independent, its products are distributed far and wide by Anheuser-Busch, Incorporated. It is perhaps the lessons learned from this type of cooperation that has prompted A-B, under the Michelob label, to come out with some new premium-type (small label) beers. We'll look at two of them here...

Amber Bock

Dark like a rich, bold, coffee; makes promises... "This dark mahogany lager has a rich, nutty, aroma. An American Bock-style lager brewed with three unique malts including roasted and caramel specialty malts." Ah, but the promises are not kept, as this dark beer is pretty much tasteless.

Summary: Looks good, tastes like nothing. 5.2% ABV. Not a challenge to Gordon Biersch's fine Marzen lager.

Original Lager

"First brewed in 1896 as the beer for beer connoisseurs. It was available only in draught form and only at select locations, including The Michelob Tavern in St. Louis. ...(an) exceptional Munich-style lager." Multiple hops combined with two-row barley malt.

On first taste, I thought of a great lager that was only sold nationally (or at least on the west coast) for a short period of time, Coors Extra Gold lager.

Summary: This is simply a very good lager - light, snappy, tart and almost Heineken-lemony. A perfect beer for a summer barbeque whether on Memorial Day or any other sunny day. 5.0% ABV

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Note from the author of The Findability Formula...

Heather Lutze read our prior post that mentioned her search engine marketing book, The Findability Formula, and reminded us that the related tools site can be found at:

Thank you, Heather!

Lessons for bloggers from a book about search engine marketing...

The Findability Forumula: The Easy, Non-Technical Approach to Search Engine Marketing by Heather Lutze is a book that tells business owners how to set up a successful marketing campaign. And a successful campaign, these days, means having a website that can be found by Google and the other major search engines.

This would not seem, at first, to have much to do with blogging. However, one important lesson pointed out by Lutze is that businesses often make the mistake of focusing on the macro rather than the micro. A seller of TV sets may think it is better to use internet ads with broad keywords (words that will be found by search engines) such as "TV seller" instead of "large screen plasma TVs." But the broader terms often get lost in the back pages of search engine results; and 87% of those using search engines never look past page 3 or 4 of the results!

If I'm looking to buy a large screen plasma TV today, I'm more interested in the second set of keywords and I'd be even more interested in a business with an internet ad using these keywords: "large screen plasma TVs Sacramento Elk Grove." The local Sacramento-Elk Grove business might get less "hits" than a national electronics chain, but it is also going to be found by a local client base. These satisfied clients may well become repeat customers.

Those of us relatively new to blogging often make a similar mistake. Let's see - we think - if I write about music, I'll write about The Beatles because so many people are interested in this topic. Wrong - if I do my blog post on Those Guys may not be found by anyone for 6 or 7 months. It will not only quickly get lost with all the other Fab Four posts, it is likely to show up on no better than page 64 of the Google Blog search results.

So instead of thinking large/macro, let's think smaller and targeted/micro. If I write about Paul McCartney and Badfinger, or George Harrison and Badfinger, I'll have a lot to unique things to say about the relationship between two specific bands (even though one was not nearly as commercially successful). I can write about how Paul wrote their first major hit, about how George produced them and played lead guitar on one of their biggest singles, about how Paul look-alike Joey Molland of Badfinger wrote the "more McCartney than McCartney" screamer Rock of All Ages.

Bang! A lot of very loyal and longtime Badfinger fans are going to find my hypothetical post on their favorite search engine. Each one may tell another fan to go and read my post, and they may often return to my blog site in the future. They might even post a link on their Badfinger fan blogs to my blog.

Best of all, the more they read my posts on their favorite, if smaller-time, band, the more my blog pieces move up in the search results... making them easier to find for future readers.

Again, micro rather than macro, small rather than big. Small Faces rather than Rod Stewart. Badfinger rather than the Beatles. Dave Mason rather than Traffic or Steve Winwood.

One last point, if you write about a BIG subject, what is it that you're going to say that's new that has never been said (or written) before? The answer is probably nothing. But become an expert on a small subject and more than a bit of what you write will seem new and interesting to a lot of curious readers.

Think about this, because I am certainly going to. I, myself - for example - need to get over posting about the mega-band Green Day 'cause everyone else already is doing so. An exaggeration, perhaps, but a needed one!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A word from Billie Joe Armstrong himself...

On the success of the band Green Day: "If we're one of the biggest bands, it's not because we got lucky or are the most talented. The hard work is what I'm most proud of. Nothing comes easy for us."

Speaking of which, this is the 400th post on Troy Bear and nothing comes easy for us, either. Peace, out, until posting number 401.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

We just can't enough of Green Day...

OK, we posted four separate reviews of Bob Dylan's new release, Together Through Life, on this site and just three reviews of Green Day's new CD 21st Century Breakdown... So let's make up for it by looking at some of the best sourced comments on the new album...

Here we go, you should know the tune.

Jim Harrington, San Jose Mercury News

It could take months, maybe years, to know if the band's latest rock-opera can match, or surpass, the success of its Grammy-winning, multi-platinum predecessor, American Idiot (2004), regarded as one of the decade's most important albums.

One hearing of 21st Century Breakdown, however, is all it takes to discover that Green Day has an excellent chance of equaling its earlier work. And more listens, to absorb the 18-track story line, make clear the disc is arguably more impressive than American Idiot.

Uppermost is the quality of the musicianship... Green Day has never sounded better... Armstrong could be the voice of his generation, creating just the right balance between tuneful anguish and comic relief. The Oakland native's biting guitar work is matched blow-for-blow by Dirnt and especially Cook, who is nothing short of explosive.

The story line is just as compelling as American Idiot but more finely crafted.

Dan DeLuca, The Philadelphia Inquirer

What American Idiot first suggested, 21st Century Breakdown confirms: Billie Joe Armstrong is the Pete Townshend of the first decade of the new millennium.

21st Century broadens the musical palette of the band - Like Who? Exactly.

For its ambition, 21st Century Breakdown is a tightly disciplined work that stretches itself while keeping each song sharp and punchy. Plus, the album rocks out with relentless momentum, and is chock-full of grabby, radio-ready pop songs universal enough to stand on their own...

I've been trying to think of American rock bands who command a massive audience, have something to say, and continue to top themselves a decade and a half after making themselves known to the mainstream, and can only come up with one: Green Day.

Todd Martens, Los Angeles Times Pop & Hiss blog

Green Day arguably sounds more potent than ever.

all music

21st Century Breakdown leaves behind the 60s Who fascination for Queen and 70s Who, giving this more than its share of pomp and circumstance.

The band manages to have 21st Century Breakdown work on a grand scale without losing either their punk or pop roots, which makes the album not only a sequel to American Idiot, but its equal.

The Washington Post

21st Century Breakdown is an American Idiot sorta-sequel that's every bit as potent as the original.

Entertainment Weekly

Green Day remains remarkably good at high-blast anthems that burrow directly into the pogo-ing lizard brain id.

Note: To read the complete album review by Jim Harrington of the San Jose Mercury News, go to and see the link posted on May 18, 2009 at 6:21 p.m.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Guide to East Bay Used Book Stores...

This is a link to a very good article from the Tamerlane's Thoughts blog, highlighting used book stores in Oakland, Lafayette and Orinda:

By the way, we still recommend that you stop by Orinda Books - in the Lamorinda region - when you're looking for a brand new book or placing a special order. Ginger will thank you for it!

Photo: flickr (Thomas Hawk)

It goes on

It goes on
by Joseph

No one ever knows
Why they do things
Or what makes sense
And what does not...

But when you grow -
So sadly - you grow up
You need to make your
Own decisions...

You swore you wouldn't be
So judgmental, so tough
So bound into the past
But you hear it in your voice...

Let the next generation
Have their own style, their own fun
Let them mock you,
Let them leave you behind...

Life moves on
I can accept that...
I can move aside
I can bless the young...

They will become what I
Once was, then
They will learn to accept
Their very own voice
They will learn to live their
Very own lives...

They will love their
Lives and accept their limitations
They will love life and not be jealous of
The future they cannot control...

They will no longer
Talk of lessons learned
They will no longer
Spurn the next generation...

They will accept that
Life is a blessing, life is tough,
Life is brutal,
Life is all there is...

It goes on.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

One More Green Day Review, for the road...

We look back a lot on this site to music from earlier times. Lately we've been spending some time looking at one of today's bands, Green Day, which hails from northern California. So let's look at just one more review of 21st Century Breakdown. This review, by Eric Snider, comes from Creative

Review: Green Day's 21st Century Breakdown

It may be a quaint notion in the download era, but I still think of the Album as a distinct artistic statement. Green Day obviously agrees, because 2004's American Idiot was a rock opera and their new one, 21st Century Breakdown, is a 70-minute, three-part cycle.

And therein lies the problem. 21st Century Breakdown, as an artistic statement, is ultimately too much of a good thing. Listening to all 18 songs becomes, at some point, burdensome - an exercise in pop-punk overload.

That the disc is essentially a big slab of agitprop set to catchy hooks and big guitars only compounds the problem. As if the title "Know Your Enemy" wasn't evidence enough, here's a sample lyric: "Bringing on the fury/ The choir infantry / Revolt against the honor to obey."

Angry, alienated sick-and-tired Green Day rail against religion, conformism, complacency, consumerism, media overload, all the usual tropes. Americans are little more than zombies. Did you know, for instance, that according to Green Day, "You're the victim of the system/ You are your own worst enemy"?

Maybe I'm cranky, maybe I've heard it all, but I'm not of a mind to be preached to and berated by Billie Joe Armstrong and his wing men.

If Green Day had filtered their message through some interesting characters or narratives, I might be more receptive, but, as far as Breakdown is concerned, I'll take my bludgeoning from power chords instead of The Message.

And so I turn my attention to the music. When Green Day's Dookie album blew up in 1994, a new genre was coined: pop-punk. Fifteen years on, no one does it better - not even close. The Northern Cali trio can really work wonders with a limited bag of simple chords, crafting them into ever-catchy progressions. They are also superior hook-smiths; Breakdown contains nary a clunker melody.

And to further add to the album's success, Green Day includes several songs that break from the pop-punk mold, or at least stretch it: the piano-driven "Last Night on Earth," a love song (even angry geezer punks take time out for love); "Restless Heart Syndrome," a wistful mid-tempo piece that dials back the guitar and finds Armstrong sliding into a vulnerable falsetto; a few songs - notably "21 Guns" and the closer "See the Lights" - that emphasize the pop over the punk, and take their own cues from '60's titans like The Who and The Beatles.

The title track, which follows a short intro song, is the grandest of all the statements, the theme- and tempo-setter. It forcefully flows through three sections: straight rock, followed by a jiggish, Celtic-inspired romp, capped by an epic, slowed-down coda. Triumphant.

So you might be thinking now: Does this dude like the album or not? Short answer is yes, I do. But here's the qualifier: Listening to any one, two, even three or four songs from 21st Century Breakdown is an absolute treat. But trying to swallow the whole thing tends to trigger my gag reflex.

Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars

The tail of Ginger, the bookstore cat...

Earlier we told you about Orinda Books, the Munchy-certified bookstore in Orinda, California. In our review of the store, you saw the photographs of Ginger, the working cat. Some have wondered how Ginger came to be the official greeter at this bookstore, so she has given us permission to tell her true tail.

Once upon a time, in a land known as the East Bay, a book store in Orinda had no official greeter cat. Oh, at one time it did and the big black cat known as Fish did a great job until he went to Cat Heaven. So a year passed by with this key position left vacant...

Then one lucky day, as Dennis of Orinda Books (OB) left his early morning BART train he heard a kitten crying. Being a wise person, Dennis climbed over tall obstacles, found the kitty, and brought her to OB. She was all of five weeks young, with a collar and bell, but no name tag.

In less than a nanosecond, no-name kitty decided to make the shop her new purr-fect home. But where were her owner-parents? The search went on for more than 30 long days for the mom and/or dad of no-name kitty, but none was ever found.

Thus, the kitten was appointed the official meeter and greeter of OB. And everyone in the land was asked to suggest a name. After hearing more than 200 choices, the no-name cat said, "Rrrorrw!," which means - of course - "I'd like to be known as Ginger." So Ginger she became!

Ginger is not only a greeter, she's a book critic and seller who very carefully chooses books to recommend. These are the books that go on her special table, and they go quickly. When authors appear at OB, Ginger serves as host and master of ceremonies.

Naturally, Ginger is always there for young kids - just don't get her too tired - and for the older kids (some call them "adults") who come into OB just to pet the cat. So who is greeting who?

And now you know the very true tail of Ginger, the Feline Executive Officer (FEO) of OB!

post-script: "Yeowk!" says Munchy, which means "Would you pleaz tell me that story again!?"

Photos of Ginger courtesy of Beth Gallagher.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

It is only funny 'cause it is so true...!

Click on the comic to see a larger version. From Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis.

Bob Dylan Warms Our Lives...

We earlier posted three separate reviews of Bob Dylan's latest album, Together Through Life, and expected that this would be the end of our highlighted reviews... Until we came across this review by Bob Lines - abridged here - published in the UCLA Daily Bruin on Tuesday, May 12, 2009.

From the Daily Bruin to Troy Bear:

Bob Dylan achieved his fifth Billboard No. 1 last week. His 33rd studio album, "Together Through Life," beat the soundtrack from "Hannah Montana" to claim the top spot.

Excuse me while I briefly celebrate. It's not that I have anything against Hannah Montana per se (I'm sure the soundtrack's great), but it's a moment for small jubilation when, in the age of Miley Cyrus, the music of Bob Dylan reaches a large audience.

That said, "Together" is probably the weakest of Dylan's albums since his stellar comeback in 1997 with "Time Out of Mind" - but this is hardly a criticism. It's just that the sound of the latter-day Dylan is fairly familiar to his fans, and here Dylan doesn't do much new. He sings with the same grit and wheeze and employs the same mix of jazz, spiritual and blues, just without as many good songs.

At its worst, "Together Through Life" feels humdrum and turgid. The finger-picked electric guitar and staccato organ work well on the good tracks but feel bland on the weak ones. The album's opener, "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'," a low-key blues turn almost slides into pastiche, heavily influenced by the songs of Chuck Berry and Little Richard.

"If You Ever Go to Houston" could have been cut from the final track list: the song feels like a cut-and-paste of the blues ballads of the '50s that Dylan plays so regularly on "Theme Time Radio Hour." The lyrics, co-written by former Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, are similarly lackluster.

Nevertheless, the album is a welcome addition to the Dylan catalogue. "Life is Hard" is a sweet melancholy ballad, originally written for Olivier Dahan's upcoming film "My Own Love Song." The gentle slide guitar accompanies Dylan's straining voice. As Dylan stretches his vocals to (the) breaking point, he sounds more vulnerable than ever.

The penultimate track, "I Feel a Change Coming On," is both a nod to the presidency of Barack Obama and a mischievous and wistful ode to an old lover. Add into the mix a cheeky reference to James Joyce, and you're left with Dylan at his best on "Together..." Here, David Hidalgo's organ-playing alongside Dylan's affectionate vocals is a welcome addition.

While the album doesn't reach the heights of "Love and Theft" or "Modern Times," it's still a pretty good effort from the nonstop touring 67-year-old. Dylan could have easily not released anything for the last 20 years. If he had died sometime after "Blood on the Tracks," his reputation would have been firmly cemented with Lennon, Hendrix and the other members of rock royalty who have sadly passed on.

Dylan was never one to spend retirement pottering around the garden. Now the challenge for both Dylan and his fellow rock elder statesmen is how to mellow into old age without declining into parody or Starbucks-promoted cheese.

Dylan has done neither, but then we wouldn't have expected him to. His late career return to form has been more than we could ever have hoped for. As such, every record he gives us should be savored like the final days of a wonderful summer - it will be cold when he's gone.

And Here's Another...

Here's another Starbucks Bearista, which reminds us to remind you... Don't forget to visit us at our Twitter site:

A bold coffee for everyone, on the house!

Photo: flickr (Jepster)

Next: Bob Dylan warms our lives.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Yes - There Really Are Bearistas at Starbucks!

This is a Starbucks Bearista imported from Portland, Oregon... far, far, far away. Let's hope he's ready to brew up a pot of bold coffee! Ethiopian, Sumatra, French Roast?

Is the planet shaking...?

Is the planet shaking, or have I just had too much bold coffee?

Isn't this a nice graphic? It reminds me of something, I just can't quite remember exactly what it is.

By Popular Demand...

OK, Ok, ok... We get so many requests to post new photos of Munchy the brown tabby Norwegian Forest Cat that we asked him to approve the release of this one. He said "yeowk!" (yes), so here it is.

Photo: Munchy Archives (cat-alogued); click on the photo to see a much larger version.

Note: Coming up on the weekend, if all goes as we hope it does, we will tell the tail of how Ginger came to be the book store cat!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The View From Boston On Green Day's New Rock Opera...

Click on the orange link below to read this review from the Boston Herald.

Green Day’s nervous ‘Breakdown’ -

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A Good or Bad Day for Green Day?

Here's an early review of the new Green Day album, 21st Century Breakdown. Is it formula rock or the next Sgt. Pepper's or Tommy? Click on the orange link below to read the review and make sure to also listen to the podcast.

The Daily Californian :: Green Day Go Bombastic in New Work

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Stuck in Lodi Again?

If you happen to get stuck in Lodi, California... Relax and have a nice glass of wine at the Dancing Fox. Click on the orange link below to read this interesting article.

Enjoy the lively mix at the Dancing Fox - Sacramento Living - Sacramento Food and Wine, Home, Health | Sacramento Bee

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Photo: flickr (kla4067); click on the photo to see a slightly larger version.

Listen to Green Day's New Album Now, Buy It Soon...

Green Day's new CD, 21st Century Breakdown, is getting rave reviews from the critics who have heard it. The new album is scheduled to be released for sale online as early as Friday, May 15th and should hit the stores on Tuesday, May 19th. But you can hear it right now, along with two exclusive tracks...

To do so, go to, enter Green Day into the search box at the top of the page, and you'll then see a list of News articles. Click on "Listen to Green Day's New Album Before It's Release." The new album includes 18 tracks and, again, on this site you will also hear two bonus songs.

Have fun and come to your own decision on whether this rock opera turns Green Day into the second coming of The Who.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mogwai hits San Francisco...

Scotland's finest quintet, the creators of music as the soundtrack of your life, will play in downtown San Francisco this coming Sunday, May 17th. Mogwai performs at The Grand Ballroom, 1290 Sutter Street, with Dead Meadow opening the show that begins at 8:00 p.m. For information, call (415) 673-5716.

If you're fortunate enough to make the show, make sure to yell out for I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead and I Know You Are, But What Am I. According to one source, Mogwai's live show "remains one of the best around, with a potent balance between delicacy and power." (flavorpill)

Peace, brother, may it serve you well.

Photo: flickr (Toni Blay)

Next: How you can hear the new Green Day CD before it goes on sale.

Nights bring me hindsight...

Nights Bring Me Hindsight
by John R.

Nights bring me hindsight,
Days bring me doing,
Tomorrows bring me wishes,
Yesterdays bring me wisdom,
The moon vanity,
The sky longing,
The sun fear,
And the earth?
It waits for me.
But the rhythm of this day,
Surges gently forward for the most part,
Built on bedrock of sober experience...
Today, I'm not finished!
Wait, earth!

Photo: flickr (will raleigh)