Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Voodoo and EARTHQUAKE! Chips

Yesterday, I stopped in at Grocery Outlet on 4th St. in Berkeley. Grocery Outlet is a regional chain of closeout/overstock grocery items. If you grew up in the Bay Area, you may recall them as the "dented can" store. Odd things can show up at Grocery Outlet. For example, it's the only place in the western US where I've seen both Dreyer's and Edy's ice cream sold side-by-side. Anyway, much to my surprise, I found they had Zapp's Potato Chips. Zapp's are originally from Louisiana and don't usually show up in California. In fact, until yesterday, the only stores in California where I have found Zapp's were Cost Plus and Big Lots.

When I let friends know that I had found Zapp's chips at Grocery Outlet, one commented about their Voodoo flavor. The Voodoo flavor is a mash-up of several different flavors that (according to the description) was the result of an accident where an an employee spilled a pallet of spices, someone tasted the result, and liked it. It's one of my favorite chip flavors.

Zapp's "Voodoo chips"
Photo courtesy of Andrew Childs

This made recall a similar flavor that I found when I was living in Los Angeles -- California Chips' "EARTHQUAKE!" (yes, all caps with the exclamation point.)

Earthquake Chips
Photo courtesy of Fuzzy Gerdes

On the bag it said that the flavor was the result of a 6.3 earthquake near their production facility (in Oxnard) and that "When we came in the following morning all of our spices had fallen into the same mixing vat. We thought we had a loss on our hands but then when we tasted what we had, we loved it!" (I love the story; unfortunately, the chronological list of Southern California earthquakes shows that it's just a story.) When my wife and I first tried the EARTHQUAKE! chips, we both thought that they tasted like Zapp's Voodoo chips.

Until today, I had never looked into whether or not there was a connection between the two. The first thing I found was that California Chips no longer exists. The most recent update on the Internet Archive is from two years ago. An older version includes a news site that states that EARTHQUAKE! chips came out in 2005. Note from the archived "about us" page that California Chips' founder was Kevin Holden.

Two items of note from the Wikipedia entry for Zapp's:
  • In 2006 Zapp's acquired the California Chip Company in Oxnard, CA
  • Zapp's most popular flavor is "Voodoo" which was created in 2008 by Kevin Holden, General Manager and a shareholder of the company.
Would that be the same Kevin Holden who founded California Chips? Ah ha! So it's not that they tasted like each other, it's that they are the same.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

AMC Best Picture Showcase 2016 - Day 2

One week later and it was time for the second day of AMC's Best Picture Showcase. If you haven't already done so, read about the first day here.

My journey to The City had an interesting beginning. Recently, BART has rolled out some prototype cars to accommodate more passengers. During peak commute hours, BART trains have been overcrowded. These Test Cars have fewer seats so that one can squeeze in more standing room passengers. When I saw that one of the cars in my train to The City was a test car, I knew that I had to give it a shot.

BART Test Car
BART Test Car

Most BART cars have 2x2 seating; the test car has 2x1. With fewer seats, the aisle is over twice as wide as before. This allows the car to hold a significant number of extra passengers and should ease feelings of claustrophobia. I think it's worth the loss of seats.

Once in The City, I took a slightly different walking route to the theater. During my walk, I came across a construction wall mural.

Construction Wall Mural
Construction Wall on 600 Block of O'Farrell

From checking Google Street View, the wall went up sometime in 2013. The mural was added between October 2013 and February 2014. I'm surprised it's been up this long.

Once at the theater, I was given my lanyard for the second day's films, picked up some popcorn and soda, and settled into my seat.

Me and My Pass - Day Two
All set for more movies


This was a nice film about a young woman's transformation from being Irish to becoming American. It's something I would watch on a rainy day at home. Is it one of the best pictures of the year? Absolutely not. This is the film that the #OscarsSoWhite folks should be pointing at as an example.


I found myself thoroughly engaged in the story even though I knew how it would end. It was a great showcase of how investigative reporters are given an assignment and then work their butts off to see it through. What further impressed me was how close the filmmakers stuck with the story. Unlike some of the other nominees based upon real events, this had no contrived dramatic situations. I wouldn't be surprised if this wins Best Picture.

 The Martian

I was looking forward to seeing "The Martian." I'm sure folks are surprised that I had not already seen it, since science fiction is my favorite genre. Reading everyone's reactions to it gave me high expectations. I was very pleased that it delivered. I enjoyed it completely. While I would be very surprised if it won Best Picture, it was my favorite of all of the nominees.

As with the first day, we had a longer break before the last film of the day. As I had written in the post for the first day, I decided to have dinner at the brick-and-morter location for The Chairman.

The Chairman
Interior of The Chairman (at 670 Larkin)

I've been to their food truck a few times. The restaurant has the same offerings: pork buns, rice/veggie/noodle bowls, and other appetizers. I had a Chairman Rice bowl with Coca-Cola Braised Pork. The bowl included the selected meat along with pickled vegetables and sauce on top of the Chairman Rice (a mixture of black beans and wild rice.) It was filling and hit the spot.

I got back to the theater in time for trivia. This time I chose to play, and I won! I was asked, "In what countries was 'The Revenant' filmed?" I correctly answered "The U.S., Canada, and Argentina." After trivia, it was time for the last film.

I won!
My prize (actually there are two passes)

The Revenant

This was another film I was looking forward to watching. Unfortunately for me, it did not live up to all of the hype its received. I enjoyed the movie, but once it got going, I had a strong feeling about how the film would end and it took quite a while to get there. Make no mistake, I think this film will deservedly rack up a lot of awards, it just wasn't as good as it was hyped.

All in all, I enjoyed all of the Best Picture nominees. I got to watch 8 good films for a total of $65. I had $5 of concession credit each day which went towards soda and popcorn.  I won two free passes. If I have the opportunity to do this next year, I will.

One bonus... While walking back to BART, I was rewarded with a view of a lovely neon sign.

Nite Cap Neon
Nite Cap neon (Corner of O'Farrell and Hyde)

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

AMC Best Picture Showcase 2016 - Day 1

This year marks the 10th year that the AMC movie theater chain has presented a "marathon" showing of the films nominated for Academy Award for Best Motion Picture Feature Presentation. Called the Best Picture Showcase, the event has all eight of this year's nominees shown over the two Saturdays before the Academy Awards (There are also seven locations showing all eight in one day.)

I've attended three previous presentations (one in Orange, one in Emeryville and one in San Francisco.) This year (like last) the closest location was at the AMC 1000 Van Ness. While not the best location (I would have preferred The Metreon since it's closer to BART and has more dining options) it still works.

To get to the theater, I was able to hop on BART and then walk. It was a beautiful morning and the walk from Powell Street station allowed me to see some things I had not noticed before.

Daldas Grocery
Mural at Daldas Grocery

Putnam Subaru Service Mural
Mural at Putnam Service Subaru

Golden Bear Ornamentation
Golden Bear Ornamentation at 755 O'Farrell
Upon arrival at the theater, I was directed to a special check-in desk where attendees exchanged their tickets for the Day One lanyard. With the lanyard, I had in-and-out privileges. They also had a commemorative program guide and poster. My next stop was the concession stand. As an AMC Stubs member, I was given $5 in concession credit (for use only on that day) which I cashed in for a large soda (free refills all day) and popcorn (again, free refills all day.) Since the theater has Coca-Cola Freestyle machines, soda refills were easy to obtain.

With snack and soda in hand, I snagged a seat in theater number 4.  Prior to the first film, the theater manager introduced himself and reviewed how the day would proceed. Breaks between each of the first three films would last between 20 and 25 minutes -- enough time to stretch your legs, use the restroom, refill your soda and get a snack. The last break would be just over an hour, which would allow you to get something more substantial to eat. He also reminded everyone to tag social media posts with #amcbps and that trivia (with prizes) would take place before the last feature of the day.

Me and My Pass
Me and my Lanyard

With that it was time to watch the films...

Bridge of Spies

I enjoyed Stephen Spielberg's historically inspired film. While I knew that Francis Gary Powers was exchanged for a Soviet spy, I was not familiar with the story of how that spy was captured, his trial, the story of Frederic Pryor and what was involved in getting the exchange to take place. The film kept me engaged and made me draw parallels with events of today such as the rights of accused non-US nationals and the desire of some to build a wall to "protect" the USA. The film is worth watching at home. Be aware that like all historical dramas, not everything on screen is factual.


I knew very little about Lenny Abrahamson's film going in. The subject matter -- how a mother and daughter deal with being held captive in a shed and how they are affected after escaping -- is by no means pleasant. That said, the film hit me with the gamut of emotions. There were a couple of times that I was wondering where the story would go, but during those times I thought about the characters that I was watching and that in their story, they wouldn't know where they were going. This is a film worth seeing, but just be prepared.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Of the four films for the day, this was the one I was looking forward to seeing on the big screen. George Miller delivered with two hours of adrenaline-filled fun. There were times where I was wondering, "OK, when's the action going to slow down?" There were some points where that did happen, but for most of the film, the gas pedal was pressed to the floor. Interesting side note, after the film a few attendees brought up #OscarsSoWhite and mentioned how this film was literally the "most white" of the Best Picture nominees.

Before the last film of the day, I took advantage of the break to get some real food. Green Apple Market on the corner of Polk and Post won the day with a hot chicken sandwich for $6.99. It hit the spot. (This coming Saturday I may opt to go to The Chairman since I like their truck.)

Moon by the Monarch
The Moon over Geary

Green Apple Market
Green Apple Market

I got back in time for the trivia contest. I liked how the contest was run; the manager asked the audience, "Who wants to play?" He then selected someone and asked a question that was related to one of the day's films, and if the person got it right, he or she had a choice of prizes ranging from a movie pass, a tee shirt, and some other random items. If the person got it wrong, he gave other audience members the opportunity to answer it correctly. I didn't play. Maybe if they have better prizes next time.

Trivia Time
Trivia Time

That led us to the last film of the day.

The Big Short

The day started with a historical drama and ended with a historical drama. I was already somewhat familiar with the cause of the 2008 financial crisis and some who foresaw it. This covered what most would consider to be a boring subject in a pretty entertaining way. Yes, it plays a bit loose with some of the details, but even that gets acknowledged. I enjoyed it!

With the first four films done, I won't make any predictions. I'm looking forward to Saturday and the remaining four films: Spotlight, Brooklyn, The Martian, and The Revenant.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Preparing For the Fall Election

The Fall 2014 election is three weeks from today. Here are a few resources to prepare:

To look up your ballot, poling place, candidate information, etc, go to Voters Edge (The MapLight Voter Guide)

If you're an Alameda County voter, the County Registrar of Voters site has links to:
Verify your registration status
Get information about early voting (it's a long ballot, and you may not have time on November 4)
Request a Vote-by-Mail Ballot (again, it's a long ballot)
Learn about Ranked Choice Voting

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Election Season Starts

On this first full day of Autumn, it's time to look toward November 4 - Election Day. Television is already bombarding us with ads for and (mostly) against a couple of the statewide initiatives. We've already received mailers and flyers on a couple of Berkeley initiatives (most notably the beverage tax). Last night, the Halcyon and Bateman Neighborhood Associations hosted a candidates forum for our city council member. All of Bateman and the east portion of Halcyon will be voting for district 8. The candidates are (names link to their respective web sites):

George Beier
Mike Alvarez Cohen
Lori Droste
Jacquelyn McCormick

My goal in attending the forum was to get an impression of who these people were. It's always nice to vote for a person rather than just a name. I was pleased that all four candidates were present at last night's forum.

So, what impressions did each candidate leave?

George Beier - "community member." He always emphasized the community whenever he spoke. He spoke about how he has rallied the community around zoning issues, neighborhood problems, Willard Pool, Telegraph, etc. He also used the least amount of jargon. For example, other candidates used the acronym "ADU." He was the only one who actually said what it means (Accessory Dwelling Units, which are structures that can be built in backyards as supplemental housing.)

Mike Alvarez Cohen - "current guard." He talked about being chair of the Zoning Adjustments Board, and his endorsement by Tom Bates. However, he also came across as a bit flakey. When asked about zoning adjustments for a few recent approvals that were met with neighborhood disapproval, he dodged the question saying that either he was not present (Starbucks) or couldn't recall (Telegraph Commons height/parking.) When meeting with a neighborhood you should have been prepared to respond to questions about the ZAB's decisions that most impacted the neighborhood.

Lori Droste - "old guard." She talked about her endorsements, involvement with city commissions, working with the different city organizations. I got the feeling that I would agree with her the most out of the four candidates, but I didn't get an impression of how she would represent me or my neighborhood.

Jacquelyn McCormick - "passionate." She gave the most passionate responses to the questions asked of the candidates. She talked about how the city council needs to change, how she attends council meetings and makes her voice heard. She was also, surprisingly, the only candidate to bring up the city's fiscal issues. I already know that I do not agree with some of her opinions on city measures, but she left the biggest impression on me out of the four candidates.

I'm not close to deciding who will receive my vote, but at least I have some idea about the people running.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Comparing BART Airport Surcharges

Coliseum BART - Oakland Airport Connector construction on 6/8/2014

Ever since construction finally started on BART's Oakland Airport Connector, I've been following with anticipation. Yesterday BART finally announced the one-way fare for the connector will be $6. At first I thought, "that seems rather expensive." But then I wondered how does this compare to the surcharge to travel to SFO:

The fare from Downtown Berkeley to SFO is $9.25.
The fare from Downtown Berkeley to San Bruno (one stop before SFO) is $4.75.
The fare from Downtown Berkeley to Millbrae (one stop after SFO) is $5.10.
Using the before and after stations my guess is that if SFO was just a regular station, the fare would be $4.90 or $4.95, which puts the SFO surcharge between $4.30 and $4.35.

Given the extra distance between Coliseum BART and Oakland Airport, the $6 fare seems in-line compared with the SFO surcharge.

By the way, if you want to pay less, you will still be able to exit the Coliseum BART station, cross San Leandro Blvd and take the AC Transit 73 to Oakland Airport for around $2 (remember AC Transit fares and fare policies change on July 1.)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

See the Ring of Fire! Next Sunday.

Image courtesy of Bart Benjamin

On Sunday, May 20, folks in the right spot will see the Sun become a ring of fire. While not as spectacular as a total solar eclipse, an annular solar eclipse is still a sight to behold. The upcoming eclipse will be visible on the east coast of China, east coast of Japan, and parts of Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas.

In the Bay Area, the solar eclipse will be partial. If you drive two and a half hours in the right direction, you'll get a short view of the ring of fire. A little over three hours, and you'll see up to 4 minutes. If you drive about four hours, and you'll see almost 5 minutes.

So, where will Pam and I go to watch the eclipse? The Chico Community Observatory is hosting an eclipse viewing at their location in Chico's Bidwell Park. The observatory will have additional solar telescopes provided by the Sierra Star Gazers and docents on hand to answer questions. You don't need a telescope to enjoy the eclipse; all you need is proper protection for your eyes. The observatory will be selling safe solar viewing glasses for $3.00 each or four for $10.00. (All proceeds go to the observatory’s operating fund.) Before the event, UC Berkeley Astronomy Professor Alex Filipenko will give a free lecture entitled, "Today's Annular Solar Eclipse, the June 5 Transit of Venus, and the Search for Transiting Exoplanets." Professor Filipenko will also be watching the eclipse from the observatory. If it's good enough for him, it's good enough for us.

As if a good viewing opportunity wasn't enough, Chico is also home to Sierra Nevada Brewing. So the plan is to have a lunch at the taproom and then head over to the park to watch the eclipse. The Moon will start appearing to "take a bite out of the Sun" at 5:13. The ring of fire (which will last for 3 1/2 minutes) starts at 6:28. The eclipse ends at 7:37. Sunset is at 8:19 PM.

So, who's up for joining us?