April 2011

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Viso, a beverage to be praised, a beverage to be feared

It's a tale as old as time. Entrepreneur comes up with an idea for a revolutionary new energy drink, entrepreneur convinces his parents to invest $1.2 million dollars, entrepreneur unleashes revolutionary new energy drink on the market.

I'm talking about Alex Ilica and his locally-produced beverage Viso, which, as of 2008 at least, was still being brewed and bottled in an old slaughterhouse off Interstate Avenue here in Portland. What makes Viso's line of energy drinks different from, say, Rockstar or Red Bull? First off, they're flavored with organic fruit juices, contain natural caffeine and use either Splenda or organic cane juice for sweetening.

Most importantly though, drinking a Viso doesn't result in the sugar crash that typically accompanies other energy drinks. Its caffeine content also packs a wallop: a whole 300 milligrams. To put that in perspective, a can of Red Bull contains 80 and a Starbucks Grande Latte has 150. There's also a line of caffeine-free Viso drinks but, ultimately, why would you ever bother with those?

I wouldn't mention it here if I wasn't a semi-regular Viso drinker. Speaking as someone who isn't a big fan of coffee, the beverage is a modern day miracle. Like other Viso devotees, I can attest to the fact that, perhaps because of its vitamin and organic fruit ingredients, it doesn't leave you feeling lethargic and lousy a few hours after drinking one.

Still, a word of caution: the caffeine contained within the average can of Viso is nothing to be taken lightly. As a colleague once advised, "never drink one after 12 PM." I made the mistake of downing a can last week during the cocktail hour. I didn't get to sleep before 3 AM that night. It's also a beverage that shouldn't be consumed quickly. This could very likely lead to your heart bursting out of your chest and immediately enrolling in the nearest triathlon. Pregnant women and the elderly? They should probably stick with Earl Grey.

Follow these simple tips and Viso may come through for you in a pinch one day. After a sleepless night last summer, I managed to get through a day-long hiking trip after downing one. Viso is currently available only in Oregon and Northern California but the owner plans to take it nationwide within the next few years. I'm predicting that it will eventually become a cult institution among grad students and workaholics from coast to coast.

Still, there are those that contest that the old formula before a package redesign last summer was superior. Myself, I'll say that the taste of the new flavors is definitely an improvement and I think they contain the same kick.


Saturday, January 23, 2010


Comcast, NBC and the damage done

Some things that Conan O'Brien and I have in common:

1. We're both geeky.

2. We're both incredibly pale.

3. We were both paid by Comcast-NBC to go away.

Our exit interviews were even remarkably similar, although I'll admit that the human resources manager that conducted mine looks nothing like Steve Carell. Another key difference? A Will Ferrel/Beck/ZZ Top "Free Bird" send-off. I didn't get one of those. Oh, and somewhere in the neighborhood of $44,994,000.

After several years of working at Comcast, a dozen of my coworkers and I were given the boot last November. Upper management in Philadelphia made the decision earlier in the fall, out of the clear blue, to wipe our department and similar departments in all of their nationwide markets. It hit us like a ton of bricks but, at the very least, the company was somewhat classy about the whole thing. We were all provided with a severance package. Some of us opted to apply for other jobs at the company, others of us have moved on.

I made the decision to flee back into the comfortable bosom of academia for a second degree and, with any luck, hopefully sit out the rest of this miserable recession since the job market here in Portland is so woeful. Although, I would consider taking a job as a late night talk show host on Fox if the network isn't able to hash things out with Mr. O'Brien.

I caught the last episode of Coco's run on The Tonight Show last night. It was fantastic, especially the bit where he rolled out a pre-historic Smithsonian skeleton to "destroy" an original Picasso with motor oil ("cost of this skit? $65 million dollars!"). Nonetheless, I would like to take issue with the host's teary-eyed speech towards the end though. Here it is:

I appreciate the sentiment but I've always bristled whenever incredibly successful people like Conan break out the "if you work hard, great things will happen to you" speech. On behalf of millions of Americans that have spent their entire lives working hard only to land on unemployment in the middle of the worst economic landscape in over 70 years, I'd like to note that this isn't always the case. Not all of us are floating off into a temporary sunset strapped to a $45 million dollar golden parachute.

While I'm smashing all of these sour grapes I may as well also point out that Conan's career was built on the cynicism he lambasted in his speech last night. He cut his teeth in the writers room of The Simpsons, after all, and he's the guy who brought us "Marge Vs. the Monorail."

A bit of a hypocrite? Eh, I'll let you decide.

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Friday, January 22, 2010


Snow Falling on Cedars at PCS

When Snow Falling on Cedars first appeared on bookstore shelves in the '90s, for some reason I wrote it off as dumb trade fiction, another in a long line of sappy romance novels. I never bothered to delve into it any further and skipped the film adaptation with Ethan Hawke. While the story does involve a love triangle, there's much more to it than that.

On a foggy night in 1954, fisherman Kabuo Miyamoto's boat pulls up alongside another belonging to a stranded colleague named Carl Heine. Their respective families have been involved in a dispute over a strawberry farm for years. The next day, Carl's corpse will be pulled out of the sea wrapped in his own net.

What follows is a pretty fascinating work of historical fiction that covers the decade following World War 2 and the lingering suspicion and ill-will that festers in the novel's San Juan island community between its residents of European ancestry and those who spent the war trapped in Japanese internment camps. A theatrical adaptation developed by Seattle's Book-It Rep had its world premiere at the Gerding Theater last week and easily rises to the challenge of bringing the story to the stage.

The adaptation covers nearly 30 years of interwoven history and the performers deftly make swift transitions across time, sometimes within the same scene. Kabuo's wife Hatsue, played wonderfully by Olvia Oguma, and Vince Nappo's Ishmael occasionally jump between court room scenes in the '50s and into their years growing up together on the island decades prior.

As intriguing as the court room drama and the play's racial dynamics are, what really brings it together is the heartbreaking relationship between Hatsue and Ishmael, the events that tear them apart and the decision Ishmael is forced to make in its final scenes. Surprisingly enough, the romantic elements, which chased me away from David Guterson's novel, are what really got to me.

Snow Falling on Cedars makes the trip from page to stage smoothly but the cast relies on pantomime throughout the performance. For the most part, it's never a distraction but there are a few moments when it doesn't work well, most notably in an early scene where authorities discover Carl's body. Still, it's a great show and the best Portland Center Stage production I've seen since last spring's Crazy Enough.

Snow Falling on Cedars continues through February 7th at Portland Center Stage's Gerding Theater. Click here for tickets and further information.



The worst day of the year?

I saw this sign outside of a Laughing Planet during last month's snow storm. The annual "Worst Day of the Year" ride has been around for a while but I don't think it's ever been scheduled for Valentine's Day. Is someone out there trying to make a comment about the holiday?

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Thursday, January 21, 2010


Looking a gift horse in the mouth

After Burning Man last summer I found myself on my own in San Francisco for a few days. A few friends recommended a small pub called the Black Horse in the Marina District near where I was staying. I wandered up to Union Street in search of the place one night around ten and walked right past it. The Black Horse is incredibly small, roughly the size of a walk-in freezer, with only twelve bar stools for patrons.

Typically in situations like this, I take a seat in the corner, break out my iPhone and immediately delve into my own little world of Twitter and Facebook. No sooner had I hit icon for Echofon when I started getting glares from the other three people in the tiny pub. The wide-eyed blond working the bar came over and pointed to a framed list on the wall. The Black Horse is a drinking establishment with rules, you see, one of which is "no cell phones."

I'd been warned about this list but I didn't think anyone would actually enforce it. The bartender explained. At the Black Horse, the proprietor came up with these rules to facilitate conversation between customers and keep a level of camaraderie and good cheer going during business hours. I was skeptical but, moments later, I found myself delving into a conversation with a group of locals that would go on for the next few hours. Months later, I can still remember what we talked about. High rents, the creative class, the negative effects of Coldplay, relationship troubles and how summer in San Francisco doesn't really get going until after Labor Day.

I spent a few evenings at the Black Horse, and no doubt due to the rules, I found myself talking to a good number of fellow patrons. My favorites: a guy who looked like Bob Saget, drunk and/or coked-up, who was eager to discuss 9/11 conspiracy theories and an advertising guru with a passion for organic farming. The later spends his vacation days volunteering on a friend's farm in Oregon. He asked me to say hi to the owners of the Minto Island Growers, an operation down in Salem, if I ever run into them at a farmers market around Portland. I don't know if that'll ever happen so I'll post a shout-out to them here. If you folks are out there reading this, Harris says, "howdy."

And now that I think about, that other guy probably *was* Bob Saget.

I've battled shyness all of my life and certain social situations can be the equivalent of jumping into a hot tub filled with piranhas. Of course, having an iPhone around to serve as an escape route doesn't help matters. Yesterday I was in class. When the professor asked us to break into small groups to discuss the documentary we'd just seen, I broke out my phone and more or less hid-out until the lecture resumed. Thankfully, class participation isn't part of my grade for this course.

I'm not proud of this, by any means, but I'm not alone. On Monday, San Francisco Weekly tackled this topic and the article quotes a psychology professor who claims that smart phones are further fueling shyness in the states. I guess there's an argument to be made for that and even the author admits that she pretends to text in order to get out of awkward social situations.

Still, I'd say that more good than harm has come from smart phones and "structured electronic interactions." Sites like Facebook have put me in touch with people I would never talk to otherwise. Without Twitter, I would never have had the opportunity to argue with Oregonian critic Shawn Levy about Avatar, itself a movie about individuals who, more or less, use technology to meet people. Or, more specifically, 12-foot tall Thundercats.

Here in Portland, anyone sitting by themselves in a bar or a restaurant typically has a phone in their hands. I wonder if the Black Horse's policies could fly in a small pub along Alberta or Hawthorne. Maybe so...



Comment system blues...

For years I've been using a program called Haloscan for comments on Another Portland Blog. A few weeks ago, it was taken over by a pay service called Echo. Wondering why there haven't been that many posts on the blog over the past few weeks? It's because every time I sit down to write I've found myself trying another system.

So after several evenings of fighting with software, I've decided to shell out a few bucks every year to stick with Echo. This will allow all of the archived comments that have been published on the blog over the years to stay put and will hopefully prevent headaches down the road. Only time will tell...

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Oden at the crosswalk

I was waiting to cross the street down on SW 5th last week when I looked over and spotted Greg Oden standing next to me. He was on crutches and looked embarrassed to be there. Not sure what else to do, I nodded and he nodded back. A few seconds later, two PSU undergrads strolled up to wish him well. As we crossed the street at least five different people said, "Hey, Greg" or "good luck, man."

I have no idea why he was down there or why he was navigating the streets by himself on foot, clearly miserable. A guy with his bucks could probably afford a driver or a few handlers to get him wherever he needs to go. When I mentioned this on Twitter someone snidely replied that he was probably on his way to campus to enroll for spring term, given the plague of injuries that have sidelined his basketball career for the time being.

My guess was that he was on his way to a restaurant or to speak at a campus event. Still, it was an odd sight- an NBA player, a potential superstar, glumly walking through downtown on a January afternoon.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Everything you need to know about the Broadway version of Xanadu...

"This is like children's theater for 40 year-old gay people."

And that's a direct quote from one of the characters.

Also: at one point 27 disco balls appear on stage.

More also: roller skates.

Xanadu continues through Sunday, January 17th at the Keller. Click here for more info.


Sunday, January 10, 2010


Winter in the Lan Su Chinese Garden

This is another one of those "which photo hasn't actually been rendered in black and white" posts. Feel free to take a guess.





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