Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Yard House

Heidi's new job is in Glenview, and she's near The Glen, an outdoor shopping center something like Old Orchard but for the even more affluent. As it happens, there's a Metra stop a block away from her workplace, so I can take the train up after work and we can go have a lovely meal or whatever.

In any case, we chose last night to go to the Yard House. It's a chain restaurant, but it's a new chain restaurant, and I remember going there back before it was a chain. This was in Long Beach, mind you, but it was good there, it's pretty good here, too.

The Yard House's big claim to fame is that they have 250 beers on tap. Some of them are Budweiser and it's various American kin, but most of them are either microbrews or foreign or both. This makes each trip to the Yard House a lovely little experiment. The food is good, too.

In any case, I came in and asked if they had anything like Goose Island's MBA (Masters of Beer Appreciation), where you drink so many beers, you get something free. They didn't (I kind of already knew the answer; the one in Long Beach didn't, but I wasn't sure if they had initiated something like that). The manager told me no, but then he subsequently bought me a beer (a Spatten Optimal, I believe... oaky and a little sharp, but sort of complex). Yes, the manager of the restaurant gave me a beer on the house. For no reason than that he was in a good mood.

Speaking with him later, I mentioned that I just started homebrewing, and he said, "Hey, I'm a homebrewer, too!" Just from speaking with him, it was obvious that he was much more experienced than I am, but it opened a pretty cool door for us to talk brew stuff (as a result of that conversation, I have ideas about how to proceed with this Hefeweisen... could end up being very very good).

The Spaaten was stronger than I expected it to be, and I'm still a bit of a lightweight, so I ended up being less enthused about the rest of the night. Still, I know from experience that this is a good place to go, and now I know from experience that this particular Yard House is that much more worthy of my patronage.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Brew #4: Hefeweisen

On Saturday Mattox & I got together and brewed a Hefeweisen (well, we talked and drank and ate and played Katamari Damacy on Darrick's PS2 while the thing boiled). This was arguably the easiest brew I'd ever done.

There was a concern about the yeast. When we receive boxes, we never know it. We open the door and it's there. Even if we see the UPS guy pull into our circle and then drive away, we're not sure if he's delivered to us until we open the door. In any case, my kit was delivered on one of the really cold days (not the subzero ones, but the single-digit ones), and we weren't sure if it had been sitting there just that day, or for a whole day. Matt had had an issue with yeast that was delivered when it was butt-cold, and he had to head out to the brew store to pick up more when his brew wasn't fermenting. I knew that this might be an issue; if the yeast was frozen, the brew wouldn't ferment, and I wouldn't have time to go to the brew store for a week. Sure, I could have made a starter to see if it was alive, but I couldn't find the starter kit, and was too lazy to look it up.

In any case, the brew: this was an extract kit for a Hefeweisen (a German Wheat beer). And that's all it was. Literally, the entire package was six pounds of Bavarian Wheat Dry Malt Extract, and a half ounce of hops. No grains, nothing else. So, all I needed to do was boil the water and dump in the extract. That was an adventure all its own. For some reason, the boil didn't evaporate the water as expected, so dumping in six pounds of powdered malt was too much mass for the size of pot I have (and keep in mind, this is a big pot). I ended up dumping it all over the stove, much to the annoyance of my lovely wife, and had to get another pot to boil the overflow. There was a brief panic situation as we scrambled to clean the stove, and the brew boiled on.

Eventually, when both pots had boiled down a bit, I dumped the excess from little pot back into big pot, and got everything underway. It was still too much for the fermenter, so I left a bit of the brew in the pot to be dumped. Good thing, too. There's certainly nothing wrong with the yeast, as this was my first brew to spew out of the fermenter. Yep, the fermentation was so vigorous that there was some crap that had come out of the fermenter and plopped on the carper. Coulda been worse. It's in a closet and the only coat that got a little on it was the sleeve of my raincoat. Having a bit of a mess on a closet floor isn't a big deal, especially because it appears to have cleaned up well.

So this was a messy, albeit crazy easy brew. So far, brewing has been sort of like making Easy Mac. I get everything measured out in a bag, and I follow the directions. Easy to the point of silliness (OK, it's a little more difficult than Easy Mac, but it's still pretty basic). I think the next step is to find a recipe from Zymurgy (the magazine of the American Homebrewer's Association), and follow that, getting the components individually. I might still do a couple more kits, but I think it's time to graduate to the next level perhaps a kit that takes a little more work than just the regular brew. I'm not ready for all-grain, but maybe that will come in the next couple years.

Oh, and for those who care (and for posterity), the original gravity was approximately 1.038.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Two cents

Heidi and I had Cingular and Verizon, respectively. Heidi hates Cingular, and Verizon is kind of expensive (but I've had a fairly good experience with them). We just recently switched over to a T-Mobile family plan, so as to save money. We heard that T-Mobile customer service was very good (and have confirmation of that as much as two days can tell you), and everyone I've discussed it with in the Chicagoland area has been more than pleased with them. So save money, good customer service, good reception, good call.

We planned out our purchase in a big way. We read reviews (CNET is really good for tech reviews), we studied the literature, we talked to the sales folks at the mall kiosks, and lastly, we went to a standalone store with active demo models and tested the clarity of the calls. We decided on a Blackberry Pearl for me, and a Nokia 5300 for her.

Then we went to Amazon. With Amazon, they have spectacular deals on phones if you're starting up new service. Our monthly bill will be the same as everyone else's (with our stuff, that is), but our upfront cost was a grand total of two cents. One penny for her phone, another for mine, and free shipping (I'm not sure why we got that, but I'm also not complaining).

They got shipped to us activated, but we were able to get our numbers ported over as soon as we received the phones (well, that's still in the process, but it was easy to get started). So, we're both pretty excited. We're both kind of sick of our old phones, and are excited to get new ones, especially such nice new ones.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

A change in goals

I've been thinking about my goals this year (a good thing to always keep them in mind), and I think I need to change one: Instead of enabling one of us to quit our day job, I'll change that to getting us out of debt. It doesn't mean we can't go back into debt (neither of our cars are very reliable these days, so we'll likely be buying before the year is out), but as long as there is a day during this year in which we have no debt, we're cool.

Here's my thinking:
1). Both Heidi and I have pretty good day jobs. The original concern was that Heidi's job was unsatisfying, but she has a new one which appears to be really good. Even if we could, she's not likely to leave this one for a couple years. Mine is a good gig now, but I have the potential for a better one in the relatively near future. Good plan to keep a steady income coming in.
2). Even if I make a heap of cash this year, my SAG benefits wouldn't kick in until next year (assuming I get into SAG and make enough to receive benefits). We need to keep ourselves healthy.
3). It's a lot more financially feasible. Even if I make a heap of cash, we're saving up for a house, and we'd really like to move to Evanston. Houses aren't cheap there. It's even worse in El Segundo, if that's where we land.
4). Debt sucks.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

On the air

So anyway, I won't make as big a deal with the next commercial I get (probably), but I really like the fact that I did this commercial for Tommy Nevin's. I could hardly have asked for a better product to schill, and I could hardly have asked for a better commercial (seriously, this one is arguably the best, if goofiest, local commercial I've seen).

It's running in Evanston and the Chicago North area on these Comcastcable networks: USA, MTV, TBS, MTV, FX, CMDY, and ESPN. It will air during some of these programs: Law & Order, South Park, SportsCenter, JAG and CSI. You can also watch the spot on Letter Blue's website. Just go to and hit the Commercial Reel link. The Nevin's spot is the first one on there. That's actually how I saw it; I live in burbland, so I'm not able to see it on the air.

So yay!

Saturday, March 10, 2007


I just saw 300. Wow. Big wow. This is a film based off of the graphic novel by Frank Miller (Sin City was the last and first of these). Since Frank Miller is really picky about having his work filmed, it's shot exactly as the graphic novel is drawn. As a result, it's visually stunning, with remarkably little work on the director's part. It's about the 300 Spartans that stood against the might of Xerxes' Persian army, roughly a million in number. This actually did happen, probably not quite in the way the movie portrays.

In any case, there's no question that this is a really violent movie, but some of the reviews I read used terms along the lines of "bloodbath." I wouldn't use terms like that, as it's so visually arresting and so artistic, that it doesn't really register as violence and gore. Saving Private Ryan was a violent movie, in part because it was so gritty and realistic. In 300, it was more like a ballet of steel and bodies. This really is a less violent movie than any one of the Lord of the Rings movies.

There's not really a lot to say about this movie, other than that I recommend it. It's a good story and a work of visual poetry. Here endeth the review.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Bad Advertising

For the first time since I started this job, it's slow. So, what better way to use my time than to share my precious opinions? Well, precious to me, anyway.

Anyway, let's talk about advertising, and what makes a really bad commercial (OK, I'm not going to go into everything that makes a bad commercial, but rather this one facet). If a commercial tells me how horrible and wrong their competitor is, that's a pretty good sign that they're actually superior.

Let's look at Comcast's recent ads bashing satellite dishes. Instead of saying, "We're the best thing since sliced bread!" They're saying, "Only a moron gets a dish." Hm. They're slamming their competition. Could it be that they're scared? As it happens, I have Comcast, and have tried to get them in every place I've lived in the Chicago area. They used to have lovely customer service, and that was my motivating factor, despite their common lack of actual service. Well, their customer service isn't quite what it used to be; their actual service is pretty much par for the course. Now, last place I lived, I couldn't get a signal from Comcast, so I used DirecTV. My God, that was nice! I can see why cable is scared. Yes, the signal went out once in a great while (most notably during the last 10 minutes of the season finale of Lost). Since I've had cable in my current place, they've had at least twice as many severe drops in service than I had with my dish in a whole year. And yes, I'm not allowed to have a dish in the current place. Now, I can see the reasoning behind Comcast slamming their only competition, because it's actually superior; notice how you don't see any DirecTV commericals saying how crappy their competitors are?

I think the stupidest "the other guys suck" advertisement comes from Macintosh. I have a lot of friends, whose opinion I truly respect, tell me that when they switched to Mac, their computer experience changed dramatically for the better. A few years ago, that was the Mac campaign strategy: "Switch. We're really good." Now, it is true that they have a behemoth to overcome with Windows-based systems, but this is the wrong way to go about it. They have some greasy-looking prick saying "I'm better than the really likeable and friendly underdog here. Shun him, love me." These people are effectively telling me that they're afraid of Windows, because Windows is superior. What kind of messed up marketing strategy is that? Even their website is telling me, "don't settle for PC." Now, I actually am considering getting a Mac, but that's because of word-of-mouth, not their annoying advertisements.

Politicians go into overdrive with this. "Politician X eats babies! Vote for Politician Y!" I'd say that I would vote for Politician X, simply because of Politician Y's hate-ads, but the X is doing it just as bad. Don't tell me how crappy the other guy is; tell me how great you are.

So, there's my rant, combined with a warning: don't believe the hype. If a product is legitimately good, you can see by how they advertise it. If it's good, they'll say it's good. If it's bad, they'll say their competition will usher in an age of darkness and sorrow.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

2007 Goals, Update 2

In keeping with the tradition, I'm posting my updates about my goals. Not a huge amount to report, but there are stirrings and echoes of various cool things coming together. In any case, seeing how little things have progressed is keeping me accountable to do some crap about it.

1. Get at least 5 union voiceover gigs: Not so much.
2. Get one national gig: Not so much.
3. Get at least three agents in the local market: I have one; no change from late last year.
4. Get into both SAG and AFTRA: Bupkus
5. Drop my bodyfat to 12%: We've been going to the Y every weekday at 5AM. It's just beginning to become less difficult, although we tend to be pretty wiped out during the week. My pants don't really feel any looser yet, but my shirts feel a little tighter, so it's a start.
6. Travel at least four times: 1 down, 3 to go
7. Get my headshots done: Bupkus
8. Join the Fighting 501st: I'm waiting till it's warmer before I can set up a card table in the garage and get to work.
9. Make enough with voiceover that one of us can quit our day job: Not so much. Heidi just got a really cool new job though, so this might not be as big a priority.
10. Brew at least four batches of beer: I've ordered a Hefeweisen kit (one of my favorite styles of beer), but I don't have a schedule for when I want to do it. This month is a pretty likely candidate.
11. Read the Bible from beginning to end: So far, I'm doing really well with this. I'm not using it for vocal warmups anymore, although I'd like that to change. But it's good to read and ponder on the train into the city.

So, plans for this month: Brew. Get a whole mess of postcards and start sending them out to the ad agencies here in the city. Keep working out. Keep reading and praying.