Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Smiley Turns 25!

Photo courtesy of Post-Gazette.com
Eat 'n Park and Smiley are celebrating 25 years today at the Waterfront location. Smiley's birthday was celebrated in style today as a life-sized statue was placed in the lobby of the restaurant in Homestead. Smiley in synonymous with Pittsburgh and may even rival other local legends such as Iron City Beer and, dare I say, the Steelers. No trip to Pittsburgh is complete without a meal at Eat 'n Park and from the time you are a youngster a Smiley cookie tops off a classic taste of Pittsburgh. Even watching the bakers make the tasty treat is a fantastic way to enjoy Smiley and Pittsburgh.

Smiley is not your average mascot or cookie as he has qualities of a chameleon as you can find him changing color form around holidays such as Valentine's Day and Halloween. I particularly like the Halloween version with candy corn eyes, but do also enjoy the other festive designs. Not only has Smiley shown his fashion sense by changing with the seasons, but he also has kept up to date with recent health trends as a child can choose a "Mini-Smiley" cookie in order to help to keep a watch on their waist line.

So on this special day celebrate by going to Eat 'n Park and order a dozen Smiley cookies to-go or send some to a friend. Happy Birthday to a Pittsburgh legend!

Thor: True Strength or Comic on Steroids?

I spent Saturday night seeing "Thor" at Loews Waterfront Theatre. Before seeing "Thor" I had no background of any story lines or history of the comic aside from the facts that it was created in the 1960's, was about a very strong guy named Thor, and that creator Stan Lee had already created a super strength character, The Incredible Hulk, and thought the only way to make someone stronger than Hulk was to make the character a god. Thus, the genesis of comic book "Thor". Lee then chose the Norse God of Thunder, Thor, for his next creation.

When watching comic book movies you should always watch them with two lenses. The first lens being the movie while the second lens should be comparing how true the movie is to the comic book roots. Which lens you view the movie from can entirely change your perception of the movie. As stated in a previous post, I am not a huge comic book fan, so I watched "Thor" from the first lens.

"Thor" was filled which great action without too much CGI animation. There were times that CGI filled the screen, but it was done with taste and much more realistic than other movies which have gone over the top and taken the "realness" of characters. The action sequences were blended well with a compelling storyline which never allowed me to be bored. The plot was filled with fantasy, science fiction, and everyday life. This balance is so crucial to the comic world and "Thor" balanced all three aspects well as one would expect from any Marvel comic. The acting was what you would expect for a comic book movie, but I should add that lead actor Chris Hemsworth was a charming choice to star as Thor and did a great job.

The Norse God storyline was the most interesting part of "Thor" for me and is what kept me interested. We have all learned the myths of the Greek and Roman Gods, but for some reason the Norse tales rarely find their way into traditional school classrooms. The Norse Gods are based on the idea of cosmology that there are Nine Realms or Worlds and the Gods live in Asgard, which is the highest realm and home to the Gods. The Gods must interact with creatures from other realms, but also protect their homeland. "Thor" is the heir to the throne of Asgard, but is banished because his father and King, Odin, feels that Thor must learn humility and ends up living on earth.

Although the Norse God storyline was the most interesting aspect of the movie, the story then dives into the comic book vs. movie lens controversy. Fan boys of "Thor will argue that the after the banishment, "Thor" did not keep true to it's comic storyline and spirals into it's own story that can not hold a match to the comic. Upon return I read about the history of "Thor" and saw the glaring differences, but this did not spoil my enjoyment of the movie. I thought that the creators simply needed to make a great comic fit into 1 hour 54 minutes, which is long by some people's comic movie standards. I thought given the amount of story, complexity, and time restraints, "Thor" was a job well done and I recommend it to anyone seeking a fun movie experience, but just be sure to see it on the big screen as your home theatre will not do "Thor" justice.

Pills gives "Thor" 3/5 stars.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Weezer Pittsburgh Review

Pills and I spent the Sunday night of Memorial Day weekend at Pittsburgh's newest concert venue, Stage AE located on the North Shore for the Weezer concert.  We were very impressed with Stage AE.  It had three different areas to watch the concert from:  a general admission standing room pit, a VIP picnic table and chairs area in the middle, and a GA lawn area in the rear.  We decided to stand in the front near the stage.  The facility is fantastic for concerts, this is a place that Pittsburgh has been sorely missing over the years.  It is more intimate than Station Square's IC Light Amphitheatre, which I estimate would hold the same number of people.  Permanent luxury Porta Johns and concessions stands lined the perimeter of the complex and the lines seemed reasonable. 

The crowd was pretty diverse, a mix of late 20's/early 30's and teens ready to rock.  A hippie with hair down his back stood near us and was whipping his hair around hitting us on the back of the neck throughout the show which got pretty annoying after awhile. 

On to the show.  A local band named Triggers opened for Weezer.  The band consisted of a keyboardist, guitar, bass player, and drummer.  They were alright they were going for a Black Keys sound.  The bassist reminded me of an old college friend who was a computer science major (he also coincidentally played bass).  They played for about 45 minutes which may have been a little too long.
Weezer's Rivers Cuomo
Weezer hit the stage at approximately 9:05pm and tore through 19 songs without much talk between songs.  They played seven songs from their 1994 classic "Blue" album and mixed in some of the newer hits.  In the middle of the set Weezer decided to cover Radiohead's "Paranoid Android."  This seems like it would be a difficult song to cover and they struggled with it.  The PG's music critic, Scott Mervis, had a similar opinion.  The crowd didn't respond well to it and it may have been because some were too young for the classic from OK Computer.  Pills and I were critiquing the song like the old Muppet characters Statler and Waldorf who opine from the balcony and some pimply-faced teen turned around and asked us if Radiohead was any good.  What a fool.  The show ended around 10:30pm.  I was satisfied with the set list, however it was surprising that Weezer didn't play anything from the critically acclaimed "Pinkerton" album. 

Overall it was a great show and I loved Stage AE, it is the perfect place for bands of a similar size following of Weezer.  It has been a long time since Weezer last played in Pittsburgh, hopefully they won't wait another nine years to make their return.

Set List
Hash Pipe
Green Album
Undone - The Sweater Song
Blue Album
Perfect Situation
Make Believe
Say It Ain't So
Blue Album
Trouble Maker
Red Album
Dope Nose
Paranoid Android
Radiohead Cover
My Name is Jonas
Blue Album
Island in the Sun
Green Album
Surf Wax America
Blue Album
Green Album
Keep' Fishin'
In the Garage
Blue Album
Beverly Hills
Make Believe
Pork and Beans
Red Album
Only in Dreams
Blue Album
(If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To
Buddy Holly
Blue Album
Statler and Waldorf  aka Pills and RKorn

Friday, May 27, 2011

Top '90s Albums

While trying to wait out the end of the day and welcome the three-day weekend, I noticed Rolling Stone tweet a link to their 100 Best Albums of the '90s list. I won't quibble too much with individual placement of albums, as it is obviously a very subjective exercise to build a list like this one. However, there are some huge omissions. In fact, I'm pretty sure I can put together a top ten list that rivals RS's top 10, comprised entirely of omissions from their top 100.

RS Top 10Top 10 Snubs
  1. Nirvana - Nevermind
  2. Dr. Dre - The Chronic
  3. Radiohead - OK Computer
  4. U2 - Achtung Baby
  5. Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
  6. Pearl Jam - Ten
  7. Nirvana - In Utero
  8. The Notorious B.I.G. - Ready to Die
  9. Beck - Odelay
  10. Pavement - Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
  1. Weezer - Blue Album
  2. Red Hot Chili Peppers - Californication
  3. Toadies - Possum Kingdom
  4. Soundgarden - Badmotorfinger
  5. Pearl Jam - Vs.
  6. Alice in Chains - Dirt
  7. Temple of the Dog - Temple of the Dog
  8. Ben Folds Five - The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner
  9. Stone Temple Pilots - Core
  10. Bush - Sixteen Stone

Not to shabby, if I do say so myself. It's tough going against a list that includes two Nirvana albums and both Radiohead and U2's great leaps forward. But, pound for pound, I'd be pretty happy to own my top 10 against the RS top 10. Plus, don't forget that RS put the albums in my list behind 90 additional albums.

Flashback Baltimore 2006: 5 yr Anniversary of First Blog Review

Five years ago I wrote my first ever blog review on MySpace.  I blogged about my trip to Baltimore and the HFStival concert, I thought it would be fun to release this post to the Blast Furnace to commemorate the occasion.  This trip included a few Blast Furnace contributors; I have changed the names to protect the innocents.  Enjoy!
Memorial Day Weekend 2006
I spent Memorial Day 2006 in Columbia, MD where Oechsleins and his wife reside.  Chris and I drove down on Saturday afternoon and had a mini-picnic/barbeque, Oechselins playing the burger chef.  Later that night we made a 20 minute journey to Baltimore to go bar hopping.  I found the bars to be very nice; it puts Pittsburgh’s beloved Southside to shame. The bars that we visited in Canton and Fells Point were new and streets clean.  The first bar we entered, the bartender offered us a ‘stoplight’ shot.  We were clueless on what a ‘stoplight’ was but it consisted of three shots: green, yellow, and red.  These shots must be slugged back in the conventional stoplight sequence and participants must race each other.  Chris won the contest and Oechsleins finished last, I may have won if I wasn't chewing gum which I eventually swallowed on my last shot.  Other highlights from that night included drinking a cold Natty Boh and looking out at the old "Homicide: Life on the Streets" police station.  BPDave3 even called at 5:00am to check in from Corpus Christi, TX.
On to Sunday, the main reason for the visit, we went to the HFStival at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, MD, a venue similar to Star Lake only more wooded.  It was a very hot and humid Maryland afternoon, temperatures reached the 90s. The main headliners were the bands AFI, 80's rock chick Joan Jett, Dashboard Confessional, Strokes, and Counting Crows. The first band that we enjoyed was Damone.  They had a fairly hot female lead singer and were a pleasant surprise since they were playing the second stage.  I thought that AFI was the best band of the day, lead singer Davey Havok, who Pills, Oechsleins, and I saw one night in Oakland at 1:00am, (not really but a transvestite look-a-like who was interested in one of the three of us) had a great stage presence.  Other notable highlights include Dashboard Confessional playing Radiohead's "Fake Plastic Trees" and Counting Crows opening up with “Mr. Jones.”
AFI's Davey Havok
I observed a lot of things and people (Oechsleins referred to it as "people watching" which he enjoys too) at the concert which was entertaining enough without the music. There was a lot of white trash with really bad tattoos concentrated throughout the venue.  One twenty-something in particular caught the eye of Chris, Oechsleins, and me; a blond curly haired stoner, wearing glasses with a Super Marijuana Brothers t-shirt on.  He loved Coheed & Cambria and was proudly holding his DVD high into the heavens thanking the rock 'n roll Gods for putting a band of this magnitude on earth. There was also a security guard in his forties with a huge disc in his ear, which stretched his ear down to his cheek and he also had a nose ring between his two nostrils, like a bull.  He was, in Oechsleins’ words “an animal.”  Chris also saw Drew Barrymore walking in the pavilion and Counting Crows lead singer Adam Duritz got fat.  There were just so many fascinating people there to write about.  That about raps up this addition of RKorn’s blog.  Kudos go out to Oechsleins and wife for being such great hosts and making it a fun Memorial Day weekend.

Follow-up:  The trip to Baltimore and the HFStival was pretty fun.  I would end up going to Baltimore five times after that trip and always had a good time.  Our group has found our favorite spots:  Pub Dogs in Federal Hill and Nacho Mamas in Canton.  My affinity for AFI began there as well.  I had of course been exposed to them before 2006, but I never really listened to them.  After their performance I became a huge fan.  I hope my blogging skills have improved since then. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Yinzer in Space

Emsworth native Mike Fincke is in space aboard the shuttle Endeavour.  On April 29, Endeavour blasted off for its 36th and final mission.  U.S. Air Force Col. Fincke and the crew of STS-134 will deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, two communications antennas, a high-pressure gas tank, additional spare parts for the space robot Dextre and micrometeoroid debris shields to the space station.

Col. Fincke was born on March 14, 1967, in Pittsburgh and grew up in Emsworth. The Sewickley Academy graduate now lives in Houston, but his parents still live in Emsworth.  The Pittsburgh astronaut has served two previous tours aboard the International Space Station as a flight engineer and commander.  Fincke has logged 365 days in space, placing him third among Americans for the most time spent in space by an astronaut.

The 'DVE Morning Show created a skit "Yinzer in Space" about Fincke's space odyssey.

Read more about Finke and the mission: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11111/1140630-51.stm#ixzz1NSwmcpvS

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

20th Anniversary of the Penguins First Cup

It was 20 years ago today in Bloomington, Minnesota that the Pittsburgh Penguins won their first Stanley Cup Championship defeating the Minnesota North Stars four games to two.  Captain Mario Lemieux was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner.  This Penguin team was loaded with stars led by NHL Hall of Famers Lemieux, Ron Francis, Joe Mullen, Paul Coffey, Bryan Trottier, and Larry Murphy.  These Hall of Famers were supported by multiple time All Stars Kevin Stevens, Mark Recchi, Tom Barrasso, and an 18 year old rookie phenom that took the NHL by storm Jaromir Jagr.  Many believe the key to this team's championship run was the blockbuster trade that brought Ron Francis, Ulf Samuelsson, and Grant Jennings to the Penguins in exchange for Jeff Parker, Zarley Zalapski, and John Cullen.  Penguins coach and eventual Hall of Famer 'Badger' Bob Johnson was the perfect fit to lead this team to the promised land.  GM Craig Patrick also had hired Hall of Fame and winningest coach in NHL history Scotty Bowman to Director of Director of Player Development to assist in the formation of the '91 Penguins.

The City of Pittsburgh truly became the City of Champions on May 25, 1991 as the Penguins joined the Pirates and Steelers as championship winning professional sports teams.  The City hadn't seen a championship since 1980 and celebrated appropriately by greeting the players at the Greater Pittsburgh International Airport and partying on the Southside. 

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette wrote a Where are they now? piece on some of the members of this championship team.  Here are some clips of this great run from one of the best sports videos ever made "One from the Heart."

Holgorsen Embraces WVU Spirit

Head Coach Behind this year's head coach Dana Holgorsen
Despite his short tenure at West Virginia, it appears that Head Coach in waiting Dana Holgorsen has fully come to appreciate what it takes to become a member of the WVU community.  According to this report, Holgorsen had to be escorted out of the elegant Mardi Gras Casino & Resort at the early hours of 3 am on May 18.  Holgorsen apparently was there with other university representatives, most likely just trying to 'fit in.'

Normally, a coach at a major university would wait to have a couple good seasons before getting drunk and obnoxious at a university function, especially on a Wednesday night.  For example, Frank Solich had a long history of winning seasons before passing out drunk in his car, which was facing the wrong direction on a one way street - while the car was still in drive.

No, Holgorsen decided it was best to get his first drunken scandal out of the way, so he could get down to brass tacks and focus on recruiting kids who couldn't get into other schools.  Boozing, gambling, and mixing it up with local police - Holgorsen is WVU through and through. 

Pittsburgh Goes Crazy for Another Chamionship

You may be wondering, did the Penguins, Power, or a local university win a championship? If you are a sports fan you will surely say no, but if you are a fan of pop culture you will know that Hines Ward and partner Kym Johnson have added another title to the City of Champions' trophy case.

With the NFL season finishing more than three months ago and a pending lockout yinzers far and wide have been yearning for some reason to wave their Terrible Towels in the months that they are usually left folded in a drawer. "Dancing With the Stars" and Hines Ward gave Steeler Nation the chance to rejoice in yet another show of affection for the Black and Gold. Since Hines Ward began dancing ratings had been high for the already beloved TV show, but as proud yinzers, Steeler Nation was sure to support Hines Ward both by watching the show and calling in to ensure victory for a Steeler. Even amidst rival cities such as Baltimore and Cleveland staging anti-Hines Ward phone calls in order to stop any chance of Hines winning Steeler Nation thwarted their efforts successfully.

Last night's "Dancing With the Stars" had everyone on the edge of their seats much like the final drive of Super Bowl XLIII as Santonio Holmes made that infamous game winning touchdown catch. Sally Wiggin, (who was sent out to Los Angeles to cover the event) in particular was emotionally moved as Hines won and she cried tears of joy. Not to be outdone, Pittsburgh even hosted a "Dancing With the Stars" finale party at Stage AE on the North Shore in an effort to support Hines and his pursuit of the coveted Mirror Ball Trophy.  Roughly 500 towel waving people decked out in black and gold attended the event hosted by Action News anchor Andrew Stockey .

As Ward and partner Kym Johnson performed a samba as their last dance they both were concerned as Kirstie Alley seemed to receive a better reaction from the crowd and some of the judges.  Although Ward and Johnson were visibly concerned, they had to know that the yinzers of Steeler Nation would help them get over the top. That is exactly what happened as the dancing duo was crowned champion and handed the Mirror Ball Trophy. Hines even said "this (Mirror Ball Trophy) will go right next to my MVP trophy in my house."

Fan reaction on the North Shore was captured by Channel 4. http://www.wtae.com/dancing-with-the-stars-extended-coverage/28014402/video.html.  This coverage truly captures the spirit and enthusiasm of Pittsburgh's love for one of their own.  Hines Ward thanked all of his supporters in the 'burgh, "I just want to thank all of Steeler Nation for their support for Kym and I. It's been a wonderful ride and we couldn't have made it this far without you guys. Drink one for us and I'll bring this Mirror Ball Trophy back to Pittsburgh and we can have a big party in Pittsburgh."

Has Pittsburgh found its new favorite entertainment? Will there be a victory parade in honor of Ward and Johnson? Will Ward retire and become a full-time dancer? Will yinzers be attending ball room dancing events and classes? Or maybe this was just an excuse to get drunk on a Tuesday night. These are all questions that will be answered as Pittsburgh lives in the glory of another championship.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Pirates VIP Latin Night

Monday night I had the opportunity to attend Pirates VIP Latin Night which was a reception put together by the Pittsburgh Hispanic Chamber of Commerce along with the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was an exclusive event extended only to 100 guests which included several Pirates players, management, and their families. It was a a nice way for the Latin players to mingle with members of Pittsburgh's Latin American community in order to show their support due to common cultural ties. The event was held in the club section behind home plate which is a place I rarely have the opportunity to watch a game from.

The night started with delicious, light hors d'oeuvres such as empanadas, rice and beans, Cuban paninins, nachos with gourmet salsa, soft drinks and a cash bar with some traditional Latin music played by the great DJ. Following the hors d'oeuvres we were introduced to several of the Latin players and staff highlighted by Jose Tabata, Ronny Cedeno, and Jose Veras. After the player introductions we saw a few awards presented to local business leaders who have been important to the Latin community.

Following the awards I was delighted to hear Frank Coonelly speak. Let me just say that after hearing Coonelly speak I was far from impressed, in fact underwhelmed would be an exaggeration. Coonelly first discussed the Pirates rich history of Latin players beginning with Roberto Clemente followed by an anecdote of how much Clemente means to Latin players because as he walked through the Mets Dominican baseball academy there were gold 21's on all of the doors. This made me wonder, do the Pirates also show Clemente the same respect in their Dominican or any baseball academy? Frank then continued to state that when he took over the organization, the Pirates had no presence in Latin America and no Latin players in the Pirates organization. His number one goal was to become a leader in Latin America again and that we can now see the fruits of all of his labor. I don't want to be hard on Coonelly, but how about a little humility considering your already low stature with the Pittsburgh sports community and we have yet to taste any of that fruit.

Once the awards and speeches wrapped up we had time to talk and take pictures with the players. They all seemed very nice and happy to speak with us. I think they enjoyed being treated as a person instead of a professional athlete. Watching them in their element playing pool with each other, dancing, and drinking kind of made me feel bad for them that they are so far from anything Latin in Western PA. It also reminded me of a great baseball movie "Sugar" which chronicles the life of a top Domincan baseball player make his way through the minor league system. In the end everyone is human and wants to feel at home.

The highlight of the night was gift basket raffle style give away. There were about 10 different prize baskets including a Tabata signed game jersey, baseball signed by Pedro Alvarez, and gift certificates. I happened to be next to Coonelly at this point and this is when his true numbskullery came out as he was checking with his family to make sure they put raffle tickets into the correct gift baskets and then double checking the ticket boxes themselves. I wondered why the President of the team would play in the first place, and be so concerned with winning the prize. Of course, Coonelly won a prize and happily took it back to his seat. Some people jokingly booed (I booed seriously) and Frank gave back the basket and it was offered again as a re-raffle. All while Frank had a curious and pathetic grin, as if he was thinking that giving up the prize would win him over with his countless skeptics.

All in all it was a fun event and I am looking forward to the next Pirates VIP Latin Night filled with good food, good people, and a good laughs at the expense of one of Pittsburgh's favorite stooges, the Pirates president.

Monday, May 23, 2011

PNC Plans World's Greenest Skyscraper

Site of future PNC Skyscraper
Over the span of 18 months, an assortment of unknown entities and LLC's acquired all of the real estate between Fifth and Forbes Avenue along Wood Street.  During this time, PNC declined to comment on whether they were behind the acquisitions.  However, it was widely believed to be PNC because the same companies that purchased the real estate that led to the development of PNC Tower 3 were involved in this land procurement as well. 

PNC finally acknowledged that they were the company behind the purchashing, and released their intentions to build another office building.  Today, PNC went even further and released their plans to erect the World's Greenest Skyscraper.

Details are scarce at this time, but early plans indicate that the goal is to design a building that will exceed LEED Platinum, currently the highest possible rating by the U.S. Green Building Council.  This fourth building will sit adjacent to PNC's other three buildings and is planned to be 40 stories high and approximately 800,000 square feet.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Top Major League Baseball Hats

The previous post inspired me to make my top 10 list of best baseball hats. This is very similar to the NFL helmet debate simply because on a hat you have limited space. I am not including general logos because I feel that the hat is more representative than a logo for baseball. The baseball hat is iconic. For instance,the Pirate logo is great and always has been, but I am rating based on the 'P' on the hat.

Top Baseball Hats:
1. White Sox, primary hat, diagonal Olde English words can't describe this hat.
2. Yankees, primary hat, as much as I hate to put the Yankees on this list the hat is a classic and has defined more than just a baseball team.
3. Tigers, primary hat, I love the Olde English D.
4. Pirates, primary hat, classic two colors the 'P' is iconic.
5. Cardinals, primary hat, the red and the S T L is a great twist on the traditional letters.
6. Dodgers, primary hat, again, great blue and stayed true to Brooklyn roots.
7. Brewers, throwback hat, for some reason this is so simple and lame that it is cool.
8. Orioles, throwback hat, tri-color hat with big cartoon Oriole, a sign of the years past.
9. Angels, current primary hat or throwback with tilted halo, very rare combination of letters and logo that looks good.
10. Indians, primary hat, this is the best non-letter hat and you can actually see the entire Chief Wahoo without being too much on a hat.

Obviously the theme for my list was classic and simple. Baseball is the one sport where the hats have not changed much and if they do it is the alternate uniform that showcases the new design. Maybe it has to do with being America's past time and another way that baseball stays constant over time, but the best hats will never need updated.

Steelers win everything

This time it's ESPN's Helmet Power Rankings. Using the votes of eight of their NFL bloggers, here's the top 10 list they came up with:

1. Pittsburgh
2. Indianapolis
3. Oakland
4. Green Bay
5. San Diego
6. Dallas
7. Minnesota
8. Cleveland
9. Chicago
10. Miami

That's a pretty good list and it's hard to argue with the Steelers at #1. It's got local flavor with the steel symbol, is unique in only having the logo on one side and is the kind of logo that'll never go out of style, unlike the crappy "fast" logos of the '90s and '00s that seem pretty unfortunate now.

The voting shows that 26 different teams received at least one vote, showing just how subjective of an exercise it is to rank helmets. But, if I have a gripe with the list it's that Cleveland's helmet is crap and, yet again, San Diego's is grossly overrated. I have no idea why San Diego gets so much love in these uniform/helmet/logo debates. If it were my list, I'd probably drop out San Diego and Cleveland and bring in the Redskins and Chiefs. I'd also put any of the Bills, Rams, and Broncos in there if they'd go back to their traditional logos/color schemes. The NHL is showing these days that it is possible to go back on regrettable logo decisions, it'd be nice to see the NFL follow suit.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Night at the Rock Bottom

So last night, a few of us at the Blast Furnace headed down to the Rock Bottom to sample on some award winning home brews. They were showcasing the Three Rivers Alliance of Serious Homebrewers annual competition winners, including the Best in Show winner, a Saison, and the East End award winner, a Scottish 60 Schilling Ale.

Promptly at seven they began to hand out a sample of each brew to every person in the bar, which was itself enough of a reason to have gone.

We started with the Saison, which I don't think any of us were particularly crazy about. Not that there was anything wrong with the beer, the type just wasn't necessarily up our alley. It had an overall sweet taste and, almost like a wine, had lots of subtle flavors, rather than a strong taste of anything specific like you typically find in other types of beers. I've had Saisons before, and this one was as good as any other one I've ever had, but, generally, I think it's more for true beer snobs, rather than novice beer snobs such as ourselves.

Next up was the Scottish 60-Shilling Ale. 60-schilling refers to the traditional price charged for the beer, 60-schilling being at the lower end. That meaning has evolved now to refer to the weaker end of alcohol content relative to other Scottish Ales and this one checks in at 3% alcohol. And that pretty much sums up the experience of drinking this one. I liked it a good bit just for being a Scottish Ale, but I prefer the stronger maltiness and alcohol from other Ales out there. That said, if I ever do get into home brewing, I'd be damn proud to make something like this one.

As for the night itself, it was definitely a cool experience. You could tell most of the people there were fellow home brew enthusiasts who came to support the award winners. The East End Brewery owner was also on hand, though being in his element as he was, he was being pulled in too many directions for us to try to get a word in with him, but hopefully we'll rectify that soon with a visit to his facility.

One last note, they had about the lamest bar trivia night ever going on. It had too many easy questions, too many 50-50 questions and involved submitting answers via paper.

Altoona sells naming rights, announces new name

For the next 60 days, Altoona will be known as POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.  Tack the PA on the end of it for the mailing address. 

Documentarian Morgan Spurlock bought the naming rights of the town -- for $25,000 -- in order to promote his new movie: "POM wonderful presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold."  In case you were wondering, it cost POM wonderful a cool $1 million for its inclusion in the name of Spurlock's new film.

This is not Spurlock's first documentary, as most people are familiar with "Supersize Me."  However, in this film, Spurlock attempts to show how advertising infiltrates almost every sector of our lives.  Says Spurlock, "Even when I’m standing at a urinal, chances are there’s an ad or a video screen staring back at me.... That used to be a little ‘me’ time that I had, a little private ‘me’ time that I’d like to have back.”

Examples of advertising in our lives can be seen everywhere, from PNC Park to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl to the worst of all: the GMRI scoreboard brought to you by McDonald's.  The last example is the actual name of the scoreboard at Washington Redskin stadium, or more correctly, FedEx Field.

Advertising is also all over our movies and television, from Coke placement in movies to iPad involvement in shows.  In Spurlock's new film, he attempts to get his entire film financed by these advertisements alone.  The film follows his travels where he attempts to accomplish this task.  Along these travels, he ends up in Pittsburgh, where he starts to work on advertising his own 'brand.' 

Advertising obviously works.  I wouldn't be paying attention to this documentary or article about his new movie had I not seen that Altoona was changing its name to promote a movie.  While it may be interesting to see him make an entire movie financed by advertisers, I believe he obviously missed the bus on exposing the infiltration of marketing in our daily lives.  That has been evident for a while. 

Morgan Spurlock

Thursday, May 19, 2011

I survived 'Judgement' Day - check out my shirt

Is it just me, or is it ironic that judgementday2011.com is selling tee-shirts that say: "I survived Judgement Day 2011."

Judgementday2011.com is a website offering the play-by-play as to how and when the earth is going to end.  It actually predicts that an earthquake this weekend will mark the beginning of the rapture, whatever the hell that means.  Anyways, I guess they figure that if they are wrong, you might as well buy a tee-shirt that celebrates the fact that you survived.

By the way, did anybody from that site realize that they spelled 'judgment' wrong?  That's gotta be embarrassing.

Front of shirt

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The case for Iron City

Ever since my grandfather's kitchen was redone and I was able to take his 20+ year old fridge into my basement as my designated beer fridge, my monthly beer buying routine is to stock up on beer once a month. Each time, I buy a random microbrew case or sampler pack to try to expand my beer drinking horizons. I also buy a 30 pack of Iron City. While I'm planning on starting to share my experiences with the microbrews, I want to start my beer reviewing career with a look at Iron City.

My purpose here isn't to judge Iron City, because all of us know exactly what it is, a macro-produced pilsner style beer along the lines of Budweiser, Miller and Coors, but instead to make a case for why it is every Pittsburgher's duty to support our local brew.

The reality is that in a blind taste test, there is almost no chance any of you are going to be able to tell the difference between the Big Three and Iron City. You just aren't. So why do so many people claim that "Bud Light is my favorite beer."? Marketing. Marketing is the only thing that differentiates these different beers. The entire mass-produced corporate conglomerate beer market is designed to appeal to as many people as possible, thus the indistinguishableness between their products. It doesn't pay to be bold in that market.

So why Iron City? Because it encourages greater diversity in choice. Recently I watched the documentary Beer Wars, which takes a hard look at the beer industry's dirty tricks. The Big Three (actually, Big Two now that Miller-Coors have merged) do everything in their power to increase their market share, which includes taking over shelf space from competitors, limiting distribution channels, creating inferior "craft brew" competitors to price smaller breweries out of the market, file frivolous lawsuits that independent businesses can't afford to defend, etc. So when you choose Iron City over the alternatives, you are, at the least, making a statement that commercials won't dictate your buying habits and, at best, eating into some of their market share and encouraging suppliers to provide more diversity.

So the next time you're at the distributor (or, God forbid, the grocery store if you're outside of Pennsylvania) and you find yourself faced with the decision on which mainstream beer to purchase, do yourself and everyone else who wants more flavors to choose from a favor and buy local. If you're in Pittsburgh, buy Iron City. If you're in Maryland, buy Natty Boh. And so on.

Up next on the Blast Furnace beer tours: Craft Brew Night at Rock Bottom in Homestead on Thursday where we'll be sampling the local winners of the home brew contest.

Man Spends Life Savings Prior to Upcoming Doomsday

Robert Fitzpatrick, of Staten Island, has spent his entire life savings ahead of the impending Doomsday.  That's right, a giant earthquake is going to make the earth uninhabitable this upcoming Monday, and there is nothing anybody can do about it.  If you want to set your alarm to make sure you don't miss the beginning of 'the end,' 6:00 pm sharp is when the earthquake starts -- all of this, of course, is courtesy of Robert Fitzpatrick.

Many people have different ideas as to what they would spend their life savings on if the world was coming to an end: A high end sports car, maybe?  Or perhaps a trip around the world?  While these items may have crossed Fitzpatrick's mind, he opted for a different purchase.  Fitzpatrick spent his entire life savings advertising his prediction that the world is coming to an end.  That's right.  He spent $140,000 on over a thousand subway-placards, ads on bus kiosks and subway cars.

His advertisements say: "Global earthquake: The Greatest Ever! Judgment Day May 21, 2011."  One of the advertisements can be seen below.  He says the proof in Doomsday occuring this Monday lies in his self-published book, "The Doomsday Code," and of course, the Bible.

Read the entire story here: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2011/05/14/new-york-man-spends-life-savings-ahead-21-doomsday/

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Look In the Sky...A Bird...A Plane...No It's Clemente!

Wilfred Santiago is a Puerto Rican comic writer and artist who has just published a new graphic novel:"21: The Story of Roberto Clemente" (Fantagraphics Books, $22.99). I am not a huge comic book reader, although I have been to Pittsburgh Comic Con a few times and even made it to Wizard World Chicago twice with my cousin. I have always had interest, but it has never lasted too long. Here and there I will pick up a comic at the store for old times sake or because a monumental issue is printed and Santiago's graphic novel will motivate me to get out to Phantom of the Attic in Oakland this Saturday.

Any story involving Roberto Clemente is sure to be a hit in the Pittsburgh community. I am really excited to see not only how Clemente's life is portrayed in "21", but also to see how Pittsburgh looks in comic form. Will we match legendary Gotham City? Pittsburgh is a true baseball town, but unfortunately the Pirates have not given reason for pride, this graphic novel could hopefully spark some interest from a generation of fans who has yet to see or remember a winner.

I hope this graphic novel is a success and based on what I have seen of the novel will surely add to the already larger than life legacy of Pirates great Roberto Clemente.

Graphic novel '21' tells story of Roberto Clemente - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Pirates winning streak continues

The Pirates continued their impressive streak of bad PR today. On the heels of getting petty with a local bar, the team has silenced top catching prospect Tony Sanchez by forcing him to quit Twitter.

Tony tweeted today "see ya twitter. thanks fans for your continued support. Pittsburgh is the only goal and twitter standing in my way."

Dejan Kovacevic reported on his PG+ blog that he did this under order of Pirates baseball operations.

Tony found himself in a minor controversy just one week ago when he criticized an umpire for a call in a game that night.

Now, the Pirates have every right to be cautious about their employees crossing a line in social media. That said, this smacks of the Pirates not having a clue on how to connect with their fan base. I followed Tony on Twitter, and it was pretty cool keeping tabs on a first round draft pick who is destined for the big leagues as he works his way through the minor league system. He showed a lot of personality and was engaging to Pirates fans and local bloggers. Forcing him to shut down over some relatively harmless tweets, rather than simply giving him a talking to about keeping the company line, comes off as remarkably shortsighted.

The Pirates have a top young prospect building a fan base through social media as he approaches Pittsburgh, which is exactly the kind of buzz the team could use. But rather than encouraging his behavior, the Pirates pull the plug on him.

Examples such as these make Pirates PR seem like the whims of an egomaniacal individual, rather than a modern organization that sees the big picture, and is in stark contrast to the Penguins, who go out of their way often to create positive PR.

Update: Just to drive home the point of how far the Penguins have come since being taken over by ownership and management that has made a point of fostering their relationship with the fans, they are a nominee in the Sports Business Journal's Professional Team of the Year. Also nominated: Chip Ganassi Racing. While not based in Pittsburgh, Chip himself is a Fox Chapel native. Consol Energy Center is nominated for Facility of the Year.

Patron Mexican Grill

If you're looking for great Mexican food, make sure to do yourself a favor and try out Patron's.  Located in Wexford, it offers a great selection at an affordable price. 

When first walking in to Patron's, guests are greeted by the friendly and energetic staff.  Looking around the entrance area, pictures of the many Steelers who have visited the restaurant cover the wall like wallpaper.  Guests also shouldn't be surprised to see Steelers dining there; the last time I visited I was seated next to the entire offensive line.

While walking to your seat, it is nice to take in the atmosphere as the restaurant is decorated in a spanish-type theme.  Looking closely at the decorations, any guest can see that the proprietor took great care in creating the pleasant ambiance of the restaurant.  It is unlike chain restaurants, where the setting occasionally seems carelessly thrown together. 

The staff also makes you feel welcome at the restaurant.  The owner is usually there, checking in with the guests to ensure they are having a good time and have all that they need.  Personally, I have always been very pleased with the service.

The food is also great, and I have brought many friends to the restaurant who say the same.  Make sure to visit the restaurant on Monday 'taco' nights, where tacos are only a dollar and the great tasting margaritas are half off.

Interior of Patron's

You can find a link to Patron's website here: http://www.patronmexgrill.com/index.html.  A listing of their menu and address is available on their site.

Pirates Call for Boycott of Local Bar

Paul Van Osdol and Estelle Aversa courtesy of thepittsburghchannel.com
When the Pirates lose, customers of Kennedy Township's Stroll Inn win.  A promotion was created by the bar for dejected Pirate fans to ease the pain of each loss by getting a nickel off a pitcher of beer.  This is a cumulative promotion, according to Randy Baumann of 102.5 WDVE.  If this year was anything like last year the customer would get $5.00 off a pitcher of beer for a 100 loss season.  Pirate executives caught wind of this promotion and sent an email out asking fans to boycott the establishment, stating, "An occasional joke and jab is expected here and there, but to create business by ripping on the home team is ridiculous and in my opinion distasteful.  Take your business away from the Stroll Inn and to other local restaurants instead."  Bar owner Estelle Aversa, an avid Pittsburgh sports fan was in disbelief over the boycotting campaign telling WTAE's Team 4 investigative reporter Paul Van Osdol, "I was sick to my stomach that the Pirate organization would condone that kind of behavior."   In an interview Tuesday morning interview with the 'DVE Morning Show, Eversa even claimed the Pirates President Frank Coonelly called her on the phone to discourage the promotion.  Eversa told him, "I'm not one of your peons," and referred to Coonelly as an "arrogant ass."

The intent of the promotion, according to Aversa was to make Pirate fans feel better about a loss, a consolation, not to mock the team.  The Stroll Inn has discontinued the promotion after learning of the boycott.  Pirates spokesman Brian Warecki said the team was unaware the employees were urging a boycott, but he said they are "free to share with their friends their feelings about an establishment that would root against its home team."  After 18 losing seasons, Pirate fans need something even if it is just a nickle off a pitcher of beer.

The Pittsburgh sports bar is located on Fairhaven Road.

Read more: http://www.wtae.com/sports/27910677/detail.html#ixzz1MccybObK