Archive for March, 2011

Just one among many pizzerias in Ventura County, this quaint little place is much like the rest: cavernous interior, counter-service style (but they’ll bring whatever you need to your table, including your pizza), with high-top tables and bench-style seating and small low tables throughout. All the staff are very young and friendly.

The pizza is quite tasty. I wanted to try their pesto chicken pizza, but also saw a topping choice of basil and olive oil. Curious, I inquired why they would offer the latter as a separate selection, when pesto is made with both ingredients. Interestingly enough, their pesto is made with spinach, instead of basil, so I asked for that and the soup (chicken tortilla, I think). Well, they were out of the soup, as it was a rainy day, which was understandable. It was not until we got to our table that the cashier came out and told us they were also out of the pesto. Given the similarity, I opted for the basil and olive oil. As it turned out, this was delicious.

I will have to give it another go to have a definitive opinion about Pizza Mizza, but my first visit was pretty good.

Welcome to what I call the “Facebook” generation in which we all now live. People all over the world yearn to share their lives with one another, including, and perhaps most importantly their successes. Whether with gold stars, blue ribbons, badges, stickers and trophies, people always like being rewarded for their behavior. Accordingly, companies offering every assortment of goods and services have taken notice. A recent article by Alex Pham on the Los Angeles Times website sums the concept up nicely: “Dubbed gamification, the practice involves using game mechanics to get people to spend more time on certain products, be it a website or a piece of software.” Essentially, people have become bored with the previous system in which a vendor offers their wares and potential customers decide whether to purchase or not. I would venture say that this ‘old way’ of doing things has become too personal for a consuming public now more comfortable doing business on a computer screen, rather than face to face.

No, this is not an attempt to rail against the seemingly limitless potential of technological innovation. In fact, I support pretty much all social media platforms with a much more open mind than I had been known to previously. Yes, I too now have my very own Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and Yelp! accounts, all fairly similar in their basic concept of social networking. yet distinct in the ways they entice or encourage people to participate.

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

Facebook,well, doesn’t need much explanation… the site grew initially via ravenous word of mouth, then Time Magazine took notice and then a movie was made (purportedly not based on Facebook specifically). With well over 500 million users, the site’s draw may be mostly due to a ‘bandwagon effect’ now than its initial popularity did. Its interface is also quite user-friendly, allowing users to easily communicate and share photos, videos, and information with their friends and family. This is not a very poignant example of a gamification strategy, though many of the advertisers on the site enthusiastically make use of this strategy in their ads. Indeed, many of those advertisers are developers of online games, therefore it is their express business to at least address gamification in their marketing schemes.

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Twitter appears to use a strategy similar to that of Facebook, though the profiles users create on the former are not as detailed as is possible on the latter. You also are not able to write as long of a post on Twitter, as you are limited to just 140 characters in which to express yourself. I actually believe that is what is appealing about the microblogging service: since users are limited to such short messages, each message (in theory) is a powerful little package of information.

Foursquare (social networking)

Image via Wikipedia

Image representing Yelp as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

Yelp! and Foursquare are very similar in their base function as social networking tools, as well as their use of gamification. Bothsites are allow users to create profiles, Foursquare with fewer places toinput personal information than on Yelp!, and write reviews of places they visit, such as eateries, stores, parks, and other assorted venues. Both also use status symbols to rank users on the frequency with which they visit individual venues, or venues with certain attributes. The main difference between the two, in my opinion, is the emphasis put on actual social networking. Yelp! gives virtual ‘badges’ to people for sharing with other users on the site their thoughts on different venues. Foursquare also gives these status symbols to users for leaving reviews, but also for going to places with other users on the site. To me, this should be the purpose of any gamification attempt on these types of sites.

Any way a particular company decides to use it, gamification appeals to the way in which today’s consumer is programmed to operate. It’s simple: we want recognition; we want to be entertained; we want stuff. This strategy’s success as an advertising tool depends upon the demographics of a participating vendor’s customer base, the product or service offered, and most importantly, the message the company wants to send to the consuming public. It may be seen as immature, off-point, or just plain silly by some, but I truly believe this approach to advertising will grab attention as it becomes more prevalent. After all, isn’t life supposed to be fun anyway?

For the final shot of Irishness during this most Irish of months I bring you a band that is a little closer to home. Formed in 1997 by Irishman Dave King, Flogging Molly eventually got all the right characters in place: Dave King on guitars, vocals and bodhran; Dennis Casey on guitars and vocals; Matthew Hensley on accordion, concertina, piano and vocals; Nathan Maxwell on bass and vocals; Bridget Regan on violin, tin whistle, classical guitar, uilleann pipes and vocals; and Robert Schmidt on drums. The group also had a growing following at Molly Malones, the Los Angeles bar that gave them their start. Though they didn’t start out with a specific ‘signature’ sound in mind, how could they not pay homage to the homeland of founding members Dave King and Bridget Regan? I would put their sound somewhere between punk rock and Celtic rock. It’s just fun, rowdy, usually feel-good music. Though they have some more serious, even melancholy themes, I prefer the good timey songs such as the Devil’s Dance Floor, from their 2000 album Swagger:

Logo

Image via Wikipedia

Buca di Beppo is pretty good, if you are with at least two other people. The Thousand Oaks location is huge compared to the fairly small strip mall in which it sits. I always thought the lobby was a bit small compared to the size of the rest of it. The walls are absolutely covered with old photographs and paintings and the tables and chairs are mismatched- all to give the illusion that you are a guest in an Italian person’s home. The bar area is also a bit small, but certainly functional.

The food is tasty, even by a large restaurant chain standard. The marinara and meat sauces are good, if not a little on the sweet side. I prefer the dishes either made without sauce, or with some kind of olive oil base, as they tend to make me feel only slightly less like a gluttonous pig after I have finished gorging myself on all they have to offer. The cheese-garlic bread is, well, amazing. I rarely have room left for dessert, so I don’t feel qualified to comment on those.

The service is hit or miss. With mostly young people working there, this shouldn’t be a tremendous surprise. That being said, the last time I was in there our server was very friendly, attentive and hospitable, especially since it was pretty late on a weeknight. He even comped our birthday cake dessert after it was discovered the frosted name on top was misspelled. Very nice to see they still care about giving every guest a pleasant experience.

Continuing with our theme this month, today’s band comes to us from Armagh, Northern Ireland. Formed in 1993 by brothers Cíaran and Dermot O’Hagan, Waylander originally envisioned their style to resemble that of an ’80s metal band. As if by accident, or perhaps fate, the first song they wrote turned out to be more in the Celtic style. Indeed, according to the metal-archives website, most of the band’s lyrics focus on Celtic mythology, folklore, and history. Though obscured in many biographies found online, the group endured several lineup changes before settling on Cíaran O’Hagan (vocals), Dermot O’Hagan (guitars), Den Ferran (drums) and Jason Barriskill (bass) and recording their debut demo, “Once Upon an Era” in late 1994.

In late 1995/early 1996, the band recorded their second demo “Dawning of a New Age” after removal of bassist Jason Barriskill. He was replaced by Michael Proctor and the band went on to add Máirtín Mac Cormaic on the tin whistle to give their sound a decidedly Celtic-folk feel. This turned out to be a boon for the band’s popularity throughout Ireland, Scotland and England. Then in 1998, they hooked up with Century Media Records and renowned producer Andy Classen at his Stage One Studios in Germany. They recorded and released their debut album “Reawakening Pride Once Lost” to ‘excellent reviews,’ according to their website. By 2008, Waylander had released their latest album Honour Amongst Chaos.

Check out “Born to Fight” from their 1998 Reawakening Pride Once Lost album.

Pittsburgh Shamrocks

Image via Wikipedia

As excitement builds for the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day festivities, I thought I might go back to the place that has become my old standby. This is the only place I would consider going for the most glorious days of gluttony the whole year. I have posted about the food in the past and I still stand by the corned beef, reuben sandwich, bangers & mash, and the crisps (oh, the crisps…) I am just so grateful to have a place to go to get a satisfying variety of Irish beer and whiskey to accompany such great authentic Irish food.

Not only will the food and drink be flowing, but so too will the entertainment. On deck this Thursday are The Praties from 4-8pm and from 9-close the Shenanigans. Accompanying all of the festive music will be Irish dancers from a local dance company and a roving troop of bagpipers. If you are like me and can’t wait until Thursday to start the cráic (“fun”), then I hope to see you tonight when Hollywood U2 will be there. Keep in mind, according to the Brendan’s Facebook, there will be a $10 cover for the Hollywood U2 show. Should be a good time and as the saying goes: ‘the more the merrier!’

Happy St. Patrick’s week!

Albeit one day late, today’s installment comes from none other than one of the most famous and successful bunch of musicians to ever come out of Ireland, indeed of all time– U2. This iconic group of rockers has been entertaining the masses since forming in 1978. Although they didn’t know much about playing music at the time, this quartet knew they had something special right from the start. All that had to happen to get these guys together was for Larry Mullen, Jr. to post a want ad on the bulletin board at the school they all attended. By practicing in Mullen’s kitchen in Dublin, they whittled the six respondents to the ad down to five and they had their band. Next, they decided on a name. Not knowing much about music at the time, they called themselves ‘Feedback’. They began as a cover band, until, according to Wikipedia, their growing popularity drew four of the band members together, causing the fifth, Dik Evans, to feel like an outcast and leave the band onstage during a show. From there, as they say, the rest was history.

I felt like I had no choice but to pick one of the most famous of their legendary Irish rock anthems. Sunday Bloody Sunday became one of the band’s signature songs. Heavily laden with emotion, the lyrics speak to one of the most horrific events in Ireland’s tumultuous history. ‘Blood Sunday‘ began as a planned civil rights march by protesters in the city of Derry in Northern Ireland on Sunday, January 30 1972. Northern Ireland at the time was in a battle against internment by the British and would-be civil rights marchers feared military action that would aim to stop the event. In the end, 14 protesters were shot and killed that day by British troops. Granted civil rights can be an incendiary, divisive issue, but by all accounts, the people that died that day were fed up and wanted what any free-thinking human being wants: freedom. Despite the deeply emotional issues about which this particular song was written, U2 remains one of the most widely respected and best selling bands of all time. Although I do not own any of their albums, my own Irish heritage cannot help but draw me into their mesmerizing charisma and sound.