Sunday, December 18, 2011

Habit Burger

This week I tried Habit Burger. They just opened one in my area. I wasn't impressed. The service was friendly and fast, and the place was clean. However the food wasn't memorable. I got the original Charburger and it tasted a lot like most burgers at Burger King. The fries were good, but not as good as Five Guys or In-N-Out.

I don't think I'll make a habit of this place.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


I just finished the audiobook "Brandwashed" by Martin Lindstrom and it was very interesting. The author is an expert in the field of marketing and how to get people to buy your product. In the book he describes and explains the very many methods employed by companies across the world to get their hands on your disposable income. Here's his web site for the book. The amazon page includes favorable reviews (as if they'd post anything but) from famous people, including Dr. Oz and Steven Levitt. Here is a list I copied from that page about the book's contents:

• New findings that reveal how advertisers and marketers intentionally target children at an alarmingly young age – starting when they are still in the womb!
• Shocking results of an fMRI study which uncovered what heterosexual men really think about when they see sexually provocative advertising (hint: it isn’t their girlfriends).
• How marketers and retailers stoke the flames of public panic and capitalize on paranoia over global contagions, extreme weather events, and food contamination scares.
• The first ever neuroscientific evidence proving how addicted we all are to our iPhones and our Blackberry’s (and the shocking reality of cell phone addiction - it can be harder to shake than addictions to drugs and alcohol).
• How companies of all stripes are secretly mining our digital footprints to uncover some of the most intimate details of our private lives, then using that information to target us with ads and offers ‘perfectly tailored’ to our psychological profiles.
• How certain companies, like the maker of one popular lip balm, purposely adjust their formulas in order to make their products chemically addictive.
• What a 3-month long guerilla marketing experiment, conducted specifically for this book, tells us about the most powerful hidden persuader of them all.

The book covers all sorts of aspects, from careful placement of merchandise inside a store, to manipulation of muzak content, to social media avenues like Facebook and Twitter, and more, all carefully designed to get us to buy more, and to buy specific merchandise.

The author carried his research into marketing efficacy to an interesting extreme. After seeing the movie The Joneses, he decided to do exactly that: hire an affluent family in a suburban neighborhood to secretly pitch products and brands to their friends and neighbors. Amazing! He called it The Morgensons. Here's a nice video overview of that experient.

While his results from that experiment were no surprise to me, it was very interesting to hear about how it unfolded. I don't doubt his prediction that the future will see many companies doing exactly this for what they call "guerilla marketing."

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Big Daddy's

Yesterday I tried the new burger joint in town, Big Daddy's Fire Grill. This one is located in Pasadena at the corner of Foothill and Craig, right next door to an In-N-Out.

I had the Hawaii Five-O Burger. It was very good. The meat had flavor and tasted like other angus burgers I've had in the past. It could have used some teriyaki sauce (or something) though, and so was a little dry by itself. I got the "combo" which adds fries and a drink, and it cost me $10.

This meal cost me the same as I spent last week at Five Guys in Valencia. However the big Daddy's burger was much larger and had more flavor. Also, Big Daddy's fries was much larger than Five Guys. There were so many fries, I could not eat them all. I liked the cajun fries at Five Guys better. Heck, I like the fries at In-N-Out better than Big Daddy's. All said, I'll probably eat there again.

One more thing. I'm not sure what to think about the tag line on Big Daddy's web site, even ignoring the typo. I've included a screen cap below in case they change it.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Palen Pass Continued

Just on the west side of the pass sits the most difficult challenge. A small hill leaving the wash. It might be rated 3 or 4 (depending on conditions) and it was easy and fun to climb up. These two videos posted on youtube make it look harder than it is (video 1, video 2). I mounted my gopro to the left passenger door and the resulting video sucks, so I won't post it here.

Here are some shots of the rock shelters at the top of the pass.

East of Palen Pass, the trail heads down the Arlington Mine Road which is in a very wide wash. Luckily, it's a somewhat graded surface and very easy to follow.

There were some sandy sections in the wash itself and that was fun as the trail twisted around the brush in up to 4 inches of sand with a gentle downslope. I almost coasted through that at 25 mph.

Approaching Blythe from the north, I came across citrus groves, then cotton fields.

I had planned to also drive the Old Palo Verde Road, Milpitas Wash Road, and Graham Pass Trail, but decided to head home. That turned out to be a bad decision. A big car crash on westbound I-10 just east of Red Cloud exit held up traffic for a long time. The news reports said that traffic was stopped for 4 hours. I was near the front of the held traffic and was stopped for about 45 minutes. People were walking around outside their cars, walking their dogs, kids were peeing along the the side of the road. At least it wasn't real hot or real cold. I could see the flight-for-life helicopter land and then take off.

As far as I know, nobody died. But it was quite a bad crash scene.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Shatner Rules

I listened to the audiobook of Shatner Rules, by William Shatner. I bought it without any idea if I'd like it. I've never read anything by him before. I was pleasantly surprised and I enjoyed it a lot. Shatner reads the audiobook and that helps.

While only partly biographical, and a bit self-promotional (in a humorous way), it's mostly full of funny stories and other humorous remarks. I learned a few useless things, like the phrase "Beam me up Scotty." was never used in the original Star Trek series. And if you yell that toward him in public, he's likely to flip you off.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Palen Pass Trail

Last Friday I drove the Palen Pass Trail in the Mojave Desert. It appears in Massey's book of southern California trails. It was fun to get out and about. The weather was nice with temps in the mid 70s and a little breeze. I basically took the long way to Blythe.

First, I stopped off at the aqueduct to snap some photos.

Then I walked around a bit at the old site of the Coxcomb Camp, part of the Desert Training Center. This is one of the camps where George Patton trained his troops for the Africa campaign in WWII. Here's a google map centered on the site. I didn't find any unexploded ordinance, but did find the remnants of walkways that ran between the tents. This site has photos of the camp during that time period.

The road headed east up the bajada toward Palen Pass was sandy in places (up to 4 inches deep) but that's no problem. The challenge is the many washouts and dips that require slowing a lot and having high clearance.

I saw this rock arrow beside the trail. It points east, which matches the "E" in rocks at the tip of the arrow. I have no idea what this is about.

More on Palen Pass in an upcoming post.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


I listened to the audiobook version of Michael Lewis' latest book, Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World. I enjoyed it a lot. In fact, it was so interesting, I've already listened to it twice.

Told in the first-person, it's an account of his travels to Europe visiting several countries that have experienced trauma from the financial crisis that began in 2008 here in the US. Lewis has sufficient name cache that he scored interviews with important government officials in several countries.

I learned a lot from the book. I learned about some of the different ways the various countries got themselves into trouble. I learned about who the citizens of those countries are blaming for their lot. And I learned a few German swear words. There's a few of them in there. It's not rigorous or complete or comprehensive. In Lewis' style, he drills down into a few interesting alleys in each country. I liked that.

If you enjoyed Lewis' book, "The Big Short," then you'll enjoy this book.

For a more detailed review, here's the Washington Post writeup on it.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Peaceful Desert

I went for a drive this weekend in the Mojave National Preserve. There were still small puddles of water from the rainfall the previous day. Snow dusted the tops of Clark Mountain and the Providence Mountains. The temps were a bit chilly (around 40F) but it was very pleasant.

I wanted to get away from the city and start listening to the Steve Jobs biography audiobook. That book is 24.5 hours long, so my drive only made a small dent into it. The next shot includes the top of Kelso Peak in the distant background. I hiked that years ago. It's a nice hike. Much easier than Cowhole Mountain or Old Dad Mountain.

I drove over to see if one of the trails in my map was open. It was not. It looked as if the government had blocked access a long time ago.

I stopped off at Kelso Dunes. It was too crowded for my taste. The parking lot was full. I took a few photos of the dunes and the people up on the ridge and summit.

Then I explored some trails east of the Granite Mountains. That was fun. I got out to scramble over some huge granite boulders and get some fresh air.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


In light of my weakness for marchmallows (I've now consumed 2 bags), I read the new book Willpower - Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney. While I enjoyed the book, I don't recommend it. Reason is: most of the message I was looking for was contained in a very small portion of the book. However, I read a lot and I'm sure that many people will enjoy more of the book than I did.

I'm sitting upright as I type this blog entry. More on that later. The book describes research conducted by Baumeister wherein they deduced that willpower / self-control is like a muscle, inasmuch as it can be fatigued from over use. We can exercise our self-control and increase its strength. One such exercise they found to be effective, was practicing the habit of sitting up straight. They also showed that the depleted ego can be energized with a sugary treat. Diet sweeteners did not work.

He devotes chapters to several celebrities who struggle with self-control, including Oprah Winfrey, David Plaine, Drew Carey, and Eliot Spitzer. I mostly enjoyed the first few chapters, before he got into the celebrity case studies.

Saturday, October 08, 2011


I bought a bag of marshmallows, so I could perform the famous marshmallow experiment on my friends' kids. Then I ate them all. So I had to buy another bag.

Seems I failed my own experiment.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Car Guys vs Bean Counters

I just finished the audiobook version of Bob Lutz's new book, "Car Guys vs Bean Counters - the Battle for the Soul of American Business." I liked it. I learned a lot about the automotive industry. I see a lot of similarities with other industries.

Early in the book Lutz described the systemic problems at GM in words that resonated with me, since I've seen the same thing in other companies. He said they were fostering a culture of corporate infallibility and self-worship. And that their goal in product design and development was "perfecting mediocrity."

Their focus had been on making profit numbers, and not on producing quality vehicles. By intentionally not designing high quality (and slightly more expensive) cars, the bean counters were treating the customers as hapless victims, in order to ensure profits down stream (replacement parts). They were driven to reduce costs, skimp on service, and ruthlessly pursue quarterly profits.

The book also includes an interesting history of how the Chevy Volt came about.

I don't agree with everything Bob says. And you probably won't either. But it's still an interesting book. I think this is a great read for any senior manager in any industry.

Here is the CNN/Money review and the BusinessWeek review.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Elbow Canyon - A Great 4wd Trail

This is a great 4wd trail! I really enjoyed driving this little road in the northwest corner of Arizona. And I would have enjoyed it even more if I'd gone the other direction. I drove it westward = downhill. I find it less stressful to drive challenging boulder sections uphill. I'd rather put the truck in low range and just crawl up and over the rocks. Instead, I was riding the brakes almost constantly to control speed as I descended down over the boulders.

I'd say the difficulty is 4 and 5 on the Mitchell scale. The middle 5 miles is like the "rock garden" of Mengel Pass in Death Valley, or like the hard parts of Shuteye Peak in the southern Sierra mountains. However, 5 miles of hard stuff is more challenging than the short stretches of Mengel Pass or Shuteye Peak.

It grabs your attention and keeps it, for a long time. It was slow going, with typical speeds slower than walking speed. I was so focused on the road, I forgot to get out and take photos.

Here's a map of the road. If you're interested, it's an easy side trip (or loop) out of Mesquite, NV. Warning: Do NOT drive this in a standard street car. You will need high clearance, and possibly 4wd if you go uphill = eastward. The red section is Elbow Canyon (the most difficult of the roads hilited). The orange section is only moderately difficult due to an unending stream of embedded rocks in the road. The purple sections are easy.

I was returning from Utah, and I left I-15 just south of the AZ border. I've driven through the Grand Canyon Parashant National Monument several times, but I wanted to take a new route. The main roads in Parashant NM are graded and I wanted something more challenging and interesting. I was very happy to find both. The road got more difficult as soon as I turned west. Crossing a high plateau at around 7,000 feet elevation, the road had plenty of embedded rocks (the orange section). Enough to keep your speed down.

It's possible to make a loop of Elbow Canyon by starting or ending with the green section. I've driven most of that previously and it was easy.

When I finally got to the bottom warning sign, I could then relax (and pee).

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Courtney Purcell's Book of Zion Hikes

I've mentioned it in a few recent posts. While visiting Zion NP, I stopped off at the Zion Adventure Company store located just outside the park and bought a copy of Courtney Purcell's book "Zion National Park: Summit Routes."

He's amassed quite an assortment of hikes throughout the park. I'm mostly interested in the ones on the east side, but now I might try a few others.