Great Moments in Advertising

The best part of having a DVR is skipping commercials, but once in a great while something is intriguing enough to make me to stop and rewind. Most reliably I stop for VW, Apple, and the celebrity Geico ads. My favorite Geico spokesperson was Peter Frampton — a little sad for him, but funny for us — until I saw the Mrs. Butterworth spot, which stole my heart. She turns every comment into something about pancakes, syrup, or glass bottles, and the very best moment comes at the end: when the Geico logo comes up on the screen she says “Oh dear, someone has put a logo over my face.” Blatant product cross-promotion aside, it’s hysterically funny.

I don’t know how effective these ads are in terms of generating sales. On the plus side, I’d guess they’ve created major, durable name recognition. I never forget who the advertiser is, which is certainly something funny ads struggle with. (We all remember herding cats, but do you know what the company was?) On the negative side, they have several entirely different advertising campaigns running simultaneously, which makes them look schizophrenic. Also, while the style of the ads skews young, I am not sure if anyone under 30 even gets the jokes. Do they know who Charo, Frampton, or Little Richard even are?

That said, I stop my Tivo to watch their ads and now I’m blogging about one of them. I’d say that qualifies as effective.

Gardening Ethic

There’s an article in today’s San Francisco Chronicle discussing Stanford professor Robert Pogue Harrison’s new book, Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition. From the article:

“This gardening ethic is very much in danger these days, where the emphasis on cultivation has given way to an emphasis on consumption,” says Harrison, asserting that a Stanford student would be more inclined to inspect another’s backyard on HGTV than to investigate one of the many campus gardens.

“We live in a kind of frenzy of consumerism which forgets that the true source of human happiness is not in the consuming but in the cultivation, in seeing something grow, or caring for something that is not yourself. And I don’t know how much we teach the young this ethic of caring for something that is not yourself. Or even caring for things such as an object or a plant. Consumption and cultivation are at war with each other.”

The idea of a “gardening ethic” is interesting. It’s true that lately I’ve been noticing gardens and plants more, and in turn this is making me feel more connected to my neighborhood and the natural world around me. There’s something to be said for literally taking time to stop and smell the roses.


Zhan Wang’s stainless steel sculpture of San Francisco was an impressive installation, even though it was hard to visually sort a sea of shiny stainless steel and in a few places it felt like the artist ran out of steam and just started throwing in extra tea kettles.

What I like most about it is how accessible it is. Even if a viewer is not interested in the sociopolitical theme, they can still appreciate it visually and admire the ingenuity behind it. Everyone I saw enter the room spent at least 10 minutes looking at it, and some even talked to each other about it. Art that inspires people to become engaged and discuss it with strangers is the best kind.

I also love that once it’s dismantled, the pieces can be reused for another sculpture or be used as originally intended.

Glass Raindrops

The de Young and the Asian Art Museum are arguably the best art museums in San Francisco, although the bar is not as high here as I would like.

The installation shown above is by Kiki Smith, and it was commissioned specifically for this space at the de Young. I didn’t see it overhead when I was below in the room (maybe I was distracted by the upside-down dog planter bed by Chihuly). Rather, I found it by accident when I was in another gallery and became curious about an overlook at the end of the hall. There is a second hanging sculpture that is a part of this one, but the glass teardrops felt very separate to me and I only saw them as a whole in the shadows on the wall. At the time I thought it is not a good sign about a collection when the best thing in it is shadows. However, after some research I learned the artist fully intended the shadow play, so perhaps it’s simply the best piece in the room. It takes a little bit of work to find the second-floor viewing balcony, but it’s worth it to see this piece.


I can’t wait to see this sculpture in person! The city of San Francisco, replicated in stainless cookware. What’s not to love? I especially love the interpretation of docks and piers. From the Asian Art Museum site:

“For his exhibition at the Asian Art Museum, Wang has selected rocks from the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, alluding to the nineteenth-century Chinese immigrant experience of mining gold during the California gold rush. Both the actual rocks and their stainless steel versions will be exhibited. The artist will also create a topographic San Francisco cityscape–one of his ‘urban landscape’ series– using steel rocks, mirrored surfaces, silverware, and stainless steel pots and pans.”

I Heart Tastespotting

Tastespotting compiles the best in food blogging from all over the world, making it the ultimate in food porn and a very amusing way to waste a bunch of time. Whether you’re looking for ideas about what to cook or just want to admire others’ creativity and talent, this is the place.

In the “OMG That’s Brilliant” category today, we have a pretzel diamond ring, by Roni Baram of the industrial design department at H.I.T, Israel on the left. Top right we have sugar people, waiting to be knocked into to their watery (or coffee-y, rather) graves from Natasha at Nova Clutch.

And the “Food Worth Drooling Over” category is being represented by the Beef Wellington on the lower right, courtesy of Mike’s Table. My nitpick here is it should be made with brioche, not puff pastry, but who am I kidding? It looks fantastic and I’m jealous. The best story of my childhood is how I requested my parents make me Beef Wellington for my birthday…when I was 4.

Cathedral of Christ the Light

The Cathedral of Christ the Light is being constructed in Oakland overlooking Lake Merritt. I can’t wait to see the final result, especially to find out how much of the exposed structure will remain visible from the exterior.

Considering the amount of concrete and steel in use, this structure is remarkably graceful. I find most old churches depressing and most modern ones charmless. This one, however, is incredibly beautiful and uplifting.

For the architecture lovers out there, the cathedral was designed by the venerable Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill.

Urban Decay

What is it about decay that’s so interesting on film?

Just returned from the Windy City — and windy it was! On this trip I went on the architecture river cruise and I spent most of my time trying to capture the undersides of rusting bridges as we sailed underneath them. The accidental compositions are incredible, and the rust adds an interesting touch. They’re being painted right now, so I’m glad I had an opportunity to capture them this way.

When I was in college I had to drive across farmland in Indiana and Ohio on my way to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving. As I passed countless decrepit, abandoned barns I thought it would make an amazing B/W series to capture the crossed lines of broken boards and the sunlight as it filters through the holes and gaps.

The End of Summer

I’m going to miss summer vegetables! I don’t even like peppers, but this display was so gorgeous I was tempted to become a convert. One of the best things about living in California is the availability of amazing produce almost all year round. Cooking (and eating) is a joy here. I’d always considered myself a foodie, but I had no idea what I was missing until I experienced direct-from-the-source produce and artisan breads and cheeses.

A couple years back my parents moved to the edge of the Bay Area, where the exurbs meet (and demolish) farm land. Driving to see them is a bit of a drive, but I am always rewarded for my efforts by some of the best produce I’ve ever had. (And my family is from Ohio, so that’s saying something!) I can get great food at my local, non-chain stores and much even comes from the same farms, but a tomato is always best when it’s mere hours from the vine. My mom has the best of everything down to a science — corn and blackberries at one farm stand, squash or nectarines at another. These peppers are from one of our all-around favorites, the Smith farm. Sadly, they close in November so no more for the season.

Child’s Play

A good friend works for Galileo, a group that runs the most amazing summer camps. These kids get to create medieval castles, copy modern masters, build bridges that can survive a shake table, and learn how to survive on a desert island, among other things. All I got to do at camp was make a leather keychain!

I dropped in on a camp session and made my very own paper bag puppet (right) with the kids. It looks remarkably like a Muppet! What was supposed to be a v-neck dress instead looks like the lower edge of the classic hinging Muppet mouth.

Speaking of Muppets, Avenue Q is right around the corner! Having already seen it in NY, I couldn’t be more excited about a repeat viewing.