Thursday, November 29, 2007

"The Gift Card" - Holidays Plus or Minus?

Well, it is that time of year again. Time to start pulling out the old wallet and start the old consumer institution known as holiday shopping. Now, I know that holiday shopping is one of the greatest sources of anxiety during the holidays. Especially for parents with demanding children. So, thankfully, "ART OF FUNCTION" is here to help with some very very cool holiday gift ideas.

Now, to start off, I am a big proponent of shopping online during the holidays. Especially, if you have a large list and limited time. A good high speed Internet connection is all you need to button up the holiday shopping. In fact if you are smart, you can knock it out in a few hours with some simple planning. Quickly, here are a few tips to making your online shopping experience worth while.

  1. Make a list. Yeah, just like Santa, sit down and create a check off list of those you need to buy presents for.
  2. Budget. You don't want the dreaded four figure credit card bill that flops on your mail stack a month after Christmas like an unwanted fruit cake. So, after you are done with the list, right an amount next to each name of what you want to spend. Also, at the end, do yourself a favor and add up the total, and add an additional 20%, that will cover taxes and any shipping costs.
  3. Be specific with your Vendors! Narrow the scope of who you shop from online. For example, Amazon is great since you can get different types of gifts from them.
Also, many, many stores offer pre-wrapped options, and such, so you can have the vendor deliver the present directly to your relative or friend, without it going through you. Hey, you are already paying for shipping, no need to pay for it twice!

Now on to the real subject of this blog... GIFT CARDS! Now, for me, these are perfectly acceptable gifts for people. The trick is, you have to get them gift cards for a store they frequent and enjoy. This says, "Hey, I recognize you are interested in this. And I want you to get what you need." Gift Cards are solid choices as well for folks who shop online a lot, and for people who are a little older. Kids and Teenagers tend to not like gift cards because they want something in hand on Christmas. That's important to recognize about the person on your list. Do they value the experience of shopping or do they value opening up a big box on Christmas day... or Christmas Eve for all you impatient weird families. If they like a box, then take some time to get them a present!

Also, notice I am saying Gift Cards, not certificates. Gift Cards offer security, they offer convenience as well. They slide easily into a wallet or purse. This makes them vastly superior to the xerox copy you get from Bob Evans.

So, here are some great gift card ideas.

  1. The Visa Gift Card: This one is versatile and secure. It works just like a visa credit card, but it carries an amount of money on the card. You determine of course the amount, and it can be ordered on line. The best part about this gift card is... you can use it anywhere visa is accepted! Great for those of you who want to give 'Cash' but want to hand over something a little slicker than an envelope of green backs.
  2. iTunes Gift Card: Perfect for the person you bought that IPOD for last year. You pick these things up anywhere... grocery stores, 7-11's, you name it. These are my favorites, because you can redeem them on the iTunes Software browser and you are off and running. An the cards also work for downloading videos and movies, not just music... the only downside are fixed prices, but hey? Such is life.
  3. STARBUCKS / COFFEE BEAN Cards: I put these two together, since it's pretty much the same thing. For the non conformist, by them a Coffee Bean card, for everyone else, Starbucks is just fine. You could go buck wild and visit Pete's; however, make sure there is one near your potential beneficiary. Moving on! The Coffee Card is great for that someone who has a once a day habit. It is something they use daily and will remember you daily for it. Also, these gift cards are 'recyclable' in that you can continue as to add funds to them.
  4. Barnes and Noble card: I love getting these, because I can use them at Barnes and and the store now offers a wife variety of both books, dvd's and music to choose from. This is great when selecting a gift card vendor. Do they have a wide variety of items to purchase? If they do, that is great because it offers the recipient more selection and better use. Especially if you do not know someone that well, and you want to get them something they could use.
  5. Best Buy Gift Card: Now, if you are actually reading this, you have some technical acumen, so you have heard of big box store Best Buy. It's a national chain with a pretty good online store. So, this is a good card for the tech geek in your family, or the DVD fanatic, or Gaming fanatic.
There are other ones to look out, Netflix, GameFly, maybe your friend or relatives' favorite organic grocery store. And for heaven's sake, don't be afraid to be practical. I welcome the gift card to Trader Joes. It's great to get a free week or two weeks worth of groceries, especially for all the struggling actors out there, like me.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Get Your JIMI on!

Nope, this is not a BLOG about an ingenious guitar player who died way too soon or a dissertation on the 90's hip hop slang term for birth control. No, this is a blog about a little company who makes a wallet. A very clever wallet called the JIMIx. It has been dubbed an alterna-wallet and also 'the anit-wallet', but for the most part this little 2.5 by 4.5 inch lovely is a great choice for those of you who are looking to dumb down the massive leather ball in chain you have weighing down your back pocket. The Jimi is a plastic case that holds four credit cards and on the exterior it has a lovely little money clip. The hard plastic shell comes in a variety of colors including the blue seen above, orange, clear and black as well as many more. The JIMIx features the money clip on the exterior for you heavy rollers, but if you only keep a few bills on you at a time, then check out the original JIMI which has the clip on the interior of the wallet. This makes it even more streamlined.

I have owned a black JIMIx for about four and a half weeks now, and I love it. As a previous carrier of about 20 different cards, I have slimmed it down to just four, and the other stuff I carry in an old fashioned wallet which lives in a special secret place, but not on my person.

The other nice part about this wallet is the fact it is made from 100% recycled material, and if yours takes a tumble or breaks, you can throw it in with the water bottles (which I hope you have discarded in favor of a SIGG, by now) and it will be recycled with the other reclaimed plastic at your recycle center.

The cost is about $15.00, and I tell you it is worth it, if you want to lighten the load of your pants. Also, do you hate carrying a wallet in your pants at the gym? When you go to do the leg press does your wallet slip out the back of your pocket? Well, there is also a lanyard clip on the Jimi, so you can hang it around your neck. However, your front pocket is now an option because it is so small and light. The heaviest object I now carry around is my cell phone.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Tender Greens - Best Salads in Los Angeles

About eight months ago some brave little restaurant entrepreneurs looked upon a square mile in central Culver City just around the area where Washington Street, Culver Blvd. and Main Street connect, and said to themselves, "Here is fertile ground for a new Foodie Boom!". This little chunk of the Eastern most part of the "West Side" is surrounded by two filming studios, Sony Corporate Headquarters, City Hall, and numerous little corporate office buildings. Several restaurants have moved in in the last year like: UGO, FRAICHE, MELT DOWN, and FORD'S FILLING STATION to accompany old favorites like PACIFICO's and the DOUBLE DUTCH. BEACON over near the old Helms Bakery Plaza even took the Los Angeles Times Critic Pick for best new restaurant in 2005. This is what foodies in Los Angeles called, The Culver City Boom. And if you live there, as I do, it has been a wonderful treat!

However, among, all of these wonderful little spots, my favorite of all, was the one who had the roughest of starts. Back in 2006, my wife and I were curious when a little storefront next to FORD's started to get remodeled. The sign simply said "TENDER GREENS" Fresh Food. Months went by, and we looked and watched and waited until one Sunday afternoon when the doors finally swung open. What we found, was what I believe to be the best restaurant, with the best food, at the best price in town. I say rough start, because their style of service was overwhelmed by the response the joint received in the early days. Many critics and reviewers heavily criticized this part of the restaurant and thus it affected the early days of Tender Greens. However, those little operational bugs have been stomped out, and now the occasional snafu or mix up only adds to the charm of one of the best places to get a healthy and cheap meal in town.

menu is based on the concept of delivering fresh organic ingredients to their customers with new inventions and innovations on old favorites and comfort foods. The best deal of all is their hot plates, where you can get your choice of Range Free Chicken Breasts, Flank Steak, or Seared Ahi Tuna, with a side of their wonderful Mashed Potatoes and your choice of eight simple salads on the side, for $10.00. It's a great deal. You can also have your hot plate turned into a hot sandwich by subbing the marvelous mashed potatoes for a rustic ciabatta roll with herb aiolli and roasted peppers, with your choice of the chicken, steak or tuna! My wife's old standby is the chicken hot plate with side Caesar Salad. Delicious.

Salads are the main attraction, however! My favorites are the COBB and the CHIPOTLE BBQ chicken. The later is a great example of their mission to try and cut the fat out of these meals and serve up fresh foods with explosive taste. Instead of BBQ sauce and ranch like you would get on any other BBQ Chicken sandwich, they baste the chicken breast in BBQ sauce and then serve it with a Lime Ciliantro Vinaigrette. It's pretty much heaven on a plate. The tart dressing mixes well with the sweetened chicken and the fresh avocado adds a creaminess to each bite.

Also, if you go down to Tender Greens, do not be afraid to try the soups. Their Chicken Noodle is made just like Mom's, probably better, since my Mom's chicken Noodle was made by Campbell's. And the Tomato Soup is also great (not quite as good as Melt Down, but a close second). And if you luck out, the often have Butternut Squash which is spectacular.

And if you are looking for a Diet Coke, don't think you will get it from a fountain machine in a paper cup. Tender Greens serves up a bevy of artisan sodas and sparkling waters. And if you want something a little more mature, they have a selection of wines and beer each day.

Daily specials also pop up, somewhat irregularly. If you see the Oso Buco or the Pulled Pork Sandwich, take the dive and dig in. Whomever, runs their brassiere is highly skilled at what they do.

So, why am I blogging about a FOOD joint on ART OF FUNCTION. I have to commend Tender Greens on their design, which some people find frustrating, but I find refreshing. Tender Greens is a mean and lean food machine. It caters chiefly to a younger, faster moving crowd. Instead of finding a table and waiting for a server, you hit a lunch line similar to what you would find at a Subway joint. The person taking your order, is probably the person who will make your food. Since the ingredients and Menu is simple, throw them in a bowl, add dressing put it on a plate. Despite the simplicity they do a really good job of training their staff so that the food is consistently prepared. Also, you do not eat on a 'paper plate'. Everything is severed with traditional flatware, which is cleared from tables and washed. An example of how the place is attempting to 'stay green' and cut back on waste. Also, there are not booths or carbon copy seating arrangements. Tables are versatile and different, from the eight foot long table with benches, to the smaller cafe types. The Tender Greens owners really put a lot of thought into the experience.

I recommend it highly! So, go green, go Tender Greens!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Guitar Hero III Review - Rock out with your Sock out!

Hey, wannabe Rock Heroes! If you've been itching to take your air guitar skills to the next level, then by all means, rush on out and purchase Guitar Hero III. The folks from Harmonix have stepped aside and given the reigns over to ActiVision fully, which usually spells disaster for a game title franchise, but not the case, with this gem of a game!

Back are the Star Power features, the cascading scoring system, the fret board engine that we are all familiar with, and love! The Graphics and Characters get minor tweaks and overall improvements to their look, and additional costumes!However, now they've added some great additions!

For example, before the songs were not the actual recordings, but they were mock ups covers of the original songs. Now, many of the songs in guitar heror, vocal tracks, drum beats, etc, were actually taken from the original 5 track masters, which makes for a more vibrant experience! When you play "Sunshine of your love" by Cream, you get Eric Claptons original licks. Apparently, bands and record companies caught on to the Success of Guitar Hero and Guitar Hero II, and now they want to play ball! Which is awesome! Hearing Pat Benatar is always better than faux Pat Benatar.

Also, celebrities are now in the mix. Former GnR guitarist and current Velvet Revolver, Slash as well as Audio Slave's Tom Morello are featured characters, who you can do 'battle' with at various stages of the game!

Also, and this is what makes Guitar Hero absolutely awesome... a new wireless guitar controller. This was what really set this game apart originally. Harmonix took the concept of "Air Guitar" and turned it into an actual game! And to me that is genius. Sure we have had peripheral game controller for fishing rods and for guns (I still love Duck Hunt), but none have had the same coolness factor as the Guitar! This is have the fun of Guitar hero is pretending to Rock out like your favorite Guitar heroes, as you play along to their songs! Now, if you have your old Controller, like me, you can still buy the game, like I did. However, you can go out and buy some of the newer versions that are wireless, and they are even selling stick on labels designed by the likes of the Smashing Pumpkins and Van Halen!

All in all, this is a great game, and a ton of fun! It's not a game to immerse yourself in for months like say, Oblivion or World of Warcraft. It might just take you a couple of nights on the console to best it, but it definitely worth it!

Martha Rae and Tina Fey!

Yes, we in the world of Hollywood are experiencing the first major creative union strike in 19 years. We have walk outs and we have had protests from S.A.G. in the past, but a full blown writers strike is a rare flower indeed. It is kind of like that Corpse Flower at the Hunntingon Museum that blooms once a year... both smell terrible!

The issue really just comes down to the fact that no one on the creative side makes any money off of internet downloads. All those episodes of THE OFFICE you downloaded off of iTunes this season, well actors, writers and directors did not see a dime of that money. It went straight to the studios pockets, do not pass go, do not collect your $200.00 or your residual check.

So, now that the current contract between the WGA and the Studios / Networks is up, the writers are refusing to negotiate until new verbiage allows for residuals off of these new media sources for content. And now they are eating boxes of donuts, wearing red t-shirts and leisurely working off those donuts by strolling the picket lines at the gates of the studios. No one really knows at this point what is going to happen. We in Hollywood at best hope for a quick end to this strike and that will only happen if the Studios and Networks budge.

However, the short term project is the impact on all the industries surrounding Hollywood. Hey a barber in a town of bald men, doesn't make too much of a profit. Without shows to work on, everyone is pretty much waiting with baited breath for an end that may not come soon enough. There are several dangers to the landscape of television. The risks are simple!

For WRITERS: Television has been gradually delving more costs towards cheaper reality television shows in lieu of expensive scripted shows. If they push more money towards reality because the writers strike, and the public eats it up, and the networks turn a profit, the scripted shows will take a big hit.

For Producers: If the programming they offer bombs, they will have to rush the Writers back to the table, and that will be a big big problem since they will have to pay through the nose.

You can pick a side if you want in this. However, as a member of the Entertainment industry, I would hope this is resolved before the end of the year!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Water Bottles... and the topic of Green!

So, everyone wants to "GO GREEN" these days. Car companies, retail outlets, major international corporations, are all touting the fact that they are trying (some legit, some rhetorical) to get on some sort of track to a healthier planet earth.

This year was a bit of a watershed for myself as well, as I have tried to go from just doing minor recycling to investigating what I can do to cut back on waste, etc.

A friend of mine during the summer pointed out that a large chunk of our waste stock piles in the united states are being generated by Water Bottles.

Many of us are drinking more water for the health benefits it gives us. That is really great. Everyone drink your two liters a day! Yippee! However, it's how we consume the water that also needs to be examined. Jenny and I used to go through a case to two cases of water a day, and despite recycling a majority of those plastic bottles, there is still an impact on the amount of waste we are creating each week.

Plastic bottles are not only affecting the environment but individual health as well. Studies are coming out now linking certain health risk to an unhealthy intake of textiles in the American Diet. I mean, I will not even go into the disgusting fact that one of the ingredients in the Cream filling for Twinkies is also an ingredient for industrial glue; however, think about this? When was the last time you left a bottle of water in the car headed into work, and then drank it on the car ride home? Well, when these bottles get hot, an amount of the plastic actually releases from the bottle into the water. You drink that. You put it into your body. Down the line that adds up to negative health issues.

So, we have two issues here. 1) How do we cut back on using water bottles? 2) How do we make sure the water we consume in not contaminated?

Well, here's what I did based on the recommendation of a friend. I purchased an Aluminum Water Bottle, and then a Brita Filter system. Now, many of you have Brita's in your home. If you have no idea what a Brita Filter system is, just click here. You can go check out their website. So, the Aluminum bottle is my new little buddy. I take it everywhere with me. The bottle is durable reusable, and the leaching issues associated with plastic bottles is no longer a concern. Now, I must confess, I purchased a pretty ugly bottle. I got it at whole foods, and it resembles something that a construction worker will take into work. I like it's simplicity, but some of you want something a little more aesthetically pleasing. Well, if you saw the picture in this post, you were perhaps a little wowed by the designs put up by the Dutch company SIGG.

SIGG makes their bottles through the an extrusion press system. So that the bottle is made from a one-piece aluminium blank, which results in uniform, seamless walls. This means no possibility of it leaking due to a poorly welded seam.

SIGG took their bottles to the next level with the hundred of fun and hip designs they decided to to finish the bottles with. For the more manly, there are a few Camo and Skull and Cross bone designs. For the purists, they have completely bare unfinished bottles, and for those looking to be a bit more couture. They have a whole CITY line for the urban art geek. And get your munchkins out-fitted with their line of bottles for kids. If you are nervous about ordering on line, then head to your local Whole Foods. They carry them by the alcohol. Both the round and flask bottles.

With the water filter, and Aluminum bottle, you basically knock back your waste issues considerably! So, take a look, see if it's for you. The cost for a Brita system is about $40.00 and aluminum bottles cost as high as $19.00 (Sigg) or as low as $12.95, my cheaper version. So, you may end up spending sixty bucks up front, but a typical case of water is about $6.00 and you may go through 1 or 2 of those a week. So, in a month or so, you would recoup your investment.
As, a whole, I encourage all people who visit Art of Function to examine how much of an impact your lifestyle has on the environment. It's the little things that add up.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Floyd's 99 Barbershop - Studio City, CA!

When you are an actor, things like your haircut become kind of important. You want it to match your headshots. You want it to be hip, but versatile. It's all kinds of crazy. Since moving to Los Angeles, I have struggled to find a great barber to replace, Belinda, my barber from San Diego. I thought I struck gold with CHROME Salon in Culver City, near my house. However, my barber there relocated, and they raised the price to a whopping $50 bucks a cut, which for men is a little high for me.

Enter FLOYD's 99 Barbershop in Studio City, CA. I spend a ton of time up in the North Hollywood area, as some of you know, because I an deeply rooted at the ACTORS WORKOUT studio as a producer, writer and now acting teacher. So, when a fellow writer recommended I check out Floyd's I decided to give it a try.

And I'm glad I did. Boy, am I glad.

Haircuts for me really boil down to the experience. In Los Angeles, there are so many talented Hair Dressers, Stylists, etc. So, many folks trying to cut hair while they get a gig doing it for a TV show. It's the best of the best really in many ways. So, round here you usually can walk into any salon and find a great person to cut your hair. So, for me what sets a spot apart from others are two things... the experience and the price! Floyd's delivers both in spades.

First, the place melds Rock / Punk / Indie culture with good old fashioned 50's barbershop ambiance. The result is a bit overwhelming at first, but once you settle in you feel that your one of the cool kids just for easing into the black patent leather chair. Although the look is carefully crafted, the result is a laid back semi-informal embracement of the individuals slinging shears at each chair. For example, each attendants various tools, scissors, combs, etc. are kept in tool boxes on the stainless steel counters. The sinks for shampoos are right at the station, not in some dank back room. So, when you sit you do not have to get up until the whole process is complete.

Second, it's the whole experience itself that is great. The people are friendly. There are no appointment books. However, you can call in a 30 minute hold as you drive to shop. I do that. However, two things think are cool is how they treat you. Friendly, not rough and tumble or pretentious. Then the fact they do the neck line clean up with a straight razor and hot lather! And they follow that up with a brief little rub down / hair vacuum machine that pounds away the tension while sucking up the loose hairs.

Lastly, the price is pretty good. When I walked in, I expect to just hand over my bank account, but a regular cut is just $25.00 with tip added. It's a great deal for a great cut! I hit the one in Studio City, but there is one in Hermosa Beach, off of Melrose in Hollywood, and another in Santa Monica. Also, there are other locations across the country... so, yes, this is not a hole in the wall joint, but it's not like your walking into a Starbucks, either.

So, I give a thumbs up to Floyd's. Check it out, Gents, if you are close by and need a good trim! Ladies, I'm sure they do all the fancy stuff too.