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Designing Brand Identity

February 22, 2011

95% of business books are useless self-promotion. Books on branding, a sub-genre of the category, are no different.

Designing Brand Identity falls in 5% worth owning. It tackles its subject matter with an organized clarity and breadth of scope that is unmatched. This is truly one of those books that won’t sit on your shelf looking pretty and gathering dust. The first section of the book delivers an excellent overview of the fundamentals of branding, the second covers many major phases of a standard branding process, and the third provides a strong set of case studies. You can imagine yourself returning to it again and again for a refresher on parts of the branding process you may be less familiar with. It is also well designed, which is both a relief and a pleasure. There is nothing less credible than a poorly designed book on branding.

In short, this book belongs at the top of the canon with the Aakers and Neumeiers. I wish I had bought this book years ago.

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Mmm, Buffalo…

February 21, 2011

Oh give me a home, where the buffalo roam, and the deer and the antelope play. And are invited to the dinner table.

As anyone who grew up playing Oregon Trail can attest, big game was once a staple of the American diet. Today it is a rarity, and not just due to scarcity. Our palettes, tamed into pasteurized submission by the food industry, are no longer comfortable with the broad notes of wild animal flesh.

On a recent trip to South Dakota for my grandfather’s funeral, I became a little obsessed with the idea of eating something wilder than a Lutheran casserole. Several runs through the town of Brookings took us by a restaurant with the minimalistic name Pheasant Lounge, and each time we passed, with diminishing levels of sarcasm, I suggested we eat there.

A final night’s stay in Sioux Falls led to a far more elegant solution to my craving for game. A little internet research yielded up a promising-looking downtown establishment called the Wild Sage Grille.

I’m going to cut to the chase here. The Wild Sage Grille was an awesome experience. If you ever find yourself in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, you will be missing out if you do not treat yourself to a meal there.

The restaurant is nestled within Cherapa Place, which, I am told, is the city’s first LEED certified building. It is a comfortable space, with really beautiful contemporary art pieces along the walls that feature the main menu items: buffalo, pheasant and elk.

I started with a Crow Peak 11th Hour IPA, a hoppy, sweet pale ale brewed in the Black Hills. First out was a pheasant soup with chunky garden vegetables. It was a good setup for a great entree: Buffalo Ribeye with potato de jour and late harvest vegetables. The buffalo was surprisingly tender, just exquisitely prepared. More of a musky flavor than beef, as if a bull had bred with a sheep. To me, that kind of flavor has so much more character than your everyday beefsteak, but maybe I’m just a sucker for all things pungent, intense and different. The walleye my brother ordered was also really well-prepared.

Almost forgot about dessert. We ordered a carrot cake with big, intense chunks of carrot and some kind of whiskey bread pudding. The choice of dessert somehow prompted the appearance of “Whiskey Lady”, a character who enlivened the conversation with her eccentric ways, capping off a very memorable evening of family and food.

A Wonderful Life

February 20, 2011

My grandfather passed away at the end of January at the ripe old age of 89. He lived a full life, with plenty of action, adventure and family. Knowing this softens the blow of his death. Still, with his passing, and my dad’s death last year, I’m feeling a sense of vulnerability as the last in the line of male Williamsons, along with my brother. I know it may sound odd to think that way in this day and age (as if we were some kind of fading ancient race of noble lineage), but I feel it nonetheless.

Or, as my mom bluntly put it: “He was the last solid guy left in the family. Who can I depend on now?”

Anyway, rather than dwelling on the twilight of the Williamson clan, I’d rather say a few words to celebrate the life of the man I called Grandpa. Here are some highlights:

Born and raised in South Dakota. If you take a look at the boyhood picture, note the flatness of the land. That’s South Dakota. Incidentally, I was curious as to what YCL stood for, and Google spat up Youth Communist League. So there’s my grandfather as a young communist. (I’m actually quite curious to find out if that’s what the YCL really stands for.) UPDATE: My Aunt Kristin did a little research and found out that YCL likely stands for Young Citizens League.

Served as an Infantry Captain in WWII in Europe.

Married my grandmother, just the loveliest woman ever. They were a dynamic duo. Had one son (my dad) and two daughters.

Traveled to Jordan in 1955 to provide consultation to their government on irrigation practices. The middle photo, as you might have guessed, is from that period. I have his passport from that period, with stamps indicating travel to Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Italy. The handwriting in the passport looks amazingly similar to that of my father’s.

Lived in Alexandria, VA while working for the federal government as a soil scientist. This was fortuitous because it was in an Alexandria high school that my mother and father met.

Keen outdoorsman for most of his life. Hunter, fisherman, and gardener.

Artist and craftsman. In later years he turned his attention to woodworking, making children’s toys and carving iconic Christmas decorations that all of us have stockpiled over the years.

Card shark, coffee drinker and prankster. His approach to life was full of merriment and (small) mischief.

And, as my cousin Brooke reminded us, he was always whistling.

Creature Comforts

January 23, 2011

It’s that time of year: out with the old, in with the new. The used sofa and easy chair we bought when we moved into our current abode nearly two years ago have long since worn out their welcome, and we had been on a steadily intensifying search for something that would elevate our standard of living from merely functional. A tour around the city’s few home furnishings emporia (most of which are owned and operated by the same parent company) was not very encouraging. Since we don’t own a home and still have small children, we weren’t willing to shell out the big bucks, which meant that we would still be paying too much for a compromise on style and/or comfort.

It always seems that when you’ve exhausted all apparent options, the magic starts to happen. Once we had decided not to plonk down the dough on something new but mediocre, we turned our attention back to Craigslist. That very day, we saw a dubious-looking but maybe passable couch for a decent price. Made the call, still available. Turned out to be located in the condo we used to live in. Too easy. Somehow the sofa looked much better in real life than it did in the photo. How often does that happen? If only there was a companion to replace our easy chair. There in the corner… a couple Wassily Chairs. Are you… selling them? Yes, again for a bargain.

Our living room is now graced by a very good condition McCreary Modern sofa, and the Wassily is commanding a massive presence in the study. The leather straps on the Wassily need some work – they’ve got some sort of water damage, hence the bargain price. All things considered, they’ve set a new precedent in our household. Out with the old, in with the new.

Soul de Cuba

January 17, 2011

Soul de Cuba is one of those places that I went into with moderately high expectations. Honolulu’s premier – and perhaps only – Cuban restaurant, its location on the edge of Chinatown directly across from the Hawaii Theatre, and reputation place it within the sphere of established downtown eateries worth knowing. I have never been to Cuba, and am no expert on Cuban food. But if Soul de Cuba is a representative slice of the culture’s cuisine, then my imaginary romance with the flavors of the Caribbean may well be over.

The interior is funky enough: high ceilings lined with paintings reminiscent of old Santana album covers, subdued lighting. We ordered what seemed an obligatory pitcher of Mojitos. Warning signs from the first sip, the flavor of Mojito mix. 39 Hotel sets the standard for Mojitos in this town, and this was a far cry from their blend fresh ingredients – in fact, we later stopped by there to make sure our taste buds did not deceive. The platter of appetizers (Soul Sampler) was somewhat flavorful, but heavy, and not at all outstanding. If the appetizers were passable, the main dish was disappointing. I thought I couldn’t go wrong ordering the Pollo Soul de Cuba, the alleged most popular dish on the menu. Unfortunately it was just incredibly bland, with the mango-based salsa providing the barest modicum of flavor. Somehow bland and Cuba just don’t seem compatible in my mind. The dish my wife ordered, Camarones con Salsa, had more zesty zing to it, which only deepened my chagrin.

Final verdict: embargo against Soul de Cuba.

Mt. Olympus via Wa’ahila Ridge Trail

January 9, 2011

Hiking is one of the many things I never do as often as I’d like. So when my family visited over Christmas I took the opportunity to con my brother and sister into waking up early for a trek up the Wa’ahila Ridge Trail. Our goal was the summit of the impressive-sounding Mt. Olympus, which lies at the back of Manoa Valley. The timing of the hike was not ideal – it had been raining steadily for the past few days, and the day of our hike was no less damp. This rendered the trail, which Stewart Ball in his Hikers Guide to O’ahu characterizes as Novice/Intermediate, somewhat more challenging than anticipated. There were quite a few passages up and down rocky slopes and root-covered inclines that, slick with moisture, required a bit more concentration to navigate. Unfamiliarity with the trail magnified our trepidation, but we made it as far as the second knoll that precedes the final ascent, which provided some spectacular views of both Manoa and Palolo, as well as Diamond Head and Honolulu off in the distance. Knowing the trail from there on would intensify in difficulty, we called it a day, and retraced our steps, feeling plenty a sense of accomplishment. Some other day – a sunny one – I’ll head back to go for the summit.

Kyle at 4

December 18, 2010

A couple of weeks ago we celebrated Kyle’s fourth birthday. A perfect milestone from which to look back on all he has accomplished. Learned his letters and numbers faster than average for a “normal” child – not only that, but the alphabet was (mostly) self-taught. Has gone from barely mobile to barely containable. Starting school has enabled him to become truly social. His ability to communicate has grown exponentially. And, as hinted at in the photos above, he is embarking on his next big adventure: mastering the potty.