Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Murphy's Law of Scheduling

A little story from the first day of summer teaching:
  • The day is supposed to begin pretty early. Teacher notices yesterday that he hasn't heard back from the confirmation email from the first student of the day. He goes back and looks at the paper form filled out...Aha! They're not going to be in until next week (the teacher had misread "6/7" as "6/1").

  • Teacher sends another email to first student saying "disregard the previous email since you're not here anyway; see you next time," and goes to a cookout with friends about an hour away. He stays out later than he would have if the first student were going to be there.

  • Arriving home last night, teacher finds an email from the first student, who's all confused; they thought they were having a lesson the next morning. Oops; there's some lost sleep. Teacher emails back that it'll be fine to still have one. He goes to sleep rather quickly after that.

  • Teacher wakes up (early) to another email, this one apologizing for the confusion, but...well, let's just wait till next time after all.

  • Teacher got up an hour too early. D'oh. I guess that "sleep" thing is overrated anyway.

Monday, May 30, 2005

We Pause to Remember

At this time, on this day, we as a nation are asked to pause for a moment and remember those who have given their lives to keep America free. Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Orin Kerr links to a piece on the history of the day. It's good to remember for a moment that today is not just the "official beginning of summer" or a good day to go shopping.

This has more of a personal impact on me this year, as three people close to me have begun or are about to begin their military commitments this summer. I had a quick visit with an old friend last week who headed out to boot camp the next morning, and two of my just-graduated students will do the same within a month or so. (I've also got a former improv student who went in two summers ago and is off doing some super-secret "I could tell you what I'm doing, but I'd have to kill you" type of stuff.) Obviously, I hope that all these guys come back safely from their commitments, but just knowing that they're out there in harm's way (so that regular Joes like us pretty much don't have to) makes the whole thing feel a lot closer to home. So Godspeed to Fletch, Scott, Josh and John; you're doing great work.

Legislative update: The Texas school finance bill died last night; the two chambers couldn't come to an agreement, and now they're sniping back and forth about who's to blame for that outcome. It means, for the moment, that the standardized school calendar (which I was griping about earlier) will not happen, but it also means no more new money for schools for the year after next, and that could throw the whole thing into the courts. A special session is a possibility, but we don't know about that for sure, though many lawmakers have said they would support such a move.

No, really, anyone can play... Regular commenter Gary P. wonders if this is how the G-weasel got his start. It does say something about "no musical talent required."

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Taking the Walk

This is a big graduation weekend, and as I do every year, I'd like to wish the best of luck to those new, recent, and soon-to-be alumni of my teaching studio who have graduated in the past week: Scott B., Kyle, Mical, Josh, Greg, Nathan, John P. and Christina. Some of you have been with me for only a short time, others for the entire seven years, but it's been a pleasure working with all of you. I hope that, even if you don't play in college, you'll keep music close to your hearts.

(Incidentally, those on that list from the Garland district got to have their ceremonies at a cool new venue this week; I can't wait to tour the place myself.)

I'd also like to give special graduation wishes to Angie and Coop; neither was ever a student of mine, but they're nonetheless very important to me, and both took "the walk" today as well.

It's a wash: For the first time, I went to a Rangers game today that never got to be played because of rain in the area. After a three-hour delay (during which they really hoped to get the game in, because the White Sox aren't scheduled to be in Arlington again until late August), they finally called the game without the tarp so much as having come off the field. The only baseball we got to see was the kids hitting the wiffle ball in Vandergriff Park.

When a game on TV experiences a rain delay, the network often shows a rerun of a classic game. For this rain-delay posting, I'll send you to my essay on how baseball reflects the best things in America from around a year ago.

Friday, May 27, 2005

No Seat Belt? It Just Doesn't Click with Me

The state of Texas has been making a big deal about its Click it or Ticket campaign as we start this holiday weekend. If you're unfamiliar with the campaign, it involves stepped-up enforcement of the seat-belt laws over heavy driving periods; drivers who fail to wear their seat belts, as well as their front-seat passengers and any passengers under the age of 17, can be fined up to $200 for failure to comply with this law.

Wearing a seat belt is obviously a good thing to do, which makes we wonder why anyone wouldn't do it in the first place. Personally, I'd no more drive or ride in a car without a seat belt than I would ride a roller coaster without the safety bar in place. I'd love to think that Musings readers would be in unanimous agreement with me on this, but feel free to weigh in no matter which side you're on. This just seems like a no-brainer to me.

Concise movie review of the day: Go see Madagascar. It's freakin' hilarious. That is all I need to say. Good night.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Jedi of the Suburbs

I was talking with someone online today who told me of a magnificent feat of extreme Star Wars-geekdom: He saw all six movies in succession yesterday! That's right, he watched Episodes I and II on DVD, then drove to a theatre to see Episode III, then came back home to watch IV-VI on DVD again. Oh, and he won the light-saber fight he had with his friends in the theatre. There should be a medal for that or something...

Remembering a grrrreeaat voice: The name Thurl Ravenscroft probably doesn't ring a bell with you, but I promise you've heard his work; he sang "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" in the famous animated special How the Grinch Stole Christmas, voiced a variety of Disney movie and theme park characters, and was best known as the voice of Tony the Tiger in the Kellogg's Frosted Flakes commercials. He passed away on Sunday, and in yesterday's Bleat, James Lileks posted an audio clip of Thurl singing an old big-band song from way back in the day (it's a duet with a female vocalist, who's heard first on the recording; that threw me at first, but no, he didn't have "mad falsetto skillz" or anything). Sure, the song's pretty hokey, but I challenge you to listen to it and not picture Tony the Tiger doing the singing. (More music clips are available at this site.)

UPDATE: That song, in all its corniness (Frosted Flakes pun only slightly intended, heh), has been going through my head for three. straight. days.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

This Story Seemed Appropriate for "Hump Day"

OK, no post of substance today, but I thought I'd pass along this somewhat humorous story (as in "humorous when it's happening to someone else," pretty much): A lady in West Virginia, while in the process of painting her fence, had to call 911 after a camel sat on her.
(via Dave Barry's Blog)

Will they really celebrate by buying a vase? Happy anniversary to my sister and brother-in-law, Kristen and Justin. The ninth anniversary is the "pottery anniversary"; I finally looked it up this year after making jokes about what the materials for the first few years must be. (I was disappointed [he says, facetiously] to see that Velcro doesn't occur anywhere in the list of materials; I always thought that would be funny.)

However, I got a kick out of the fact that the material for the 24th anniversary is "musical instruments." Tell her you love her, with....a bassoon? Oh, and for the 32nd, it's "conveyances," a.k.a. a vehicle...cool. As you approach the 50th, it gets weirder: the 42nd is real estate, but the 44th is groceries (hey, gotta eat). Read the whole thing if you're curious about the rest.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Another Empire Strikes Back?

I don't put questions of the techno-geek variety on this blog very often, but I"ve encountered a weird problem the past few days: I can no longer access my Hotmail using my Mozilla browser. Where the sign-in page would usually be, I get a message saying "We are unable to complete your request. The Passport network is experiencing technical difficulties." However, when I go over to Internet Explorer (which I've kept on my computer only reluctantly since discovering Mozilla), it worked perfectly fine.

(Incidentally, here's the requisite technical info for anyone who might have an answer for this: I'm running a vintage teal fishbowl iMac that I got for Christmas '98 [though I've added considerable RAM to the original 32 MB *shudder*]. I'm stuck on OS 9 because this just doesn't have the capacity to use OS X, so I can't use any of the Mac browsers like Safari, nor can I use Firefox. I was lucky enough to find a version of "regular" Mozilla [v.1.0.2] that has met my needs completely, with the exception of this current problem.)

Anyway, it really bugs me to think what might be happening here: a Microsoft product (Hotmail) only starts working on another Microsoft product (IE). Have any of my fellow Mac users had a problem like this before, and is there a way around it? I'm not a fan of the Gates Empire to begin with, and I've really hated the creaking process of checking my Hotmail lately (the pages even take longer to load because the ad data slows things down). Any help would be appreciated in the comments. (Constructive comments only, please; nobody besides Halfling is allowed to post "Mac sucks" or anything like that *grin*.)

Monday, May 23, 2005

The End of a Long Day

As die-hard fans already know, 24 had its big two-hour season finale tonight. I won't give anything away for the benefit of those who might have taped it, but, if you've already seen it, you might get a kick out of Dave Barry's liveblogging of the show.

I rarely make the effort to watch much live TV, besides sporting events, but this show really captured my imagination this season. So while I tend to tape my favorite shows and watch them later (usually after the machine spits the tape out when it's full), this show, with the exception of one night when I had a gig and had to tape it, had me in front of the TV every Monday night at 8 p.m. central time since I first saw it back on February 7. I'll definitely miss it between now and January, but I'll use part of that time to check out the DVD's of the first three seasons.

I'm game for it: Dave Barry also points out on his blog that there's a 24 game coming out for the Playstation 2. Sounds cool...

The following takes place between 7:30 a.m. and 12:00 noon: One more half-length teaching day, and I'm done for the semester in the public schools. The extra sleep tomorrow night is gonna be awesome, to say the least.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

We Were Burnin' (Oh, and it Sounded Good Too)

Summer seems to have hit North Texas with a vengeance: yesterday and today, the high temperature topped out at 99 degrees. It's way too early for that, but it's supposed to chill out a little bit (literally, heh) before the end of the week. I remember just a week ago when I took an evening bike ride and barely broke a sweat; today, it was still the 90's by the 9:00 news.

This sudden heat wave coincided with our National Anthem gig yesterday; what a time to do a Saturday afternoon game, huh? It was 98 degrees by game time, and the promotions lady who was in charge of herding us from place to place (and, with a chorus of 16 or so, "herding" was indeed an apt description) said that it would be at least ten degrees hotter on the field. Since we had two guys over 65 in our group (including the conductor), we were hoping to at least not turn to our liquid form out there.

We went down the press elevator into the bowels of the stadium and eventually got to rehearse in the air-conditioned comfort of the press interview room, which we were sharing with a group of Marine recruits who were to be sworn in during a special ceremony right before we sang. We were treated very well; they brought us ice and water, led us to a restroom, and gave us plenty of notice when we had to go somewhere, so the whole experience was very relaxing for most of us.

Eventually, we were led down the tunnel used by the media and umpires, then up some stairs and onto the field. While we waited against the back padded area, the mascot, Rangers Captain horsed around (heh) with us a little bit, as did his Astros counterpart, some sort of bucktoothed bunny. He even tried to "conduct" us a bit while we were waiting.

Finally, it was our turn. Some mild comedy ensued as one of the two mics didn't want to stay standing, but it was fixed in time for us to go. All in all, I think it went really well; nobody really got freaked out by listening to the stadium reverb and sound-system delay, which made us sound like a much bigger chorus than we were. The audience really liked it, and I heard that several fans shouted out compliments to some of the guys as we walked back to the tunnel.

UPDATE: It turns out that someone with the Rangers took pictures, so here we are (I'm second from the left):

And here's our name up in lights:

Not everybody stayed for the entire game, but (reader and occasional commenter) Jim and I toughed it out for the entire thing, though we found some seats in the shade about halfway through. Our assigned seats were right down the third base line, and, after a while, it was just too hot. We all kept ourselves hydrated with soft drinks and water, and one of the guys' wives brought sunscreen, but it was funny to watch our section (not just us, but everyone around us) get smaller and smaller as the game went on.

The game itself was great; we beat the Astros, 18-3, behind eight Ranger homers hit by seven different players; four of them came in the eight-run second inning alone. The 'Stros were my team growing up, and I'll still root for them over anyone except the Rangers, but it always seems extra sweet to beat your in-state rival.

Oh, and our performance was videotaped by one of the guys' wives and will eventually be put onto a DVD; when that happens, I'll try to post it right here. I know that we didn't make the TV coverage (not surprising, since it was a regional game-of-the-week and not just the local broadcast), and I'm waiting to see if it made the radio feed or not; someone was supposed to be taping that as well. At any rate, it was a great time, and I hope we get invited back.

Finally... For the first time since late March, I paid under $2.00 a gallon for gas yesterday, at a QT near the Arlington/Grand Prairie border. I've since seen it that cheap at many other locations around town. Here's hoping it sticks for a while...

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Ol' Blue Eyes Was Back, and He Was Playing on a #3 Reed

I had a weird dream last night: I was teaching Frank Sinatra a saxophone lesson. He looked as he did in the '50s and '60s (pretty much like this), but it took place in the here and now. I was a little bit uneasy about the whole thing, perhaps because he had a reputation for having Mob connections and all, but it was he who had asked for me, so I complied.

I was surprised to find that, like many older adult students I've taught, he asked a lot of questions, and he seemed genuinely interested in and pleased by my answers. I remember playing for him in the dream, though, when I woke, I had no recollection of him playing for me at all. Nonetheless, he seemed pleased with what he heard, and, when he rose from his chair, I knew the lesson was over, in the way that many celebrities end interviews on a second's notice. Still, he asked me for my business card before he left; I assumed that was so "his people" could pay me later (it didn't cross my mind until I was writing this that maybe he was looking for a backup musician down the road). I remember wondering exactly how handsomely I'd be compensated...and then i woke up.

It would be interesting to see what some of those "professional dream analysts" thought of this one...

Friday, May 20, 2005

Singin' for the Fences

Tomorrow is the big day: as I've mentioned before, a chorus from our Sinfonia alumni group is singing the National Anthem at the Rangers game.

The game (against the Astros, a series I like to attend anyway) starts at 3:05 p.m. and will be carried by FOX 4 on TV and KRLD on radio (I wonder if Eric will be at work by then). We've been told that our start time is 2:56, which would seem to mean that we'd just miss being on TV, but I'm taping the beginning of the game, just in case, and would invite you to tune in anyway. Perhaps the only downside of a rare Saturday afternoon game is that the high temperature is expected to be in the mid-90's. At any rate, it will be good fun. Wish us luck!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Enjoy It I Did. Go Back Again I Will.

The verdict is in, at least from here: Star Wars Episode 3 redeems the series and ties the first trilogy to the second one in fine fashion. Rather than trying to do a full-blown review here (mostly because I taught a full day today on three hours' sleep and still have places to go tonight), I'll just post some random thoughts about the movie and the experience of seeing it at its midnight opening (something I managed to do for all three installments in this first trilogy):

  • The movie really does a fine job of leading us up to the beginning of the original Star Wars (now known as Episode IV). No element of the storyline is left unresolved. It'll be interesting to watch those two back-to-back once the inevitable boxed set comes out on DVD.

  • Ewan McGregor is outstanding this time around; you can tell that he studied all the nuances that Alec Guinness put into Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original trilogy. The speech patterns and facial expressions are all there, and, with the close-cropped beard, he even looks like a young Guinness.

  • OK, the acting of other characters leaves something to be desired. We all know that George Lucas doesn't shine when writing love scenes, and Hayden Christensen once again comes up rather wooden as Anakin, especially in the scenes with Natalie Portman. This is no surprise, really, so I wasn't disappointed in something I was already expecting. (Incidentally, perhaps the best acting in the movie comes from Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine.)

  • The fight scenes are awesome. Yoda even outdoes himself from Episode II. It's still totally plausible that the Yoda encountered by Luke some twenty years later in the story isn't capable of such skills anymore, since he's much older by then...even if we all know that the real reason is that a computer-generated Yoda can do way more than a Muppet could ever dream of doing.

  • I was very impressed with how the theatre we visited handled things. The movie was shown in its four biggest auditoriums, and all previous movies showing in those theatres ended before 9 p.m. That allowed everyone to go in and get seats early, rather than having long lines wrap around the building (as had been the case when I saw Episode I). That also meant that people would buy their concessions inside, which I'm sure was part of the idea.

  • A girl in the row in front of us, who had her hair done up in the Princess Leia "bun" style, kept calling another kid "Luke." This was a cloak-wearing, light-saber-wielding kid who appeared to be her brother. At first, I wondered if she was just being in character, but enough adults also called the kid by that name that I figured it was real. Then I wondered if he was named after young Skywalker or if it was just a weird coincidence.

  • The expected light-saber fights were amusing, and there were way more of them than there were three years ago. The technology has also gotten much better: the new ones actually make the traditional light-saber sound when they're turned on and during "battle."
    (Incidentally, I heard from a student of mine, who was in a different auditorium in the same theatre, that someone in a Darth Vader costume got repeatedly whacked upside the head during the saber-battle over there and had to go back and sit with his mom. That just conjured up a funny mental picture...)

  • There weren't as many costumes as last time, but we did have someone in full stormtrooper gear, a Darth Vader and a Darth Maul. There were also a few truly odd ones: someone wielding a light-saber
    but wearing a Spider Man mask, and this person (of indeterminate gender) wearing a big white bunny costume. When it walked by with its friends, one of the friends said, "Don't you get it? It's an albino Wookiee!" OOOOOOOOk...
So overall, it was a great time. I hope that Lucas might change his mind about not doing a third trilogy, but at least this one wraps up the "prequels" on a good note.

Chapter Day

I just wanted to give a quick shout-out to my brothers in the Gamma Theta Chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, a fine brotherhood of musicians. The chapter was founded on this day in 1940 at what was then called North Texas State Teachers College, but is a much bigger place now. Some of our alumni include Jimmy Giuffre (clarinetist/saxophonist and composer of "Four Brothers"), Herb Ellis (jazz guitarist), Bob Dorough (jazz pianist/vocalist and the voice behind many of the "Schoolhouse Rock" cartoons) and the late Frank Mantooth (pianist/composer/arranger).

I'm headed up there tonight to celebrate with the guys and help out in a little historical presentation. Seeing as how I only had three hours of sleep after Star Wars last night, I think a little nap is in order first. (The obligatory Star Wars review will be posted right after this one, probably tomorrow.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

No Hoodz 'n' the Hood?

So we think our dress codes over here are bad? A mall in England has banned hoodies on its patrons. The management has also said that “groups of more than five without the intention to shop will be asked to leave the center.”

The move prompted high praise from Prime Minister Tony Blair, who said, “This type of disrespect and yobbish behavior will not be tolerated any more,” he said.

(OK, I was wrong; another day, at least, until a post of substance; I'm about to go eat and stand in a really, really long movie line now.)

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Standing in a Long Line We Will Be

OK, long day; posts of substance will resume tomorrow. For now, a few quick questions:

1) How many Musings readers will be going to the midnight Star Wars show tomorrow night?

2) If so, will you be inventing an excuse to miss school or work on Thursday? (There's actually a site where you can download an excuse note if you want; what will they think of next?)

3) Or will you be like me and go into work anyway on about 3 hours of sleep? (My first lesson is at 7:30 that day. I did the midnight movie/very little sleep thing for Episode II as well, and it worked out fine. The kids gave me some slack if I seemed tired, because they thought it was cool that I went; besides, some of them had gone too. For Episode I, school was already out by premiere night.)

4) Is anyone actually going to show up in costume? If so, as whom?

Monday, May 16, 2005

This Time, I Guess We Do Need Those Stinkin' Badges

I went to lunch today at one of my favorite places, and the guy charged me $4.95 for a meal that usually costs $6.80. I looked all confused at the total and asked him how that could be, and he said, "Discount." I then realized that I was wearing my school district badge, and that's what got me the cheaper meal. I asked him that, and he confirmed my suspicion.

Normally, I'd be eating at this place on Tuesdays, in between my public-school teaching and college teaching, so by the time I get there, I'd have shed the badge already, in an effort to free myself from the shackles of the corporate educational world (OK, actually to avoid being laughed at by accidentally wearing it to my college classes). But today, I had another school lesson left to go, so the badge stayed on. And now I'm hearing that I could've saved nearly two bucks every time by keeping it on for thirty more minutes? D'oh.

I guess I'll have to milk that for all it's worth for what's left of the semester.

Gassin' up while gas is down: Tonight, I paid $2.02 a gallon for regular unleaded at a QT in Plano; several of its neighbors matched that price. Anybody here in the Metroplex find some cheaper than that?

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Tour de Neighborhood

OK, allow me just one more post on my revived hobby here, and I'll get back to normal (whatever that is) during the week.

So I used some time off this afternoon to resolve yesterday's impediments to my return to cycling; I stumbled across a little bicycle shop in my old neighborhood while on the way home from church, and they were able to put my new pedals on rather quickly. While I was there, I got one of those little saddle bags to hold things like my phone, a house key, etc., and went ahead and upgraded to a new helmet. The new ones look much more durable, have infinitely more "breathe-ability" and flexibility, and look way cooler (no more of that George Jetson look for me).

I limited my ride to the neighborhoods around mine, but I took advantage of the winding nature of many of the roads in the area and managed to stretch my ride to exactly six miles, which took half an hour. My legs were tired at the end, but it was wonderfully cool outside in the early evening, so my own temperature stayed down as well. There were no vicious dogs on my route, and I only almost got backed into by a minivan once (in my own neighborhood, no less). Before too long, I want to get out on the country roads that aren't too far from me, but this was a fine way to start.

OK...I know that people tend to go overboard when they get new hobbies/jobs/girlfriends and so on, but I promise you this won't turn into the CycloBlog or anything. I just had to talk about this first day because it was such a good time.

She's been fingered for sure now: In case you missed it, authorities have finally confirmed the source of the finger "found" in the Wendy's chili a while back, and it came from a man who worked with the husband of the lady who had claimed she found it in her food.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Cycling for a Cause

My alarm went off at 5 a.m. this morning, on purpose.

That opening statement alone is unusual for me, especially on a Saturday (he says, trying to forget for the moment that, three weeks from today, departure time for the jazz band trip will make the day start even earlier). The freeways were lonely (not a bad thing here in the Metroplex), the temperatures were nicely cool, and my favorite news-talk station was running a fishing show. It's a different world before sunrise, that's for sure.

But I rose at the crack of dawn and drove to Frisco for a good reason: the start of the FedEx Kinko's MS 150 Bike Tour, a.k.a. the Red River Challenge. The MS part stands for multiple sclerosis, and this tour and its two Texas companions in Austin and San Antonio raised $12 million for the National MS Society last year.

My personal connections to this were Halfling and his mom, who are riding in the event on a team sponsored by her work (where he'll be interning this summer as well). He's posted about this on several occasions and done mulitple training rides leading up to today. I'm also a big fan of the sport of cycling; I used to ride a lot, and I end up watching the Tour de France avidly every summer.

The tour started just outside the Dr Pepper/Seven Up Ballpark, home of the Frisco RoughRiders, the AA club of the Rangers organization. (Indeed, an added bonus of the morning was getting to walk around the ballpark, which I really need to visit as a fan.) It was inside the ballpark that I met up with Halfling and his mom (which ended up being less of a "needle in a haystack" situation than I'd imagined) and visited with them for a while before they lined up with their team.

After an opening ceremony featuring the National Anthem and a military presentation of the colors, the riders were off. There were some unusual entries: A couple in a tandem bike, another couple in a tandem bike with a little helmeted kid in a trailer-type thing (that one scored way high on the "cute" meter), a guy in a recumbent bike, someone on Halfling's team whose bike's wheels were so small it looked like a toy, and a guy with a stuffed Southwest Airlines plane on top of his helmet. It was too late for this year, but seeing it all made me really want to be out there on a bike.

Since I was already in Frisco, I took advantage of the facilities at my college's campus up there--specifically, the lap pool. There's no pool at my campus (we do have access to a municipal rec center next door, but not during hours when I can use it), so I like to find excuses to go up there and swim some laps. Today, I pretty much had the pool to myself, though there was a CPR demo going on when I got there (which took a second to register with me when I walked out to the pool; I thought for a moment that there had already been a near-drowning today). My technique was horrible, I'm sure, but, thanks to working out on a regular basis, I no longer feel like I've been beat up after my lap session like I did a few years ago when I went for the first time.

I made it home by around 12:30, after a lunch stop (I'd been cravin' the panda for a while, since my messed-up teaching schedule last week didn't allow me to eat there) and felt like I'd already had a full day. Proponents of early rising say you can get a lot done in the morning, and it's true, but I was toast. A nap was required to put myself back in equilibrium, but I had a goal in mind: my own (much smaller, of course) bike ride.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

As I said, I'm a big fan of cycling, and I used to really like to ride myself a while back. I think the biggest appeal for me is that it's not only good exercise, but you can get somewhere doing it; the changing scenery really appeals to me. I lost a ton of weight riding a trainer once upon a time, and I've done some fun rides with friends in the past. I'm not sure what happened; life got more complicated, and my work schedule found me home after dark almost all the time. The bike started to literally gather dust in the garage. But Halfling's interest in the sport reawakened my desire to try again (a pretty common occurrence among best friends, no doubt), so I started working towards my own return to riding, with the larger goal of perhaps joining him for this in August (it's not definite for either of us, but if he does, I want to also).

Last weekend, I finally got new pedals. I had been using the clipless variety (which, along with special cleated shoes, make you literally "one with the bike" until you un-clip yourself with a special motion). They make for very efficient pedaling, but you can also fall. A lot. Sure enough, when I used them, I fell. A lot. And even more than that. It must look scarier to passersby than it feels to the rider, because on many occasions, well-meaning soccer moms would stop to make sure I was OK. But after a while, I really grew tired of the constant falling, which contributed to my hiatus from the bike as well. So I decided that my return stint would, at least for the time being, go back to "regular" pedals.

But there was a major snag in the process: I couldn't get the old ones off. I tried a wrench--nope. Allen wrench--worked better, but uh-uh. Phillips screwdriver--still no. I realized that I would have to consult with the bike store tomorrow, but what to do now? It was getting dark. I didn't want to drag out the special shoes and clip in--not for my first ride in forever. A thought came to me: I wonder if I could just ride with regular shoes on these pedals? I tried it, and, while it wasn't ideal, it worked.

I stayed in the neighborhood, which makes for an easy ride, as mine is built in a loop of sorts: three streets that all connect back to each other. Stopping was a little weird the first few times (mostly the balance part), and I encountered a dog on my first pass (though a sideways glance showed that it was nothing but a little ankle-biter with a really loud bark), but otherwise it went off without a hitch.

And it felt great. The old feeling was back, immediately. I definitely want to do a lot of this, and we're coming upon the ideal time of year to do so. I'll have to accessorize a bit: I need one of those saddle packs that can carry things like energy bars, my cell phone and so on, and I definitely need a new helmet, because I noticed that everyone this morning, to a person, had one that was cooler than mine. I'll probably ultimately replace the cheap bike I'm on with something better, but for now, I'll get the pedal issue resolved and I'm literally good to go.

Clipping for a cause: A kid came to my door today and offered to cut my grass for two dollars. He was fundraising for his elementary school, and I'm allergic to grass, so I was down with it. I had to do a little touch-up work later, but still, it was a good deal. I wonder if I can get him to come back in a few weeks?

Friday, May 13, 2005

Don't Mess with Our Calendar

The Texas Legislature has pulled a fast one on us. On Wednesday, in the middle of a huge debate on school finance reform, a state Senator managed to sneak an amendment into the bill that would force all Texas school districts to start school after Labor Day and end by June 7. This is, of course, radically different from current law, which lets districts set their own calendars, so long as it's not before the week of August 21 (and even this can be altered by seeking a waiver from the state).

Many people aren't happy about this, and the apparent reason behind the bill doesn't come from a good place at all:
School districts hate it, and parents are lukewarm. So why are Texas lawmakers pushing for all schools to start classes the day after Labor Day?

One major reason: The tourism industry loves it.

"This is a big win for families who want to vacation late in the summer," said Sen. Eddie Lucio, a Democrat who pushed for the later start. "It is also a big win for business in general all over the state, especially in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, South Padre Island and resort areas where they depend on tourism." (source)
So let me get this straight: Lawmakers are going to destroy one of the most important elements of local school district control, and mess with a lot of students' lives, just so Six Flags can keep longer hours for two or three more weeks?

There are several reasons why this is a really, really bad idea:
  • Fewer holidays. I haven't actualy seen a proposed calendar under these parameters, but district officials have been saying all along that it would force holidays--and I don't just mean the fluffy ones like Fair Day, but things like spring and winter breaks--to be severely curtailed. Sure, the so-called "real world" doesn't have all these holidays, but remember, we're talking about kids as young as kindergartners here. They need a break every now and then.

  • The discrepancy with colleges would be even worse. My college let out today; my public schools won't do so for three more weeks. If this bill becomes law, it will be more like a month between the ends of the college and public-school semesters. For families who have offspring in both places, this could make vacation-planning a nightmare. But even worse than that, imagine the poor teachers who need to take summer college coursework to finish a master's degree or do personal enrichment courses. Most college summer sessions start the week of June 6 this year; if school didn't let out until a day after that, how are the teachers supposed to take these classes?

  • Local control is important. Building the academic calendar is one of the most unique things a school district does, and they will do it better than some centralized "home office" (which is what the Legislature, by doing this power grab, is trying to become) could ever dream of doing. The calendar committee in each district is composed of people who have been around for a while and know what works best for them; it might not be the same things that work best for another nearby district. Besides, most things get messed up when big government takes control, and this would undoubtedly be no exception.

  • We don't need 3 a.m. graduations. It sure seems like the supporters of this bill didn't give one nanosecond of thought to how all 1,037 school districts in Texas are supposed to hold graduation ceremonies at the same time. In the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex, nearly everyone uses either the UNT Coliseum or Moody Coliseum at SMU (the really big schools use Reunion Arena). The only reason this works is because the districts' ending dates are staggered across a two- to three-week period. If you start making everyone do it at once, the facilities won't be available; even the new venue out in my part of town would only partially relieve the glut of ceremonies that would be forced to happen practically on top of one another.

  • First-semester exams after Christmas? Ack! This is the kicker. By starting school after Labor Day, it becomes physically impossible (even with fewer holidays) to complete an eighteen-week fall semester before Christmas. Anyone in the Lege who doesn't realize what a mistake this is has 1) never taught school, and 2) forgotten what it's like to be in school. Delaying the end of the semester into the next calendar year means that a great deal of time will be wasted after Christmas break doing review sessions. The year is broken in half rather nicely for a reason, and the lawmakers are messing with this just because some amusement park operators did some hardcore lobbying (just wait till later, when I do my post on how lobbying should be outlawed). This shows a shameful misplacement of priorities, and it's just not right.

I think I may be prompted to write my state senator and representative for the very first time because of this (OK, it'll be an email, but still, it's written communication). I would suggest that anyone else in Texas who doesn't like this idea should do the same.

Musing on music: I finally got caught up on some blog-reading today, and I noticed a post from Eric about covering songs from other artists; he asked if his fellow musicians thought this was a good thing or a bad thing. My response in the comments points out that in jazz, covers are called standards, and we play them all the time.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Die Jungen Biersänger

As an educator, I get the chance to interact with kids a lot, and sometimes, they really do say the darnedest things (there have been many kid-generated Quotes of the Day, as can be seen in previous posts). Thankfully, however, I've never heard this in a lesson yet...

I had dinner at the Bavarian Grill tonight, and the singing accordion player (you knew they had one of those, right?) was leading the crowd in various traditional German songs, nearly all of which had to do with beer (imagine that). At one point, there was an audience-response type of song, where they were supposed to shout out, "BEER!" every time the accordion guy turned the mic their way. I heard a lot of raucous adult singing, but I was surprised to see that one lady was joined by her kids, who had to be no older than 10, shouting out "BEER!" as loudly as anyone else.

I didn't know whether to laugh at the cuteness of it all, or be scared that they were singing drinking songs at such a young age. In the end, I gave them (and their parents) the benefit of the doubt, realizing that kids like to play along on stuff like that, whether they know what they're singing about or not. Here's hoping their only "BEER!" comes from roots for the foreseeable future.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Just watch...I'll be teaching those kids in four years."--Me, to my table-mates, after hearing the young beer singers (translate those last three words into German on the Babelfish and you'll get the title of this post).

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Welcome New Readers!

This is another light blogging day (due to a whole bunch of extra lessons that got booked at the last minute), but I've noticed that my SiteMeter numbers are way up this week, so I did want to pop on and give a warm welcome to whomever all the new people might be who are reading The Musings. This blog is all over the map as far as subject matter goes, but music is a big part of it (since that's what I do), as is a constant look at the offbeat side of things. Feel free to look around; some of my favorite stuff from the archives is listed on the sidebar under "Past Posts of Note." At any rate, thank you (and the regulars too) for visiting, and I hope you'll come back often.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

A Tiny Cornucopia

This is a light blogging day due to juries, auditions, and so on, but there were some interesting things I ran across today, including this little nugget of trivia:
In any given year, more than a thousand people will be injured by toilet bowl cleaning products or killed by cattle. Fewer than a dozen will be killed by a great white shark.
--Susan Casey, The Devil's Teeth, as quoted in the May 2 Sports Illustrated
Injured by toilet bowl cleaning products?? Wow, no wonder they have all those directions and "lawyer paragraphs" on the bottle...

I love Chipotle, and most of their advertising campaigns are hilarious. A sign posted up in the 15th St. store today confused me, though, when it proclaimed that their new salads would make you feel "lighter in your loafers." I wonder--did they really think carefully about the meaning of that phrase? (And if that's true, wouldn't that campaign do better at a store closer to downtown? Sorry, a little Dallas in-joke there...)

QUOTE OF THE DAY (runner-up): "So you're a professor? That means you teach like math and science?"--A middle-school student of mine, upon finding out what my other job is. He had no clue that professors taught anything other than those two subjects.

QUOTE OF THE DAY (winner): "Our last tune is by Woody Herman, and it's a real flag-burner."--Jazz director at one of my schools, during a concert tonight; thankfully, no civil disobedience actually ensued. (I told him afterwards that maybe next time, he could play a "barn-waver" instead. Heh.)

Monday, May 09, 2005

The Beast Gets a New Number?

Here's another weekend "leftover": The number 666, always assumed to be "the mark of the beast," may have lost some of its "bite" if a recent find turns out to be correct...
Satanists, apocalypse watchers and heavy metal guitarists may have to adjust their demonic numerology after a recently deciphered ancient biblical text revealed that 666 is not the fabled Number of the Beast after all.

A fragment from the oldest surviving copy of the New Testament, dating to the Third century, gives the more mundane 616 as the mark of the Antichrist.
As always, read the whole thing.

I'm not saying that I believe the main story here, just that it's interesting. The only reason I bring this up is because my cell phone number has had a 616 in it for the entire time I've been a celluar customer--nearly 10 years now. That could possibly explain the somewhat possessed behavior of my old phone a little over a year ago.

Oh, and it also dilutes the little joke from when my sister was in high school: she dated a guy whose license plates had the number 666, and he was a minister's son!

This post has staying Power: Believe it or not, people are still commenting on last week's Tower of Power post. The most interesting thing so far is a back-and-forth between me and an anonymous commenter who has thus far declined to uncloak. I'm not yet at the point of disabling anonymous comments, but I know plenty of people who have. If you're a fellow blogger, what are your reasons for allowing or disallowing them?

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Showing Off the Baby

The spring jazz concert at the college was last night. All of the groups played well; I was very happy with the job done by my two combos, and it was enjoyable (and very weird at the same time) to sit in the audience and listen to the big band instead of being onstage.

The high point of my night came at the close of the Combo Too program when they played my new arrangement of "Nature Boy." It's probably still not a finished product (composers and arrangers are always tweaking; indeed, I made the last change during the dress rehearsal), but it was at quite a presentable stage of development. The guys played it well and the vocalist totally wowed 'em.

I said something in rehearsal a while back about composing/arranging being the closest thing that any of us of the male species could ever come to having a baby (though, in retrospect, any creative endeavor would probably fit this category: art, prose, poetry, etc.). You labor over a tablet of staff paper (or Finale file, as it may be) to put your "baby" in writing, and then, the first time it's played, it's like a birth of sorts, because what has thus far only existed in your head and then on paper has finally turned into something tangible. The rehearsals are like the early days in the nursery, and then the first public performance is akin to showing your baby off to the world. When I get a copy of the CD of the concert, I'm sure I'll play it for everyone in sight, much like the proud new dad who shows off baby pictures (or, nowadays, posts them on his website).

(I realize that this almost seems like sacrilege, being written on Mother's Day as it is. I'm certainly not trying to marginalize the efforts of true mothers--after all, I'm the son, brother and nephew of some very good ones--but rather using the birth idea as a metaphor for the unusual relationship a creative person has with his or her creation.)

So yeah, I'm happy. I think I'll arrange and compose more now too; that usually happens, as I said last night, at a glacial pace, but the reward is definitely worth the effort. And now, all that's left of college teaching for the semester is to listen to juries on Tuesday and attend the "final exams" for the combos (since the true exam was last night's concert, we just meet up for a little bit to discuss the semester and then go eat somewhere). Since I have some things to teach at the college this summer, I'll enjoy the little break for a few weeks; with any luck, it'll be both relaxing and productive.

How do you not call Mom on Mother's Day and not get grief for it? Simple--have her be in another country on the big day. My folks are in Ireland for the first half of the month, so the usual things--calling, sending flowers, and even snail-mail cards--were not a possibility this year. I did send a nice e-card (they're able to check their email and do so regularly), but everything else will have to wait until they get back.

The machine thought the election was over already: Yesterday, I voted in the local election in Garland; the only thing on the ballot in my precinct (besides the mayor, who ran unopposed) was a couple of wet/dry provisions (namely, being able to sell beer and wine in grocery and convenience stores, and being able to sell mixed drinks in restaurants without using a "Unicard"). I did my civic duty and deposited the ballot in this little fax-machine-looking device, which was supposed to read it and take it in for storage. Mine, however, had trouble being read, and a little message appeared on the screen: DATA READING ERROR. PLEASE REINSERT AFTER BEEPS. That made sense and all, so I did in fact wait for it to beep at me...but not before being confused for a moment, because the all-caps LCD display made the word BEEPS look more like BEERS. (That would indeed be funny, and it would probably increase the signup rate for election workers by a large margin.)

Hey, jackass, stay off my tail, will you? Donkey schoen! I forgot this one yesterday: on Friday afternoon, while driving on a country road (yes, there is a "back way" between a few of my schools), I got stuck behind a truck pulling a trailer with a sign on it that read "CAUTION: SHOW MULES." I was amused by that at first, wondering how many people would actually attend a mule show. But ultimately, I realized what a big mess it would be if someone actually knocked the trailer over and the mules got out, though Eric and his fellow traffic reporters would probably get a kick (heh) out of reporting a "mule spill" instead of the usual fuel spill.

And oddly enough, when the road widened and I got alongside the trailer, no mules were to be found. Either "ol' Jenny" was asleep and out of sight, or the mules were already at the show and the driver was just joyriding with the trailer...weird.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Did We Get Picked? Of Chorus!

Back in March, I reported that our Sinfonia alumni association went to Ameriquest Field to audition to sing the National Anthem at a Rangers baseball game. I'm happy to report that we were among those chosen to perform.

The game they've assigned us is two weeks from today: Saturday, May 21, at 3:05 p.m. vs. the Astros. I'm not sure if the Anthem gets played on the radio or TV broadcasts of the games (since I tend to still be teaching when the game actually starts), but, if you can't make it to the game, get by a TV or radio just in case. We're a chorus of sixteen, but the deep bass voice you'll hear is likely to be me.

A meeting of the minds bands: Last night, I played for a party thrown by one of the guys in Combo PM. Our host, along with one of his friends from the same combo, sat in near the end, and it made for an interesting confluence of bands: About half of Jaztet One, nearly half of Combo PM, exactly half of Team Demon/Dingus and three-fifths of "Just in Time" (a group I was in from 2000-2002). There were a few moments when somebody called a tune and then realized, "wait, not everybody knows that one," but overall it was a good time. I also got to spend several hours in my other role as party guest after the band was done, which was cool, seeing as how I'd been invited in the first place.

House arrest "lite": I was confined to the computer room for a couple of hours this morning while my living room ceiling was being painted. They had the entrance to the hallway covered in plastic, so I was literally stuck here. It was nice to catch up on blog-reading and the like, and now I just hope to not get high off the paint fumes before I go about my business. I was thankful to be able to grab some food and drink before I was blocked off, and even more thankful that Tasha slept peacefully while closed off in another room while not needing her litterbox for the duration.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Right Hand, Meet Left Hand...Oops, Missed

The gigs went well today; I always like having the groups perform in either informal settings (like my afternoon combo did in the atrium) or low-pressure settings (like my evening one did, as background pre-program music for an awards banquet) right before a big concert, because a dress rehearsal in front of an audience is really effective.

We did have an interesting situation during the banquet; I'm sure things like this happen all the time at large institutions, but today it happened to us. As we were setting up in a portion of the conference center, we noticed that another part of the center had been divided off, and what looked like a class was taking place in there. Only when we read the sign outside that portion of the room did we realize what had happened: a final exam was being given in that room, right next door to where we were going to be playing!

Thankfully, the gig wasn't scrapped or anything. I'm sure no one person was to blame for this mixup; it was simply a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing. The people who scheduled the exam were looking for a nice, isolated location, which it would have been if there hadn't been a banquet with a live band next door. The people who scheduled the banquet (months ago, no doubt) would never have imagined that an exam was to be given so close by. In the end, everybody compromised a bit: we played a bit softer than we might have, and the exam-takers held their proverbial (or literal?) ears and concentrated a little more intently during our 35-minute set that ended exactly as scheduled. There were probably a few sheepish grins from those in charge of both sides when they realized what happened, but everyone ultimately went about their business.

After today, I'm really looking forward to the concert on Saturday. I'll of course have a full report on Sunday.

Feliz Cinco de Mayo: Apenas como hice el año pasado, decidía fijar un poco tributo a Cinco de Mayo en español, usando la magia del Babelfish. También deseo desear un feliz cumpleaños a Angie, novia de Halfling, y a Gordon, el bassist del P.M. combo. No tenía ningún alimento mexicano o un margarita a celebrar hoy (en hecho, fui al panda expreso para el almuerzo y Popeye para la cena), sino que cogeré para arriba en ése más adelante.

05.05.05: In addition to being Cinco de Mayo, it's also the fifth day of the fifth month of the year that ends in '05, as they pointed out on the radio this morning. This sort of occurrence is unique to the beginning of a century; I missed it last year, but it's an interesting little milestone to mark. Wouldn't it be wild if it were still being discussed on this very blog on December 12, 2012?

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "So where do they speak Portuguese...in Austria?"--One of my middle-school students, when the subject of Romance languages came up (he's already English/Spanish bilingual and will be starting French in high school). That was nearly as funny as when the college jazz band was preparing to go to Switzerland six years ago and a bunch of my students wondered if I was going to have to learn to "speak Swedish."

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Sign of the Day

I'll get back to posts of substance pretty soon, once my "two performances in three hours Thursday" is over, but I had to mention this sign I saw posted at QT today. I've been buying gas there for quite some time, but I never noticed this statement at the bottom of a big list of warnings posted by the pumps:

"WARNING: QT gasoline is not intended for use as an airliner fuel."

I had quite a good laugh as I imagined someone pulling their Cessna up to the pump, scattering pickup trucks and SUV's in its wake.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Bullying the Bullies...or Not?

I heard an interesting snippet of conversation on the Benjamin Dover show today regarding a bill before the Texas House that would allow students who are victims of bullying to transfer to another classroom or even another school in the same district. (The bill they were obviously talking about is House Bill 283, whose text may be found here.)

Most of the callers pointed out the same thing: This bill would not really solve the problem; if anything, it would just empower the bully even more by having all of his/her victims (and yes, as some callers pointed out, there are female bullies) moved elsewhere. The general consensus was that this bill just skirts the true issue of dealing with the bully, with many people pointing out that the teachers can't do corporal punishment anymore, and now even the victims can't hit back, thanks to zero-tolerance policies in many districts that punish all participants in schoolyard fights (but that's another post for another day). Oh, and speaking of things that can't be done anymore, Dover related a great story about how he and some buddies ambushed a notorious bully on his paper route; they were pretty much left alone after that.

Granted, I never get a big chunk of time to listen to radio talk shows--it's pretty much limited to the ten minutes between schools--so I don't know if the Dover listeners ever discovered what I did in doing my research for this post: there's also a House Bill 243 (text here), which provides for the transferral to an alternative education program of anyone caught bullying on school grounds. These two bills in tandem make more sense...although one might wonder, if both the bullies and their victims are transferred elsewhere, who's left at the original school--the quiet kids in the back of the room who never say anything?

So let's open this one up to the commenters; here's the Musings Poll of the Day:

1) Were you ever on the receiving end of bullying in school?
2) Were you ever on the giving end?
3) Make yourself a legislator-for-a-day: What solution(s) would you propose to effectively deal with the problem of bullying in schools?

Powerful statements: Lots of interesting comments on the Tower of Power post from people who weren't as impressed as I was; there's also some first-class ranting about the overall quality of live-sound engineers at most big festivals.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Still Powerful After All These Years

I got to spend a second day at the Denton Arts and Jazz Festival yesterday, and the crowds were even more massive than the night before (I'd never gotten to go on a Saturday before, thanks--or would that be no thanks?--to a weekend job I had for several years).

The headliner last night was Tower of Power, a band I've enjoyed since high school. I knew that they had been around since at least the early '70s, but even I was surprised to hear co-founder Emilio Castillo point out that they actually dated back to 1968! At any rate, the band, with their soul-funk grooves punctuated by the legendary horn section (which has been known to hire itself out as a unit for other people's recordings) never fails to please, and this time was no exception.

There have been lots of personnel changes in the band over the years, but Steve "Doc" Kupka (baritone sax) and the aforementioned Castillo (second tenor) have been there the whole time. Some of the players that have gone through this band are near-legends, including tenor saxist Lenny Pickett (currently of the Saturday Night Live band), organist Chester Thompson, bassist Francis "Rocco" Prestia and drummer David Garibaldi (the latter two having rejoined the band in recent years). New lead vocalist Larry Braggs did a fine job; he might not be up there with my two favorites--Lenny Williams and Hubert Tubbs--but he'd easily be #3 on that list. It was also a homecoming for trumpeter Adolfo Acosta, former lead player for the One O'Clock.

One thing was for sure, this band came to party. (Sure, something could be said about the party starting 45 minutes late, but that's another story.) They constantly engaged the audience in sing-alongs, implored everyone to get up on their feet, and even chided the section that was mostly seated in their lawn chairs for thinking they were at a New Age concert. The horns also had some great choreography (not while playing, of course), with the younger members even jumping in the air a few times. Fun stuff.

Many of their tunes may have a similar formula, but the formula works. In the hour-and-a-half set, they played most of their best-known tunes (either alone or in a medley format): Squib Cakes, Oakland Stroke, Don't Change Horses (in the Middle of a Stream), So Very Hard to Go, and so on. When they got to What Is Hip?, we knew it was almost time for the end of the show, and the extended encore included their very first chart hit, You're Still a Young Man.

The concert did run quite late; most of the audience didn't make it through the extended encore (ourselves included), but it was indeed a great time. I definitely hope they come through the area again soon.

(UPDATE: Reader Gary P. had issues with the sound quality, and some other stuff, in the comments; I'll respond to that there.)