Sunday, November 30, 2008

Moses Parts the Waters of Holiday Gloom with a Selfless Act

Truth be told, this holiday season isn't very old, and yet we already need a feel-good story like this. On a weekend where we've already had a Wal-Mart worked trampled to death by a mob who couldn't wait till 6 a.m. for the doors to open, not to mention a shootout at a Toys "R" Us in Arizona, it's a breath of fresh air to read the story of Moses Baranuic, a 17-year-old Moldovan immigrant from Federal Way, Washington who found a sack containing $10,000 on the bathroom floor at the grocery store where he worked--and turned it in:
He was heading to the men's room on break, and he had no idea what treasure he'd find in there.

"As I walk in right here on the floor, I noticed a bag of money," he said.

But he had no idea yet how much money was in there

So he washed his hands, thought about it, and did the right thing.

"I just grabbed the money, walked outside and gave it to the manager," Baranuic said.

His manager was impressed.

"His name tells it all," said store manager Etray Hudson. "With a name like that you can't go wrong.... Moses."

Moses says there's something biblical about his decision to turn in the cash.

"Because I teach a Sunday school with 10-year-old kids and I always tell them to do the right thing," he said.
The guy who accidentally left the money (he was in the process of moving at the time, which is why he had it with him) came back and was extremely grateful; he took down Moses' address and said a "little reward" will be coming to him.

You may read a lot of stories about teenagers doing bad things, but--as someone who's around them on a regular basis--there are plenty of stories like this that happen all the time; it's just nice for one to actually make the news.

I'll let Moses have the last word here:
"I've always been considered a pretty good worker, so now there's even more respect. People trust me even more today, so I don't regret it because maybe I didn't get the $10,000, but I got something you can't buy with money."
You sure did, Moses. You sure did.

UPDATE TO LINKED STORY: "The parent company of Top Foods announced Friday that they will be giving Moses a $500 reward in recognition for the great thing he did in returning the money." Very cool.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

How Black Was Your Friday?

I spent quite a bit of yesterday driving back from Houston, so i wasn't "fully engaged" in the Black Friday process this year. But if my one morning trip to a furniture store is any indication, there are plenty of people out there who--despite the weakened economy--won't shrink from a bargain. (If you're wondering why I was at a furniture store on Black Friday, it was to help select what's going to be my Christmas present from Mom and Dad: A new living room set. As Mom pointed out, most of the furniture I've ever had has either been hand-me-downs [from them] or hand-me-ups [from my sister], so it was about time that I got something brand-new for Casa de Kev. Sure, it spoils the "surprise," but it's not like they were going to wrap up a sofa and leave it under the tree in the first place.)

So my quick survey questions for you are as follows:
  • Did you do any shopping yesterday?

  • If so, were the shopping centers more or less crowded than in previous years?

  • Did you actually buy anything? And did it appear that people around you were mostly buying things or just window-shopping?
Remember that you can comment anonymously on this blog, but it's better to pick a screenname so that we don't have two many Anonymi running around.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I'm Thankful For...

...a lot of things, actually. Here are a few:
  • Getting the chance to visit with family. It's just me and Mom and Dad this time around, but that'll be nice; I needed a chill day after the busy-ness of the past month, and they haven't gotten to come up my way since July because of their travel and my work.

  • The greatest group of friends anyone could ever want; they're family as well. (I've always said that you have two families: The one you're born into, and the one you choose.) Also, the chance to hang with the two who live out-of-town (both having returned this morning) before starting my own trip, and the chance to do so again when I get back.

  • Gas prices below two bucks a gallon (even the national average matches this number now). It's hard to believe that, not quite six months ago, I saw $4.14 gas in Vermont, and it flirted with the four-buck mark at home for a week or two.

  • Good health. When everyone and their dog was getting sick about two weeks ago, I managed to have only a few days of the "crud," and I actually felt better after attending an outdoor event for a few hours in 40-degree temperatures. (Also, when I strained a leg muscle on the Corpus trip, I managed to rehab it in about 24 hours, with a combination of walking on sand at the beach and doing some unusual "scisssors" exercises that would have never crossed my mind had I not been sleeping on couches that weekend.)

  • Having a job that I really love, that hardly ever seems like work, and that has the opportunity to really make a difference in people's lives.

  • Music. Not only is it the source of the non-work job mentioned above, but it is a great form of expression for the writer/performer and a great form of enjoyment for the listener.

  • The freedom to worship God in any way we see fit, without government interference (I think we take this for granted sometimes, but it's certainly not a given in many other parts of the world).

  • And finally, being able to live in the greatest nation that the world has ever known. Sure, it's not perfect, but where else would you even think about wanting to live?
That's my short list. What are you thankful for today?

Retrograde Travel Advisory: Oh yeah--so if you haven't figured it out already, I'm in Sugar Land for a few days. Normally, I would do a Travel Advisory post when I was on my way out, but the multiple activities before I left today means that...umm, I forgot. (And I'd normally do a Sugar Land "dateline" at the top of the post, a la newspapers, but it would have messed with my whole "ellipsis" thing in the title.)

If you went somewhere in the past 24 hours, I hope your travels were safe and enjoyable (and the same in a future tense if your trip hasn't started yet). Oh, and someone please explain to me why the only bad traffic I encountered on the entire trip was heading into downtown Dallas. That's pretty backwards, in a "petting the cat from the tail forward" kind of way.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Truly Legendary Evening

I can't even begin to describe how cool last night was. (For the uninitiated, "last night" was the North Texas Jazz Legends celebration honoring my former professors Neil Slater and Jim Riggs, held at the UNT Coliseum in Denton.) The evening was much as you'd probably imagine it would be, what with four alumni bands playing and all. The amount of talent in the room, never mind onstage--there were quite a few people who attended but didn't play--was staggering, and it was great to see so many people I hadn't seen since my college days.

Here are a few random thoughts regarding the evening:
  • Everything ran smoothly and efficiently, with the various rehearsals, soundchecks, and so on starting exactly on time. It was almost like "Lab Band Madness: Special Enhanced Alumni Edition."

  • Needless to say, the alumni bands hardly needed any rehearsal at all; one of the alumni directors, who also teaches college, joked about how nice it was to just sit up there and wave his hands and not have to teach rhythms to anybody.

  • There were so many alumni involved that several bands did considerable substitution between their two tunes; the band in which I played had two distinct saxophone sections as well as some minor trombone swappage.

  • The "'70s and earlier" band featured a few names you might know: Tom "Bones" Malone and "Blue" Lou Marini (think The Blues Brothers, folks). Lou got some nice solo space on a three-way battle on "Groove Merchant."

  • The prepared video tributes to Riggs and Slater were both humorous (especially the early pictures of them) and informative; for example, I had no idea that former Ft. Worth Symphony conductor John Giordano used to be the saxophone professor at UNT, nor did I know that Slater mentored a young Bob Mintzer during his New York days.

  • It's one thing to play a tune that you played in college, but it's a completely different animal to look at the piece of music and see your own handwriting on the page (notating how many times a solo section was played, which instruments took solos, etc.) from all those years ago.

  • Many fancy affairs have coat-check or hat-check rooms, but last night was the first time I'd ever seen a "horn-check room" for people to leave their instruments (under the watchful eye of a security guard) when they weren't playing. It came in very handy for me, since my bari wouldn't have fit in the seats.

  • The current One O'Clock and Two O'Clock closed out the evening, and each group brought up its former director to be part of the action: Riggs soloed on one of the Two O'Clock tunes, and Slater conducted a brand-new composition of his with the One.

  • When I arrived at UNT as a freshman, I wasn't quite ready to study with a professor yet (and with 100+ saxophonists at the school, it's impossible for everyone to do so right away). So my first saxophone instructor was an outstanding doctoral student, and she exhibited the patience of a saint as I worked out some horn issues (long story short: I was told at orientation that there were plenty of school baritone saxes to be had, so I turned down the chance to buy a Mark VI from a friend [*kicks self now*]. It turns out that I was told wrong...) and prepared me to study under faculty from junior year onward. I got to see her last night for the first time in quite a few years; Dr. Jackie Lamar, this shout-out is for you...

  • I never played in the One O'Clock (and only in the Two for a very short time), so it was a thrill to be on stage with so many former members of that band.

  • As I said, I ran into quite a few of my former classmates, some of whom I hadn't seen in years. Two of them made my day when they said "You look exactly the same as you did in undergrad school." The fact that those statements were made by people who were balding and/or greying made it even better. (Thanks, Mom and Dad, for those blessed youthful genetics!)

  • After the music ended at 11 p.m. (some three-and-a-half hours after it started, the Coliseum floor was opened up for an "after-hang" which was still going on when I left at about 12:30 in the morning. It was really great to see everybody and to find out that everyone seemed to be doing well.
The last time UNT held a celebration like this was in '97 for the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the first jazz studies degree in the nation. My colleague and I had to miss that one because of a concert at our college that we couldn't reschedule, so we jumped at the chance to play in this one. A few of us were talking about it, and we realized that the next such celebration (not counting the one next May for soon-to-retire vocal jazz and arranging guru Paris Rutherford) will probably be for the 75th anniversary of the program, which is still fourteen years away. Someone joked that, at that event, people would be saying "Look at how old the '90s band looks!" Yikes...

And needless to say, I'll be buying the DVD of last night when it comes out.

UPDATE: The alumni interaction didn't stop when the Coliseum doors closed last night; check out this hilarious post from the UNT Jazz website: UNT jazz alumni network in action. (It also features one of the longest sentences I've ever read--and this from a guy with a Ph.D, no less.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Truth or Rumor?

Here are some interesting tidbits of information, as reported by one of my students today:
  • In one neighboring high school, 95% of the blood gathered at a recent school blood drive was unusable, because it tested positive for STD's.

  • And in another school across town, about 75% of the blood from a similar drive was unusable because it tested positive for drugs.
I have no way to substantiate these two rumors, and we've all heard wild things like this circulating around the schools in the past. But it's interesting that two schools which are not even in the same district as the school where I heard the rumors, nor are they big sports rivals of any kind, were chosen as the subjects here. (There's always the chance that, if it's a rumor, the school names were chosen strictly at random.)

And if it is true, how would such information get leaked in the first place? It doesn't make the employees at the blood bank seem very professional if they're letting information fly around like this, and if it were really happening, you'd think it would be in the news (minus the names of the schools, perhaps, to avoid undue embarrassment to innocent kids), so that the point (which would be that far too many teens are doing drugs or having unprotected sex) could be driven home.

But if it really is true, doesn't that mean that quite a few sets of parents simply need to pay a bit more attention to their kids these days?

Your thoughts, as always, are welcome in the comments.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Homework = Practice?

This morning, I heard a story on the radio (which, unfortunately, I can't find linked anywhere) that featured a teachers' union president weighing in on the importance of homework at a time when some schools are evidently starting to de-emphasize it. Among other things, he said it was like practice, and he invoked music among several subjects that required regular practice.

But is this accurate? Is homework really like practice? I suppose we could do a compare/contrast type of thing here...

Homework is like practice because:
  • Both serve to reinforce the concepts previously introduced in a lesson.

  • Sometimes kids dread doing either of those things.*

  • Both have direct bearings on future performance: If you don't do your homework, you might not do well on the test; if you don't practice enough, you might bomb your audition, concert, or whatever .
But then again...

Homework is not like practice because:
  • Some students will put in extra practice time simply for personal enrichment. I don't know of too many of them who will do extra homework-type items that weren't assigned by the teacher.**

  • Homework is sometimes given as "busy work" by the teacher, and it may also be given to make up for the fact that some material wasn't covered in class. I can't speak for any of my colleagues, but I've never assigned something to practice that hasn't first been taught in a lesson, and I sure don't give "busy work."

  • And finally, homework is usually something different every night (except perhaps for things like memorization of multiplication tables), whereas practice also involves a great deal of reinforcement (for example, my students play their major scales from the time they learn them in sixth grade until the end of their senior year in high school).
So obviously the jury is still out on this one (and feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments). And if you're interested in this subject, I found a few interesting articles about the no-homework trend:This is an interesting subject that I'm sure I'll revisit later; the no-homework teacher's philosophies could easily spawn a post all by themselves.

*This is especially true of the kids who might be forced into piano lessons at an early age, and even more so if the teacher is the stereotypical "mean old lady" in half-glasses who raps your knuckles with a ruler for missing a note. But does this person still exist anymore? I dated a piano teacher once, and she was nothing like that at all.

**I do, however, have a great friend who used to come home from college and join his engineer dad for some father-son bonding. While most people would think of, say, throwing the football around for a while, these two sat down and did calculus. Seriously. (Of course, they would then go throw the football. But still...)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

They're Standing By Others with Music

In church this morning, we got to watch a snippet of a cool video, which also happens to be online for your own viewing pleasure:
It's a montage of musicians all around the world playing "Stand By Me," and it was made by an organization called Playing for Change, which is a foundation that's "dedicated to connecting the world through music by providing resources (including but not limited to facilities, supplies and educational programs) to musicians around the world. A documentary about the movement is coming next year, and a guest column by founder/director Mark Johnson may be found here.

And being the wonky musician type, one thing kept occurring to me as I watched the video: It must have taken a lot of preparation to get everyone used in the video to play in exactly the same key (especially considering the different tunings in different parts of the world) and tempo; either that, or some very clever editing techniques were used. (And the fellow musician sitting next to me in church--a bassoonist--was somewhat disappointed that her instrument didn't make it into the video. The saxophone was nicely represented by a guy in Italy.)

Anyway, it's a cool video. Give it a look, and feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Notes from the Road (Stephenville Edition, Part 5)

No matter how many times I take the trip to Stephenville, I always get a lot of, umm, mileage out of it as far as blogworthy material is concerned. This weekend's trip was no exception:
  • The town of Bluff Dale, between Granbury and Stephenville, always provides a decent amount of interesting quotes; I guess there are just some really clever, folksy people out there (or it's just one guy and he gets around a lot). This time, on the outskirts of town, I noticed a steakhouse that touted its signature dish as being LARRUPIN' GOOD. I wonder just how good it has to be to qualify as that, and what the steak does when it larrups.

  • Not too far away from that was a ranch called the Lion's Den, which also stated that it was owned by the DeLeon family. This makes sense, of course, because DeLeon is Spanish for "of the lion," or "of lion" if you wanted to be completely literal. (One of my sister's elementary school teachers married a guy named DeLeon, and I--taking Spanish at the time--jokingly referred to her as "Mrs. Of Lion." What's really crazy is that evidently some other students picked up on it (from my sister, I assume) and started calling her Mrs. Of Lion as well.)

  • And in another "We're not in Dallas/Ft. Worth anymore, Toto" moment, one of the businesses out there is Bluff Dale Deer Processing. (As always, I saw more than a few people wearing hunters' camouflage jackets at the Hard Eight last night.)

  • While on the subject of the Hard Eight, I finally managed to select a reasonable amount of food there, for possibly the first time. (If you've missed the earlier explanations, the meat is ordered from the outdoor pit, and everything looks and smells so good that it's easy to order way more than you can actually eat in one sitting--not to mention ending up with a $15-$20 meat bill in the process.)

  • Most school zones in this area slow traffic down to 20 MPH. But in smaller towns like Bluff Dale and nearby Tolar (home of the Rattlers), the school zone speeds are 30 and 35 MPH respectively.

  • Gas prices have continued to drop in the Metroplex (I happily paid 1.89 a gallon in Ft. Worth yesterday, and I saw it for $1.82 in Benbrook after that. But in Stephenville, I saw $1.74 gas on multiple occasions. (The most "expensive" gas I saw was $2.06, just outside of Granbury. I also noticed that nobody was at that gas station...)

  • Speaking of Granbury: I griped in a previous post about the ridiculous number of stoplights on 377 in that town and how nice it would be to have a bypass loop. That may never happen, but I do applaud them for at least appearing to have worked on getting the lights in better sync, as I found myself stopping much less (in both directions) than any previous trip. But contrast that to the very small town of Cresson, whose one stoplight seems interminably long for a cross-street that's just not all that busy. What gives, folks?

  • And finally, I found myself behind a vehicle that I'd never seen before: A Toyota FJ Cruiser. It's more car than I'd ever need at this moment, but it looked pretty cool.
And by the way, if you're wondering--I didn't see any UFO's on the trip. (That subject was discussed here a few times before, and it's been in the news again recently, when a Dublin High School student got some video footage of an unexplained "something" that he and a friend saw.)

Previous Notes from the Road (Stephenville Edition):
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Parts 4A and 4B

Friday, November 14, 2008

Travel Advisory

I'm off to Stephenville on fraternity business--a common occurrence for this time of year. It's a nice drive, as I've said before, and it may well spawn another "Notes from the Road" post, as I always seem to see interesting stuff on this trip. Blogging will resume sometime tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What's the Funniest New Thing on YouTube?
a-ha! Here We Go!

Over the summer, I devoted a post to the hottest Internet meme of the time, Buffalaxing--a tip to the best-known practitioner of the genre, who took songs in foreign languages and added subtitles that didn't pretend to actually translate the words, but rather to express what the listener thought they sounded like in English. The best-known Buffalaxation is simply known as "Benny Lava," and it's still funny several months later. (And I'm not sure if I ever mentioned it on this blog, but another really funny Buffalax video is his send-up of a '70s German disco song called Moskau.)

And in the same spirit comes a new idea: the Literal Video Version of classic rock songs (limited thus far to the '80s and '90s). Creator Dustin McLean sums it up like this: "Ever wish songs just sang what was happening in the music video?" Well, now they do, and to me, the funniest Literal Version is set to one of the all-time classic videos, "Take On Me" by a-ha:

Other send-ups include "Head Over Heels" by Tears for Fears and "Under the Bridge" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Funny, funny stuff.

(Hat tip: Lileks at

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Did You Thank a Vet Today?

Veterans Day is one of those holidays that can be easily overlooked if you're not careful; nobody gets the day off unless they work for a government office or a bank, Macy's doesn't have a "white sale" for it, and it doesn't even get moved to a Monday to give the celebrants a long weekend. But it's obviously very important to this nation, because it honors the sacrifices made by those who have worked to keep this country free.

Here's a great quote that came across my fraternity's listserv today:
What is a veteran?

A ‘Veteran‘ — whether active duty, discharged, retired, or reserve — is someone who, at one point in his life, wrote a blank check made payable to “The United States of America,” for an amount of “up to, and including his life.”
The author is unknown, but thanks to Matthew Fuger of Mackenbach, Germany, for submitting it.

On the radio today, the listeners' poll question was "Have you ever thanked a veteran?" I'm pretty sure I had before, but I was able to answer "yes" just now, because, with two veterans among the older students in one of my ensembles at the college, I made sure to recognize their service at the end of rehearsal today. With so little attention paid to the holiday, it seemed like the least I could do.

Have you ever thanked a veteran for his or her service?

(And yes, this post is going out at 11:11 p.m. on 11/11. I may not be up that late, but I'm thankful for "scheduled posting" so that I can do the symbolism properly.)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Bailing Out Detroit's Big 3--Good Idea/Bad Idea?

One of the things in the news recently has been the recent meeting between officials of the Big 3 U.S. automakers and Congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid in an effort to get government help to shore up their dwindling finances (you may insert the B-word--bailout--here if you're so inclined). The automakers' angle is pretty much "We're too big to be allowed to fail," and the meat of the discussion went like this:
Among the topics discussed were a $25 billion loan to fund union-controlled trust funds that would be set up in the coming year to cover the health care costs of retirees and their family members. Shifting about $100 billion of those costs from the automakers' balance sheet to the trust funds was a key concession the companies won from the UAW in the 2007 labor deals.

The discussions also touched upon allowing the automakers to tap into the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street firms and the nation's banks that was passed by Congress last month. Treasury has so far rejected auto-industry inquiries about accessing that pool of money.

The automakers also renewed their pre-election request to double the $25 billion low-interest loan program approved by Congress, as part of energy legislation, to help automakers convert to making more fuel-efficient vehicles in an effort to meet the demands of car buyers and new federal rules.
I've weighed in on the U.S. auto industry--and why I chose a car from outside their ranks--in a previous post. Among my main points:
[D]uring all my recent car-shopping, I never once considered a domestic automaker, and I think the main reason was at least the perception of a lack of quality. Having just come off a year where my aging car was in the shop for three major issues, the last thing I wanted was a new car that had similar problems right off the bat.

But is it just a perception of low quality among domestic automakers, or is there any truth to that? (We'll set aside for the moment the question of which car is more "domestic"--a Ford truck made in Mexico, or a Honda Accord made in Ohio?) I can only go on anecdotal evidence, but it seems like the people I know who drive domestic vehicles have their cars in the shop more often than those with foreign--especially Japanese--ones.

[...]The jury's still out on what caused the once-mighty domestic auto industry to fall so far. Did they rest of their laurels while the once-upstart Asian companies took over the mantle of innovation? Are the unions here to blame? (I'd have little trouble citing that as a cause myself.) One of the presidential candidates blamed our own government regulations; it's probably a little of all of that.

Don't get me wrong--I'd love to see the American auto industry rebound; I'd love for a lot more of everything we consume to be made over here. But for me personally, while Detroit was sleeping, Tokyo rose up and created something that a lot of us could wrap our hearts and minds around, and, having just bought my third Honda vehicle in a row I don't see myself going in a different direction anytime soon.
I'm not sure where I stand on this bailout idea. Part of me thinks that the government has given too much money to ailing corporations already, and I'm not a fan of $25 billion going to a union-controlled anything. But on the other hand, the government did bail out Chrysler in the late '70s/early '80s, and that move netted the Treasury some $350 billion when all was said and done.

L.A. Times writer Joel Stein had an interesting take on the situation: Test-drive a bunch of domestic cars to see if their makers are worth saving. Needless to say, there's some funny stuff in this column:
Shortly after getting to the Glendale Dodge dealership, I realized that evaluating cars was going to be more difficult than I'd anticipated, because the only thing I know about cars is that, after 19, women don't want to have sex in them. While waiting for a salesperson, I also realized that Phil Collins wrote many more songs than I remembered. Luckily, my method of car evaluation is exactly the same as most car buyers: Does it look cool and hook up to my iPod?
But among all this, Stein has a solid point to make as well:
[N]o matter how much I liked these cars, I don't think the government should use taxpayer money to give life-support to dying, poorly managed, market ignorant, technologically outdated industries other than newspapers. As sad as it would be for American icons like Chrysler to die, and for thousands of people to lose their jobs, propping up failure prevents innovation.
And of course, he threw in the "other than newspapers" clause because he works for one; your mileage may vary.

But really, the first thing that crossed my mind when I read about this situation was, "Why can't they just make cars that suck less?" Humorist Scott Ott says pretty much that in this Scrappleface post from today (and it's even funnier that he has those words coming out of Pelosi's mouth). Read the whole thing, which expresses the way I feel about unions in a nice package of biting satire. Here's a sample:
“You autoworkers think your big union bosses have your best interests at heart,” she said, “and so you march in lockstep to the polls where you vote for union-backed political candidates whose campaigns you funded through your union dues. Those politicians, many of them lawyers, then go to Washington and listen to the siren song of union lobbyists to increase the regulatory burden on U.S. automakers, driving up the cost of production so it’s tougher for your company to compete with foreign car makers.”
In the meantime, you have folks like myself driving around in Honda Fits and experiencing total satisfaction with same. (What's not to love? I've been filling it up for less than $18 a tank for the past week, I got just shy of 40 MPG on my recent roadtrip, and the sum total of my "maintenance" during the past ten months has been three oil changes and two tire rotations.) If a U.S. automaker made a car that could hold half an unlit birthday candle to mine, I'd certainly check it out...and if they do make such a car, either their publicity machine is sorely lacking, or they just need some more time to build a reputation for reliability like that which Honda has enjoyed for decades.

What do you think--should the Big Three get a bailout/loan/whatever? Are they really "too big to fail," or would the economy survive their loss? Feel free to chime in below in the comments.

A roadtrip for Rover: No matter who made the car, hilarity will ensue if the dog starts driving it.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Marching to the Beat of a Very Inspiring Drummer

When I was in undergrad school, I once heard a guest speaker deliver an inspiring story about a trombonist in a college marching band in Iowa who was blind. (He learned the music by ear, from listening to his section-mates, and then he memorized the number of steps in each maneuver.) But I never expected to see this: An entire marching band of blind members from Ohio.

Watch and enjoy the entire video; it's very cool. (Yes, they have a little help on the field, but it's still amazing.) And to top it all off, the band has been invited to march in the Rose Parade in 2010.

And speaking of drums: The old Holiday Inn Select on Central near Meadow (not far from the doomed Circuit City mentioned in yestereday's post) was imploded this morning, and the DMN shot a very cool video of the process. Note how the charges going off in sequence sound more than a little like a drum cadence...

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Some Circuit City Stores to "Unplug"--But Not RIght Here

Some portions of corporate America continue to fall on hard times, and cutbacks have ensued. A few months ago, we talked about the doomed Starbucks list, and now I've had the chance to read the doomed Circuit City list, which doesn't include nearly so many stores (though it's not like there's a Circuit City on every corner, nor do they build across the street from themselves). There are only four stores in D/FW on the list (and that's if you expand the metro area to include Sherman), and only nine in Texas, period (though one of the ones that's closing is a store in Mansfield that's been open for little more than a month.

I was of course happy to see that the one here in Firewheel was not among the doomed stores; though the center has been pretty good about replacing tenants both large and small that have closed (such as the forthcoming Hollister that's being built in the old Sharper Image spot underneath the clock tower), it would have been a blow to the area to have such a big store go out, especially with the impending loss of Linens 'n' Things. (And besides, I want some shopping options whenever my vintage 1991 TV finally gives out.)

One of the ones closest to here that is on the list is an older store at Central and Meadow in north Dallas; it's so old that it still has the original "plug-in" design. That didn't ring a bell with one of my younger friends until I found a picture of one here, in a forum on the site Groceteria, which usually discusses--you guessed it--grocery stores. (Scroll down about halfway to see the picture, and check out this shot of a former CC store with the plug painted blue!) And a bit later, I found a video of the old "plug" commercial as well (from '94, if the YouTube commenters are correct).

What's your favorite "retro" commercial? And is the company that it's, umm, plugging still in business?

UPDATE: Did I speak too soon? As of Monday, Circuit City filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and will eventually close more stores.

And in other electronics news: The iPhone (which I'm still contemplating purchasing soon) does lots of things, but did you know it can be used as an ocarina? (More Apple news here; hat tip: Instapundit.)

Friday, November 07, 2008


I only intended to take a short nap tonight, heading over to the couch at around six o'clock. It's been a long week, and I figured that a good half an hour would do me some good.

Unfortunately, I just woke up...after five hours of napping. I was a little disoriented at first, wondering why it was 11:00 and still dark; yes, I thought it was tomorrow morning already.

I had a topical post to do tonight, but I guess I'll save it, unless I can't get back to sleep here in a bit.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Funny Election Headline of the Week

Bacon defeats Fries--at least in a state senate race in Colorado.

(The comments--from Amazon's "Al Dente" food blog--are funny as well. And to prove it's not a joke, read this story, which calls it a "tasty" race.)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Good News for Local Drivers

After seeing it to the south this past weekend, it appears that $1.99 gas has finally arrived in Plano. Yay!

(This is a busy, busy week--not much time for blogging. More later.)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Kids Say the Darnedest Things...About the Election

As I've said on many occasions, I don't talk about politics on this blog. But on this Election Day, first and foremost, I encourage any eligible person who hasn't voted yet to go out and do so--it's your fundamental duty as an American. (And besides, if you don't vote today, you informally waive the right to gripe about the people who get elected today. And I'm not saying that your free speech will be suppressed, but rather that you lose a lot of credibility if you don't participate in the process.)

And to stay topical without actually being topical, I offer you these election slogans, found on a series of posters at one of the public schools where I teach:





And there was at least one less-whimsical, more "serious" one:
And one that just generates a "Huh?":
Kids really do say the darnedest things.

And tomorrow morning, when this is all over--take a walk, call a friend, read a good book. No matter what happens tonight, I think we all need a vacation from politics for a while.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Notes from the Road(trip)

This was a great weekend. I hadn't done an out-of-town roadtrip since late March, and I hadn't really gone out of town, period, since July. It was time. And even though, in less than 24 hours, I managed to pull a muscle in my leg, got my first speeding ticket in over 17 years, and got my car stuck in the sand--twice--I also got a free dinner, walked on a beach for the first time in years, and played both a marimba duet and a saxophone/piano duet, the latter with one of my nephews. It was truly a superb time.

As always, here's a random list of things I noticed on the trip:
  • A funny sign seen in Jarrell, just north of Austin: "THIS IS GOD'S COUNTRY. PLEASE DON'T DRIVE LIKE HELL THROUGH HERE."

  • Coming into greater Austin near Friday afternoon rush hour, I decided to try the new SH-130 tollway, which goes around Austin. It's a nice route, save for one problem: The connecting road back to I-35, SH45-SE, is not done yet, so I detoured onto SH 71 near the Austin airport--and got caught in some of the traffic I'd hoped to avoid. (It turns out that 130 is now open to SH 183--which is not yet acknowledged by either Google Maps or Mapquest--and a far better way would be to take 183 south to SH 21 and rejoin I-35 in San Marcos. Of course, I discovered this route after my trip was over.)

  • I participated in the Chipotle "Boo-Rito" promotion again (that's three years in a row for me and my Fit Brother, Coop), and it seems like the costumes were more minimal than usual this year (maybe it's the economy?), though people did make a lot more elaborate hats. It was funny to see the looks on the faces of people who had no idea that the promotion was going on.

  • If you're in the airport area of San Antonio and need to kill some time, Alamo Quarry Market is a pretty cool place to visit. (And yes, the iconic smokestacks are original equipment from back when there really was a quarry at the site.)

  • There's no way to sugarcoat it: Interstate 37 between San Antonio and Corpus is boooooorrring, especially at night (yes, this was the area where I got the ticket). Thank goodness for the iPod...

  • On the way to Austin, I noticed that the new "Safety Rest Area" had opened near Salado, at least on the southbound side of I-35, and indeed, it does look a lot nicer (and, yes, safer) than the old, cruddy ones. But it was funny when we stopped at one along I-37 and noticed a sign reading, WATCH FOR SNAKES. Somehow, I don't usually think of "safety" and "snakes" in the same sentence very often.

  • On the other side of the coin, there are usually two types of rest stops in Texas: a Rest Area (facilities, picnic tables, vending machines, maps) or a Picnic Area (picnic tables without facilities, which always sounded silly to me). But on the way to Corpus, I saw yet a third classification: a Parking Area (pavement, pretty much). It appears that a Parking Area is to a Rest Area as a Yugo is to a Jaguar.

  • The beaches at Mustang Island require a parking permit, which is available at any local convenience store. It's 12 bucks for a year, but there doesn't seem to be a day pass of any sort. Good thing I was with a local who could use the pass later...

  • During the weekend, I had the chance to visit a pair of two-story versions of places that are usually limited to a single story: Whataburger by the Bay in downtown Corpus, the flagship restaurant of the locally-based chain, and a Starbucks with a loft (and a "green roof") in south Austin.

  • On the way to Austin on Saturday night, I made "a short Schlotzsky's stop in Schertz." Say that ten times fast...

  • And finally, it was a good weekend to take a roadtrip, since gas was so cheap. I paid $2.00 a gallon just north of Waco on Friday afternoon and $1.99 in Corpus the next morning. I also saw the same Waco stations showing $1.94 in on my way back on Sunday. But why was it around $2.19 when I got home? I had to go a few miles away to find it in the $2.10's, and I didn't see anything approaching sub-$2 prices.
It was great to get away for a weekend, and I look forward to the next time.

The return of DWT: Another thing that happened during this weekend was the traditional switching of the clocks to Daylight Wasting Time. I was at my sister's in Austin by that time, and by then, I was quite tired. This was probably the first time since early high school that I didn't stay up for the time change.