Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009: The Year in Blogging

Seeing as how it's New Year's Eve, it's time for my annual roundup of "posts of note" from the past year. As I've said in previous editions, a post may have been chosen because I think it bears repeating, or it's my favorite post of that month, or maybe it brought this blog quite a bit of traffic. At any rate, here we go:

JANUARY: Drunken Lemur Alert
FEBRUARY: More Than Just a Place to Lay Your Head
MARCH: With This Blog, I Thee Wed
APRIL: An Interesting Day
MAY: A New Take on "Old Home Week"
JUNE: PETA Peeved by Pike Place's Piscatorial Projectiles
JULY: Let's Wish This Iconic Jazz Educator a Happy Birthday, Starting in "1, 2, 1, 2, 3, 4"
AUGUST: There's Still No Place Like Home
SEPTEMBER: Last NIght, We All Got Wiested
OCTOBER: Happy Halloversary, KNTU!
NOVEMBER: Thinking About This Dress Code Makes Me "Emo"
DECEMBER: Christmas Lights and Music: The Next Step

I actually have a New Year's Eve gig this year for the first time in several years, but it'll take a few hours of driving to get there. Back tomorrow with more, and remember, if you celebrate tonight, be sensible about it.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Now It Can Be Told

A huge weight was lifted off my shoulders this afternoon when my two weeks of on-call service for federal jury duty came to an end. It's actually a better deal than the county courts because of the on-call thing (which they do because they compensate you a little better than county, including mileage and parking money, so they don't want you there unless you're absolutely needed). Still, the whole process meant that I never knew my status for any given day until after 3 p.m. on the day before (or the Friday before if the next business day fell on a Monday and so on). Granted, I was able to take my trip to Houston for Christmas with no problems, but I didn't know what day I'd have to come back here until last Wednesday.

But now it's done, and--like many people I talked to, I never ended up having to go in. But still, it's been hanging over my head for a while (seeing as how I had to postpone it a few times because of my accident and surgery), so it's nice to have it in the past. And oddly enough, county ended up wanting me for their own jury duty the same week, so that one had to be postponed until March.

(And the reason that I say "now it can be told" is because, once I logged in the first day and didn't have to go, I decided not to blog or tweet about it until it was done, to keep my luck going. Superstitious a bit, you say?)

Maybe I can use some of these in the future: Here's an intresting list of excuses that usually worked to get people out of jury duty. (And may I say that I'm glad I don't live in California; from that list, and other stuff I've read, they seem to have no regard for small business owners or sole proprietors in this regard.)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Another Chapter in the Urban Legend

On Saturday night, my parents and I went out to eat at a restaurant that could qualify as an "upscale sports bar," due to the number of TVs in the room and the fact that said TVs were all tuned to sports programming. And the one story that kept on going in true Energizer Bunny fashion was the surprise announcement that University of Florida head coach Urban Meyer would be "resigning his post after the Gators' upcoming bowl game for "undisclosed health reasons" (more and more of which were disclosed throughout the evening). Though I'm not a huge Florida fan, I'd followed Meyer throughout the years, since he coached at my parents' alma mater a few years ago. Though the health problems were not considered life-threatening, it was apparent that the guy needed a break.

For the rest of that night, the sports news was pretty much all-Urban, all the time; Dad and I both commented that it was really getting to be overkill after a few hours (and no, we weren't watching the whole time). So it was even more surprising to read Sunday's paper (which I didn't get to until Monday because of the travel day) and discover that Meyer had already changed his mind, downgrading his resignation into a mere leave of absence and stating that he hoped to be leading the Gators again in the '10 season.

After the screaming, front-of-the-sports-page headlines of the original story, it was certainly strange to see the resolution buried a few pages in. But I wish the guy all the best, and I hope that the time off does him some good. I've certainly tended toward workaholism myself on occasion, but the stage has never been as large as that of an NCAA Division I football coach at a top-tier program. May 2010 be a better year for you (and for the rest of us who have had challenges in '09).

Speaking of coaches hoping for a better 2010: One guy who is undoubtedly counting the seconds until New Year's Day is the Cowboys' special teams coach, Joe DeCamillis. Not only did the team's indoor practice facility fall on him during that big storm in May (fracturing four vertebrae in the process), but he had to miss Sunday's game against the Redskins because he was undergoing an emergency appendectomy at the time. And with the same fighting spirit that brought him back to the practice field 15 days after the practice facility collapse, he actually wanted to coach the game first and then get the appendix taken out (the doctors, of course, refused that request). Here's to another quick recovery, Joe D.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Fry Street Saga: Here We Go Again?

It's been a while since I blogged anything about Fry Street, because there hasn't been much to say; the out-of-town owners, United Equities, have been sitting on the project ever since their request for a drive-thru for the CVS drugstore that was to be bulit on the footprint of the Tomato at Hickory and Fry had been denied, and a lot of us were hoping that they would eventually sell to someone who would create a development that was more appropriate to its location across from campus (i.e. things very similar to the stuff that was torn down in the first place).

Well, we may have been half right, as it appears the property may be sold, or at least a development may be going up on the site. This time, somebody wants to build...wait for it...more student apartments:
The Dinerstein Companies of Houston and Winkelmann & Associates Inc. of Dallas filed a pre-application with Denton city officials on Monday to build 210 student apartments with 586 beds in a four-story complex split by a multistory parking garage. Attempts to contact spokesmen from both companies were unsuccessful.

Mike Cochran, a former City Council member who lives in the nearby Oak-Hickory Historic District, criticized the proposal. Cochran, a vocal opponent of the Fry Street Village project in 2007, said the new project would have the same disturbing result: increased traffic on roads already stressed beyond their capacity.

“The only way to get to it is through residential neighborhoods,” Cochran said.

Cochran also called the proposal a waste of prime commercial land.

“It just seems a shame to almost squander the commercial potential for that property with apartments when there’s so much other land around that would be excellent for students,” he said. “It is, of course, completely incompatible with the neighborhood as well.
Well said, Mr. Cochran. So maybe this isn't quite as bad as a generic chain drugstore, but it's still not the best use for the site. For one thing, there are already plenty of new, upscale student apartments near UNT (go a few blocks up Fry Street itself and you'll dead-end into some). Student apartments aren't special, and this corner is special, because of its heritage--a heritage that may have been sullied at times, but it's there nonetheless. Go to nearly any university and there'll be a little mini-downtown across the street, in buildings that are about 80 years old and filled with student-friendly businesses. That's the part that United Equities took away, and it's time to bring it back.

So why not split the difference here: Since New Urbanism is all the rage, how about a mixed-use development with businesses on the ground floor and apartments above it? Cochran is right--apartments would be a waste of prime commercial land, so that might as well be included in the plan. How about it, folks?

I'm sure there will be more on this in the weeks ahead; in the meantime, I'm going to go leave the previous paragraph in the comments to the DRC story.

Down on the Farm: Check out music from James Farm, Joshua Redman's new band. Very cool stuff. (And yes, there's a Denton angle to this, as Redman has played the Denton Arts and Jazz Festival in the past.)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Notes from the Road (Big Triangle Edition)

I'm back from my Christmas trip and looking forward to a few more days off here at home. This time, I did the BIg Triangle on my way back, going from Houston to Dallas via my sister's place in Austin. Unlike two years ago, when Kevmobile 1.2 suffered the breakdowns that would lead to its replacement a few weeks later, this one went without incident.

Here are a few random notes from the trip:
  • The traffic was only bad in a few places (I-10 heading out of Houston and I-35 around Temple), but, being a Sunday, the typical "Sunday driver" added to the slowness of things.

  • A lot of hurricane-related infrastructure has been put in place on I-10 since Ike hit the area a few years ago. Among the amusing things were the little hurricane-shaped logos painted in the right shoulder, allowing its use as an extra lane in that situation, and the signage that allows all traffic to head westbound during evacuations. They're known as "contravac" lanes (a combination of "contraflow" and "evacuate"), which sounds like an industrial-strength vacuum cleaner.

  • I was on a bit of a tight schedule, seeing as how I wanted to get back in time for the Cowboys game. But if I hadn't, I would have taken a picture of a fireworks stand I passed on Hwy. 71 between La Grange and Bastrop; I swear the front of the building said "BUY 1 GET 11 FREE."

  • I also would have stopped to photograph things like the giant Texas star atop the front gate of a ranch in the same area, and the giant golf ball on a tee a few miles down the road, not to mention the giant pig statuary outside of Eddy. (They do say that everything's big in Texas, ya know.)

  • For the most part, the trip from west of Houston to Austin along Hwy. 71 has been improved a great deal since I was a kid, with freeway-type bypasses in Columbus, La Grange Smithville and most of Bastrop (I don't miss the stoplights in La Grange at all, though the Smithville bypass makes me less likely to stop at the old Dairy Queen, which was a common haunt on our way to/from State Solo and Ensemble in high school).

  • But that being said, they really need to get the freeway done in front of the airport--pretty much the area between the new SH130 bypass and Riverside Drive, where the stoplight lasts for an eternity--as soon as possible. It's being studied as a toll road at the moment, and that's one toll that I'd happily pay.

  • I also noticed something interesting driving past the airport: There's a huge disparity between the businesses on the north and south sides of the freeway. (Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, located on the site of a former Air Force base, opened in 1999.) On the south side, where the airport is located, there is a big, nice hotel and lots of green space. But on the north side, dilapidated old gas stations and a couple of XXX video stores remain from the area's pre-airport days. I bet the airport officials can't wait until those places go out of business so that the area can be redeveloped, and I'll bet they're glad that part of the freeway infrastructure has already been built, to separate the two sides.)

  • Speaking of freeways that need to be improved, it seems that there's really no excuse (save, of course, money) for I-35 not to be six lanes in each direction all the way from Dallas to San Antonio. It's getting done little by little, but the area that seems to need the most immediate attention would be Temple, where post-Christmas traffic made for a rush-hour-like scenario on a Sunday afternoon. The Temple segment will also be the most difficult to widen because it's either embedded in concrete canyons or on elevated bridges that already cover part of the service roads. TxDOT is talking about it already, but it's likely to take a while before it gets done.

  • Continuing the road rantlet for just a moment, I wonder why the beautiful reconstructions of I-35 between Dallas and Waco--the recently-done section near Italy, the section currently under construction between there and Waxahachie, and the part between Hillsboro and Abbott that took at least a decade to complete--were only done as four-lane facilities instead of six; it seems like they'll just have to go in later and add the extra lane. (My guess is money; it's a real shame that the Texas Legislature keeps raiding the gas tax revenues to use on other projects; there oughta be a law...)

  • And to end on a more positive note, the kolaches at the Czech Stop were, as always, superb. And I'm glad that they have the Little Czech Bakery next door, which helps one to avoid the long lines at the Czech Stop--which was packed, as always--when kolaches are the only thing being purchased.
With hopefully a few relaxing days this week, regular blogging should continue without interruption.

Notes from a future road: While researching the SH 71 improvements above, I came across a page devoted to the extension of SH 249 in Montgomery and Grimes counties, which would alleviate almost all the traffic problems I experienced last month at the Renaissance Festival (save for getting out of the festival's parking lot, of course). Build away, folks...

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Greetings

SUGAR LAND--Merry Christmas to those who so believe (or even celebrate secularly). I hope you're getting to spend the day in relaxing fashion with family and/or friends, and let's not forget a group of special people today: Those who don't get today off (law enforcement officers, emergency medical personnel, fill-in broadcasters, convenience store clerks, etc.), and those in our military in areas where conflict never takes a holiday. Here's to a joyous day!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Glories Stream from Heaven Afar,
Silent Monks Sing Hallelujah

SUGAR LAND--I got to sing with Dad in the choir tonight, which is always fun, even if, as a singer, well...I'm a really good saxophonist. I think I sing well in groups, but if I were set to sing solo, you'd probably want me to take a vow of silence, like these guys did:



I had a true LOL moment when I first saw this a few days ago; hope you enjoy it just as much. (Hat tip: An Althouse commenter from a few days ago whose name escapes me. I'll look it up later and update.)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night Trip

SUGAR LAND--I made it here with no problems today, but my gosh--the middle of my trip (roughly from Fairfield to Huntsville) was among the stormiest trips I've driven in quite some time. At times, it was impossible to see a few yards in front of me (the drivers who inexplicably had their lights off didn't help), and I'm pretty sure that a decent portion of the trip was spent not touching the pavement at all.

As I said on Twitter, Godspeed to my fellow travellers whose journeys haven't yet begun.

Travel Advisory

I'm headed to the Land of Sugar for a few days to celebrate Christmas with the family. I should be able to catch up on all the unfinished posts while I'm there, and regular blogging will continue as well.

Safe travels to all who may be on the road or in the skies today as well.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Claus That Refreshes

Via a tweet from Lileks, I find myself enjoying this collection of old ads from the Coca-Cola Company. While they didn't invent the modern incarnation of Santa (artist Thomas Nast, among others, can be credited with that, along with the descriptions found in Clement C. Moore's "A Visit from St. Nicholas," better known as "The Night Before Christmas"), the Coke ads by the artist Haddon Sundblom certainly cemented his current image in popular culture, especially the "jolly" part (some past Santas looked strict or even scary).

Read the whole story, and check out the pictures; it's fascinating stuff. And thanks to Lileks for sending me there.

Friday, December 18, 2009

All is Calm for the Palm

Among all the other news stories of the week, sometimes it's the simple ones which catch your attention the most.

I'd read a while back about the Division Street Palm, a tree in Arlington that was way out of its element, nestled as it was in a highway embankment near the Division Street bridge over State Highway 360 in Arlington. But the reconstruction of that interchange left the palm's future in doubt. Still, the tree had cultivated (heh) a lot of fans over the years, and one of them, Richard McMullen, did something about it. And now, the tree is out of harm's way in its new home in Carrollton. The Dallas Morning News' Jacquielynn Floyd has more:
As it turns out, the Division Street Palm (as it has been informally christened) had a little community of fans that had marveled and wondered about it over the years. Many of them wanted the tree saved.

Deliverance was offered by Carrollton city arborist Lorrie Dennis, a former Arlington resident who knew about the tree herself.

"I thought, if it was growing like that by the bridge, with no irrigation, with all that carbon monoxide, I wanted it," she said. "That tree wanted to live. It had a will."

Dennis had a perfect transplant site: Carrollton's city-owned swimming pool and water park at Rosemeade Parkway and Old Denton Road. The landscaping there already included smaller palms; the Division Street Palm would be a perfect landmark for the park's main entrance.

"I can imagine people dropping their kids off and saying, 'I'll pick you up by the big palm at 5,' " Dennis said – kind of like meeting under the clock at the Biltmore.
Read the whole thing, which obviously has a happy ending. Also interesting is the story of how the tree was planted in that oddball place to begin with; it involves a musician!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hair We Go Again...

It seems like we were discussing the Mesquite school district's dress codes on this blog just a few weeks ago. Oh yeah--we were.

But this time, it's not something as new as emo pants, but rather the latest volley in a game that's been going on for decades: Hair length on guys. But what makes this one especially goofy is that the "guy" in question is a pre-kindergartner:
Four-year-old Taylor Pugh, in prekindergarten at Floyd Elementary School, likes his hair long - just below his ears and along his collar in the back. He likes it longer in front.

That length is outside the school district's dress code so the boy has been having lessons alone in the library. And his mother says the district has said he will be kicked out of school completely on Tuesday.

"He only goes two and half hours a day. He's not a distraction. He doesn't get teased," his mother, Elizabeth Taylor, said.

She spoke to the Mesquite school board Monday night, asking for help with her dilemma. But the board could take no action because the item was not on the agenda.
I love that last sentence--bureaucracy at its finest.

In case you're wondering--yes, Taylor does have some Native American blood, and his father wears his hair long (though the playing of this card is negated somewhat by Taylor's short-haired older brothers). But thus far, Mesquite refuses to give him a pass on that (the ACLU has gotten involved, for better or worse).

As you can imagine, the comments are running strong on both sides in the DMN blog post linked above, though it alarms me how many people just blindly accept the "rules are rules" idea, no matter how idiotic the rules in question may be. Such nice little sheeple they'll make! Perhaps the best points are brought up by a commenter who goes by the name Squanto:
1) This is a gender biased rule. Why must boys wear short hair? Hair grows on both males and females, period. This is not corporate America, if the kid decides to work on Wall Street then he will need to conform in order to be rewarded. And wear a tie, a strip of material that has no function.

(2) If there is an ethnic reason, that it is an indigenous practice, it's time for Mesquite to grow up. There is no reason boys must wear their hair short. There's no biological reason, it's culturally conditioned conformity.

(3) Making him learn apart from his peers is "shunning." That is an old Protestant practice used to make non-conformists conform.It has nothing to do with rules and regulations that are debated openly by community members.
Indeed. Let me reiterate something that I said in the "emo pants" post:
Look--I understand the arguments from the other side: Kids need to learn how to obey rules; they're in school to get an education, not show off their fashion sense, blah blah blah. (And the worst one of all: They're never going to get a job in the business world if they don't dress more nicely. Never mind that many kids will never set foot in the business world, and, as I've said before, with some of the things that have happened on Wall Street in recent years, I'm not so sure that we should be holding up the business world as a role model in the first place.)

But it seems like those in charge should pick their battles a little more wisely. I still believe that there are a lot of kids out there--not the extremely smart kids, not the thugs-in-traning, but the big, big middle--who wouldn't mind school so much if it didn't seem as if the administration weren't throwing roadblocks at them every step of the way.
Blogger "Hall Monitor" of DetentionSlip.org (who became familiar to me after visiting The Musings during that earlier post) also posts about this and offers the following:
Once again, the length of a child's hair becomes the center of our education woes. If only every student would come to school with a neatly-trimmed haircut, we would be able to start focusing on the other problems our schools face. After all, it's a well supported fact that NO ONE with long hair has ever been successful.
Heh--well said. (And did anyone notice that the kid's hair just really isn't that long? This is much ado about nothing, methinks.)

By now, it probably goes without saying that I have a solution to the problem of administrative idiocy...and wouldn't Mesquite be a great place to start this practice?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tom Hicks Hits One Out of the Park

The long-awaited deadline for Rangers owner Tom Hicks to announce his choice for the team's new ownership group was made last night, and I was extremely pleased to see that his selection is the group led by Pittsburgh lawyer Chuck Greenberg and current team president/local hero Nolan Ryan.

Having Ryan on board pretty much says it all for me, or I guess I should say that not having Ryan on board would have been a deal-breaker for me, had I been in Hicks' shoes. As a player, Ryan was a class act, and he brought the team a great deal of credibility that it had not previously enjoyed. As team president the past couple of years, he was well on his way to helping the team restore said credibility, even if the effort on the field fell short. Ryan's involvement had me pulling for Greenberg all along.

As I read over the profiles of the various competing groups over the past few months, I was always a little leery of the group led by Dennis Gilbert. Maybe it was his former profession (sports agent); maybe it was his ties to the Chicago White Sox (you know us Texans, not wanting them dad-blasted furriners comin' in here and messin' things up). Or perhaps it was the fact that he wanted to run baseball operations himself, which would be bad for two reasons: 1) It would guarantee Ryan's departure from the team, and 2) The Metroplex sports scene already has one Jerry Jones and doesn't need a second one. (And maybe I just have bad vibes about people named Dennis coming in from outside an organization and messing things up--part of my personal history that won't be blogged any further here.) And I didn't know enough about Jim Crane, a late re-entry into the race, except that Ryan might have stayed if Crane were the winner, so that put him as #2 on my personal list.

At any rate, the Greenberg/Ryan group sounds like a good fit; once the lawyers, accountants and fellow MLB owners go through the process, maybe we'll see the new ownership group in place by Opening Day.

Tom Hicks may have made a few questionable moves from time to time during his tenure with the Rangers, but if this is indeed his finale as top dog, he's going out on a good note.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I'll Get Caught Up on Posting Again...

...when I stop getting detoured by sites like this. (Don't get me wrong--it's a great read, and tons of local information, but it can become a gigantic time-suck if one is not careful.)

Tomorrow is a fairly easy day, so I might well get caught up then.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas Lights and Music: The Next Step

Ever since that guy in Ohio set his Christmas lights to music (and was featured in a beer commercial), all the cool kids started doing it. I spend a pretty decent portion of my annual Holiday High-LIghts post talking about this type of setup, and I wasn't sure anyone could top Jeff Trykoski in Frisco (both at Frisco Square and his own house) or the Zephries or Gordons in Plano, but someone's sure put a new twist on things: Check out Christmas Light Hero:



That's right, the lights can be run by a Wii guitar controller by a live human being, like the kid in the video. As developer/dad Ric Turner (formerly of Disney) notes, passersby who tune in on the FM channel can hear all your mistakes!

Some background on this may be found here. And my annual lights post will be up once I get a chance to see everything this year.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

So Far, This Is Not a "December to Remember," and the Cowboys May Be More Yugo than Lexus

Things we learned from watching the Cowboys game tonight:
  • Head coach Wade Phillips may well be out of a job in three weeks.

  • Plackicker Nick Folk will almost certainly be out of a job before that.

  • Those naysayers who talk about a Cowboys' "December curse" may well have a point. *sigh*
This wasn't the worst game the Cowboys have played this season, but there were a few things that I bet they'd like to take back: Four shots at the end zone (running the same play?) without breaking the plane comes to mind, as do yet another missed field goal and scoring that final touchdown with only two seconds left. I'm not ready to throw in the towel just yet, but things are getting dicey.

And all the best to DeMarcus Ware; I hope he's OK.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hey, Greenies: You Can Have My Starbucks When You Pry the Mug Out of My Cold, Dead Hands

From Aussie blogger Tim Blair comes this post about the latest way that environmentalists would like to control our lives. And this time, they may have gone too far:
An Edinburgh scientist has revealed the best way for coffee lovers to help save the planet – drink old-fashioned instant.

Dr Dave Reay, a world-renowned expert on carbon emissions, has calculated that filter coffees pump 50 per cent more carbon into the atmosphere than cheaper instant coffees.

And he says that ditching expensive filter coffees could help reduce your carbon footprint by the same amount as a gas-guzzling flight across Europe.
The full story that spawned Blair's post is here, and it contains one more distressing quote from Reay: "If everyone ditched their pre-work coffee fix that would do wonders for the planet." Yeah, and there might also be more car wrecks from people falling asleep at the wheel minus their java jive, not to mention the fisticuffs that might ensue from those people who are pretty grumpy before their first morning cuo o' joe (and we know who we are) getting rubbed the wrong way by people who are naturally perky in the A.M. (Of course, some environmentalists think that the planet would be a lot better off if people weren't on it at all...but didja ever notice that those same people are still alive as they say that? To roughly quote the comic-strip character Pogo, isn't it funny how the people who gripe most loudly about overpopulation already went to the trouble of being borned theirselves.)

Starbucks fights back in the linked story of course. And even more interesting is that the story right below this one in the Scotsman link notes that developing a coffee habit could help men prevent prostate cancer. Interesting.

(And yes, I know that Starbucks does in fact have its own line of instant coffee, but good heavens, have you priced that stuff? I'd have to go back to the swill-in-a-can my parents drank when I was a kid if instant were the only option.)

So I have an idea, Dr. Reay: Why don't you live the lifestyle you propose but not try to require everyone else to do the same; some of us have our own way of doing things, and just because they're not your way doesn't mean that they're wrong.

And a Scotsman commenter makes a good point:
how on earth does he think they actually get instant ? ..does it come gowing on the coffee bush in tins ?
Well said. And a Blair commenter expands on this idea:
And, not for nothing, but no way does traditional coffee use more energy. Instant coffee manufacture is a far more energy-intensive practice than roast and ground, for the simple reason that it is the roast and ground process plus several more steps.
But I guess the good Dr. Reay isn't one to let a little truth get in the way of his activism.

In the meantime, the hour is late, so I'm going to bed. And when I wake up, I'm going to have a generous cup of drip coffee, just like every day. And when I go from my 68-degree house to my 30 MPG car, I won't feel guilty about my coffee habit in any way, nor will I begrudge my neighbors (who might drive SUVs or have their thermostats set at 72) their own comfort and happiness. If only the ├╝ber-greenies would be so tolerant...

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Best 13 Bucks I've Spent in a While

For the past several days, the trackpad problem with the computer (which I mentioned here had reached a critical stage; it got to the point where I could hardly get anything done at all on here. The increased level of frustration made for an awful way to start the day, and productivity was truly suffering (and the iPhone wasn't always a good substitute; trying to copy and past multiple links into my web-based school email took a good ten minutes this morning).

This whole time, I was really hoping that the problem was strictly with the trackpad and would thus be solved by simply obtaining a mouse. Thankfully, I was correct. Having both a little bit of time and money, I headed to the Giant Corporate Electronics Concern and Tech Geek's Nirvana Spot Which Shares Its Name with a Futurama Character after rehearsal tonight and parted with a mere 13 simoleons, acquiring a perfectly serviceable USB mouse in the process. (As convenient as a wireless mouse would be, I can't part with that kind of money during the holidays, and as much as I'd like to stay all-Apple, all the time with the MacBook, I knew that such things weren't a requirement.)

Sure enough, I got home, plugged it in, and the problems of the past several weeks vanished right away. (Do I really need to download software from the manufacturer, as the installation instructions suggest? It appears to work fine as it is, and I don't need to do anything fancy like programming the buttons to do special things.) I still have a few small things to work out, such as the lack of USB ports (since I'm also running a peripheral keyboard--yes, this laptop is acting more and more like a desktop these days--and my speakers, and I'm trying to find a way to use all three simultaneously without messing with the extra wires and cables of the old powered USB hub left over from my old iMac), but it's nice to be able to do things on here on demand again. I can feel the wave of relaxation settling in already.

I'll try to use some of the next few days to get caught up on old posts and the like. As always (how many times have I said this during this semester alone?), thanks for your patience.

Friday, December 04, 2009

One More Metaphorical Graduation

Early last week, I "graduated" from physical therapy; the rest of the work that needs to be done to rehab my left quads can pretty much be done on my own. And today, I passed another milestone: Seeing the orthopedist for the first time in two months, I was told at the end of the visit (after receiving very positive comments about how everything is healing) that I would only have to go back there again on an "as needed" basis.

As I've said in earlier posts in this saga (which is hopefully winding quietly to a close), nearly everything that's happened since surgery--and really, even during the initial healing between the accident and that time--has been extremely positive. I do have some work left to do in the strength department, and I won't be taking stairs two at a time or returning to the racquetball court quite yet, but for the vast majority of any given day, I don't even think about my knee anymore. (It's true that I can feel a little something on really cold or rainy days, so I guess I'll grow up to be one of those old guys whose knee can predict the weather, but that often comes with the territory.)

There's probably not much more to post on this topic, though I'm sure I'll make note of the day when I go down a staircase without using the handrail or hit the racquetball court again. Thanks for hanging in there with me through all of this.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Great News from Denton

Glad tidings from my alma mater travel in pairs this week:
  • The One O'Clock Lab Band's latest Release, Lab 2009, has been nominated for two Grammy awards: Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album and Best Instrumental Composition (for director Steve Wiest's "Ice-Nine"). My own comments on the CD, and the release party held for it earlier in the semester, may be found here.

  • And from the athletic department comes the news that Todd Dodge will continue as head football coach of the Mean Green. As I've said before, I'm a big believer in Coach Dodge, and--despite this season's six heartbreaking losses by a touchdown or less--I think he's getting the program on the right track. Seeing as how the Mean Green were among the youngest teams in the conference this year, I predict only good things for the future, and I hope to see him on the sidelines in 2011 when the new stadium opens.
It's a busy four days of concerts and other things coming up; more later.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Trying to Get Back on Track(pad), or I Wish There Were a Mouse in My House

Apologies for the lack of posting so far this week; it's not even the usual excuse (lack of time), though that certainly figures in. Rather, this week, it has to do with a computer problem--namely, the trackpad on my MacBook Pro. It just won't, well, track sometimes. I'll move my finger around and around, but to no avail; the arrow just stays in place for a while. It's almost like a very mild version of what it must feel like to be paralyzed in a limb.

The idea has hit me that perhaps the hard drive is getting full, which I realize could affect performance somewhat. To that end, I've been doing the Great Music Purge of '09 whenever I've been on the computer during the past 24 hours. I topped out at 25 days of music, so I've been deleting anything that I already had on a physical CD, saving my iTunes space for things I've gotten through eMusic or Amazon Downloads or the iTunes Store. I'm seeing slightly better performance since I've done that, but the occasional paralysis continues.

So, a quick bleg to my fellow Mac users: Is there anything else that I'm not thinking of which could be causing this problem? A repair is not really in the cards right now, due to budgetary concerns. I also realize that I could just throw down for an actual mouse, bypassing the trackpad altogether, but I'd like some information about that as well: Of the Apple mice, which one have you found to be the best? And how about any other mice that aren't made by Apple but work on Macs--any yays or nays there? Feel free to enlighten me in the comments, as this is driving me nuts; it's taking up to five times as long to do simple tasks, and there are just some things that I can't farm out to the iPhone. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Lot to Be Thankful For This Year

SUGAR LAND--Happy Thanksgiving to all! I hope you're getting to spend today with friends and/or family, and that you've reached any travel destination you might have had in a quick and safe fashion.

I realized this morning that, in a way unlike any previous year, I have a lot to be thankful for. Not only did I get through my own challenging situation without too many complications (getting through the aftermath of my accident without a budget-busting ambulance ride or trip to the emergency room, among other things, and my recovery from surgery going on a smooth, positive arc so far), but three of my friends faced situations even more challenging than mine--ones that other people in similar straits did not even survive. But we're all still here and well along the road to recovery, if not completely recovered by now.

So, in addition to the usual things--family and friends, the chance to live in the greatest nation in the world, a bountiful table this afternoon--I'm sure that the four of us are especially thankful this year. May you and yours find joy in the big things and the small things as well.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Travel Advisory

I'm headed to Sugar Land for a few days; it'll be the longest drive I've taken since the accident and my only true solo roadtrip since spring break. While I've gotten a little stiff after my longest recent drives (which I think have topped out at an hour and a half), I'm reasonably optimistic that I'll make it through this trip with only a few extra stops to stretch and walk around.

If you're headed out as well, have a safe and pleasant journey.

UPDATE: No problems on the trip at all (save for a bit of traffic between Huntsville and Conroe), and I made it with only two stops, just like before. My legs may have felt like I just got off a boat at first, but I was able to walk it off within mere minutes.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Been There, Done That, Got the T-Shirt

I hit another milestone on my recovery today: Unless the doctor orders more treatment when I see him at the end of next week, I've been discharged from physical therapy. While I still have several months' worth of work on my own to return my "bad" leg to full strength, I've completed everything that the therapist was asked to help me do.

This doesn't mean that I'm going to go running anytime soon (but again, nobody has chased me since the accident), nor will I return to the racquetball court right away, but as far as regular daily life goes, things are getting back to normal. (It should go without saying that stairs are a challenge, but that's so be expected.) Sure, my leg will get stiff if I'm standing or sitting in the same position for a long time, but the stiffness subsides once I change positions. (I guess that's the real-world manifestation of the old joke: PATIENT: "Doctor, Doctor, it hurts when I do this." DOCTOR: "Well, stop doing that.") And as long as I do even some of my exercises in the morning, I tend to be fine for the rest of the day.

As I've said before, everything that's happened during my recovery has been overwhelmingly positive, and I'm happy to have attained one more goal. And if you're in my area of Dallas and need a good therapist, email me and I'll be happy to make a recommendation.

(And yes, I really did get the T-shirt; the therapy place gives one to each new "graduate.")

Sunday, November 22, 2009

All Caught Up

As promised, I've managed to complete the bulk of the unfinished posts from the past few weeks. So that my work doesn't go for naught, here's a list of everything that's new on the blog:WIth the holiday coming up, I'll try to do better with this; most of the posts didn't take that long, so I have to just get in the proper frame of mind to blog before I get too tired at the end of the day. Just as the hardest part of practicing an instrument is opening the case, sometimes the hardest part of blogging is going to Blogger and hitting the New Post button.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

OK, I'm Taking On a Project

As I acknowledged the other day, I'm woefully behind on posting; as I look at my list at this moment, there are at least twelve unfinished posts spanning the past three weeks. So with a fairly unscheduled weekend, I'm going to try and finally get caught up. Posts will appear in the November portion of the Blog Archive over on the sidebar, and once I'm done with everything (tomorrow?), I'll link to everything new in one of those "All Caught Up" posts.

Thanks as always for your patience; it's been a challenging semester.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thinking About This Dress Code Makes Me "Emo"

Let me say this from the outset: I think that "emo pants" are ridiculous. (You know what emo pants are, right? Those skinny pants that look OK on girls, but have started to be worn by some teenage boys, especially those who are fans of the punk-based musical style known as emo. If this still isn't ringing a bell, you can see plenty of examples here.)

I can't imagine for the life of me why someone of the male gender would want to squeeze his, umm, manhood in something so restrictive, and the look itself is rather gender-neutral; I've seen guys who dress in this style that I thought were girls (and girls who I thought were guys dressing like girls). I've never had a student dress like that, but if one did, and we had a good enough relationship, I might be hard-pressed not to look him in the eye and say, "Dude--when you get home tonight, please give your sister her pants back!" (I should also mention that, despite all this, "Emo Pants" would be a great tune name, so don't be surprised if I write that tune somewhere down the road.)

But even though I don't agree with this particular fashion choice, I will--to paraphrase Voltaire (or possibly his biographer)--defend people's rights to exercise it. That's especially true when stories like this appear in the news:
Seth Chamlee, a student at Kimbrough Middle School in Mesquite, found that out the hard way on Tuesday. School administrators gave him a choice: Go home, or trade his skin-tight skinny pants for slacks provided by the school.

He went home. And he’s going to stay there.

“We’re going to home schooling,” the boy’s mother, Cindy Pope, said Wednesday. “He can learn more without the distraction of what to wear."
Good for you, Mom. It's too bad that more people don't have the resources to do what you just did, because that would appear to be the only way that school administrators might see the error of their ways: Hit them in the pocketbook, by virtue of the state money lost when students like Seth are no longer enrolled in the district.

I've railed against over-restrictive school dress codes in the past (just click the "Dress Codes" label at the bottom of this post for more posts on the subject), but Mesquite is about as extreme as it gets. Check this out:
[I]n the Mesquite school district, the [skinny] pants are banned outright. The district, which boasts one of North Texas’ most conservative dress codes, only this year granted female teachers permission to wear open-toed shoes and male teachers the right to sport facial hair.

“We don’t allow striped shirts or check shirts,” said Laura Jobe, a district spokeswoman. “There are certain types of clothes that are not acceptable dress style.”
I'll have to save the inquiry as to what's so evil about striped or checked shirts (they make some kids look fat and lower their self-esteem?) for another time, but let's back up a paragraph for a second. They just recently allowed teachers to wear facial hair. And sandals! (But only on the women for the latter; I guess these are the same people who ran my school district when I was a kid; down there, they outlawed sandals on male students, because they were afraid that--I swear I am not making this up--hairy toes on guys might sexually excite the girls in the classroom.) If they've only recently seen the light on treating adults like responsible human beings, I guess it's easier to see why they still treat the kids so badly.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I was once contacted about a private teaching job in Mesquite, which I turned down outright because the district's ban on facial hair for teachers was still in effect. Although the band director assured me that the policy didn't actually apply to private teachers, I considered that even worse--I would be some sort of Other walking around there, possibly incurring the wrath of male teachers who were subject to the code. But by and large, I didn't want to have anything to do with a district that treated teachers in that manner.)

Look--I understand the arguments from the other side: Kids need to learn how to obey rules; they're in school to get an education, not show off their fashion sense, blah blah blah. (And the worst one of all: They're never going to get a job in the business world if they don't dress more nicely. Never mind that many kids will never set foot in the business world, and, as I've said before, with some of the things that have happened on Wall Street in recent years, I'm not so sure that we should be holding up the business world as a role model in the first place.)

But it seems like those in charge should pick their battles a little more wisely. I still believe that there are a lot of kids out there--not the extremely smart kids, not the thugs-in-traning, but the big, big middle--who wouldn't mind school so much if it didn't seem as if the administration weren't throwing roadblocks at them every step of the way. And I defy the Mesquite administration to tell me exactly how these pants detract from someone's education. (Evidently, they said that "his appearance was disruptive when he sat down." But what were the administrators doing looking down there in the first place?) As Seth's mom said in the linked story, "To not be getting your education because of pants...I don't want him to learn that."

I just have trouble believing that this anything more than the administrators' desire for power and control, even at the expense of actual education. And it's why I'll continue to shout this from the rooftops: Education won't be truly improved until we require all of them to remain teachers in addition to performing their administrative duties. It's obvious that their time in the proverbial ivory tower is often spent thinking up new ways to control people's lives--time that would be better spent on actual teaching.

Oh, and I can't let this story go without one more quote from MISD spokeswoman Jobe:
In Mesquite, Jobe said that although district officials don’t necessarily have a problem with skinny pants outside of class, they’re not appropriate for school.
They don't necessarily have a problem with the pants outside of school? That makes it sound like they would control students' lives there as well, if they thought they could. Be afraid, Mesquite parents. Be very afraid.

And if anyone can tell me exactly what causes Mesquite to frown upon striped or checked shirts, please hit the comment button. (Want to see what the fuss is all about? Seth appears in a FOX 4 video here.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Aggies Remember Their Fallen

Even though I never attended a day of class there, I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for Texas A&M. It's my sister's alma mater, for one thing, and it became my "school away from school" while she was there; I got to attend more than a few football games (including a couple of Cotton Bowls), and I was always sort of a secret honorary member of whichever class she was in (at a school where being a freshman, sophomore, etc. actually means something).

A&M is a special place with a lot of traditions, many of which stem from the university's military origins. And for nine decades, one of the most revered of those traditions was the event simply known as Bonfire. Symbolizing the Aggies' burning desire to beat the University of Texas (known as Texas University or "t.u." in College Station) every Thanksgiving, the tower of logs took months to collect, around a week to build, and stood nearly 60 feet tall.

But ten years ago today, the unthinkable happened: In the early hours of the morning, the stack collapsed well before it was meant to be lit, with students atop the structure; twelve Aggies lost their lives that morning. Inadequate supervision and student's cutting corners were said to be the cause, according to a commission that investigated the disaster; no blame was assigned to any specific group or individual.

In the years since then, a memorial was constructed at the site, and the bonfire hasn't been held on campus since, though one has existed as a tradition in exile since 2002. And this morning, Aggies gathered to remember the fallen:
More than 3,000 people cupping candles that flickered in the cold morning air gathered at the collapse site on campus at 2:42 a.m. – the exact time of the Nov. 18, 1999 accident that also injured 27 people.

Current and former students, victims' families and others filled the grassy hills where a concrete and metal circular memorial now stands. The 30-minute event was somber but also musical as long stretches of silence were mixed with the crowd singing "Amazing Grace" and school songs such as "The Spirit of Aggieland.
I'll leave the debate as to whether the bonfire should ever return to campus--in a much more supervised state, of course--to Aggies themselves (including Gov. Rick Perry, who's gone on record as supporting such a thing). But today, I join them in pausing to remember the students who gave their lives in support of school spirit; may you never be forgotten.

(A moving video tribute to the fallen, along with other Bonfire memories, may be found here.

Monday, November 16, 2009

I'm Getting Rather Blogged Down Here

As I sat down tonight to possibly catch up on one of the many unfinished blog posts from the past few weeks, I managed to look at the main list of posts, where I discovered a troubling thing: Over half of the posts from that time period are unfinished! And I'm afraid that it's not going to get any better tonight either, as other things got in the way, and it's time for bed now.

I'll get caught up eventually, of course, but I thank you for your patience, and I wanted to at least put up something new today, so that regular visitors aren't continually greeted by last Thursday's post (which was, ironically, about how my workload just got lighter; I guess that hasn't translated to blogging yet).

Here's hoping for more stuff in the next few days, and, as always, I'll link to the old posts once they're done.

Friday, November 13, 2009

No Black Cats Crossed My Path Today...

...nor did I teach anyone named Jason. I guess I made it through Friday the Thirteenth unscathed. (And there have been years where I've taught Jasons on that day, which was always good for a laugh. The best one may have been on one of the days when I was subbing for an out-of-town band director, and I queried the class as to how many Jasons were in it; about eight kids, including two girls, raised their hands.)

If anything, I may have had my personal Friday the 13th last Thursday, which was the day when nothing seemed to go right for me. And while I didn't have to deal with black cats, broken mirrors or ladders today, I wonder if I would have been defiant in that situation, just because.

Since my Friday the 13th was so normal, I might as well share a great tune by Thelonious Monk by that name (unfortunately, no videos by the man himself). Hope you like it...

How did your Friday the 13th go? Feel free to comment if you had something unusual happen.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Shoulders Feel Lighter Today

I experienced a strange element this afternoon--one that I hadn't encountered in a while. It's called "free time"--perhaps you've heard of it? I've had traces of it on weekends every now and then, but rarely on a school day recently.

But with my colleague's return from sick leave yesterday, I'm back to normal duties at school for the first time in a few months. And it's the first time in nearly seven months that I'm neither nursing an injury or doing extra work. (Sure, I'm not quite 100% with the knee, but it's rarely a factor nowadays; update on that soon.) And while I enjoyed the extra work I was doing, the real challenge was, as I told said colleague a few weeks ago over lunch, trying to be him and trying to be me. There almost needs to be a few more hours in the day to pull that off, although everything turned out fine.

The free time thing won't last, of course; nature abhors a vacuum, and there's always something else for a musician to do: Practice more, write more (although, taking a walk through Watters Creek this afternoon, I was reminded how disappointed I am that they closed the Starbucks there; it had become my favorite place for writing last year). And I've already taken on an adjudication job for Saturday morning, because extra income is always good this time of year.

Now that I've experienced "free time," I'm hoping to get reacquainted with its cousin, "sleep." I've missed you lately, buddy. So I'll save the slew of unfinished blog posts for another time and call it a night.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Once Again, I'll Ask:

Did you thank a veteran today?

I guess I'll have to let this post suffice, as i didn't (to my knowledge) run into one yet. And I can't think of anything more appropriate than what I posted last year at this time, so I'll excerpt that one here:
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.
Last year, I had two veterans in my music ensembles at school; today was not an ensemble day, but I'm thinking of their service as I'm writing this. Thanks, guys...

Have you ever thanked a veteran for his or her service? There's still time...

Monday, November 09, 2009

Return of The Walk™

For the first time since before the accident, I got to take The Walk™ all the way through Firewheel tonight. While I'd made it through parts of the place in the past few months, this was the first time I'd managed to traverse the entire streetscape, and it felt great.

As my recovery nears its completion, it's a good feeling to be able to return to some of the physical activity that I used to do all the time. While I'm not quite up to running yet (though I may be cleared for same at my next visit to physical therapy in a few weeks), and racquetball may be a while off, there's always been something about a good walk at the end of a long day (or even in the middle, on those rare days when I get an extended lunch break). It's invigorating, it's good for me, and it allows not just the recovering leg, but both of them, to "wind out" a bit after a day of sitting in small practice rooms.

After nearly a month without the cane, I'm enjoying the fact that, for much of the day, I don't even think about my knee anymore. And after nearly seven months of this saga, I'm sure you're enjoying the fact that I'm not blogging much about it anymore, either. But so far, everything about this recovery could be graphed on a steady upward arc, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the process.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Zuzu's Peddles Great Mexican Food, and It Was Here All Along

I'm in the midst of my two-gig day, but I had to pop on during my break and rave about a restaurant that was a common haunt of mine during the '90s, until I thought it went away. Little did I know...

I should digress for a moment and point out that the northern leg of Interstate 635, known as the LBJ Freeway, seems to be a fairly solid dividing line for people who consider themselves either hardcore "urbanists" or "suburbanists." I know people in Dallas who rarely venture north of LBJ ("Why would I want to visit those cookie-cutter suburbs?"), and people in Plano or Frisco that never venture south of it ("Too much traffic! Too much crime!"). I go south of LBJ for church and gigs, but I do tend to be a "norther" most of the time, especially with all the cool New Urbanist developments popping up around here. And while some will even say that the suburbs have all the cool stuff these days, Old Urbanism scored some points with me this afternoon.

Back in the '90s, an up-and-coming chain started emerging in the DFW area. Its name is Zuzu Handmade Mexican Food, and it was like nothing I'd ever had before--a great middle ground between mass-produced Taco Bell/Bueno fare and pricier sit-down restaurants, and it predated the rise of "Fresh-Mex" places like Chipotle in the area by a number of years. I was particularly enamored with the chicken quesadillas, and the peach mango iced tea was to die for.

Zuzu exploded all over my neck of the woods in the next several years (well, OK, not exactly in Garland itself; we didn't get much actual retail here until Firewheel opened in '05). A west Richardson location served me on shopping errand days, while one in Plano was a favorite haunt on lunch breaks from my then-job on Saturdays (and they eventually opened a location within walking distance of said job; I was in quesadillla heaven!). I would sometimes eat at one in Carrollton on my way back from Denton. I was certainly a "regular" for a while.

But as often happens to restaurants that expand too quickly, contraction was to follow. The one by my job didn't last long at all, and was replaced by the still-going-strong Big Easy restaurant, forcing me back to west Plano for my Zuzu fix until that one also closed and became a Rockfish. The Carrollton location closed not too long before the opening of the Bush Turnpike rerouted me away from Trinity Mills Road. And the Richardson location, site of my first visit, also succumbed and was replaced with a Chinese place. As far as I knew, Zuzu was no more, and I could have sworn I'd read rumors of such in the restaurant columns of the Observer or the DMN Guide.

I was very happy to discover a location on MOPAC in Austin on my way to my sister's house, and I always made a mental note to stop there at some point, though it has yet to happen; on the way down there, I'm usually eating once I arrive at her house, and on my way back, I've usually just eaten. Still, I made a promise to myself to visit there eventually.

Fast forward to just a few hours ago. I was coming back from a gig in the Lakewood area of Dallas. Having driven to the gig down Garland Road (which, save for Casa Linda Plaza, is butt-ugly until you get to the Arboretum area), I decided to take a different route home and go straight up Abrams. The scenery was much better, and when I got to Mockingbird, I couldn't believe it--there, on the southeast corner, was a Zuzu! They hadn't left after all!

Needless to say, I stopped; I was looking for a place to eat anyway, and that certainly filled the bill. And after all those years, they didn't disappoint. Everything was just as I'd remembered it: The crispy chips with the delicious green salsa (they also have red), the rice with just a little bit of corn in it; the generous portion of chicken and cheese in the quesadillas. And I gulped down the peach-mango iced tea like there was no tomorrow; I'm surprised that I didn't have to stop at every gas station between there and home.

I told the guy behind the counter that it was my first visit since the suburban locations closed, and that everything was as good as it had been before. It's kind of funny that I never bothered Googling the chain to see that there were in fact a few locations left in the area (there's one in Addison as well), but I'm sure I'll make up for lost time in the weeks ahead.

It appears that the Zuzu "empire" has fractured into various franchises, so there's no common owner anymore, but the concept appears to be the same no matter where the restaurants are located. There's no website for the local edition, but the Austin stores have one, and the St. Louis ones have a good site as well.

So yes, this "norther" has a new reason to venture south of LBJ on occasion, or maybe even a new lunch spot after church.

(Bonus points if you can name the cultural reference in the title of this post; you may hear it a lot around a month from now.)

UPDATE: A week later, I was in the area of the Addison (Belt Line and Landmark) location and decided to give it a try as well. While it misses some of the funkiness of the Abrams location (the brick floor in the drink area with various people's names on the bricks, etc.), the food is just as good. It's owned by a different person than the Abrams one, and the setup is a bit different; chips aren't free, but the total bill is cheaper by about...the cost of an order of chips, so it all works out. While neither of these locations are exactly in my backyard, it's great to have them around.

Friday, November 06, 2009

What's Better Than Having a Jazz Gig on a Saturday?

Having two jazz gigs on a Saturday, of course.

That's my day tomorrow, so I'll be back with more later. Come check out one (or both!) of the gigs if you're in the area.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

One oF Those Days

You know it's one of "those" days when...
  • Mere minutes before you're supposed to leave the house in the morning, the zipper on your pants breaks. IAnd it was one of your favorite pair of work pants to boot.)

  • You get to your first school, and the class has already started; they're on a different schedule today, and nobody bothered to tell you.

  • You make an ATM deposit, and the machine doesn't like one of your checks (evidently made on someone's computer at home). It attempts to spit the check back out to you, but that action fails, and eventually, the machine gives you your card back without a receipt, much less a clear acknowledgment of the rest of your deposit.

  • At the beginning of class at the college, you can't play them a particular song because your iPod has run out of juice.

  • At various other times during the day, you're just a bit loopy--forgetting to call out a particular scale or having trouble expressing yourself.
That was my day in a nutshell. Ever have a day like that?

UPDATE: And now, after this trite post, I read the news about Ft. Hood and realize just how meaningless the entire post above really is. (That's par for the course on this day too, I guess.) Thoughts and prayers out to the survivors and the victims' families.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Talk Up the Bands

Even though Texas is known for its quality bands, it seems like they don't get nearly as much coverage as, say, football, at least in our local media. But there are certainly plenty of band supporters out there (and it's not just the parents, either), and I'm sure that we were all happy to see some increased coverage this week, and my hat is off to the Dallas Morning News for doing so.

It started on Friday with an extensive feature on the Allen High School band, they of the 638 members this season. Just how big are they? Well, they're this big:
Bigger marching bands have been assembled for special events. But folks at the University Interscholastic League, the Texas Music Educators Association, Marching.com and Bands of America say they don't know of a regularly performing marching band anywhere that's the size of Allen's.

"It's the largest marching band program that I'm aware of," agreed Robert Carnochan, director of the University of Texas Longhorn Band, which has a trifling 390 members.

The Allen High marching band has about as many musicians as there are members of Congress. It has five musicians for every one in the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. The 85-member trumpet section is bigger than many high school marching bands.
The article goes on to say that the band requires 18 school buses and three trucks whenever they go on the road.

They're not just big, they're also successful, even if they may be noted more for creating a family atmosphere than bringing home top honors at competitions. But with the Allen football team bringing home the Class 5A state championship last year, the band got to perform on a pretty big stage. (And yes, it could be said that a band of that size needs a pretty big stage. Heh.)

But the DMN's band-love didn't stop there. Earlier this week, they also ran a feature on Mesquite Poteet, which was going for its third consecutive state championship in the 4A State Marching Contest on Monday (these championships are held every other year for each classification, with 1A, 2A and 4A in odd-numbered years and 3A and 5A in even-numbered years). And while a Mesquite Poteet three-peat (heh) was not to be (they came in third, and another local school, Frisco Wakeland, placed fourth), it was still a great article about a successful program that's been excelling for years now.

Thanks, DMN, for covering the bands. And be sure and drop back in on them during the rest of the year; there are lots of good things going on during concert season as well.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Help a Puppy (of the Snarky Variety) in Need

Are you a fan of Snarky Puppy? (And by all means, you should be.) I've extolled the virtues of this band many times in this blog, so I was really disappointed to read today's news. I'll let this MySpace bulletin tell the story:
Hello fellow Snarky friends,

My name is Jess Speer, and I am one of the biggest Super fans of Snarky Puppy in the world. They are my family and my brothers that I have never had. I have been working with the boys for over a year now, and I have to say that I have never worked with anyone as generous as these guys. I have watched them grow from the first time I saw them four years ago into the machine that they are today, and I would absolutely give anything to them to see them succeed.

Music is prophecy and not profit and these guys are out on the road almost nine months out of the year leaving their families and homes to spread their talent and love for music. They are not out there for fame, they are not out there for money. They are out there to try and make a living off of playing in a group with the most religeous musical connection that I have ever heard.

A few nights ago, their bus was vandalized in Canada. Not only that, the guitar,​bass,​amp,​harddrives,​mics,​chords,​suitcases,​clothes,​money,​memorabilia,​ etc. was all taken. To follow this “amazing” act of humanity, the bus has broken down, and they are stranded in Toronto. It's bad enough that musicians barely make enough money to live off of, and let’s just not get started on health insurance.

The guys need you. You are what matters to them the most. They are out there for you, giving you the gift of their talent because they love you. Please keep them in your good thoughts, prayers, and meditations. In the meantime, I am teaming up with fellow Snarks to put on a couple of benefit shows, fundraisers, and have also set up a paypal account for any amount of donations. It's easy just go to www.paypal.com and donate to snarkypuppy@​yahoo.​com.​ ANY amount helps. ANY instrumental donation helps. ANY love helps.

If you are personally interested in playing for the show or just helping out please feel free to contact me at:

Jessica L. Speer
jessicalspeer@​gmail.​com
Yikes. You always read these horror stories about things like this happening to bands on the road, and I really hate to hear about such a thing befalling a band that has brought me so much enjoyment over the past few years.

I'm not sure where Jess, the writer of the above, is located, so I don't know if any of the benefit shows she mentions will be local or not (but I'd sure think at least one of them would be), but I'll pass along any more information as I receive it.

UPDATE: Pegasus News music editor Sarah Crisman makes an appearance in the comments with a bit more info; also, her Twitter feed has even more regarding the benefit shows and status updates on Snarky.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Maybe It's Not His Lucky Day

I don't know how far this story has traveled past the borders of Texas, but it certainly merits discussion: A guy in Grand Prairie with the unusual name of Willis Willis bought a Mega Millions lottery ticket back in May. After the drawing was held, he went back to the convenience store where he bought the ticket (the unfortunately-named Lucky Foods, also in Grand Prairie) and gave it to the clerk to have him check to see if it was a winner. The clerk, Pankaj Joshi, told him it was not a winner.

But Joshi was lying; the ticket was actually a $1 million dollar winner, which Joshi cashed in himself and subsequently fled the country.

When Willis found this out, he went to the Texas Lottery Commission to claim his rightful prize. But the commission had already paid out that prize, to Joshi; what were they to do? Well, even though their own investigators consider Willis to be the rightful winner, the commission decided yesterday that the real winner was Joshi, because he cashed in the ticket--even though he's since been indicted on theft charges, never mind that whole skipped-the-country thing.

But it's likely that Willis will not go home empty-handed:
The Travis County district attorney's office jumped into the fray Monday evening, saying in no uncertain terms that Willis won the lottery.

"That's Mr. Willis' money. He was the true winner," said Assistant District Attorney Patty Robertson.

And the office promises to put its money where its mouth is – Robertson said $365,000 that has been seized from the store clerk's bank accounts will be turned over to Willis as soon as the paperwork goes through.
Good for them. And I'm afraid that might be the only doable solution to this messy problem. As some commenters to the linked story point out, the lottery probably doesn't have much choice here; if they give in on this one, people will come out of the woodwork every time there's a big winner, claiming someone stole the winning ticket from them. It could get really messy, really quickly. They probably have to take the small PR hit in this case to avoid such things down the road.

Maybe--and this is unfortunate, if true--the moral of the story is, don't trust the clerk. After all, there are plenty of other ways that Willis could have checked his results:
  • He could have bought a newspaper and checked the results there.

  • He could have gone to a local library, gotten on the Internet, and checked the results at the Lottery's website.

  • He could have used one of the "Check Your Ticket" machines that are frequently found in many lottery retailers.
Granted, it could be argued that the store was acting on behalf of the state, and the state should regulate its agents more carefully (was there any way that the commission could have known that it was awarding a ticket to one of its own agents?), but again, it's not like Willis was forced to hand his ticket to the clerk.

I'm sitting on the fence as far as this story goes. What do you think? Hit the comment button and chime in.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloversary, KNTU!

There's a lot of celebration in the air today. Not only is it Halloween (and game day for college football fans across the nation), but it's a really big day at my alma mater, UNT: The 40th anniversary of the university-run radio station, KNTU--a place where I spent quite a bit of time as a student, serving as student program director for a year (and a bunch of other supervisory positions as well) and longtime host of the morning show.

KNTU has come a long way in those forty years. Starting out as a 440-watt station that barely made it to Lake Dallas, it now boasts 100,000 watts and covers the bulk of the Metroplex now. (And while reception in the car may be a little dodgy, it's no longer a problem to pick it up at home, thanks to the online steam at their website.) And what started out as a hodgepodge of musical styles--changing every three hours or so in the beginning--has morphed into the only jazz station in the area while still keeping the variety on the weekends.

I had a great time working there; I knew that broadcasting was never likely to be a career for me because of my commitment to music, but it was one of the best avocations someone could ever have. I got to work with a lot of great people, some of whom are prominent on the local airwaves, and I also had the chance to be the first one to introduce the listeners to some new, high-quality music.

I got to tour the studios a few weeks ago during Homecoming weekend, and I was very pleased to see that the current facilities are state-of-the-art and professional-looking in a way that they never were when i was there. The station certainly deserves the best.

So happy anniversary, KNTU! May you continue to blanket the area with great music and serve as a fine training ground for the talent of the future.

Giving up the ghost: This anniversary also gives me the chance to once again link to my ghost story, since the haunted house in question spent its final sixteen years as the home of KNTU. If you haven't had a chance to read it, enjoy The Legend of Smith Hall.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Now They Can Build It, and I WIll Come

Upon my return home this evening, I came upon a great news item: My alma mater can now see the light at the end of the tunnel (and not one that's attached to an oncoming train) with regard to replacing its aging white elephant of a football stadium, Fouts Field. That's right, the plan for a new stadium was given final approval today by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and the university will waste no time getting started; a groundbreaking is scheduled for November 21, prior to the UNT-Army game.

I think this quote from UNT's president pretty much says it all:
"If you look at America's great universities, you'll see that they all have the three A's in common: great academics, great arts and great athletics. All are key to a vibrant alumni community and continued growth. And all require great facilities," said UNT President Gretchen M. Bataille. "I am committed to ensuring that UNT, like many of the nation's best research universities, strives to be excellent in everything we do."
If you're wondering why this music alumnus has been so highly in favor of this endeavor, check out these posts from this time last year. And you can see a concept drawing of the new stadium at the MeanGreenSports.com story linked above; just click the magnifying glass icon to make it bigger.

I was already going to the UNT game this Saturday, and now, no matter the outcome of the game, I think a lot of us will be happy to see that the post-Fouts Field era is closer than ever.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

This Lady Chose the Wrong Source for Her Humiliation

I don't know how much this story has played outside the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, but it certainly covers a few hot-button topics: A Hispanic woman was ticketed for an illegal U-turn by Dallas police back on October 2, and she was also given an additional citation for "driving without being able to speak English." Now, Ernestina Mondragon has lawyered up and wants the city to investigate the police over racial profiling and so on.

Here's the thing: Whether or not you agree with the idea, it's not a crime to drive in Texas without the ability to speak English. But it is illegal to do so if you're a commercial driver. And the reason that the officer who ticketed Mondragon thought it was an infraction could be attributed to a common problem: Software error.
Dallas police said Friday that the charge was on a menu in the department's in-car computers, but it applies only to commercial operators, which means bus, truck and limo drivers.
D'oh. This has evidently happened a total of 39 other times over the past three years, and all those people, as well as Mondragon, will have those charges dropped.

That's as it should be. But Mondragon is upping the ante by asking the city to pay her medical bills:
[Mondragon] also incurred about $7,000 in medical expenses when she appeared to get ill after the traffic stop and her family took her to Baylor Medical Center at Garland. Her daughter said her mom was found to have stress-related symptoms and was admitted and kept overnight.

{Mondragon's attorney Domingo] Garcia said he also will file a claim seeking reimbursement of medical expenses.
According to the story, Mondragon says she was "humiliated" by the incident, which led to her hospitalization. But do we really want to go down that road? If she were to succeed in this effort, I could see all kinds of people trying to get money out of the city by claiming humiliation in the future--and don't forget, our many rights in this country do not include the right to not have one's feelings hurt.

Besides, this was a preventable episode. If Mondragon hadn't made the illegal U-turn in the first place, she never would have been stopped. It didn't help that she left her drivers license at home that day. But here's the thing that really gets me:
Garcia said Mondragon, 48, has been a legal U.S. resident since 1980.
. What? She's been here for at least 29 years and still hasn't bothered to learn the language? To me, that's the most humiliating thing about this story. If you're going to be in a country for nearly three decades, don't you think you should make at least the minimum effort to engage with that country? It seems like your embarrassment is a bit misplaced, ma'am.

Again, feel free to chime in if you think I'm all wet here.

Monday, October 26, 2009

If This Was My "Early" Day, Then Why Didn't I Get Home Till 9:15?

There was a slight deviation to my schedule today that allowed me to finish at 6:00--about 45 minutes earlier than usual. (And yes, when my day started at 7:30 in the morning, there's something kind of sad that a 6:00 stop time is "early," but that's the way things are around here at the moment.) I started eating dinner when it was still light outside, ran a quick errand, and had one more thing to do before I got home; things were looking good.

And then I ran full tilt into a stack of midterm grades to average, and one makeup test to grade. Over two hours later, I was finally done. (Thank goodness my corner of Starbucks was quiet for the duration; not a single person--or a married one, for that matter--shared the area with me.)

I'm not complaining, mind you; I love what I do. And I could have done this over the weekend, but I chose to turn Saturday into a Very Chill Day. Having that day was worth the extra time tonight.

But I suppose this is all a way of saying that, while there are already a few things that have come up which I plan to blog about this week, they'll have to be put off till at least tomorrow (which means, if you read yesterday's post, that they might not be done until the weekend, LOL). Thanks again for your patience.

So how early did your day end today? Anyone go later than I did? Comment away if you wish...

Neither rain, nor snow....OK, well, maybe snow: My high schools' marching contest was rained out last Wednesday, and I was amazed at the swiftness with which that decision was made (they'd called it by ten that morning). The rain day was today, and it rained pretty much the whole time. But if the region's website is to be believed, they held the contest anyway (the rain day for the rain day would have been this Wednesday, and rain was again in the forecast). I guess they just said "to heck with it--we need to get this done." But I feel bad for the kids with nice horns and the schools that used electronics, and I hope none of my students got sick being out in the cold rain. (I can't imagine anyone but the most die-hard parents sitting in the wet bleachers, either.) But if they'd kept kicking the date down the road, we'd be getting into November, and the next thing you know, the contest would be getting snowed out. If it was indeed held, I know that the kids (not to mention the directors) will be happy that the 'meat" of marching season is over. Now, let's make some music...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

This Is Turning Into a Weekly Ritual, So It Seems

I seem to notice a pattern during this, the busiest of all semesters, with regard to blogging by yours truly:

1) Post on Monday, one of my "earliest" finishes (6:45) of the week.

2) Start posts on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday (and sometimes Friday) but never have time to finish them.

3) Catch up on Saturday or Sunday and post links to all the "missed" posts.

Well, here we are again, and this is what I've completed thus far today:
  • I roll out a long-awaited rant about "activists" and how their being so easily offended isn't helping anyone solve problems.

  • Remembering Vic Mizzy, composer of some favorite TV themes.

  • Asking for some advice regarding dry winter skin on the hands.

  • Once again, I chastise Congress (yes, an easy target) for attempting to mess around with college football
I'm pretty sure the week ahead will be just the same, but feel free to check in daily just in case I get to complete a post during the week.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Hey, Congress: Stop Playing Games with College Football

It's a beautiful Saturday afternoon, and across this great nation of ours, cheers ring out across college campuses far and wide as fans enjoy the weekly ritual of college football. Some teams will win, while others will lose; a lucky two will make it all the way to a supposed national championship game under the aegis of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), which has certainly had its share of detractors over the years.

Among other things, there's a fairly loud chorus of voices calling for some sort of playoff game, since, inevitably, an undefeated team (or at least one with a better record than those listed as #1 or #2 at the end of the season) will be left out of the big dance. But some note that the college football season is too long as it is, while others want to keep the decades-long tradition of the bowl games from falling by the wayside (and the current bowl setup allows many teams to close the year on a winning note), and a playoff system that started after the bowls would extend the season into the spring semester. I've even weighed in on this myself as far back as late 2004.

But about a year after that, an unwelcome party entered into the debate: Congress. Even more strange was that fact that one of the loudest voices in Congress was right here in the area: Rep. Joe Barton of Ennis, who's usually very much against big government. But in this case, Barton was right there in the middle of it, even holding a Congressional hearing on it in late '05. As he said at the time,
"College football is not just an exhilarating sport, but a billion-dollar business as well that Congress cannot ignore. This committee is vested with the responsibility for overseeing sports."
But--as I asked then, as now--are they really? Is there nothing that's free from the oversight of an overreaching government?

That proposed legislation failed to come to pass back then, but fast-forward four years to now, and they're at it again, with Barton once again leading the call by announcing that he and a fellow legislator are backing a federal political action committee called Playoff PAC, whose mission appears to be to take down the BCS. The stated purpose of the group is this:
Playoff PAC is a federal political committee dedicated to establishing a competitive post-season championship for college football. The Bowl Championship Series is inherently flawed. It crowns champions arbitrarily and stifles inter-conference competition. Fans, players, schools, and corporate sponsors will be better served when the BCS is replaced with an accessible playoff system that recognizes and rewards on-the-field accomplishment. To that end, Playoff PAC helps elect pro-reform political candidates, mobilizes public support, and provides a centralized source of pro-reform news, thought, and scholarship.

The new group “helps elect pro-reform political candidates, mobilizes public support and provides a centralized source of pro-reform news, thought and scholarship,” according to a press release. “Change will only happen when there are more college football reformers in Congress,” the group said.
But again, the question remains this: Is it really Congress' business to get involved in this? Brian Davidson of the National Collegiate Scouting Association makes a good point at the above link when he asks, "Is it the responsibility of Congress to dictate to Universities how they decide sports championships? The schools do receive enormous amounts of federal money in addition to the state revenues that help fund their sports teams. However, if a playoff fails to generate the current amount of revenue won’t taxpayers be called upon to fill the gap?"

As I said last December, we need Congress "fixing" the BCS about as much as we need football coaches making laws (although they couldn't do any worse than the current Congress, but that's another post for another time). Really, it comes down to this: If our elected "leaders" feel like they have time to do this, then they must have solved all the other pressing problems of the nation already. What's that--they haven't? OK, get to work on real business, then, and let the schools and their supporters figure this one out.

But if they really do end up tackling (heh) this problem, we can find some solace in a quote by David Boaz, from a post earlier in the year at the blog Cato at Liberty:
The best thing that can be said for this is that it’s probably actually safer to have Congress screwing around with amateur sports championships than with matters of war, spending, and central planning.
Amen to that.

And if nothing gets done this time, does anyone doubt that we'll be talking about this in another four years?

Friday, October 23, 2009

This Weather Is Cracking Me Up (In a Bad Way)

I've posted in the past about what happens to the skin on my hands when the weather starts to get cold outisde. It's actually morphed over the years; at first, as noted in Fun Facts #42, it pretty much limited itself to the part of my fingers that were involved with snapping (a common requirement for a music instructor, of course), and then, the past few years, it led to my knuckles cracking open seemingly without warning.

This year, it really did come out of the blue (if you think about it, it hasn't been that cold here yet). One middle knuckle cracked open this morning, and by the time I got home, three other places (the "upper knuckles," perhaps--is that what you call the place where your fingers join the main part of your hand?) came open almost one right after another.

I know the usual solution--lotion. I tend to put it on every night before bedtime during the colder months, and I'll certainly start that tonight. But has anyone out there found an additional solution? Again, it seems weird that the whole process started so soon, since a few days of lows in the 40s doesn't really count as "winter" (I haven't had to turn the heat on in the house yet). Any suggestions would be kindly appreciated in the comments.