Friday, July 31, 2009

Lazy Day

This is my first true day off in almost three weeks, and I'm enjoying it to the hilt. Slept in late (for me) and have been lazing around all day. I have some posts to catch up on from the past few days, but I'll do that--along with all the work I was going to get done today--sometime tomorrow. That's what slow weekends are for.

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday to my sister Kristen. She and her family just got back from a fun trip to Colorado--undoubtedly a nice way to escape the scorching Central Texas drought.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

My New Favorite Viral Video Series

OK, this stuff has evidently been around since March, but I just heard about it today, and I think it's great. I'm talking about the video series known as "Auto-Tune the News."

So what is Auto-Tune, and how is it applied to the news? This article from the website Politico describes it thusly:
With his mashup of news, music and video called “Auto-Tune the News,” Michael Gregory is taking political satire into the digital era. “Auto-Tune the News” is the brainchild of Gregory, 24, and his two brothers and sister-in-law. Using the software program Auto-Tune (which is used by musicians — like Cher — to simulate perfect pitch) and a green screen (which places one image on top of another in a video, as in weather forecasts) they’ve produced six videos — which have been viewed at least 6 million times.
Read more:
Want to make it six million and one? Check out the latest one:

(I should point out that Politico needs a better phrase to describe the Auto-Tune software; it doesn't simulate "perfect pitch," which is the ability to hear a note and know what it is. Perfect intonation, maybe? But I bet if you called it "that thing in the Cher song," everyone would know what you were talking about.)

It is interesting to listen to the sing-song cadence of the various speakers whose words have been adapted and realize that it probably didn't take much effort to turn their speech into song. And it appears that, unlike a lot of political satire, ATTN seems to be embraced by its subjects/victims, many of whom embrace the notion of being included in one of the videos. As the creators note in the article, this kind of thing won't last forever (what Internet meme does?), but it's a lot of fun while it's around.

Hat tip: Althouse, where I've probably found out about more amusing pop-culture things (lolcats, Buffalax and the Literal Video Version series among them) than anywhere else.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

More New (to Me) Sounds: Steve Lehman

The Internet is a wonderful creation; you can go on there searching for a particular thing and end up finding something completely unexpected--often delightfully so. In this case, it was a quick visit to Darcy James Argue's blog (since I hadn't been there in a while, and he was our featured artist for the "Listening Hour" portion of big band at the college today) that led me to something new. More specifically, this post--which discusses the possible implications of grant proposals and their possible effect on jazz music--led me to a list of performers whose receipt of grants may have led to subsequent recordings of high quality. The one name I hadn't heard of on the list, Steve Lehman (a saxophonist based in Brooklyn) sent me in search of some new sounds. And once again, I hit the jackpot: Did I dig what I heard? Check. Is the bulk of his catalogue on eMusic? Check. Did the sound intrigue me so much that I stayed up way too late listening to it? Once again, check. (And needless to say, two of his CD's are already loaded into my iTunes.)

Having gained acclaim for both his playing and his composition, Lehman's music has been described by some as being on the edge of avant-garde while maintaining a solid groove. A former student of both Jackie McLean and Anthony Braxton, the styles of those two masters are evident in what he does, even as he takes things in a completely new direction. And his sound is similar to that of a few other modern altoists I've been listening to lately--it's not the Bird sound, or the Phil Woods sound or the Kenny Garrett sound (the latter being quite popular among younger players these days); if anything, it reminds me a bit of Loren Stillman, but the compositional and improvisational differences between the two are many.

The first CD I acquired was a 2007 effort, Of Meaning (Pi Recordings). As with many CD's I've acquired recently, I was drawn to it for the simplest of reasons: I like the way it sounds. But there's a lot going on here: subtle meter shifts, collective improvisation, the use of microtones, and so on. The music grabbed me right away, but I have a feeling that, as more layers are peeled away, there will be even more to like. Among the things that stand out so far are some splashes of minimalism (always a personal favorite) and some tasty drumming from Tyshawn Sorey.

The second CD in my collection is an earlier effort, 2003's ArtificialLight (Fresh Sound Records), which includes Drew Gress (bass) and Chris Dingman (vibes) from the Of Meaning session. Though the opening tune is mostly "headless" (Lehman's alto enters on repeated notes underneath a vibes solo), the bulk of the program is rather tuneful, employing tenorist Mark Shim in tandem with the leader for an enjoyable sonic combination (I've found over the years that if you mix an E-flat saxophone and a B-flat saxophone, the resultant timbre is enjoyable, but combining two in the same key--say, alto and bari--often sounds like, well, bagpipes.)

But the recording that's intriguing me the most is the one I haven't bought yet: It's called Travail, Transformation, and Flow (PI Recordings), released just last month. Not only has Lehman's group expanded to an octet (the Of Meaning qunitet augmented by tenor, trombone and tuba), but the compositions themselves feature something new to these ears: the concept of spectral harmony. As described at the Pi website,
In spectral music, the physics of sound informs almost every compositional decision. Attack, decay, and timbre provide the source material for orchestration and musical form. The most prominent overtones of a given sound – of a clarinet or a church bell, for example – create a rich framework for microtonal harmonies that, with the help of computer analysis, are organized according to frequency relationships, as opposed to the intervals of a musical scale. Individual overtones are then assigned to specific instruments in an ensemble, and blended together to create striking new harmonies.
That's some deep stuff, and we sure didn't study that in Musical Acoustics in undergrad school. But the sounds are indeed striking, and--though it hasn't made it to eMusic yet, I find myself previewing it again and again on various download sites. Anyone want to bet that I cave and buy it at one of those places before it ever gets to eMusic? (UPDATE: I would in fact cave the following day, and the previews are an accurate representation of the album as a whole; it's quite enjoyable.)

So once again, totally by accident, I've discovered an outstanding player who is worthy of my attention (yours too). Time will tell how much of these new sounds will be integrated into my own playing, but for now, I'm really enjoying the listening.

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday to my great friend and virtual brother Mark; celebration ensues tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Christmas in July?

During the last few days of camp, a new CD/DVD/game store opened nearby:

LIke many stores celebrating a grand opening, they rented one of those giant inflatable balloon figures to put in their parking lot and draw attention to themselves from the freeway. But this one was an interesting choice:

That's right, Santa Claus, in the middle of summer. Which begs the question: Did the balloon place run out of giant purple gorillas and patriotically-garbed bald eagles, or did they just give the store an incredible deal on an extremely out-of-season balloon?

At any rate, it amused me enough to come back later in the weekend and take pictures. I can't wait to see what they do for Christmas...

Monday, July 27, 2009

Let's Take a Quick Inventory of My Limbs: Right Arm, Right Leg, Left Arm, Left Conversation Piece

I've learned a lot of things since I injured my knee back in April: How to live life at a slower pace than I'm used to doing (even as it takes forever to go short distances); the sheer amount of everyday things we take for granted (driving, showering, getting into and out of chairs, putting on one's left sock) that at one time were difficult or even impossible for me during the weeks after surgery; and people's reactions upon seeing a handicapped person.

That last part is the most unusual of all this, because there seems to be no middle ground. I've noticed that, in some situations, people haven't been as friendly as they might normally be--sometimes even appearing to go out of their way to avoid me, as if what happened to me were contagious (as noted at the bottom of this post, we had a similar discussion in one of my fraternity seminars regarding the reluctance of some college students to interact with the residents when we were performing at nursing homes, as if "old" were a disease that could be caught), while at other times, the leg is an instant magnet for conversation with anyone who has had a similar procedure done or is related to someone who did.

Yesterday kept bringing on occurrences of the latter: On my way out of church, a guy stopped me in the hallway and asked me the usual question ("Was it your ACL?"), before talking about the time he separated his Achilles tendon and had to spend months in a cast. In response, I got to praise the miracles of modern medicine that kept me out of a cast and put me back in the driver's seat less than three weeks after surgery.

And then at brunch, an old guy walked over from where he was eating with his wife and sat right down in the empty seat at my table to inquire about my condition before launching into a tale of woe about his son (which was truly an unfortunate thing: a knee replacement that didn't take till the third time, and the son contracted an e. coli infection during the initial procedure; yikes!). I got to expound on the fortunate nature of my recovery thus far, and the man wished me the best.

I find this whole thing fascinating, to tell the truth. While I'm not one who needs a whole lot of personal space, if that does happen, it usually involves strangers as opposed to friends or even acquaintances (and most often occurs at walk-up ATMs). Still, thus far, I've had no problems with random people coming up to me and discussing my condition--even the table-sitting guy. (There was also a guy who--after asking permission, of course--prayed over my knee in the middle of Taco Cabana the other day, but I have no problem with adding extra prayers to the mix.) It's intriguing to me that something like a knee injury can bring people together into a fraternity of sorts, breaking down conversational barriers which would have otherwise existed.

And I'm happy about one thing: Everyone else's story seems to trump mine; the people with whom I've spoken have all had, to a person, a worse injury or longer recovery time than I have thus far. And you know what? That's OK with me; I have no problems coming in last in this contest.

Have you ever approached a stranger who appeared to have a similar injury that you have had, or has it happened to you? Chime in by posting a comment below.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Another Tour in the Books

I managed to be home from dinner in time to catch the last 45 minutes or so of the final stage of the Tour de France (as usual, there was not much chance of me watching it live, seeing as how it started at 6:30 in the morning Texas time, so the prime-time coverage would have to do). THere was no real mystery as to who the winner would be, as the final Sunday ride along the Champs-Élysées is strictly a ceremonial ride (they sip champagne along the way, for crying out loud), though the sprinters have fun with it at the very end. Great Britain's Mark Cavendish, acknowledged as "the fastest man in cycling" by pretty much everyone around (including himself, in some interviews I saw; don't get cocky, kid!) took the stage, but it was Alberto Contador of Spain taking the yellow jersey all the way into Paris. Luxembourg's Andy Schleck was second on the podium, and Contador's teammate, Lance Armstrong, was third--really not a bad ride considering 1) he's 37; 2) he's been away from the sport for 3 1/2 years; 3) he broke his collarbone in a race earlier in the season.

And it appears that Lance isn't done; he's already committed to next year's Tour, and he'll be doing so on a new team sponsored by Radio Shack. He's likely to take teammate Levi Leipheimer with him, and it would be a coup if he could somehow bring team director Johan Brunyeel with him, though I have no idea if that's a possibility. As someone who was brought into cycling fandom by Lance (who grew up just a few blocks from the college where I teach), it's great to see him back for a little while longer.

It's been a great three weeks, even if I had to miss a lot of the middle week because of my out-of-town trip (I pause to metaphorically shake my fist at the hotel where I stayed for not having Versus on its cable menu). I'll miss the daily updates, the beautiful European scenery, and the mellifluous tones of Phil and Paul at the end of every stage (but since I now follow both Lance and Phil on Twitter, I may be able to watch some other races that I might not have otherwise known about).

In the meantime, the Cowboys start training camp soon, and the Rangers are twelve games above .500 as of tonight. Oh, and I have more than a bit of saxophone to play. There'll be no shortage of things to do for the rest of the summer. Still, the Tour was a welcome diversion, and I'll look forward to its next run.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Commence Relaxation

The long two weeks of convention and camp have come to a close, and things will be back to normal for a while now. I have one full week of teaching before the high school kids start marching band, and then things will be a little crazy as I work to teach everyone while working around their "two-a-days."

But one thing that I've noticed, as I relax for the first time in a while, is that relaxation itself is more normal than it's been in a while. Since I'm over a month out of surgery now, my condition has improved immensely in the past few weeks. It's easier to get around the house; sitting positions are more varied and more numerous again, and everything in general is less trouble than before. And tomorrow, I hit a big milestone: I'll be able to shower again, after over a month of washcloth baths. It will be a convoluted process (involving changing into my old, pre-surgery brace that's allowed to get wet), but I have a feeling it will be more than worth it. (I'll also return to church for the first time since the surgery.)

This has been a really unusual summer, but it's nice to have the busiest part of it in the books. I'm looking forward to a whole lot of nothing for a significant part of this weekend.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

One of the Most Fun Gigs I've Ever Played

As you may know, there's not a lot of blog time this week, but I had to chime in long enough to say that tonight's jazz camp concert with Gregg Bissonette has to rank up there as one of the best times I've ever had playing music in my entire life. Not only is Gregg an amazing talent on the drum set, eliciting a wide variety of sounds from the kit (among my favorites is when he turned the snare drum upside down and started "scratching" on the snares), but he's also absolutely hilarious, doing all kinds of crazy voices including the obligatory Maynard impression that every Ferguson alumnus (and most of his fans) conjures up whenever the man's name is mentioned. The nearly-packed house added to the excitement of the night (thanks to my cheering section, whoever you were!), and a great time was had by all.

And it's always nice to be carrying a camera around with you in the person of an iPhone, so you can create keepsakes like this:

Me and Gregg

There's one more day of camp left, and then, after two weeks of traveling and generally being busy every day, I can relax a bit on Saturday.

Confidential to Kris: Get well soon! You dodged a bullet there...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Quick Update on Me

I don't have a lot of time before camp, but I have to mention something cool that happened yesterday: I went to physical therapy, and, despite the fact that I really didn't get to do my prescribed exercises at all while I was away at convention, I was able to bend my knee thirty more degrees than I had done at the previous visit! I felt somewhat like a kid who made a good grade on a test without studying (or, as someone noted at camp, like a kid who did well at a private lesson without practicing), but I'm not complaining. And like before, I always come out of PT feeling like a "new man," with increased flexibility and mobility. (The mobility itself is better as it is; I "graduated' to a cane once I got home from the convention, as I'd been using the walker pretty much like a cane--all folded up and to my side--for the last few days as it was.)

Camp is going well so far; I'll try to update here and there as best I can during this busy week.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Let's Wish This Iconic Jazz Educator a Happy Birthday, Starting in "1, 2, 1, 2, 3, 4"

It started around forty years ago: A saxophonist, pianist and jazz educator realized that one important thing about learning to improvise was having access to a rhythm section. But he also realized that it's not always practical to get the rhythm section together at your house whenever you want to practice (as I always say, the drummer alone would eat you out of house and home). So Jamey Aebersold created the very first "play-a-long," which consisted of a record (again, this was 40 years ago) and accompanying book; what's now called Volume I has sold millions of copies worldwide and been translated into many foreign languages.

And it didn't stop there, of course. Aebersold now has over 125 volumes of play-a-longs (dealing with everything from the tunes in a single style, to the compositions of a single artist, to a specific chord progression, such as the blues or ii-V-I's), so much so that, even though other companies make similar products, the name Aebersold has become synonymous with play-a-longs in the same way that many people refer to all facial tissues as Kleenex, all sticky notes as Post-Its, or all large metal trash receptacles as Dumpsters (I've been known to refer to the other companies' play-a-longs as "Fakebersolds"). They're all sold not only in many retail music stores, but also at his own website, which he kindly named for the benefit of people who can't spell Aebersold.

(A lot of people can't pronounce it either--it's EH [rhymes with "pay"]-brr-sold--as I've found out from years of teaching, where students have called them Ambersolds (like the cold sore remedy?) and even Ambersofts [what was that guy thinking?]. But when I related this to Jamey when I ran into him at IAJE a few years ago, he trumped all those with the story of a club owner at a gig who had introduced him as "Jimmy Applesauce.")

Jamey is also known for his distinctive vocal cadence when counting off tunes on the play-a-longs: ONE, TWO, ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR. People have been known to ask him to do the famous incantation on demand, and it can even accidentally slip out as he checks a microphone before a clinic ("TESTING, ONE, TWO..."). Even those who have forgotten the name are likely to remember the voice.

It's not an exaggeration to say that Jamey has changed the face of jazz education. Seeing as how he's been a member of my fraternity for fifty years now, the national organization decided to honor him with its prestigious American Man of Music award (past winners of which include Clark Terry, Van Cliburn and Maynard Ferguson) at our convention last week. In return, Jamey did a clinic on "Anyone Can Improvise" (his pet subject since the first play-a--long came out), played as a guest artist at the convention's big band concert and hosted a jam session at the hotel afterwards. It was at his clinic that we found out he would be celebrating his 70th birthday today, and we all sang "Happy Birthday" to him during the concert.

Even though I didn't get to jam (It would have been hard to bring a horn since I was also toting the walker around), I still came home with a souvenir:

Me and Jamey

(Incidentally, the jam session was fun to watch, with lots of different instruments taking part--in addition to the usual menagerie of saxophones, I saw bassoon, bluegrass violin and two tubas go up there at different times. It was one time I really wish I had a horn with me--or even a mouthpiece, so I could beg my way onto someone else's.)

So happy birthday, Jamey! May your contribution to jazz education continue to grow--but for today, just kick back and bask in the glory of all you've done thus far.

Blowing out some more candles: I'll never forget Jamey's birthday now, since I figured out that he shares it with my brother-in-law. Happy birthday, Justin (and his twin Jef; what is it about today's birthday boys all having names that start with J?), and may you enjoy your upcoming vacation and the chance to get away from sun-scorched Central Texas for a while.

Monday, July 20, 2009


I'm back from convention and in the thick of jazz camp. I'm also as exhausted as I've been in a long time, so I'll have to wait to tell some tales from the trip. Tonight calls for sleep, and now. Hopefully, tomorrow will be better after that

UPDATE: It wasn't so much exhaustion as it was bad food. Taking a while to subside, but I'm getting there.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Travel Advisory

And now the summer starts to get busy. I have both an out-of-town convention and Jazz Camp in my near future, so even when I'm here, I won't always be here (how's that for a Yogi Berra paraphrase?). Blogging will be light on some days, and nonexistent on others. I have signed up for Blogger's mobile feature, so we'll see how that works (if nothing else, I'll test-drive it a time or two), and you can always check out my Twitter feed if you're wondering what's up.

Monday, July 13, 2009

I'll See Your Environmental Snobbery and Raise You My Water Snobbery

In a Dallas Morning News op-ed over the weekend, a guy named John Guilford decided--after a mission trip to Honduras, where the water is often unsafe--that we take our water quality for granted and ought to all give up bottled water and return to drinking from the tap:
The trip had its challenges, not the least of which was an expulsion of the president within hours of our return flight. But by and large, it was a great experience. We left with a feeling of kinship and support for our brothers and sisters in Honduras. We also left with a feeling of relief in not having to use bottled water exclusively.

One of the first things I did upon my return to Dallas was to drink long and deep from a water fountain. Such devices are non-existent in developing countries such as Honduras. Other water-based luxuries that we take for granted, such as ice in our fountain drinks or slushed drinks from the convenience store, simply are not to be found. Even if these things were available on the streets of Tegucigalpa, for example, virtually no one would use or buy them because the public water supply is full of bacteria and parasites.

With all this in mind, why is it that so many of us in the United States still purchase and drink bottled water? Our cities and governments have spent billions to provide us safe, drinkable water at pennies per gallon. Many cities and towns tout their "Superior" public water supply ratings. Yet I am regularly amazed when I see people shell out a dollar or two – for filtered tapwater, in many cases.
Well, I can only speak for myself, but I have several really good reasons for preferring bottled water: 1) My tap water tastes awful. 2) I go through a lot of water on an average teaching day, and the bottles are the most convenient way to keep a whole lot of water cold and in nice, compact portions (I can't imagine slobbering out of a cooler all day, much less having to carry the thing around). 3) I only spend five bucks for a 24-pack that lasts a week or more, which is more than worth it to me. 4) DId I mention that my tap water tastes awful?

Guilford laments the fact that people dispose of 60 million plastic bottles in the U.S. alone on a daily basis. But I'm happy to report that not one of my bottles contributes to that number; I recycle each and every one of them. I suppose I could invest in either one of those expensive filtering devices for my kitchen sink or a (likewise somewhat pricey) filtering pitcher for the fridge, but that still doesn't solve the problem of how to apportion the water in a compact, easy-to-carry container that can go with me during the teaching day.

So maybe, at the end of the day, I'm a water snob and Guilford is an environmental snob. The difference is, I'm not trying to encourage everyone to do things my way, and it appears that Guilford is. But as Glenn Reynolds said at Instapundit today, "environmentalism is mostly about posturing--it's not about sacrificing." (Unless, of course, you're calling for someone else to sacrifice something.)

So what's your favorite water source--the bottle or the tap? And what would it take to make you change? (I've already noted, on several posts from my Vermont trips over the years, that if my own tap water tasted like Burlington's--more specifically the cold, clear kind from the wonderful water fountain in the basement of the Flynn Center--I'd own a single refillable bottle and carry it around all day. But, seeing nothing akin to Lake Champlain outside my window, I'm not expecting that to happen anytime soon.)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Tour Away from Home

I've posted about the Tour de France on this blog for pretty much as long as I've been a blogger (so much so that I've decided to make it a category tag and will go back and append it to all the other posts later). There were times when I had to settle for little thirty-minute or hourlong updates every day, and even one year when we barely got that, thanks to the Tour moving to what was then an obscure cable channel that wasn't carried by very many systems. Nowadays, of course, the former Outdoor Life Network has morphed into Versus, and the coverage is outstanding both on TV and online.

But as I said on Twitter a few days ago, the Tour has taken on even more meaning for me this summer as I've recovered from my surgery. Having regained the ability to drive only yesterday, those nightly three-hour recaps on Versus have helped me keep my sanity during a long period of time where I couldn't go anywhere at night and where, by and large, friends weren't able to come over here on a regular basis. (Having West Coast Rangers games start not too long before the end of those broadcasts added to the enjoyment, even if that would keep me up past midnight every night for most of the past week.)

So why do I love the Tour so much? Let me count the ways:
  • I like cycling. Unlike most sports that I watch, I have actually participated in cycling before, and will likely do so again once I'm all healed up. It's an enjoyable way to get exercise, there's definitely a social aspect to it if you meet up with the right people, and, while the DFW area may not be the most bike-friendly, I'm pretty close to some rural-type roads that would be fun to ride (even if a few of them are about to be bisected by the Bush Turnpike extension). And I've ridden enough that I can understand what the riders are going through, even if the very last-place entrant would mop the floor with me in a race.

  • I like Europe. As I said on the Fourth, it's been ten years since my trip to Montreux, but a lot of the memories are indelibly etched in my mind. There are a few places in the States that may come close, (hello, Vermont!), but no place I've ever been can compare to Europe in terms of natural beauty and really cool architecture. Watching the villages and towns that the riders pass through is as enjoyable to me as watching the race itself (and it's a goal of mine to be over there during the Tour at some point, watching from the side of the road).

  • Lance is back. I've been a Lance Armstrong fan since 1993, when he was a young rider out of Austin (with roots in Plano) riding in an American race called the Tour DuPont (no, really). I followed him through all seven of his Tour de France wins, and I was pleased to see him try it again; needless to say, I'm thrilled to see him in contention at the moment).

  • Phil and Paul's coverage rules. The team of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen are some of the most outstanding commentators in any sport. It's not just their cool British accents or Phil's amusing phrases (known as "Liggettisms"); it's the knowledge and enthusiasm these two guys bring to the table. If listening to Phil call the end of a stage doesn't energize you, you're probably not breathing. (The only negative I can say about the Versus coverage this year is that we don't seem to get very much of Phil and Paul in the prime-time show. Maybe they're on more in the morning--I'm either sleeping or teaching during that point--but the nighttime show only offers an appetizer of them instead of a banquet. And while the American team of Craig Hummer and Bob Roll aren't bad--though Hummer drives me nuts when he repeatedly invites viewers to tune in the next day for expanded coverage "with Bob and I"--it's just not the same. If you have the masters at your disposal, you oughta use 'em.)
The Tour goes on a rest day tomorrow, and then my own summer gets a bit busy for a few weeks, so I won't be able to catch as much of the coverage as I have been this past week. But I'll be checking for highlights every day, and it appears that I'll be able to catch either the beginning or the tail end of each stage no matter what.

Thank you, Tour--you've made my recovery go a lot more smoothly so far.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A LIttle Spring Cleaning at the Blog

You may notice a slightly different look to The Musings today. First of all, I finally switched over to the Layouts feature (which puts me only about a year behind the curve, I suppose), which allows easier editing of the template on my end and a much easier way to scroll back through old posts on your end (just click the "Older Posts" link at the very bottom of the main page). While I kept the same general template, there's a considerable splash of green in the sidebar now, and some things are organized in a better fashion--especially the previous years' archives, which are now neatly rolled into a single link for each year, with clickable access to individual months within those years. (I also like the fact that they list the number of posts for each year; I had no idea until now that I hit my height of blogging in 2007, with 342 posts.)

Since a lot of my friends are not actively blogging right now, I also merged the Friends' Blogs section into an expanded Blogroll, and I updated the Other Cool Sites section with a lot of things that I've been reading lately, such as Labelscar, Not Fooling Anybody and, of course, I Can Has Cheezburger?--none of which had been represented over there, even if most of them had been quoted in the blog at some point. And if you're into extreme geekery, you might notice that blockquotes now have green text on the same color background as everything else, as opposed to the black text on white background that was used in the past.

This whole thing made me curious as to when the last time was that I made any major template changes to this blog. Believe it or not, it was May 10, 2004, so I guess you could say it was about time.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the slightly new look.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Today's Visit Left Me in Out of Stitches

I usually chime in on how the healing process is going whenever I go see the doctor, and I did that today, so here's the update: Things are going as planned; the doctor is very happy with how everything looks. The staples around the incision came out, and I can already feel an increased freedom of movement even while immobilized. I'm now able to sit with my knee at a 45-degree angle (I'm still walking with it locked down to zero for the foreseeable future), and that allows something else to kick in: Driving an automatic transmission. This is huge, of course, because I've been relying on others for transportation for the past two and a half weeks, with the result being that 1) opportunities to run even the most routine errands are few and far between; and 2) I've been stuck at home a lot for the past few weeks, with the expected boredom as a result. So starting tomorrow, I'll be able to get regular stuff done and give myself a change of scenery when needed.

I don't go back to the doctor for another six weeks now; by that point, I should be quite far along in physical therapy and hopefully ready to ditch the brace at that point. With classes at both the college and the public schools starting the week after that next appointment, the timing couldn't be better.

From here on, I'm hoping that everything is pretty much routine recovery stuff, so I'll probably go back to blogging about regular topics for most of the time.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Least Surprising Headline of the Week

From a blog post by Mickey Kaus; Everybody Hates the Teachers' Unions Now.

What spawned this headline is a report from the Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights on the struggle to implement education reforms, thanks to teachers' unions seeming to thwart the process every step of the way.

Kaus concludes his post with this paragraph:
The report follows up a much heralded establishment call for reform in 1996 that was endorsed by two union presidents. But it notes that in the twelve years since, "few of the necessary reforms" have been put in place. ("Twelve years--the entire length of a child's education--is a long time.") In other words, it implicitly serves as an argument against trying to reform the schools in cooperation with the unions, and in favor of trying to reform the schools by defeating the unions. ...
That seems like a good plan to me. As I've said in the past, I"m no fan of unions in the first place, and that sentiment grows exponentially with regard to professions. And teaching is a profession, not a trade, so I've never quite understood why people would want to treat it like a trade. Professions shouldn't have unions, and my best argument for this comes in the form of a question: When's the last time you saw doctors go on strike? My answer would be "never," and that should be the way that teachers conduct themselves.

(And if you're wondering how I, as a musician, have avoided the union issue....well, the answer is that I've simply never joined. There was one time in college when I was playing a lot of society gigs, and there was a chance that I could have gotten more of them if I'd joined the union. but I was always waiting for the point when the money I would be making would outweigh the dues and be enough to convince me to go against my beliefs and join. And yes, I consider music to be a profession as well, and let me reiterate: Professions shouldn't need unions.)

As I've said here many times, I'm a big fan of the productive class (especially in contrast with the unproductive class and its ugly subset, the parasite class). So my big problem with unions in this context is that their very existence helps make people in the productive class less productive by demanding things that people should really be earning, or not, on their own merit. If the teachers' unions really are hindering necessary reforms because such reforms would make things less cushy for their members (or, more likely, the union leadership itself), that is wrong, and it would be wise for teachers to jettison such "representation" and get down to the task at hand. And it's worth noting that, if my "administrators must teach" proposal ever got adopted somewhere, that place would have no need for a teachers' union, because the so-called "management' would also be part of the "labor" force.

(I should mention that some of the report's suggested reforms seem to imply an over-reliance on standardized tests, something which I do not favor, but that's another post for another time.)

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Opposite of Progress Is...

I've been disappointed in the government many, many times over the years, but now I'm thoroughly disgusted at more than a few members of Congress. According to CNS News (via NewsAlert, h/t Instapundit), the House Majority Leader openly admitted that very few in Congress actually read bills before voting on them--even the really big ones like the health care "reform" bill that's winding its way through the process:
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday that the health-care reform bill now pending in Congress would garner very few votes if lawmakers actually had to read the entire bill before voting on it.

“If every member pledged to not vote for it if they hadn’t read it in its entirety, I think we would have very few votes,” Hoyer told at his regular weekly news conference.

Hoyer was responding to a question from on whether he supported a pledge that asks members of the Congress to read the entire bill before voting on it and also make the full text of the bill available to the public for 72 hours before a vote.

In fact, Hoyer found the idea of the pledge humorous, laughing as he responded to the question. “I’m laughing because a) I don’t know how long this bill is going to be, but it’s going to be a very long bill,” he said.
This is an outrage. In a just world, Hoyer would resign immediately after owning up to this garbage (or his constituents would kick him to the curb in the next election), and the same would apply to anyone else who voted on something without reading it.

And for those who might say that there wasn't time to read everything before it's voted on, my reply would be to make the time. After all, that's your job--not enriching your own pocketbook, or getting reelected, or stroking your own ego. We pay you way too much of our money for you to give anything else than your maximum effort. You are here to serve, and it's high time you start acting like it.

Obviously, I am in complete agreement with the above pledge, which every member of Congress should be required to sign at the beginning of each session, with criminal penalties for lying about it. (Yes, this is hardcore, but I believe in holding those who are paid by public funds to even higher standards than those in the business world.) And I also think that the member-by-member results of every vote should be available online within an hour of its taking place. (And while I'm on a roll: No riders to bills. Each proposal is voted upon strictly upon its own merits; no more stunts like trying to sneak an environmental proposal into a funding bill for troops in Afghanistan.)

If all this sounds unrealistic, because it would cause a lot less to get done during any session of Congress, well....I consider that a feature, not a bug. I don't want Congress to spend all of our money (and then some) every session; I want them to carefully pore over every detail of any piece of legislation they intend to pass. In other words, I want the exact opposite of what's been happening now to occur in the future.

And if these kind of constraints would appear to discourage people from entering a career in government? That's the idea as well. The Founders never meant for anyone to spend an entire career at the public trough. My idea, as previously stated here, would be for anyone desiring to work in government to first learn a useful skill and find employment in the productive class, then lend that expertise to government for a brief time (no more than ten or twelve years) and then return to the productive class afterwards. That way, nobody gets drunk with power, and their time spent in Washington is actually put towards public service instead of self-service.

That's my vision of America. Who's with me? (And hey, Marylanders: Please do us a favor and send Hoyer home next time. No amount of pork brought to your home district is worth the type of damage that he and his ilk are doing to the country.)

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Hey Rangers Fans: Show Some Kinship with Kinsler

If you're a baseball fan, you know that the All-Star team lineups were announced on Sunday. You may have also been surprised, as I was, to find out that the guy who was in the lead at second base, the Rangers' Ian Kinsler, lost that lead at the very last minute to the Red Sox' Dustin Pedroia.

But there's still a chance that Kinsler could be in St. Louis next week, because he's been chosen as one of five players on the American League "Final Vote" ballot (the National League has five as well, each of whom was selected by the respective All-Star teams' managers). So if you want to show Ian some love, go here and tell your friends. As the TV spots say, vote often!

I was surprised to find out that you really can vote as many times as you want; the limit for voting for the regular team was 25 times online, but (having not seen the commercial before I voted the first time) I figured this might be a one-off. But after I voted, it said "vote again," so I did, again and again. It wasn't until I was pretty sure I had already voted 25 times that I wondered if 1) the rules were different for this, or 2) the software was malfunctioning and all my votes would be negated anyway. (I was glad to hear it was the former.)

At any rate, if you're a Rangers fan, go online and give Josh Hamilton and Michael Young some company next week. (And if you're not a Ranger fan, you've probably skipped over this post anyway, LOL.) Voting ends at 3:00 this Thursday, Texas time.

UPDATE: Kinsler missed it by just a little bit, losing out to Brandon Inge of the Detroit Tigers. (KInsler said in the linked article that the division race is more important to him than any individual honor, so it's no big deal.)

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: But there will be a third Ranger in St. Louis next week; Nelson Cruz will join the squad as a replacement for the Angel's Torii Hunter, who recently had to go on the disabled list. Cruz was the next-highest vote-getter among AL outfielders.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Good News for a Sleepy Monday

Did you have trouble feeling alive this morning? Did you love the "java jive" as much as it loved you? Well, maybe you should; new research from Florida shows that coffee may help reverse memory loss from Alzheimer's:
The Florida research, carried out on mice, also suggested caffeine hampered the production of the protein plaques which are the hallmark of the disease.
Previous research has also suggested a protective effect from caffeine.
It might be amusing to see the caffeinated mice running around all hyper and everything. But this is something that would be good if it could be replicated in humans.

It's funny--I wasn't much of a coffee drinker until the end of undergrad school, when I did my student teaching under a couple of band directors who went through a large can of Maxwell House in less than a week (I know this, as I was sometimes the guy sent to get more if they ran out). The coffeepot was a popular gathering place for band directors and private teachers alike, and it was the first time I'd ever seen that type of camaraderie in a school situation. (I even had a designated much, which read "If At First You Don't Succeed, Change the Rules.") And the "kick" of the coffee really did help make it through a long teaching day.

But when I got done student teaching, it was still in the pre-Starbucks era in Texas by a few years, so I went back to the monstrous sports bottle of Dr Pepper to get me through my radio shows, though I would sometimes have a cup of coffee and a donut or two on my way to teaching (the quirk of my commute at the time was that I could leave an hour and a half before school started and be there 45 minutes early, or leave an hour before school started and, more often than not, be late). I may have even had a hand-me-down coffeemaker at home, but I didn't know how to use it and didn't realize it was as easy as it is.

So when did I become a Coffee Guy for good? While I had Starbucks every Saturday before work and every Sunday before church once they came to town, it would still be a little while before it would become a part of my morning ritual. That happened ten years ago this coming fall, when I played a wedding gig in Austin that lasted way longer than it was supposed to. Long story short, we didn't have a hotel room and had to drive back to Dallas at one in the morning. That prompted a stop at an Exxon Tigermarket, which introduced me to the first really good gas station coffee. I would stop at one of those stations every morning after that for the next five-and-a-half years, until I started making it at home. I always joke with the students that you wouldn't want to come in for a lesson until I'd had my morning coffee, and there's probably some truth to that.

And it's now been two weeks since I've been to Starbucks, two nights before my surgery. Not being able to drive has given me extreme cabin fever, and the usual cure for that--going to Starbucks to read for a while--requires, well, driving. I bet you can guess one of the first things I'll do once I'm mobile again...

Sunday, July 05, 2009

A Sunday Smorgasbord

All the news that's fit weird enough to link:
  • I didn't catch this till after the Fourth, but it's still funny: Someone took the most interesting parts of the Consumer Product Safety Commission's fireworks safety video--where they blow up mannequins to make their point--and set it to Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture for maximum effect.

  • A video of "class memories," made by a California elementary school teacher and sent home with students, accidentally contained six seconds of the teacher having sex. (I hope that wasn't one of their class memories!)

  • Meanwhile, a Connecticut sitting at home heard her mother screaming and thought she was being assaulted; she rounded up four friends, who went in with a baseball bat and beat the "assailant" senseless. Only then did they find out that Mom was just having sex with the guy. (And wouldn't the moral of this story be to wait to do that until your kid's not home?)

  • Police in Jacksonville, IL are confused as to why someone keeps hanging their dirty underwear on street signs.

  • A newlywed man, married only a week, decided that his wife was taking too long in an airport bathroom, so he got on the plane without her. (Now she wants a divorce.)

  • And finally, a house fire in Australia was said to have started when a cat peed on a laptop.
I probably have five days before I can drive again, so I'll try to do regular blogging--on topics of more substance than this--throughout the week.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Happy Fourth!

Some random thoughts as I celebrate a fairly quiet Independence Day:
  • It's been a tradition for the past three years for me to go see the fireworks down the street at Firewheel, but my injury is keeping me from seeing fireworks of any kind, unless a neighbor shoots some out of their yard. But even if I were more mobile, I'd have to do my 'works watching somewhere else, as the city decided it didn't have the funds to put on even one day of a "Star-Spangled Fourth" this year. I knew that the fireworks were some sort of joint venture between the city and the town center, and while Firewheel is doing several things for the Fourth this year, fireworks are not among them. So here's hoping that, by this time next year, both my knee and the city budget are significantly better.

  • Of course, you can always make your own fireworks display if you want. (I"ve been linking to this little java app for years, and I'm always glad to see it every time.)

  • Ten years ago today, I was standing atop Rochers-de-Naye in Switzerland, while on a trip to the Montreux Jazz Festival. I was wearing one of those Old Navy flag T-shirts at the time, and that tradition continues unabated to this day (and unlike last year, I planned ahead and got one well in advance). I still get a kick out of thinking about all the schoolkids back in '99 who, when they found out I was spending my first Fourth out of the country that summer, asked me if "they have the Fourth of July in Switzerland." Their calendars, I'm happy to report, don't exactly skip from 3 to 5 or anything...

  • I'm not the only one sticking close to home tonight; according to the Dallas Morning News, a lot of people in the DFW area are "staycationing" this year.

  • Also from the DMN, a video profile of a local family, the Matzkes of McKinney, who operate several area fireworks stands. One of the things I found most interesting is that they also run Christmas tree stands at that time of year, and they're planning to try Halloween pumpkins as well. Entrepreneurship is definitely something that makes America great. (More on the Matzkes here.)

  • There are a lot of people out there today who love their country but are extremely frustrated with their government. Instapundit has a roundup of pictures from Tea Parties across the country. (If I were mobile, I might well go to the one up the road at Southfork, updating on Twitter all the while. Maybe next time...)
    UPDATE: Further scrolling finds an the one in Rowlett held yesterday. I probably would have gone to that one, too.

  • Amidst all the pageantry, it's easy to forget why this day is being celebrated. Scott Ott of Scrappleface may be a master of satire, but he slides into serious mode to do an eloquent reading of the Declaration of Independence; listen here. As he says on the linked page, "Let the children hear this daring Declaration. Refresh yourself with its boldness. Recommit today to its principles. Remember your heritage. Live the freedom."
May we all live that freedom on this day. Have a great one!

Friday, July 03, 2009

Home Tweet Home: Does Social Networking While on Vacation Compromise Your Safety?

As noted here last month, I took the plunge and started using Twitter. I've also done plenty of blog posts--with pictures, in recent years--while out of town. But is this sort of behavior a bad idea? Some security experts think so:
Like a lot of people who use social media, Israel Hyman and his wife, Noell, went on Twitter to share real-time details of a recent trip. Their posts said they were "preparing to head out of town," that they had "another 10 hours of driving ahead," and that they "made it to Kansas City."

While they were on the road, their home in Mesa, Ariz., was burglarized. Hyman has an online video business called, with 2,000 followers on Twitter. He thinks his Twitter updates tipped the burglars off.

"My wife thinks it could be a random thing, but I just have my suspicions," he said. "They didn't take any of our normal consumer electronics." They took his video editing equipment.
Yeah, that could certainly have happened for a number of reasons. But the experts do have some good points:
Most people wouldn't leave a recording on a home answering machine telling callers they're on vacation for a week, and most people wouldn't let mail or newspapers pile up while they were away. But users of social media think nothing of posting real-time vacation photos on Facebook, or sending out automatic e-mail messages that say, "I'm out of the country for a week."
This is true. But it seems especially unlikely to be burglarized by your Facebook friends, especially if they're old friends from high school or college whom you've known forever. Twiiter might be a different story, since anyone can sign up to follow you without your having to approve it first.

I think the jury's out on this one; some people are likely to be more vigilant after reading this article, while others are a bit more carefree:
"I don't worry about it," said David McCauley of Boise, a social-media consultant who posts a running update of his activities for his Facebook friends. McCauley also communicates constantly on Twitter, where anyone can sign up to read your posts.

"If somebody really wanted to rob me, they could rob me whether they're Tweeting about it or not," McCauley said. "Most people who want to follow you [on Twitter] are typically not thieves, or they're not looking to take your stuff; they just want to follow you and understand you."
I'm not sure how I feel about all this; I guess we'll have to see what happens the next time I go out of town.

Another Step on the Road to Recovery

I just returned from my first post-surgery trip to the doctor. I've been de-mummified quite a bit (the long bandage that went from my thigh down to midway around my foot is no more, replaced by a gauze covering the affected area), and I can now sit with my knee at a slight angle, which is already infinitely more comfortable than keeping it in the same locked-down position from which I still have to walk for about another month or so. (This also means i can finally sit in the front seats of cars again, instead of sprawled across the back seat, which makes trips to the college or the doctor much more enjoyable.)

I'm probably still a week away from being able to drive a car--an automatic, not the Kevmobile yet, but I have a temporary swap worked out with a friend--so I'll still be a bit of a homebody for a while, but the time has been passing pretty quickly so far. All in all, for a week and a half after surgery, I'm pretty happy with how things are moving ahead.

More updates, of course, as things progress.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Your Money Isn't Good Here Anymore... least if you're driving the President George Bush Turnpike. As of yesterday, the toll road was switched over to all-electronic toll collection, also known as ETC. (I understand that some of the portable signs that were flashing the message ALL-ETC BEGINS JULY 1 were confusing to some people who thought ETC meant "et cetera.") This means that it's no longer possible to pay tolls in cash on the highway; your choices are now either to get a TollTag (which is what the North Texas Tollway Authority wants you to do) or have your license plate recorded by the readers and get a bill for it later; this process is known as ZipCash.

While the NTTA has a brief explanation of ZipCash on its website, it doesn't answer the question of how frequently those customers will be billed. Elsewhere on the site, it states that ZipCash "will generate a mailed invoice after several transactions have occurred." I have to think that, when all is said and done, it's likely to be a monthly thing; it seems like it would be a ridiculous waste of paper, postage and workforce to send a bill any more frequently than that.

This is not the first time that an all-ETC tollway has been used in Texas; the Westpark Toll Road in the Houston area has been all-ETC since its opening (which meant that I wouldn't have been able to drive on it back in the days when the Houston and NTTA TollTags weren't configured to "talk" to each other yet; what a pain that was), and the tolled sections of State Highway 121 (is anyone calling it "the Sam" yet?) opened as an all-ETC facility in this area. But the Bush is by far the longest section of roadway to do this in the Metroplex at this point.

I should point out that I don't have a personal dog in this hunt; I've been a TollTagger since 1997, when I started using the Dallas North Tollway to get to church. (When I bought my tag, I asked if it was going to be valid on the George Bush when it opened a few years later, and the lady behind the counter said, "The what?") I've never had any problems with NTTA's customer service, and I was really happy to learn a few years ago that the toll collectors who were about to be displaced by the all-ETC switch were given the option to be retrained for other positions within the organization. And with this switch, I'll never have to gripe at someone in front of me who slows down in order to pay cash (I tended to refer to them as "those lame money people") anymore. But I do hope that the NTTA will be very careful to keep updated records of the registered owners of cars so that people won't be sent bills for tolls incurred by vehicles they no longer own. (WHen I got my new car last year, I was required to take the license plates from the old one and put them on the new one; I think that's a fairly recent state law, and it seems like that would solve quite a few problems of that kind.)

There is one glitch that has yet to be solved: The NTTA does not yet have an agreement with the state of Oklahoma to get drivers license information from pictures taken of that state's plates. So what happens? Well, Oklahoma drivers drive for free, at least for now.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Are the Boys Back?

After a great start to the season, the Texas Rangers had a pretty mediocre June--losing more games than they won, losing first place in the AL West to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (that's still a mouthful), and, with a Monday night loss to those same Angels, falling two-and-a-half games behind. Things weren't looking too good.

But last night's game, a 9-5 victory, was encouraging, with the Rangers belting five homers. it was a more nervewracking game than it should have been (the team gave up a pair of ninth-inning runs to make the score as close as it was), but it brought the Rangers back within a game and a half.

And tonight? Tonight just wore me out. I sat down to (late) dinner as the Rangers piled on the runs and took what should have been a decisive 7-2 lead. Then I also watched that lead continue to dwindle to...nothing? The Rangers are going to have to bat in the ninth? (Frankie Francisco, what went wrong tonight?) Let's not stop the momentum from last night's game...

Well, they sure didn't; Hank Blalock's two-run walk-off homer put a smile on the face of player and fan alike. Stiil--wow, guys, that was a little scary!

So the team is back to within half a game as the Angels leave town. The teams will meet again soon (next week, if I recall), so there's a chance for this yo-yo of a summer to go up and down again. But tonight, there's hope. And even though at least one local columnist may be skeptical, there does seem to be something special about this team in comparison to past seasons. I can't wait until I'm mobile enough to go to some games this year...