Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Year in Blogging

I don't normally do any sort of year-end wrap-up, but I got the idea from Althouse to do a sort of year in the life of the blog post, wherein I list what I consider to be either the most noteworthy or at least my favorite post from every month. Like Althouse, I may not do this all at once, but I'll at least get started now...

JANUARY: Bureaucrap
FEBRUARY: This Car Would Really "Whiz" Along
MARCH: I'm Giving Them a Dressing-Down for This One
APRIL: Umm, Yeah, I Think Somebody Made a Mistake Here
MAY: Anniversary in Rhythm
JUNE: Remembering Tasha
JULY: Flora and Fauna 101
AUGUST: Too Young to LIsten?
SEPTEMBER: One Final Trip to Birdland*
OCTOBER: Survey Says...Who Cares?
NOVEMBER: Art Imitates Life?
DECEMBER: A New-School Idea

*I had to pick this one, since it's become the most-read post in the history of the blog.

And while I may not do any reviews of the year itself, I'll steer you towards my betters: Here's Dave Barry's Year in Review and James Lileks' predictions for 2007.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Register Your Home Theatre? That's Outrageous!

I heard about this on the radio last night and had to Google it, and sure enough, I found the story:
The MPAA is lobbying congress to push through a new bill that would make unauthorized home theaters illegal. The group feels that all theaters should be sanctioned, whether they be commercial settings or at home.

MPAA head Dan Glickman says this needs to be regulated before things start getting too far out of control, "We didn't act early enough with the online sharing of our copyrighted content. This time we're not making the same mistake. We have a right to know what's showing in a theater."

The bill would require that any hardware manufactured in the future contain technology that tells the MPAA directly of what is being shown and specific details on the audience. The data would be gathered using various motion sensors and biometric technology.

The MPAA defines a home theater as any home with a television larger than 29" with stereo sound and at least two comfortable chairs, couch, or futon. Anyone with a home theater would need to pay a $50 registration fee with the MPAA or face fines up to $500,000 per movie shown.
Ready to write your Congressman yet? Not so fast...

You see, the article is a hoax. It's on a site called, and it specifically says that "BBspot is a satire news and comedy source and meant to be funny. If you are easily offended, gullible or don't have a sense of humor we suggest you go elsewhere."

Of course, it says that at the very, very bottom of the page (below the banner ads, sponsored links and the like). A lot of people took the bait, including the national talk-show host whom I was listening to last night. I only heard a short segment, so I don't know if anyone called in to correct him or not. Now there's even an article about it on, the urban legends debunking site.

But unlike stories from some sites that are clearly satire (The Onion, Scrappleface, etc.), this one roped me in for a second, because it didn't seem that far outside the realm of possibility. As you know, I"ve been ranting against the Machine of Big Music for almost as long as this blog has been in existence, and after reading true stories like how the RIAA filed a lawsuit against a grandfather here in Texas over the downloading activities of his visiting grandchildren and the whole flap over Sony BMG's copy-protection software on its CD's that damaged users' computers, it wouldn't be all that surprising if the movie-industry Machine tried an even more outrageous tactic. (It was also interesting to me that, while researching the above links, I found out that I've met the grandfather who got sued; he played trumpet in my big band at jazz camp this past summer. If I'd known he was that guy, I would have loved to have sat down and talked about it with him; I bet it was a great, if frustrating, story.)

So don't worry, you're not going to have to pay a registration fee to show movies in your house anytime. But hopefully, a story like this will remind people that the Big Content Providers are still being dragged kicking and screaming into this new era of technology; with any luck, they'll devote their energies to adapting to this new reality instead of lashing out at the very people they depend on to buy their products.

Stupid criminal of the week #1: A Florida man hired a taxi to drive him to his bank robbery.

Stupid criminal of the week #2: A carjacking suspect got hopelessly lost while fleeing in his stolen vehicle, crashed the car twice and ended up having to call 911 on himself.

Stupid criminal of the week #3: A guy tried to avoid paying for two hot dogs at a convenience store by stuffing both of them in a single bun. When the clerk called the police on him, the dog-napper was also busted for failing to pay child support.

Friday, December 29, 2006

A College Town from Scratch

I read an interesting article a few days ago, and it goes nicely with the discussion that regular commenter Gary P. and I have been having about "new urbanism" in the comments to a post from last week. The article talks about the efforts of officials in Storrs, Connecticut--the home of UCONN--to build a "college town" around the campus, where none exists at the moment:
The University of Connecticut's main campus boasts a string of new buildings, thanks to a multibillion-dollar infusion of state cash. The student body is growing. And there are two powerhouse basketball teams that bring big-time sports to a rural corner of the state.
There's one thing, however, that UConn doesn't have: a college town.

So it has decided to help build one from scratch - complete with shops, restaurants, hundreds of apartments and even a traditional New England town green.

The project exemplifies the growing interest of colleges and universities in their surrounding communities. Many have realized that a building boom of dormitories, student centers and libraries isn't enough. Students don't want an "ivory tower" experience; they want to be part of broader communities that offer commerce, culture and cuisine.

But while many colleges are working to expand or revitalize nearby neighborhoods, this project may be unique in that it is trying to construct one anew.

[...]Most colleges, even small rural ones, have grown up around a town or spawned one, as businesses opened to keep students supplied with books, pizza, beer and coffee.

Thanks to accidents of geography, infrastructure and municipal history, that never really happened here. Even though 20,000 people attend school on campus, the tiny village of Storrs is little more than a handful of businesses in a strip mall, a post office and a dateline for stories about the basketball teams.
Read the whole thing. As I said in the dialogue with Gary, I'm a pretty big fan of the "new urbanism" concept. Here in my own neck of the woods, I think that Firewheel is a far superior alternative to the traditional enclosed mall, and places like Southlake Town Square west of the airport and Sugar Land Town Square near my parents' house (both of which feature a new City Hall, condos and a nice hotel in the mix) have done a lot to give these otherwise-faceless suburbs a sense of urban-ness, and they've also served as great gathering places that were previously missing from the local landscape.

I will concede that Gary has a point in one of his previous comments:
I read a column once on the web -- wish I would have bookmarked it -- that across the country all these new booming suburbs are so preoccupied with manufacturing histories that don't exist (with the land devlopers lined up to take money for the privilege) at the expense of ignoring or marginalizing the real histories that are there.... celebrating the illusion rather than the reality.

I liked Merry Main Street better when it really was on Main Street walking in and around all the old buildings and remembering what it looked like 50 or even 80 years ago (Scotty P's Restaurant has pics of OLD Main Street from WAY back in the day). The new place is newer and there's more room, but there's also a disturbing sameness in the shade and patterns in the brick, the uniformity of the heights and dimensions of the buildings, the sizes of the freshly-planted trees.... it's like the difference between Main Street in Anytown, USA, and Main Street at a Disney Theme Park. We spend lots of money to celebrate the sameness and homogeneity of the illusion presented by Disney while we ignore Main Streets back home.
But on the other hand, isn't it better to have a "history" that seems artificial now, but will serve as part of the actual future history of the town, than to have nothing? As I also pointed out, Frisco Square wouldn't have fit in the existing downtown, nor would Firewheel have fit in downtown Garland. Certainly, these new developments may cause a decline in the original downtowns, but it was a decline that was already well in progress before the new places were built. Rather than neglecting history, I'd call it a chance to write the first chapter in a new one.

I also said one more thing in the previous comment section:
I agree with you that there may be a certain sterility about the "new urbanism," but sometimes that's what it takes to get people out of their fenced yards and gated communtiies and actually be around other people, and that's not a bad thing.

[...]Call it an all-too-typical suburban mentality, but you can count me among those who like the urban setup without the "grit" (assuming that "grit" can be defined as not having to smell garbage, step over bodily fluids on the ground, worry about getting mugged, etc.). Does that make me shallow? I hope not. I just think that making the suburbs look more urban, while avoiding the aforementioned "grit," is the best of both worlds.
And I suppose it's a shame that, despite my affinity for new urbanism, I can't actually vote for it with my feet. The Firewheel condos under construction sure seem enticing (and if money and job situation allowed, I'd live in the Brownstones at Southlake in a New York minute) but, being a musician who needs to practice and teach at all hours of the day, I could never give up my own four walls unless I had one of these in my living room.

I don't know if anyone besides Gary and myself have an interest in this subject, but I figured it was post-worthy. Feel free to add any of your thoughts in the comments.

Heartwarming holiday story #1: A Pensacola family bought themselves some new bikes for Christmas, but they were stolen from the front yard. The couple posted a sign that reflected their disappointment, and a few days later, an anonymous benefactor left an envelope with $200 inside at their front door.

Heartwarming holiday story #2: A woman in Connecticut had a white Christmas, thanks to a loving daughter who collected Zamboni shavings from a recent hockey game and spread them all over Mom's front yard.

iCan'thandlethismuchtraffictoday: Due to an overwhelming number of people who got iPods and store gift cards, the iTunes Music Store nearly got overloaded on Monday and Tuesday. (My own iPod is still pending.)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

There's a Mouse In My House, and Other Stories

Once again, my post for the day originated with some comments I made elsewhere--in this case, Dave Barry's Blog, where there's a post that links to this story about people coming home to find a rat in their toilet, which is evidently a regular occurrence in Salem, Oregon.

A lot of people shared their stories of rodents in the house, so I was compelled to share mine...

Rodent Story #1:
In the last apartment I lived in, I was shaving one morning when I felt something run across my feet. The sensation of fur on flesh is not something that one expects at 6 a.m., so I looked down at the floor and saw what appeared to be a blonde rat scurrying over by the bathtub. I went after it with a broom, with the objective of simply sweeping it off the (second-floor) balcony and letting it sail through the air across the courtyard. But before I could do so, I realized that perhaps it might be a hamster, and someone's pet at that, and it managed to hide itself in a little recessed area of my fireplace.

After I got home again that night, I went and asked my neighbors behind me if 1) they had a hamster, and 2) if said hamster was missing. The answers were yes and yes. It turns out that our respective kitchen cabinets backed up to each other, and there was a hole in between them through which the hamster would pass whenver it got out of its cage.

Over the next few months, I ended up catching that thing several times, usually by scooping it up with a dustpan and into a paper grocery sack, which it never seemed to find a way to tip over and escape. One time, the neighbors weren't home, so I simply left the upright bag on their porch, where the hamster remained until they got back.

Rodent Story #2:
When I had moved out of that apartment and into a rental house, I came back from a long weekend out of town, opened the lid to my toilet, and was quite surprised to find a mouse in there, crawling up around the rim. Needless to say, I flushed quickly and often to ensure that it made it all the way back down to the sewer. I don't know for sure if it drowned in the process, but if not, it sure had a heckuva story to tell its fellow sewer-dwellers.

Have any rodent stories of your own? Post 'em in the comments.

(And yeah, I know, it's fairly cheap to make two consecutive days' worth of blog posts out of stuff I've posted on other blogs...but look at it this way: your favorite TV show is probably in reruns right now, but at least I'm posting new content, no matter how spread around it might be.)

The Taco Bell cannon: One of Dave's commenters linked to a totally hilarious video, the Pachelbel Rant. (When I used to work in a music store, I would always have people who wanted to buy a copy of the Pachelbel Canon, but many of them would ask for the "Taco Bell Cannon" instead, as well as the "Bronze [meaning Brahms'] Lullaby.)

Strange brew, part 1: (Since I'm sharing my post with Dave Barry's Blog today, I figured my news stories should be about one of Dave's favorite subjects--beer.) The police department in Bennington, Vermont, in an effort to curtail drunk driving during the holidays, is issuing pint glasses with the department's logo on them to local bars and restaurants.

Strange brew, part 2: Meanwhile, next door in New Hampshire, a man who was pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving continued to drink beer during his arrest.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Are Composers Musicians?

That's the sub-topic of an Althouse post today (the other half of the topic is "musicians who died 'too young,'" for which I added my name to those who put Charlie Parker on their lists). There are a lot of different opinions in the comments; I said my piece by responding to two previous commenters:

Theo: "Is a jazz musician a composer, even though he/she riffs on someone else's tune?"

Sanjay: "Theo asserts that a jazz improviser is, in fact, a composer. Well, sure, I think most people would agree that he's at least doing something improvisational, as is a classical performer during a cadenza. But I think a more complicated is a jazz composer, a composer? "

My reply:
I think the answer to both questions is "yes." I teach a class in improvisation at my college, and one of the first things we tell the students is that improv is defined as "spontaneous composition." What we're really teaching people in that class are the principles of composition--knowing the chords, their functions and how they relate to each other--so that they can come up with new musical material in real time. To me, that's definitely composition.

(I'm certainly not saying that everything the improvisor comes up with will be completely original--everyone has a certain "bag of tricks" that is relied upon in a pinch--but the chances of someone playing an exact replica of a previously-played solo are slim, at least since the "Swing Era.")

And writing a jazz tune is definitely composition, even if it's only a "head" (the main tune). By establishing a certain melody, harmonic rhythm, groove, etc., the composer is giving a specific set of instructions to the soloist(s), who, while coming up with original material, are likely to at least stay somewhat faithful to the composer's intentions (though some tunes are certainly adapted in unusual ways by others, which makes arrangement into an even bigger subset of composition than it already is).
Sanjay also provides a link to an essay by Brad Mehldau on the subject, from the liner notes of the recent Mehldau CD House on Hill.

What are your thoughts? Please respond in the comments.

Next, they'll be saying "y'all" and serving chicken-fried steak in Chicago: There have now been confirmed armadillo sightings in Illinois.

Cheers to the bus driver, bus driver...kid? A Florida teenager has been arrested for driving a stolen city bus; even more unusual is the fact that he was already on probation for doing the same thing with a tour bus earlier.

When Teddy Ruxpin goes bad: Two students who made a movie about evil teddy bears that attacked their teacher were expelled from school, but a judge has ordered them reinstated.

Remembering #38: R.I.P., Gerald Ford, who was much more than the Chevy Chase caricature of him on Saturday Night Live. There's also a nice essay about him over at Althouse that's worth your time.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Let There Be Even More Lights

It took two tries, but I found the house here in Sugar Land where they have a light show synchronized to music. Dad and I made it almost all the way there on our little excursion this evening, but we didn't have the street names, and he decided to turn back because it was a long day for everyone. But on my way back to the hotel (OK, I did a slight detour) and armed with the actual directions, I decided to take the chance that their lights were still on at 10:15 at night, and I wasn't disappointed. (I don't think I have that many readers in the Houston area, but if you're down here, this house is worth your trip; a map to the place may be found here.) It looked like there were several other neighborhoods in the area that had some good lights, and some of them also featured some huge houses. I hope they're on for the rest of the week.

Otherwise, here's some random stuff from Christmas of '06:
  • Most of the time, my family has turkey or ham for Christmas dinner, but this year, we had pork roast and smoked duck. Both were very good. (I also had the restraint to avoid joking with my two older nephews that the duck we were eating was one of the ones we'd been feeding an hour or two before dinner; I didn't think that would go over too well.)

  • We also had an unusual appetizer: Roasted garlic on crackers. I liked it so much that I'll probably be able to ward off any nearby vampires for a good week or so.

  • Someone's bound to ask about "the take" (i.e. what I got for Christmas). Despite the disclaimer that I wasn't expecting much this year (since the very MacBook on which I'm typing this post served as a "birthmas" present), I did get some kitchen stuff, a new computer chair for the studio room, and my usual Rangers tickets (and heads-up to the usual crowd--there is a game on my birthday this year!).
  • I also got a pretty substantial certificate from Amazon. Between friends and family, I now have been given $160 towards the purchase of the iPod I hope to buy before the New York trip in a few weeks

  • Oh, and I wasn't too thrilled that the Cowboys lost today.
I think that's about it; hope your day was joyful and relaxing. Feel free to post what you got for Christmas in the comments.

Sign song of the apocalypse: The smooth "jazz" radio station here in Houston (yes, they still have one), did a holiday not-so-special: 30 straight hours of G-weasel Christmas music. I wish I were kidding, and I'm glad my parents were nice enough to switch to the other all-Christmas radio station whenever we were in the car together.

Remembering the Godfather of Soul: R.I.P. James Brown; so many genres of music owe you a debt of gratitude.

One more chunk of holiday oddness: It's the Weird Crimes of Christmas.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Wet Christmas

SUGAR LAND--Christmas greetings to all of you who so celebrate, from here in soggy Sugar Land (it's a good thing this place isn't really made of sugar, or we'd have to call it Syrup Land today). It's nothing like two years ago, when it was snowing at this point in time, but the car thermometer read 46 degrees when we left church about an hour it's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas, at least in a rather non-Houston sort of way.

On the surface, it's a very different Christmas for me, because I'm typing this from a hotel...which means that it's the first Christmas, ever, that I'm not sleeping at Mom and Dad's house on Christmas Eve night. But as I said before, it's really no big deal, because I get the quiet night of sleep, with lots of space to stretch out; if I'd been at the house, it would be sleeping bag time on the living room floor. (And honestly, with the righteous number of presents that my three nephews are getting, there wouldn't really be room for me to crash there anyway.)

At any rate, it's been a mostlly chill time around here; I spent some time at Sugar Land Town Square (there's that word I can't type again) and the adjacent First Colony Mall today (the latter of which has done something very smart by appending a town center-like section that goes out from the parking lot almost all the way to the actual town square, which, like Southlake, has a hotel and City Hall among its amenities). All they need now is a literal bridge between the two places and they're good to go--instant downtown in a former company town that never really had one. (For a brief history of Sugar Land, read this post from 2003.)

I'm not sure how it was in your neck of the woods, but the frantic last-minute holiday shopping wasn't nearly so crowded as I thought it might be; perhaps the fact that it was a Sunday helped things in that respect. (And if you're wondering, I didn't actually save any shopping till the last minute; rather, there's this coupon from a major department store that my mom gets every year for $10 off almost anything in the store. The coupon always expires on Christmas Eve, and she always gives it to me for a little present for myself. This year, I got a pair of dress pants--meaning "something without cargo pockets"--for ten bucks. Good stuff.)

I played background music in the narthex before the last three services at Mom and Dad's church tonight; it seemed to go over pretty well. The timing of that meant that I didn't get to sing with the choir as I'd done in previous years, but it also allowed me to sit with Mom at the 9 p.m. service; the rest of the gang were sleeping or resting at the house.

(It was interesting to note that the narthex took on a sort of Starbucks-like atmosphere this evening: Over in one corner were tables filled with cookies and cupcakes, while the other side had a guy manning a cappuccino machine and myself in the background. There was also a small bookstore behind us that was open tonight. In fact, the lady who runs the bookstore told my dad that one of her friends had called her from Las Vegas while she was working. The friend heard the saxophone wafting in the background--yes, I'm pretty sure I wafted a few times tonight--and said, "Wait, I thought you were in church!" When the bookstore lady said that she was in fact in church, saxophone soundtrack and all, the friend said, "Wow, I want to go to that church!")

As I got near to the hotel, the CD ran out in the car; that allowed me to pop in Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas right before the car clock hit midnight--my favorite Christmas CD to start one of my favorite days of the year.

I have more to talk about, but I'll save it till later; one of the things about sharing Christmas with really little kids is that they like to start early. I'm due back at Mom and Dad's at 8 a.m. (*yawn*), so my quiet night of sleep will also be short (just like the nights-before-Christmas of old when I could hardly sleep from the excitement of Santa's visit, except I've transferred that to the nephews). I'll post again in the morning or later on at night. In the meantime, I wish you a most joyful day today.

Yes, Virginia...: I'm usually not a big fan of polls, but I'm happy to acknowledge this one from the AP stating that Santa Claus is alive and well in our hearts here in the USA.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Travel Advisory

I'm about to hit the road for Sugar Land here in a few minutes to visit the parents for a few days. I'll have the MacBook with me while I'm down there; with this being the (every other) year for my sister and her family to visit down there as well, I'll actually be sleeping in a hotel on Christmas Eve and Christmas night. (But don't feel bad for me; it's a nice enough place--all of us in my quartet stayed there when we played at Mom and Dad's anniversary bash in June--and it will be quieter, more spacious than the floor I'd be sleeping on at the house, and it has free breakfast and wi-fi.)

If I don't get a post going tonight, I'll have one tomorrow for sure. And if you're on the road or in the skies today as well, have a safe and happy trip.

UPDATE: I'm here in Sugar Land, no weather problems and only a bit of traffic on the trip (save for the fact that the "bit" could also be called "the entire greater Conroe area"). I'll do a new post when I'm on my own computer at the hotel tomorrow night; for now, I'm just chillin' at Mom and Dad's.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Light Stuff

Since my semester ended yesterday, I have finally been able to make the trips to see almost all of my favorite displays of Christmas lights here in the Metroplex. On Monday night, we caught the display at Springpark, just up the road on the Garland/Richardson border. As I've mentioned in an earlier post about local lights, Springpark has a lot of cul-de-sacs, which lend themselves to being made into "theme" streets, and this year's installment didn't fail to please. I've been coming here for a good ten years now, and I've got the trip down to a science (as in I can catch the whole neighborhood with a minimum of doubling back). My favorite street (and that of the judges) had the theme "The stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas." There were stars galore, hanging from the trees and what-not. Despite not arriving until around 10 p.m., most of the lights in the neighborhood were still on.

Last night took us to two places, and the first one was new: Frisco Square (it's the new downtown that Frisco is building, about half a mile down the road from the original downtown and right across the street from Pizza Hut Park). I'd read about this in the paper: A local resident who's become well-known for a computerized light display at his house (and for running a company, Illumimax LLC, a big national holiday lighting consultant), and the result is really cool. The 70,000 lights are synchronized to four different pieces of music (including one each from the obligatory Christmas bands, Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Mannheim Steamroller), which is broadcast on a low-power FM station and through speakers throughout the square (if we'd known that at the time, we'd have actually gotten out of the car). The lights flash and dance around on both of the retail/apartment buildings and the ornate new City Hall. The whole thing was rather amazing, especially if one pondered the amount of programming that had to have gone into the display. (We also wondered if the people in the apartment buildings ever experienced Pokemon seizures from having the lights go on and off like that all the time.)

There are plenty of other activities going on at the Square, a list of which may be found here. We heard the announcement (broadcast between each of the songs) that they would be showing The Polar Express on an inflatable outdoor screen on Saturday night, but with a forecast low of 37 that night, it might be a bit more "polar" than many families will be able to stand. Still, it's a great addition to the holiday light tradition, and it's great to see that they have so many family activities planned.

Our next stop was Deerfield in Plano. This has been a must-see on my holiday calendar ever since my first visit. The houses are very large, and most people go all-out for the lighting display. It's not uncommon to see limos going through there, and they even have a horse-carriage service that specializes in the area. One of the first houses we passed at the front of the subdivision had a sign decrying vandalism of some sort, and indeed, some sort of a snowman was down in their front yard. And while I certainly hope that vandals don't defile the beauty that is the Deerfield display, we also noticed quite a few inflatables that seemed to have partially or totally fallen down on their own accord (or fallen victim to the recent windy weather); some of them were raring back on their heels as if tipsy, so we started referring to them as "drunken snowmen." It became a running joke throughout the night as we continued to see them; one of the snowmen appeared to simply have face-planted into the grass.

This year, the animation craze has hit Deerfield as well; the Zephries house at 4540 Old Pond (no invasion of privacy here; the address is also published in the paper and on its website), which has 75,000 lights synchronized to a variety of tunes (again over low-power FM radio), including the same Trans-Siberian Orchestra song ("Wizards in Winter") used by the guy in Ohio whom I posted about a year ago. Old Pond is already one of the longest and most-decorated streets in the subdivision, and this amazing display caused the traffic to back up quite a bit more than usual, but nobody seemed to care.

I was hoping to find their display on YouTube already--a sign out front did say, "Smile--you're on camera!" after all--but not so far, though I did find a video of last year's home display of Jeff Trykoski, the guy who did the Frisco setup; I need to catch this one live too. I also found a YouTube link for Carson Williams' Ohio show from last year for those of you who, like me, don't have WMP. (For pictures of last year's Deerfield display, go here.)

UPDATE: The Old Pond house also has its own website.

All in all, it's been a great year for lights once again. If you're in the Dallas area, you can read about these lights and many others in this article from the DMN Guide.

Open season on Frosty, part 1: While vandals didn't mar the Deerfield display, others around the country haven't been so lucky. In the Detroit area, two sisters in their 30's were caught stealing Christmas lights and an inflatable snowman from another person's yard.

Open season on Frosty, part 2: In the Houston suburb of Friendswood, two adult men (one of whose name is Partridge) were caught stealing decorations from three homes and ripping a hole in an inflatable Frosty in the yard of one of the houses; they said they were stealing to support their drug habits, and they were caught after they ran a red light on their way out of the neighborhood. (Oddly enough, Frosty was riding shotgun in the vehicle at the time of the suspects' apprehension.)

Open season on Frosty, part 3: In the only case I've seen so far that actually involved teenagers, two 18-year-olds in Cincinnati were charged with stabbing a 12-foot tall inflatable Frosty with a screwdriver.

It would have been even more unusual if their names were Mary and Joseph: Greg Barnett and Candy Belcher met while doing a live nativity five years ago, so I guess it's only appropriate that they got married at one as well.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

It's Holiday Time at Last...But What WIll It Look Like Next Year?

As of 10:27 this morning, my teaching responsibilities for the semester have come to a close. This whole short week (my students officially get out tomorrow) has been pretty much pointless; their regular classes have been either taking six-weeks exams (at the schools that are on trimesters and not taking finals this week) or doing absolutely nothing; at least the bands have been playing, so I never had to interrupt someone's card game or nap to get them to take a lesson.

But by and large, everyone's brain has been somewhere else this week (including mine), and I think the reason is that it's Just Too Late to Still Be In School. It's five days before Christmas, for crying out loud! Nobody's mind is in the game this week. I was actually able to get a good chunk of my shopping done between the end of school and now, but I feel for the kids in school (sya, the ones who have after-school jobs) who won't be able to start theirs until tomorrow.

I thought about this whole thing in terms of the new calendar that the State of Texas is requiring schools to start classes during the last week of August beginning next school year. The big debate, of course, is whether to set it up so that the fall semester ends before classes dismiss in December or to pick things up in January and have maybe a week to study before giving exams the second week back. Each side has an up- and a downside: Most of the school holidays (fall break, long Thanksgiving) in the fall semester would have to be elminated in order to get done in December, but, on the other hand, extending the fall semester into January causes many more problems than it solves.

I suppose some may disagree with the previous statement, since it appears that at least a few districts have announced calendars for next year that place fall semester finals in January, but let's look at it this way: How much of a "break" would winter break actually be if the students had exams looming two weeks afterwards? (it was much the same for me in college every Thanksgiving break, when I always had to practice for juries--that's end-of-semester playing exams for you non-music majors--which were either the week we got back from that break or the week after that.) And from where I sit, as a private music instructor, it's doubly worse, because the January exams (at least the one time our district did this) ended up being about three weeks before solo and ensemble contest. That meant that, as we were making the big push towards a performance, the students were having to put extra time into their academic classes and ending up with much less time to practice; it also meant that nearly an entire week was interrupted, schedule-wise, by the exam-only days, early dismissals, and so on.

And as I've said before, I don't feel that it's the state's business to tell individual districts when to hold the school year; that's a local concern that should remain under local control. And I'm especially not happy that the state's decision seems to have been pushed heavily by the entertainment industry (amusement parks, etc.), which was griping about losing business when some districts started school in August. That's no way to run a government.

So, students, enjoy this break, because it might be very different a year from now.

The cat's out of the bag: A judge has dismissed the case of the 14-year-old boy accused of harassing a neighbor by meowing at her.

He should get a lump of coal in his stocking for doing this: A sheriff's deputy in Orlando has been catching speeders by dressing as an elf and clocking them with a radar gun.

Here's a hump-day special: A Christmas party at a riding school in Ireland had to be postponed after a camel that was participating in the party ate 200 miince pies and drank several cans of Guinness that were supposed to have been served to guests.

Blowing out the candles: Happy Birthday Dad! As I've noted before, I always felt bad for him having a birthday so close to Christmas (preferring my June one, which spreads the gifts out evenly over the year). When I was a kid, we'd simply take a present out from under the tree, tell him "Happy Birthday" and then take him out to dinner on his own credit card (Mom was a stay-at-home mom, and my McDonald's salary would hardly have bought him even the ugliest of ties).

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

And Now for the News

It's been a busy couple of weeks, and I haven't had time to keep up with one of my favorite sources for the oddball little news stories that I usually place at the bottom of posts--Dave Barry's Blog. But now I've caught up, so I'll devote this post to a bunch of those stories as well:
  • I mentioned a few days ago that I finished submitting grades for the college. Here's a guide to grading exams (purely tongue-in-cheek, of course) from a law professor.

  • Toy review: One of my favorite columnists, James Lileks (and his daughter Natalie) review a new toy: the Blue Man Group Percussion Tubes and Keyboard Experience.

  • A chronically unemployed German man ran into an important politician in Berlin and proceeded to badger him about the apparent slowness of reforms aimed at lowering unemployment. The polltician took one look at the guy (unshaven, in need of a bath, punk haircut, nose rings) and said, "If you would just wash and shave, you'd find a job, too." So the guy did just that, and now he's gotten multiple job offers.

  • Politically incorrect beer name of the season: Santa's Butt Winter Porter.

  • Speaking of beer (and England, where Santa's Butt is brewed), British scientists have come up with a technical explanation for the "beer goggles" phenomenon.

  • One more from England: the war on terror has now turned liquid-centered donuts into contraband on airplanes.

  • And finally, the story of a parent who may have overreacted a bit: A 12-year-old kid in South Carolina opened one of his Christmas presents early, so his mother had him arrested.
I have just one more short morning of teaching left tomorrow, and after that, I'll definitely be able to get caught up on the posts that have been sitting unfinished for a few weeks.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

It Was in the Cards for Today

With my teaching at the college finished for the semester and the grades submitted, I was able to devote part of today to my annual old-school holiday tradition: the addressing of Christmas cards. As I noted a few years ago, I'm just on the cusp of the generation that sends Christmas cards vs. those who use other types of greetings (e-cards, etc.). Actually, I cater to both demographics; I'm sure I'll send my close friends e-cards on Christmas Eve as well. But the actual mailed cards needed to go out with tomorrow's mail, and, since I have two somewhat full days and a half-day of teaching this week, I knew that today was the day to get this done.

As I said in the earlier post, my parents are big Christmas card senders; one of the first things I do when I get to their house is look through the giant basket of cards that they've received. My card recipients fall into categories similar to theirs: Almost all married couples, mostly over 50, about 1/3 relatives. My e-card list will probably equal the "snail card" number this year, but there is something to be said for the permanence of those cards, vs. the ones in your inbox that can be sent away with a simple click of the "delete" button.

I sometimes wish I had a little more time to do this--write a slightly longer note about what's been going on this year and all that--but I've noticed that everyone else is pretty busy as well, so the one- or two-line note seems to be the norm from those who send me cards.

I noted before that today's enhanced communication allows us to keep in much better touch with our friends and also to regain contact with old ones who had flown off the radar screen for a while. I wouldn't trade that convenience for anything, but I still have a place in my heart for the printed card, so I don't see that tradition going away anytime soon.

So how do you send greetings to friends and relatives during the holidays: Printed cards? E-cards? AIM or text messages? Or does it depend on the recipient? Feel free to chime in using the comments.

The modern equivalent of writing 500 sentences on the board: A South Carolina man who parked illegally in a handicapped spot was required to stand outside the store with a sign apologizing for what he had done.

This car needed a handicapped spot itself: A West Virginia man whose car "needed some work" decided to try to drive to the auto-parts store on three tires and a rim. Needless to say, he didn't get very far.

Nobody's gotten their goat yet: In an earlier post, I recounted the story of the giant straw Christmas goat in Gavie, Sweden, that had been the target of vandals so many times that it was covered in a flameproof material this year. Now, I'm happy to report that, thanks to that treatment, the goat has survived the first attempt to burn it down.

A special gift for the person who has everything: How much would you pay for a rare $1000 bill? One anonymous collector just shelled out $2.3 million for the privilege of owning one of only two known examples.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

A New-School Idea

I read an interesting article in the paper yesterday that outlined a possible way to change the entire landscape of high school in this country:
The report from the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce touches on all aspects of education, but some of its most unusual proposals would end America's nostalgic attachment to the four-year high school.

The report calls for a rigorous 10th-grade test that would allow those who pass to leave high school after two years and go on to technical or vocational training or academic work in preparation for a four-year institution.

The upper-level students left in high school would either be teens in remedial classes working to pass the exam or youngsters pursuing challenging academic work to enroll in state universities or land a spot at more elite institutions.
The commission's entire report may be found here; I haven't been able to read the site's summary of the report yet, but I plan to do so over the break. I can predict that some of the proposals outlined in the article--including raising teacher salaries by abandoning traditional teacher retirement systems in favor of 401(k) plans and the like--will be controversial, but at least someone's been thinking outside the box.

As far as the main proposal goes, it seems like a decent idea on the surface. There's been a running joke between me and a few of my high-school senior students that since they've already passed the TAKS test (that's Texas' standardized test that starts in third grade and eventually serves as the exit exam during the junior year), the school might as well have already given them their diplomas and said, "Have fun in community college." But while we were at least somewhat kidding, it appears that the panel is suggesting just that.

(As I've noted a few times, I'm no fan of the TAKS and its ilk, because it results in too much time spent "teaching to the test" instead of actually teaching people how to think and learn, and if it trumps everything else in terms of successfully completing high school, as it does in Texas, where you can pass all your classes but fail the TAKS and thus not graduate. But if passing the TAKS would actually let people graduate right then and there, I'd be likely to change my tune.)

So how would the influx of 16- and 17-year-olds affect the community colleges? From where I sit, it wouldn't be all that much different than now. We've had high-schoolers in most of my ensembles for as long as I've been teaching at the college; indeed, many of them have been my own students and their friends--future music majors or minors who wanted to hone their skills in a higher-level environment than their own high school ensembles often provide. Sure, there have been the occasional absentee issues (through no fault of the students' own), such as being on band trips or having Thursday night football games, that caused them to miss rehearsal a time or two, but there's never once been a situation involving a perceived lack of maturity in a high-schooler enrolled in any class of mine. Our school has a fairly large "concurrent enrollment" program where juniors and seniors can start college coursework while still in high school, so this idea is by no means exclusive to the music wing. There might have to be provisions made if the younger students actually left home and lived on campus, but all in all, I'm all for anything that makes the community colleges stronger and thus gives me more teaching opportunities. (For a slightly differing plan that's based on a similar idea, read this article from earlier in the year about a program that would combine the last two years of high school with the first two years of college; these "early college high schools" would also use the community colleges to achieve their goals.)

As always, such a radical idea won't get implemented without a fight (much like my Administrators Must Teach idea, which doesn't even have the benefit of a blue-ribbon panel behind it), but I'm glad that someone is thinking about this, and I hope that it becomes the subject of extensive conversation, because this may well be an idea whose time has come.

Oh deer, part 1: A hunter in Wisconsin bagged a seven-legged deer totally by accident (it ran across his driveway and accidentally got hit by his truck). The animal also had both male and female reproductive organs; what would you call that, a "duck" or a "boe"?

Oh deer, part 2: A guy got into a road-rage argument with another guy, who came after him with a most unusual weapon: deer antlers.

An idea whose time probably came long ago: New York transportation officials are seeking to ban alcohol on commuter rail lines.

Schroeder would approve: Happy Beethoven's Birthday! As I've mentioned before, I once had a party for him in high school; thankfully, Mom had us arrange a few candles into the shape of however many years old he was, rather than having us actually put 200-whatever candles on the cake.

Friday, December 15, 2006

He Really Was in a League of His Own

R.I.P. Lamar Hunt. Far from being the stereotypical "rich sports team owner," he was a sports team owner who just happened to be rich.

The man's list of accomplishments is astounding: Founder of the American Football League, and a key player in its successful merger with the NFL; brought both professional soccer and tennis to the U.S.; attended the first 67 Cotton Bowls without interruption, until his illness slowed him down a few years ago. Oh, and he coined the name "Super Bowl" for the championship game in pro football. And yet the man had no discernible ego, and his home number was listed in the Dallas phone book.

Read some nice tributes to Hunt from DMN sports columnists Tim Cowlishaw and Rick Gosselin, as well as an archived story from 1959 (is the Internet cool or what?) about the AFL's founding.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Maybe PC Should Take a Holiday This Christmas

Count me in as one holiday celebrant who's tired of the Scroogeness of the political-correctness crowd; can't we find some remote island to send these people to until the season is over? (Maybe we could call it "The Island of Misfit Thoughts.') Here are two stories making headlines these days:

Exhibit A: The Sea-Tac "holiday tree" flap. This story could be about either 1) another politically-correct attack on Christmas, 2) a public-relations blunder from both sides of an issue, or 3) both: The "holiday trees" in Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac in all future references) were temporarily removed last week after a local rabbi threatened to sue the airport for not allowing him to construct and light an 8-foot menorah in the same place. The airport officials decided to punt, by taking the trees away completely.

The locals didn't take this lying down, of course; calls and emails to the airport ran 99-1 against the decision to remove the trees. After a day of nonstop questions from reporters, the rabbi backed down on his threat to sue, and the airport returned the trees to their original positions on Monday.

Now, it could be said that the rabbi has a point; here's a quote:
"Everyone should have their spirit of the holiday. For many people the trees are the spirit of the holidays, and adding a menorah adds light to the season," said [Rabbi Elazar] Bogomilsky with Chabad Lubavitch, a Jewish education foundation headquartered in Seattle's University District.

"People should have their Christmas trees back up and we should have a menorah standing in the airport," said Bogomilsky.
But it's also somewhat understandable that the airport officials saw a "slippery slope" and feared that if they allowed the menorah to be erected, they'd also have to accommodate every other religious group who made such a request.

Still, there's one small technicailty here: A Christmas tree isn't a religious symbol. Yes, Christmas is at its core a religious holiday, and it has its own special symbol: the Nativity scene. Notice that this was not the symbol that had been displayed at Sea-Tac. The Christmas tree has its roots (pun not intended, I swear) in things like pagan celbrations and the winter solstice, and many people of all faiths, or no faith at all, have co-opted this symbol for this holiday. Let's face it, there are a lot of people who celebrate Christmas without giving much or any consideration to the Christ portion; call it "Xmas" if you wish. ( I'm not saying this is a good thing, mind you, but it does show how the Spirit of the season can reach out and touch those who don't believe.) Even the fact that the airport had called them "holiday trees" should have been a dead giveaway that they weren't trying to emphasize one religion over another.

Here's the bottom line: A bunch of people overreacted, but now, cooler heads have prevailed. The rabbi will work with airport officials to have a menorah included next year; I hope nobody else decides to sue for not being included, or the lesson will not have been learned.

There's lots of good discussion of this story at Althouse and Captain's Quarters. I'll let Captain Ed have the last word here:
Is this a lesson for those who insist on stripping Christmas from the holiday season? Of course it is. It shows how the attempts to dilute the religious nature of Christmas have given rise to widespread frustration and offense among customers and constituents. However, this particular case is more of a lesson about customer service and bureaucratic overreaction. Had someone just talked to Bogomilsky in the first place, this never would have happened -- and how difficult would it have been to include a lighted Menorah to honor Chanukah, anyway?
Exhibt B: The "half-offensive" Yuletide carols being sung by a choir: This one also comes from the Left Coast, where ice skater Sasha Cohen was signing autographs at a holiday show. Among the performers was a local high school choir, who must have been rather taken aback when a city official accompanied by a police officer (!) ordered the choir to stop singing Christmas carols because Cohen is half-Jewish and "might be offended" by the carols.

Of course, Cohen herself was shocked to find out about the officials' action:
Cohen, who is half-Christian and "celebrates everything" during the holidays, learned only through news reports that the choir had been cut off on her account, the 22-year-old skater's mother and manager said.

"Sasha was stunned. We both thought the voices were just lovely, they were doing such a wonderful job," Galina Cohen told Reuters. "Christmas carols are part of celebrating the holiday season."
The mayor has since apologized to the choir, but to those of us on the outside, the whole thing is just another example of excessive political correctness, the so-called "War on Christmas" and all that. (Oh, and the inherent idiocy of bureaucrats, of course. Is it any wonder that the city official took a cop along with him when he had the students stop singing? They probably would have laughed in his face otherwise.)

As I said earlier, the forces of commercialism have co-opted Christmas into a holiday that can be celebrated by anyone, regardless of religion. Anyone who's offended by a reference to Christmas, or a purely secular symbol thereof, should remember that, here in the U.S., we don't have a Constitutional right not to be well it should be.

Judge make benefit for Borat: Speaking of people named Sacha Cohen, a judge has denied the request of two college students to have their scene in the movie, in which they made drunken and sometimes racist comments, deleted.

One more about eveyone's favorite Kazakh: Who would pay more for car insurance--James Bond or Borat? A company specializing in "insuring the uninsurable" does the math.

But this kid's insurance will now be more than either of theirs: A teenager in Indiana was clocked by police at 142 mph on the highway; he said he was hurrying home so his parents wouldn't be mad at him. Umm, I bet they're pretty mad now...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

More Glory to the Green?

As I went through my email inbox tonight after a long day away from the computer, I noticed that a few messages were from my alma mater, UNT. The first one said that a new football coach would be named tonight (you may recall that the previous one, Darrell Dickey, was dismissed rather unceremoniously right before the end of the season). A few messages later, I was very pleasantly surprised to see that the job is going to Todd Dodge, the most successful high school coach in Texas at the moment.

If you follow high school football at all, the name of Dodge will be a familiar one; he's head coach of the defending state champion Southlake Carroll Dragons, who are 96-11 during Dodge's tenure, 77-1 since the school was elevated to Class 5A, and two games away from yet another state championship. UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal had this to say at the press conference tonight:
"The goals and standards that Coach Todd Dodge has established for his football programs are exemplary, as evidenced in his record of successes and national reputation," Villarreal said. "He has a passion for the Mean Green, and we are confident that he is the coach to elevate North Texas’ football program."
But even though Dodge's recent success has been at the high school level, he's no stranger to college football or to UNT, having served as the Mean Green's offensive coordinator in 1992 and '93.

I for one am really excited about this hire, and I hope that it will bring Mean Green football back to its glory days of a few years ago (when the team ran roughshod over the Sun Belt Conference and attended four straight New Orleans Bowl games) and beyond. (And it would also be cool if Carroll's junior quarterback Riley Dodge decided to follow his dad northward for the '08 season.) I've been a non-attending fan of Carroll football for a while now, and this makes me ponder the thought of attending their playoff game against Allen this weekend.

Some thoughts from other area coaches (from the email I received tonight):
Bill Parcells, Dallas Cowboys head football coach
"From someone who has followed Todd's accomplishments for the past few years, I would say he is a coach who knows how to put together a successful operation and compete at a high level for an extended period of time. He has built a team and a philosophy that has staying power. In my personal dealings with him, I was impressed with his knowledge of the game, his dedication to the profession and his desire to succeed."

Mack Brown, University of Texas head football coach
"Todd is a credit to both the University of Texas and the high school coaches in this state. He's a great coach and an even better person. A coach is a coach at any level, and Todd understands the role of the coach. He's had a lot of success and touched a lot of lives, and he is going to continue to do that. It will be a great fit for him, and North Texas is lucky to have him."

Gary Pinkel, University of Missouri head football coach
"This is a great hire for North Texas. Todd Dodge is obviously a proven winner and a great motivator of young men. His offensive knowledge and his development of young quarterbacks is as good as anyone I've ever seen. I'm sure he will have great success and be a tremendous asset to the university."
UPDATE: Read a nice profile of Dodge from the Dallas Morning News.

It's the principal of the thing, part 1: A school principal in New Jersey promised to spend the night on the roof of the school (and shave the school's logo into his hair) if his students read 10,000 books in a specific period of time. The students did, and the rooftop campout took place on a night when temperatures plunged into the 20s. (He's all thawed out now, and none the worse for wear.)

It's the principal of the thing, part 2; An Albuquerque high school principal could face charges for taking a student to get a haircut without asking the parents' permission.

It's the principal of the thing, part 3: A former Catholic school principal has pleaded not guilty to charges of sexual exploitation for kissing three students' feet last spring; he claims it was simply a payoff for losing a bet on a student/faculty volleyball game.

Monday, December 11, 2006

In This Case, The Teacher Needs Some Teaching

I couldn't let this story pass by without comment:
School administrators gave a 4-year-old student an in-school suspension for inappropriately touching a teacher's aide after the pre-kindergartner hugged the woman.

A letter from La Vega school district administrators to the boy's parents said he was involved in "inappropriate physical behavior interpreted as sexual contact and/or sexual harassment" when he "rubbed his face" in the aide's chest while hugging her.

DaMarcus Blackwell, the boy's father, filed a complaint over the punishment. "When I got that letter, my world flipped," he said.

The district has since notified him that the offense has been changed to "inappropriate physical contact" and that references to sexual contact or sexual harassment have been removed.

The La Vega school district covers about 30 miles around Waco.
You've. Got. To. Be. Kidding.

I would think that anyone with half a brain would know that it's virtually impossible, even in our Britney-ized society, for a 4-year-old to be a sexual being. (Show me the study that proves this beyond a reasonable doubt and I'll shut up....*crickets*...yeah, that's what I thought.) Did the student hug the teacher inappropriately? If it made the teacher uncomfortable, the answer would have to be yes. But chances are, he was only replicating something he had done with Mommy at home. The teacher is not Mommy (though she should take it as a compliment if he felt that comfortable around her), so the lesson that should be taught here is, perhaps, that hugging people that way is only reserved for Mommy and not for other people; the lesson should not be that the kid did something so bad that he needs to be isolated from the rest of the school for a day or two. The kid's only going to end up confused, and the adults in charge have overreacted in a big way.

If an adult thinks that the innocent hug of a four-year-old, no matter much it may have hit the wrong target, was done with anything at all sexual in mind, the bigger problem lies with that adult, not with the kid.

This is literally old-school: A school in Edinburgh, Scotland is teaching is students to write with fountain pens instead of a computer keyboard.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Behearer Has New Ears (and Eyes)

I read a cool article in the paper a few days ago about a new interactive database that covers jazz in the '70s and '80s--a time that many consider to be a "dead era" in the music's history because so many musicians turned either to fusion or the extreme avant-garde. But if you sift through the chaff, there was a lot of great music released between 1970 and 1990, and people in the jazz community are gathering together online to chronicle some of the often-overlooked music of this era.

The site,, is named after a Dewey Redman album, Ear of the Behearer, which I've always thought was an awesome album title; it was also released in 1973, which puts it within the site's demographic. The site is done in "wiki" style, and it's already up to over 500 albums. The album listings contain cover art and personnel rosters, and there are also links to purchase the albums on Amazon when applicable. Unlike Wikipedia's "neutral content" policy, opinions are encouraged, and every listing will ultimately lead to a discussion page.

Behearer had its origins in a blog post by trumpeter Dave Douglas on the website of his company, Greenleaf Music, and a response came a few months later at Do The Math, the website of the band The Bad Plus. One thing led to another, and the offiicial launch of Behearer took place last weekend.

Incidentally, Douglas's site also offers the opportunity to purchase downloads of entire sets of the Dave Douglas Quintet live at the Jazz Standard, recorded earlier this week. I've always been a fan of the power of the independent artist, and I hope to see more "instant releases" like this in the future.

Taking interactive gaming a bit too far? Some users of Nintendo's new Wii game system have reported that the system's motion-sensitive controllers have flown out of their hands and into things like TV's, windows and ceiling fans.

And you think your post office is busy this time of year: It's crunch time for the post office in North Pole, Alaska, where all the letters addressed to Santa eventually end up, and everyone who sends a return address gets a signed reply, thanks to the generosity of local volunteers.

Better save this job for Santa next time: A suburban Denver man got locked out of his house and tried to enter via the chimney; unlike Santa, this guy got stuck and had to be rescued by firefighters.

You'll get stuck in your chimney for sure if you eat this: If you're still not convinced that America is getting fatter, there's a restaurant in Snook, Texas (near College Station) that serves chicken-fried bacon.

Blowing out partial candles: Happy half-birthday to me.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

A Well-Heeled Debut

The locally-based shoe company Heelys Inc. (which makes shoes with skate wheels in the soles) had its initial public offering on the Nasdaq stock market yesterday, and it exceeded expectations, opening at $30.30 a share (its IPO price was $21). Not surprisingly to me, many of the companies that have done exceedingly well this year are oriented toward the youth market; Heelys sold 3.9 million pairs in the first nine months of this year, which was three times the amount sold in all of last year.

Even though I'm not in their demographic, I've actually tried a pair of Heelys one time. Several years ago at jazz camp, we had two piano players in the band I was directing, and we all got a kick out of how one of them, when it wasn't his turn to play, would just lean back on his heels and skate around the room while we were rehearsing. I found out that the kid was within one shoe size of me, so i asked him if I could try them. I realized that I could fall flat on my face and suffer hurt, embarrassment or both (I rarely skated as a kid, so I have limited experience in that area), but, as I told the band the next day, one of the ways to keep yourself young is to not be afraid to try new things, so I took advantage of the opportunity.

I'm happy to say that I didn't fall a single time, and I really had fun with them. I'd never actually own a pair myself, of course, but I'm all in favor of any company whose main product is fun, so I wish them the best as they roll out (pun intended) this new venture into the market world.

Sharp Top, Poetry Tulip and Chattoogaville, we hardly knew ye: The state of Georgia is erasing the names of 448 communities off their offical map, mostly because they have too few people and, in some cases, too long of a name.

It didn't work with a guitar a few weeks ago, and it doesn't work with kitchen utensils either: Sooner or later, criminals will figure out that it's not smart to shoplift large items by sticking them in your pants.

No playing possum this year: A Pennsylvania family was surprised last year when they discovered an opossum hidden in their live Christmas tree (which caused the mother to toss the tree out into the yard). This year, they're getting an artificial one (a tree, that is, not an opossum).

I bet this family gets a fake tree next year, too: Meanwhile, in California, a woman was decorating her live tree and discovered a live bat inside. Thankfully, rabies tests on the bat came back negative.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Fry Street Plans Revealed

The developers have released the plans for the "new" Fry Street, and you can see them in this blog post from the Save Fry Street MySpace page. As you can imagine, the thing I don't care for is that the main corner of Hickory and Fry is populated by a drugstore (probably CVS, according to previous stories) instead of the Tomato (not to mention the fact that the drugstore and two proposed restaurants will have drive-thru windows, which doesn't seem to make the project very pedestrian-friendly).

There are more details in this Denton Record-Chronicle article, including a statement expressing the wish of the developers to move the Tomato to one of the buildings along the new street planned for the middle of the development, possibly with outside seating. The developers are also hoping to use reproductions of the '20s-style architecture to create a "village feel," which makes me wonder why they don't just do that by incorporating the actual old buildings into the development.

Please view the plans yourself and feel free to make comments (both here and at the MySpace, if you're a member).

Don't mess with granny: This isn't the first time we've seen a story like this. Over in Tyler, someone tried to carjack a 75-year-old woman at knifepoint while she was pumping gas. But as the assailant was leaving in her car, she opened the door and doused him with gasoline, which made it easy to identify him when the police caught up with him.

Bringing home the bacon, in a way: A Mississippi man was arrested for throwing a 60-pound pig over the counter at a Holiday Inn. Key quote: "[Police Lt.] McCaskill said there have been four late-night incidents involving animal-tossing at West Point businesses. Twice a pig was tossed and two of the incidents involved possums."

He'll never get to work the Rose Parade now: A driver in a South Carolina Christmas parade has been charged with driving a float while intoxicated.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

For Those Who Remember

I'm still pretty much too swamped to write blog posts until the weekend, but I had to take time out to acknowledge the anniversary of the Day That Will Live in Infamy, because of an article that I read in this morning's paper: The Pearl Harbor survivors get together every five years to commemorate the occasion, but this year's gathering will be the last; most of the guys who were there are in their 80s or 90s and don't expect to be around for a commemoration of the 70th anniversary.

Read the whole story, and pause a moment like I did. Remember their mottos: "Remember Pearl Harbor" and "Keep America Alert." We're witnessing the passing of a generation, the likes of whom we might not see again; it's a different world today, isn't it? And to those who served...all I can say is thank you, and rest assured that there are people among us who will take your words to heart.

(And happy birthday to James, half a world away.)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Crunch Time

It's the busiest time of the semester, so this post will be short. At the college alone, we have a combo performance on Thursday, several students doing scholarship auditions on Friday, and the concert on Saturday, plus juries next Tuesday. The high schoolers are finally done with Region, but those who tried out are now scrambling to pick out a solo for Solo and Ensemble before Christmas (or "Festive Winter Holiday" in school-speak). All in all, it's a very typical week this time of year for a busy music teacher, but it doesn't leave much time for things like blogging. I'm about to finish a review of a CD release concert I attended over the weekend, and the Big Posts from last month should come shortly...but right now, it's all I can do to get six hours of sleep a night, so be patient with me and enjoy the weird news stories for now.

Nobody's going to get their goat this time: Every year, in the Swedish village of Gavie, officials set up a Christmas goat-- a statue made of straw, symbolic of a Christmas tradition that even predates Santa.. But it's fallen victim to vandalism so many times that this year, the locals have treated it with a fireproof chemical just to keep it intact. (Over the years, it's been set on fire, had its legs cut off, and even been hit by a car one time.)

Next, they should try this at the school cafeteria: Food safety inspectors in New York City are cracking down on illegal mystery meat sold at markets--which in this case includes armadillo, iguana, cow lungs and something listed only as "smoked rodent." Yummmm...

Would you like clothes with that? A teenager in Indiana has been charged with ordering from a fast-food drive-thru while naked.

Political correctness run amok: A city in West Virginia has set up a Nativity scene without a baby Jesus or his parents.

Blowing out all kinds of candles: It's Triple Birth-Day again; greetings to my buddies Chris C., Wyatt and Andrew (the latter two were even born in the same year).

Friday, December 01, 2006

Highway Robbery?

(This post could be considered a "topic in progress," since I don't have the usual links to my sources here, but I wanted to get the discussion going while the topic's still fresh.)

The Highway 121 toll road starts living up to its name today, as tolls are being collected for the first time. The interesting feature about 121 is that it's 100% electronic--no tollbooths, no money changes hands anywhere. The road, which is the first toll road to be managed by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) instead of one of the regional tollway authorities, can capture information from motorists in one of two ways: by reading any TollTag from anywhere in the state, or by reading the license plate number off the car and sending a paper bill a little later. (If you're in this area, you've probably heard their catchy little "Pay Your Toll While You Roll" jingle on radio.) The road's been done since September, but they used the past few months as a "trial period" to get the equipment installed and tested.

I've noted before that I'm perfectly happy with toll roads if it means that they get built now and not twenty years from now. (Sure, it would be nice if the Legislature didn't divert our gasoline taxes to other expenditures, but since they do, I'm happy to affix a TollTag to my windshield if it means avoiding 27 stoplights on my way somewhere.) But something I heard about on Ernie and Jay earlier in the week was very concerning to me: Evidently, if you drive on the tolled 121 now with out-of-state plates, you can be fined (this has something to do with the fact that Texas has no way to call up billing information on cars from other states the way it does with people here). And supposedly, TxDOT has no plans to install signs warning people about this before the tolled sections begin.

This doesn't affect me personally, of course, but it bothers me that something like this wasn't thought out very well. They've made a provision for rental cars (the rental agency is billed, and they in turn bill the customers according to when the car was being used), but not out-of-state drivers? And they're not even going to so much as warn them? I'm sorry, but that's poor planning on TxDOT's part, and it makes me wonder if having someone other than the NTTA (or its counterparts in Houston and Austin) operate the toll roads was a bad idea.

The only thing is, I can't find a link for this story anywhere, and I tuned into Ernie and Jay too late to find out their source for this story. All I know is that I can't find anything about it in the paper, KRLD's website or TxDOT's website, so I don't want to squawk too loudly until I see this idea in writing. But still, if that is exactly how this situation will be dealt with, they need to do some re-thinking, and fast.

More on this story as I collect additonal information...

School experiment gone awry....and fast, too: A California teenager took home one of those realistic baby dolls that are often given to students to help them practice being a parent. On her way home, the doll started to cry, startling the young driver so much that she swerved her car into a freeway guardrail and then back out onto the road and into a pickup truck.

And you thought you couldn't concentrate on your test: Final exams will soon be underway at most colleges, and students can only hope their experience is not like that of a group of students at the College of Charleston (S.C.), who had to put up with the sounds of a pile driver sinking columns for a new campus building next door.

They're unburritable: Chipotle recently held a contest that called for college-student filmmakers from all over the country to come up with a 30-second TV ad for the restaurant. Here's the winning entry, from down the road at SMU, and the runner-up from Nebraska, which has a bit of a mean streak. (I have no idea why the SMU one was flagged as inappropriate content; umm, maybe the girl is too pretty? Also, I really like this one from SMU, where a guy likes the smell of Chipotle burritos so much that he uses a tortilla as a dryer sheet.)