Monday, December 31, 2007

2007: The Year in Blogging

Once again, a look at notable (at least in the author's own mind) posts from the past year...

JANUARY: A New York Minute
FEBRUARY: Something Good Is Brewing Here
MARCH: An Unusual Power of Music, Revisited
APRIL: A Little April Foolishness
MAY:The End of an Era on Fry Street
JUNE: A Radical Solution for Education?
JULY: Don't Hate Me Because I'm Single
AUGUST: The Summer of Broken Stuff
SEPTEMBER: Bruce Hall-mighty
OCTOBER: A Weeknight Jazz Primer of Sorts
NOVEMBER: Could You Spend a Day Unplugged?
DECEMBER: Watch or Cellphone?

(Hat tip for the idea to do this kind of post: Althouse. And if you want a truly hilarious year-in-review piece, check out the one from Dave Barry.)

With all the car stories lately, I've fallen behind on other things I've wanted to post about; expect a bit of catching up next year (i.e. tomorrow).

Chapter's Conclusion

As of this afternoon, the Kevmobile is back in my custody and running well. There are still a few smaller issues that need to be resolved before she gets back up to 100%, but those things can be done locally without my having to have a rental car. It was nice to watch the temperature gauge stay in the "normal" range all the way home, and it felt like it was running better than it had in a while.

And while I don't have any idea how small the odds would be that one of my 20 readers would break down in Central Texas, if that should happen to you, you can't go wrong with Marc's Garage. The service was good and really quick, especially considering the long-distance thing and the holiday weekends, and Marc and his family went "above and beyond" in helping me get from place to place in my car-less state. I have no qualms about plugging them on this blog.

I'll be back in a little bit with the annual (as soon as I complete this second one, heh) "Year in Blogging" post.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

While I Was Out...

Once again, it's time to catch up on all the things that I found blogworthy but haven't had time to blog because of all the car stuff...
  • In Pennsylvania, someone put 31 $100 bills in a Salvation Army kettle. This was evidently an attempt to "one-up" the person who had put thirty of them in a similar kettle in the same area a few weeks earlier.

  • A woman in WIsconsin received an unusual Christmas present from her husband: A renewal of their wedding vows on Christmas Eve, which was also the couple's 65th wedding anniversary. Her then-future husband had also surprised her with a wedding in 1942, right before he was to ship off to war.

  • In a Scroogier moment, a 60-year-old man is taking an 8-year-old boy to court for running into him on a ski slope.

  • And there can't be too many worse ways to spend Christmas than being halfway stuck in a septic tank for Christmas Eve, as happened to an Iowa man.

  • It also wasn't a very merry Christmas for a Tennessee girl when she found out that the mp3 player her father had given her was loaded with porn and songs with obscene lyrics. (It had been already opened and returned to the Wal-Mart shelf, in violation of the company's own policies.)

  • Firefighters in Boise returned from a call to find their own firehouse kitchen on fire. The culprit? The tater tots the firefighters were cooking before they went on their call; they evidently forgot to activate a computerized safety system that would turn off appliances when they leave. (And what's funnier here--the fact that the firefighters caught their own house on fire, or that it was done by Idaho's most famous export, the potato?)

  • Remember the runaway kangaroo in Lewisville a few weeks ago (discussed here)? The officer who caught him was reunited with the roo for his family's Christmas card picture.
And finally, there weren't enough of these for a full-blown "Notes from the Road" post, but I did pass two unusual billboards on my trips back and forth:
  • "WE SUE LAWYERS!"--an advertisement for, you guessed it...another law firm. I bet they don't get invited to the Bar Association parties that way....

  • "Santa is coming to town. Please don't hit him."--a don't-drink-and-drive billboard, of course.
I should be back with a more topical post once the Cowboys game is over.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Watch or Cellphone?

Informally filling in for Lileks at, Brian Lutz points to a recent Gizmodo poll that asks whether you use a watch or your cellphone to tell time. Considering Gizmodo's likely demographic, it's probably no big surprise that cellphone leads watch, 62.9% to 32.7% (the other 4.4% evidently walks around not knowing/caring what time it is, as they chose "It's always skin o'clock" for their answer).

As someone who teaches people from middle school up to college, I've noticed the same thing. The vast majority of my students at all levels (save for the older adults in the evening college combo) aren't watch-wearers. As I said in the comments at the buzz post, I'm still a watch guy. Maybe it's because my Swiss watch was actually bought in Switzerland and is thus a treasured memento of the trip, but I also have practical reasons: In the schools, I teach in 30-minute increments, and it's much easier to look at my wrist to tell the time than to keep reaching in my pocket again and again. I also pointed out that there are some occasions where it's impractical to use a watch to tell time, such as on an airplane during the "cell phones must be turned off" period of the flight (which is the majority of the time), and students in public schools often face the additional obstacle of being required to keep their phones hidden during class time.

It has also occurred to me that if everyone stopped wearing watches, the economy of Switzerland might tank, and that would be awful, because Switzerland is a really cool place. If watch-wearing were to continue to decrease, I wonder how long it would be before the Swiss watchmakers went into the cellphone business, or how long it would take them to come up with a combination of the two that's worn on the wrist.

Read the whole Gizmodo story; the comments are especially interesting from both sides. One commenter perhaps sums up my own opinion best:
Its [sic] amazing how many folks would go the extra mile of reaching into their pockets or bags just to tell the time, when there is a perfectly convinient and fashionable solution that has been around for eons.
So let's take our own little (and I do mean little, even if all 20 of you were to answer) Musings poll: Cellphone or wristwatch, and why? Comment away....

Old technology loses one round...: AOL has announced the impending demise of the Netscape Navigator browser. I used this for quite a long time on the Ancient and Venerable iMac before moving into the world of OS X, Safari and Firefox.

...but wins another one: From England comes the story of a toaster that's still serving family members after 56 years.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Saga Continues Anew

I thought that the latest chapter in the Kevmobile saga was coming to a close, but evidently not.

When I picked it up from the mechanic's place, the catalytic converter had been replaced and the exhaust problem solved. But his test drive hadn't taken it up to freeway speeds, and that was where the problem reemerged; I was back to being totally overheated by the time I was five miles out. (It turned out that the radiator had been nearly drained of fluids in my short drive, and it took three Big Gulp-sized soft drink cups of water to refill it.)

Once I did that, it made it back to the mechanic's with no issues, save one--during the one time when I had to get on the freeway because the service road ended, it overheated again at high speeds. It appears that it could be something as mild as a worn-out hose, all the way up to a blown head gasket. We'll find out in the morning after he gets to dig into it some more.

But in the meantime, not wanting (or prepared) to be stuck again, I bit the bullet and re-rented the car (yes, the exact same one) and came back home tonight. Because of the rental place's hours, it will probably be at least Monday before I can get it back. In the meantime, since this Kevmobile saga seems to be eating my life, blog-wise, I'll intersperse all the other things I'd like to blog about in between the various updates.

Two more things:

1) It certainly seems like we're near the end of the line for Kevmobile 1.2. Any suggestions for a replacement (knowing that I'm not going to be spending top dollar and will be looking for something both cheap and reilable)?

2) For those of you in the Metroplex: Since I'll be using the iPod adapter thingy for the next several days, what is the best frequency to tune it to in this area? I have a few that have worked OK, but I'm sure there are better ones.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Little Light Conversation

I don't have a lot to add this year, but it wouldn't be the Christmas season if I didn't once again tout all the great holiday lights that can be found in the Metroplex, just like I've done in all four previous Decembers of this blog. Here are the highlights, with accompanying links when available:
  • Deerfield in Plano: For my money (which pretty much involves only the gas to get there), this is the best all-around neighborhood in the area for lights. It has a wide variety of streets that are easy to traverse once you've done it a few times, most of the neighborhood participates (though there were more "Scrooge" houses this year than before), and now it features the Zephries house on Old Pond Drive, which has 40,000 lights synchronized to music. There's also another house on Quincy at the north end of the subdivision that has a nice synchronized display as well. The carriage and limo rides make this area an even bigger attraction, and I've always thought it would be cool to park nearby and do a walking tour like many of the neighbors do (though I can only imagine how long that would take; our trip in the car this year took around an hour).

  • SpringPark in Garland/Richardson: The classic neighborhood of mostly cul-de-sacs, each with a different theme. The Rudolph theme on Silver Maple (with a nice light display in the grassy middle of the cul-de-sac) is something new that's enjoyable, as is the "Christmas Mishaps" on Foxboro. An oldie but goodie is the collection of giant Santa heads on Becky Court.

  • Frisco Square: A relatively new addition to the landscape, Frisco has added even more lights to its amazing display from last year (among the new touches are the lights that go across the two main buildings). As before, everything is synchronized to music, which can be heard either from a low-powered FM radio broadcast or from speakers near the buildings.

    And if you make it to Frisco, be sure and drive a few miles east to see the Trykoski house, where the designer of the Frisco Square lights calls home. This year, they have 65,000 lights in their display, which is also synchronized to music. (And need I point out that all of the displays with synced music include the song that's become the unofficial theme of such displays: "Wizards in Winter" from this CD by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I think it all started with this guy in Ohio, whose display became the subject of a beer commercial a few years ago.)

  • Interlochen in Arlington: I haven't been here in a few years (and missed it again, as it only runs through Christmas day--a fact I'd forgotten until I was researching this post), but this neighborhood is unique in that several streets back up to a large canal, so the backyards as well as the fronts are decorated. This area is not too far from Six Flags, and, like the amusement park, there are signs along Randol Mill Road listing estimated times until you get to the lights. I need to make this one next year.

  • There are a few other cool places in the area, like the house on Dogwood Trail in Rowlett that's all done up in neon (evidently, the homeowner also owns a neon sign company), as well as the house on Timberline at High Sierra in Carrollton that always goes all out, even decorating the garage as a Santa's Workshop. (Are there any I've missed? Be sure and tell me in the comments.)

  • Houston bonus edition: Since I spend my Christmases down there, I can also point you to some good places, including Pecan Grove Plantation near Richmond, which always has a great display (and also features carriage and wagon rides), as well as another house synced to music that's located here. I got to see it in action last year, but it wasn't turned on when I went to take Mom and Dad to see it on Christmas night (maybe we were too early?). There's also a great display in a neighborhood with the very Dallas-sounding name of Prestonwood Forest. I haven't been to this northside neighborhood since my parents moved south in the early '90s, but I understand that it's still going strong.
Again, if I've missed anything, please let me know in the comment section. I'm a big fan of Christmas lights, so I'd always be interested in seeing something new.

But wait--there's more: A recent DMN article talks about the light-syncing craze and mentions a house in Rowlett that I wasn't prevously aware of; I'll have to check that out too.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

I'm Back, But the Saga Continues

I've returned home for the moment, at least to drop off all the extra stuff I had with me for Christmas, before going down to get the car either tomorrow or Friday. I had an "Oh, no--not again!" moment right before I was going to come back, when my dad discovered that one of the tires on the rental car was nearly flat. Thankfully, the rental company has a contract with one of the major tire dealers, so all I had to do was take it by one of their stores and get it fixed on the company's dime.

That did delay my departure by a few hours, but I still made time to stop by the old neighborhood; I've taken to doing that every Christmas now, just to see how things are and have a brief reconnection with my past. I drove by the old house (picture here) as well as my alma mater, Stratford High School (pictures in the same link). I also made time to grab a hot dog at one of my favorite in-Houston-but-not-Dallas places, James Coney Island in Town & Country Village, before I left town.

I was quite surprised to see that there was hardly any traffic at all tonight; I guess that people either came back already so they could resume work today, or their vacation goes quite a bit past the four-day weekend that we just had. Either way, no complaints from here, and I was quite happy to see that the long-awaited bridges over the San Jacinto River just south of Conroe on I-45 are finally done.

(While I'm on the subject of the I-45 trip, I have to toss out some kudos to whomever owns the farm or ranch just north of Madisonville and decorates all the way from the front fence to the house along a rather substantial driveway. It's a beautiful thing to see every year, tucked away all by itself as it is.)

Some people have wondered why in the world I'd drive back when I have to head two hours south again to get the car, but it was nice to relieve myself of all the extra things I'd taken down for Christmas (tenor, dress clothes, etc.), not to mention getting to sleep in my own bed tonight. Tomorrow, I'll find out how soon I can go get the Kevmobile.

So how was your Christmas? I forgot to ask yesterday. Comment away...

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Greetings

SUGAR LAND--Merry Christmas to all, to those who so celebrate (or even just exchange gifts). It's a quiet Christmas here, since my sister and her family are at her in-laws' place, and after my travel adventures (that story to be completed today), quiet is good. I'll come back on later in the day to talk about "the take," as always. In the meantime, a blessed day to you and yours.

LATER: In terms of getting what was on my gift list, I batted a thousand this year: Speakers for the laptop, a new stand for my bari, the traditional Rangers tickets, and a humongous CD rack that Mom and Dad actually had shipped to Dallas already because of its size (which ended up being a great idea due to the size--or lack thereof--of the rental car). I hope that you not only got everything you wanted, but are getting to be around everyone whom you'd like to be on this day.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Best Laid Plans

SUGAR LAND--OK, I only thought that I would be making the Dallas/Austin/Houston trip yesterday. Real life seems to have gotten in the way.

(I'll finish this story during the holiday sometime, as I'm really tired at the moment. The story will explain why.)

LATER: OK, I'm well-rested and can now tell the tale...

Things were going smoothly enough at first. In fact, I was noticing how the car was running much better when I put a slightly different brand of gas in there at the beginning of the trip (I had gone for the cheap stuff a week ago, but I filled up with something rated "top tier"--no need to advertise here--soon after I left the house. I reminded myself to go for the better gas all the time with this older car.

But just south of Waco, things started running roughly. I had noticed on the way to Thanksgiving that the car would start to heat up a bit when I climbed up a big hill, and the same thing happened at this point in the trip. But unlike a month ago, when the temperature would return to normal, it just kept rising...and rising...and rising. When it started to hit the red line on the "H" side of the temperature gauge, I pulled off to the side of the freeway.

I didn't stay there too long, however; it didn't seem like a safe place to be. (Whoa--that truck almost grazed me!) So I made it to the next exit ramp and pulled off on a side road off the service road when the gauge hit "H" again. Five more times I did this, inching little by little to the first gas station I saw, there in the not-so-booming not-so-metropolis of Eddy, Texas (it's right next to Bruceville, if that helps. Heh.)

Looking back, I was at least fortunate to be able to stop where I did; if the need arises to stop in the middle of nowhere, at least this middle of nowhere had 1) a restaurant in which to eat lunch and 2) people behind the counter who called me a mechanic that did road calls. It certainly could have been worse.

When the mechanic eventually got there, he was able to make a diagnosis: The catalytic converter had gone out. There was so little exhaust coming out of the car that he was able to stick his hand over the pipe and not get burned in any way. When the car worked hard, as it did on this trip, nothing was able to be emitted from the tailpipe, so the car got, well, exhausted and started to heat up.

That mechanic didn't do exhaust stuff, so I had a diagnosis in search of a cure. The inevitable call to AAA followed, and they were able to locate me a mechanic who not only did exhaust work, but was open on Sunday to take the car (even if his parts suppliers were taking the entire four-day weekend). I was close enough to his shop that, with a few hours of rest, the car was able to limp there without incident.

But I was still stuck in Eddy, with the rest of the Austin and Houston trips still to go. Renting a car is a challenge on Sundays unless you're at an airport, and I had no way to get the 25-30 minutes to the one in Waco to meet with the open rental counter. Out of the kindness of his heart, the mechanic let me borrow his Internet to reserve a car in nearby Temple for the next morning. And in an even kinder gesture, he let me borrow his old parts truck to drive to Temple and find a hotel to tide me over until then.

Needless to say, I was bored, bored, bored that night. If only this were the year I'd brought the laptop! I napped, I watched football, I read a lot (at one time moving the reading part over to the Starbucks next door, just to be around people for a second).

In the morning, I got the rental car (I'm tooling around in a podlike Chevy Aveo at the moment) and continued on to Austin and then Sugar Land--a most tiring Christmas Eve, but at least I got here in time to play in church and enjoy the holiday with Mom and Dad. (Speaking of pods, I did get myself an early Christmas present while in Austin--a car adapter for my iPod. I would've gone crazy on all these trips with just a radio, that's for sure.) My car will be done on Thursday or Friday, so I still have to figure out the logistics of that, but I'm leaning towards going back to Dallas and dropping off all my stuff before I change vehicles again.

I hope your holiday travels were much, much more routine than mine!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Travel Advisory

I'm off to Sugar Land by way of Austin (the Big Triangle, as it were), playing Santa in the process. Blogging will continue as it normally does, maybe as soon as this evening. If you're on the road as well today, have a safe and enjoyable trip.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Another Holiday Cornucopia

The weird holiday stories, they just keep on a-comin':

  • Police in Rancho Cordova, California are pulling over motorists who are doing a good job driving and rewarding them with Starbucks cards for the holidays.

  • You've heard of a "turducken" (a hen stuffed inside of a duck stuffed inside of a turkey), correct? Now, somebody in England has created a roast made from 48 birds of 12 different species.

  • One New Jersey dry-cleaning establishment will probably get a lump of coal in its stocking after it lost Santa's suit.

  • Burglars in New Zealand had sort of a Grinch-like change of heart when they returned the Christmas presents they'd stolen from a family's home a few hours before. (I say "sort of" because most of the items were returned with some sort of damage.)

  • Enjoy the Cavalcade of Bad Nativity Scenes.

  • Someone stole the baby Jesus statues from the nativity scenes at twelve different people's houses. They ended up at the foot of the Virgin Mary at a nearby church. (Unintended funny line at the end of the video: The homeowner who says "I think I'll nail it down" to avoid future thefts.)

  • And finally, even though the originator of the "Secret Santa" tradition in Kansas City (a guy in a Santa suit randomly handing out $100 bills to strangers) died earlier this year, someone has taken up the mantle--anonymously, of course.
I decided to post these early because there were so many of them; if there ends up being a lot more by the time Tuesday comes around, I'll post them then.

Friday, December 21, 2007

A Midwest Primer

Random stuff that happened during our trip to Chicago this week:
  • We flew an airline where you have to cart your own checked baggage to the X-ray machine instead of having the gate personnel send it over on a conveyor belt. Usually, TSA people are pretty serious, but this guy asked me two normal questions and one weird one:
    1) Are you carrying any firearms? (No.)
    2) Is your bag locked? (No.)
    3) Are there any dogs or cats inside? (Huh? That one threw me for a second. I smiled and said, "I sure hope not!") I found out that others in my group didn't get the dogs-and-cats question.

  • Needless to say, Chicago was cold. Really, really cold. We're talking 20's and 30's for the duration, with the city's signature wind in abundance most of the time. (Many in our group were amused by the "Caution--Watch for Falling Ice" signs that were all along Michigan Avenue.) But upon my return, being up there made the "cold" down here in Texas feel like nothing.

  • We stayed at the Palmer House Hilton, a 135-year-old hotel that's undergoing yet another renovation. The grand lobby is quite ornate (so much so that one of the students in our group said that he felt underdressed just walking in there), and upon our arrival, it was not only festooned with Christmas trees (I told you I love that word!), but a live choir was singing carols as well. It made for quite the holiday atmosphere around there.

  • The Midwest Clinic itself is a big band and orchestra convention on the level of TMEA (but without the elementary or vocal divisions). The exhibits were impressive if confusing (they were spread out over four rooms in the basement of the Chicago Hilton, as opposed to the football-field-sized rooms that we're used to in San Antonio), and we got to play a lot of new horns and mouthpieces.

  • Also in the exhibit hall, we had the pleasure of getting to meet Mike Smith, a fellow UNT alum and Frank Sinatra's former music director. It was cool just listening to him try out mouthpieces and ligatures, and he even let us play one of his own horns.

  • The most unusual trinket received at the convention: A combination key ring/bottle opener/shaker (as in the percussion toy), from Alfred Publishing.

  • We had a short trip, but we did get to walk by Millennium Park several times; it looked really cool and warrants further exploration on another visit.

  • I was impressed with the vibrant downtown area (and we were supposedly in the less-interesting part). Being able to get a full dinner at 11:00 at night on a Wednesday is not something that's too common in downtown Dallas. I really enjoyed the two places we had dinner--the Elephant & Castle, which specialized in English food with funny names like "shepherd's pie" and "Yorkshire pudding," and the Italian Village. I also was introduced to a very good chain that's also around here, Corner Bakery.

  • My only complaint: We once again had a Too Young to Listen? moment, where a live jazz performance that nearly all our group would have enjoyed was put out of reach by city ordinances that evidently keep people under 21 out of venues where alcohol is served (it must have something to do with the ratio of food to drinks served, because this place had an extensive dinner menu as well). I've ranted about this subject at the linked post and this earlier one, but, suffice it to say, I believe that the sale of alcohol should not prohibit college music students from seeing live music.

  • Fortunately, there was one more late-night concert at the clinic, with special guests Wycliffe Gordon and Steve WIlson performing with Steve's alma mater, Virginia Commonwealth. I could have listened to those two guys (and VCU's trumpet prof, Rex Richardson, the other guest) all night.

  • On our way back to DFW, we had a very Southwest Airlines moment on an airline that's usually known for being much stodgier than Southwest: The flight attendant read the entire safety speech as a holiday poem! "The Flight Before Christmas" was an unexpected surprise, even if the jokes were sometimes groaners at 7:30 a.m.
I'll be back tomorrow with a collection of odd stories that have come up since I left for the trip.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

There's Trouble Brewing Here For Sure

I'm back from Chicago, and I'll post a summary of the trip tomorrow, but I heard this story on the radio on my way home from the airport this afternoon, and it was too funny not to blog right away: Six Flags Over Texas and its sister park, Hurricane Harbor, want to being selling beer next year:
Six Flags Inc., which owns the two parks, has applied to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission for a license to sell alcohol at the parks. In accordance with state law, signs were posted in the park Monday, beginning a 60-day public comment period.

f the application is approved, the park may begin selling beer sometime in March, said John Bement, senior vice president of in-park services for Six Flags Over Texas.

The parks' New York-based parent company has lost money recently, but Mr. Bement said the decision was not financially motivated.

"Truthfully, revenue is not the driving force here," he said. "For some time now, many of our guests have requested beer as an option while enjoying a meal at the park, and it's really for that reason that we've taken these steps."

Some other Six Flags theme parks, including Fiesta Texas in San Antonio, already serve alcohol. Mr. Bement said the company would take strict measures to ensure that minors do not have access to alcohol at the park.
Of course, that's the first concern that many would raise upon hearing this news--keeping beer out of the hands of minors in a place that touts itself as a "family" park. But there's one other aspect of this that should raise concerns: they're mixing beer and rollercoasters...

You can see how this can be a problem, and I wonder if anyone thought this through. Are they going to have to issue plastic body coverings to keep people from being hurled upon while riding the Titan? Will there be signs saying "You must be this tall and this sober to ride the ride" at the entrance to each line? And will there have to be extra medical personnel on hand, since someone will inevitably try to substitute beer for an actual thirst-quenching drink on a hundred-degree afternoon?

The article notes that Six Flags has already done this at its Fiesta Texas park in San Antonio, so they must have already thought everything out. Still, it strikes me as a bad idea. Do you agree? And if you've been to Fiesta Texas since they started this, has the presence of alcohol detracted from the family atmosphere at all?

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday Dad! I rarely get to see him on "the day" anymore, but I will be visiting at Christmas. (As I've said before, when I was a kid, we'd simply bring a present out from under the tree five days early and then take him out to dinner on his own credit card. If you have a close-to-Christmas birthday, is it cool or not cool to have the two main gift-giving days so close together?)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Travel Advisory

I'll be in ChIcago for the next two days, attending the Midwest Clinic with a group from school. Blogging will likely be nonexistent unless someone brings a laptop or there's an Internet court in the exhibit area like at TMEA and IAJE. I'll be back midmorning on Thursday and will catch things up afterwards.

Monday, December 17, 2007

This School Got a Dressing Down

Earlier this year, I noted in a news story at the bottom of this post that a girl in California had been suspended from school for wearing Winnie-the-Pooh socks, which ran afoul of the "solid colors only" portion of the school's dress code.

Well, it appears that the student may have the last laugh:
Officials in a Northern California school district might not think Tiggers are such wonderful things after agreeing to pay $95,000 in lawyers' fees to five families who sued the school over its dress code.
The parents went to court after a student was disciplined for wearing socks with the "Winnie the Pooh" cartoon character Tigger on the first day of school last year.
And the district is no longer allowed to require students to wear only solid colors, according to terms of the settlement.

Some may say that this is a big waste of taxpayers' dollars, and that's certainly true. But if school officials had been a little smarter, they could have avoided this altogether. Let me say it again: Nobody here is denying that schools have a right to impose rules like this, but common sense (which is sadly lacking in bureaucracies of all kinds) dictates that the school ought to pick its battles a little more wisely. As I've said on many occasions, I'll bet that there are plenty of marginal students who might not mind school if they didn't continue to be subjected to things like suspension for having one's shirt untucked. And, as I've also theorized, most dress codes are less about safety and more about power for those in charge. It's good to see someone have to pay when they go too far, and, in a perfect world, the fines would be deducted from the salaries of the administrators who made the decision to suspend the student with the Tigger socks (but I'm not holding my breath).

And need I say that I have a really good way for administrators to keep from losing touch with the real world?

The robber got mugged, in a way: Did you hear about the Dunkin' Donuts employee who clobbered a robber with a coffee mug so that he "wouldn't look bad on YouTube" when the surveillance video eventually made it there? Well, the footage is up, so you can be the judge.

And speaking of getting clobbered: A guy in Germany didn't want to give up his vodka to the new airport carry-on rules, so he decided to drink a liter of it right then and there before going through security. (He actually suffered life-threatening alcohol poisoning in the process--and missed his flight as well.)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Dan's Still the Man

I always try to read the UNT Jazz Studies website, because it has a lot of good information pertaining not only to current events on campus, but also updates on the activities of some of my former classmates and professors. So I was pleased to read an article about Dan Haerle, a former UNT professor, whose 1999 CD "Spirit of the Moment" is now available on the iTunes Music Store.

Recorded with his longtime cohorts, drummer Jack Mouse and UNT alum Bob Bowman on bass (and isn't that an appropriate name for a bassist?), the CD features a good sampling of Haerle originals, some of which he's recorded before. My personal favorites include "Spangalang," " Magic Morning" (a.k.a. "that really hard tune from Improv IV") and a new one to me, "Swifty." Dan adds a touch of synthesizers here and there (though their EWI-like sounds make it seem as though there's a horn player in the band), but he's mostly playing some great acoustic piano, just like he would before class. This is truly a case of "those who can, teach." Bowman and Mouse provide excellent support and fine solo work throughout.

Also featured in a subsequent post on the UNT Jazz site was a story about Dan's list of parting thoughts to jazz students, given upon his formal retirement from UNT in 2002 (though he still teaches an online jazz fundamentals course). Read the whole thing, but here are some choice examples:
If you don't have a natural curiosity about the musical world and the sounds you hear every day, a musical profession is probably not for you.

Share the wealth. Pass on what you know to others. Music is an aural tradition that is continually handed down from generation to generation. You must listen to and assimilate the good qualities of great musicians.

[...]It only takes two people who want to make music to have a band. Nothing is ever missing. Each instrument may add to and enhance a group but music can be played with any combination.

You don't have to practice. You can sell your instrument and get out of music. Better yet, give your instrument to someone who is really hungry to play.

Never care about what anyone thinks of your playing, only what you think of it.

Don't play music to glorify yourself, give of yourself to glorify the music. Give up your ego and make the music more important than you.

[...]At any time, you are perfectly alright and simply in some stage of your growth. There will always be musicians who are more or less experienced than you. Be inspired by all of them.

In addition to the usual, practice away from the instrument, study with the instrument in hand.

Learning the melodies to songs correctly is a simple matter of respect for the composers.

It is the performer's responsibility to make a piece sound as the composer intended or else to write his or her own composition. An artist learns how to recognize the ways in which the composer indicates what the sound of a composition is.

There is only one tempo for a tune, the one that was counted off. Subtle differences in tempo can create entirely new experiences with the same music.
Again, read the whole thing. And buy his CD. This is one man whose output is well worth your time.

UPDATE: I heard some news about another musical Dan a little while after typing this post:Dan Fogelberg passed away this morning of pancreatic cancer. I got into his music as many people do--because a girl that I liked liked it. How much new music have we discovered because of romance?

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: It turns out that Fogelberg's father is a fraternity brother of mine; Larry Fogelberg, a longtime school band director, was immortalized in Dan's song "Leader of the Band."

Blowing out lots and lots of candles: Happy birthday to another guy who was evidently no slouch on the keyboards--Ludwig van Beethoven. And thanks to the late Charles Schulz, who, by virtue of making his Peanuts character Schroeder a huge Beethoven fan, made his name (and birthday) among the best known of classical composers among the general public.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Holidazed, Part I

There are entirely too many funny Christmas-related stories to save them all for the big day, so here's a stocking full of them now:I'll have another installment of this next week, probably on Christmas itself.

Friday, December 14, 2007


A funny story from last night:

While my evening combo was doing its gig, one of my colleagues took a different group of students to another location to play for a holiday reception. When they got there, the drummer realized that he had somehow gotten separated from his stick bag, so he had nothing with which to play his set. Fortunately, the place where they were playing had catering facilities, and there was a lot of cookware lying around (are you seeing where this is going?). So, sure enough, he played the entire gig using a pair of large wooden spoons for drumsticks! Otherwise, things went off without a hitch, though the drummer will probably be known as "Spooner" for the rest of his career at our college. Heh.

Incidentally, an actual spoonerism is that thing that happens when someone reverses the letters of some words in a phrase. They happened quite a bit when I was in radio, especially when a bassist named Rob Wasserman put out a new recording; he was called "Wob Rasserman" by many, many people. (My own funniest one was when I said that a guitarist was "turrently couring" with someone.)

I'm pretty wiped out from the semester, so I'll let the readers take over. Feel free to post either your favorite spoonerisms (or funny gig stories, if you're a fellow musician) in the comments.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

O Holy Crap, Part 2 (Eastern Edition)

No time to do a real post today, as I just got home from my gig, so I'll point you to the funniest thing I've heard since the really bad version of "O Holy Night" that was discussed here the other day. Go to the bottom of today's edition of James Lileks' "Bleat" and listen to a version of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" in Japanese. Very funny stuff--not necessarily because it's in a foreign language (though that helps), but also because of the incessant schoolgirlish giggling that frames the song.

Enjoy (or something), and I'll be back tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More Animal Stories

My old radio feature from college lives on, because animals are involved in the goofiest situations...Taking the low road, part 1: A man drove his car onto an icy Minnesota lake yesterday afternoon; the car sank to the bottom of the lake, and its driver is in jail on DWI charges. (Key quote: "The driver has 30 days to get the car out of the lake..." And while that seems like an excessively long time to leave the car in there, it will be hard to do if he's still in jail.)

Taking the low road, part 2: A student driver in Houston passed his drivers' test and subsequently drove his car into the DPS building.

Taking no road at all until someone helps you: From the "SUX2BU" department, we have the UPS truck I saw getting towed down the freeway service road tonight. Imagine all the holiday deliveries that were interrupted by that...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

One More Chance to Save Fry Street?

I thought this issue had already been decided, but I discovered by talking to some friends from Denton over the weekend that the Denton City Council is once again considering a crucial component of the proposed Fry Street Village development: Whether or not the CVS drugstore, planned to be built on the footprint of The Tomato at Hickory and Fry, will be allowed to have a drive-through window. Supposedly, no drive-through would be a deal-breaker for CVS, and no CVS would be a deal-breaker for the entire development.
The project needs a special-use permit from the council to allow a drive-through lane for a proposed CVS Pharmacy at the corner of Fry and Hickory.

Opponents say a drive-through would increase vehicle traffic, endanger pedestrians and pollute air in the heavily walked area. University officials and others have said the area’s redevelopment would be beneficial in the long run.

United Equities project manager Tim Sandifer has said the entire project hinges on attracting CVS, and the pharmacy would not come without a drive-through. On Friday, Sandifer said the special-use permit “is important for a lot of reasons for this project to proceed.”

[...]Critics say that all-or-nothing mentality has shifted attention from the merits of the drive-through request and onto the hyper-political debate over Fry Street Village.

“This environment stems from the idea that whatever is the outcome of the vote is tied to whether the project goes forward or not,” said council member Chris Watts. “And I think that’s unfortunate.”
As I've said many times before (click the "Fry Street" tag at the bottom of this post for all my thoughts on this subject), this thing has been handled incorrectly from day one. The proper way to do this--"proper" both in terms of historical preservation and getting off on the right foot with the community from which United Equities is hoping to develop customers--would have been to 1) use the former FEMA call center building at Oak and Welch--which once was an Eckerd drugstore (CVS' predecessor in this area)--for the CVS; 2) keep the historic 1925 buildings that housed The Tomato, renovate it to current standards, and attract other student-friendly restaurants while keeping the iconic Tomato intact. The rest of the development as it is currently planned would have been fine with me, but the vintage architecture and eclectic eateries would prove to be a far superior "gateway" to the university than a big, ugly drugstore. (And that's no slam on CVS--I'm a customer myself--but you see those everywhere. The old buildings were special, and they're a much more appropriate thing to have across the street from a college campus than a generic chain drugstore.) But, as we know, United Equities doesn't appear to care about anything besides the almighty dollar, so I hope its proposal goes down in flames tonight.

Granted, if the whole development does go belly-up, the old buildings have still been lost to a combination of arson and the wrecking ball, but that would open the door for another developer to come in and do the right thing (which,in my mind, would be to build replicas of the old buildings and develop things as described above). One would hope that, if this were to come to pass, that someone would be ready to step up to the plate.

One more thing: A former Dentonite visited this blog through the original "Save Fry Street!" post from May, 2006. He/she has been out of town for a while and had just now heard about the Fry Street debacle, which is making a return to Denton much less pleasant for this person.

I'll come back on with an update when the City Council vote is reported, assuming that actually happens tonight.

Even for politicians, this doesn't make sense: About an hour after the initial post, one of my friends, upon reading the DRC article, pointed out this interesting quote from Mayor Perry McNeil:
“I’ve had a lot of feedback on that and surprisingly … it’s probably roughly 4-1 to saying, ‘What is the problem? Get that thing approved and get it built.’” he said. “But the silent majority is who I’m hearing from.”
Umm, Mr. Mayor, how exactly do you "hear" from the silent majority?

And one more:
[Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Joe] Mulroy said he wasn’t prepared to say whether the drive-through would fit in with the pedestrian area.

“I have yet to see a final site plan, so I really don’t know what they’re actually proposing,” he said. “It’s a legitimate point. There will be plenty of discussion.”
OK, so you're voting on this without having seen the final plan? What's wrong with this picture??

Now you see why the actions of politicians keep bloggers busy. More later...

UPDATE: Yesssssssssss!!!! There'll be more in the morning, I'm sure.

NEXT MORNING UPDATE: Full story here.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Today Just Said "Winter" to Me

It was a cold, foggy, misty day for pretty much all of today. When I walked across the parking lot while leaving the college tonight, there was this big watery curtain hanging over the trees--and the entire horizon, for that matter--that made it feel like we were just completely enclosed by winter. (It also occurred to me that, if this stuff were to ice over tonight, we would be up a creek, and--much as I like unplanned school holidays--tomorrow would be the absolute worst day to have a snow day, with juries at the college and all.)

Granted, our weather is nothing like what they've been having in the Midwest (and I hope that kind of thing isn't going on next week, when I'm in that part of the country), but at least, with just over two weeks to go, it's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas out here.

It's cold, but we're not at this point yet: In Minnesota last week, someone tried to carjack a snowplow, but the driver didn't respond to his demand to leave the vehicle. (if you're thinking that this story sounds familiar, it's because a similar thing happened a little over a month ago.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Ninjas in Training

Something rather interesting came up last night before the jazz concert at the college. Since my groups all went a few weeks ago, I was in charge of the ushers at this concert, and was thus, like those in my employ, dressed in all black. I was talking to a few of the ushers and the lighting guy, when a couple of students waiting for the concert to start came up to us. The following conversation ensued...

FEMALE STUDENT: Umm...we were just wondering why all of you are wearing black.
LIGHTING GUY: We're ninjas in training.
ME: OK, actually, we're about to become goths, but we haven't done our hair or our nails yet.

The lighting guy then explained why ushers and theatre techs wear black, and added at the end, "But I really like the idea of us being ninjas in training even better."

And while we're on the subject, I just did a search and realized that I never posted the story about a friend of mine whose little sister (in kindergarten at the time) was shopping with my friend and his mother at a discount store. She saw a couple of ladies in dark-colored Middle Easter garb (complete with headcovering), and said (in a very loud voice that many little kids possess), "Look over there...ninjas!" Needless to say, mom and big brother were mortified and tried to "shush" her as quickly as possible.

Getting one's just desserts, part 1: Last night at dinner after the concert, I got a special that included the dessert (the White Chocolate Molten Cake from Chili's, which I highly recommend). Once again, a humorous piece of dialogue was to follow...

FRIEND: If you eat that entire cake and don't give me any, I won't be your friend anymore.
ME: Dude...if I ate that entire cake, I'd be two of your friends.

Getting one's just desserts, part 2: I can also recommend one more dessert that I tried for the first time this weekend: The Nutter Butter Fudgeslide at Logan's Roadhouse. Logan's is one of those places where they have buckets of peanuts on the table, of which you can toss the shells on the floor, so the dessert played on that riff. It's one of those shot-glass-sized confections with several layers: The top part has whipped cream and a tiny, tiny Nutter Butter cookie; the middle part is like a Reese's peanut butter cup on steroids; and the bottom is a chocolate mousse-type thing. It's very, very rich, but very, very good, and--since the container it comes in can be taken home as a souvenir--you has a bucket when you finish.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

O Holy Crap!

This has been spreading like wildfire around my college recently, even though it turns out that it's been on the Internet since at least 2004. Have you heard the really bad version of "O Holy Night" yet?

(I'll link to it here until I can figure out the code to embed a little mp3 player thingy on this blog.)

If you haven't heard it, hit the link and be prepared to cringe. It's a beautifully-done backing track, but the singing is, umm, less than stellar (especially the part at the end at the end that goes really high).

A student brought this in to improv class on Thursday, and, like many first-time hearers, I laughed so hard that I cried. The same student also took it into theory class yesterday morning, and that prof not only played it for the class, but she also put it in the CD player at the beginning of scholarship auditions and tried to convince a few people that maybe it was a student who couldn't make the auditions and had submitted a CD instead. (Nobody really bought the story, but much cringing ensued.)

So when I came home yesterday, I had to do some research on the clip. Everyone was wondering the same thing: Was this real or a joke? After all, you need look no farther than Omazing Grace or Star Wars Trumpet Girl to realize that there are people out there with little talent that nonetheless perform, get recorded and end up on the Internet.

My search took me to the site of a Georgia-based worship leader named Fred McKinnon, who first posted the clip three years ago (and was sometimes mistakenly credited with being the singer himself!). About a month ago, he managed to discover the actual singer and got him to tell all. In a nutshell, the guy, "Steve M.", is a Nashville-based writer, producer and studio musician (but not a trained singer) who wrote the background track for a "real" singer, and after that singer made his recording, Steve and his engineer were messing around in the studio and made the spoof track, which must have leaked to the Internet after the record company was bought out and its assets were being archived by the new owners.

So there you have it. Have a good laugh with this one, and may your day be merrier and brighter than this track would suggest.

Maybe this guy should have just stuck to singing: A Salvation Army bell-ringer in Indiana was busted for shoplifting Christmas ornaments from Wal-Mart while on his break. He was singing "The First Noel" as he did so (but it has not been determined whether he was on- or off-key).

Friday, December 07, 2007

Trouble Is Brewing at a Local Elementary School

This is definitely a funny story from this morning's DMN: Killian Middle School, which opened in Lewisville this year, ended up with a logo that looks remarkably like that of Killian's Red beer:
The two Killians share a name, a mustang mascot and similar logos. One is a new Lewisville middle school. The other is an old Irish beer.

"It's highly coincidental," Lewisville ISD spokesman Dean Tackett said.

Killian Middle School, which opened in August, is named after retired school administrator Michael Killian. A seventh-grader there noticed the oddity when she saw a six-pack of Killian's Irish Red lager in her parents' refrigerator.

She looked at it and said, 'Hey, that's the logo of our school,' " parent Jim Ross said. "They've got a beer logo as their school mascot. It's unbelievable."
Read the whole thing and laugh. The article notes that the students chose the Mustangs from a list of 14 possible mascots and that there are quite a few differences (mane length, color, head tilt, etc.) between the school horse and the beer horse.

Are they too similar? The two logos are shown side-by-side in the article, so you can decide for yourself. And to the administration's credit, nobody's made an immediate knee-jerk reaction to the similarities:
"Everyone knows who the school's named after," Mr. Tackett said. "Does it really make a difference? I don't know. It's a pretty long stretch to me. Certainly we're not there to sell Killian's beer."

Mr. Tackett said the school district "obviously ... doesn't want any reference to alcohol at any campus."

Still, school officials don't believe the logo promotes drinking and would not push for a quick switch, Mr. Tackett said. It would be up to [principal Alan] Cassel whether to survey parents and consider a change.
And that, sports fans, is the correct way to handle a situation like this. (Still--it's funny.)

And in other embarrassing promotional moments...A grocery store in New York is catching some much-deserved flak for advertising hams as "Delicious for Chanukah." Umm, yeah, in the same way that a Big Mac would be delicious for a Hindu holiday. (The store has apologized and is "reviewing its employee training.")

One more "oops," but this was good for customers: A gas station employee in Wisconsin accidentally programmed his pump computers to sell gas for 33 cents a gallon. (Word spread quickly; they sold 586 gallons of gas in an hour and 45 minutes.)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Just Wonder-ing...

...if any Musings readers here in the Metroplex got to see Stevie last night or tonight? I really wanted to go, but being able to throw down $65 for the cheapest seats just wasn't going to happen this close to the holidays.

Still, it was quite tempting to go anyway, considering he hadn't done a national tour in twelve years, and I hope I don't regret passing it up. Feel free to pass on any mini-reviews in the comments (and read the review from the paper of last night's show).

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A Sign of the Times?

This didn't surprise me when I read it the other day, but it still gave me pause: After 129 years, AT&T is getting out of the pay-phone business:
America's shrinking pay phone population suffered another blow Monday, when AT&T Inc. announced plans to turn loose its herd of 65,000.

As recently as 1998, the U.S. supported 2.6 million pay phones, but with cellphones reducing pay phone use and vandals preying on units in vulnerable locations, pay phone numbers have plummeted to just 1 million today.

If independent pay phone operators do not take over the phones that AT&T abandons, service may decline further in U.S. prisons and across the 13-state footprint where Southwestern Bell once provided telephone service.

AT&T executives voice cautious optimism that most phones will survive the upheaval, which will take place over the next year or so.
The DMN article also included a survey that asked when the last time was that you'd used a pay phone, and--like many, I'm sure--I had no clue. I've owned a cell phone since 1995, and even the first one--which was so bulky that it didn't fit comfortably in my pocket--pretty much replaced the pay phone for me from day one. Once I got long distance added to my cell service, it not only rendered the pay phone useless on any occasion, but it also pretty much sounded the death knell for long distance service at home (which still exists, but only on an emergency, as-needed basis). I realize that there must be a non-cell-using population who relies on pay phones, but you hardly ever see one anymore.

When was the last time you used a pay phone?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Variety is the Spice (Not Cider) of Life

Seeing as how it's the holiday season and we've had our share of cold days lately, I've been indulging in one of my favorite warm holiday drinks quite a bit these days: Caramel Apple Cider from Starbucks. Except something's different now--they're not calling it that anymore. It's become "Caramel Apple Spice."

Huh? That's just silly to me. "Spice" doesn't sound like a drink; it sounds like something you put in a drink. But I think I know why they did it: They don't always use cider; sometimes it's just plain ol' apple juice from the grocery store (I've seen the bottle before). I can remember a time or two when the drink formerly known as CAC wasn't available because they ran out of apple juice (the term they used), and I suggested that they just send someone next door to the grocery store to get more, but that never worked.

So did they make this change in the name of honesty, or were they pressured into doing it? (And if you're wondering, I pretty much got a Starbucks employee to admit a few weeks ago that the reason for the change was indeed that true cider was not being used in the making of the drink.) Was it an outcry from customers who could taste the difference, or did the International Brotherhood of Apple Growers and Mashers demand that anything bearing the word "cider" in fact be made of cider?

(The whole corporate thing isn't just whimsy, you know. When I worked in a fast-food place in high school, we served Pepsi products, and we were required to correct customers who asked for a Coke. The alleged reason for this was that Coca-Cola would send in corporate spies to ask for a Coke, and if they weren't corrected--and the beverage was analyzed at the lab and found to be something other than Coca-Cola--lawsuits would begin.)

Still, it's a silly name for a drink, so I find myself kicking it old-school on the name. Thankfully, no barista has been crude enough to correct me yet. (I did try it once, but it came out as a hybrid: "Caramel Apple Spider." Sounds like a twisted Halloween treat to me.)

What's your favorite dumb product name, especially one that changed because of some silly regulation? Those of a certain age may nominate any cereal that used to have "Sugar" in the title, but I'm sure there are more out there.

Roo on the loose: DId you hear about the escaped kangaroo in Lewisville over the weekend? Enjoy the video...

Monday, December 03, 2007

This Headline Almost Makes Too Much Sense

"Hire good teachers and get out of the way." That's the headline to an op-ed column by Leonard Pitts that appeared in this morning's DMN.Touting the virtues of a set of charter schools known as KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program), he says some of the same things that I've been saying for over two years now:
Having spent the last year studying educational success stories, I find myself increasingly convinced that much of what ails American schools can be traced to a bureaucracy that: (a) doesn't pay enough; (b) does too little to encourage and reward creativity; (c) doesn't give principals authority over who works in their schools; (d) makes it nearly impossible to fire bad teachers.

[...]"Teachers are generally very optimistic," said KIPP co-founder Dave Levin. "Unfortunately what happens is, you don't have a lot of examples in this country of systemic success and success at scale. You might have a good teacher there or a good teacher here, but you don't get enough concentration within a school or a district to have a cycle of success."

Spend enough time pushing boulders uphill, and it wears you out. Enthusiasm becomes indifference, energy burns out like candles, and success is defined down.
The more I hear about the seemingly endless chain of idiotic decisions made by administrators...the more I hear from teachers who are beaten down with paperwork and other mindless drivel..and the more that I realize that so much money is being spent on--and authority is being given to--people who may not have taught in 20 or 30 years, and are thus completely ill-prepared to deal with the problems faced by teachers now, I still believe that my idea from two years ago--that administrators must remain teachers throughout their careers instead of being allowed to morph into out-of-touch, ivory tower-dwelling bureaucrats--is an important part of the solution.

I'll let Pitts have the last few words here:
No one becomes a teacher to get rich. You become a teacher because you want to give back, you want to shape future generations, you want to change the world. But the reality of our educational system and the grimy culture in which it operates is that that prime directive often winds up subordinate to the directives of a creativity-choking bureaucracy that seems less interested in educating disadvantaged kids than in warehousing them.

And then, here comes a program that's educating such kids so effectively a woman moves halfway across the country to be a part. The lesson could not be clearer.

You want to fix American education? Step 1: Empower principals to hire good teachers. Step 2: Require raised expectations.

Step 3? Get out of the way.
This is an idea whose time is come, and I'll continue to shout it from the rooftops until someone has the courage to implement it.

Want an example of a ridiculous administrative decision? Look no farther: I'm not opposed to the use of corporal punishment if it's used properly and sparingly, but I am completely opposed to being used on a kid for a minor dress code violation--especially when the kid in question called his dad for the proper clothes and changed before the school day started. I'm sorry, but this principal needs to be terminated and have his teaching license revoked; he's exactly the kind of person we need to banish from our midst if education is to be improved. Hey, Caddo Mills school board: do the right thing.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Happy Holi-daze

We're only a little more than a week into the "official" holiday season, and it's already spawned a few oddball stories:If things stay this weird, I'll probably have another roundup of stories like this before the season is over.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Saturday Sports Summary

(I'm a big football fan--as you may have noticed--so I suppose it makes sense that I might blog about it on occasion. I hope it's not too boring to anyone who's a non-fan out there.)

First of all, it had to be just an absolutely horrible day for coach Todd Dodge:I had also mentioned last week that it would be cool if Carroll and my alma mater, Houston Stratford, won out and met each other in the Class 5A Division II championship in a few weeks, but, alas, Stratford lost yesterday as well, to Clements--a school in Sugar Land, where my parents have lived since they left the Stratford neighborhood.

And please allow me a quick mini-rant here: As much as I enjoy the added high school sports coverage on the site that the DMN has affiliated itself with this year, some of the comments in the corresponding blog are shameful in the way that they bash high school students as if they were salaried professionals. Note (at your peril) the comments in the Riley Dodge story; some of the readers slam not only Todd Dodge and UNT, but they're pretty merciless with Riley as well. C'mon, folks--maybe you need to get a better hobby, or perhaps even step away from your computer and play a sport; I'll bet you can't do any better than these kids you're slamming so freely here.

NEXT MORNING UPDATE: Just checked the site again; commenter "Ben" says it best:
Everybody that ripped SLC on this blog should be ashamed of themselves. We are talking about high schools kids, not pro athletes that are getting paid millions of dollars. They had a fine season and a very fine run there the last few years and NOBODY can take that away from them. Those players and coaches will remember each other for the rest of their lives. As we all know, not everything you read from the media is true. The only people that Really know what goes on are the players, coaches and their classmates. It's a shame that so many people have to come on this blog and rip high school athletes in order to boost their own self-esteem.
Well said, Ben. (And yes, I'm the "Kev" a few comments upthread from him.)

Strike up out at the band: I don't think I ever posted this one, but there was an even worse moment on the same blog a few weeks ago when several readers took to bashing high school bands--that's right, they went after the band in a sports blog. One commenter said that " I happen to prefer a good MARCHING Band, playing songs like 76 Trombones or John Phillip Sousa, not a mini Broadway show w/music I've never heard." I weighed in on this as well:
To those above who think that "marching band" is going up and down the field playing Sousa marches, might I remind you that things evolve over time. Do you apply this anti-modernism to other aspects of your life as well? Do you drive home in a car with fins, singing along with your AM radio (with the windows rolled down, because there's no A/C), going home to your black-and-white TV and talking on a corded, rotary-dial land-line phone that's owned by the phone company? (And let's not even mention the computer--it's in an office building, not your house, taking up a whole room and having less storage space than your iPod nano.)

Anyway, the point is, things change. (Although I have to say that, compared to marching band, drill team has hardly changed at all, for decades now.) Sure, there might be an excessive number of contests these days, but there's an awful lot of hard work and musicianship that goes into these productions, so they deserve a few chances to perform on a big stage.

[...]And if you like traditional marching band, there are two places to go: East Texas, where schools like Longview are still doing the military shows year in and year out, and Kyle Field in College Station, where the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band does that style better than anyone.
Thankfully, a few other commenters were also calling out the bashers for being so hard on high school musicians, just like others were on the SLC players today.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Yet Another Friday Cornucopia

It's been another busy week. Here are some stories I haven't been able to post yet:More tomorrow, and maybe some substance as well.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

This Blog Has the "Cowboys Fever" Tonight

I bet a lot of people skipped work or school tonight to watch the Cowboys beat the Packers. Me, I'm skipping my daily blog post, save for this paragraph. I'm ├╝ber-tired and need to pace myself before a busy weekend, so I'll return with fresh bloggy goodness tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

This Music Is Inarguably Good

I've been listening to a lot of really cool music lately, some of which I haven't even blogged about yet. But a few nights ago, a friend turned me onto what might end up being some of my favorite new music of the year: Darcy James Argue's Secret Society. A native of Canada who now calls New York home, Argue writes fresh-sounding charts that are influenced by Maria Schneider and Bob Brookmeyer (two of his former instructors) while also containing elements of both Steve Reich-ish minimalism and some skronky rock guitar thrown in. Drawing on the myriad talent floating around New York (including the husband-and-wife team of trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and drummer Jon Wikan, along with UNT alum Rob Wilkerson), Argue has put together something special here--music that's truly beyond category.

I could go on and on about how cool this music is, but I'd rather let it speak for itself: Go to the audio archives page of the Secret Society site and have a listen. Argue has posted mp3's of many of the band's live performances, and entire shows can be downloaded for free as ZIP files. I already have a few shows gracing my iTunes and iPod, and I haven't been able to stop listening to them all week. (My favorite tunes so far are "Transit" and the two that my friend initially suggested, "Habeas Corpus" and "Ritual," but there isn't a dud in the bunch.) I sure hope to be able to see this group sometime (if only I could make it to Toronto for IAJE this year!), and I'll happily snap up any CD that comes out down the road.

Reviewer Steve Smith noted in his blog that "Argue's charts are smart and tuneful, tough on players, and incredibly gracious to listeners. And some bright publisher should be pushing his compositions to college jazz bands -- hard. I know I'd have killed to play music like this." Yeah, me too. And I should note that it's already happened at least once; my friend who turned me onto Argue's music was himself exposed to it by a recent performance by the Rep Ensemble at UNT--a performance that I'm now kicking myself for missing. (And I'll need to check out the other composers featured in that concert somewhere down the road...but Argue's compositions have become quite the post-Thanksgiving banquet for the moment.)

Do I need to emphasize any more that you need to check out this music? Go. Now. I'll still be here when you get back, and then we can talk about it together.

The age of steam(punk): Some have described Secret Society as a "steampunk big band." I wasn't familiar with the steampunk movement, but learning about it is an interesting side trip, especially while listening to Secret Society. Lots of info can be found here, here, and here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

More Animal Stories

As many of you know, I had a feature on my radio show in college called Animal Stories. These will never run out, because animals are always doing the craziest things....
  • A New York town was visited by fifteen wild turkeys on Thanksgiving Day last week (and none of them ended up on someone's dinner table, either).

  • A Missouri family finally got its dog back after it was missing for seven months. In the process, the dog had two temporary homes, was renamed once, and got neutered along the way (by a veterinarian who provided one of the places to stay).

  • This one's just wrong: A man in Wisconsin who was upset with his wife for not buying him some beer took out his frustrations by shooting one of the family's pet goats. (He's being charged with a variety of things.)

  • The new panda cub at the San Diego Zoo has been given a name; it happened 100 days after Zhen Zhen was born, to keep with Chinese tradition.

  • Aficionados in London are trying to get Queen Elizabeth II to declare pigeon-racing to be a legitimate sport.

  • And finally, I once won a radio award with a spot for our traffic service that used examples of actual weird accidents reported over our airwaves. One of the weirdest ones was "Animal fat fills the streets of downtown Ft. Worth!" And now, a waste truck in Virginia has leaked poultry fat over 20 miles of roadway.
Tomorrow: Some cool music that I've discovered this week.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Cyber None-Day

So today was Cyber Monday, the official kickoff of the online holiday shopping season and what was anticipated to be the busiest online shopping day of the year.

And if you're wondering why people would wait till today to shop online--instead of, say, doing so last week on Black Friday to avoid the mall crowds--it has something to do with today being the day that people return to their work computers for the first time since the holiday began. But another article I read today notes that not everyone saves their shopping for work anymore (and I would never do that, since my office--home to about 100 other professors--only has shared computers. I'll shop from the security of home, thanks).

But I didn't buy anything online today--just like I didn't buy anything in a brick-and-mortar store on Friday--because nobody has sent me a wish list yet! (And I haven't sent mine out either, mind you.) Am I horribly behind? I don't think so, despite the early arrival of both Thanksgiving and holiday decorations. I have a few big weeks of teaching left, so I'm in no hurry to bring on the holiday madness at this point (though I do hope I can get some assistance hanging the outdoor lights this year; I have a few friends who like to get up on the roof, so I might well take advantage of that).

I asked on Friday if you had gotten any holiday shopping done yet, and I'll ask it again now that Cyber Monday is about to be filed away into the archives: Are you done? Have you even started?

The one thing that I didn't get a lot of over the break was sleep, so I plan to catch up with that tonight. Tomorrow: More animal stories; I've been saving them up.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Holiday Follies

Random stuff I ran across this week that appeared to come from the "oops" department:I hope everyone had a great vacation; it's back to the grind in the morning.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Good Football Weather?

A question for my fellow Metroplex residents: Was today just a nasty day or what? I made a few trips around the area, and the cold rain just rarely stopped all day. (As I've said before, I don't mind cold, and I don't mind rain, but I'm no big fan of the two together.)

Some people, especially those from up north, might refer to this as "good football weather." But seeing as how several of the teams with which I have ties actually had to play football today, I wondered if the weather would affect the games at all. So let's check the scoreboard...
  • Both of the schools where I teach that were still in the playoffs (and another one in the district where I don't teach anymore) got knocked out of the hunt today. No clue if the weather was a factor, but when the ground and the ball get wet, anything can happen.

  • There was a UNT game today. I had pondered attending this one before the weather went south on us (now there's a geographically inaccurate term, seeing as how the cold front that put us in this deep-freeze is Arctic in origin), but it just didn't seem practical. Add the weather to the fact that it's during a holiday, and I hope that more than a handful of people made it out. Still, UNT won the game, so that's something to build on for Year Two of the Todd Dodge Era, which I'm sure will be much better as he gets more and more of his recruits in there. (It was a good weekend all around for the extended Southlake Carroll family, as the Dragons won their game last night as well, and former Dragon quarterback Chase Daniel has Missouri beating Kansas at the moment, [UPDATE: Mizzou did win that one], so it was undoubtedly a happy day in Southlake, where I chose to dine today at my favorite Cajun place.)

  • And finally--while I have no clue what the weather was like in Houston--my alma mater, Houston Stratford, also advanced in the playoffs. (They could conceivably meet Southlake Carroll in the Class 5A Division 2 Championship if both teams win out.)

    UPDATE: After figuring out that I hadn't done so yet, I've finally added some pictures of Stratford and the house where I grew up to this 2005 post about a visit to the old neighborhood. (The original post was written back before I was in OS X, so I had trouble uploading pictures back then.)
And seeing as how all my teams have played this week, tomorrow sounds like a good day for an afternoon nap.

He just sang what?? The spirits of the Croatian national soccer team were lifted by an English opera singer's embarrassing misstatement of part of the lyrics to their national anthem; the gaffe helped spur them on to victory over the host country at the Euro 2008 tournament. I won't repeat what he mis-sang in this G-rated blog, but you can read it yourself here.

Kev's holiday gift guide, part 1: Shopping for the person who has everything? You could do what an Italian businessman just did--bought an entire small Texas town on eBay. (The town in question has one house and no permanent residents, but it went for $3.8 million.)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Black Friday in Review

This is (allegedly) the busiest shopping day of the year (and if not, certainly the most-discussed one), so, like we did a year ago, let's discuss Black Friday for a moment:
  • How much, if any, shopping did you do today? Or did you avoid the malls like the plague? (I did the same thing I did last year, save for the addition of a trip back from Austin: I went to see my protege and bandmate Aaron's gig at Firewheel, and actually sat in a bit; the other horn player on the gig is recovering from surgery and could only play a little bit. Unlike some of the other malls that they were talking about on radio traffic reports today, there was a bit of parking left at Firewheel, despite a parking lot being blocked off for a nighttime fireworks display.)

  • How many football games did you watch today? (My answer was zero, as I wasn't near a TV very often today, but I was quite pleasantly surprised to see that A&M beat UT for the second year in a row, even if that game was probably Coach Fran's swan song. [UPDATE: It was.])

  • Have you even started your holiday shopping yet? And are there any overachievers out there who have actually finished? (No start for me yet, as I have yet to either send or receive a gift list. And I do most of my shopping online as it is.)

  • Are you sick of turkey yet? (Not me; the leftovers I brought back from Austin will be saved for tomorrow or Sunday.)

  • Are you sick of Christmas music yet? (I heard from one mall worker who already is.)
I'm pretty tired from the trip and all, so I'll wait and do all the little news stories tomorrow. Hope you had a great holiday.