Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Mystery Solved

After three long days, I got the car back this afternoon. The culprit? The distributor. Not just the cap--the whole thing. It set me back a bit, but I figured out a way to do it without busting my bank account, so it's all good. It may set me back a few months as far as when I get a new car in a year or so, but this also bought the car quite a bit of time (It has so many parts, you could say it's "bionic").

At any rate, I'm happy to get this distraction out of the way, and I'll be happy to post about other stuff next time. But while we're on the subject of cars...

Great balls of fire ice: An 18-inch-thick ball of ice fell from the sky in Florida and crushed the roof of a parked car. There's also an "eww" factor; the ice ball probably came from an airplane lavatory.

The department store now has a drive-through: Thieves in Denmark plowed their car through the entrance to a department store but gave up their quest after they couldn't ram it into the jewelry section. (The headline for this story, "Thieves Race Car Through Danish Store," confused me, as I thought they meant a store devoted to frosted breakfast pastries.)

I, Valet: New Yorkers will soon get to try a robotic parking garage--a hit overseas, but only the second one here in the U.S.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Mystery Continues

My car has been in the shop since yesterday afternoon, and they're still not sure what's wrong. This scares me a bit, because things like that always end up being expensive.

Of course, Kevmobile 1.2 has been a money pit in the past two years, causing me to spend way too much time at the garage. In the past, it had usually chosen my school holidays to break down, but this one required a rental car very early this morning (because of the nature of my job, I can't just not teach, especially if the car repair will be expensive; besides, at about thirty bucks a day, I recoup the cost of the rental in only two lessons). It took a while to get the car, but my net loss was one lesson in the morning, and I'll make that up later.

So I kept checking in with the car place, and the answer was always the same: "We don't know yet." This increased my anxiety quotient each time they said that, because I could see it getting more expensive by the hour (though I doubt I'm being charged by the hour for all the diagnostic stuff). The mechanic who usually does all my work said, "I think your car is cursed." I knew I shouldn't have parked over that Native American burial ground that one time...

Anyway, I get to drive the little red pod car again for at least part of tomorrow (it's funny; I'll post the picture eventually), and, since I went over to grab a few necessities out of my car (college briefcase, public school badge, sunglasses...though I forgot to get the garage door opener [d'oh!]), things will be as normal as they can be at the moment. Still, I'm hoping for something besides a giant bill here, so once again, wish me luck...

The cat's out of the bag, part 1: Inmates at a Vermont women's prison will no longer be able to keep the cats that have been living with them for years.

The cat's out of the bag, part 2: This week's funny video features the ultimate bad idea in pet supplies--the Kitty Washing Machine.

The pen is mightier than the Simba: A lady defends herself from a mountain lion who attacked her husband by fighting back with a small log and a pen.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Just One of Those Days

To anyone here in the Metroplex who might have been mildly inconvenienced today by a stalled car partially blocking the right lane of northbound 75 to eastbound George Bush....umm, that was me. Sorry...

The ironic thing was that, on my way home from church, my next stop was supposed to be the local garage to get an oil change; six more miles and I would have been right there. But instead, it decided to cough to a halt halfway up an elevated onramp, coming to rest about halfway on the shoulder (which was wide enough to hold it, had we made it that far). And I can't tell you how thankful I am that it didn't decide to do this on the towering High Five overpass from LBJ to 75 that I had traversed not five minutes earlier. *shudder*

I ended up standing there for around 45 minutes (I was thankful that AAA bumped me up to top priority for a tow truck when the dispatcher learned of my location). I stood on the shoulder, well behind the car so that approaching motorists would see me first and be aware that they would need to merge left or at least slow down. It was a little nervewracking when cars were coming in both lanes, because it sometimes appeared that there wouldn't be enough time and/or room for both lanes to get through. However, the car and I emerged unscathed, without so much as a horn honk or ugly look. Thankfully, it was Sunday, which meant less traffic and perhaps that people were in a serene mood after having just gotten out of church.

(While I was up there, I thought about calling the Traffic Tips Hotline and reporting my own stalled car; if Eric--who evidently "unretired" at least for yesterday--had been on duty, I would have done so just for the laugh factor.)

Still, I've read the stories about people involved in horrible accidents in situations like that; I've almost never felt so vulnerable as I did up there this afternoon. And it's a good thing that my childhood acrophobia has subsided a bit.

I also noticed upon arrival at the garage that the wrecker driver had, while in the process of reaching over to try and start the car himself, squashed my glasses a bit; it's the same earpiece that fell off last semester, and now they're all wobbly again and causing headaches. Hmm; maybe "the experts" were wrong, and this past Monday was not the worst day of the year after all. Still, if today was as bad as it's going to get, you won't hear complaints from me.

So they ran all kinds of tests on the car this afternoon, but they weren't able to figure it out (granted, the garage closes at four, and the lead tech had today off). So I guess I'll be doing the early-morning car-rental thing so I can teach tomorrow (that's pretty much a no-brainer; the car costs around $30 a day, which I will recover after the first two lessons). In the meantime, I hope it's nothing too serious; with Kevmobile 1.2 just having been paid off last month, I really need her to make it through the year so that I can save up for the downpayment for the next one. Wish me luck with that...

So I'm stuck at home all day and will try to get things done. In the meantime, I got caught up on a week's worth of posts yesterday, so keep scrolling down and you'll see everything that was started through a week ago.

Even the porn directors agree that the films are too graphic now: Some producers of sex films are complaining that high-definition TV sets are making their movies too realistic (i.e. it brings out the actors' physical imperfections too much).

Speaking of porn: A church in upstate New York is hosting a porn and pancakes breakfast, but it's not what you might think; it's a frank discussion of porn and its effect on society, and flapjacks will be served.

We've talked sex and drugs now; all we need is rock 'n' roll: An Arizona grandmother has been sentenced to three years in prison for running drugs to support her bingo habit.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Stirke Up the Bands Wind Ensembles

An annual tradition took place last night: the All-Region Bands concert in my part of town (with "part of town" being relative this year, as the school where it was held was in the eleventh quadrant of the far western spiral arm of the Galaxy, with the added oddity of having the school auditorium in the back of the school and nowhere near any parking; I felt bad for the older gentleman who was headed there in a shuffling gait and the band kid on crutches who was carrying his trumpet as well).

This year's concert was very similar to last year's (which was also blogged) in terms of efficiency; every band played exactly when it was supposed to play, even if the previous band got done early, and there were plenty of seats for all comers. They've really got this down to a science now. They no longer have the 4A band, which in my case provided me an early exit, as the top tenor and bari were from 4A schools (my two who made 5A Area competition were thus the tops in their classification but second in their rooms). This was actually a good thing, as I was coming straight to the concert from teaching, with no time for dinner along the way.

Once again, this concert reinforced the idea that I like the newer style of wind music much better than its older counterpart. As I said last year,
Tonight also reminded me once again how much more I like "wind ensemble" music than traditional "band" music. Sure, I'm a sucker for a good march (which makes sense, seeing as how my first two widely-performed compositions were marches), but the more orchestral style of wind writing that's employed today just draws me a lot deeper into the music than most of the old band "warhorses" do. (It doesn't hurt that a lot of wind ensemble writing draws heavily from the modern film-scoring sound...which reminds me--sometime soon, I need to write the post about "How Film Scoring 'Saved' Modern Classical Music.") The effective use of the different colors of the winds, along with the expanded percussion section, really heightens the overall appeal of the genre. I wasn't familiar with a lot of the compositions I heard tonight, but I would definitely acquire some of them on CD for when I'm in a classical mood (yes, it happens)>
One of the bands played something from an older era, and it was striking to me how there was just something missing in the old-style writing. Sure, I loves me some Festive Overture and Second Suite in F, but the new stuff just grabs my attention as a listener much more. (And yes, a year later, I still need to write the post about film scoring and its beneficial effect on contemporary classical music.)

Congrats once again to all of those who made the bands this year (I had nine people make it from my studio, which I think is way more than a year ago). As much as we all get tired of hearing the audition music by December, it's still a great honor to be selected.

Strke Up the (Marching) Bands (10/29/06)
Strike Up the Bands (1/20/06)
Region: A View from the Audience (1/25/04)

Least surprising headline of the week: Scientists can't get sloth to move.

Interesting hybrid products of the week: Coffee stout (yes, we're talking beer here) and caffeinated doughnuts.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Dining with Doggies in Dallas

The Dallas City Council approved an ordinance this week that allows dogs to join their owners on restaurants' outside patios. This is not a requirement; any restaurant who wishes to do so will have to apply for a permit and follow certain rules:
According to Dallas' ordinance, restaurants allowed to welcome dogs onto their patios must:

• Provide a separate entrance for outdoor patio

• Post signs that they are a “dog-friendly” restaurant

• Install curtains separating inside of a restaurant from its patio

• Prohibit dogs from going inside the restaurant and from sitting or standing on outdoor tables or chairs

• Prevent dogs from touching restaurant serving staff
So what do you think--is this a good idea or a bad idea? Other than the possibility of having your dinner spoiled by seeing someone else's dog do its business while you're eating, I can't see much of a downside to at least giving this a try. Restaurant owners and newspaper readers have already sounded off on the subject, and you can do so too, in the comments.

UPDATE: In a related story, a proposed ordinance in Washington state would allow dogs to join their owners in bars.

More animal stories, part 1: Residents of Pennsyvlania (about half an hour northwest of Pittsburgh) were surprised to see a wallaby hopping around town.

More animal stories, part 2: A Florida man has taught his pet parakeet to dunk a tiny basketball and tip in a golf putt. (Incidentally, the bird has its own MySpace page.)

More animal stories, part 3: A British farm worker required medical attention after he was attacked by a herd of pigs.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

School Daze

While you're waiting for me to catch up on two days' worth of unfinished posts, here's some amusing tidbits from an email I received yesterday:
TEACHER: Maria, go to the map and find North America.

MARIA: Here it is.

TEACHER: Correct. Now class, who discovered America?

CLASS: Maria.

TEACHER: John, why are you doing your math multiplication on the floor?

JOHN: You told me to do it without using tables.
_____ _____________________________________

TEACHER: Glenn, how do you spell "crocodile?"


TEACHER: No, that's wrong

GLENN: Maybe it is wrong, but you asked me how I spell it.

TEACHER: Donald, what is the chemical formula for water?


TEACHER: What are you talking about?

DONALD: Yesterday you said it's H to O.


TEACHER: Winnie, name one important thing we have today that we
didn't have ten years ago.



TEACHER: Glen, why do you always get so dirty?

GLEN: Well, I'm a lot closer to the ground than you are.

TEACHER: Millie, give me a sentence starting with "I."

MILLIE: I is...

TEACHER: No, Millie..... Always say, "I am."

MILLIE: All right... "I am the ninth letter of the alphabet."


TEACHER: George Washington not only chopped down his father's cherry
tree, but also admitted it. Now, Louie, do you know why his father
didn't punish him?

LOUIS: Because George still had the ax in his hand.


TEACHER: Now, Simon, tell me frankly, do you say prayers before eating?

SIMON: No sir, I don't have to, my Mom is a good cook.


TEACHER: Clyde, your composition on "My Dog" is exactly the same as
your brother's. Did you copy his?

CLYDE: No, teacher, it's the same dog.

TEACHER: Harold, what do you call a person who keeps on talking when
people are no longer interested?

HAROLD: A teacher.
I'll finish those other posts later today or tomorrow.

It's a dog's life, part 1: A Labrador retriever is expected to recover fully after swallowing 1/4 of a bottle of glue.

It's a dog's life, part 2: Meet Butch, a dog so mean that 24 residents of his neighborhood aren't getting home mail delivery at the moment.

It's a dog's life, part 3: As if pets aren't pampered enough already, someone has now come up with beer for dogs. (It's probably best not to consume it in tandem with doggie ice cream, I'd think.)

Monday, January 22, 2007

Blue Monday? Not Here

Today (the fourth Monday in January) is known as Blue Monday, supposedly the unhappiest day of the year. (The reasons for said unhappiness include bad wintry weather, unpaid holiday bills and the realization that most people won't live up to their New Year's resolutions.) So we're supposed to take heart in the fact that things can't get any worse than they are today.

But here in Kev-land, things aren't so blue. For one thing, I don't tend to make New Year's resolutions, because trying to accomplish something grandiose just because it coincides with getting a new calendar seems doomed to failure from the start. And even though the weather has been pretty nasty this past week, it's also helped to relieve the drought that we've had for the past year and a half. (Besides, we did get to see that glistening yellow orb in the sky yesterday; for me, that was the first time I'd done so since Friday of the New York trip.) And this was a pretty sensible holiday for me, so no leftover bills.

So if today was as bad as it's supposed to get, then 2007 is shaping up as a great year. I hope it's the same for you.

The Apple took a bite out of him: Speaking of New York, a newcomer went out for a walk in Queens recently and got lost for five days.

He broke the law in a good way: The law in question was gravity; a man in Minnesota fell 17 stories out of a building and lived to tell the tale.

Video of the week: Rabbit vs. snake. (You might be surprised who wins.)

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Town vs. Students

I read an interesting article over the weekend. It's a common story, one in which college students who live in rental housing close to campus are pitted against their often not-so-understanding neighbors:
The complaints rising in this neighborhood may ring familiar to some urban residents: Lack of parking. Too much noise. Lots of trash.

But the culprits cited by University Park neighbors are not commonplace: SMU students.

Too many of the collegians and others live in the area's rental units, violating an ordinance, according to neighbors. Residents say that while many Southern Methodist University students follow the rules, the problems a few generate are unacceptable.

"We're out of control," University Park resident Mary Graves said. "We have a problem with parking. We have a problem with trash, with beer bottles, with pizza boxes in the street, with cups from fast-food restaurants thrown in the shrubbery."
Their answer? Enforce a long-on-the-books but often-ignored ordinance that prohibits more than two unrelated people from sharing a residence, be it a house or a condo.
Mayor Blackie Holmes said the council opted to give owners and tenants the benefit of the doubt that they weren't aware of the ordinance. After June 1, however, anyone violating the ordinance will be asked to leave. Property owners will be fined up to $2,000 a day.

"Whether it's midterm or otherwise, they will have to move," Mr. Holmes said.
The only problem is that the majority of condos near campus (many of which are owned by students' parents) have three bedrooms. It's too bad the ordinance didn't take that into consideration.
Mike Bandy, 21, called the decision and ordinance "bogus."

The SMU senior lives in a condo on Rosedale Avenue owned by his parents. He said most of the condos and townhouses close to campus – including the two his parents own on Rosedale – have three bedrooms. "You can't find a condo that only has two bedrooms in it," he said.

Mr. Bandy said at least three students live in every unit in his building. He has two roommates, one fewer than last year.
I don't have a dog in this fight; my one close friend at SMU is an RA and will probably be one for the foreseeable future. But I sure hate to see people in a college town--albeit a very upscale one--acting in such a hostile fashion towards the students when even they acknowledge that the majority of the students are good neighbors. Punishing the many for the misdeeds of the few is never a good way to deal with a problem.

This ordinance should have been tweaked a long time ago; if the three-bedroom condos were already there before it was passed, it should have reflected that reality, and if they have been built since the ordinance, the units should have been built with only two bedrooms, or the law should have been adjusted at that time.

Ultimately, this will be bad for the town in the long run:
Mr. Bandy said the growing lack of housing will hurt University Park's bottom line because many students will buy or lease property outside the city. His parents are considering selling one of their apartments on Rosedale, partly because of the restrictions. Matt Dixon, a Plano resident who owns several multifamily buildings near SMU, said the real problem isn't landlords or students.

"The problem is bad landlords and bad students," he said.
It seems as though the students have learned the proper lesson already; let's hope that the townspeople will follow suit.

Speaking of bad neighbors: Here's a great story about a New York apartment-dweller and the eccentric neighbor lady who registered complaints by leaving notes underneath his door.

They just wanted to study engineering before they got to college: Two Ohio teenagers walked out of their unlocked juvenile detention center and took a train for a joyride.

Friday, January 19, 2007

No Hoodz 'n tha' (Not-Quite-So) Hood?

I've certainly spent plenty of bandwidth on this blog chastising school administrators for some (at best) questionable decisions, and now it's time for another one; this one happens to hit really close to home.

I can't believe I'm actually writing this sentence, but here goes: One of my high school students told me this week that their school's administration decided (in the dead of an atypically-cold Texas winter, no less) to ban hoodies. They didn't just prohibit the wearing of the hood part indoors (which is perfectly reasonable, as far as I'm concerned); I mean that they won't allow anyone to don the garment at all.

I'll let you take a few seconds to guess why they decided to do this...






Time's up. Did you figure out the answer?

"Because gang members wear them."

I've shared my thoughts on school dress codes on many, many prior occasions on this blog. I'm certainly not debating the right of schools to set certain parameters of dress, but come on--a hoodie?

The comfy little hooded sweatshirts are pretty much all over the place now. My educator self owns five of them. Football coaches across the NFL and college wear them to practice and sometimes even during games. The director of the flagship jazz ensemble at my alma mater (you know, the one that starts rehearsing right after 12:59 p.m.) actually directed said ensemble on several occasions while wearing a hoodie. And just this morning I saw an assistant principal at another school in my district wearing one, in school colors with the school's name emblazoned on the front. (That brings up another point--this school has made more than a little bit of money in the past selling hoodies with their name and colors on them...and now you can't wear them to school?)

In the past several years, this garment has become as ubiquitous as pants. But wait a minute--gang members wear pants, too! I guess we'll have to outlaw them as well. (Students and teachers, please pardon this interruption...your official school kilts are now available at Li'l Angus' House of Tartans. Please be ready to wear your kilt by next Monday, and girls, please make sure your hemline is no more than two inches above the knee. Needless to say, undergarments are mandatory.)

I can almost understand outlawing certain logos or colors in certain parts of town (though semi-rural emerging suburbs hardly seem to fit the bill), but if administrators overreact to everything just because "gang members wear them," doesn't that just mean that the gang-bangers have won, or something like that?

I think it would be amusing if a gang started wearing Old Navy or American Eagle. What would the administration do then? (C'mon, you know the answer...) They'd probably go to uniforms next. If that were the case, it would be even more amusing if a gang suddenly outfitted itself in polos and khakis. Then what would they do at school? (To-GA! To-GA!)

I'm not trying to be flip about this, but let's get real here. The kind of things that are being (over)reacted to are things that, by and large, aren't happening in our part of town. But as I've said before, if you send administrators to a few too many of those meetings where they talk about preparing for all those unlikely scenarios, those things may become part of their reality after a while. The mindset shifts from, "Let's prepare for something that could happen but isn't likely to do so" to "This will happen in my school, possibly as soon as today." The remedy? Administrators need to 1) leave the ivory tower more frequently, 2) interact with more people besides other administrators, 3) participate more in the world at large. That's right, administrators must teach. (If we keep chanting this mantra often enough, perhaps it will fall on the ears of someone who could actually do something about the problem.)

I'm sure this won't be my last post on this subject.

Monkey business, part 1: Officials at a Louisiana chimp haven, where all the males have been given vasectomies, are wondering how one of their females ended up giving birth anyway.

Monkey business, part 2: Meanwhile, at the LIttle Rock Zoo, a chimp escaped from her cage and amused her handlers by grabbing a snack and cleaning the toilet.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Parents: Stop Suing MySpace; Start Doing YourJob

It seems like this happens every few months--somebody is suing MySpace for something-or-other. Here's the latest:
Four families have sued News Corp. and its MySpace social-networking site after their underage daughters were sexually abused by adults they met on the site, lawyers for the families said Thursday.

The law firms, Barry & Loewy LLP of Austin, Texas, and Arnold & Itkin LLP of Houston, said families from New York, Texas, Pennsylvania and South Carolina filed separate suits Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging negligence, recklessness, fraud and negligent misrepresentation by the companies.

“In our view, MySpace waited entirely too long to attempt to institute meaningful security measures that effectively increase the safety of their underage users,” said Jason A. Itkin, an Arnold & Itkin lawyer.

The families are seeking monetary damages "in the millions of dollars," Itkin said.

"Hopefully these lawsuits can spur MySpace into action and prevent this from happening to another child somewhere," he said.
Read the whole thing. While I certainly feel bad that the girls were assaulted, I have to wonder why the parents are getting all riled up now, when they should have been monitoring their daughters' computer use in the first place, and they certainly should have known where their kids were headed when they went off to the encounters with the people they "met" online.

Sure, some people would say, "But I can't monitor my kids all the time!" My response would be, "Why can't you? Isn't that your job?" As I've said before, I hold parents to pretty high standards, mostly because my own parents set the bar so high. They weren't by any means perfect in their upbringing of me, but their behavior was always something that could be respected. Even though I don't have kids yet myself, I have some very good role models to draw from.

To me, being a parent is our highest possible calling as human beings. We're doing God's work on earth. And for someone to abdicate that responsibility and then blame others when things go awry is just wrong. I wondered how many people shared my opinion on this, so I checked out the MSNBC message board for this story (requires Firefox or IE to read), and the second commenter pretty much nailed it:
Ridiculous. A typical case of something horrible happening to kids and parents looking for someone to blame besides the actual person that assaulted the children. Maybe if the parents took an interest in their children's lives, the parents would have known the kids were on myspace and would have monitored them effectively. Now the parents want to sue a website that has worked with law enforcement officials and has done everything possible in the internet world to warn minors of the dangers that could be out there. Typical finger pointing.
So come on, parents; what kind of example are you setting for your kids if you don't even own up to your own responsibility for what happened? Will suing a website that just happens to be owned by a deep-pocketed corporation really get you what you want? Talk to your kids; get to know them. Know who they hang out with. And if, God forbid, something bad happens to them in part because of your negligence or inactivity, please be man (or woman) enough to shoulder some of the responsibility rather than just trying to blame everyone else.

UPDATE: The Dallas Morning News editorial board agrees with me.

This house is such a castle...really: Want to buy Dracula's castle? It's for sale for the low, low price of $7.8 million. Oh, and you'd have to live in Romania...

Tour de Nowhere: An Illinois man may have earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records by riding his stationary bike for 85 hours last weekend.

Just call it the Church of St. Madison Avenue: A Los Angeles church had the statement "YOUR AD HERE" projected onto its side for several hours last week. But they weren't coming up short at the offering plate; the ad was a piece of guerrilla art done by a local man who's known for such things. The funniest part? The city was annoyed with him for not having a permit...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A School Holiday? 'Snow Way!

I really didn't expect to wake up to a snow day today; the forecast last night had called for "flurries" at best, but when I turned on the radio this morning, they were rattling off a big list of school closings. A quick look at the TV and the Web showed that my district was among those that had decided to close (which surprised me; they're usually not so quick on the trigger like that). So I promptly went back to bed and have pretty much been using today to catch up on everything (including the blog posts of the last three days that had gone unfinished).

I really hope that we can go back tomorrow, though; I could use the money after having missed three days last week due to IAJE, and I don't want both of our "bad weather makeup" days to be used by a single weather event. (But I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy the sleep...)

Neither rain nor snow kept me from posting this story: In yet another case of badly-delayed mail, a man recently received a postcard that was postmarked in 1949.

No panda-monium here: A zoo in northern Thailand is having problems breeding its pair of pandas because the male is too fat to have sex.

Saving the dog: A dog in Florida had to be rescued after neighbors heard whimpering and discovered that it had been buried alive in someone's backyard.

Saved by the dog: Meanwhile, on the other coast, a California man was able to escape from his burning cottage because his pet Labradoodle woke him up in time.

Stupid criminal of the week: Here's a video primer on how not to rob a liquor store.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Remembering Uncle Dan

Even before the loss of one of my musical idols last weekend, I had received news of another: My Uncle Dan in Indiana had passed away on Wednesday. He was my mom's sister's husband and the one whom I regarded as my closest uncle. LIke Brecker, he hadn't been in good health for a while, but his passing still came as somewhat of a surprise.

Here are some memories of Uncle Dan:
  • He had the quintessental Irish name (Dan Suillvan), and he lived up to that through his gregariousness. Put him in a party, and by the end of the time he was there, he'd know everybody. (This actually happened at my sister's wedding, I think. I had more people come up to me saying, "and of course, I met your uncle; he's really funny and cool.")

  • And, like any good Irishman, he loved his beer. I remember hearing about a time when he and my aunt went somewhere in Europe with Mom and Dad; part of the day, they did some sort of excursion that involved walking up a huge flight of steps to see a castle or something. Dan didn't want to go, so he found a local tavern in town where they had beer and sports on TV, and he was happy as a clam (and I'm sure he knew everyone in the place when he was done).

  • The basement of his house in Indiana is a shrine to Indiana University athletics. There are mounted football programs going back to the fifties, as well as all kinds of pictures of Bobby Knight (including some when he used to wear those loud plaid jackets). He and my aunt also had front-row season tickets to IU basketball games, so one time when I was visiting, my cousin and I got to see a game from their seats. Knight didn't throw a chair or anything like that, but it was still very cool to see a college where big-time sports took place (I have more comments about Knight at the bottom of this post).

  • Dan was a pretty physically imposing guy (which used to scare me a bit when I was really little), but inside that bear of a man beat a generous heart. I got to know him a lot better in college; we used to have fraternity convocations in Indiana every year, and I'd go visit them for a few days after we were finished.
I hadn't gotten to see him in a long time, but I definitely miss him. I hope my aunt and cousin are doing OK.

Remembering Brecker

The amazing weekend that was IAJE did have a slight pall cast over the final evening when this announcement preceded the introduction of John Fedchock's big band: "I have some news, and it's not good. I have to report the passing of perhaps the most influential tenor saxophonist of the past thirty years.." He didn't have to say anymore. It couldn't be Sonny Rollins. because his career goes back way longer than that. It could only be Michael Brecker.

There was some hushed murmuring among the crowd, but mostly stunned silence. Sure, we knew of his illness for a long time, but I think everyone had really assumed he was at least somewhat on the road to recovery. It took a while for the news to sink in as we listened to Fedchock's band.

I first heard Michael on a recording when I was in high school; I was in one of those music clubs, and I had a bunch of free stuff coming my way, so it was like, "OK, this looks interesting and it has a saxophonist on it, so I'll try it;" I thus became the proud owner of my first Brecker Brothers recording. As I got older, and more and more into music, I found out that Michael was turning up on all kinds of recordings, both jazz and pop (the article said he appeared on over 900 records all told). I was dazzled by his technical mastery of the horn, but there was something else that made him stand out: that sound, which would be much-imitated by tenor players throughout my college career.

I was fortunate to see him six times, going back to my college days (one of the shows is documented here) and as recently as the Spring 2005 Directions in Music tour (which I wrote about here). At the Directions gig, my friend and I managed to find the stage door and wait around with a bunch of other UNT people, and we eventually got to talk to Michael for a while. I had always heard that he was quiet to the point of being shy, but he was very friendly to us and spent quite a bit of time talking. (I have a picture that my friend took on his camera phone from that night, and I really hope that the picture still exists; if so, I'll post it here.)

The influence that Michael had on not just tenor players, but jazz musicians in general, cannot be overstated. I'm glad to hear that, despite his illness, he had just finished work on what will now be his final new recording. And I realized that, as I listened to the tenor players in Fedchock's band and heard little Brecker-isms in their playing, that his music is already living on through the countless thousands who have been inspired by him. He truly is the Coltrane of his generation.

(Speaking of Coltrane, his widow Alice Coltrane, a performer in her own right, passed away over the weekend as well.)

Monday, January 15, 2007

A New York Minute

Some random thoughts about the IAJE conference and New York City in general:
  • The best word to describe IAJE is "overwhelming" (and this was said by others who are higher up the jazz food chain than I am). Nearly every hour required making a choice between a couple of cool things to see; there was no way, a la Pokemon, to catch 'em all.

  • As you may have noticed during my "typical day" post from the other day, it was hardly possible to turn around without seeing someone who's really well-known in the world of jazz (and thinking that, in a more perfect world, these musicians would have a much wider audience than they do now--more bebop, less Britney).

  • My only complaint about the conference would be that they could have done a better job of assigning certain sizes of venues to certain peformers; the Dave Liebman and Dave Pietro performances were full to overflowing, and the Jerry Bergonzi one on Friday night was so full that they had a Hotel Gestapo Guy out there who would only let one person in if another person left. Meanwhile, there was a huge ballroom in the other hotel across the street that would have held these crowds just fine. (I'll be repeating these sentiments in the online survey that they have on their site.)

  • I hadn't been to New York City since I was around two years old, and I have to say that I liked it more than I thought I was going to. The things that you always hear about the place--crowded, noisy, etc.--seemed to give a sense of vibrancy rather than chaos. Most of the people I ran across seemed nicer than I'd expected, and it was cool to see a downtown area that was open 24/7 (in contrast to Dallas, where a lot of the downtown streets get rolled up by six in the evening).

  • The sheer bigness of the place was also amazing to me--just flying into LaGuardia and seeing the mass of tall buildings on Manhattan gave a sense that we weren't in Dallas anymore, Toto.

  • My proverbial hat is off to the NYC cabbies; there were several times during my ride where I was just sure we were going to die, but everyone seemed to weave and merge rather skillfully, even with mere inches of clearance.

  • I didn't get to do a lot of the "tourist-y" stuff on this trip--the Empire State Building, Central Park, Ground Zero, etc.--but I was really glad that I got to walk through Times Square. Even though all the ads on the sides of the buildings employ an obscene amount of neon--I shudder to think what the electric bill for even one of them would be--but it certainly generates a sensory experience that's like no other.

    The lights of Times Square

  • It was rather shocking to see just how expensive everything was up there. We ate at a Friday's one time, and the entrees were a good six or seven bucks more than at home; dinner at the Olive Garden in Times Square was $70 for three of us, including the mandatory gratuity (which seemed odd for a party that small). Still, we had a great view of the action outside, and I had a $20 gift card from there that knocked the price down to a more "normal" level.

  • I actually felt rather safe walking around in the city; granted, I was rarely alone, save for the occasional trip between the two hotels, but even when I saw some less-than-savory-looking characters, there was never a just-me-and-them situation, because the streets were always full of people.

  • It was extremely cool to go to the jazz clubs; seeing the Bob Mintzer Big Band perform is something that's not likely to happen outside of New York, since the members have so many other gigs (I saw one trumpeter, Scott Wendholt, perform in five big bands during my visit), and realizing that Sweet Rhythm, where they played, used to be the legendary Sweet Basil. But the real "we walked where giants walked" moment came on our Saturday night visit to the Village Vanguard. Just sitting at those tables and realizing how many of jazz's legends had played there in the past gave everything such a strong sense of history. It also gave me a cool visual reference for the next time I listen to one of the numerous "Live at the Village Vanguard" recordings I've amassed over the years.

    The famous red awning in front of the Vanguard (this and the front door are the only parts of the club at street level; the rest is in a basement)
IAJE won't be in New York for at least the next several years, but I look forward to my next trip, whenever that may be.

He's making a list: Here's a list of the artists whom I'd really been wanting to see, but had never gotten to do so before the conference: Eric Alexander (with the group All for One), Sheila Jordan and Steve Kuhn, Taylor Eigsti, Eddie Gomez, Sara Gazarek, Ada Rovatti, Claudio Roditi, the Clayton Brothers (I'd seen them in a big band and separately at Port Townsend, but not together), the Dave Liebman Group, and John Fedchock's New York Big Band (I'd seen the latter two as guest artists with other groups, but not with their own).

Here's a list of artists who were new to me at the convention and whom I really enjoyed: Kelly Eisenhour, Anne Ducros, Roberta Gamborini, Matt Wilson's Arts and Crafts, and the Avishai Cohen Trio (that's the bass player, not the trumpet player; I'd heard his work with Chick Corea and Origin, but not anything of his as a leader).

Here are some artists whom I've seen before and enjoyed again at the conference: The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Eric Marienthal, Joey DeFrancesco, the UNT Jazz Singers, Randy Brecker, Conrad Herwig and Brian Lynch, Antonio Hart, Jimmy Heath, James Moody, Slide Hampton (the last three with the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band), Terell Stafford (with three different bands!) and Wycliffe Gordon.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Have an Ice Day (But Not Too Much So)

I'm back home now; the freezing rain and ice in the area didn't keep us from being able to land at DFW without incident. (If anything, I was starting to get concerned that we wouldn't be able to get out of New York; our takeoff was delayed by an hour while they bribed eleven people to take a later flight so that we could add extra fuel to the plane--a precautionary measure in case we had to divert our landing--and not go over the weight limits.) Once we got airborne, it was fine, save for the slightly bumpy ride as we approached Dallas.

Once I have a nap and get unpacked, I'll have a summary of the amazing week and a few tributes to post as well.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Saluting the Masters

NEW YORK--The 2007 class of NEA Jazz Masters was inducted here last night. I'll provide more details when I get back home, but for now, congratulations go out to Toshiko Akiyoshi, Curtis Fuller, Ramsey Lewis, Dan Morgenstern, Jimmy Scott, Frank Wess and Phil Woods.

I don't try this at home: On trips like this, I try really hard to eat breakfast on the cheap (since, for the most part, lunch and dinner can only be eaten on the expensive). So my rare moment here has been that, for three mornings in a row now, I've been to a Starbucks without buying a beverage. Free coffee in the room + water + pastry = about as cheap as you can get around here.

Friday, January 12, 2007

An (Extra)ordinary Day

NEW YORK--Yesterday was just a typical day here at IAJE...

9:45--Breakfast on the cheap (I'll explain how this works later).

10:00--See a clinic by the piano/vocal duet of Steve Kuhn and Sheila Jordan. She told great Bird stories. I really liked a particular song of theirs back when I worked in radio; that was the very first song they performed.

12:00--Saxophone mouthpiece clinic. I get to talk to the guy who sold me my Mark VI alto in college.

1:00--See a performance by the Taylor Eigsti Quartet (up-and-coming young pianist;I got his debut CD in the fall).

2:00--I hear a familiar tune wafting through the hallway. I find its source: Wayne Bergeron is rehearsing with a school group. I listen for a good half-hour.

2:30--Eigsti has finished his CD-signing session; I get to chat with him for a bit.

3:15--I eat pizza at "Original Ray's."

4:00--Eddie Gomez clinic. He brings out Jon Faddis for the last tune. I get to greet Rufus Reid for a second (I saw him in Greeley in '04).

5:00--Dave Pietro performance (I went to school with him, and have seen him perform before as well).

6:00--They've opened a temporary Borders store in one of the smaller ballrooms. Among my fellow shoppers are most of an entire junior high jazz group (recognizable by their matching bright red hoodies with the school's name on the front). I ponder the fact that I would have killed to even be in a jazz group in high school, much less junior high--never mind getting to come to something like this at such an early age.

6:15--I explore the just-opened exhibit hall. Run into Denis DiBlasio (who's been a guest artist at our college twice). I turn the corner and am suddenly inside...Penders? Yes, I go a thousand miles, only to find myself in Denton North. Get a sweet deal on Vanguard Jazz Orchestra CD's (ten bucks a pop!), also get to see Eddie Gomez at a booth, and say a quick hi to Jimmy Heath (our guest artist at camp this past summer).

7:15--Catch a bit of Ingrid Jensen's set.

9:20--After some opening student groups, I get to see the Conrad Herwig/Brian Lynch group do the latest in their "Latin side of Miles Davis" series: Sketches of Spain. That's followed by a barn-burning set from Randy Brecker and Bill Evans' Soulbop band.

12:15--After dessert at the all-night deli down the street, it's time to turn in.

I'm looking forward to another "typical" day today.

(Normally I'm not a shameless name-dropper like this, but it's the only way I can accurately describe the scope of this thing.)

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday to Aaron, my protege and bandmate, who really wishes he was up here with us right now (that desire will quadruple if he reads this post).

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Sitting In with Next to the Band

NEW YORK--I've already had a defining experience, and I've been here less than a day: Last night, I got to see the Bob Mintzer Big Band live, at a local club called Sweet Rhythm. The place is probably not much bigger--if at all--than the coffeehouses I've played at home, so we actually got to sit at a table alongside the band, and it was a really unique experience (John Riley's ride cymbal ringing in my ears, reading over the bass trombonist's shoulder, etc.).

I'll elaborate more later, but suffice it to say that, after finally seeing a band live that rarely gets to tour, anything else that happens here is gravy. And there's a lot more gravy to come.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Live from New York, It's..

...me! Yay for the internet cafe at the convention.

I guess this means I can post occasional updates, and I'll have a full review when I get back. So far? Eric Alexander--amazing. More later.

Travel Advisory

I'm off to New York City for the IAJE convention. I won't have the laptop with me this time ($14.95 Internet access for twelve hours, anyone?), so posting will be sparse to nonexistent unless they have some sort of Internet cafe like they have at TMEA. But you'd better believe I'll have all kinds of stories when I'm back.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

"Don't Dry Your Cell Phone in the Microwave," and Other Pearls of Wisdom

I meant to post about this a few days ago, but I kept getting distracted:
Don't clean your kids in the washing machine. Don't dry your cell phone in the microwave. And be sure not to read the phone book while driving. Those are among the winning entries in this year's Wacky Warning Label Contest, run by an anti-lawsuit group.

Backers of the right to sue have a warning of their own - don't be so quick to poke fun at labels, which help save lives. They say the contest is part of an effort to pass laws that shield businesses from liability for those they hurt.

The Wacky Warning contest winners were chosen from about 150 nominations received by Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch, said the group's president, Robert B. Dorigo Jones. The group picked five finalists, and callers to WOMC-FM's Dick Purtan show chose the winners.

The top vote-getter was a warning tag from a front-load washing machine.

"DO NOT put any person in this washer," it read.
Read the whole thing. Of course, the story quotes someone from a washing-machine manufacturer who says that yes, it would be dangerous to put a person in there. And while businesses have to resort to some crazy things to protect themselves from liabilty, it would be a lot easier if we could just post a general warning that read, "Don't be stupid...and don't expect us to give you money if said stupidity causes harm to yourself."

Continuing assimilation into the cult: I made my first purchase from the iTunes Music Store today (it was this, in case you're curious--a brand-new album as of today). I had gotten a gift card for Christmas, and this seemed like a good time to make a purchase like this since I was loading the iPod anyway. I'll admit that I'm old-school enough that it seems weird to own a CD without actually physically being in possession of it, but I'm sure I'll get a few things from the store here and there.

Rats! part 1: Residents of an Arizona neighborhood have recently discovered rats swimming in their toilets.

Rats! part 2: A California man was charged after authorities found 37 rats and six cats living in the cabin of his small sailboat. He started living in the boat after he was evicted from his house last year--because over 1700 rats were found in there.

Better late than never: A man recently was reunited with the wallet he'd lost--in France, during World War II, more than 60 years ago.

Monday, January 08, 2007

If Christmas Was Two Weeks Ago, Why Am I Just Now Getting All My Toys?

It's two days before I leave for New York, and I had not one, but two packages waiting for me today: The iPod, which was expected (yes, I've finally "joined the cult," as Instapundit might say), and a tenor mouthpiece that was on three-month backorder two months ago. I'll have time to blow but a few notes on the tenor 'piece (though I may well take it to IAJE with me and try out some horns), but at least the iPod is here with a day to spare so I can at least partially load it. Needless to say, I'm really looking forward to going on a trip without taking my Discman and a big wallet full of CD's, not to mention the endless legion of "AA" batteries that went along with it.

I have a feeling I'm going to stay up way too late tonight loading and charging and all that, but at least there's only one day of teaching/listening to college auditions (tomorrow) before the trip. This is definitely worth it.

I have a new title now: After four years of making the first car payments I've ever made in my life, Kevmobile 1.2 is now officially mine. I'm hoping she'll last at least another year so that I can save the amount I'd been paying towards the downpayment for the next one...perhaps a "gently used" RSX, as was the original plan.

This is a relief: In case you missed it in the news last week, it is no longer illegal to fly a kite in Pakistan.

We deliver...eventually: A guy in Pennsylvania received a letter in his mailbox that was postmarked in 1954.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

A Bright Idea?

There's been a lot of discussion recently about those compact fluorescent light bulbs (usually the swirly ice cream cone-looking ones, but I understand they also come in "normal" shapes). The New York Times reported this week that Wal-Mart in particular is setting a goal of putting at least one bulb in 100 million homes:
A compact fluorescent has clear advantages over the widely used incandescent light — it uses 75 percent less electricity, lasts 10 times longer, produces 450 pounds fewer greenhouse gases from power plants and saves consumers $30 over the life of each bulb. But it is eight times as expensive as a traditional bulb, gives off a harsher light and has a peculiar appearance.

As a result, the bulbs have languished on store shelves for a quarter century; only 6 percent of households use the bulbs today.

Which is what makes Wal-Mart’s goal so wildly ambitious. If it succeeds in selling 100 million compact fluorescent bulbs a year by 2008, total sales of the bulbs in the United States would increase by 50 percent, saving Americans $3 billion in electricity costs and avoiding the need to build additional power plants for the equivalent of 450,000 new homes.

That would send shockwaves — some intended, others not — across the lighting industry. Because compact fluorescent bulbs last up to eight years, giant manufacturers, like General Electric and Osram Sylvania, would sell far fewer lights. Because the bulbs are made in Asia, some American manufacturing jobs could be lost. And because the bulbs contain mercury, there is a risk of pollution when millions of consumers throw them away.
There was a lot of discussion of this article in the blogosphere this week, with plenty of good comments available at Jane Galt (and a brief note from Instapundit). There's no clear consensus among the commenters; some love them, some hate them. There are issues with everything from the new bulbs taking a second to warm up (not useful in a place like a closet), not fitting in certain lamps, and having their lives shortened by putting them in enclosed fixtures. Some people's eyesight makes it difficult to read using them, and other people have gotten headaches from doing so.

Nevertheless, after receiving a larger-than-usual December utility bill in the mail the other day, I decided to take the plunge with the two lamps in my living room; I figured that if nothing else, putting one in the lamp that's on a timer (and thus runs about five hours a day) should help keep the costs down.

They've only been in for one night now, but so far, so good. It seemed a little easier to read under both lamps (I just tried it again a minute ago), and there was no headache issue for me last night after reading for a good hour under there. I know that it'll take some time to really tell a difference, but I may well buy some more as other things burn out. The thought of saving that much electricity (and having to change them only every five years) is definitely intriguing to me.

Has anyohe else out there tried these things yet? Please share your experiences in the comments.

Snowzilla: An Alaska man built a two-story high snowman in his yard for the second year in a row. Tourists love it. His neighbors? Not so much.

Hogzilla: An 1100-pound wild boar was caught recently in a neighborhood in suburban Atlanta.

Finezilla: A Michigan man finally returned an overdue book after 47 years, paying a late fee of $171 to the library for its trouble.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

I Recommend...

I don't really have time to do an actual post today, as this is the day where I write recommendation letters for all the high-schoolers who are about to audition for college and the community college people who are auditioning for their four-year schools. (This would of course also be the day that my printer ran out of ink, which doesn't dovetail very nicely with the fact that I'm trying to save for the New York trip in a few days...but that's the law of Murphy, and Murphy and I go way back, what with both of us being Irish and all.)

There's also a trip to the Tomato planned, since their not-too-distant future is up in the air now, and the new T-shirts are out as well. So I'll skip right to the weird news at this point and come back with a more substantial post tomorrow.

"I Don't" think this was a good idea: During the wedding of an Austrian couple, they got to the part where the bride was asked whether she wanted to take her fiance as her husband; she said "no," as a joke. But the civil official performing the ceremony took it seriously and stopped the wedding, and they now have to wait two and a half months before they can wed again.

Administrative cluelessness, Vol. CXXVI: A 12-year-old special education student was arrested for wetting her pants at school when she was sent to the principal. School officials said she did it "on purpose."

Bye-bye, Bullwinkle: In an effort to curb overpopulation, moose from Colorado are being caught in nets, blindfolded and moved to Utah by trailer. A local wildlife manager compares the process to "alien abduction."

Friday, January 05, 2007

Cool Science

I've never noticed if this is a new year's trend before, but a lot of people seem to be releasing really cool new scientific stuff at the moment. Here are some of my favorites:Hat tips to Instapundit and Dave Barry's Blog for the articles.

Technology saves another life: A bottle scavenger fell asleep in a Dumpster and ended up inside a garbage truck. He would have been compacted along with the trash had he not had his cell phone to call authorities.

Prank of the week: A bunch of people at an office covered a coworker's Jaguar with Post-It Notes and took pictures for all the world to see.

Prank of the past few decades: Two sisters have mailed an uncooked hot dog back and forth to each other for 54 years now. (This reminds me of the story of the two brothers-in-law who gave each other the same pair of pants back and forth--in increasingly elaborate packaging--for over a quarter-century.)

Thursday, January 04, 2007

A Rumor I Don't Want to Be True

I was all set to do today's post until I read this in the blog of the Save Fry Street MySpace: Rumor has it that The Tomato has been given its eviction notice.

I know that the Tomato ownership has vowed to keep going, somewhere...and I know that, as was discussed here earlier, the Tomato remains in the developers' plans, probably on that new street they're going to build. But the point is, that stuff isn't built yet, and eviction notices usually mean that someone has a month to vacate. I really, really hope there isn't going to be any significant downtime for The Tomato.

I'll have more updates as soon as they're available.

UPDATE: The Save Fry Street website confirms the rumor, and I was right about the one-month deadline. I think a few trips to Denton are in my near future.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: The Tomato management is negotiating with the property owners to extend the period before they have to move (via the Tomato's MySpace--yes, it has one, and you'd better believe it's my friend--and actual, live Tomato employees on Saturday).

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Not-So-Wonder Years

I read an interesting article today about middle school, from the standpoint of how to minimize some of the chaos involved in teaching students during those years:
Sit in with a seventh-grade science class at Seth Low, a cavernous Brooklyn middle school, as paper balls fly and pens are flicked from desk to desk.

A girl is caught with a note and quickly tears it up, blushing, as her classmates chant, “Read it!” The teacher, Laura Lowrie, tries to demonstrate simple machines by pulling from a box a hammer, a pencil sharpener and then, to her instant remorse, a nutcracker — the sight of which sends a cluster of boys into a fit of giggles and anatomical jokes.

“It’s the roughest, toughest, hardest thing to teach,” Ms. Lowrie said of middle school. “I’ll go home and feel disappointed with what’s going on and I’ll try a different tactic the next day.” As for the nutcracker, she sighed, “I should have used a stapler.”

Driven by newly documented slumps in learning, by crime rates and by high dropout rates in high school, educators across New York and the nation are struggling to rethink middle school and how best to teach adolescents at a transitional juncture of self-discovery and hormonal change.
Read the whole thing (hat tip: Althouse). My own middle school years certainly had their share of disasters, and I don't know of too many people whose experiences differed from mine. I'm in this environment on a regular basis, since I teach students at four middle schools every week. The one thing that really astounds me is the wildly varying physical differences among the students (some look like they still should be in elementary school, while others tower over me and look old enough to be driving already--and this is sometimes among kids in the same grade!).

I'd never want to teach middle-schoolers in groups (save for the occasional sectional and the beginner classes I do at the start of every year), but they're just fine one-on-one. Some of them are hyper and goofy, but I can be that way too, so we usually get along just fine, and I hope that playing music acts as a good and much-needed release during a critical time of life. (Come to think of it, I need to amend one statement above about teaching them in groups; my band at jazz camp is at least half middle-schoolers, and they're great, year in and year out. Maybe it's because "all the cool kids play jazz," or that, at 8:30 in the morning in the summer, everyone's too asleep to be hyper.)

So what is the answer to the middle-school dilemma? Some have suggested radical changes to the school structure: K-8 in one building, or perhaps 6-12. Others say a return to "junior high" (7-9) would be better, though from what I've seen, schools seem to be moving away from that direction rather than toward it. (Oddly enough, my own middle school was called a junior high, despite being 6-8, though they've since started calling it the middle school that it's always been.) Proponents say that sixth-graders do better when they're in elementary school than if they're in middle school, and when I student taught at a junior high, the head director swore up and down that ninth-graders did better when they were "top dogs" in junior high than when they were "lowly fish" in high school.

Maybe the answer is that it's going to be turbulent no matter what happens, just because of that particular time of life that the kids are in. So hire great teachers who have a true dedication to that level, pay them well, and then everybody hold on tight, because it's going to be a wild ride no matter what.

You might want to rethink this marriage thing, folks: A man proposed to his girlfriend, they got into an argument a few hours later and he knocked her out with a steering wheel lock. It kind of reminds me of a coworker of mine at a pizza place in college who came to work all stressed out one day because her boyfriend had tried to run her over with his car. Two weeks later, they were married.

Heartwarming holiday tale update: The Swedish goat statue survived Christmas!

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday to my cousin Matt in Indiana. It's been a long time, Cuz.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

There's No Place LIke Home...Until You Make a New One

An article in the paper today caught my attention:
Janise Stone spent her first semester in college dreaming of home -- literally.

Stone, 18, would get up in the morning and grudgingly attend classes at Paine College in Augusta, Georgia. But the minute she returned to her dormitory, she curled up and thought of family in Indianapolis as she slept the day away.

"I was so depressed," Stone said while at home for the holidays. "I just kept thinking that if I slept through it, I'd eventually get back home."

She isn't alone.

Almost everyone experiences occasional homesickness, but many young people suffer from a particularly intense form that interferes with normal activities, according to a new study by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The report in the January issue of the journal Pediatrics offers tips to physicians for recognizing risk factors among patients who are leaving home for the first time.

"Leaving home is a universal developmental milestone," said Dr. Edward Walton, co-author of the report and an assistant professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at the University of Michigan. "Our goal is for them not to lose time and experience in the adjusting," he said.
Read the whole thing. This article resonated with me, because, while I wasn't as bad off as the student profiled in the article, I did have a rather intense form of homesickness during my first few weeks of college.

I was the trailblazer among my group of friends, the majority of whom went to UT-Austin and majored in some sort of engineering. (There was one other guy in our group who did a sort of music major, but he stayed in town and went to Rice. I haven't talked to him in years, but I Googled him the other day, and he's sort of doing what I'm doing, but at a college in California.) After moving around for the first five years of my life, I had finally been someplace for ten years, finally found a place where I fit in. And now I was leaving it all behind so that I could attend college at the best place to get a music degree in Texas.

As I said, my experience was not as bad as that of Janise in the article, who had evidently never even been away from home for as much as a sleepover! I actually had a great pre-college experience at the monthlong music camp I attended at the University of Kansas; we lived in dorms, got used to bad cafeteria food, were there just long enough to start to get annoyed by our roommates, etc. It prepared me in many ways for the real thing--except for the homesickness part. In the summer, it was great to be away from everything for a month, but college was obviously more permanent.

I still say to this day that things would have been better if I'd had a car right away. But I'm the oldest kid, so I was the guinea pig in that respect; my parents had attended college when there were "car rules"--i.e. you couldn't have one at school until you lived off-campus. They decided that I could wait a semester and see if I "needed" one.

Orientation was pretty cool; I met a lot of nice people, and everything seemed to be going pretty smoothly. I played the baritone sax and was used to using school instruments, and the people who rented out such things for the school assured me that there were plenty of baris for the taking. I had no reason to think that things wouldn't go swimmingly once I got there.

Except that, on the first day, everything started to fall apart. It was a weird week as it was, since we got there on a Tuesday and had to learn a short marching show for a game that would take place that Saturday, even before classes began. They didn't march baris at UNT, so I was given a tenor; being a freshman, I didn't exactly get a top-of-the-line horn, and the one that I was given didn't even have an octave key post! (It would get worse during the first week of school, when the same people who said there were plenty of school horns turned around and said that they were only available to those in a concert band or a lab band, and I didn't fall into one of those categories. Thus, I ended up taking the first several lessons of my college career on that broken tenor. My first instructor had the patience of a saint...)

And then I started getting sick, for no reason. I went to the student health center (lovingly dubbed the Quack Shack), where they couldn't explain what was wrong with me, but they said my blood count was messed up....this, after having had a perfect physical not a week before. Someone also joked that if I'd seen the lake where Denton's water came from, I'd start throwing up all over again.

The sickness continued into the first week of classes, which was more than annoying. I somehow made it through the first football game, but I still kept getting sick randomly. After a while, I decided that I needed to get well, no matter what my body was telling me. So that's what happened. I thought myself well. It was put-up or shut-up time, and I decided to grab life by the cojones and yank as hard as I could.

And it worked. It certainly helped that I took advantage of the fact that some new freinds I'd made, from another part of Houston, were going home after the first weekend of school and invited me to come along. Just being able to see the family again, along with a few folks who were still in high school, made me aware that the things I had left behind would still be there whenever I visited again. My parents weren't too thrilled at first that I had come back so soon, but after I was there, they understood, and Mom's cooking took care of the rest of whatever it is that ailed me. (I would find out years later that, after driving me up to school and coming back, my dad would tell my mom, "Barb, the kid's just not gonna make it." But I did, and I credit the whole mind-over-matter thing, as well as that first trip back.)

And over time, college got to be another form of "home" as well--so much so that I stayed there for two-and-a-half degrees. I feel for the people who are having even a worse time of it than I did, and I hope that they'll find the way to make things all work out too.

I'm in hot water again (in a good way): As of 7:00 tonight, the new water heater was completely installed, and as of a bit after eight, hot water returned to Casa de Kev for "the first time this year" (OK, I know that's only two days). The first beneficiaries were my dinner dishes, but I'm lookng forward to the hot shower in the morning.

Something I meant to post yesterday: An article with a picture of the fireworks display in Sydney, Australia. I'd really love to find a way to get down there for New Year's sometime; it looks amazing.

Not the New Year's baby, but still noteworthy: Last Friday, a 67-year-old Spanish woman gave birth to twins.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Things I've Learned So Far This Year

The new year is less than a day old, but I've already learned some things:
  • Almost everyplace was open today; I had thought more places gave their employees at least part of the day off. Only Chipotle was closed among the places I passed today.

  • It is also possible to get a repair technician on a holiday, even if you're told it's not likely to happen.

  • Cold showers are just as bad as I remember them being.
The new year has gotten off to an unusual start, going back to yesterday afternoon when I noticed some water on my entryway sidewalk on a non-rainy day. A quick tour of the premises showed that I had a constant drip coming out of my water heater (which, thankfully, is in my garage; this would have been a much bigger issue if it were located in the attic, like my parents' one is). I called my usual repair place, who told me that I would be on standby for today, but it would likely be tomorrow before anyone could come over.

So I was quite surprised to be jarred out of bed at 8 a.m. this morning by a call from the repair place informing me that someone was on the way over. And while "on the way" ended up meaning "an hour and a half from now," I was still impressed that I got service so early on a holiday, even as I was feeling bad for the guy who had to be working at that hour.

As for the rest of the story, we found out that the tank was totally rusted out, so the unit would have to be replaced. Mom and Dad were kind enough to do the Home Depot/Lowe's trip down in Sugar Land to do the initial legwork for me, so when I went to the one up here, I knew exactly what I was looking for and was in and out in twenty minutes.

Needless to say, the cold shower I had to take this afternoon was No Fun At All. The installer for the new one is supposed to be out before five tomorrow, so unless I'm teaching anyone before that, I"m saving the shower until then (apologies in advance to any friends who may visit).

I hope your new year has been less eventful than that so far.

Sticker shock: December is the month where my car registration sticker expires. I really like that you can renew over the Internet now, but the excess adhesive on the new stickers drove me crazy when I tried to get the old one off (this was happening in tandem with the discovery of the water heater leak, mind you). Usually, the old stuff will come off with a razor blade or Windex, but I had to use a combination of both, plus a pizza cutter (no joke) and way too much elbow grease. Have any other of my fellow Texans had this much of a problem with the new stickers?

Return of the Jedi roses: As always, I watched the Rose Parade this morning (I noted a year ago that this has been an annual tradition for me ever since I went to the thing at the age of four when we lived in California). This year's grand marshal was George Lucas, so there were several Star Wars-themed floats, with Ewoks and C3PO and R2-D2 and so on. The most unusual entry was the group of 200 stormtroopers (led by Darth Vader, of course) who marched in between the two floats. The troopers came from a worldwide fan group called the 501st Legion, whose members make their own costumes (at a cost of around $1000 a pop) and make charity appearances all over the world. (They said on TV that Lucas kicked in for their airfare to get to the parade.)

UPDATE: A set of photos of the stormtroopers practicing for the parade is found here; I especially got a kick out of the picture of them practicing in their street clothes, but with helmets on.

I should also note that the parade coverage on HGTV is blowing everyone else's out of the water these days--not only because they run it nonstop and commercial-free, but because the network hosts have just gotten silly. I don't know why Al Roker isn't doing the parade for NBC anymore, but his replacement--a guy I'd never heard of--just became unlistenable after a while. I caught part of their coverage only because their vantage point, with the famed Norton Simon Museum in the background, has become part of the landscape for me when watching the parade, but I taped the whole thing on HGTV and watched it later.

Congrats to the General: Texas Tech basketball coach Bob Knight got his 880th win as a head coach this afternoon; that puts him ahead of the legendary Dean Smith as the all-time leader in men's college basketball. I had the chance to see Knight coach in person when he was at Indiana; my aunt and uncle are alumni and have front-row season tickets, and they let my cousin and me borrow their seats one night when I was visiting. I remember joking that I was disappointed that he didn't throw a chair when we were there, but it was obvious that we were in the presence of something big. Coming from a school where basketball isn't huge (yet?), it blew me away to see a full house on January 2 (when most of the students aren't back yet), along with a 75-piece pep band made up entirely of alumni and people scalping tickets in the snow outside Assembly Hall.

So a lot of people are wondering how Knight will be remembered when all is said and done--for his victories, the high graduation rate of his players...or for the occasional fiery outbursts that have sometimes gotten him in trouble. Read the comments to this Fox Sports blog post and you'll see that opinions are strong and varied in both directions, though the supporters seem to be in the majority.