Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Amazon Takes a Small Bite Out of the Apple

I'm a Mac guy, and I've loved all things Apple since I got my first computer back in college. When it came time to buy an mp3 player, there was never any doubt that it would be an iPod, and my first online mp3 purchases naturally came from the iTunes Music Store.

But that doesn't mean that I'm not open to new things, so I read with great interest earlier in the week that Amazon is now offering downloads as well, at a new portal on their site. These DRM-free mp3's will play on any player, and most songs are priced at 89 cents (that's a dime below iTunes).

Blogger Megan McArdle tried it and liked it earlier in the week, and so, in the interest of research (yeah, that's it--it has nothing to do with beefing up my already ginormous CD collection), I decided to try it as well. My verdict? So far, so good.

The process is rather simple; it installs a widget into your web browser (in my case, Safari) that helps with the downloads, but, once it's loaded, the process is simple. The download process itself is pretty speedy, and I can't tell any difference between the sound quality of the mp3's vs. the iTunes files, and Amazon sends them straight to your iTunes folder once they're downloaded.

Since Apple makes much more money from selling iPods than it does selling music, the emergence of the Amazon service won't unduly hurt the iTunes store (except maybe with those who want their music all DRM-free, all the time), and there's certainly room for two such services out there. While comparison shopping, I found out that a specific CD might be available at one store but not both, and when it is available at both, it may be cheaper at one or the other. A little competition never hurt anybody, especially when it makes more music available out there.

The one thing that I still can't quite get past, though, is this whole thing of buying music strictly in digital form. Maybe it's the fact that I've lost my entire iTunes library in two previous crashes on the Ancient and Venerable iMac (though my current MacBook obviously allows me the backup option of burning all my purchased music onto CD's, which I do anyway in order to listen to them in the car). But I think the biggest thing is that I just like the idea of a CD as something tangible--something that you can hold in your hand. My digital purchases have come about because they were either immensely cheaper or unavailable in a traditional CD format.

I also like being able to read the liner notes on a CD. As a jazz listener, I like to be able to read the backstory of the recording and find out who's playing on all the tracks, since jazz recordings are notorious for having special guests and even multiple rhythm sections on the same album. I'm sure that, somewhere down the road, the same technology that allows a CD's cover art will eventually allow the liner notes to be accessed as well (and if Apple did this, they could call it iLiner--heh). I also will certainly buy actual CD's from guest artists at the college and other people whose shows I go to see, because it would be most unsatisfying--not to mention insulting to the artists--to have them sign my burned copy that I made for the car.

So I don't think I'll ever completely stop buying traditional CD's, but Amazon's entry provides another serious alternative when going the digital route.

And in other high-tech news: Is this the future of car audio? Blaupunkt has come up with a receiver that doesn't play CD's--only mp3 and WIndows Media files.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

"Waxing" Nostalgic in Digital Form

When I worked in radio, the station had some great old vinyl recordings that never seemed to get released on CD (and believe me, I've been looking over the years, in every used CD store and a lot of online sites like Amazon). During the past few weeks, I've finally been able to find a few, either as imports or on the iTunes store. Here are some of the highlights:
  • Phil Woods: I Remember (DCC Compact Classics). Phil and his quartet (Mike Melillo, Steve Gilmore, Bill Goodwin), along with an orchestra, play Woods originals dedicated to the memory of Julian (Adderley), Paul (Desmond), Charles Christopher (Parker) and a lot more. The Cannonball and Bird tributes are my personal favorites, but the whole album holds up well; some of Woods' orchestral excursions--which were common during the '70s--sound dated, but this music is timeless. (Available as an import or through iTunes)

  • Phil Woods: The New Phil Woods Album (RCA). The full name of this is quite amusing: "The New Phil Woods Album: Improvisations on Songs Old and New, Some of His Compositions, Mostly His Arrangements with His Group, Strings and Brass." Two tracks alone are worth the price: "The Sun Suite" (an extended opener that goes through all kinds of meters and feels; some of the orchestra parts may sound dated, but then Woods' Birdlike licks come in over the top and all is right with the world) and "Chelsea Bridge/Johnny Hodges" (an original of Woods' sandwiched in between the Billy Strayhorn chestnut, featuring multitracked Woods solis on both tunes; the one on "Hodges" sounds--to my ears, anyway--like three sopranos and two altos). Also includes a cover of a '70s pop tune ("At Seventeen") and a nice original from Melillo ("Gee"). (Available as an import, with bonus points for packaging the CD to look like the original album, complete with little plastic sleeve inside.)

  • Toshiko Akiyoshi/Lew Tabackin Big Band: Long Yellow Road (RCA). I had the fortune to play some of Toshiko's music while in lab bands at UNT, and it's a shame that her music isn't available more widely or performed more often (though, granted, a lot of it is pretty hard). Her compositions are presented by a hard-driving big band that features husband Lew Tabackin on tenor, Bobby Shew on trumpet and Britt Woodman and Dick Spencer on trombone. Highlights include the title track and the gospel waltz "Quadrille, Anyone?" Along with Kogun, which I hope to acquire soon, this is my favorite Toshiko album from college. (Available as an import CD, which once again was made to look like a record.)

  • Tom Harrell: Stories (Contemporary). The trumpeter and flugelhornist--who spent quite a bit of time in Woods' quintet--is another jazz composer who deserves wider recognition. I would have bought this solely on the strength of one composition, "The Water's Edge," a gorgeous jazz waltz. Other highlights include the Mintzer-ish "The Mountain" and the extended title track. Featured players include Bob Berg on tenor and Niels Lan Doky on piano, along with special guest John Scofield on guitar on three tracks. The CD reissue includes a bonus selection. (Available used through Amazon Marketplace or as a download from Amazon and iTunes)

  • Jack DeJohnette: Parallel Realities (MCA). Unlike the rest of the recordings documented above, this was one that I actually owned on CD until someone "borrowed" it quite some time ago, and it has proven difficult to find until now. Despite DeJohnette's name in the leader's spot, this is a true three-way collaboration between the drummer (who also plays an understated keyboard bass on this date), Pat Metheny and Herbie Hancock. Metheny's contribution alone should make it a double-billing as he wrote or co-wrote half the tunes here. I enjoy the whole CD immensely, but personal favorites include "Nine Over Reggae," the opening "Jack In" and the title track, which goes into extended exploratory mode. I need to pick up the live recording (which adds bassist Dave Holland to the mix) from the tour supporting this CD. It's great to have this one in my possession again. (Available used from Amazon Marketplace, as well as in download form at Amazon and iTunes)
Tomorrow: Digital downloads? We gots more options now...

Friday, September 28, 2007

Yet Another Friday Cornucopia

Once again, a list of the things I haven't had time to blog about this week:Tomorrow, we'll talk about music again.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Nostalgia (Ol)Factory

When walking out of my last school of the day, it had just rained, and the air was thick with Houston-like humidity. There was a bit of mud near the sidewalk where I was walking, and the combination of mud and humidity took me back--way back. All the way back to football practice, as a matter of fact.

It's pretty weird how, as someone firmly established in a career, I could suddenly be transported back decades in time to the fields behind Nottingham Elementary in Houston, where my team, the Jets, practiced. Though I would never, ever be good at it, my scrawny, 65-pound self gave it my all for two seasons in football because it was the cool thing to do in Houston. (This was quite a contrast to my previous neighborhood in suburban St. Louis, where the popular pursuits included playing Yahtzee in the driveway.) Though it would give way to other, more sensible pursuits when I hit sixth grade, I've never stopped being a fan of football.

Have you ever taken a trip way back in time, just because of a specific scent?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The "No Fun League" Strikes Again

Just a week after the NFL fined Terrell Owens for using the ball as a prop in a touchdown celebration, they've come up with something even weirder: The league has now banned cheerleaders from warming up or stretching in front of the visiting team's bench (or, for that matter, doing anything else that might be "distracting" to the visitors).

Isn't this (once again) going a little overboard here? Don't most professional athletes find themselves bombarded by female fans wherever they go anyway? Aren't they highly-paid professionals who are supposed to have a high enough level of concentration to ignore any and all distractions?

Silly, silly, silly. Don't you agree?

Speaking of no fun: A ten-year-old MInnesota girl wanted to have a miniature horse as a pet, but city codes wouldn't allow it, classifying the animals as livestock. So she went before the City Council to challenge the ordinance, although she came up, umm, short.

This won't be good for tourism: A musician from Cincinnati wanted to propose to his girlfriend, an artist from Japan, in a romantic setting, so he chose Central Park. After she said yes, the couple was promptly mugged and robbed.

Monday, September 24, 2007

College: The Best Four Five Six Years of Your LIfe

Even as legislators in some states are trying to herd students through college at a faster rate, some people are taking even longer to graduate than before, according to an article by David Eisen on MSN Encarta last week:
If a student's formative years are spent in grammar school, then college is a time to exercise independence and--parents hope--choose a career path. But these days, a sizable amount of college students are taking as long to attain a college degree as it takes to jump from grammar school to junior high.

The four-year degree is largely a thing of the past. According to a 2006 study by the National Center for Education Statistics, less than 35 percent of students at "four-year colleges" are able to complete their bachelor's degree in four years or fewer. But most do graduate--more than 56 percent eventually get their B.A. within six years. The data was culled from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, which captured graduation rates of full-time undergraduate students beginning in 1998 from more than 6,500 institutions.
And it's not that everyone's sitting around being a slacker, either; as I've noted before, it has to do with rising tuition costs and more students having to work their way through school than before:
Mary Ann Swain, provost at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Binghamton, has seen a growing shift in the length of time it takes for a student to graduate[...]

"As the cost of an education has shifted from state-tax support to family contributions, it now takes more hours of work to provide the same proportion of the costs of one's education," she affirms. "Students who are working to support their college degrees seem to be carrying fewer credits per semester than before, and are working more hours. Thus, their college careers are lengthened."
According to Eisen, several factors may figure into the lengthened stay: Not enough room in classes that may only be offered once a year, an increase in double majors, co-op programs that split time between classes and work, and people taking a semester (or more) off to work.

But the universities are working to try and speed up the process:
While reasons for the longer stints at college vary, colleges and universities are working hard to make improvements so that lagging students aren't using up the space that can be given to new enrollments. At the University of Connecticut's (UConn) Storrs campus, only about 50 percent of students graduate in four years or fewer. To improve those numbers, UConn launched the Finish in Four initiative in 2004 to ensure that courses were available to students who needed to take them, as well as to improve and increase communication between students and advisers to keep them on track.
As the article points out, it can also be expensive for students to remain in school longer than the usual time, but, as more students are financing school on their own, there will have to be more cooperation between students, colleges and financial aid officers to get people out in a shorter time.

Yet sometimes, a shorter time is not beneficial. The music degree that I received in college was four years only on paper; the number of single-credit classes that met for two or three hours a week and the amount of practicing required makes extended stays almost the norm. As I said in the earlier post,
I think I'm particularly sensitive in this area because of the way musicians learn their craft. While most traditional academic degrees consist of four to six three-credit courses every semester, the bulk of music courses only earn one credit (despite sometimes meeting as often as four hours a week, in the case of many ensembles). The solution would certainly not lie in increasing the credit hours of those classes to match the "contact hours," because that would push most semesters into credit overload: an average schedule would balloon to 21+ hours, which would be cost-prohibitive for most students. But even under the current system, an 18-credit semester would probably consist of ten or eleven classes, as compared to the six taken by "regular" students whose classes are all worth three credits. Sometimes, that's just too much.

Besides, music (and this goes for most of the other arts, I'm sure) is something that isn't necessarily learned on a schedule. Getting the degree doesn't necessarily ensure that one's playing (or singing/acting/painting) is exactly where it needs to be; that extra semester could be the time when everything finally solidifies.
So I'm fully in favor of things that can keep people from having to work so much to get through college, and I have little sympathy for the slackers, but I hope that legislators and college leaders don't paint everyone with the same broad brush; sometimes people are taking their time for a very good reason.

Don't know much about history: Meanwhile, a recent study finds that college students aren't doing too well in the area of history and civic literacy. Among the problem areas: Less than half of college seniors knew that Yorktown was the battle that ended the American Revolution or that NATO was formed to resist Soviet expansion. The repoirt doesn't just fault the students; it also blames colleges (and high schools, for that matter) for not doing enough to add to their civic literacy.

Take five: Has anyone out there seen the new $5 bill yet? I'm sure the changes will help combat counterfeiting for a while, but the purple printing makes it look even more like Monopoly money.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Blog Holiday

OK, seeing as how it's after 11 p.m. on a Sunday night, and I just realized that I completely forgot to watch the Cowboys game, I think it's time for bed. Posting will resume tomorrow.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Heading Way Out West to Hear "Back East"

Joshua Redman's last scheduled appearance in this area was rained out in Denton back in the spring of '06. A trip to Houston last March to see the SFJAZZ Collective (from which Redman has since stepped down as musical director) sated the appetite for a while, but it was high time for a full-blown Redman experience, and last night's performance at Jazz by the Boulevard in Ft. Worth delivered as promised.

Redman is touring with a trio these days, in support of his newest release Back East, which has been promoted as an homage to the classic 1957 Sonny Rollins release, Way Out West. The older recording was also done in tenor/bass/drums format, and they have two songs in common, "I'm An Old Cowhand" and "Wagon Wheels." It takes a master saxophonist to pull of the chordless trio format and maintain interest for an entire set, and it takes a brave saxophonist to pay such obvious tribute to the still-alive-and-kicking (and playing) Rollins fifty years after the original recording. Redman succeeds on both counts, and last night's performance added to the enjoyment of the new music.

Back East actually features several bass/drum tandems (Larry Grenadier/Ali Jackson, Christian McBride/Brian Blade, and Reuben Rogers/Eric Harland), as well as a few guest saxophonists (Joe Lovano, Chris Cheek and Redman's late father Dewey, who is much appreciated here in his native Ft. Worth). For this show, bassist Rogers was joined by longtime Redman associate Gregory Hutchinson on drums, and the group formed a cohesive unit that made a seamless transition from recording to live performance. Although the first three tunes of the set ("The Surrey With the Fringe On Top," "East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)" and "Zarafah") did match the first three tracks of the recording, it was like listening to everything for the first time again, as the three players expanded and reinvented the music, sending it to even greater heights (we realized at about the one-hour mark that they were only on their fifth tune, but time passed quickly; we could have listened to this for hours on end).

Redman's tenor dazzled as usual, going from a solid low register to otherworldly altissimo (often within mere seconds of each other) while sharing a wellspring of creativity. His soprano playing (what a big, thick sound from the small horn!) evoked otherwordly sounds on the Middle Eastern-influenced "Zarafah" (yes, the "East" of Back East doesn't just refer to New York, where it was recorded). Rogers was given a lot of solo space as well, and he mixed exciting technique and creative lines with the ever-present open fifths (one of my younger cohorts in attendance called them "emo chords") that often framed the accompaniment. Hutchinson held it all together with taste and precision, and he got his chance to shine on Back East's title track. Another highlight was the inclusion of a tune that was originally recorded with a larger group: "Hide and Seek" (from 1996's Freedom in the Groove), which thrived in its trio reworking.

It had been way too long (1999, not counting the SFJAZZ performance) between Redman shows for me. Sure, I would still love to hear his electric Elastic Band someday, but this trio stood tall on its own merits and showed evidence of tremendous musical growth on the leader's part. Were it not for the 11 p.m. outdoor stage curfew, this group could have played for a lot longer, as they undoubtedly had a lot of music left in them. I'm already looking forward to the next time.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Another Friday Cornucopia

All the news that I haven't had time to talk about in detail, but still deserved to be posted:I'm off to the Joshua Redman concert in just a little bit--review tomorrow.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The "No Fun League" Keeps Living Up To Its Name

Last week, I had a few questions about recent penalties handed down by the NFL; were they too harsh with Cowboys coach Wade Wilson for using a banned substance, but too lenient with Patriots coach Bill Belichick in the stealing-signals case?

The debate continues, but I'll bet this one will just inspire a collective "Huh?" and slap to the forehead: Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens has been fined $7500 for a post-touchdown celebration on Sunday--because the ball was used as a prop:
The NFL fined Owens on Wednesday for violating Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1 of the official league rules that state, "possession or use of foreign or extraneous object(s) that are not part of the uniform during the game on the field or the sideline, or using the ball as a prop."

Owens used the football to simulate a camera Sunday in Miami, as he mocked New England's illegal video taping of the New York Jets' defensive coaches in Week 1.

"I'm like [Bill] Belichick," Owens said. "I misinterpreted the rules."
I'm sorry, but this is really silly. "Using the ball as a prop" costs a player almost eight grand? This is not about "upholding the decorum of the game" or something like that; it's a league office wielding its power, simply because it can. The Belichick spying incident? Sure. But even people who don't care for T.O. could almost certainly agree that this penalty is too much. Throwing a flag for "excessive celebration" is bad enough, but having something like this cost a player money is going over the top. It's the equivalent of a city fining people for wardrobe violations...oh, wait; that's already happening, isn't it?

Am I all wet here, or is the No Fun League going overboard this time? The comments section is always open...

Catchin' up: My belated posts from Monday and Tuesday are now up. One is about arts advocacy, while the other is yet another revisitation of the saggy pants issue. (There's an odd pair of subjects for you...)

Man with a horn: I didn't have time to post it yesterday, but there was a nice profile of Wynton Marsalis in the Dallas Morning News. I wish I'd gotten to catch the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra at the Meyerson last night (review here).

Buy your textbook, and then set up a perimeter: Georgetown University's law school is offering a cool class--"The Law of 24." (Course description here.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Since I'm Still Behind on This Week's Posts, I Only Have One Word to Say....


(And I'll be catchin' up on them ancient posts by and by, ye scurvy dogs.)

UPDATE: James Lileks has done an entire post in pirate-speak, and some of the snarkier commenters are debating the "authenticity" of the dialect. Arrrr, give it a rest, mateys.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

More Saggy Logic in Dallas

I've posted before about what a waste of time and resources I think it is for local governments to spend time on things like banning baggy pants, especially when there are so many unsolved problems that fall much more closely under their jurisdictions. Just a little over a year ago, a Dallas school board member tried to get the City Council to enact a ban (that's right, not just in the schools, but in the city at large); last month, we discovered that Atlanta was working on a similar measure.

I thought that the idea was dead in Dallas, but this morning, there was Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway on the radio, trying to drum up support for an ordinance again. He wants to do this because "it is a total disgegard and disrespect for all females to have to entertain looking at someone's dingy does not set the tone of something that should be accepted in society." He also mentioned the term "respect" several more times during the interview.

But here's the thing: You can't legislate respect. Certainly, it's the goal of any society to raise the level of such respect, but, on the other hand, it's not wise to go around making a whole bunch of laws just because people might be offended. As I said in the earlier post, if something like this were to pass, what would be next--outlawing fat guys in Speedos? (OK, there's still part of me that thinks such a thing would be a good idea, but you get my point.)

The other problem with this is that it shouldn't consume an ounce of city resources until all the other much more pressing problems are at least on their way to being solved. As I said earlier,
Is this style of dress annoying? Sure. But do we really need to get the police involved in enforcing it? Surely not. The time when the council should be devoting the city's resources to something like this would be when crime levels are nonexistent, when all the potholes are fixed, there's not a homeless problem downtown, the police and firefighters are paid the same as their suburban other words, not anytime soon.
More coverage of the story can be found here, and be sure and listen to the entire radio interview at the link above.

To his credit, Caraway doesn't expect the police to "ride past a burglar just to go and make somebody pull up his pants," but he would have them issue civil citations for the defense. As always, if you have strong feelings on either side of this, please chime in using the comments.

Stupid criminal #1: A woman who went to court to pay a traffic ticket probably shouldn't have driven there in a stolen car.

Stupid criminal #2: LIkewise, a man in New York state shouldn't have stolen a car to turn himself in on another charge.

Stupid criminal #3: And finally, if you're going to rob a restaurant, you shouldn't 1) rob one where you're a frequent diner, and 2) order food on a credit card before attempting the robbery.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Just A Reminder That the Fine Arts Are Part of a Basic Edcuation

While browsing the op-ed page in yesterday's paper, one column stood out: Teacher Sue Blanchette offered some ideas to improve public education. Most of them were fine by me: Lengthen either the school year or the school day, don't rely so much on test scores, and so on. But one thing she said really jumped out at me, and not in a good way:
If the purpose of school is education let's consider the amount of time students spend on non-academic pursuits like athletics, journalism, band or choir, cheerleading and drill team, or theater. Of course there is value in each of these activities, but if the time students spend preparing for them were directed into academics, there would undoubtedly be improvement in academic results. Heresy? Perhaps, but this is where the community and society have to change. As long as Friday Night Lights or the high school musical have priority, not much will improve.
Hold on a second, Ma'am. It appears that your main "targets" are the fine arts, and they are definitely more than "non-academic pursuits." On the contrary, they help develop a well-rounded individual.

Here is what a few notable leaders in Texas have said about fine arts education:
Governor Rick Perry
We have encouraged the study of music and the arts in addition to the fundamentals of math, science, reading, and writing, which all have led collectively to tremendous gains in education in Texas over the last decade.

Representative Rob Eissler, House Public Education Committee Chair
For our society to move forward, for our culture to survive, fine arts education must remain strong. We already know that kids who study music do better in physics and math. Teaching the fine arts is a rounding of the whole development of the student.

Senator Florence Shapiro, Senate Education Committee Chair
My vision is that fine arts education would continue to thrive in our Texas public schools. No longer can we look at the fine arts in a box separate from other content areas in the curriculum. Fine arts should be integrated across content areas and vice versa. Just as math teachers can easily bring elements of music into their lessons, so should music teachers take the opportunity to teach students how the elements they are learning relate to mathematics.

Shirley Neeley, Ed.D., Commissioner of Education
The arts are an integral component of our educational system in developing the attitudes, characteristics, and intellectual capacities required for students to participate successfully in today’s society and economy. The arts teach self-discipline, reinforce self-esteem, foster thinking skills and creativity, and promote teamwork and cooperation. Most notably, though, the arts are important in and of themselves in that they are a vital and vibrant part of our personal, social and cultural environment.

[Source: Texas Music Educators Association]
Certainly, there are ways to tweak the system to have more instructional time in core subjects if people so desire, but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater by attempting to do this at the expense of other equally vital subjects such as the arts. If all the extra time advocated by Blanchette went only into core classes, students might make higher grades, but there's no saying that their enthusiasm for school would be any higher (for many people, it might decrease), and they certainly would be a lot less human without access to the arts. I would challenge those who consider the arts to be "non-academic pursuits" to, in the words of another arts advocate, "find as many positive traits of attitude, teamwork, camaraderie and cultural enrichment being developed in a science, math or English class. Some things cannot be learned sitting at a desk with a textbook!" (The advocate being quoted, incidentally, is myself, in a paper written in college that ended up being published in a professional journal.)

At the end of the day, we educators need to stick together; we're under opposition from so many external fronts that we don't need to be fighting back and forth amongst ourselves. But those such as Ms. Blanchette should understand that we'll never achieve a unity of thought if core-subject teachers continue to attack the arts as unnecessary. Let's work together to improve education in a way that doesn't involve such things.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Is Southlake "The Place People Love to Hate?"
Not To Me...

I was somewhat surprised to see a sound-off forum in the editorial section of yesterday's Morning News entitled "Is the animosity toward Southlake deserved, or is it a sign of envy?" Huh? Animosity toward Southlake? Where did that come from? Then I noticed that the editorial pointed to an article in this month's issue of D Magazine called "Southlake: Welcome to Perfect City, U.S.A." Here's a sample:
They’re good at everything in Southlake. If you’ve never been, there’s something a little Pleasantville about it. The streets are cleaner than your streets, the downtown more vibrant, the students more courteous, their parents more prosperous. Everyone is beautiful in Southlake. Everyone smiles in Southlake. Everyone is a Dragon in Southlake. This last fact, especially, is central to understanding the city. The kids and their mothers coming out of Central Market. The retired men who eat barbecue at the Feed Store. The white collar professionals strolling through the shops of Southlake’s Town Square. They are all Dragons.
That may sound a little snarky, but the rest of the well-written article has a nicer tone, and it also contains a rather good narrative of the founding of Southlake and how Carroll Dragon football helped put the town on the map.

The DMN forum has some interesting contributions, but most of the respondents aren't hatin' on Southlake; if anything, they're saving most of their ire for the usual suspect, Highland Park. But most are talking about how envy isn't a good thing to be carrying around in the first place, and some even note that the success of any North Texas community makes the whole Metroplex better. I wholeheartedly concur.

And as for me? I love Southlake; in fact, I've been there the past three Saturday nights and one other time besides that. The main object of my fancy is Southlake Town Square, the older cousin to Firewheel that serves as the de facto downtown, containing both City Hall and the post office. I can't remember how I happened upon it soon after it opened (I'm guessing it was an article in the paper), but, since I have an alumni meeting every month in nearby Bedford, it's only a short detour from my normal route. Once I saw the place festooned in holiday lights, I've been back there at night every December, and it's turned into my little hangout before the alumni meeting ever since I started attending an earlier church service a while back. (You have to admit that "festooned" is a great word, right? I try to work it into a post whenever possible.)

The D article also speaks kindly of Town Square:
All that money, inevitably, drew one of those fashionable “new urbanism” developments to Southlake. In 1999, something called Town Square sprung up out of the prairie: a 131-acre mixed-used development designed by David Schwarz, the same architect who built the American Airlines Center and the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. The Hilton Hotel on the far west side of Town Square sits across the street from Truluck’s and Taco Diner, which are down the street from Barnes & Noble, which is near the Cheesecake Factory and Snuffer’s. There’s 1.2 million square feet of this—a Lane Bryant here, a Starbucks there. Just like Plano, just like Addison, just like everywhere else.

Except in Southlake it’s different. It works. It works because it’s beautiful. The main entrance of Town Square is a two-square-block public space, with a lawn in the foreground and mature trees shading parts of a fountain. Behind that there’s a gazebo and behind that another lawn with intersecting sidewalks, like a college quad. City Hall is here, too. And the post office. The development, perfectly huge and perfectly planned, does something most unusual in these parts: it gets people walking. Elderly couples, kids with their skateboards, mothers with their strollers. They’re everywhere. Go ahead. Try not killing someone while driving through the place.

The day Town Square opened, developer Brian Stebbins walked around it. It was much smaller then, not yet built out, and Stebbins was thinking of staging a photograph to capture what he envisioned for the future. “That very first morning,” Stebbins says, “there were kids playing by the fountain and people playing Frisbee. And none of them were hired.”
As I've said before, I like New Urbanism. The old-school architecture and the mixture of commercial and residential is appealing to me, as is the walkability; weather permitting, I walk as much of the place as i can on every visit. If money (and my commute to the college) were no object, I'd buy a Brownstone (complete with a Wenger module for practicing, of course) and be happy as a clam living in Southlake. As someone noted in the D article, the people I've run across out there don't seem to act like they have lots of money.
And I'm already a fan-from-afar of Carroll football (as I noted last year after their then-football coach, Todd Dodge, got hired at my alma mater, UNT), and I was none too happy when their 49-game winning streak (dating back to a 2003 loss--by one point--in the state finals) came to an end last night at the hands of Florida powerhouse Miami Northwestern.

But in the meantime, I'm happy with the (at least) monthly visits. Needless to say, the presence of Copeland's in the new HIlton makes trips on non-alumni days even more likely. (That explains one of the trips during this three-Saturdays-in-a-row stint, in case you're wondering. The other two visits were precipitated by a rather substantial gift card that I had been given for one of the other restaurants in Town Square; the food was worth the drive.)

So there's not a shred of Southlake envy on my part. I'm glad the place is there. What about you, fellow Metroplexites? Is there a place in the area that you "love to hate," and if so, is it Highland Park? Plano? Frisco? (Those seemed to be the top vote-getters in the DMN forum.) Or do you agree with the people who say that any area's success makes the whole Metroplex better? And if you're not from this area, feel free to chime in about someplace similar in your locale.

Friday Night Darks: Speaking of high school football, a game in Arizona had to be called off this week after thieves stole the copper wire that helped power the stadium lights.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

It's Saturday; Go Ahead, Relax.

On a weekend with a busy start (judging Region Jazz auditions this morning), I was happy to read in the paper today that author Eric Weiner has given us permission to slack off:
I bet you're reading this at work – and feeling guilty about it.

Rest easy. You are not alone. A recent survey found that the typical American worker wastes slightly more than two hours a day, not including lunch and scheduled breaks. The insurance industry is particularly rife with time wasters (can you blame them?), and Missouri, for reasons not entirely clear, is the state with the highest percentage of slackers.

The No. 1 time-wasting activity is surfing the Internet and sending personal e-mails (a finding perhaps skewed by the fact that the survey, conducted by AOL and, was Web-based), followed by socializing with co-workers, conducting personal business and just plain "spacing out." All of this loafing is supposedly costing employers $759 billion a year in lost productivity.

The findings were greeted, predictably, with much hand-wringing about the declining American work ethic. I find the survey disturbing, too, but for a different reason. American workers, it turns out, are wasting less time than they did just a couple of years ago – 19 percent less. We must stop this dangerous trend.
I can relate to this. I tend to teach 12 to 14 hours a day during the school year, and when I get home, the first thing I often do is get on the computer. But even if I have 20 emails in my inbox, I might not answer them right away; a lot of them are related to work, and the last thing that I want to do when I get home is more work. And as a musician, it's easy to feel guilty about not practicing enough, so that's hanging over my head as well.

But there's no doubt that we all need some downtime. Perhaps we should all back off on the guilt a little bit and learn to embrace our inner slacker. Weiner says this is a good idea:
Despite all of this fretting, we are no slacker nation. The U.N.'s International Labor Organization recently issued a report that found that the U.S. leads the world in worker productivity – and by a wide margin.

So why do we feel like such slackers? For one thing, we are a nation ambivalent about work. We cherish it and resent it. I suspect that some of this loafing is a subtle form of revenge. With work now sloshing over into personal time (think Blackberry), it seems only natural that personal time should slosh back into work. Technology is fast rendering distinctions between "work" and "leisure" meaningless. This is a problem. If the U.S. is to stay strong, we need to goof off more at work, not less.

Thus the recent Web survey gets to the heart of the paradox. We are a nation of doers, hard workers, yet we are also a nation of ideas, big ideas. These two aspects of the American personality constantly rub against each other; great ideas require idleness, but idleness makes us uncomfortable.
So let's all pledge that, assuming we actually get things done this week, we'll slack a little more and not feel guilty about it. I'm In.

Fido meets file cabinet: In this country, "Take Your Daughter to Work Day" has been popular in some circles. But in the U.K., it was dogs who were visiting the office on Friday, as part of a fundraiser for an animal charity.

Schoolyard brawl, bizarro-world edition: It's bad enough when a student and teacher get into an argument and the student hits the teacher; it's even worse when the teacher hits back.

Don't fear the reaper, but fear the low clearance: Massachusetts authorities, growing tired of having trucks smash into low-clearance bridges in their state, are considering reviving a novel solution: More cowbell.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Does the Punishment Fit the Crime Here?

The NFL has sometimes been called the No Fun League for handing down penalties against things like "excessive celebration" during games, but in the past few weeks, they've also handed down some penalties for much more serious violations. The question, though, is whether or not these penalties were meted out evenly. Here are the scenarios:

Wade Wilson. The Cowboys' quarterbacks coach was suspended for the first five games of the season and fined $100,000 a few weeks ago for violation of the league's substance abuse policy. Wilson, who's fought diabetes for years, was taking a substance to "improve the quality of his life," but was unaware that the substance was on the league's banned list. (It was even more of an embarrassment to Wilson when a subsequent story surfaced that he had tried the banned substance to treat impotence. And to add insult to injury, he barely used the substance because it messed with his blood sugar.)

It seems odd to me that a coach would be penalized for a "performance-enhancing substance," since it's not like he's on the field of play or anything, but the league maintains that coaches need to be held to an even higher standard because they set an example for the players.

Bill Belichick. This week, allegations surfaced that New England Patriots coaches had videotaped New York Jets coaches sending signals on the sideline to their players during a game last Sunday. The commissioner eventually announced that Patriots coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000 in connection with the incident, and the team was also fined $250,000 and will have to forfeit some draft picks in 2008.

But nobody got suspended. Is that fair? Wade Wilson is wondering the same thing:
When Wade Wilson learned New England coach Bill Belichick would not miss any games for his role in "Spygate," the suspended Cowboys quarterbacks coach was puzzled.

"Being told coaches are held to higher authority, my intent was not to create an imbalance in competition," Wilson said. "Presumably, what the Patriots did was try to, so I'm wondering about the consistency."

[...]Wilson said the fines seem disproportionate when comparing his salary to Belichick's. The Patriots coach is believed to make $4.2 million a year, while Wilson makes a little over $300,000.

"I'm not trying to jump down the commissioner's back or bring Coach Belichick down," Wilson said. "I'd just like consistency from what I was told to what the next situation was."
Wilson is now deciding whether or not to appeal his suspension, but he'll defer to the wishes of the Cowboys organization in that matter. Meanwhile, Wilson is not not alone in wondering if a suspension for Belichick was in order.

So was justice administered equally here? Chime in using the comments.

My appetite was just de-feeted here: A worker at a Chinese buffet in New York state was discovered to be preparing garlic for the restaurant by stomping on it with his boots in the alley behind the restaurant. Someone took a picture of him doing so and notified the health department. (Key quote: "The health department does not consider a person's shoe or boot a proper instrument to use in food preparation, senior public health sanitarian John Stoughton said Tuesday.")

The agony of de feet: I love flip-flops, but there's now more than one reason that I don't buy them from Wal-Mart.

Stupid criminal of the week: Once again, a bank robber was caught after he wrote the holdup note on the back of one of his personal checks.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Say It Ain't So (About) Joe

The world of jazz lost one of its greats this week when Joe Zawinul died on Tuesday in Vienna. The Austrian-born keyboardist was privileged to work with several of the all-time jazz greats in Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley, not to mention his stellar co-founder of Weather Report, Wayne Shorter. After Weather Report disbanded in 1986, Zawinul continued to tour with his own group, Zawinul Syndicate.

He also made his mark as a composer, penning "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" for Cannonball and "Birdland" for Weaher Report. As I told my evening combo tonight, it really says something if a jazz composer whom 90% of the world wouldn't know by name has nonetheless written two tunes that would both at least be familiar melodies to those same people. Zawinul also contributed a great deal to the music by advancing the role of electronic keyboards in jazz; this may well have been overdone by some in the '80s, but the overall sonic palette has benefited from this expansion.

I remember hearing that Zawinul had been hospitalized about a month ago, but I was hoping he was OK. I salute his contribution to our art, and I'm thankful I had the chance to see him perform a few times.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Blowing Out Almost An Entire Hand's Worth of Candles

Happy birthday to my middle nephew, Caleb, who's four today. Like his older brother Noah did at that age, he's become quite the little conversationalist, so he's very entertaining to talk to on the phone. (He's also at the "cute" stage of conversation, where he refers to his favorite burger place as "Wed Wobin," adopting that pronunciation at about the exact same time Noah grew out of it.)

I won't be able to attend his birthday party this weekend, because I'll be judging Region Jazz on Saturday, but I was glad to see him at his little brother Micah's first birthday party last month, and I look forward to my next trip down there.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

We Still Remember

There's really no reason for anyone who runs a single-post-a-day blog like this to talk about anything other than the 9/11 anniversary today; even though the anniversary is not a multiple of five or anything, this is the first time since the attacks that September 11 has again fallen on a Tuesday. I'll pretty much reprint my "where were you?" story from a 2004 post on the subject and invite you to share your recollections as well.

Here's my story: I was on a break from teaching, like every Tuesday, and actually spent the time of the attacks in blissful ignorance at a nearby Starbucks. I had CD's on in my car instead of the radio, so I totally missed the news on both the way over and the way back. I did hear someone listening to a radio on the Starbucks patio and they were talking about "the second plane," but it didn't register with me at all. (It amazed me later that nobody walked inside and told us about it.)

When I got back to the school, the flute teacher stopped me in the hallway and asked me if all my students were being pulled out of school (evidently hers were). I said, "No, why?" and she told me what had happened. I spent the rest of the day like everyone else, in shocked, depressed amazement, catching the news when I could. There I was, not even two weeks into being a homeowner, and the world suddenly felt so different. It added to the pall cast over everything when I found out that the sister of a girl I graduated from high school with was on Flight 93, the one that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. (I know that there have been quite a few lists of names read aloud today, so let me share hers: Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas. May she rest in peace...)

The whole thing felt so surreal; how could anyone hate us that much? The concept of the suicide hijacking was unprecedented as well (before that, hijackers just usually wanted to go to Cuba, and that's why airline personnel were taught to cooperate with them rather than try to subdue them).

I know there are still terrorist plots being hatched, and people capable of carrying them out...but I hope nothing like this ever happens on U.S. soil again. Or anywhere, for that matter.

As I said a year ago, I hope nobody tires of talking about this every once in a while, because if we stop talking, we might forget, and this is a day that need not be forgotten anytime soon.

Lileks has video taken during the week of the attacks, and there's a (mostly) cordial discussion going on at

UPDATE: Here's another well-made tribute from Drum Corps Planet.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Repeat of Restau-Rant Averted

I have to offer mad props to the Subway workers at lunch today; they actually managed to work me around the lady in front of me who just kept on ordering sandwiches, one at a time, off a big list in her hand. (If you missed the original Restau-Rant from back in the day, it's here; the gist of it is that, if you have a huge order at a fast-food place--as in one for your entire office--it's much more courteous to all involved if you call that order in ahead of time, and you really need to pay for it all at once, not as a bunch of separate orders.)

In this case, the woman was very, very indecisive and very, very slow to order each successive sandwich. I'm really glad that one of the workers seemed to observe my plight and vaulted me ahead while the lady kept ordering again and again. What I thought might turn out to be a lousy start to the first real Monday of school was anything but that.

Hey, fellow North Texans: Did it rain enough for you today? I looked out a school window at about 9:30 this morning, and it was as dark as midnight. I'm so glad I replaced the Ghetto-Brella last week...

This story just had to be connected to California in some way: A San Francisco-based artist has opened a theatre with an unusual theme: Plant porn.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Bruce Hall-mighty

I was quite impressed to see that the front page of today's Dallas Morning News had a front-page feature on Bruce Hall, my old dorm at UNT. From the description in the article, it appears that little has changed since I lived there:
In every hallway, at every turn: the sound of trumpets, saxophones and violins. In the lobby and out in the courtyard: guitars, flutes and the thunder of drums. Even in the parking lot, music seeps from the building, a constant soundtrack.

All across the dorm, students sit in their rooms listening to obscure jazz. In most dorms, music is mere background sound.

In these rooms, it's the focus. These students sit quiet and still, their eyes closed. They study every note.

So goes life at Bruce Hall, the oldest and one of the most eclectic living spaces at the University of North Texas.

Most of the 492 residents are students at the prestigious College of Music.

The rest are artistic types in for the ride.
Bruce is a unique place. It almost had to be the musicians' dorm, seeing as how it's located right across the street from the Music Building (this made it possible to accidentally sleep until 7:55 in the morning and still make it to an 8:00 class on time--been there, done that.) Having the most liberal practice hours on campus also helps (when I lived there, one could practice in the room from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m.), and an entire room full of Wenger practice modules in the basement can be checked out 24/7. Live jams in the lobby took place on a regular basis, and sometimes, the people in there would ultimately appear on CD's that you'd buy a few years later. It was, and is, a great place for a musician to live.

It was also a weird place, as might well be expected with so many creative types in a single location. One of my old band directors used to say that Bruce "pretty much hovered about four feet off the ground at all times." Virtually any mode of dress or expression was accepted (I'll never forget the girl with Statue of Liberty hair). On my first night, I walked in after marching band practice to see a group of upperclassmen playing the children's game "Duck, Duck, Goose" in the lobby. It was a great environment to get used to college without being judged by one's peers.

I didn't immediately warm to the place, mind you. The first thing I said to myself as I walked through the lobby on move-in day was, "What a (expletive deleted) slum." The lack of air-conditioning at the time, the dust (stirred up by utility construction) that came in through the window and all but choked the life out of my little box fan, and my pot-smoking hippie first roommate made for a rough start, but I grew to love the place so much that I stayed for my first three years of school.

The DMN article also does a good job of capturing the vibe of the College of Music itself, especially in terms of its effect upon newly-arrived students:
Every musician here was among the best back home. A "big fish," they say.

Many are prodigies who've read music since they could read words. They come to Bruce from all over the world.

For the first time in their lives, they are surrounded by musicians of their own caliber – with similar experiences, tastes and habits.

The dorm provides an environment in which kindred musical spirits find one another. The world of competitive music can be stressful and lonely. But here musicians find acceptance and support.

Alumni from Bruce play in metropolitan symphonies and bands across the country, including one well-known UNT jazz major, Norah Jones.

The environment is simultaneously tense and laid back.

While some students jam in the lobby, others are alone in their rooms, practicing until their fingers go numb.
Yup, it sounds like not much has changed at all.

Since I have a job that allows me to nurture prospective music majors, some of them ultimately end up at UNT and living in Bruce, which means that I've had the chance to see the place every now and then. Save for the A/C units, the swipe-card entries and (thankfully) the renovation of the community bathrooms (yes, it's now possible to flush the toilet while someone is in the shower without taking all their cold water away), the building is much the same as when I lived there. (A few years ago, I even had the chance to be a Bruceling again for a night. I went to a concert in downtown Ft. Worth with a former-student-turned-friend who lived on my old wing; we got back so late that my friend insisted that I crash on his floor rather than try to drive home. It was quite a blast from the past, especially the part about having to move my car from the front parking lot in the morning before the free-parking hours ended.)

Read the whole thing, especially if you're a fellow former Bruceling; it'll bring back lots of memories. And check out the video here.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "The guys who brag the most about how much music they know are just insecure about their playing. Sometimes people here can get a little pretentious when they are nervous inside. The best players don't need to brag."--Sam Reid, saxophonist and music ed/jazz studies major at UNT (hmm, sounds familiar), in the DMN article.

VIDEO OF THE DAY: Lest anyone doubt the power of music, check out this inspiring video about Patrick Henry Hughes--blind and crippled since birth, he's overcome many obstacles to become a talented pianist and trumpeter, and--with the help of his dad--has even earned a position in the University of Louisville marching band.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

A Saturday Smorgasbord

Once again, all the news that's fit to link:Regular posting returns tomorrow.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Happy Friday! Enjoy a Trip to the Mall...If It's Still There

While I was researching the post about the return of Copeland's Restaurant to the Metroplex a few days ago, I came across an interesting site: It tracks--yes, you guessed it--malls that are no longer in business, many of which have been knocked down and redeveloped (though it surprised me to find out that Dixie Square, the abandoned Chicago-area mall used for the first great car chase scene in The Blues Brothers is still standing; don't forget, that movie came out in 1980. While I went to the site while researching Prestonwood Town Center (since redeveloped as a big-box power center), I also found a post for its former Houston cousin, Town & Country Mall (the two of them may well be the shortest-lived malls ever built in the United States, at 25 and 21 years, respectively, though both were nearly vacant for years before they were demolished).

WIth contributions from people all over the country, this site has a wealth of information. It was interesting to me to discover that the two malls I visited as a youngster when visiting grandparents in Dayton and Cleveland (Salem Mall and Westgate Center, respectively) have both been torn down and are being redeveloped as open-air town centers. (I'd provide links to all this stuff, but is a framed site, so the URL never changes for all the internal pages). As I said two years ago when Firewheel opened out here, the town center seems to be the wave of the future; people want to have nicely-built, walkable shopping areas with greenspace instead of huge air-conditioned boxes, and they want to be able to drive right up to their favorite store if need be instead of parking out in the hinterlands somewhere. I won't be surprised if more boxy malls remake themselves as town centers in the future.

Anyway, it's a fun site and a great time-waster if you're into this sort of thing.

Not a dead store, but it looked that way: Thanks to a malfunctioning lock on the front door, a number of shoppers walked into a Dollar Tree store that was supposed to be closed for Labor Day. Amazingly, nobody stole anything, and the store was properly closed when a woman became concerned about the lack of staff and called the authorities.

One more odd retail story: A woman who tried to buy wine in a Maine supermarket was turned down because she wasn't carrying her ID card with her. She's 65 years old, so I hope she took that as a compliment.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Mama Told Me There'd Be Days Semesters Like This

Apologies for the lack of posts. They've been started, just not completed. I'll do my best to catch up over the weekend, because I do have a lot to talk about.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

No Good Prank Goes Unpunished

It may not happen in every school, but the senior prank is almost as much a part of high school as pep rallies and bad cafeteria food. I was quite amused to read over the weekend of this prank, which took place in Hilliard, Ohio...but less than thrilled to find out the outcome for its instigator:
A high school student who tricked football fans from a crosstown rival school into holding up squares of construction paper at a stadium that together spelled out, "We Suck,'' was suspended for the prank, students said.

Kyle Garchar, a senior at Hilliard Davidson High School in suburban Columbus, said he spent about 20 hours over three days plotting the trick, which was captured on video and posted on the video-sharing Web site YouTube.

Garchar said he was inspired by a similar prank pulled by Yale students in 2004, when Harvard fans were duped into holding up cards with the same message.

At the end of the video, Garchar wryly thanks the 800 parents, staff and alumni from Hillard Darby High School who raised the cards at the start of the third quarter during last Friday's game played at Crew Stadium, home of Columbus' Major League Soccer team.

"It couldn't have been done without you,'' reads the closing frame of the video, which had been viewed more than 4,400 times by Thursday.
That's right--he was suspended, as well as banned from participating in school activities for the rest of the semester. Can someone say overreaction?

After all, he certainly did a bit of "schoolwork" in preparation for the prank:
Garchar, 17, first went to Crew Stadium to take a picture of the seats. Then he created a grid to plan how the message would be spelled out once fans in three sections held up either a black or white piece of construction paper.

Directions left on stadium seats instructed fans to check that the number listed on their papers matched their seat numbers. Darby supporters were told the message would read "Go Darby.''

"It was tedious,'' Garchar said. "I didn't really think it was going to work.''

But it did, and everyone at Hilliard Davidson has been talking about the trick, said Jordan Moore, a junior.

"That was the ultimate in-your-face,'' he said. "I think it was ingenious.''
I totally agree. It would be one thing if people or property had been harmed by the prank (except maybe the opposition's self-esteem), but it really was just good, clean, clever fun. In my mind, the principal totally overreacted here. You don't have to exhibit control every minute of your life; just sit back, have a good laugh, and enjoy something that was harmless and truly funny.

Read the whole thing, including the comments, where one of the locals notes that Kyle received a standing ovation when he walked into the cafeteria the other day. Contact information is also given for the principal, in case anyone wants to send him a "hey, lighten up!" type of message. And enjoy the video here.

(Hat tip: Dave Barry's Blog, where most of the commenters agree that the principal needs to chill. Commenter ArcticAl has the best response:
Personnaly I think the kid should get extra credit for math (geometry, matrices of numbers), drafting (maping out the grid), communications/english (written instructions for the participants), visual art (it is a picture after all - modern art) and civic duties (increasing school spirit, leadership, taking chances, managing risk, dedication, and all around hard work). Some educators have their blinkers on too tight.

The kid will probably have the last laugh when he creates the next Microsoft, e Bay or Yahoo and comes to the school reunion in 10 years in a chauffeur driven Mercedes and parks in the Principal's spot.
My sentiments exactly. And need I say that I know one good way for administrators to possibly cultivate a sense of humor again? Bring 'em back into the real world again.

Speaking of overreaction: A father in Cape Coral, Florida got tired of his son scaring his sisters with a frog, so he called the police on the boy.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Lileks' Labor (Day) of Love

James Lileks has been on the scene at the Minnesota State Fair, blogging and producing daily videos for for the duration of the event (yes, in some places it's actually cool enough to have such an event; here in Texas, we have to wait another month). While all the videos have been outstanding, he's really outdone himself with the one he's posted today: The fair at twilight, in hi-def. (The musical score is his creation as well.)

Sit back and enjoy, just as I'll sit back and enjoy the rest of this day and resume blogging tomorrow. And if you like the video, go to the Buzz post where he links it and toss a compliment his way.

Everyone have a safe and enjoyable holiday.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Green: Not So Mean Yet, But Give It a Chance

My alma mater has gotten quite a bit of attention since Todd Dodge was hired as its football coach last December, right before he concluded another undefeated season with Southlake Carroll High School. Some of us were extremely excited by the hire, and we believe that Coach Dodge will take Mean Green football to a much higher level.

But the schedule-makers weren't very kind to him (granted, all this was figured out years ago) when they sent the Mean Green to Norman, Oklahoma for Dodge's debut; the Oklahoma Sooners went into the season ranked #8 in the nation. I'd gotten to attend a few of those games when I was in college, and the losses were pretty lopsided: 69-14 and 56-2, if memory serves. Oklahoma would go into this game favored by 40 points.

Well...if only it had been that close. The Sooners would hang nearly half a hundred on the Mean Green before halftime and ended up winning 79-10. It's not exactly the way Dodge wanted to begin his career at North Texas, but taking on a team like Oklahoma would be an arduous task for most programs. (If it's any consolation, he also lost his first game at Southlake Carroll, 35-14, before starting his string of state championship runs.)

I didn't get to go this time, since the game sold out weeks ago, but I caught most of it either on TV or radio. I had my doubts about letting junior quarterback Daniel Meager start again after his performance last season, and he didn't really seem to get much going during the game. True freshman Giovanni Vizza came on in relief and led the Green on a couple of scoring drives, though he also threw two interceptions. (Granted, both of these guys will be competing with Dodge's son Riley when he arrives next year.)

So I'm tempted not to thnk too much of this game in the grand scheme of things. Sure, a better performance would have been nice, but not everyone can be Appalachian State. And Dodge , as we would expect, keeps it all in perspective: "The journey is on. Myself, my coaches and my players have to make sure we don't knee jerk in the face of adversity."

The "real" season starts next Saturday, at SMU.

He thought he was in Pamplona: A bull at the Minnesota State Fair escaped from its handlers, made a run through the crowd and then head-butted a red fire hydrant and died. All this on a day when Lileks wasn't on the scene until evening.

Taking "flying fish" literally: The Colorado Division of Wildlife is using airplanes to stock mountain lakes with trout.

Umm, would you like fries with that?: The Outback Steakhouse has a great dish called Alice Springs Chicken, but over in Australia itself, some natives are enjoying Alice springs cat.

And speaking of feral beasts: Did someone here in Texas really find the mythical chupacabra?

A Taste of the Big Easy Returns to Texas

In the early days of this blog, I noted in the Fun Facts post that one of my favorite restaurants was Copeland's of New Orleans. For years, they had a Dallas outlet over by the late Prestonwood Mall, and I would have my birthday dinner there (if not on the "day of," then at least whenever my parents came to visit) for the better part of a decade.

But when the mall went under in 1999, Copeland's bravely hung on for a few more years (in a by-then-isolated corner next to a defunct Don Pablo's) before closing sometime in 2004. If only they could have managed to wait long enough for Prestonwood to reborn as a big-box "power center" last year with the likes of Barnes and Noble, Circuit City, etc.

So in recent years, a Copeland's trip would mean a visit to New Orleans; I had eaten at the one at St. Charles and Napoleon in the Garden District on a few occasions, though I missed it by mere minutes on the New Orleans Bowl trip in '04. Then Katrina came, and the Napoleon location closed (according to the website, it has yet to reopen). I did get to visit a West Bank location when I visited a friend in New Orleans on a spring break trip in '06, but that had been it so far.

So what I saw this evening came as a total surprise to me. While eating on a patio in Southlake Town Square with that same friend (the by now former New Orleanian), we were comparing Southlake to Firewheel. I noted that Southlake was a bit more upscale, and, while it didn't have any anchor stores, it did have a luxury hotel...and I pointed to the brand-new Hilton behind me. My friend took a look, froze, and pointed towards the hotel: "Oh my God, look!" I turned back and saw what he saw: The familiar Copeland's logo on the side of the hotel.

Yes indeed, there is a Copeland's at the Hilton. Believe me, if we hadn't already ordered drinks at the place we were eating, we would have changed our dinner plans right then and there. But since we'd already made the trek to Southlake pretty much on the strength of a gift card from one of their restaurants, a trip back for one of my favorite Big Easy imports is a no-brainer. And the birthday tradition can be revived as well.

I'll have a full report once we actually go there, but I'm sure that if they waited this long to return to the area, it'll be worth the wait.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Funnyman Gets Serious for a Good Reason

Most of the posts on Dave Barry's Blog are links to offbeat, humorous stories, but a few days ago (yes, I'm getting caught up on my reading today) was quite different; it's a tribute to a beloved former teacher who just passed on. Here are some excerpts:
As a student at Pleasantville (N.Y.) High School in the sixties, I was lucky enough to get to know Anthony Sabella, sometimes known to students as Tough Tony. He was the assistant principal, which meant he was the school's main disciplinarian, which meant I had plenty of interaction with him. But despite the fact that on more than one occasion I was genuinely concerned that he might -- as he threatened -- pick me up by my neck and drop me out of a third-floor window, we actually became sort of friends, or as friendly as a school disciplinarian and a total wise[guy] can be.

In addition to being assistant principal, Mr. Sabella was a much-respected high-school-sports official. He also taught American History. I was in his class one year, and it was one of the best classes I ever took, high school or college. Mr. Sabella was very knowledgeable and had strong opinions, but it never bothered him if you disagreed. He liked the give-and-take, which was not always the case with my teachers. By the end of my senior year, I really liked running into him, and I think he liked running into me, even though these run-ins still sometimes ended with my getting detention.

[...]Over the years I occasionally mentioned Mr. Sabella in columns, and was always delighted to hear from him, and his family. Recently, however, I heard he was not doing well. Today I learned that he died. So I'm sad about that. But it heartens me to think that if there is an afterlife, and if the afterlife has a dress code, it will henceforth be strictly enforced.
Read the whole thing, including the comment thread, where others remember their own favorite teachers, and some of Dave's classmates from 40-some years ago make appearances.

As I noted in my own post, it warms the heart to read so many testimonials about former teachers who have made a difference in people's lives. As a teacher myself, that's certainly one of the reasons I do what I do. (It's not the money. LOL.)

And even though I almost feel bad about using a solemn moment like this to push one of my pet causes, it should not go unnoticed that Mr. Sabella remained a teacher after he became an administrator. I'd bet money that a root cause of his effectiveness could be found right there.

As I said at the close of my own comment, may all of you not only have a Mr. Sabella in your lives, but also get the opportunity to be one to somebody.

Yet another movie sequel: Snakes at a Taco Bell.

Not exactly "Free Willy" for these tourists: Last year, on the big band trip to Washington state, we spent an afternoon whale-watching. It was very enjoyable (except for the few in our group who got seasick), and I'm glad we didn't have to experience what a group of tourists in Japan did recently, when the whale they were watching was harpooned by a whaling boat before their very eyes.

Photo of the (yester)day: Sunset with schooner, by Ann Althouse, whose outstanding photography has been on display quite a bit since she relocated to Brooklyn for a yearlong teaching assignment. I wish my work hours didn't keep me from seeing the sunset so often...