Wednesday, April 30, 2008

These Guys Play Like Nobody's Business

A couple of nights ago, my friend Colin, the drummer for my quartet and sextet (which, by the way, will soon become un-dormant again), turned me onto another band that he's in, and I can't stop listening to them again and again.

The band is called Nobody's Business, and it's a very fresh and creative modern jazz band. Picture Chris Potter's Underground (whom they cite as an influence), but with a trumpet instead of a saxophone. This means that the rhythm section has both guitar and Fender Rhodes, but no bass. Add the fact that the trumpeter in question is Evan Weiss, the great soloist/composer from the current edition of the One O'Clock Lab Band, and you've got something special here.

Four of their tunes are available for listening at their website; one tune will launch automatically, and the other three can be accessed by clicking the "music" link at the top of the page. That initial tune, "Rainbow Puzzle," has been in my head for days now.

They've already done their CD releases in Denton, but there's no order information on the site yet; I'll pass the word along when it becomes available. In the meantime, you owe it to yourself to check these guys out.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Should I Be Blogging Today? It's Not on the Test...

The next four days are what I call "Spring Break Mark II"--the days that the bulk of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) tests are being administered in the public schools. This means that I'm pretty much exclusively a college professor for the rest of the week, as most of the public schools are completely closed to all but test-takers and test-givers. It's nice to get the extra sleep, but I'm unable to teach during a week when the majority of my students have auditions for next year coming up within the next few weeks. (I also tend to have a sharp, stabbing pain in the wallet area from all the missed lessons, but that's another story.)

I've spoken at length on this blog of how I feel about the over-reliance on standardized tests (just enter "TAKS" in the search bar at the top of the blog to see the earlier posts), so I won't belabor the point here. I will say again that I'm glad that the tests are going away pretty soon, at least at the high school level, and being replaced with end-of-course exams. (That's right--they're actually testing the material that students have just learned--as opposed to, say, the science TAKS, which is taken in the junior year and covers biology [which was taken freshman year] and physics [which some people don't take until senior year]. Testing what people have actually been studying during the year makes so much sense that it's hard to believe the lawmakers and bureaucrats approved it.)

But it would be great if the test went away at other grade levels as well. At the least, Those In Charge could remember that the A in TAKS stands for Assessment, so it should follow that the test is given at the beginning of the year to determine what needs to be the focus of the rest of the year--not at the end of the year, not tied to promotion onto the next grade, and not tied to the teacher's job security.

I may have mentioned this before, but I have a friend whose wife teaches second grade. A year or so ago, she was offered a "promotion" to third grade, and she turned it down. Why? Because third grade is a TAKS year, and she had heard enough horror stories from her colleagues about stressed-out third-graders around test time. Let me repeat that so it sinks in: Stressed-out third-graders. (I should point out that my single biggest memory of third grade was when our reading teacher read the entire book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory aloud to us in class, every day for several weeks. And that's the kind of memories kids should retain from that age--not studying for a high-stakes test.)

Speaking of stressed-out third graders, someone sent me a great video a few months ago, which I decided to save until this week. It's from singer-songwriter Tom Chapin, and it's called "Not on the Test." Chapin plays a dad who's singing to his third-grade son (who's not having much success getting to sleep) the night before one of these high-stakes tests. It's not on YouTube, so I can't embed it here, but please visit the link and send it to your friends. And your legislators.

Chapin explains why he did the song:
As a kid who grew up in NYC, I am a great fan of America’s public education. I attended P.S. 46 in Greenwich Village, then P. S. 8 in Brooklyn Heights, then on to Brooklyn Technical High School and S.U.N.Y. Plattsburgh.

And now, as a father and a grandfather, I so appreciate the tough job that faces every teacher. I believe they need all the help they can get: anything that excites a student, opens their eyes, and hearts and minds is a positive that makes a child invest in school.

Music, art, drama and sports - these are what kept me involved when I was in school. And these very things, that make a teacher’s (and student’s) job easier and more rewarding, are what’s been cut from curriculums across the country.

Now we are teaching by rote again - where the test, and only the test, becomes the reason to teach and study.

It’s no secret that American industry has outsourced most factory jobs to other countries to take advantage of cheaper labor costs. So why are we putting so much effort into a form of education in which there is no creativity? This is the time that our youth should be taught to think ”out of the box,” not be put into a tighter one!
Well said, Tom. As I mentioned earlier, it's good to see a little progress in this area (with the impending phase-out of high school TAKS), but there's so much more work to be done. Ideally, the importance of standardized tests (except as the diagnostic tools they were designed to be in the first place) would be diminished, and principals would be able to do what was expressed by a great headline in the paper a few months ago: Hire good teachers, and leave them alone.

Be sure and read all the material on Chapin's website; there's also some great arts advocacy statements over there.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Remembering a Legendary Forebrother

It's not often that I read a news item in an actual newspaper that I haven't already seen online somewhere. (For that reason, my trip through the front section of said paper takes even less time than before; I still subscribe because of the local stories, the sports coverage, and the comics...and the fact that I need something to read over lunch and don't want to spill food on my laptop while doing so.) So it was quite a surprise when I didn't discover until reading this morning's paper that the legendary jazz musician jimmy Giuffre had left this mortal coil last week:
Jimmy Giuffre, the adventurous clarinetist, composer and arranger whose 50-year journey through jazz led him from writing the Woody Herman anthem “Four Brothers” through minimalist, drummerless trios to striking experimental orchestral works, died on Thursday in Pittsfield, Mass. He was 86 and lived in West Stockbridge, Mass.

The cause was pneumonia, brought about by complications of Parkinson’s disease, said his wife of 46 years, Juanita, who is his only survivor.

Among the half-dozen instruments he played, from bass flute to soprano saxophone, it was the clarinet that gave him a signature sound; it was a dark, velvety tone, centering in the lower register, pure but rarely forceful. But among the iconoclastic heroes of the late ’50s in jazz, he was a serene oddity, changing his ideas as fast as he could record them.
But there was also a personal angle to this:
Mr. Giuffre was born on April 26, 1921, in Dallas. He started on clarinet at the age of 9. He attended what was then North Texas State Teachers College, where he earned a degree in music in 1942; upon graduation he joined the Army for four years, playing with a quintet in mess halls at meal times, then moved to Los Angeles. After trying graduate work in music at U.C.L.A., he gave it up to study composition privately.
You may know North Texas State Teachers College as one of the previous names of my alma mater, the University of North Texas. And while Giuffre was there, he became a charter member of the Gamma Theta Chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, the same chapter I would join quite a few decades later. So far as we know, he was the only remaining living charter member (which was not surprising, since the chartering took place in 1940!), and I have enjoyed playing some of his music for the new members during the chapter history presentation I give on a regular basis. I never got to meet Brother Giuffre, but he may well have read the alumni newsletters that I edited for many years.

Read the whole article on his passing from the New York Times. One of the things that the article notes is that, after penning "Four Brothers" (we always wondered if he had the fraternity in the back of his mind when he wrote that), he never gained a wide audience because a lot of his music was too "out" for the mainstream. Seeing as how the older I get, the "outer" I like, it's high time for me to explore some more of Giuffre's music; it'll be cool to play some other stuff for the new brothers, and I bet I'll really like it myself.

Friday, April 25, 2008

One Way to Bring Down the Machine?

An interesting idea, courtesy of Slate's Rehan Salam: A music tax for the Internet?

I'll admit that, upon reading the beginning of the article, I got a little riled up by this idea. You may understand after reading one of the opening paragraphs:
Four companies (Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, Sony BMG, and EMI) control a staggering 90 percent of all record sales in the United States, and they're hopping mad. CD sales are in free fall, and the recording industry's revenues have shrunk from $15 billion to $10 billion in less than a decade. Instead of blaming themselves for failing to embrace the Internet soon enough, Big Music has pointed the finger at piracy, shaking down scofflaw MP3 downloaders with capricious, multimillion-dollar lawsuits. This has not strengthened the record companies' position—at this point, they're losing money and everybody hates them.

Now Big Music is mulling the [schoolyard bully] approach. Warner Music Group is trying to rally the rest of the industry behind a plan to charge Internet service providers $5 per customer per month, an amount that would be added to your Internet bill. In exchange, music lovers would get all the online tunes they want, meaning that anyone who spends more than $60 a year on music will come out way ahead. Download whatever you want and pay nothing! No more DRM! Swap files to your heart's content—we promise, we won't sue you (or snatch your ice-cream cone)!
On the surface, this sounds like a horrible idea. But Salam figures that something has to happen in order for artists to be compensated fairly:
Despite all the downsides, something like the music tax simply has to happen. Most of us don't want to steal music. But it takes a saintly person (like me) to jump through hoops to pay for something you can get for free. I use eMusic and, which both offer DRM-free MP3 downloads. Yet cheapskates galore still have their Limewire and BitTorrent and whatever future file-sharing tools savvy Web guerrillas haven't even dreamed up yet.

That's why piracy can't be stopped. Meanwhile, artists aren't being compensated in a sensible way. Sure, some musicians will make a living by playing live shows and selling T-shirts. A massively popular band like Radiohead can give away its music and still make millions. But plenty of other artists will no longer be able to make a living in the music business as royalties dry up, which will leave our culture a little less vital and a little less fun. What we need is a reward system, one that could eliminate middlemen and encourage a massive upsurge in creativity.
OK, I'm listening now...
What plan will work best for music lovers and artists? Instead of a fake music tax, the best solution might be—sorry, libertarians—for the government to step in with a real music tax. In the book Promises To Keep: Technology, Law, and the Future of Entertainment, Harvard Law School professor William Fisher devised an ingenious reward system that levels the playing field for artists. At first glance, it looks a lot like the music biz extortion scheme. The feds would levy a small tax on all broadband subscribers. Musicians, signed and unsigned, would register their creations with the U.S. Copyright Office, who would then set up a massive Nielsen-style sample of music listeners to track the popularity of different songs. The more your song is played, the more you get paid. The revenue from the tax would be parceled out to the copyright holders.

The beauty of this approach is that it has the potential to cut out middlemen like Steve Jobs and the fat-cat record execs. My a cappella version of "Chocolate Rain" would have as much chance of making it as "Purple Rain," at least in theory. When the costs of discovering new music are zero and artists are paid on the basis of how often songs are played, listeners are more adventurous and bands with dedicated followers can make as much scratch as bands that record big hits. Bands get paid, music lovers can listen to their hearts' delight, and the record companies will slowly turn to dust. What's not to like?
Well, as I've said before, I'd be perfectly happy to see the bulk of Big Music go away (and even some of the artist-friendly jazz labels that I support might do even better if freed from the shackles of their corporate overlords). It would be great if we could simply stop illegal downloads, but it looks like that cat's not going back into the bag anytime soon.

What do you think of this idea? Could it use some tweaking, or is it OK as is? When it comes down to it, I'm in favor of control of the music being in the hands of its creators instead of (generally) uncreative corporate types. The Internet has allowed for a great number of new distribution models that don't require a non-musician stuffed shirt to decide what everyone gets to listen to, and I embrace these things.

I guess it's a theme with me: Those who do the creatiion should reap the bulk of its benefits. Sure, the creators can hire people to do the things that sometimes get in the way of creativity (agents, accountants, etc.), but the latter should never actually be in charge. Musicians should run the music business. Teachers should run the schools. Regular people should run the government.

More to come on this, I'm sure.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


About once a year, I have this day where I'm just totally worn out. For this year, today is that day (and allergies aren't helping). I know that I'm horribly behind on posts (even short ones), but unless I gain a second wind in the next few minutes, I'll have to delay them again until at least the morning. Thanks for your patience; the Good Ship Musings will right itself soon enough.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

This Idea May Fall on Deaf Ears

I read another amusing story this week: An orchestra in Germany has dropped a new piece of music from its repertoire because the members claim it's too loud:
The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (BR) said it had little choice but to drop the world premiere of Swedish-Israeli composer Dror Feiler's Halat Hisar (State of Siege), from a concert because it was "adverse to the health" of its musicians.

Members of the 100-strong orchestra said they could only contemplate playing the piece wearing headphones, after several suffered buzzing in the ears for hours after rehearsals. The 20-minute composition starts with the rattle of machine-gun fire and gets louder.

"I had to protect the orchestra," its manager, Trygve Nordwall, said. "I can't just say we'll play it anyway, for it to then cause health problems. The piece starts with machine-gun shots ... and that's the quietest part of it."
Nordwall was guided by new EU rules that forbid more than 85 decibels in the workplace. He said readings were taken during rehearsals and even when toned down, Halat Hisar measured about 130 decibels, equivalent to hearing a jet aircraft taking off.
Not that hearing loss is any laughing matter; I've experienced some myself (mostly from working for a semester in an un-soundproofed rehearsal hall), and I've written serious posts on the topic on several occasions. But I'd never heard of one specific piece being rated unbearably loud before. (Perhaps they should play the piece the way the band Disaster Area did in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy--by remote control from a spaceship circling the planet, or perhaps even an entirely different planet. Heh.)

Still under the weather from allergies; more soon.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Yet Another Fry Street Update

In the "catching up with the news that I couldn't post while my computer was in the shop" department, there was another story about Fry Street this week. The difference with this report is that it really doesn't update anything. Does no news mean good news? You decide:
United Equities Inc. and the city of Denton are in a stalemate.

United Equities, a commercial real estate firm, owns the Fry Street property and can't proceed with development until it receives a use permit, which it was denied by the Denton City Council last December, said Tim Sandifer, spokesperson for United Equities.

The firm is looking to build a strip mall that would include a CVS pharmacy along with various restaurants, he said. Sandifer said the shopping options for students for items such as snacks and general office supplies are very limited.

"We wanted to bring a national retailer to the university," Sandifer said.

Sandifer said the difficulty lies in the drive through that CVS requires in its stores.

Jack Thomson, city council member for District 3, said the company could proceed with building if they give up the drive through.

Thomson said the permit was denied because the council was concerned about traffic becoming more congested in the area.

In order to achieve a permit for a drive through, the city would have to modify the zoning, which would require permission from the zoning commission and the city council, Thomson said.

The zoning commission approved the permit, Sandifer said. But the city council denied the permit with a 3-4 vote, Thomson said.

Sandifer said they are unable to take the drive through out of the plans because CVS is the anchor tenant and it refuses to build until it is allowed to have one.

Right now United Equities has no intention of redoing the plans for the development, Sandifer said.
And the saga continues, even if we thought this was resolved several months ago. Can't United Equities take no for an answer? Or, even better, can't they just take all their marbles and go home?

At the risk of sounding like a broken record (isn't it cool how that phrase has survived the technology that spawned it?), I posted the following comment to the NT Daily story:
If United Equities had 1) actually cared about the community or 2) taken the time to study the history of the area, they would have realized what some of us have known all along--that a generic chain drugstore is not a suitable use for the Hickory and Fry corner. The CVS could go just fine on the other end of the property, in the old FEMA call center building at Welch and Oak (which used to be an Eckerd Drugs back in the day). There's more parking and less foot traffic on that end, and the drive-through wouldn't be nearly so much of an issue over there.

Meanwhile, the Hickory/Fry corner should be the place that houses some of the student-friendly restaurants that they're trying to attract; that would be a much better use of the "gateway" portion of the development. Build replicas of the 1925 buildings that were razed (and invite the Tomato back), and they'd probably win over the city council in a heartbeat. Otherwise, I hope that UE just goes away and sells the property to someone who will actually work with the community instead of trying to run roughshod over everyone in their relentless search for money and nothing else.
Stand firm, Denton City Council. Fight the good fight. If these guys think they can eventually bully you into submission, please show them in no uncertain terms that they're sadly mistaken. If they give up and sell the property to someone else, then we're all winners (except the carpetbaggers themselves..but then, I care about them about as much as they care about Denton, which is not at all).

Let's see if we're still having this same conversation next month...

Saturday, April 19, 2008

A Sad Day for Jazz Education

I'll let the letter from Chuck Owen, president of the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE), tell the story:
Dear IAJE Family,

It is with a great sense of loss that I inform you that despite drastic efforts to cut expenses and raise emergency funds, the IAJE Board has voted to file for bankruptcy under Chapter 7 of the Federal Bankruptcy Law. I want to thank profusely those who responded with their generous donations and offers of assistance following my last communication. While over 250 individuals contributed just over $12,000, this, along with the many other efforts and contributions of IAJE staff, Board members, and association partners, was simply not enough to address the accumulated debt of the organization or its urgent need for cash relief.

In the next few days, a Kansas bankruptcy court will appoint a trustee to oversee all ongoing aspects of the association. This includes the ability to examine IAJE's financial records and mount an independent inquiry into the causes of it's financial downfall as well as disposing of the remaining assets of the association with proceeds distributed to creditors in accordance with Kansas and Federal law. The board will no longer be involved in operation of the organization and will at some point resign. IAJE as it presently stands will no longer exist.

Approximately a week after filing, all potential creditors of the association will receive notice of the association's filing from the court. Members who desire additional information regarding the petition, including a complete listing of association assets and liabilities, may retrieve this, as it is a public document, through normal court procedures. Undoubtedly, however, you will have more immediate questions deserving of responses I hope to address in this report.

Since the first communication to the membership outlining this crisis, there has been considerable public speculation as to its causes. As noted in that communication, years of dependence upon the conference as a primary (but unreliable) revenue stream and the launch of a well-intentioned capital campaign (the Campaign for Jazz), which generated a meager response but required considerable expenditures in advance of contributions, drove the association into insolvency. Sadly, the attendance at the conference in Toronto (the lowest in 10 years) exacerbated an already critical situation, depriving the association of the cash-flow needed to continue daily operations as well as the time needed to seek alternative resources.

While ultimately not able to skirt the financial land mines placed in its path, I want to assure you the IAJE Board has acted responsibly, ethically, and with a sense of urgency ever since it was blindsided last fall with the discovery of the extent of the accumulated association debt. Since that time, the board slashed spending, set specific performance targets for the Executive Director, sought outside consultations, and enlisted the services of several past-presidents and strategic association partners in attempts to raise funds - sadly, with minimal success.

It goes without saying, the board you elected is comprised of very accomplished, intelligent, and dedicated educators and professionals who have given generously of their time in service to this association and care about it passionately. Likewise, our entire professional staff, led by Associate Executive Director, Vivian Orndorff, and Executive Producer, Steve Baker, has worked heroically in the face of declining resources to meet the needs of the association and its members. I wanted to take this opportunity to thank both the board and staff for their service. I have been privileged and honored to serve with them. While there may be those who question specific decisions or strategies in efforts to meet this crisis, the dedication and integrity of these individuals should never be in doubt.

As we move forward, one of the most pressing questions is how the operations of individual chapters and affiliated associations will be affected by this filing. Since our chapters are either separate corporate entitles or voluntary associations with their own boards, constitutions and bylaws; IAJE views them as completely independent entities. Ultimately, however, the trustee and the court will make this determination and it is anticipated that the trustee may request certain information from the chapters in this regard.

Sadly, the 2009 IAJE International Conference in Seattle has been cancelled. However, there has been some discussion of mounting a regional conference in its place. At the moment, Lou Fischer, U.S. Board Representative is fielding inquiries:

For the time being, the IAJE website will remain up. However, the international offices of IAJE will close their doors at the end of the day on Friday, April 18th. Should there be additional questions you may submit them to and every attempt will be made to respond to these as staffing allows.

Today, we, the members of IAJE and the global jazz community, face an extremely important task. For, as we all recognize, the opportunities, impact, and work of this association are too vital to simply disappear. Whether you were first drawn to IAJE for its conference, its magazine or research publications, its student scholarship programs such as Sisters in Jazz or the Clifford Brown/Stan Getz All-Stars, its Teacher Training Institutes, the resources provided through its website or Resource Team, or any one of a number of other offerings; it is clear the mission of IAJE still resonates and its advocacy is needed today more than ever. We must, therefore, look at this as an opportunity to refocus the mission, scope, programs, and vision of IAJE (or whatever succeeds it) to better meet the needs of our members and the jazz community not only today but looking toward the future.

I am, in no way, suggesting the membership turn a blind eye towards the need for an independent inquiry into causes and ultimately assigning responsibility for this situation. I ask you recognize the court appointed trustee, who will have access to all necessary documents and facts, is charged with that task. Our efforts and our passion, should be to collectively rally the community to recognize the importance IAJE has had and continues to have in the life and development of jazz and jazz education - seeking new strategic partnerships, new government structures, and a revitalized mission that embraces current needs.

Already there are efforts to do just that. I know that Mary Jo Papich, who would have begun serving her term as President of IAJE beginning this July, is dedicated to recreating such an association. As many know, Mary Jo has been a tireless advocate for IAJE, serving it long and well. You will, undoubtedly, be hearing from her in the near future. When she does contact you, I urge you to join me in offering her every support and assistance. Of course, others may also seek to fill this void by promoting alternative visions for empowering, serving, and gathering the jazz community. While I generally believe such diversity is quite healthy, I would strongly encourage all such efforts and leaders to attempt to collaborate and seek ways to unite us in spirit and strength.

Finally, I would encourage you to recognize and remember IAJE for all the tremendous good it has done in the past 40 years. Many individuals have contributed along the way, often at considerable personal sacrifice of their time and resources, to establish and advance the work of this association. Much has been achieved that can never be taken away! Therefore, the vision, effort, and shared passion that have fueled the growth of IAJE and its programs should not be forgotten or considered in vain. Rather, the spirit that is IAJE must be rekindled into a new vision for the future.


The IAJE Board - Chuck Owen, President
This is posted on the front page of the organization's website and was also sent as an email to all of the membership (including those who, like myself, hadn't managed to renew their dues yet, although I'm afraid my 73 bucks wouldn't have made much of a difference).

There has already been a lot of discussion about this in the blogosphere: Jazz Times and Down Beat magazines weigh in, as does noted critic Howard Mandel. And this post seems to point fingers in a specific direction, which is consistent with things I've heard elsewhere (and if this turns out to be true, I hope that justice is served).

Owen is right--the mission of IAJE needs to be carried forward, and I will certainly support a successor organization, whether under a revived IAJE name or otherwise, and I hope that everyone does come together in a united fashion to do this. Our Texas chapter is in very capable hands (as Owen noted, the state chapters are independent entities), and it is my hope that these organizations will play a vital role in the new organization.

There are a lot of questions still to be answered, both about what went wrong with IAJE and what the nature of its successor should be. Was the music industry overrepresented at the expense of the musicians and educators themselves? Should these two groups have separate (but cooperative) organizations?

I'm disappointed that the Seattle conference has been canceled, since (like many, evidently) I couldn't afford to go to Toronto a few months ago, but I hope that whatever phoenix rises from these ashes is even stronger, not to mention truer to the original mission of those who founded the then-NAJE decades ago.

Friday, April 18, 2008

...And We're Back

The MacBook has come home from the "computer hospital," and it's great to be able to do all this stuff in my own home office once again. It'll take me a little while to catch up on everything, but I'll have a full post tomorrow (about, I'm sad to say, an unfortunate occurrence in the world of jazz this week) and try to catch up on a few other half-completed things from earlier. At any rate, it's great to be back.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Food For Thought: Tax Day Edition

"I think we should move Election Day to April 16. It would make a difference!"--Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds, in a post from a few days ago. (He also references this post from Rachel Lucas, which definitely contains some R-rated language, but I feel her pain, since a little over half of my income is of the self-employed variety.)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Their Loo Threw Me for a Loop

Out running errands today. Descended upon a local chain drugstore to buy a birthday card. Needed a pit stop first. Thankfully, these types of drugstores have added restrooms lately, usually right next to the pharmacy. But upon entering the back hall that led to them, I noticed an odd occurrence:
  • The men's room has a lock on it. Not the kind with a giant key like they still have at some old gas stations, but a push-button combination lock.

  • The women's room has no similar accessories.

  • The pharmacist had to come from behind the counter and let me in personally. When asked why the men's room was this way but not the women's, he said--in almost an embarrassed tone--"You don't want to know."
Have you ever run across such a thing at any local business? Yeah, he's probably right that I don't want to know what caused them to do this (I have a few ideas, considering some of the things sold at drugstores), but it was still the strangest thing I'd seen in a long time.

The latest computer no computer update; still blogging from school. Hope to hear something by the end of the ten-day window I was given (Wednesday), or I'll be making a phone call.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Desktop or Smart Phone?

So here I am on Day Seven of the seven-to-ten days that my computer could be in the shop (with no call being received from said shop thus far) and Day Nine of no computer access at Casa de Kev. It's been pretty inconvenient to go to school on non-teaching days to get stuff done, and it's still put a major dent in my ability to communicate with many of my friends, especially in the all-at-once fashion that I'm used to with AIM.

I had thought, upon getting the MacBook two summers ago, that one computer would serve all my needs...but now, I'm not so sure. While the laptop is great for trips, visits to fraternity chapters, and so on, I'm aware of the fragile nature of that type of computer (due to the miniaturization of the components and so on, as I've been told). It's definitely been a major disruption to only have one Internet-ready device at my beck and call these days.

I've been known to put out queries like this to Musings readers in the past. Before I received the MacBook as a gift, I polled everyone to see whether they thought a laptop or contacts would be the better immediate purchase. (Once I got the laptop, though, I decided to hold out for LASIK, which is still in the "thought" stages at best.)

So there are two ways that I could have backup Internet readiness: Throw down for a desktop (which might take a while to save up for), or, when my phone contract comes up for renewal in a few months, go for the iPhone. The desktop would be nice for storing my big collection of music (not to mention the music-writing program that I hope to get before long), but it would be fairly pricey (since nothing that's gone wrong thus far has been bad enough to even start to convince me to look outside the Mac World, so we're not talking about a cheap PC here). Also, unlike some of my close friends, I'm not a hardcore gamer, so there's a question as to whether I'd need to have my computing power spread over two machines.

When the iPhone first came out, I noted that I didn't need one at the time (having over a year left on the contract, being quite happy with the RAZR, and having a perfectly good new iPod), but the Net access would seem to be a bonus at this point in time. I've never done the Net over a device that small, but it would seem to beat the situation of having no availability at home whatsoever.

So I throw it open to your suggestions: Desktop? Smart phone? Or should I just be prepared to deal with these things as I'm doing now, which is hopefully only on rare occasions? Chime away in the comments.

Friday, April 11, 2008

This Week Has Been So 1996...

It's now been over a week since I could sit at my desk and work at the computer. My time online has, as I predicted, been limited to a few moments at school (including this evening's special trip), and it's really made me realize how much I depend on the computer to do almost everything in terms of personal and business communication. I wouldn't call it an addiction, but there have been some "withdrawals" nonetheless.

The biggest thing has been the fact that, when I finally get home after a long teaching day (which still averages out to 12 hours or so), I find that I'm just simply boooooorrrred. I've been on the Internet since January of 1997 (which, I realize, would still make me a "n00b" in some circles), and I had to think back to that time to figure out what my fun-but-occasionally-time-wasting pastime was in those days. I'm pretty sure it was TV then, and it's certainly TV now (having fallen asleep in front of same for three of the past four nights). I realize that I could be practicing or writing--and that time will come--but for a particularly grueling stretch of time here (my last true "day off" was Thursday of spring break), it's nice to have something a bit less involved to do when I get home. The Internet fulfills that role nicely, and I've really missed it.

It's also become the major mode of personal communication for me. There are more than a few relationships that have virtually been sustained by talking on AIM, and I miss that as well; it's been pretty isolated around here. I've actually picked up the phone a few times to talk to people (which must be somewhat of a shock to those who know me well), but that only allows for one conversation at a time, and I've become a multitasking kind of guy.

Anyway, I'm still here, and the computer's still there (in the shop); hopefully, I'll have an update on its progress before long.

(I feel) Lucky (to have heard the song about) seven: I've been a big fan of They Might Be Giants for years, having seen them live on many occasions. Last night, I fell asleep on the couch while watching Leno, and I woke up to the very end of Conan, where TMBG was performing. They've been into making kids' records lately, and the song they performed was "Seven," from a new CD called Here Come the 123's. The cool part? It was basically a vocal by John Linnell (the one without glasses), backed by light bass and drums and a horn section of two bari saxes and a bass sax! Very cool; very amusing. I've played a bass sax with a professional wind symphony before; I wonder what it would pay to tour on that instrument with TMBG...

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The American Way?

There's been a lot of buzz here in DFW this week about the cancelled American Airlines flights that are happening this week as the carrier grounds many of its planes for re-inspections after the recent brouhaha with the FAA:
Patience wore thin Wednesday as American Airlines passengers tried to figure out how to get home on the second consecutive day of massive cancellations at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

Their success varied dramatically by experience, as frequent travelers who know the drill worked to get seats on other carriers or on American flights that didn't use the narrow-bodied MD-80 airplanes the airline had grounded. For casual travelers, the effort was more frustrating as they puzzled over still more cancellations and trickled out, some making do without the luggage they had checked.

Late Wednesday American had more bad news: at least 900 additional cancellations are expected for today. About 100,000 passengers were affected by the delays on Wednesday, according to a spokesman for the airline.
To me, the most surprising thing about all this is how these flights seem to have been cancelled randomly, with the information not even appearing on the company's website. It sure seems as if they'd want to treat their customers a little better, as I imagine that a lot of people (when they have a choice, which I realize isn't always the case with business travel) will use another carrier after this week's experience. This just seems like a rotten PR move on American's part; yes, the inspections are required, but it seems like they could have had a better backup plan in place.

This also got me to thinking: What is it about some big companies that causes some people to dislike them so intensely, while other companies of almost equal size inspire a lot more loyalty? To wit: I love Southwest Airlines, but I really don't care for American at all. I love Apple (my current woes notwithstanding) and can't stand Microsoft. I love Target and loathe Wal-Mart. I'm not sure, but I think it has to do with the fact that the companies I like tend to at least put out the appearance of caring about people (not to mention a certain "fun" element), while the other ones seem to go with the "you probably have to use us no matter what, so we can treat you any way we like" mentality.

Do any companies that inspire either love or loathing like this for you? Please discuss, as it's getting lonely over here in Musings-land.

(UPDATE: D'oh--didn't have time to finish the original post till just now, two days later. Discuss anyway, if you like.)

Monday, April 07, 2008

Temporarily Down for the Count

I know that blogging has been spotty recently, but I never intended for it to appear as if I'd fallen off the face of the earth. But my computer had other ideas...

Friday afternoon, right before my departure for the jazz festival, the MacBook randomly shut off. It had done this before, in hotels on my recent Austin trip, but it had been running on battery power at the time; plugging it in allowed it to be turned on again. But this time, it was plugged in when this happened, and I couldn't get it to revive no matter what I did (trying every troubleshooting tip in the manual and so on). Everything suggested by fellow Mac owners, and all the things I printed out while on a borrowed computer, was likewise in vain.

The weekend was owned by the jazz festival, but yesterday's travels took me right by an Apple Store. After quite a bit of poking and prodding, it was decided that what had gone out was something called the "logic board," which even one of my most computer-savvy friends had to Google to figure out what it was. Paying list for a new part would have been devastatingly expensive, but they were able to find me a better deal from an alternate source.

So now I'm limited to computer time while I'm at the school (or when I make a special trip up there), so blogging will continue to be spotty for the next week to ten days. I do have quite a few things to talk about, so I'll try to include this in my regular regimen, but I guess it will depend on how many emails I get on any given day. As one who relies on a computer for about 90% of my business and communication, this will be a challenge, but I'll make it work just like I have all the other times.