Sunday, May 31, 2009


Ther sees to be a proble wth y copter eyboard. Certan letters arent typng properly. Needless to say ths s drvng e nts. gess soe of the es are wearng ot becase a noral cleanng ddnt help.

obvosly need to do soethng abot ths ay not be bloggn ch ntl then becase ths s obvosly very hard for anyone to read.

UPDATE: I had a section of my keyboard that decided to stop working. For now, I've done a work-around by using a peripheral keyboard, so I'm back in the land of the English-speaking again. If the above doesn't make sense, here's a translation: "There seems to be a problem with my computer keyboard. Certain letters aren't typing properly. Needless to say, this is driving me nuts. I guess some of the keys are wearing out, because a normal cleaning didn't help. I obviously need to do something about this; I may not be blogging much until then because this is obviously very hard for anyone to read;"

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Governor Gives UNT Stadium the Nod

I was happy to read today that Gov. Rick Perry signed the bill last weekend approving the student service fee that will help fund the new UNT stadium:
The fee of $10 per semester credit hour will help fund construction of a new football stadium to replace Fouts Field. The fee will go into place when the new stadium that would sit adjacent to the Mean Green Athletic Center opens.

UNT officials plan to open the stadium in 2011. Groundbreaking for the facility is expected to take place late this year or next spring.
I've been a supporter of the stadium since the idea was first proposed, and a post indicating that support has been one of the most-visited writings on this blog.

The governor's signature was pretty much a given, but it's nice to see this project clear its final legislative hoop. Between the proposed opening of this stadium and that of the Bush Turnpike Eastern Extension, the fall of 2011 will be, if nothing else, exciting.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Latest News Is....No News at All

A few weeks ago, I thought I'd be having surgery this week, but I've been asked to take a few pre-op clearance tests first, and--as I've noted throughout my experience with the medical profession since my accident--this has thrown a major monkey wrench into the process. I have a couple more hoops to jump through, so until then, all I can do is "hurry up and wait."

I suppose it's not completely awful to be able to finish the semester in the public schools (I was planning on stopping after next Monday anyway, since they go into exams the following day, and I will likely be able to still do that), but I'm really ready to get this procedure over with so that the healing may begin; I'm not feeling any worse at this point, but I'm pretty much spinning my wheels in the grand scheme of things.

As always, I'll update when there's something new to tell.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Finally, I Can Rave About One of My New Favorite Players

I meant to do this post about five weeks ago--the day I had my accident. Had I come home from that evening unscathed, I would have given a shout-out to a player whose music I had first encountered only a few days before.

But first, an aside: I've been very happy with my eMusic subscription. It may not have anyone from the really big labels (who must not like the sales model), but it's a jazz lover's nirvana, because so many of the indie labels' releases are available there. They also send me emails every month touting new artists, many of whom were unfamiliar to me; some are also featured on the frontpage of their site.

One eMusic recommendation that really hit the mark is Marco Benevento, a keyboardist from Brooklyn (who grew up in Wyckoff, New Jersey, one of my own brief childhood stomping grounds). Benevento is among the new crop of young jazz players who are taking the music in a very cool direction. While it definitely falls within the jazz genre, this music is mostly straight eighths, influenced by rock and electronica. In Benevento's case, he's also a fan of circuit bending, incorporating various toys into the proceedings (as a recent profile in the Boston Globe points out, he may be "he only musician who has to share the tools of his trade with his 2-year-old daughter." In addition to piano, he employs Hammond organ and vintage keyboards such as the Mellotron to achieve his unique sound.

The first Benevento CD that I bought from eMusic is his newest one, Me Not Me, which provides a good representation of his music. When I was first describing it to some friends who were listening in my car, I noted that the music had a sort of Jacob Fred vibe; other parts might be described as Ben Folds Five without vocals; there's even a little bit of Esbjörn Svensson thrown in on the more acoustic numbers. But however you describe it, I think the larger category of "really good music" applies here. Benevento combines a strong melodic sense (influenced he says in the Globe article, by the Neapoltan music loved by his Italian-speaking grandparents) with virtuoso playing, along with, yes, the toys. (I'm not ashamed to admit that, sometimes, I'm a big fan of groups that make cool sounds, and there's a generous helping of them on this CD.)

It should probably be pointed out somewhere that the tunes on Me Not Me are divided between Benevento originals and covers of songs from rock stars like Beck and Led Zeppelin, more obscure (at least to me) bands like My Morning Jacket and Deerhoof, along with the singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. And it's probably a tribute to Benevento's stylings that this listener couldn't tell the difference between the originals and the covers without reading the Amazon review first (yes, the only disadvantage of a download service like eMusic is the lack of liner notes, but I figure that someone will solve that problem down the road).

Joining Benevento on this effort are the bassist Reed Mathis (who recently left the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey in part so that he could have more time to tour with Benevento; the Jacob Fred vibe described above makes total sense now) and drummers Andrew Barr and UNT-ex Matt Chamberlain. Me Not Me is also the first effort released on Benevento's own label, the Royal Potato Family (there must be a good story behind that!).

Also of note in the keyboardist's discography is a three-disc set recorded over a month of Wednesdays at the NYC club Tonic, featuring a slew of guest artists (and the inevitable circuit-bent toys). Benevento's other CD as a leader, Invisible Baby, is also worth checking out. And for another side of this musician's talent, the Benevento Russo Duo, pairing Marco with drummer and childhood pal Joe Russo, explores the experimental side of things while still employing strong melodies.

This new style of jazz, which wears its rock influences proudly on its sleeve, is not completely new (think Chris Potter Underground, or Nobody's Business for a more local example), but a lot of people are aboard this particular train at the moment, and, as I said, it's taking the music in a very enjoyable direction. I'll try to do a post in the next week or so about some of the other musicians in this style whom I've been enjoying lately.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Funny Story for Wedding Season

I went to a wedding last night. That wedding went fine, but while I was there, I heard a hilarious story from a friend that had to do with the rehearsal dinner for his own wedding a while back:

This guy is a small-town dude, and his parents evidently have some sort of ranch-type spread, so the rehearsal dinner was held there. A country-and-western band was hired to play for the evening, and, as one might imagine, the beers were flowing freely throughout the night, especially among the band members.

As the night wound down, most of the rest of the band started to pack up their equipment, but the lead guitarist wanted one more beer and one more song. He performed a solo tune that was evidently rather amazing and went on for a while. Then he put his last beer down and said, "Sorry, but I gotta go too; I'm graduating from high school in the morning."

Even the groom-to-be's parents had to laugh at the ridiculousness of that one, which evidently trumped any guilt they may have had for giving that many beers to a minor.

As for the actual wedding I attended this weekend, the weather cooperated beautifully and everything went off well. Best of luck to Marc and Crystal, the happy couple; it was great to be there with you on your special day.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

"All Aboard" This Cool Homage to Model Railroads

One of the things I didn't mention from the Colorado trip last month was an interesting little side excursion that was only a couple of blocks from our hotel: The Greeley Freight Station Museum, which opens this weekend. (If you're wondering why I know it's cool when it's just now opening, they opened up at certain times to school groups such as ourselves for a sneak preview. That's also why I saved this post until now.)

I'm not sure that my iPhone pictures can adequately speak the proverbial thousand words, so I'll let a snippet of this article from The Coloradoan set up the story:
The main feature of the new railroad museum will be its spectacular model railroad, which is the featured centerpiece of the new museum.

"Throw away all those ideas about the railroad in your neighbor's basement, or that garage full of trains down the street, or that 4x8 sheet of plywood sitting out in the storage shed,'' said David Trussell, museum manager of the HO scale, Oregon, California and Eastern Railway. "This is something you've never, ever seen before."

The layout is a single track mainline model railroad running from Lakeview, Ore., to Klamath Falls, Ore., with a branchline running to Coos Bay, Ore., and another heading up into the Central Oregon woods. The mainline alone is 1,400 feet, which scales out at more than 21 miles long. When sidings, yards and industrial spurs are added, the total amount of track pushes 80 scale miles.

"If an engineer isn't held up by the schedule, it'll take him (or her) well over an hour to get his train over this railroad," Trussell said.

The layout's dominant feature is its spectacular scenery. There are more than two dozen trestles and bridges, all hand built specifically for a particular location in this miniature world. More than 25,000 handmade trees are in place. Model railroad aficionados who have visited the layout have marveled at its museum-quality modeling.
Trust me--this place lives up to the hype. As I said, my pictures won't do it justice, but they might give you an idea of the scale of the layout:

This is only a small portion of the layout. And the caboose in the back is real; some of the volunteers--the museum has no paid staffers--even sleep there after long nights of work.

Another section of the layout. Note the details in the terrain, trees, and the long bridge in the background.

If you look at the above picture in a certain way, you'd swear it was real.

The towns through which the trains pass are exquisitely detailed.

Again, my pictures can't do justice to this place. Suffice it to say, it's a model railroader's nirvana (my dad would love it!), and it's not just pretty to look at; it actually works:
Besides being a museum-quality layout, the OC&E was built to operate exactly like the prototype it mimics. To that end, the layout has 10 computer systems and is fully signaled with a functioning prototypical Centralize Train Control dispatcher's board.
If I recall correctly, there are 12 trains running at a time, which has to be amazing; I was pretty much blown away by the single train we got to see during the preview.

So if you're into model railroading (or just marveling at miniature art as a backdrop for stuff that moves) and your travels find you in the Greeley area (it's only about an hour north of Denver), the Greeley Freight Station Museum is something to definitely check out. (Hours and contact info are available at the museum's site.)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Kids Say the Darnedest Things...Even When In Pain

I noted last week that, as I deal with the after-effects of my injury, I sometimes gain perspective by encountering someone who's worse off than I am. Hopefully, I was that someone for a kid at one of my schools. They'd been having an outdoor recreation day (as happens a lot during the month of May), and this kid, a teacher's aide in the band hall, was hurting a bit from said recreation. The following conversation ensued:

KID: Owww!
ME: What's wrong?
KID: I think I sprained my ankle out there.
ME: Well, sorry to hear that. I'd say that I'd trade with you, but you don't want this [pointing to knee brace].
KID: What happened to you?
ME: I fell down some stairs, and now I have to have surgery pretty soon. Trust me, you don't want to trade with me.
KID: Yeah. But my ankle really hurts right now!
ME (being totally facetious): Well, you could go in there [pointing to band library] and stick it in the refrigerator...
KID (to band director): Can I do that?
KID (pauses a moment): Well...can i put my head in there?

As always, maybe you had to be there, but there are a lot of funny kids in my schools. It's rarely a dull moment in my business...

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A New Take on "Old Home Week"

I've been a jazz musician for a long time now. And while my teaching at both the college and in the public schools involves jazz and classical in various ratios, the sum total of my (sparse) compositional output since grad school has been in the jazz genre. That's why tonight was so fun.

Long story short: One of the high schools where I teach privately, led by a director who's been a friend since college, played a band composition of mine that I wrote in high school, guest-directed by a friend who was the drum major of said high school band the last time it was performed. It was quite enjoyable.

Short story long: Before I got to UNT and became bitten by the jazz bug rather quickly, I used to write a lot of band music. As noted in Fun Facts (#26, to be precise), I won the Reflections Contest all the way up through the state level with one of my compositions in eighth grade, and we got to march to another one of my pieces (Fun Fact #27) in the high school football playoffs in the Astrodome. It's the latter composition that is the subject of tonight's post.

When I was in high school, I spent three summers at the Midwestern Music and Art Camp (now known as the Midwestern Music Academy) at the University of Kansas. At the time, the camp was a month-long affair, and it proved to be a great prelude to college (living in the dorm, eating dorm food, walking to class every morning) as well as my first experience playing in a jazz band.

While at the camp, I took some of my afternoon break that wasn't devoted to practice and set myself up in the hall, working on a march that I had originally started in seventh grade. As the weeks went on, friends would come by and give me advice on instrument ranges and so on ("No, Kev, you can't write the French horn that high and expect it to sound good!"), and with over a week left to go, it was done. It was written for my high school band back home, but hey--if it was already finished, could I get it played here?

Even though the director--a great man--requested that, before having the band read my composition, I should have it proofread by one of their composition professors--a very cranky man--to make sure it was read-worthy. Having a strong desire to have it played, I endured a good 15 minutes (which seemed longer) of the cranky guy griping that I was doing things that Sousa or Fillmore would never have done (duh--I was 17 at the time. Cut me a break, sir!), but we did agree that the intro was way too long, and it was shortened to its current form at that time (thus obliterating the last remaining section of the piece I'd started in seventh grade). From there, it was off to that day's rehearsal, where they read it, the director liked it, and we played it on the final concert (the one time, unfortunately, that my parents couldn't come up to attend).

As i said, the piece was written for my high school band, so we played it there as well, in the Astrodome during the playoffs as noted above. I also helped design the drill for that show, but to this day, I have no idea what the PA announcer said about me, due to the speakers-in-the-round layout of the Dome. It was a very cool experience to have my composition played in a venue like that.

After high school (when, before graduating, I would receive my first rejection letter from a publisher, thanks to a connection made at camp), I cleaned up the march a little bit (my four semesters of undergrad music theory would help me write smoother harmony parts), but, other than being recorded for me a time or two, it had not been played again until tonight (unless my old high school busted it out since then without my knowledge; there should still be a copy in their library).

So fast forward through "lo, these many years" to now. My old high school drum major ended up being a band parent at one of the schools where I teach. This particular school has a silent-auction fundraiser every year, and one of the auctioned items is the chance to direct one of the bands in the spring concert, and my ex-drum major friend has won this item for pretty much the duration of both his kids' tenure in the band. Not long after I ran into him at the Region Band concert this year, I had a crazy idea: Would he like to direct my march in the concert? Both he and the band director were on board with the idea, and I was advised to have the parts ready sometime after concert and sightreading contest in mid-April.

Now fast forward just a little bit more, to the week of that contest, which was also the week I had my accident. As I was emailing the various directors to advise them of the time of my return, this director added an aside: "Since we're done with contest, I'll need to pass out those parts tomorrow or Monday." Guess who hadn't even started on the parts yet. (It was my intention to do everything over using computer notation software, since I didn't want the kids to have to read my chicken-scratch manuscript on march-sized paper.) So I learned how to use Finale NotePad pretty quickly, and, thanks to my not really going anywhere over the weekend, I had the majority of parts done for the following week.

Since I teach at that school a few times during the week, I was able to drop in on the rehearsals a few times, and I liked the little things the director did in terms of orchestration (it's fairly common to have different groups of instruments lay out while others are emphasized during marches, since nearly every section repeats). I didn't get to see my friend direct it, but I knew he'd do fine.

And sure enough, things went well. It was cool to hear something of mine performed for the first time since high school, not to mention having the opportunity for people to hear a concert work by me, since the entirety of my output in the area of composition and arrangement since the end of undergrad school has been in the jazz area. And it was quite cool to hear the director tell the entire backstory of how my friend and I, not to mention the director himself and I, were connected for all these years. (He even got the chance to poke fun at my gimpiness after asking me to stand up when the performance was done; the funny quote from him was: "So the lesson we've learned is that, if you find yourself falling down the stairs on your rear, just enjoy the ride." If only I'd been that lucky...)

This post has gone on very long, but tonight was sort of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; I'm glad that my upcoming surgery didn't happen in time to interfere with this in any way.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Midweek Cornucopia

All the news that's fit to link:
  • A tabloid-fueled scandal was debunked in the U.K. recently when it turned out that a baby-faced 13-year-old boy is not the father of his 15-year-old girlfriend's child, as he had claimed. (The real father turned out to be...another 15-year-old. Oh yeah, that's a lot better...)

  • The new winner of American Idol was announced tonight. Do you care? Not me; in fact, I have yet to see an entire episode.

  • A Polish citizen living in London was lucky to escape jail this week after he went on trial for attempting to hire a prostitute for his 14-year-old son's birthday. (He was trying to give his son the gift of losing his virginity. No, seriously, I'm not making this up. And Dad got arrested because the hooker that Son chose turned out to be an undercover officer.)

  • A man in Germany beat up a roadside produce-seller--and a female one at that--because he didn't like the prices on the rare seasonal asparagus she was selling.

  • Even if you don't know a lot about soccer, you probably know that it's illegal to use the hands (unless you're a goalie or bringing the ball in from out of bounds). So that means that pulling an opposing player's hair, as Brazilian star Ronaldo did recently, is totally verboten.

  • Speaking of sports, let's give it up for Cowboys assistant coach Joe DeCamillis. After suffering fractured vertebrae in his neck when the team's indoor practice facility collapsed in a storm a few weeks ago, he's already back at practice after showing enough improvement only 15 days after surgery that his doctors cleared him to return to the team. (:Let me tell you, that's pretty inspiring to someone who's about to undergo his own surgery pretty soon.)
There's a music post I've been meaning to do since right before my accident; I'll try to get to that in the next couple of days.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

News From My Alma Mater

It seems like there are a lot of UNT-related things to talk about today, so I might as well put them in the same post. Of the three, one is happy, one is sad, and the other is just plain bizarre:
  • The Denton Record-Chronicle has a nice article about Steve Wiest as the "interim" is removed from his title of director of the One O'Clock Lab Band.

  • I was shocked to read this morning of the passing of Norval Pohl, president of UNT from 2000-2006. I was already graduated by the time he came on board, but I was quite familiar with his accomplishments, including the construction of the wonderful recreation center that now bears his name. I also got to meet him for a moment before the 2003 New Orleans Bowl; he and his wife were among a group of alumni and supporters of which I'd become the de facto leader for a moment, because I knew how to get from the Hyatt--where a big pep rally was being held--to the Superdome for the game. He seemed like a cool guy during our brief conversation.

  • At UNT graduation yesterday, an old tradition was put on hold: There was no handshaking when diploma covers were passed out during the ceremony. The reason? The threat of swine flu. (No, seriously.) Evidently, the graduates were given carnations instead (but how did one assure oneself that the carnation-passer-outers weren't themselves carriers of the flu?). Also, one graduate near the end supposedly managed to hug President Gretchen Bataille near the end, which must have been about as awkward as when the First Lady hugged Queen Elizabeth early last month.
And the reason I heard about the last story? One of my former students, Betsy (who made a few appearances in the early days of this blog under the nickname of "Woody"), graduated from UNT yesterday. Congrats to you, Betsy, and here's hoping you can join the proverbial rat race soon (the job market for college graduates is still rough out there).

Friday, May 15, 2009

And the Verdict Is...'s going to have to be surgery.

I met again with the doctor this afternoon, and he managed to both explain everything to my satisfaction as well as show me beyond a doubt why a procedure was necessary. Even though I'd been feeling better, and could raise my leg quite a bit more than after the accident, it turns out that I wasn't getting the complete range of motion; that final five degrees wasn't there, and I could see that when he had me raise both legs side-by-side.

So the second MRI was indeed telling the truth; the tendon isn't completely ruptured, but it's only hanging on by, in his words, "fibers." The reason I've been able to get the range of motion that I have so far is because other nearby muscles have been overcompensating for the unusable tendon, but that's not a long-term solution. What I was told was that, if I were to stumble again in any fashion, my entire knee attachment might well fall apart, and that doesn't sound good in any way.

I've asked to have one more week to teach before this happens, so that I can see everyone through tryouts (and witness a very cool event that I'll talk about as it gets closer), so the procedure will likely be right after Memorial Day. I'll update things as I know more.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

And the Winner Is...

I didn't realize until today that any official announcement was being made, but evidently, the soon-to-open new home of the Cowboys has a name now: Cowboys Stadium. It's not exactly original, but, like Rangers Ballpark in Arlington down the street, there's a certain elegance in its simplicity.

Owner/GM Jerry Jones made the announcement at the team's annual golf tournament today:
"Texas Stadium, we certainly have a deep embedded vision of what it is and at some point we will say was," Jones said. "But we'd like to keep it at that. It's certainly fitting when looking at the tradition of the Cowboys for it to be Cowboys Stadium. It sounds obvious and simplistic but it's right."
That's also another way of saying "We can't get a corporate sponsor right now," but that makes sense as well; with the economy in the state it's in, no company wants to be seen as "wasting" money on naming rights. But the simple name also leaves an opening for a corporate moniker later, when the economy improves. If Jones had gone with the sentimental fan favorite, Tom Landry Stadium, imagine what a fuss there would have been if that had been chosen, only to be replaced with a company name in a few years.

There was a bit of discussion of this subject on Ernie and Jay today while I was driving between schools. As some pointed out, at least the popular nickname of "JerryWorld"--a local media favorite--didn't actually get chosen. Some of the funnier ones I heard: Taxes Stadium, the Y'all Mahal, and the Eminent Dome (as in eminent domain, which was used to evict some homeowners in the area in order to build the stadium).

If you were Jerry Jones, what would you call the stadium? Leave your answers in the comments.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

OK, Sometimes the Grass Is Greener on My Side

I attended a school concert last night, and afterwards, I saw the mother of a student; I noticed that she was holding a walking stick. The following conversation ensued:

KID'S MOM: And how are you?
ME (looking at walking stick and pointing at my own knee brace): I'm OK--maybe having a similar time as you?
KID'S MOM: I just had the lower portion of my spine removed.
ME: You win.

I'm still improving day by day, still hoping that said improvement can prevent me from having surgery; we'll likely know for sure on Friday afternoon. And listening to the kid's mom talk helped me keep my own situation in perspective; at this point, I'm driving my own car (painlessly) and missed a grand total of three days in the public schools (and no college days at all) because of the situation. At this point, there's not much room to complain.

Monday, May 11, 2009

These New Commercials Already Get on My Nervés

If you've watched any TV at all recently, you've probably seen the commercials for McDonald's new "McCafé" products. There are actually several of these ads out, but the one that drives me bonkers is the one which tries to show that, by snagging one of these drinks, the average working Joe or Jane can turn the daily commute into a "commuté" or a cubicle into a "cubiclé." My response? Puké. (And sometimes, to navigaté to a completely different channel.)

Does this commercial drive you as nuts as it does me, or is your tolerance for silly just a little bit higher than mine? (And, honestly, I thought I had a pretty big tolerance for silly, but this one just sets off the gag reflex in me for some reason.)

And it's been funny to read about how Mickey D's is launching these new products--and upgrading their regular brewed coffee--in an effort to "compete with Starbucks". Really? You think that's gonna work? I can point to only one segment of the customer base who might warm to this idea: Those who only use the drive-thru window and never go inside. For everyone else, it's all about atmosphere, and the atmosphere in a McDonald's is almost the polar opposite of that of a Starbucks.

Think about it for a second: A Starbucks is usually relatively quiet, save for the Frappuccino blenders, with straight-ahead jazz playing in the background more often than not. People are working on things on their laptops, playing games, maybe meeting with a Realtor or starting a new business deal. On a good day, you might even smell the baked goods up front. It's my favorite place to chill with friends or read a magazine or newspaper, and that atmosphere is a big part of the overall package.

Now let's contrast that with the average McOonald's: The first word that comes to mind is "loud." Think of a noisy kitchen, big long lines on occasion, and the constant squeals of kids (should you happen to sit too close to the McPlayland). If I wanted a quick breakfast, or a place to bring the (theoretical) kids for a while, this would be the perfect atmosphere for that. But in terms of a place where I'd want to chill and read for 30 minutes to an hour, meet with business associates, or hang with friends? Not so much.

But again, my main beef (pun slightly intended) with McDonald's is this ad campaign. Obviously, advertising is supposed to make the viewer want to buy something, but occasionally it backfires and actually produces the opposite effect. For me, this is one of those campaigns. (Longtime Dallasites might remember the old Westway Ford commercials and their "Joe Greed" character, the obnoxious cowboy in oversized boots; that's another one that made me turn away instantly. But the rapping car salesmen of Trophy Nissan always got a laugh from me no matter how many times I saw the spot.)

Do you have a least-favorite commercial--one that completely turns you away from the product being pitched? Tell me in the comments, and feel free to weigh in on the McCafé spots if you so desire.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

This Day Belongs to Moms

Just got off the phone with Mom. She and Dad have been back from Italy for a few days now (yeah, yeah, rough life) and seem to be over the jet lag and all that. It's back to life as normal for a while.

As I said a year ago, I'm one of those who is fortunate enough to have both my parents still around. The communication often takes the forms of emails now, along with the occasional IM (though Mom doesn't care for multitasking), but it's great to be able to get some pearls of wisdom and just stay in contact long after the normal period of "parenting" has passed.

Last year, I linked to a tribute to Moms from Dan Collins of Protein Wisdom. I just reread it, and it's worth linking again.

If your mom is still around, and you haven't picked up the phone today, you should do so. You won't regret it. (And a happy Mother's Day by extension to the two other moms in my family: my sister, a mother of three, and my Aunt Nora, who's not only a mom but a new grandmother this year.)

Saturday, May 09, 2009

You've Heard of "Chocolate Rain." Now Here's a "Chocoolate Racer"

Scientists have come up with a car that runs on chocolate.

Now, it's not as simple as opening up the gas tank and pouring in a few cans of Hershey's Syrup or anything, but you'd have to say that it's very "green:"
The car runs on vegetable oils and chocolate waste that has been turned into biofuel. The steering wheel is made out of plant-based fibers derived from carrots and other root vegetables, and the seat is built of flax fibre and soybean oil foam. The body is also made of plant fibers.
It's not just a car; it's a meal!

This certainly is not the first time a vehicle has been built out of plant life (think Rose Parade floats, for example), and there may be some practical applications that need tweaking (will the biodegradable stuff, well, biodegrade before the end of the normal life of a vehicle?), but it's still a really cool idea.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Update on Me

OK, I haven't done an update on my condition for a while, so here goes...

From my standpoint, everything is feeling a lot better. I'm getting around rather easily with the brace, even driving causes no problems (and I've done drives of over 45 minutes in the past week). When the brace comes off at night, I'm starting to regain a semblance of a normal gait (though I'm also using this situation as an opportunity to tweak my gait, since I always walked a bit shuffle-y in the past; I could tell this by the fact that the heels of my shoes wore out more quickly than everything else), and there's been no problem getting into bed, pretty much since the Colorado trip (I've even experimented with a few different sleeping positions lately; I'd been sleeping exclusively on my back to elevate the injured limb at night, but I'm not normally a back-sleeper, so I've tried to get back to something more normal for me).

I should also mention that there's been very little pain lately, even though I went off the painkiller a week and a half ago (it was causing the ankle on the injured leg to swell, and it seemed a good idea not to take this painkiller indefinitely in the first place). I'll feel some occasional soreness around the kneecap on occasion, but nothing that lasts for long.

This still does not stack up with what my doctor saw on the most recent MRI, so I'm looking forward to showing him the improvement I've made when I see him again one week from today. My goal is to ward off surgery if at all possible, and hopefully, my improved condition will be the tipping point in that matter.

I also had a nice talk with the financial person at the doctor's office earlier in the week, and she explained a lot of things that had been bothering me since I received that whopping explanation of "benefits" from my insurance company last week. (Among other things, they'll go to bat for me in fighting the complete denial of the brace. And It also appears that this company may not exactly be meeting my needs; we'll see.)

Otherwise, life is pretty much back to normal, or at least as much as it can be. I'm still very careful (almost to the point of paranoia?) when I'm going down stairs or walking through crowds (I try to avoid the middle school hallways between classes at all costs), and it still takes longer to get places, but I think I'm managing pretty well.

That's the latest. I have a gig tonight, and, as I found out at the college concert last week, I can be on my feet for long periods of time with no issues. It's always fun to play, and the money's a bonus.

I'll have more next week after I see the doctor, and possibly some random thoughts between now and then.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

A Rare Occasion

It's almost 10:30, and I'm calling it a night. (Anyone who knows me also knows that this hardly ever happens.)

Things have been pretty busy this week, and I've been up till midnight for various reasons every night. It's time for some good sleep, so I'm going to do that. I'll try and catch up with the unfinished posts from the past few weeks over the weekend.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

They Do Chicken Right. Coupons? Not So Much...

A friend turned me onto a cool promotion today: KFC, in an effort to hawk its new grilled chicken in a big way, had a website where you could go and supposedly print a coupon for a free meal featuring the grilled chicken. (And if you go to the site, don't let the association with the Oprah Winfrey Show scare you; I'm not by any means a viewer, and I'm sure my friend who told me about it isn't either. But news of free food spreads fast, no matter the source.) Anyway, that's all you had to do--go to the site, print the coupon. Sounds easy, right?

If only. Let me list the things I experienced today while not printing the coupon:
  • At least ten "site too busy; come back later" errors.

  • Probably twice that many "cannot open the page because the server dropped the connection" errors.

  • The coupon was being handled by a third-party site,, that required you to install their special software on your computer, ostensibly because each coupon had a unique bar code so you couldn't go print a hundred of them and pass them out to your office or something. I installed the software successfully, according to my computer, but hitting the "print coupons" button returned me to the page that said I hadn't installed their software yet. (I even did so a second time, with the same results.)

  • Once I finally got to the page that should have printed it, I was told that I had an unsupported browser--this despite the fact that I was using the only browser (Safari) listed for my OS (Mac OS "10.3 or higher"). I even tried it on (unsupported) Firefox and actually got a bit farther through the process than I did with Safari--but still no coupon.

  • Eventually, I must have passed my quota of hitting the print button, because I was told on each browser that I had surpassed the number of allowed times to print the coupon, even though I never had jack squat come through my printer.

  • And for the nasty icing on this rancid cake, my attempts to send a complaint message to yielded nothing but error messages themselves!
I know I'm not the only person who had trouble with this; Jay Hancock of the Baltimore Sun had the same problem, as did a legion of commenters to his post (which was also punctuated by snarky trolls whose basic thought was "quit whining and go spend five bucks already!").

This isn't exactly a shining moment for either KFC, which is obviously trying hard to remake its image (since lots of people know that the F stands for "fried"), and, which didn't exactly win any friends either. I did submit a "comment" to KFC on their page, so we'll see what happens.

Did any other Musings reader try this? And if so, did you have any luck? Let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

A Heartwarming Music Story (Future Teachers Edition)

Somebody sign this kid up; A New York City elementary school lost its band teacher, and the district said it couldn't afford to hire a new one. So an 11-year old student stepped in and now leads a small band that plays pop songs and has performed at a districtwide event and will even play for graduation in a few weeks.

So hats off to the student, Paul Sheriff (who plays saxophone as well as piano), and here's hoping that the school will get its music program back next year after Paul graduates. (Want to help the school out? Email the principal through a link at the bottom of the story linked above.)

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday to my "assistant coach" Gordon and my graduating senior student Andrew (who's been with me all seven years of secondary school).

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Getting There

I'm still working on the concert reviews from Greeley, along with a rant against my health insurance "provider" (which also serves as a quick update on my condition). But, among all the music arrangements I'm still working on, I did manage to complete a few unfinished blog posts from the past week. So enjoy two collections of odd news stories from the past week (I used to feature those all the time, and should do so again in the future), as well as a cool story out of Marshall University featuring a guy in my fraternity who gave up seven years' worth of his hair for a really good cause.

This week should be less busy than last week, so the Greeley reviews will hopefully get done soon.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

A Saturday Smorgasbord

All the weird news that's fit to link:
  • A guy in Mansfield thought his neighbor had too much junky stuff outside her house (an old basketball goal, a tetherball pole, etc.), so he offered them for free on Craigslist, posting the neighbor's address and everything. When the neighbor saw someone drive up and try to take the stuff, she was not amused. (Extra Hall of Shame bonus points: The Craigslisting neighbor is an Arlington police officer. To protect and to serve, indeed.)

  • A woman in New York was charged with stealing around $12 million in gold and jewelry from her jewelry-company job over the last several years. (Her methods were decidedly low-tech; she stashed the stuff in the lining of her purse.)

  • Contrary to what some people think, you can't contract swine flu by eating pork. But some pig farmers are afraid--justifiably so, as it turns out--that their pigs might catch the disease from people
  • No matter what happens to me regarding my recent injury, I hope I never have to wear horse legs.
It's a busy day, with the "marathon" concert at my college tonight; hopefully, I'll get caught up on more posts tomorrow.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Sticker Shock

I've been rather healthy for quite some time, using my health insurance only for the annual trip to the allergist in many of the past years. I suppose I must have at least seen the small print on my insurance card that said I only have two co-pays per year, but I paid that little mind, because I rarely used more than one. I knew that a doctor's visit really cost more than the $30 I was paying as a co-pay, but again, it never was an issue in the past.

But in the past few weeks, I've learned more than I probably ever wanted to know about health insurance, and what I learned last night is especially not pretty.

I received something in the mail yesterday that was ironically named an "explanation of benefits." I say ironically because if anyone was benefiting from this, it was not I. This one covered the first visit to the orthopedist, and the numbers proved quite shocking:
  • First, the charge for the office visit came in at $250! That's about one and a half times more than I'm used to seeing as a charge, and it alarms me to think that, now that I'm out of co-pays for the year, I'll have to be paying that every time I go back.

  • But the real shocker was the price listed for the knee brace. This piece of hardware has been incredibly helpful in terms of the progress I've made thus far, and I knew it wouldn't be free. But I was simply issued this item at the doctor's office without being told of its cost or given options to purchase a less expensive one elsewhere. I figured it might be a few hundred bucks, so it completely floored me when the cost came in at $1450 (that's not a typo). And I was floored again when the insurance company noted that the claim for this item was completely denied, and I was on the hook for the entire amount! I'll have a little bone to pick with the doctor's office the next time they call (which should be this afternoon) for putting this thing on me without warning me of the expense.
My mind has been blown in many ways by this. One would think that--after around six years of paying into this program with little to show for it other than one co-pay a year and a slightly cheaper prescription from my allergy doctor after a few months of paying full price--they wouldn't be so stingy with regards to the brace. I could see maybe only paying for, say, half of it, but a full denial? That's not right. Otherwise, where did all the money that I've been paying go? To help other people get well? Seems like they should take care of me with my money first.

And I realize that some will say, "Well, Kev, that's not how health insurance works," and, on some level, I know that, but it seems like that's how it should work. Barring that, if most of my money in any given year goes to help other people get well, I should be able to take a double tax deduction for what has in essence become a charitable contribution. (Of course, I also believe that health insurance should work like car insurance: Those with fewer claims pay cheaper rates, rather than having automatic increases whenever you have a certain birthday. And along those lines, health insurance should also resemble car insurance in that it is used for the big things--surgical procedures and the like--with users paying for the small things out of their own pockets. You wouldn't file a claim on your car insurance for oil changes or tires, and under this plan, you wouldn't file claims for routine checkups either. This would also provide the advantage of requiring doctors to post the cost of everything out front, much like the "menu" at the oil-change place, so that people could gauge the real cost of what they're paying for.)

Some will say that what I really need is one of those medical savings accounts, and they might well be right; I could pay what I'm paying now every month and be able to sock away the interest, and the money would be mine at the end of the year to either continue to save towards big medical expenses in the future or use for something else. It's certainly something I'll be looking into after all this is over.

Feel free to post any insurance horror stories in the comments, and if you have any thoughts on how this whole thing is set up, you're welcome to share them as well.

UPDATE: My mind is blown again. I got a call from the doctor's nurse today, and I proceeded to (very politely) give her a piece of my mind about the cost of the brace; she had no idea how much it cost! She said that the "financial person" in the office would have to get back with me on that. Evidently, there's this big wall between the medical and financial sides over there, so that must mean that 1) since they deal with a lot of athletes, they must all have more money than I do and thus never worry about the cost of things, and 2) everyone else has a much better insurance plan than mine.

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday to my good buddy Jordan (who's still in the frozen north for another month and a half) and my former student Jonny (who's celebrating the right to purchase frosty adult beverages today).