Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The "Old Man" Leaves the House

I left the house today, for the first time since I came home from surgery, to go teach at the college. This was also, obviously, my first time to go out in public while using the walker, and I was expecting the "old man" jokes to be flying.

But oddly enough, that was not the most common crack that people made. What was? "You need tennis balls on that thing!" Obviously everyone's seen that commercial on TV (whose sponsor is escaping me at the moment) with the old man who gets a baseball thrown at him by a much younger guy, after taunting him repeatedly to do so.

My parents even made note of the tennis balls when they were here, but the truth is, mine doesn't need any; it has wheels instead. That means I can roll it from place to place instead of having to pick up the front end and move it to the next "step." The tennis balls are there to keep the non-wheeled ones from having such rough landings when they hit the ground all the time.

So I have one more trip to the college and (hopefully) half a trip to the doctor (I may get my knee "unlocked" a bit at that visit) where I have to not only bum rides off friends but also spread out across their back seats to do so. So far, this phase of the recovery is going well, though, and I'm looking forward to continued progress.

Pacing myself: OK, I said on Sunday that I'd be blogging on a regular basis, and I really will, but please be patient with me. Even though I'm able to teach during the day, I've found that, when it gets to the evening times when I'd usually be blogging, I'm just dog-tired. I suppose that's normal for someone who just had surgery not quite seven days ago, so I'm not going to fight it. If my body says "go to bed," I'm going to listen to it for now. Perhaps I'll finish Monday's post during one of tomorrow's breaks.

Blowing out some candles: Happy birthday to my friend David F., as well as to Josh and Juli, two people born on the same day in the same year and who played in the same band at my college for a while....but who otherwise couldn't be more different.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Mostly Up and Running

Things are progressing slowly but surely, as I pretty much relive the week after the accident in terms of what I can and can't do. (This was pretty much as expected, by the way, but the difference this time is that I'm on the path to true healing, rather than the limbo of the previous nine weeks.) I'm now at the point where I can get around the house (slowly), sit here at the computer (which, since it's the same chair from where I teach, means I can do that too), dress myself (save for that pesky left sock), and start returning gradually to normal.

This also means that I can return to normal blogging, and there have certainly been some topics that have come up during my convalescence which merit discussion, so expect that type of post starting tomorrow. (And with as much time as I'll be spending at home this week, they're not likely to lag unfinished for several days, either.)

Thanks to those who have sent kind wishes during all this; it means a lot.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Lazy Days of Summer

Surgery went fine yesterday (as you know if you follow me on Twitter). I came out of the anesthesia without any nausea or other such problems, and the numbing agent is wearing off today, but I've actually been OK for a few hours now.

I'm nearly done with the 36 hours of not putting any weight on the leg at all, though I don't know how long it will be before I'm walking as "normally" as I was before surgery (and I've gotten a lot better on crutches than I was back in April). I've pretty much spent the past two days on the couch in front of the TV, so I look forward to being able to sit in front of the computer soon. This is being posted from the iPhone,and it's taking a while (I'll figure out Mobile Blogger at another time).

At any rate, I just wanted to chime in for a second, since I hadn't done so post-surgery. More updates will come once I'm back at the computer.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Here We Go...

I'm having my surgery in the morning. Feel free to send thoughts/prayers/good karma my way in the comments. I'll post on here sometime tomorrow, depending on how I feel when I get home, but in the meantime, I'm planning on posting an update on Twitter as soon as I get out, so feel free to check that out as well.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Boredom-Bashing Bleg

As i noted the other day, I'm having surgery on Wednesday, and, while the recovery period is not expected to be that long in the grand scheme of things, there's still going to be a period where I won't be able to drive, so I'll be stuck at home for a much longer time than usual.

I have the feeling that, during at least part of this time, I'm going to be extremely bored. So I'm trying to figure out in advance how to alleviate that boredom. I have a few ideas already:
  • Practice. A musician can always do that, of course, and once I'm at the point where I can sit comfortably enough to hold a saxophone, there are some personal-enrichment things that I've needed to do on the horn for a long time.

  • Compose/arrange. Either for my hopefully soon-to-be-not-dormant sextet, or my evening group at the college, which is exploring new twists on Real Book tunes this summer. (But I may need to get a mouse; as I found out while working on some stuff in the spring, Finale NotePad can drive you crazy using a track pad!)

  • Read. A few months ago, when the economy got weird and lots of people were talking about "going John Galt," I decided to buy Atlas Shrugged to see what all the fuss was about. Clocking in at nearly 1100 pages in paperback, that ought to keep me busy for a while. (And yikes--what tiny print! Wish I'd looked at that more carefully, as I might have actually thrown down for the hardcover edition.) And if I need a break from that, I still need to finish what I call "The Brick of Narnia"--the entire set of Chronicles in one volume. And there are some magazines--mostly Down Beat--that I still need to finish.

  • Watch Rangers games on TV. Despite a scary past week, the boys of summer are doing really well this year; they've been in first place for 40-something games now. I have my usual tickets, and I'll go once I'm way more healed and can stand the walking, but until then, Josh Lewin and Tom Grieve are good company for a slow night.

  • Watch movies. I think I may own a few DVD's that I still haven't seen in their entirety, and now's as good a time as any. Also, this is something that friends can come over and do with me, so we can still get to hang without me having to go anywhere. (It's not that I can't go anywhere, but I'm guessing that even riding in others' cars may be kept to a minimum for a little while until my knee doesn't have to be locked down at all times.)

  • Watch the Tour de France. My no-driving period will likely seep into the first week of July, so I'll be able to watch the famous bike race--of which I've been a fan for years--with a lot more regularity. Can Lance recapture the magic?
I realize that, between all those things, plus teaching (which I should be able to resume next Monday) and sleep (not to mention this blog, online games, etc.) ought to take up a lot of my spare time. But still, I'm trying to think outside the proverbial box here and make a different flavor of lemonade out of the lemon that the time immediately post-surgery will likely be. Am I forgetting anything here? Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments; my only parameters are 1) no real physical activity involved (duh): 2) nothing that costs money, if at all possible, and 3) things I can do around my own house.

I'll also be linking to this post on Twitter, as well as at the next free-for-all "cafe" post at Althouse, so if you're arriving here for the first time from either one of those places, welcome!

A boredom-bashing what? If you're unfamiliar with the term "bleg," it's not a typo; the Freakanomics blog defines it as "using a blog to beg for information." It's pretty much a cross between "blog" and "beg," and, while sometimes blegging is an appeal for money, this one is strictly for ideas.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Caught Up Once Again

Just like a week ago, I've been blogging up a storm on the weekends to make up for the time I haven't had during the week, and again, I'll point you to those posts (started on time but not finished till now), so that my work hasn't gone for naught;I suppose I'll be able to blog more consistently when I'm recovering from surgery and unable to drive for a while, but thank goodness for weekends...and as always, I'll try to do better.

A Dad's Day Colllection

A random collection of things on this Father's Day:
  • There are some in our society who don't give fathers the respect they deserve, and there are some who even question the necessity of having a father in a child's life in the first place, apart from that of a sperm donor. (I should mention that this idea is the polar opposite of how I feel on the subject.) But if you want to see the importance that fatherhood in the raising of kids--especially boys--you don't even need to stay inside the human race; we can learn from elephants.

  • Today's Dallas Morning News has a cool story in its Travel section about a father-son hiking trip to Utah.

  • Don Surber asks: "If we are serious about the importance of fathers, why not move the holiday to sometime in the school year when kids could do something in class for Dad, just like they do Mom." Well said.

  • And finally, on a lighter note, the Church of England found an unusual way to convince dads to attend services today: free beer. (And bacon!) Hat tip: Dave Barry's Blog, where the commenters are having fun making puns by combining beer brands and hymn titles
And let me repeat something I said a year ago on this day:
I certainly had my share of classic father-son moments as a kid (many of them involving baseball games), but I also treasure the interaction we have now, as he's moved on to the role of trusted advisor. The "parenting" may have stopped a long time ago, but the mentoring that replaced it has proven equally as valuable. It may seem as though I'm waiting a long time to become a father myself, but I won't be lacking for a role model. I hope that all of you out there are so lucky; if your father's still around, call him. Now. (And not collect; does anyone even do that anymore?)
Happy Father's Day to Dad, as well as my brother-in-law Justin (who's a dad to three potential future dads himself) and my cousin Matt, who's celebrating this day as a dad for the first time...and to all the dads who are reading this blog.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Yet Another Saturday Smorgasbord

All the news that's fit to link:
  • In the "scientific studies that make you go, 'Huh?' department, a new one tries to discover whether the length of your ring and index fingers (relative to each other) can predict your success on the SAT.

  • In the "government actions that waste people's time and money" department, some Ohio residents are being issued tickets for parking in their own driveways.

  • Over in the U.K., there's a strange thing causing a minor revolt among some of the locals: Those big plastic garbage bins are being called a blight on the neighborhood. (As noted in the article, there's a lot less space between the average front door and the sidewalk over there, and some households have been given three of the things.) I'm not sure which is more amusing--that the receptacles are called "wheelie bins" over there, or that the most common protest sign is "NIMFY"--not in my front yard.

  • Pizza Hut, looking to spice up (*rim shot*) its image, is not exactly changing its name, but it is shortening it on all of its boxes and some of its stores, which will now simply read "The Hut." Is this a good idea? It seems like the last chain to do this was Circuit City, which branded some of its newer stores as "the City." And look where they ended up. (Actually, I meant to mention this a week or two ago: Circuit CIty has been reborn, kinda sorta, as a Web-only store.)

  • Two cows on a Massachusetts farm decided to just "get away for a while" by walking to New Hampshire, five miles away.

  • And finally, you've probably heard of the duct tape prom dress. Now a student in Missouri has gotten even more creative, by making her dress completely out of coffee filters.
It sure is easier to find these weird news stories in the summer, when I have more of this strange thing called "time." Tomorrow, I have the feeling that we'll talk about dads for a while.

Friday, June 19, 2009

I Finally Have a Date...

...for my knee surgery, that is. (A real date will have to wait for a while--at least till I'm driving again, I'd guess--but yes, I'd like one of those too.)

It's set for next Wednesday, time TBD (I'll know on Monday morning). I should be teaching again by the following Monday, driving an automatic at the two-week mark, and driving the Kevmobile again after...a month? And while I'm not looking forward to being a little worse off than right after the accident for a short time, I'm definitely ready for the true healing process to begin.

I'll have more to say on the subject right before it happens.

A Sign of the (Jazz) Times?

I found a couple of cool jazz blogs last night while doing a little Net-surfing, and the hot topic on all of them was the same: The apparent demise of JazzTimes Magazine. Here's the full text of the notice posted on their website:
To our readers and members of the jazz community:

JazzTimes has temporarily suspended publication of the magazine and has furloughed the bulk of its staff while it finalizes a sale of its assets. The brand and operation will undergo reorganization and restructuring in order to remain competitive in the current media climate. Print publishing is expected to resume as soon as a sale is closed. New information and statements will be posted at www.jazztimes.com as they become available.

Thank you for your patience during this challenging period.

JazzTimes Management
Call me a cynic, but does anyone believe the "temporary" part of this? I'm not holding my breath.

I was a subscriber a few years ago, when I got a great deal (and a free Sonny Rollins t-shirt) at IAJE*. For the most part, I enjoyed the magazine, which sometimes covered more "adventurous" artists than its rival, Down Beat. I guess my only qualms about JT were these two things: The CD reviews just went on forever and ever--pages upon pages upon pages. After a while, it was just a little too much of a good thing. As someone with limited newspaper and magazine reading time, I found myself unable to finish in the month that it was issued, and they kept stacking higher and higher in my living room. Also, to fit all that information into a normal-sized magazine, the font was often very small, which is not too kind to anyone with less-than-youthful eyes.

Still, I hope that the magazine does come back; it's always nice to give the big dog some competition, and you can never have too much quality jazz writing out there. I just hope that a buyer is found soon, lest those furloughed employees find other work which would render them unable to return.

*There's some irony here: IAJE itself, of course, went under a little over a year ago; also Jazz Times used to have an industry-based convention that merged with the IAJE one a number of years ago, and the resulting slant away from jazz education was said to be a factor in IAJE's demise. And on a personal note, I let my IAJE membership and my Jazz Times subscription lapse not all that long before either organization shut down--lucky me.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Administrators Screwed Up, So the Kids Pay the Price? Yeah, That Makes Sense...

A week ago, I was celebrating the beginning of summer (at least from an academic point of view); this week, I'm feeling really bad for some kids whose summer won't get to start for a long, long time.

This may be the most unbelievable story in education so far this year: Kids at two California elementary schools are losing a huge chunk of their summer break because some administrators messed up the calendar:
A bureaucratic boondoggle in the western San Bernardino County, California school district will cost the students their summer breaks -- the schools inadvertently introduced a school-time shortfall amounting to two school days' worth of instruction time over the entire school year. Due to a quirk of regulation, they have to keep the schools in session for an extra thirty four days or lose $7 million in funding.
Yeah, I'd call that a "quirk" all right. So what exactly happened here? Read on:
Students at each school exceeded the state's requirement of at least 54,000 minutes of annual classroom time, but the problem arose in the district's minimum days. Schools typically have one shortened day per week, allowing teachers to use the remaining time for planning and parent conferences. Under state law, these days must be at least 180 minutes, and the daily average classroom time over 10 consecutive days must be 240 minutes.

An internal audit in early May discovered that 34 minimum days had been 175 minutes at Dickson and 170 at Rolling Ridge, said district spokeswoman Julie Gobin. That adds up to a shortage of 170 and 340 minutes, respectively, which could be made up in one or two school days.
So far, it sounds reasonable enough; just tack those two days onto the end of the year, and it's doubtful that anyone is any worse for wear. (We had an extra day tacked onto the end of the year in the district where I teach to make up for a bad weather day.)

But sadly, their state law isn't nearly that logical:
But under state law, these too-short days do not count at all, meaning that all 34 must be made up to avoid a state penalty of more than $7 million.
Now hang on a minute. This tells me two things right away: 1) The California legislature is very bad at math if they think that 2 = 34, and 2) Nobody in that "august" group has ever taught before. (And this time, "august" has the double meaning of being the date when these kids' summer will finally begin.)

You can tell that teachers didn't write that law. Imagine grading a semester's worth of tests that way. Teaching 175 out of a possible 180 minutes would be the equivalent of making a 97 on a test. What the legislature is saying is pretty much this: "OK, you missed three points on that test, so the entire test doesn't count now, and you're going to have to make the whole thing up." Imagine how long a teacher like that would last in the profession.

And I know--the legislators aren't teachers, but they should try to think like teachers when making laws that affect the schools. A state department of education spokesperson notes in the linked article that the law is as punitive as it is so that districts won't be tempted to cheat the system, but an unintended consequence like this one shows a hole in this law big enough to drive a Mack truck through; hopefully, the legislators will do the right thing and plug that hole in their next session. (UPDATE: In reading an L.A. Times article on the subject, I see that the legislature is indeed trying to work out a relief measure for the district, but it's not clear whether that means a change in the law itself or just the necessary funds to keep the buildings open and pay staff through the extra period.

Read the whole thing; the comments generally tilt in favor of the poor students who are paying for the adults' mistake, though some year-round school advocates are more forgiving to the whole idea. But it's one thing to have year-round school on the schedule, and quite another to have this thrust upon the kids (and their families) at the last minute. (And according to an L.A. Times article on the subject, blame for the missing minutes was placed on an "associate superintendent for the district, who is retiring this year." Way to own up, guys.

And one commenter posts a great quote from a pundit with his head in the right place:
“You will never understand bureaucracies until you understand that for bureaucrats procedure is everything and outcomes are nothing.”
-Thomas Sowell
Well said. And all the more reason that nobody should be allowed to be a bureaucrat for more than a short portion of one's career, and they should be the first ones let go in a financial crisis.

I'll close with the words of another anonymous poster at the linked article: "Have recess the whole day. That'll show 'em."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

More New (to Me) Sounds, Part II

And now I'll finish the post that I started yesterday. I ended up having so much to say about Alexis Cuadrado that I decided to save a couple of other new favorites for a separate post, so here we go:
  • I mentioned the Swiss pianist/composer Nik Bärtsch in passing in an earlier post, where Holon, his newest recording with the group Ronin, had found its way into regular play in the Kevmobile. From first listen, I was pretty much hooked on what Bärtsch calls "ritual groove music," an amalgam of funky jazz and minimalism, and I picked up his other ECM release, Stoa, in fairly short order. I even threw down some semi-righteous import bucks for an earlier release,Rea, on his own Ronin Rhythm Records. I had every intention of picking up the rest of his back catalogue a little bit at a time (since the imports were a bit pricey), so you can imagine my delight this past week upon finding the entire Bärtsch ouevre at Amazon Downloads. I promptly snagged Aer (yes, that's Rea backwards, but that's not how the music came out) by Bärtsch's other group, Mobile (which shares some personnel with Ronin but includes a keyboard percussionist). He also has a solo piano recording that makes him sound, thanks to string dampening and other techniques, almost like a band all by himself. With the lower prices of the downloads, I'll be able to complete this collection in a much shorter time than otherwise.

    If you're a fan of Steve Reich-style minimalism with unusual sonic textures and cool grooves, Nik Bärtsch is a name to check out.
  • Our other featured musician has also spent some time on the ECM label, but in this case, it was earlier in his career as opposed to now. Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer is someone whose music I had never heard until this past weekend, but once I did, I couldn't stop listening. He's considered a leading figure in the European arm of Nu-jazz, a mixture of jazz and electronica. The album that hooked me was Khmer, his 1998 ECM debut (which doesn't sound the least bit dated). Just imagine if Miles Davis had lived long enough for electronica to become really popular in the U.S., keep the strong sense of melody and the sparse playing, and marinate in some Tomasz Stanko for a while, and throw some skronky guitar into the spaces in the melody, and that will scratch the surface of what Molvaer's music is all about.

    Molvaer didn't stay on ECM for long, migrating to the Thirsty Ear label (home of Matthew Shipp and others who have toyed around with electronics themselves) and putting out a series of albums that sound great from the previews; I'm looking forward to my monthly allotment of eMusic downloads next week. He's also dabbled in film scoring a bit, which makes sense, as a lot of these tunes are very good at telling stories. I'm not sure exactly what the primary element of this music is that has grabbed me so, but I find myself going back to it again and again.

    Is it straight ahead? Not in the least. But as I noted in the Marco Benevento post a few weeks ago, I find that a lot of the "most played" artists in my iTunes at the moment are those of the straight-eighth variety who make "cool sounds." I'm not by any means abandoning the swing, but, as a leader of a very dormant sextet that I would like to see become un-dormant once I recover from my upcoming surgery, I can't help but think that some of the elements of what I'm listening to will work its way into my own music.
There are some other new artists that I'm checking out lately, including one who just recently found me on MySpace and hasn't formally recorded his music yet. I'll have other posts like this one and yesterday's from time to time.

A heads-up to the brick-and-mortars: Let me say from the outset that I realize that the chain megabookstores aren't necessarily meant to be everything-to-everyone CD stores as well, but, with the loss of most of the so-called mall record chains (and a lot of the mom-and-pop stores), they're pretty much all we've got besides the Internet. It so happens that I was introduced to the music of both of the artists featured in today's post because I saw them on the shelf at one of the Big Two bookstores in the past year, because these stores are cool enough to carry some ECM titles. The German label has a distinctive sound (thanks in no small part to the production values of founder Manfred Eicher), and the wide, cardboard-sleeved jewel box covers with the recognizable font make ECM releases stand out on the shelf. For someone like myself who likes the ECM sound (and it is a sound; write "ECM" at the top of a chart, and a smart drummer will instantly know what style to play), I'll gravitate towards those titles while browsing, check them out, and often end up making a purchase.

But here's the thing: In the case of Bärtsch, I'd read an ad for Holon in a recent Down Beat magazine, and I wanted to check it out. But the megabookstore where I saw it had broken listening stations all around, so I couldn't check it out, and, at a list of $18.98, I couldn't afford to experiment, so I came home, listened to it on Amazon Downloads, and liked it so much that I bought it there. And this past weekend, I heard Molvaer's Khmer when I found it out of the blue at the other big bookstore. While I could hear some of the tracks (whereas every other ECM CD in this store seemed to only play track 2--not 1, but 2), I wasn't about to pay $17.98 for it. Again, I went home, visited Amazon Downloads, and it was mine in a click.

Part of me felt bad about this; were it not for the bookstores, I might never have seen Bärtsch's CD in the flesh or even heard of Molvaer. But if the brick-and-mortars are going to price themselves out of the market like that, what's a guy to do? I want these places to stay around, so I can browse and listen and sip coffee, but I can't pay list price for things out of sheer altruism. As cool as it is to have a "real" CD, I'll happily pay ten bucks less for the download in most cases. (Even stranger is the fact that, as I look at Bookstore #2's website just now, I see Khmer for four bucks cheaper--three with my membership. Does it cost that much more to keep an item on the shelf? And if not, how about doing a price-match with your own website to keep the brick-and-mortar customers happy?)

I'll probably have more to say on this subject in a separate post.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

More New (to Me) Sounds, Part I

I got to rave about one of my favorite new (to me) artists in this space the other day; now, let's talk about some more people that have recently flown onto my radar screen.

I was originally going to discuss a few people today, but I ended up having so much to say about Alexis Cuadrado that he gets his own post, and I'll save the rest for tomorrow. The Spanish-born bassist and composer--a New York resident since the late '90s--has three recordings to his credit, and each one explores a slightly different side of this multitalented musician:
  • Metro (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2001), is a fine debut featuring the woodwinds of Kris Bauman (whose quartet features Cuadrado among its members) and Steve Cárdenas' guitar. The program features all original compositions, including the slightly off-kilter Afro-Cuban groove of Nit to the Methenyish New and Old and the wacky 11/8 romp of 'Round Mingus.

  • On VIsual (FSNT, 2004), Cuadrado expands his group to a sextet, scrapping the keyboard while adding two horns: the amazing John Ellis joins Bauman on woodwinds, while Alan Ferber--brother of drummer Mark, also in the group--rounds out the horn section on trombone. (Any relation between the instrumentation of this group and my own sextet only adds to the interest on this end.) All the compositions are again Cuadrado originals save one (the well-known folk song "Te Recuerdo Amanda" by the Chilean Victor Jara), and he puts his expanded instrumentation to good use (besides the common saxophone-guitar unison, he also puts trombone with guitar as an underpinning for the two saxophones, and bass clarinet with bass. Also, he does a good job of apportioning the melody between different horns, and he's not averse to calling for collective improvisation on occasion. (Extra points are awarded in my book for giving Cárdenas the chance to rock out on occasion.) Among my personal favorite tunes are the ECM-in-7/4 gem "Black Tulip," the mellow "Camperdown Elm" and the funky closer, "Quick."

  • Cuadrado calls his newest effort, Puzzles (Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records, 2008), his most personal album to date, and it could be said that this is literally true, since the set was recorded in his Brooklyn living room. The instrumentation is reduced to a quartet: Mark Ferber remains on board, while Brad Shepik replaces Cárdenas on guitar, and the sax honors are done by the Brooklyn-based wunderkind Loren Stillman (indeed, being a Stillman fan was what turned me onto Cuadrado in the first place, through an eMusic search that led me to this album; that's one of the reasons why I'm sticking with the service despite its upcoming policy changes). There's even a homecoming of sorts, as Alan Ferber's trombone makes an appearance on a few tunes, as does organist Pete Rende (who played Rhodes and pedal steel on Metro) on "B&W Pop."

    Cuadrado shows growth as a melodist on this set; the tunes are even more hummable than before. The interplay between the musicians is extremely effective, and Stillman sounds so at home on this set that I would have sworn that he had written some of them himself. Personal favorites include the opener, "Bright Light," the energetic 5/8 "Quintessential" and the Latin-influenced "Tango." Even though all three of these albums have had slightly different personnel, the Puzzles quartet is one that I would love to see in person and hear on a few recordings.
Remember the name Alexis Cuadrado; I'm willing to bet that he'll be making a major contribution to jazz for a long time to come.

TOMORROW: I'll go all ECM on you guys for a bit.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Cruisin' the Sam?

Yesterday afternoon, I rode on the Sam Rayburn Tollway for the first time...sort of.

It's not that I hadn't been on the road before; far from it. I've driven it many, many times under its original name of State Highway 121, but this was the first time to be there since some of the new signs had been put up. The name-selection process for the tollway was discussed here in this post from February; I was all for keeping the generic "121 Tollway" name because everyone would call it that anyway, but I noted that the Rayburn name might be cool if we could get traffic reporters and the like to refer to it as "the Sam."

But is anyone really using that name? While I saw a fair amount of Rayburn signs pointing toward the highway (using the same design of the new signs that have popped up along the George Bush recently), all the big green freeway signs leading to 121 still have the old "121 TOLL" signs on them (perhaps that's the next phase of the changeover?). And I have yet to hear the name Sam Rayburn come out of the mouth of a single traffic reporter (maybe Eric can enlighten us on whether there's any concerted effort to use the new name); so far, it's been all-121, all the time.

So we'll see if this name will stick. It's confusing enough that, while most Metroplex freeways have both a number and a name, the numbers are the only things that usually appear on the large green freeway signage. (How confusing it must be when someone from out of town is told to go north on Stemmons and east on LBJ, when all the signs say 35E and 635, respectively.) The only exception seems to be the local highway, which usually gets called the George Bush or the Bush Turnpike, though some will call it by its pre-toll name, Highway 190, or its erroneous counterpart, I-90, which is very far off. (I mean that literally; I-90 is Interstate 90, which runs from Washington state to Massachusetts. And here's a piece of trivia: The original house where I lived as a newborn in Cleveland just escaped becoming part of I-90 by two or three houses.) And to make things more complicated, the service roads for the Bush are still technically Highway 190, while the mainlanes are the Bush. And I assume that the same will take place on 121, where the mainlanes will be the Sam Rayburn Tollway and the service roads will remain 121.

So what do you think--will the new name catch on at all? (I still think that "the Sam" has potential.) Or will it be 121 forever, new signage notwithstanding?

Something constructive: The coolest part of my drive on "the Sam" actually took place on the part that's not tolled; the new section from Business 121 to FM 2499 is now a freeway! I shudder to think of all the time I spent sitting in traffic at the two stoplights that interrupted 121's freeway-ness; the one at Sandy Lake had tons of traffic coming in and out of Grapevine Mills, and the one at Freeport Parkway was often pointless, because we would have to stop even if no cross-traffic was there at all. The two new bridges have now alleviated that problem, and it was great to sail over those two intersections without interruption. (And how smart it was of somebody to decide to go ahead and build half of the freeway--two lanes in each direction--now, to end that bottleneck, rather than wait until they could afford to pay for the whole thing. Well done, folks!)

This is pretty "tweet" of them: I only joined Twitter a few days ago, but one thing has already impressed me a great deal: They've postponed a scheduled maintenance outage time that was supposed to take place within a few hours so that Iranians protesting the (likely tainted) presidential election that took place in their country can continue to use the service as a vital communication tool--a near-necessity in a country that's known to censor some pretty big swaths of the Internet. They've rescheduled the outage for tomorrow afternoon, which is in the middle of the night in Tehran.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Almost Caught Up

I've been blogging like crazy this weekend, trying to finish the massive logjam of half-completed posts that have been sitting around for over a week now. Since I don't want my efforts to go for naught, I thought I'd link to them here on the frontpage:
  • An ode to the beginning of what should be a very unusual summer.

  • The DISD's solution to recent funding inequities differs radically from mine (imagine that!).

  • A salute to the Class of '09.

  • The traditional "throwing of the fish" at Pike Place Market in Seattle has raised the ire of PETA. (Try reciting my headline to this story ten times fast: "PETA Peeved by Pike Place's Piscatorial Projectiles." Yeah, I couldn't do it either.)

  • I may be behind on blogging, but that didn't stop me from joining Twitter.

  • And finally, with all the publicity it's gotten, it amazes me that people could have still been unaware that Friday's DTV switch was taking place.
Most of the rest of my unfinished posts, save for a (probably long) one from last Sunday, are concert reviews from a while back; I'll try to get to those fairly soon.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Saturday Smorgasbord

It's been a while since I posted a set of odd news stories, so my collection has gotten fairly big. Here are some of the best ones I've seen in the past week or so:
  • A woman in Israel decided to do her mother a favor and buy her a new mattress and even discard the old one for her, all while the mother was away from home. What she didn't know was that her mother kept all her savings in the old mattress, to the tune of one million dollars.

  • A teenage girl learning to drive accidentally broke her mother's legs when she hit the gas pedal instead of the brakes (Mom was sitting on a nearby fence at the time).

  • Speaking of cars, do you know which car sold more than any others in the U.S. last year? It's small and very fuel-efficient, but it isn't a Toyota or Honda, or even a Smart Car; it's this.

  • If you're an anti-nanny stater like myself, this one will drive you bonkers: In Canada, a woman was handcuffed and fined for the egregious offense of--get ready--not holding the handrail on a train station escalator.

  • A resident of Boston's Back Bay Area just paid $300,000--not for a condo, but for a parking space.

  • And finally, an umpire at a high school baseball game in Iowa--thinking the fans were getting too unruly--ejected the entire crowd from the stadium--yes, all of them.
I plan on catching up on some unfinished posts tonight, and I'll link them tomorrow on one big page.

Still in the Queue

I finished jumping through the last of the pre-op hoops, and now I'm stuck in the scheduling queue for some reason. It's very frustrating that I haven't been given a definite time yet, as I need to make sure that I'm well enough to fly in mid-July. (And if that were the case, I might have to postpone the surgery till early August, which is way too close to the start of the school year.)

As I said on Twitter just a little bit ago, it seems to me that, unless you're in a life-or-death situation, dealing with the medical profession can just be one big waiting game. (And if this is how it works with private enterprise at the helm, I don't even want to think about what it would be like if the government were running things.)

I'll update when I have something concrete.

Friday, June 12, 2009

DTV Switchover Really Caught Some People by Surprise? Really?

I caught a snippet of the TV news tonight (which is rare for me), and they were talking about the big switch over to a digital TV signal that took place at noon today. I'm not sure which surprised me more--that the local station I was watching had an active call center fielding questions about the switch, or that people were actually calling it. But the thing that really blew my mind was that, after the government, electronics retailers, and the TV stations themselves making a big deal out of the switchover for years, there were still some people who were evidently unaware that anything was happening:
The Association for Public Television Stations, found in a September 2008 study, that 51 percent of people surveyed had no idea that the transition was taking place next year. Another study, which focused on households that receive their television signals mainly over the air, found that 57 percent had still not heard about the transition.
Amazing. And there were some unprepared people locally as well:
[T]he Federal Communications Commission estimated in late May that 6.67 percent of Dallas-Fort Worth households with TVs – more than twice the national average of 2.9 percent – weren't ready for the switch, which had been postponed from its original date of Feb. 17.
A few years ago, I had that original date seared in my mind for a while, as I figured I'd have to replace my old-school 1991 model TV. But it turns out that those of us who have cable didn't have to do a thing, so I can put off the HDTV purchase for another day (year?).

But overall, it seems that the transition here went pretty smoothly, so it's possible that the people calling in to the stations were mostly concerned with small technical glitches and not wondering where their favorite show went. And most of those who needed a converter box may not have had it set up yet, but at least they owned the thing already.

So as far as Casa de Kev goes, the change had little effect. Sure, the very small TV in my kitchen is now a very large paperweight, but I didn't watch TV while cooking all that much in the first place. (Doing so, of course, would require me to actually cook on a regular basis.) But there was one cool thing about that TV: It showed me that there was about a five-second gap between over-the-air and cable; I could watch a snippet of, say, The Simpsons in the kitchen (I tend to eat in a lot on Sunday nights) and then go into the living room and see the exact same part of the show again. I don't know why cable is five seconds slower, but there you have it.

Otherwise, I didn't notice a huge difference in the signal quality between yesterday and today. I was happy to see that my VCR (a Montgomery Ward model, of the same vintage as my TV) still worked, though there was no improvement to the erratic reception of some cable-only channels. I got rid of my roof antenna months ago (yes, only months; the handyman next door was kind enough to take it down for me), and the last pair of rabbit ears in my house were attached to an actual rabbit.

So did the switchover affect you at all? Did all the channels work? Or did you even notice the difference?

UPDATE: I like the title of Althouse's post on the subject: "At long last, grandma turns on the television and discovers...there's nothing on."

Also, Lileks has a hilarious tweet on the subject: "This is odd. All my books about 1960s television are suddenly full of blank pages."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Question of the Day

Q: What's the best way for a blogger who's nearly a week behind on new posts to make the best use of his time?
A: Umm, join yet another social networking site. Yeah, that's it...

Well, best way or not, I decided to do just that yesterday--a birthday present to myself, if you wish. That's right, now you can follow me on Twitter.

I don't expect this to turn into a list of boring minutiae like some people's sites tend to be (in other words, you'll never hear me tweet "I'm eating a sandwich" unless there's a really good reason for it. (For example, eating a sandwich made with Gruyère cheese in its namesake town in Switzerland would be tweet-worthy, whereas eating the same sandwich at Jason's Deli in Rowlett would not be.)

So I don't see this taking away from the blog, nor necessarily completely overlapping it; I might well relate an interesting observation that wouldn't be worthy of its own blog post, or I might "tease" an upcoming post by tweeting it first. And I like the idea of being able to update from my cell phone via text message, and I look forward to the challenge of having my occasional (usual?) verbosity reined in by Twitter's 140-character limit.

At any rate, check it out if you're so inclined.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Is Mah Birfday, and I'm Still Asking...

...where are caek?.

This year, especially the past few months, has been quite unusual, but at least "mah birfday" didn't start out as oddly as last year's, when I began my day in the air after numerous flight delays. Today should be much more chill, with only a few lessons here and there, so maybe I'll have time to catch up on the blog posts that are once again getting backlogged.

Some say that birthdays lose their meaning after a certain number of years, but not for me; with 365 days in a year, it's cool to be able to claim one of them as your own. (And I may not be getting "caek" today, but I've been enjoying free food all week, thanks to being on so many restaurants' email lists. Most of them send out other stuff during the year, but this week is when everything comes pouring in.)

And if you're wondering, mah birfday-mates include the likes of Brazilian singer João Gilberto (known for his work with Stan Getz), author/jazz critic Nat Hentoff, figure skater Tara Lipinski, actress Judy Garland, Great Britain's Prince Philip and former quarterback Dan Fouts. (Sources: here and here)

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

PETA Peeved by Pike Place's Piscatorial Projectiles

PIke Place Market in Seattle is a cool place. I visited it briefly when I was there with the college groups back in '06, although, being a Sunday and near closing time, I missed out on two big things: Discovering that the original Starbucks was located inside, and getting to see the famous fishmongers throwing fish.

The fish-throwing, needless to say, is a popular event for tourists and conventioneers, and one of the conventions that was scheduled to view a demonstration was the American Veterinary Medical Association, whose event takes place next month. But notice that I said was scheduled to view a demonstration. Why the past tense? Well, PETA got mad:
Ron DeHaven, chief executive of the American Veterinary Medical Association, based in Schaumburg, Ill., says his organization thought having one of Seattle's top tourist attractions - the fish-throwers at the Pike Place Fish Market - come to the event would be a great "team-building experience."

But after PETA raised concerns about the ethics of using dead fish as props at a veterinary event, DeHaven said the association would explore other options.
Those other options include using rubber fish instead of real, live real, dead ones.

So what's PETA steamed (or poached, fried, or boiled) about? Read on:
In a letter sent to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), PETA says fish are intelligent, sensitive animals. PETA writes: "You should know that people who care about animals are appalled that a veterinary organization, whose purpose is to represent the interests of those whose jobs involve protecting the well-being of animals, would promote an event in which animals are treated so disrespectfully and are handled as if they were toys."

PETA says that according to studies, fish not only feel pain, but they learn tasks, have long-term memories and show affection.
Like a lot of activist groups, PETA probably started out meaning well, but many of its statements, along with the actions of more than a few of its members, are so over-the-top that it crossed the border into wacko territory a long time ago. It appears that if PETA had its way, nobody would eat any animal products whatsoever or own any pets. (Never mind that a lot more animals' lives would end badly if they were allowed to propagate without limits or encroach upon human civilization even more than they do.) What I would say to a PETA member if I met one would pretty much be this: If you want to be a vegan who wears hemp sandals all year and never has a pet, you're welcome to do that. But don't try to push your lifestyle on me, OK?

For their part, the fishmongers responded with a bit of sly humor:
A spokesperson for the Pike Place Fish Market told KING 5: "We're not doing a fish-throwing presentation. We're doing a presentation, and there might be fish thrown."
Well said, and keep up the good fight. And hopefully the AMVA--which probably does more to help animals in a single day than PETA has done in its entire existence--won't cave on this one.

(Hat tip: Dave Barry's Blog, where the host says, "OK, but they're dead fish.")

Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Class of '09

It's early June, and graduation is in the air. (I'm still trying to get used to this, of course; it wasn't all that long ago that my schools would be done by Memorial Day.) And since I work with high-schoolers in my private teaching studio, that means it's always time to give a quick shout-out to those who are doing "the walk" this week.

So best wishes to Andrew**, Cameron, Chris**, Jeff***, Kaleigh*, Kyle*, Nathaniel**, Nick*, and Rene*. While the vast majority of you haven't chosen music as a major, I'm encouraged to see that several of you will continue to play in college. But no matter what your immediate future holds, remember to hold music close to your heart, and remember that the discipline you learned going through the school band program will serve you well in future endeavors. (And as some of my older students at the college will remind you, even if you stop playing for a while, you can always come back--even after forty years!)

And if you're wondering about all the asterisks, it doesn't mean my keyboard is broken again (yay). It's just that this year, there were so many long-term students that I felt obligated to point out that fact. Those with a single asterisk after their name studied with me for six years (usually seventh grade through graduation); those with two asterisks were with me for all seven years of secondary school.

Normally, that's all I'd need, but one of this year's seniors started a year early, in the summer before fifth grade, where he thrived despite having no band class in (elementary) school during that first year and ended up being one of my top players throughout his entire school career. He gets three asterisks, and it's a record not soon to be broken; since nobody in my current studio started that early, the next occasion where I could possibly be typing this same paragraph would be for someone in the Class of '17 (yikes!), and that would be if an incoming fifth-grader started sometime in the next couple months. (And said fifth-grader would only be two years older than my oldest nephew.)

Congratulations, graduates! I do a pretty good job of keeping up with my alumni, so I'm bound to see some of you before long.

Friday, June 05, 2009

This Idea Has a Certain "Magnetic" Quality About It

I meant to write this post last week (before I had my keyboard troubles), but the story has been drawn out enough to still be "fresh" at this point in time. It's about the Dallas Independent School District (again), and once again it has to do with funding. But this time, there's no scandal, no underestimating the budget, or anything like that. It just the same old-fashioned belt-tightening that everyone has to do in these economic times. And once again, it's being done the wrong way.

So what's DISD's "solution" this time? Make deep cuts in the one area they've gotten right in the past several years--the magnet schools:
Since April, district officials have said they must level out campus funding across the district to comply with federal rules. Magnets and learning centers receive more local funding per student than other campuses, according to the district.

[...]The federal government requires that all schools – except those excluded – be funded within 10 percent of a district's average per-campus allocation, according to the district. If a school falls outside that window, the district is ineligible for Title I funds. DISD has said that it stands to lose $105 million in federal money.
But an official with the federal government said last week that DISD's math might be a little fuzzy here:
An analysis by Paul "Sandy" Brown, a program analyst at the U.S. Department of Education, looked at information for Dallas ISD's high schools and middle schools. Brown indicated in an e-mail sent to the Texas Education Agency on May 21 that the district is not using the best comparability measures, which could prevent the need to cut funding at some of the campuses.

[...]"Some of Dallas' schools would still not be comparable, and the [school district] would need to make adjustments. But I don't think the adjustments would be as radical as Dallas would have us believe," Brown wrote in the e-mail, which was obtained by The Dallas Morning News in an open records request.

Brown used various scenarios in his e-mail to show how the number of non-compliant schools in DISD could drastically be reduced.
That was last week. This week, the board released a list of 235 jobs that would be cut at magnet schools and learning centers--not as much as the 276 that were originally expected, but still a lot.

But no matter how many cuts took place, they're still doing it the wrong way. If some schools are getting more funds than others, the answer should not be to take money away from the higher-funded schools, but rather to give more money to the lower-funded schools. Let's bring everyone up, not dumb everyone down.

And I know the obvious question that comes out of that: "But, Kev, where will the money come from?" And this time I have an answer--yes, even in these economic times. The money will come from 3700 Ross Avenue.

That's the location of the administration building for the DISD, and a source of waste for many decades. I've said it before, but it bears repeating: Any school district facing a funding crisis should make sure that every bit of its administrative fat has been pared to the bone before cutting a single teaching position. Let's face it--the entire building could vanish into a black hole tomorrow and life would still go on at the DISD--teachers would teach, students would learn--and it might even go on more smoothly if the non-teaching bureaucrats were out of the way.

Sure, this jives nicely with my pet solution for so many of education's woes: Administrators must remain teachers for the duration of their careers in education, so that they'll continue to think like teachers and stay in touch with what's going on in education now, rather than become ivory-tower politicians and bureaucrats who haven't been in charge of a classroom for, in some cases, two or three decades.

But even if you're not on board with that idea, it would be pretty easy to look at the personnel list for 3700 Ross and see that there are just way, way too many administrators over there (as there are in most central offices). I wish I could find that DMN story from around five years ago that profiled the actual hierarchy over there (I haven't had time to look it up in the past, and I don't again today, but I'll get to it sometime). They just simply don't need the Associate Deputy Vice-Superintendent for Curriculum Development in the Northeast Quadrant--they just don't. (And while my example may not exist under that actual name, there are positions that are close to that all over the building.)

It's simple--education needs to be run by teachers, and teachers need to be the last ones let go in a financial crisis, because they have the most direct impact on students. Lay off a central office administrator, and most people, save for their family members, won't notice. Lay off a teacher, and a whole bunch of students will feel the pain.

As I said in an earlier post on the DISD,
As I said last time, not one teacher should be let go before every superfluous administrator is jettisoned first. I realize that some of these people are in place because of government requirements, and getting rid of them would also mean that we had to make major changes in the government; trust me, I'm in favor of that as well. But still, I think that the DISD has been presented a great opportunity to let the teachers run the show, or at least to let those running the show remain teachers. It certainly can't be any worse than the situation the district is facing now...
And nothing has happened since then to change my mind. DISD won't do this, of course, but it's still the right thing to do. Maybe someday, there will be a leadership team in place that truly puts the students first.

In the meantime, I send my best to the magnet school teachers who lost their jobs. Hopefully, you'll land someplace where your talents are more appreciated.

The Final Hoop Cleared?

I passed the last of the pre-op tests with flying colors yesterday morning, so now it's a matter of that report getting from Point A to Point B, and hopefully I'll be scheduled for surgery before it gets much deeper into the summer. I'd prefer not to have it on my birthday next Wednesday, but otherwise, I say what I've been saying all along: Let's get this done as soon as possible so that the healing can begin.

I'll post again when I have something scheduled.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Commence Summer

For those of us in academia, the seasons are still defined by a calendar, but it's a very different one than the rest of the world uses. Fall and spring are defined by the long semesters at our schools (which got a little screwy last year when the public schools in my area tried an ill-fated experiment with holding fall exams in January), winter is the time off for Christmas and New Year's, and the time between spring and fall is summer. It may not divide the year into nice equal portions like that, but it's how we roll.

So my summer either started today, when the last of my schools let out, or it started two days ago upon my departure from a single lesson to go to a doctor's appointment. EIther way, the long school year is done, and it's time to get into summer mode.

Except that this summer will be quite different, thanks to the accident. Whenever my surgery happens, I'll be sidelined in general for a few days (at most, they say) and from driving for a few weeks. I won't exactly get to do a lot of "summery" stuff until my recovery is well along--no swimming for me anytime soon. I'm attending a convention next month in Orlando, but my participation in the time they've given us to attend the Disney parks is highly in doubt (I won't exactly be riding Space Mountain that soon after surgery, and even Epcot sounds like it'll be too much walking). And I'm really annoyed to be stuck wearing long pants all the time (because of the knee brace), though it does make my laundry loads a bit lighter. I just hope that, as of this morning, I've jumped through the last pre-op hoop and can get surgery scheduled post-haste.

But still, there are some advantages to summer. It's a time to recharge my batteries a bit (which hopefully will include some writing this summer, since I've gotten the hang of notation software now); you can't beat my 15-step commute to work (that's the distance from my bedroom to the studio room here, since all my school lessons are taught at Casa de Kev during the summer; and six a.m. alarm clocks are mostly a thing of the past until August.

At any rate, I'm looking forward to a little relaxation. Hopefully my leg will heal like it's supposed to and I can enjoy a few summertime activities before school cranks up again.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

OK, That Was Annoying...

If you couldn't read the last post, you're not alone; part of my keyboard stopped working the other day. Basically, one big column went out, so that I could no longer type the letters I, J, K, M, or U, the numbers 7 or 8, or the comma and the < sign (great for doing blogging, what with the links and all). The gibberish you saw in that post was the extent of what my keyboard would do at the time, and I couldn't resist titling it with the lolcat-ese exclamation of HALP!

So after three days of this--having to write long replies to business emails on my iPhone, and having everyone who talked to me on AIM think I'd been drinking--i realized that i had to do something. Not really being able to go to the Computer Hospital (since I'm going to the People Hospital for a morning coming up, possibly as soon as next week, and needing to keep most of my funds going in that direction), I did the only thing I could do: Throw down for a new keyboard. While it makes my laptop a bit less laptop-y, it'll do the trick until I can take it in, and it will see me through the week or so that I'm mostly stuck at home after surgery.

I'll catch up on the posts i was trying to start over the weekend within the next couple of days and try to get some new stuff up as well.

Belated greetings: Mom and Dad's anniversary was yesterday, and I always give them greetings on this blog, even if they don't read it all that much. And in a true surprise, i didn't manage to get their card sent out until Monday afternoon, and it still reached them in Houston yesterday! Maybe that's what the extra two cents per stamp is for. (Nah....)