Thursday, January 28, 2010

Wrapping Up a Long Day

Since the college semester began last week, my Thursdays have gotten long again; throw in some nasty cold rain, and it makes the day seem even longer. If blog posting was spotty before, it's likely to be even more so for the next fourteen weeks.

But that being said, I'm here to quickly point you to an amusing picture: A street in England on which nearly everything wrapped in bubble wrap yesterday. The accompanying blurb notes that it was done to highlight concerns over highway safety, but I'm guessing that it also was timed to coincide with Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day earlier in the week. (There's even a virtual bubble-popping game at the link.)

That's all for today; sleep beckons. More later.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The iCouldhavehadabettername

As had been expected for a while, this morning marked the unveiling of Apple's long-awaited new tablet computer. And while there's been a lot of talk about the positives and negatives of such a device, a lot of people have been homing in on the name: the iPad.

This wasn't what a lot of people were expecting, at least from what I've been reading the past few weeks; the usual guesses seemed to be along the lines of the iTablet or the iTab. I can see Apple's logic in continuing the use of the "i(Monosyllabic word)" idea, since it's been with them from the beginning: iMac, iBook, iPod, iPhone. But iPad seems to have laid an iEgg with some observers.

I'm not sure they could have pleased everybody here, as they seem to have had a limited selection of cool iNames for something of this nature. The word iTab (and its longer sibling iTablet) sound too much like pharmaceuticals, but iPad sounds like, well, a feminine hygiene product. Is that really where they wanted to go with this? The name just seems to be overripe for parody (and yes, the parodies have already begun). And does anyone else wonder how this will all go over in the New England area? If you say "iPod" with a thick Boston accent, doesn't it sound too much like "iPad" to avoid massive confusion?

But I guess the big thing for me right now is that, for the first time in a while, Apple has come out with something that I'm not looking to buy right away. I owned one of the original teal-colored fishbowl iMacs (and mine was a great replacement for my previous computer, which I eventually dubbed the "MacAbacus"; it was pretty much an email reader on which I could also do word processing and play Tetris, while loading even the most rudimental webpage took several minutes). I didn't get an iPod right away, but it was always on my proverbial list (the thought of being able to listen to music on plane trips without carrying around my Discman, a big wallet of CDs and an army of AA batteries was appealing from the start). The MacBook Pro on which I type this was also acquired fairly soon after the line was launched, and i got my iPhone rather soon after the contract on my previous phone ran out.

But the iPad? My initial response is simply, "Meh." But I'm not sure that it's a matter of being disinterested in this product as much as it is simply having no need at the moment for the entire genre. My MacBook does certain things well, and my iPhone does certain things well; some of those things (email, certain websites, listening to music) even overlap. I don't read books or newspapers online (and if I did, I'd also have to check out the Kindle and the Nook), so I'm not seeing where this fits into my life at the moment.

Your mileage, of course, may very. Did you greet this announcement with a smile or a shrug? Tell me why in the comments.

UPDATE: I didn't realize it when I wrote this post, but I guess I've been enjoying my iPad nano for a while now. LOL.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Metheny Deserves a Pat on the Back for Latest Effort

As I said on Twitter a while ago, it's not often that I go to the trouble of buying a CD on its release date these days (for that matter, I rarely buy physical CDs themselves right now, thanks to my eMusic subscription). But a new Pat Metheny release is a big deal, especially one as unique as his new solo effort, Orchestrion. It's a "solo album" in every sense of the word, but--in contrast to his 1978 recording, New Chautauqua, where he also played all the instruments, overdubbed in the studio--modern technology allows him to "play" everything live.

So exactly what is this Orchestrion thing, anyway? I'll let Pat do the talking for a moment, from his website:
Orchestrionics" is the term that I am using to describe a method of developing ensemble-oriented music using acoustic and acoustoelectric musical instruments that are mechanically controlled in a variety of ways, using solenoids and pneumatics. With a guitar, pen or keyboard I am able to create a detailed compositional environment or a spontaneously developed improvisation, with the pieces on this particular recording leaning toward the compositional side of the spectrum. On top of these layers of acoustic sound, I add my conventional electric guitar playing as an improvised component.

[...] In the late 1800s and early 1900s, with the emergence of player pianos (pianos played mechanically by moving rolls of paper through a mechanism that physically moved the keys), the next logical step was to apply that same principle to a range of orchestral instruments, often including percussion and mallet instruments. These large instrument arrays were called orchestrions.

Orchestrions flourished in the era that directly proceeded the advent of sound recordings. In many ways, that period of time stands as an interesting middle zone; the first technology that brought a performer to an audience once removed, while retaining the essential characteristics of that performer's message.

[... ]For a number of years leading to this project, I have been gathering the forces of a group of talented inventors and technicians from around the country, and commissioning them to construct a large palette of acoustic sound-producing devices that I can organize as a new kind of orchestrion.
And to my ears, he's definitely succeeded with this project. Included in the mix are piano, bass, a variety of mallet percussion instruments, and some unusual things like a "guitarbot" and a device that blows air into bottles. And top of it all is Pat's signature guitar. (He explains more about the various devices and their inventors here.)

As for the music itself? I'm totally digging it. (As I said on Twitter, I can't imagine a Metheny album being released that I don't absolutely love.) Because no matter what's going on behind him, it's still Pat writing the music and Pat playing guitar, and I'm a huge fan of both of those areas. But here's the thing: There might be only one person playing live, but the music doesn't in any way sound contrived or fake; in fact, it has all the warmth and humanity that's always associated with a Metheny recording.

And the tour for all this starts this weekend. They're coming to the DFW area in April, and I intend to be there when it happens. Sure, it won't be quite the same as watching the interaction between Pat and Messrs. Mays, Rodby, Sanchez, et al., but one look at the setup of all the instruments featured on the CD cover is enough to convince me that this is a must-see, if for no other reason than to experience how this whole thing works.

I've been intrigued by this whole thing ever since it was announced on the Metheny website last year, and I'm happy to say that the hype is justified. Well done, Pat, and good luck with the start of the tour.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The "Strike Up the Bands" Marathon Enters a New Decade

Tonight, I continued the tradition of watching the All-Region bands from my area perform in their annual concert, and I'll also continue blogging about it, as I have for the past four years. As always, there may be some "rerun" material, and this is by no means an attempt to liveblog the concert (which would have been both inconsiderate to the other attendees and a royal pain in terms of all that typing on a phone); it's just a collection of things that went through my mind as I watched the proceedings:
  • Once again, my proverbial hat is off to the organizers of the concert, which ran like a Swiss train (each band has a 45-minute slot, of which maybe 30 minutes are used; that allows bands to start at a precise time so that the families of people in the later bands can be on time). This year, even the breaks between bands seemed to go quickly.

  • Eight players from my studio were in the concert this year; that's one shy of last year, but I'm also teaching at one fewer high school than before. While three of them are seniors, I also had two juniors, two sophomores and a freshman in the bands, and several others who came pretty close could conceivably make it next year.

  • I was only there for four of the five bands tonight, as my player who had originally made the freshman band ended up making a high school band as well. (If a freshman does this, he or she automatically assumes the seat in the high school band, which is--rightfully--considered more of an honor.) This allowed me a slightly later arrival and a slightly less-wolfed-down dinner.

  • So why don't I usually show up for a specific band if I don't have a student in there? Well, I've always been concerned that my doing so might possibly prevent some proverbial kid's Aunt Edna from having a seat. But any anxiety along these lines was assuaged immediately upon my entrance, as this auditorium was gargantuan; it even had a balcony!

  • But the parking situation was as bad as the seating was good; the school is adjacent to a stadium, and I had to park near the far end zone of said stadium--a walk of about four blocks. There were other events going on at the school as well: A soccer game in the stadium and a basketball game in the other side of the school. The part of school that led to the game wasn't open to concertgoers, which made for an even longer walk to the front of the school. I'm glad this wasn't six months ago when I was hobbling around with a knee brace and a cane; even the good handicapped spaces were gone by the time I arrived.

  • OK, on to the concert: The bands played well, especially considering that they had around a grand total of nine hours' worth of rehearsal time (last night and today; one of the perks of making Region is that you get to miss school on Friday to rehearse). The only negative of the evening was that some of the musical choices made by the clinicians were somewhat less than inspiring this year. It's not surprising for the students to tell me that their band's music was "boring," but it is a surprise when I agree with them as much as I did tonight.

  • The above sentiment dovetails nicely with my annual statement of how much I like "wind ensemble music"--the newer stuff, written in a more orchestral/film score style--than "band music"--the older stuff, written more to make the individual colors more subordinate to the whole. And as always, nothing that happened tonight changed my feelings on this at all, though there's always room for a surprise or two.

  • But if some of the programming was less than inspirational, there were a few tunes that caught my ears tonight: Air (Dublinesque), a work originally for piano and orchestra by Billy Joel (yes, that one) and nicely arranged for band by a Texas band director (who went unnamed in the program; was it this arrangement?); a twisted circus march entitled Clowns, Clowns, Clowns by someone named Babrowitz (the reader will note that this writer laments the lack of detail in the composer column of the program); a rollicking Dimitri Shostakovich composition called Galop from Moscow Cheremusky (arranged by Donald Hunsberger, whose version of the same composer's Festive Overture goes back to before my high school days); and the second movement of Clocking by John Mackey, which contained some extremely cool colors, most notably the solo appearances by soprano, alto and tenor saxes (not that I'm biased or anything). And kudos to the top band for bringing new life to the old standard Chester.

  • Speaking of Chester, I'll never forget how dissonant that sounded to me when I played it in high school; our ears, they do grow up.

  • Most admirable audience behavior of the night: Nobody clapped between the six movements of Ron Nelson's Courtly Airs and Dances, despite the exact number of movements not being listed in the program.

  • Most bizarre clinician behavior of the night: One of them didn't say a single word during his band's performance. Sure, we've had clinicians in the past who didn't come to the mic until right before the last number (due to time constraints?), but after a thirty-minute set, the audience didn't even know what this guy's voice sounded like.

  • Here's a perennial: It's always cool when they recognize the teachers before every band (by having all the directors and private teachers of the students currently on stage stand up for a moment). Most of the work that my colleagues and I do is behind the scenes, and that's ok; the real reward is watching them progress over the years and develop a love for music that will hopefully last far beyond their public schooling, no matter what their major will be in college. But I'd be a liar if I said it wasn't nice to be among those standing up every year.
As I've said before, I try to make this a must-see on my calendar; I may not get to see too many individual schools' concerts, but I like to be there to support the students who have put in the extra work to earn the chance to play on this night. (And it's crazy to think that I began the tradition of blogging this concert in 2006, when tonight's seniors were in eighth grade.)

In January, I resolved to have my March played in May: While linking to the previous years' editions of this post, I noticed that I wrote last year...
I'll be the first to say that a Sousa march is three minutes of perfection--the absolute pinnacle of the genre. They may get maligned a bit in some circles for being impossibly old-school, but each one is a little gem in its own way. (Hearing four of them tonight reinforced this thought, and it also gave me a mini-clinic on how I would rescore my own march that I wrote in high school if the occasion ever came up.)
While writing that paragraph, I hatched the idea that would in fact result in that march of mine being performed at one of my schools a few months later. I'm really glad it turned out that way.

From band to Orchestrion: Pat Metheny's highly-discussed Orchestrion project drops next Tuesday; listen to some samples at Amazon.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I Was Going to Do a Specific Post Tonight...

...until a friend sidetracked me with the site Not Always Right. Having spent some time in retail, I can totally relate to this kind of thing (and I'll have to go back in the cobwebs of my mind and see if there's anything I could contribute).

Here are a few of the funniest ones I saw tonight:
Customer at the drive-thru window: “I’d like my order to-go.”
* * * * * * * * * * *
Library Patron: “Do you guys have books?”
Me: (I turn and give a side glance to the shelves of books on my right) “Nope. It’s all online.”
* * * * * * * * * * *
Disgruntled Bank Customer: “What do you mean I don’t have any money? I still have checks in my book!”
You get the idea. Read and enjoy, and try to get other things done tonight in spite of it. I'll be back with my intended post tomorrow.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Today, I'll Let Others Do the Talking

Being a holiday for some (mostly, for me, though I taught a bit here at home), and having seen a video of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's "I Have a Dream" speech for the first time in a while, yesterday in church, it seemed only fitting to devote today's blog post to him. But what should I say? To start things out, I defer to the wisdom of two people whose words I encountered today, who state their case in a far more eloquent manner than I probably could. On a national level, here's Scott Johnson at Powerline:
When Martin Luther King, Jr. brought his nonviolent campaign against segregation to Bull Connor's Birmingham, he laid siege to the bastion of Jim Crow. In Birmingham between 1957 and 1962, black homes and churches had been subjected to a series of horrific bombings intended to terrorize the community. In April 1963 King answered the call to bring his campaign to Birmingham. When King landed in jail on Good Friday for violating an injunction prohibiting demonstrations, he took the opportunity to meditate on the counsel of prudence with which Birmingham's white ministers had greeted his campaign. King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" was the result.

[...] n addition to King's witness, King's prophetic call permeates the "Letter." Why did King presume to come from Atlanta to Birmingham? King writes:

I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the eighth century prophets left their little villages and carried their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their home towns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Graeco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

King's prophetic call must have been both a source of strength and of concern. His strength was manifest; he rarely let his concern show. Perfection is not a condition of the prophet's call, and King was both imperfect and aware of his imperfections. His unbending strength is all the more remarkable.
And much closer to home, here's Garland city councilman Douglas Athas:
I think too often King is remembered as a man that fought for the civil rights of black people. But I don't remember him that way and don't read that message in his speeches. Certainly the crowds that gathered for his speeches were heavily black but his words were always to a broader audience, the audience of all people, and his message was of freedom and equality for all people.

He knew that inequality for any man meant there could be inequality for all men and, also, that what we openly grant to all others, we preserve for ourselves.

On this day that we celebrate his birth, I wish to recognize the huge gift that he secured for all people in this country and for so many across the planet.

I know he did see the promised land, and, by the power of his message, he took many to view the promised land. Our journey since his death has taken us closer to the promised land. We have not arrived but we are closer than we have ever been in history. If we keep our path forward to the promised land, we shall arrive. We, as a people, will get to the promised land.

I'm proud that the vision and promise that Martin Luther King, Jr, shared with all of us is closer to reality today than ever before. I'm not worried—we will get there.
I believe that as well. My only editorial comment today would be that there are plenty of people out there who are ready, willing and able to judge people not by the color of their skin, but the content of their character, and it's a shame that some people try to perpetuate the former for their own political gain.

I'll let words from Dr. King himself close out this post:
Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
Words to remember. Rest in peace, Dr, King, and may your dream live on.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Is It Time to Forgive Big Mac?

With the Cowboys' season coming to such an inglorious end today, I guess it's time to start talking baseball again.

Earlier in the week, Mark McGwire owned up to having used steroids off and on during his baseball career. Since then, the question has been whether or not people would forgive him; he's snagged a job as a hitting coach with the St. Louis Cardinals, his last team as a player, so he was undoubtedly hoping that the fans there would embrace him at least a little bit.

Well, his first public appearance in St. Louis seemed to go well:
Dressed in jeans, a sweater and running shoes, the 46-year-old McGwire walked on stage to "Welcome to the Jungle'' by Guns N' Roses, the hard-rock song played before his at-bats with the Cardinals. The team's new hitting coach was cheered by fans who secured seats as much as 3 1/2 hours earlier.

"I've learned a lot,'' McGwire told fans. "Especially to kids out there, steroids are bad. I made a huge mistake in my life and it's something I want you guys to learn from. Don't ever, ever go down that road.''

Jessica and Sarah Schaaf were in the front row of a downtown hotel ballroom jammed with perhaps 1,000 fans, and wore T-shirts made for the occasion that said "Welcome back, Big Mac Land,'' with a photograph of McGwire.

"He did wrong,'' Jessica Schaaf said. "But we still love him.''

In a brief appearance on stage, McGwire said he was happy about his chance to put on a major league uniform again. The former home run king headed over to Busch Stadium, just blocks away, for an afternoon hitting session with Colby Rasmus and Ryan Ludwick, and pledged to immerse himself in his new job.

"Like I told them, I'll be the first one in the cage and I'll be the last one to leave,'' McGwire said. "I'm there for them, I'm there to pass on my knowledge.
I tend to be in the forgiveness camp; if what he's saying now is true, he seemed to be using the steroids mostly to speed up recovery from injuries rather than for undue bulking up. And even if there is a bit of a taint on the home-run record (which of course would be broken by an even more tainted Barry Bonds a few years later), the race to the top between McGwire and Sammy Sosa in '98 was something that baseball really needed; coming off a crippling strike a few years earlier, the game was far overdue for a spark. McGwire and Sosa provided that spark, and then some; the baseball world was truly enchanted by the whole thing.

I'm willing to give McGwire a second chance here; how about you?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

How to Help Haiti

Fellow blogger and tweeter Theo Boehm Made a great point today: Far too many blogs are doing business as usual, even though there's been a major disaster in Haiti. So I'm chiming in quickly today to alert people to a very easy way to help, by doing something that a lot of people do every day:
You can donate $10 to Haiti relief by texting “Haiti” to 90999.
And yes, it's legit, and 1005 of the donations go to Red Cross relief efforts over there. According to the Red Cross's blog, they've received over $3 million as of this morning. They also have a map which breaks down giving by state.

For those who are always on the go, and may not have a checkbook or stamp handy, this is a great way to help. I applaud those who are involved with this effort, and my prayers are with the people of Haiti and those involved in the rescue effort.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Jaded or Normal?

I had to stop for gas on the way home tonight (no complaints; I'd gone six days between fill-ups). Having some extra cash in my pocket (thanks to the combination of a student paying me that way, and the fancy new ATM not accepting my bills), I decided to pay for my gas in cash. It had been years since I'd done this (save for the occasional top-off), and I was trying to remember the most efficient way to do this. The following conversation resulted:

ME: OK, I want to fill up on Pump #1. Do I just leave you a deposit? (pulling out a twenty as i say this)
STORE CLERK: That's gonna stop at twenty if you do that.
ME: might be a bit more than twenty, I'm not sure. I can't predict it down to the dime. How should I work this?
CLERK: You give me more than you think you'll need; that way, you don't drive off and leave me hanging.
ME (laughing): Oh, there's no way I'd ever do that.
CLERK (frowning): I don't know that; I don't know you.
ME: Yeah, I guess you could get kinda jaded in a job like this.

Afterwards, I realized that this exchange left me with a whole bunch of questions:

1) Wasn't there a time when you left a certain amount of cash to fill up as sort of a "deposit," and then, when you came back in, you either paid the balance or received the change? Or am I just imagining that this used to happen?

2) Was the store clerk in any way being a jerk for seeming to automatically brand every customer as a potential drive-off, or is that just part of their training?

3) And was he really jaded by his job, or is that normal in retail these days? (I've been out of the loop for a while.)

Feel free to share your opinion in the comments.

Two Years Later, This Car Is Still a Great FIt

Today is a festive occasion on many levels; among other things, it's my two-year "cariversary" with Kevmobile 2.0 (detailed story here, better-quality pictures here). I've been happy with the Honda family ever since I bought my Acura in college (the legendary original Kevmobile, on which I hung 338,000 miles), and I'm extremely happy with the Fit.

Really, I have no complaints at all. The gas mileage is really good (even if the smaller tank sends me to the station a bit more, the MPG itself is superb), the capacity to haul various combinations of people and stuff has worked out really nicely (take note of the time I was able to haul 17 cases of laminate flooring in a single trip), and it's a lot of fun to drive. (I missed this a great deal when I was recovering from knee surgery and couldn't drive a stick; nothing else was quite the same.)

I also got in on this during a good model year. To me, there's something not quite as appealing about the design of the newer ('09 and later) models; the older ones have more personality, I guess. (My buddy Coop, who got me into this whole Fit thing in the first place, concurs with this, and we've noted in the past that neither of us anticipates buying a new car until ours are around ten years old or so.)

So here's to many more fun years of trouble-free driving.

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday to my protege and li'l bro, Aaron (whose birthday party I arrived late to when I was buying the car two years ago). Also happy birthday to one of my favorite bloggers, Ann Althouse, as well as two very different radio hosts, Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

All-American Idol?

I've been watching a lot of football on TV this winter, and a game today caught my attention: the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, a high school all-star game held at the Alamodome in San Antonio. Over the past ten years, the game has given a national audience to future pro stars such as Vince Young, Reggie Bush, Adrian Peterson, and Brady Quinn, and recent college satndouts such as Tim Tebow and Terrelle Pryor. In addition, it's become a tradition for many of the players to make the announcement of which college they'll attend to a national TV audience during the game, and there's another cool tradition as well: Presenting the ball used to score a touchdown to one of the soldiers in the stands. (And closer to home for me, there's also an All-American marching band that's selected for the game, and they perform at halftime.)

They divide the players into East and West squads, and since Texas falls in the West in this game, that's the team I was pulling for, and they were already in the lead by the time I turned on the game. But it was an East player who eventually caught my attention--first, for the reason that he was in the game, and second, for what he did once he got to play.

While most of the players are selected by a traditional process, the broadcast team kept mentioning one guy on the East squad who had actually been chosen to the squad by appearing on a reality show. (We've seen this before, of course; a guy named Jesse Holley won a spot in the Cowboys' training camp--and ultimately on the practice squad--after appearing on a reality show hosted by Cowboys alum Michael Irvin,) That sounded kind of unusual, and I was wondering whether or not to take this kid seriously...and then Cole Marcoux took the field.

Besides the reality show angle, Marcoux has some other interesting elements to his story: He's from a small private school in the Bronx, New York (not exactly a football hotbed), and he wasn't recruited by a Division I school, if for no other reason besides nobody knowing who he is. He's made an oral commitment to Dartmouth, but he thought that maybe a little exposure on national TV might turn some heads (and it didn't hurt that he snagged a mention in the New York Times a few days ago).

Well, Marcoux definitely turned some heads in today's game; in fact, he nearly brought the East back in a game that they trailed 14-0 before he took the field, throwing two touchdown passes in short order (the first one a 50-yarder). All in all, he was 5-of-8 for 99 yards, and his stats would have been even better if another long pass hadn't been dropped by the intended receiver. If anyone doubted his ability because of the American Idol-type manner in which he got on the team, all doubts vanished after today's performance.

So is Marcoux still headed to Dartmouth (where, like all Ivy League schools, they don't offer football scholarships), or will today propel him to a larger stage? Here's his reply:
"I would welcome interest from any D-I schools, but I am really happy with Dartmouth," Marcoux responded. "The Ivy League would be a great spot for me to be successful. But if any other schools come along and they want to recruit me, I would give them my attention, definitely."
Living here in Texas, where high school football is king, it's easy to think you've seen it all. So it was a pleasant surprise to be inspired by a player from the unlikeliest of places and in the unlikeliest of situations.

Best of luck, Cole, wherever this improbable journey may take you, and know that you have a fan here in Texas.

And the proverbial back-monkey is gone: Speaking of football, there's much joy in Cowboys Nation tonight after the 'Boys dispatched the Eagles a third time. December curse? Gone. Playoff drought? Gone. Bring on the Vikings...

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

I'd Like to Hang Up on This Idea

I tweeted about this earlier, but let me expand my thoughts: I'd like to find a way to opt out of getting phone books delivered to my house. I don't want or need them anymore. Ever. Let me repeat, in my best "lolcat" voice: DO NOT WANT.

I'm sure there are people out there who find these things useful (and I also bet that most of them are over 60 years old). Me, I have the Internet. In fact, I have the Internet on my phone, and on some webpages, the phone number shows up as a link, which, by clicking on it, can be dialed automatically. There's simply no need for a big, bulky book full of phone numbers that I'll never use, when all the ones I do use can be found in a device that fits in my pocket (if they're not stored there already). And I sure don't need a fresh copy of the big book every year, never mind the five or six different ones that are out there.

The worst thing is that it's nearly impossible to get rid of these things. You can't put them out in the regular recycling, nor does the place where I recycle newspapers and magazines take them. The only place I've found that does is a nearby grocery store where I don't shop all that often, once or twice a I have to happen upon it by accident, or not. (The store where I shop regularly never does this, of course.) Then the things just pile up.

Sure, I've found a place to store them that's not in the open; they've taken over around half of an unused kitchen cabinet. But eventually, that's going to run out of room as well. And even if I get to the special recycling bin on time, the whole mess just starts all over again in a month or two.

Does anyone else think that the phone book should be allowed to go the way of the dodo? At the least, there ought to be some sort of opt-in process. And if anyone knows an easier way to recycle these things--or if you're as annoyed by this as I am--fire away in the comments.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Coming Up on Tonight's Twin Bill: Pat Metheny and Metallica

The New York Times' Ben Ratliff finds common ground between jazz and metal music. Laughter may ensue for a moment, but perhaps the writer has a point:
Currently, making it in jazz means playing a circuit of sit-down supper clubs and comfortable midsize theaters booked by nonprofit arts presenters, and, in summer, at European festivals. If you make it in metal, you play a circuit of decent-to-horrible stand-up clubs. (And, in summer, at European festivals.) The aesthetic ideals couldn’t be more different: jazz is about subtlety and, one wants to say, beauty; metal is about intimidation, alienation and assault.

[...] Jazz stages and metal stages are places where a certain kind of experimentation happens: brainy and cabalistic, with a hint of a smile. Both increasingly depend on educated virtuosos. In both genres you can develop curious harmonic worlds, warp the tempos, brush against folkloric or conservatory music, play many notes very speedily and engage sturdy American grooves or a more studied system of fitting odd-number beats into even-number meters. Pat Metheny, jazz guitarist, meet Paul Masvidal of Cynic; Jeff (Tain) Watts, jazz drummer, meet Tomas Haake of Meshuggah. Both forms seem to have a neatly divided audience: maybe two-thirds respectfully fixated on the music’s past, one-third concerned about building paradigms for the future.
Read the whole thing; it presents some interesting ideas. And I wonder--despite a perceived antipathy of either genre's audience towards the other music--how many people are devout fans of both forms?

(Hat tip: Darcy James Argue, who's mentioned in the article.)

This is my twin brother; he's a year younger than I am: You always hear about New Year babies, and the first one born in any given city/county almost always gets his/her name in the paper. But this one is unique: Mom gives birth to a son right before midnight on December 31, while his identical twin brother waited until the new year to be born. (As the twins' dad pointed out, each kid gets his own birthday party that way.)

Beauty is in the eye on the scales of the beholder: The dating/social networking site revoked the memberships of some 5,000 members after they posted pictures that showed they had gained weight over the holidays.

Sit, Bella, sit. Good dog! Veterinary Pet Insurance Inc. released its annual list of the most popular dog and cat names in the U.S., and, for the first time in a while, Max is not the most popular dog name--supplanted by Bella, which evidently came from the Twilight series (which, not being a teenage girl or having any in my household, I haven't ever watched). Max is still, however, the most popular cat name. (Check out the entire set of lists at the link, which also includes Most Unusual. "Doogie Schnauzer, M.D.", anyone?)

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Consider Me a Big Fan of This Proposed Amendment

I meant to blog this right after Christmas, when a friend emailed it to me, but I neglected to do so in all the holiday busy-ness. But I was reminded of it again when it was linked by Instapundit yesterday. It's a proposed amendment to the Constitution, and it reads as follows:
Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to the Senators and/or Representatives, and Congress shall make no law that applies to the Senators and/or Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States .
I think this is absolutely correct; the trick, however, would be to find two-thirds of the current members of Congress to vote for it. (Yes, two-thirds of the state legislatures could technically call a Constitutional Convention, but--seeing as how that's never happened in the 333 years of our nation, there are plenty of questions as to exactly how that would be run.)

But it's definitely an idea whose time has come. The most obvious current applications of this amendment would be that members of Congress would be on Social Security rather than the gold-plated retirement plans they have now, and that any health care legislation would apply to them as well, instead of the gold-plated package they have now (hmm, I'm sensing a theme here). Far too many people in Congress have forgotten that they serve us rather than rule us.

The interesting thing about this proposed amendment is that the original email that I received about this was sent by someone who is often on the polar opposite end of the political spectrum from me. If it's getting support on both sides of the aisle, perhaps it really is time to get this done.

So what do you think? I'd love to hear some comments on this one.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Notes from the Road (Victoria Edition)

As I said earlier, I had a quick trip down to South Texas for my New Year's gig, and, as always, there were interesting things along the way:
  • There's no direct way to Victoria from Dallas by freeway. For that matter, even though it's roughly a two-hour drive from three of Texas' major cities--San Antonio, Houston, and Austin, you can't access Victoria by freeway from any of them. Yet there's a freeway loop surrounding the town.

  • That being said, the Dallas route only requires a few U.S. highways once you leave I-35 (either by the new SH 130 tollway, SH 71 or the just-opened SH 45 South tollway): U.S. 183 to Cuero, then U.S. 87 into Victoria. Not too many small towns or stoplights along the way.

  • Speaking of the SH 130 tollway, the part south of SH 45 South is starting to take shape. It will run concurrently with 183 until Lockhart, where it veers off to the southwest, where it will ultimately connect with I-10 in Seguin. Clearing work and bridge pylon construction is already underway in some areas. (And yes, SH 130 has its own website.)

  • I mentioned that I stopped at a Buc-ees travel stop on my way to Houston for Christmas, and I did so again on this trip, at one just outside of Luling. And if I thought that one was crowded, this one was a complete madhouse. (Oddly enough, there's a much smaller Buc-ees--about the size of a regular gas station, really--in Gonzales, a bit down the road.)

  • Speaking of Luling, the town is famous for its annual Watermelon Thump. (No, really. I remember going through town as a kid and laughing about that.)

  • South of I-10, there are some towns with amusing names, such as Concrete and Nursery, as well as a few roads that lead to a place called Cheapside. ("I bought a new weekend place in the country. It's nice, but it's a little on the Cheapside.") A bit of Googling shows that Cheapside is now pretty much a ghost town, and driving through Concrete (but on asphalt, LOL) shows it to be much the same, save for a few houses, a cemetery and a church.

  • In that same area, the town of Hochheim includes what has to be one of the world's smallest post offices; it's basically a storage shed. I didn't have time to stop and take a picture, and I couldn't find one online, but trust me, it's small.

  • The mascot of Cuero high school is the Gobblers. This is even funnier if you know that cuero is Spanish for leather; just picture a leather turkey and you'll know what I mean.

  • Lamar Advertising, a billboard company, has been doing a campaign in the area between Waco and Belton that basically reminds parents to hang with their kids, by showing said kids poised to play catch, swing on a swing set, and so on.. But I was particularly amused by their billboard in Temple that reminded families to hang with their pets as well. The company's website features some very clever examples of their work.)
I'll return to regular blogging once I've gotten a chance to relax a bit; I'm fairly road-weary from all the travel of the past week.

Friday, January 01, 2010

You Say "Two Thousand Ten," I Say Tomahto?

So a new year is upon us and for the first time in a long time, I rang in said year outside the DFW area, thanks to an out-of-town gig in Victoria, which--at least the part of it that I saw--is a really nice place. And now that the new year is upon us, the burning question that's on a lot of people's minds is this: How the heck do we pronounce the name of this year, anyway?

This question was posed in a Dallas Morning News article by Eric Aasen in yesterday's paper (which I'm just reading today because of yesterday's travel), which points out the two main possibilities:
In one corner, weighing in at three words, four syllables and 14 letters is ... two-thousand-ten. It continues the tradition over the past decade of using "thousand" to pronounce the year – such as two-thousand-one for 2001 or two-thousand-nine for 2009.

And in the other corner, weighing a svelte two words, three syllables and nine letters is ... twenty-ten. It's a comeback for a classic, the way we used to pronounce the years before Y2K arrived. (Remember, in 1999, it was nineteen-ninety-nine, not one-thousand-nine-hundred-ninety-nine.)
That's a good point, and, while I find myself going back and forth, I hope to end up in the twenty-ten camp before year's end. So do these people:
[P]romoters of twenty-ten have created a Web site,, hoping to put a stop to two-thousand-ten. Twenty-ten is easier, faster and shorter to say, the Web site says.

"If we don't fix this now, we'll be stuck saying years the long way for the next 99 years. Don't let that happen!"
The article notes that the "two thousand and..." pronunciation may well have originated with the famous movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, which came out in 1968. But it's also possible that the decade of the '00s (and what do we call that--the aughts? The naughts?) was called "two thousand and" whatever because it would have been awkward to call the year 2000 "twenty hundred." But I agree with the twentynot2000 people that it's probably time to go back to the "classic" pronunciation.

Of course, there's always the possibility that this will self-correct in a year, no matter what:
Some suggest that we just give it one more year. They believe this will all be cleared up by 2011 when "twenty-eleven" will simply roll off our tongues.

But will it?

Surely we'll figure this out by 2020. Think about how we already say "twenty-twenty" when we describe the TV news program or ideal vision.
I think that's probably right; I live near the Eastern Extension of the Bush Turnpike, which will be completed by the end of next year, and when people have asked when it's going to be done, I've been saying "twenty-eleven" all along.

Feel free to weigh in on the argument in the comments if you wish. And Happy New Year, no matter how you say it.