December, 2007:

Vienna Boys Choir

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As I’ve mentioned at least twice, we have company this weekend. We like to do things that the visitors would enjoy whenever possible. Sometimes, we have to guess. Other times, we get lucky and get specific requests.

Yesterday was one of the lucky times. A few weeks in advance, they let us know that they would love to see the Vienna Boys Choir at Carnegie Hall. The show was listed on the Carnegie Hall site, but the tickets were not yet on sale.

Amazingly, calling the box office yielded no further information. They had no idea when the tickets would go on sale. How can that possibly be?

Anyway, I checked every single day. Roughly a week later, the tickets were finally available online. We got five tickets in the Parquet (which is like the first mezzanine). Each entrance has a private coat closet and eight seats. We were slightly to the left of center stage, and everything about the seats was excellent (location, comfort, etc.).

There were 24 boys on stage, plus one adult choirmaster who also accompanied the boys on a grand piano. The boys sing beautifully, no doubt. That said, since they all sing in alto ranges, whenever they were accompanied by the piano (he was a superb pianist!), they were somewhat drowned out.

Thankfully, roughly half of the performance was a cappella, and they truly amazed when performing without the piano.

The performance was split into two sets. Before the intermission, there was a slant toward more operatic style music. Some of the selection didn’t seem to match their skills. The second set was heavily oriented toward Christmas Carols (multiple languages), and all were delightful. The carols connected deeply with the audience, and you could viscerally feel the reaction after each one.

All-in-all, a very delightful afternoon doing something we would likely not have thought to do were it not for the suggestion of our friends.

Thanks! :-)

Enjoying Repetition

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We have company staying with us this weekend. Yesterday morning, while they were eating a late breakfast in the apartment, I wandered out on my own to TKTS. I listened to another The Business podcast (from KCRW) on the way, and to part of the new Celine Dion CD (Taking Chances) on the way back.

There were quite a number of shows available at TKTS. When I called, the guests were interested in seeing Curtains The Musical. Lois and I had already seen it (and enjoyed it, as discussed in this post), so I only got three tickets. Row J (not necessarily exactly the 10th row), center orchestra, for 1/2 price. Not too shabby.

They enjoyed the show (as did we). We later met up at the Peking Duck House. We had dinner there nine days earlier as well, but you can never have too much of their food. Two of our guests don’t eat duck (neither does Lois), so this was one of the rare trips where we didn’t order duck. That permitted a wider sampling of their main dishes, and all were delectable, as always.

We did something we almost never do, we drove to the duck house. Normally, we walk. Rarely, we take the bus or a taxi. We drove last night because we intended to go to Filli Ponte after dinner, to hang out in the bar. It’s a long trek to get there, and five of us would have required two cabs.

In this post, I discussed what a wonderful time we had the last (and first) time we went to Filli Ponte. That was a relatively quiet Wednesday night. Last night was a holiday Saturday night, and the bar was much more active, and the restaurant was doing a great business as well. We were still able to snag seats right next to the piano on ultra-comfortable couches, as most of the bar crowd sat around the bar itself, waiting to be seated for dinner.

Jonathan Pytell was exceptional on the piano. He played a mixture of holiday classics, more traditional bar classics, and some of his own compositions, which were very impressive! The chocolate martinis were as perfect as always (thanks Natalia!) :-) and I think I converted a few new fans to this wonderful drink.

A good time was had by all, as can be seen in the following photo (click for a larger version):

Jonathan Pytell and our Gang

Low Tech Often Beats High Tech

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In this post, I discussed traditional video senders, that wirelessly extend a video source to a remote receiver (TV, VCR, DVR, etc.). The 5.8Ghz model that I bought from Amazon.com is still working perfectly.

In addition to that need at home, we travel a lot for business and therefore spend a lot of time in hotels. While we’re not terribly picky about what’s on TV when we’re tired after a long day’s work, sometimes the pickings are pretty slim, and with the current writers strike dragging on, they will likely get slimmer.

I decided that I wanted to find an effective way to display things from my laptop on the hotel TV. This would allow watching DVDs, Internet videos, and my home DVR via the SlingBox.

I mentioned in the past that once I purchased one thing from X10, I got bombarded daily by a giant email newsletter from them. Just at the time that I was considering the above need, their daily newsletter had a special to purchase a wireless VGA to RCA Video extender. I ordered the following package that day (and I paid a lot less than the current price shown on that page).

The device works, for some definition of works, but I am not happy with it. I don’t know if it’s interference from WiFi devices (of which the hotels have many, and so does our house), or if there is some other problem, but, while I an get the video to show up (so it’s not broken), it’s not a satisfactory experience.

Now a diversion. A few weeks back, we were visiting friends in Richmond, VA. Another friend came over with a DVD of photos from their trip to South Africa. After trying a few ways to display the photos on the TV, I looked at the back of my laptop and noticed (for the first time) that I had an S-Video port. Our host happened to have an S-Video cable, and I was able to connect my S-Video out to his S-Video in, and display the photos.

When I got home, I did a search and found the following site (they ask for links, claiming that they don’t advertise!), and specifically, this low tech cable. I got to use the cable for the first time last night (in the apartment), and it worked pretty well. Extremely low tech, but extremely effective.

That said, my problem isn’t quite solved. It turns out that the hotel that we stay at all the time doesn’t include the ability to select alternate input sources (even though the TV has both RCA inputs and S-Video in). The remote control doesn’t have an input button, and the menu doesn’t contain one either.

A little further search on the Internet suggests bringing your own programmable remote to the room, and searching for their TV model, and hopefully being able to control the TV with your remote, including changing the input source. I’ll give that a try in January, when we are next in the hotel. Even if it doesn’t work, this new cable will find occasional use at home, when I want to watch an Internet video on the TV. A lot cheaper than buying something like Apple TV, etc. ;-)

Cheap Music in NYC

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The New York Times has an article today on cheap and free music in NYC. Worth the read if you live in the city, or visit once in a while, and want a more adventurous sense of the local music scene here. Registration is required to read the article, but it’s free.

White Out Conditions in Westchester

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We had to run some errands this morning. We left the house at 10:20am and drove to Chappaqua. While there, it started to snow. By the time we got back, less than 30 minutes after it started snowing, the conditions were white out and the roads were extremely slick.

When we got within 8/10′s of a mile of our house, we started seeing multiple accidents, with multiple police cars on the scene. The last stretch to our house is first entirely up hill, then entirely down hill. No momentum on the up hill, because one of the accidents was a car that was wrapped around a telephone pole on the opposite side (must have lost control coming down the hill), with air bag deployed. :-(

Took a very long time to make the final 8/10′s of a mile, but we made it safely, so we’re not complaining.

Drive safely out there!!!

Jamie Lissow Strikes Again

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If you read this post, and this one, you know that we thoroughly enjoyed seeing Jamie Lissow perform with Kevin Meaney at Tarrytown Music Hall last Friday night.

If you have lots of extra time on your hands, and also read the very few comments made on my blog, then you also know that I only found out Jamie’s last name because he posted a comment and that’s how I discovered it. :-)

Once I learned his last name, I went to his site. There, I found out that he was appearing on a TV show called Red Eye, on Fox News Channel. This is a comedy show at 3am that does a fast-paced take on items in the news. I’ve seen it once or twice in the past.

So, I set the DVR and we’re watching it now (it was on at 3am this morning). The entire show is actually pretty funny, and Jamie held his own really well! During one of his very funny lines, they flashed a message that he was appearing this coming Sunday at the Gotham Comedy Club in NYC.

I went to their site, and he wasn’t listed. There are two shows on Sunday, and both are audition shows. Lois called, and Jamie is the MC of the second show at 9pm.

Under normal circumstances, we would definitely go. This weekend, we have three people staying with us. When we have company, we work hard to find things that they will enjoy, rather than things that we might otherwise do ourselves. So, if this isn’t their cup of tea, we will end up passing.

In order to leave our options open, we made a reservation for five people for the 9pm show, just in case, and we explained the situation to the person who took our reservation. ;-)

Obviously, we’ll cancel well in advance if we end up doing something different.

Whether we go or not, if you want to see a funny comedian (and perhaps many of them), then go to the Gotham Comedy Club this Sunday night for the 9pm show!

My iPod Nano Teaches Me New Tricks

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Mostly, I listen to music on my iPod. On occasion, I have listened to an audio book or two, while exercising. One thing I have never done is watch a video. My old iPod 30GB probably could do it as well (it certainly could display photos), but I never even tried (not even a photo).

Up until very recently, I never subscribed to a podcast either. I have listened to a dozen podcasts directly from their authors’ websites, mostly poker podcasts, but never on the iPod, or through iTunes.

Two months ago, Lois sent me a link to a podcast from KCRW’s The Business, where they interviewed the producer of the show Wicked, Marc Platt. She didn’t listen to it, but asked me to check it out. I found it extremely informative, and I ended up subscribing to The Business podcast through iTunes.

I still hadn’t listened to any of the additional six episodes that automatically downloaded to my iTunes and then sync’ed to my iPod, but I knew that one day I would.

For 10 years, Lois and I commuted daily on the Metro-North railroad to NYC. I can’t recall the last time I’ve been on that train, but it has been years, for sure. Last night, a good friend was in town from Minnesota. We agreed to have dinner in Grand Central and I took the train in and back.

At first, I thought I’d bring along my Grado SR80′s and really enjoy some music on the train. Then I realized that the rumble of the train would cut into my enjoyment, since the Grado’s are not noise canceling, and my Sony and Bose NC’s were both in the city.

So, I realized that this would be a perfect opportunity to listen to a podcast or two. I already had episodes of The Business loaded up, but it occurred to me that this was a unique and ideal opportunity to see if there were some interesting video podcasts available. Clearly, I can’t watch video when I’m driving in the car (or can I?). ;-)

So, I used iTunes to search for some video podcasts, specifically concentrating on comedy first. I read reviews of the Comedy Central stand-up excerpts, and most people were really disappointed with them. Then I read glowing reviews of a podcast by scantily clad women doing the news. People swore it was hysterical, and pleasing on the eyes as well.

How could I resist? So, I downloaded a dozen episodes (they average roughly three minutes each). I then downloaded 10 episodes of the Onion video podcast (I have read a few of their mock news articles online, and usually enjoyed them thoroughly!).

On to the train, turned on the Nano, and started watching the ladies doing the news. They are indeed easy on the eyes, even on a tiny Nano screen. That said, 95% of their material is mind-numbingly boring. You can see where they are aiming (on occasion), but it’s really tedious. Hard to imagine something three minutes long can get tedious, but they achieve it brilliantly!

So, while they beg (on every episode) for bloggers to link to them, I just can’t bring myself to throw them a link. I’m unsubscribing from them.

Of course, since they are so short, I watched them all…

Then I moved on to the Onion. Way more professional (meaning, superb fakes of real shows, like their spoof of the Today Show). The comedy though is very up and down. All of the ideas are clever, but some of the execution is not only tedious, but feels like watching a train wreck. Others though, are delightful and brilliant. So, I’m not unsubscribing the Onion just yet.

The real point is that the experiment worked. I could use my crappy ear buds, on a raucous train ride, since high fidelity was not necessary. The video made the focus of attention easy, and the ride in both directions quick. That said, I finished the ride with another audio-only episode of The Business. Even though I had no video to keep me entertained, the content was way more interesting, and therefore kept me much more engaged. I am most definitely going to continue listening to future podcasts from them. They average close to 30 minutes in length, so it’s a commitment.

Jamie Lissow and Brian Kiley

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In this post, I mentioned two guest comedians whose names I wasn’t sure about.

Thankfully, one of them, Jamie Lissow, commented on my posting, so I now have his correct name and website (now linked to his name earlier in this sentence). A very funny guy who you should try and see live if you get a chance!

That inspired me to check for Brian again. It turns out I guessed the spelling of his last name incorrectly. It’s Brian Kiley, one of the writers on the Conan O’Brien show. He’s extremely funny as well.

I feel better now that the record has been set straight on these two talented comedians! :-)

Frozen Shoulder

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For the past four months, I have had pain in my upper right arm, 1/2 way between the elbow and shoulder, whenever I move my arm/shoulder away from my body, or over my head. If I move too quickly, the pain can be intense. Otherwise, it’s just wildly uncomfortable, and I have to stop immediately.

Googling around seemed to indicate one of two problems: Frozen Shoulder, or Pinched Nerve.

A week ago on Tuesday, I had my annual physical. My doctor referred me to a leading orthopedic specialist (Lois looked him up, and she thinks he’s the Met’s team physician!). It took over a week to get an appointment, but I got in this past Thursday (two days ago).

After a detailed examination, and five X-Rays, he diagnosed it as Frozen Shoulder.

Vigorous physical therapy is the prescription, with nearly 100% success of recovery. Apparently, even without it, most people regain a majority of their original motion within two years.

He referred me to a top sports therapy group in NYC. We called, and they charge $325 per session. The doctor told me to have three sessions a week. Ouch! $1k/week? I don’t think so. Who needs their right arm anyway? ;-)

Seriously though, given all of the manipulation that he did, and that the X-Ray technician did as well, I already had more motion in the arm the next day, and with exercises that I found easily on the web, I intend to start the regimen myself first.

I’m now officially on the road to recovery! :-)

Extreme Temperatures

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Lois and I lead a crazy life on a number of levels. One of them, is the temperature that we typically keep our house at. In the winter, we tend to keep the thermostat on 58 degrees. It sounds colder than it is, given that we have amazing flannel sheets and a very thick comforter, etc.

Essentially, we spend 99% of our time in the bedroom. If we turn on the heat, the bedroom gets very hot very quickly, and the rest of the house stays cold. The thermostat is in the dining room, so we have to keep it very cold there in order not to broil in the bedroom.

In the summer, we keep the thermostat close to 80 degrees. Again, if we turn on the air conditioner, the bedroom freezes quickly. So, instead, we use a fan in the bedroom, and we don’t mind being a little on the warm side. We had a fan that lasted forever that we had purchased from Sam’s Club, but it broke this year. I ended up buying a tower fan by Lasko that we were pretty happy with all summer.

Back to our current situation, dead of winter…

There can often be a chill in the air in the bedroom. Two months ago I had a brainstorm. While shopping at Sam’s Club (one of our favorite places), I spotted a ceramic space heater by Lasko. Ours looks something like this, but I’m not sure it’s the exact model. Similar tower design to the fan we bought over the summer. The fan was $40, and the heater was $50. Both have remote controls.

The heater ended up being one of the better purchases we’ve made. It heats the bedroom quickly, maintains the temperature easily, can be set to keep a specific temperature or shut down at a specific time, etc. Very versatile and fits our needs and lifestyle perfectly. As a bonus, we expect smaller bills from ConEd, but we’ll see at the end of the winter.

That’s not why I started this post though. I just wanted you to get a sense of what the temperature should have been in the house this week…

We left the house on Monday morning to spend a few days in the city. When we left, the thermostats were both set at 50 degrees (we only have two zones, one upstairs, and one downstairs). We got home at 10pm on Thursday night (we weren’t planning on returning until Friday morning, and it turned out to be lucky that we came home early).

The minute we opened the door from the garage, Lois says to me “come in here quickly, something is wrong with the heat.” She was right (though I wasn’t as sure as quickly as she was).

It turned out that the house was 97 degrees! It was a furnace, even for people who like it hot. Clearly, the heat kicked on at some point during the three days, and never kicked off again!

I had to turn off the emergency cutoff switch to the furnace. We left everything off all night, and it only got down to 70 degrees by morning, which for us, was like keeping the heat on all night long. ;-)

We had the service people out during the day. I had mis-diagnosed the problem to be a bad thermostat. They correctly diagnosed it to be a bad damper (one of the motors and blades that controls which zone gets the heat, etc.). The repair guy bypassed the bad damper (downstairs, which we rarely spend any time in anyway), and everything is back to normal for the moment.

They are supposed to come next week and replace the dampers and get us really back to normal. Now that we have the space heater in the bedroom, the only reason to run the main heat is to ensure that the pipes don’t freeze in the walls. Otherwise, we would only care when we have company. ;-)