January, 2008:

Nice Surprise From FestivaLink Today

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Who knew this blogging thing would pay off so big? 😉

Seriously though, today I got an unsolicited email from the good folks at FestivaLink.net. That should immediately redirect you to a specific subdomain on LiveDownloads.com. I was one of (who knows how) many people that were all bcc’ed on the email. It started “Dear Blogger:”.

Anyway, they do high-quality records of live Festival concerts (of which there are tons around the country, every year). I know I blog a lot about music, and even about a number of groups who play a lot of festivals, but I didn’t realize I was on their (or anyone else’s!) radar. 🙂

They wanted to thank the blogging community for covering them (I presume), so they were offering a sampler download for free (not available to the general public), and the link was to expire today! (I likely missed any previous notes they sent, as this too was marked as possible spam, but I spotted it, thankfully!)

Even though it was free, it could still have cluttered my disk and iPod, so it was a nice touch that each of the seven songs had a 30-second clip available to listen to on the website, before downloading the full version. I liked them all, so I downloaded the the full stuff.

The package consisted of seven songs, from seven different artists, from seven different festivals in different venues. I just listened to all seven, and I like them all, but not equally. First, in order to provide a tiny payback to FestivaLink, let me at least promote the individual artists:

  1. Bob Schneider
  2. Diana Jones
  3. Jimmy Ibbotson
  4. Leftover Salmon
  5. Robinella
  6. William Topley
  7. 3 Fox Drive

To repeat, I enjoyed all of the above. That said, I was instantly hooked by Leftover Salmon. I can’t imagine I won’t be buying some of their stuff (quite possibly the live stuff from FestivaLink, but possibly some studio stuff as well). They are a great Bluegrass (Jamgrass?) group. Superb banjo playing, among other wonderful sounds.

FestivaLink also has two shows by The Mammals, a group I’m not familiar with, but really want to see live (badly). I’ve written in the past that I had tickets to their show at Tarrytown Music Hall, which got canceled at the last minute. 🙁

Anyway, a new find for me (thanks FestivaLink folks!), and hopefully, covering their good deed will be a more proper thanks than just saying the word.

Finally, A Superbowl Fan Again

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I’ve loved football (playing and watching) since I’m six years old. Independent of that love, I have loved gambling (on a variety of things) since I’m 16 years old.

In my early 20’s, I briefly combined the two, and made my first series of football bets. It was a disaster, as I won early, raised my bets beyond my means, and crashed and burned.

I learned my lesson at that time (at least temporarily) and gave up football betting for roughly 10 years.

During that 10 year hiatus, I continued to gamble (small amounts) on both horse racing and casinos (mainly craps). I still watched football and still enjoyed it thoroughly. At the time, I was working on Wall Street, and my job consumed me. I was on call 24/7/365, and it wasn”t just a theoretical on call, as I was often woken in the middle of the night, and I worked most weekends (by choice, as much as by necessity).

So, in 1990, when my income was rising reasonably, and I felt that I needed a real hard break from work (at least on occasion), I wandered back into betting on football. I bet on both college and pros, so I was in action every Saturday and Sunday (and many Thursdays and every Monday night, etc.) during the 20+ week season.

There were years when I lost stupid amounts of money. Yes, I could afford it, but it was stupid nonetheless. In 18 years of betting on football, I only made a profit in two of those years. Probably another 10 years, I beat the vig, which is emotionally satisfying, but still an economic problem, sometimes a very large one!

In 2003, Lois and I voluntarily decided to stop charging management fees to the LP’s in our fund. That meant that we had zero income going forward. We have been living off of savings and interest and dividend income since. We continue to work full time, mostly due to our commitment to our investors, but also because we too are large investors in our fund, and if we can continue to sell companies successfully, we’ll at least get a return on our original investment.

What does all of this mean? In 2003, I dramatically cut back on the size of my bets. I found that I enjoyed the thrill or winning and losing just as much. In fact, possibly more, because the losses didn’t really sting, and wins were gratifying on an emotional level. That made me want to cut my bets even further, but I had been betting with the same bookie for all of those years, and they don’t really want teeny tiny action.

So, both for reasons of wanting to cut my bets further, and, to want the ultra-convenience of being able to bet whenever I wanted, in 2005, I switched my betting to the Internet. I loved it! I cut my bets dramatically, and increased my enjoyment and flexibility at the same time. I even turned a profit that year, which added to the enjoyment. I didn’t delude myself that I should now raise the size of my bets, just because I won.

The next year (2006), I lost, but a small amount. However, that was also the year that Congress passed the knucklehead banking laws which made it difficult to move money into these types of sites (including Poker sites, which are not illegal under Federal law!). Right before the 2007 Superbowl, the site I was using (which I really liked, a ton), decided to stop accepting bets from US citizens.

I scrambled to move the remaining balance into another online site. I did, and was able to bet the Superbowl. I lost, but had lots of chances to pull it out until the last drive, so it was exciting.

At the beginning of this season, I decided not to add any money into my account (it was pretty low to begin with). I bet for the first seven weeks. At one point, I doubled the value of my account. Then I hit a bad streak, and lost it all. I never put in any more money, so I haven’t made a single bet on football since October 2007.

Remarkably, I’ve been pretty happy about it. Looking back, I really needed the release from my Wall Street job. If I had money (in particular big money) on a game on the weekend, unless there was a work emergency, I really didn’t care what else was happening in the world, I was glued to the TV (DirecTV that is, where I got every single game, every single weekend!).

While I take my VC responsibilities very seriously, the truth is that at this point in our lives, Lois works much harder than I do (it’s not even close), and I don’t need any artificial distractions to pull me away from work.

I haven’t been to a casino in years. I would enjoy it, but I don’t feel the pull at all. I still play Poker (quite a bit), but I’m actively participating, and I also consistently make money at it, so it doesn’t feel like gambling at all. It’s more like getting paid to play a game you really enjoy.

So, bringing us back full circle to the title of this post, this is the first time in 18 years that I will be watching and enjoying the Superbowl purely as a fan! I won’t be worrying about the point spread, or who won this particular quarter. I won’t worry about the over under (which often made me root against the team that I was betting on, because I didn’t want the score to keep going up).

Who will I be rooting for? 51% of me wants the Patriots to win, for historic reasons as well as that I like their style (in many ways they are one of the few true teams in the NFL, as opposed to a collection of individual stars). 49% of me wants the Giants to win, since they’re a home team, a true underdog with a beleaguered coach, etc.

In other words, I promise to enjoy the game no matter who wins, and even to be happy about it, no matter who wins, though secretly, I’m marginally pulling for the Pats. 😉

Audio Video Cable Prices

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In this post, I linked to a great cable that solved my PC -> TV problem. That cable was purchased from svideo.com. The link in that article was to the exact cable I purchased, which cost me $24.95, including free parcel post shipping. It works perfectly. Here is another link on their site to a different model number, which otherwise appears to be identical to me, and it’s $2 cheaper at $22.95 (also includes free shipping).

So, why am I writing again? We’re on another of our trips, and I forgot the cable at home (I know, what a dodo). Now that I know what I need/want, and I’m not taking a risk on whether it will work or not, I figured I’d check out the local electronics stores to see what they carried.

While the cable linked above is perfect (in terms of length, that the audio and video is bonded into one cable, value priced, etc.), I figured I could also buy separate (and if necessary shorter) cables to accomplish the same thing for this trip.

I visited the following stores on the same day, in the following order: Walmart, Circuit City, Best Buy, Radio Shack.

Surprise, surprise, the best prices were at Walmart. I could buy a six foot audio only cable, 3.5mm on one end to two RCA jacks on the other, for $3.94. The same cable at Radio Shack was a not-unreasonable $7.95. The same cable, but in a fancier package, from a known consumer electronics company, with touted higher-quality connectors, was between $14.99 and $21.99 at Circuit City and Best Buy, depending on the brand.

Similar disparity for the S-Video cable (both S-Video -> S-Video and S-Video -> RCA). Here, a six foot cable was close to $12 at Walmart (if I recall correctly), and well over $20 at CC and BB.

In the end, I bought nothing, because I didn’t really have an immediate need. But, it made me search the net again when I got back. I was curious to see if I paid up for expedited shipping, would I still be able to save money while getting longer cables (which are much more convenient for my particular needs).

It turns out that svideo.com’s shipping wasn’t that attractive, given that I didn’t really need the cables. Then I found separate cables at mcmcables.com. I bought a 25 foot (yes, four times longer than the Walmart cable!) audio cable for $4.95! In fact, I bought two, just because. Then I bought two 25 foot S-Video -> RCA cables for $8.99 each!

I could have saved $1 each for S-Video -> S-Video, which would work for 95% of the TVs I might connect to, but the RCA jack is a tad more universal, so I went for that instead. Shipping (not expedited) was an additional $7.99.

So, one set of 25 foot cables cost me $14 (I’m rounding up), plus a few bucks for shipping. That’s cheaper than the cable I previously bought from svideo.com, which I have no complaints about either (pricing or quality).

It boggles the mind the markups that these stores have. I realize that they have to stock it on the shelves, but still, even the disparity between Walmart and CC and BB is ridiculous. They make money on this because most people need the cable that day, and have to pay up or wait longer than they want.

This brings me to another outrageous cable pricing issue, and in fact, more than a pricing issue, a change in design.

I’ve reported before that I have both a new generation iPod Nano, and a new iPod Classic (what a horrible name). I also reported here, that I have some video podcasts loaded on them.

So, I thought I’d see whether hooking them up to the TV in the hotel gave a satisfactory viewing experience. Rob Page (CEO of Zope Corporation) loaned me his cable that connects the headphone jack to three RCA composite jacks for precisely this purpose.

I did a quick search and found this article describing how to do the hookup, and recommending that you don’t pay extra for Apple’s branded cable. Rob had a retractable off-brand cable that he paid $5 for. Apple sells branded cables for $49!

Before I left for the hotel, I found an EBay auction that was selling a bundle: Five foot video cable, car charger for iPod and wall socket charger for iPod, all together, for $0.99 (yes, less than a dollar!). Of course, they make it up on the shipping, which was $6.99! So, for $7.98 delivered, I would get the video cable, the car charger, and an extra wall charger (which I don’t really need). I ordered it.

When I got to the hotel, I couldn’t get the Nano or the Classic to display the video. I was able to get the audio to work.

A search this morning yielded an article on Apple’s site, where they claim that the new Nanos and Classics no longer support video out of the headphone jack. What? This is progress? Of course, they’ll sell you a $49 cable to connect the edge connector to either Composite or Component jacks. They’ll also happily sell you a dock for an additional $49.

A quick EBay search shows that you can pick up a knock-off cable for $0.01 plus $4.95 shipping.

The world is full of rip-offs, and bargains. A little careful shopping, coupled with the patience needed to wait for them to arrive, and you can maintain your sanity a little longer.

I can’t fathom (other than wanting to force upgraders to buy new cables!) why Apple would stop supporting video out of the headphone jack on newer models. Oh well…

Finally, for completeness sake, I’ll add my HDMI cable shopping experience here. I mentioned in the past that it’s amusing (to be kind) that when you buy an HDTV, it’s rare to have any cables included, let alone an HDMI one.

I bought mine (I’m up to four at this point) at MyCableMart.com. My more recent purchase was for two HMDI 1.3 cables, six foot in length. $6.62 each, plus shipping. At Walmart, these cables were in the $25-40 range, and at CC and BB they were in the $49-99 range (though to be fair, I think the $99 ones were HDMI 1.4 spec, which was the first I’d heard of the higher version). Still, the differences are crazy.

Buyer beware, caveat emptor, etc. 🙂

The New York Times Makes Me Laugh

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I wanted to write about this immediately when I saw this last Friday. But, I really don’t write about politics per se, and my comments here have nothing to do with politics anyway.

But, since I just wrote a few minutes ago regarding Caroline Kennedy’s endorsement of Barack Obama, I had little trouble convincing myself that this was in that same vein. 😉

So, last Friday, The NY Times endorsed Hillary Clinton in this op-ed. I don’t begrudge them their opinion (they even label it that 😉 ), but I do find some of their phrases amusing (to say the least). This is, after all, supposedly the paper of record. What a joke.

Tell me if you think the following sentence doesn’t make the editors of The New York Times sound like schoolgirls:

“The idea of the first African-American nominee of a major party also is exhilarating, and so is the prospect of the first woman nominee.”

Exhilarating? Really? No, wait, sorry, they too realized what an extremely silly thing to say that was, since they followed it up immediately with the next two sentences:

“‘Firstness’ is not a reason to choose. The times that false choice has been raised, more often by Mrs. Clinton, have tarnished the campaign.”

Ah, so, it tarnished her campaign to bring it up, yet you (the vaunted editors of The NY Times) couldn’t resist coloring it even further with the word exhilarating.

When I read that, I had an immediately exhilarating thought as well, some might even call it ironic. What if Condoleezza Rice were running for president. Would The NY Times editors be exhilarated at the thought of the first African-American Woman nominee? Let’s not waste too much time on that imponderable. 😉

Barack Obama Kennedy

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This past Sunday, Caroline Kennedy penned this editorial in The NY Times, endorsing Barack Obama for President. A day later, her uncle, Senator Edward/Ted Kennedy also endorsed Obama, and both appeared with the candidate.

This is not a blog about politics, nor is it likely to ever become that. This is a blog about things that interest me on a personal level, that I wish to document or comment on, mostly for my own amusement.

Comedy, irony, satire, etc., are very important aspects of my life, and that’s the only reason that I choose to comment on this particular endorsement.

For the most part, Caroline Kennedy waxes eloquently. I have little doubt that it is heart-felt. But, both she and her famous uncle felt the overwhelming need to add either code words or code phrases to their respective endorsements, to ensure that people would understand that they were going out of their way to differentiate between Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Ted’s was less complicated, when he told the crowd at American University: “I know that he’s ready to be President on day one.” This was specifically targeted at no one other than Hillary Clinton, who continues to claim that Obama simply isn’t ready, but she (of course) is.

Back to Caroline. Her endorsement is very historic, and I don’t discount that. Why then, in choosing her anti-Hillary code phrase, did she have to muck it up so badly with the following?

“And when it comes to judgment, Barack Obama made the right call on the most important issue of our time by opposing the war in Iraq from the beginning.”

True or not (meaning, Obama’s position on Iraq, versus Hillary’s), it actually separates Obama from her father, rather than making him the second coming of JFK. I found it quite ironic.

There is little doubt that JFK inspired the masses. If his life hadn’t been tragically cut short, who knows what else he might have accomplished. That said, there is also little doubt that he was instrumental in plunging us into the Vietnam war. A war that so many are so quick to equate with the current Iraq war. Here is one take on JFK’s role in Vietnam (typos and all).

He also came desperately close to plunging us all into World War III, with his handling of the Bay of Pigs.

History is a harsh mistress. We are all (myself included) geniuses at this moment in time looking back at President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, and second guess it. Most Americans feel the same way about our involvement in Vietnam. That said, while many blame and deride Bush with ulterior motives, few would hold JFK’s motives up to that same harsh light. He simply acted in good faith, and things didn’t work out as planned.

So, in my opinion, Caroline should have avoided that specific line of thought…

I should stop now, I know that (deeply). That said, since this is about irony, I simply can’t help myself. I can’t help recalling, now that we’re remembering past presidents and comparing them to current candidates (and their spouses perhaps?), that JFK also shared some very strong traits with Bill Clinton. In particular, their well-known dalliances. JFK was lucky enough to live in a time when it was unseemly even to report such matters, let alone investigate them…

Now back to our more regularly scheduled musings. 😉

January 2008 Poker

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In my last two poker updates (here and here) I discussed my frustration with the one site I play on. I used to like pretty much everything about the site and the service, and now only the playing is fun, everything else stinks.

As a new example, I mentioned in the recent posts that they now were regularly giving out free entries into the Sunday big tourney to everyone who made the final table in 16 different tournaments on Saturday. I made the idiotic mistake of rhetorically asking whether that change was permanent or not. Of course, this week, it changed to only the top three in each of those tournaments. Do you think they announced that change is some prominent manner? Not that I saw…

Anyway, before I summarize the results, let me state two facts about my poker playing:

  1. I am a horrible player. Seriously, I’m really awful, and I know many (hopefully most) of my flaws, and yet, I can’t seem to consistently avoid them.
  2. I consistently make money!

How do I reconcile the above two facts? Easy! The vast majority of players on most sites (certainly the one I am currently playing on) are much worse than me. The good players (and there are many of them), can make a living on this site (and most others) with their eyes closed, and without risking much money in the process.

OK, that last statement is an exaggeration, only because to not risk much money, you have to play relatively low stakes (which is what I do), and while you can make a reasonable amount of money, ultra-consistently, you can’t really make a living.

I have known how bad I really am for quite a while now. What makes me say it so definitively now? Nothing other than a typically frustrating weekend. On Saturday, I played in a number of tournaments (and one out-right qualifier) all with the notion of winning a seat for Sunday’s big one. In one of them, the top 15 players would win the seat. Where did I finish? 16th, of course. I’ll spare you the stupid (rather than bad) beat stories about how that happened.

In another tournament, I was in third place with 80 people left, top 20 paid, and I melted down and finished 46th. Last night, top twenty paid, I finished 24th. On and on, so close, yet, so far, yet, profitable, ugh…

So, since we’re in VA this week, I am unlikely to play again in January, so I’ll summarize my results for the month now. If something changes materially, I’ll report again, but I doubt it will happen.

This month started out with the frustrating ordeal with my site, causing me to spend the $215 entry fee into the big weekly tourney, putting me in a hole to begin with. I climbed out nicely. I ended up with a profit of $365.08 for the month, nicely eclipsing last month’s loss as well. In fact, I was up over $100 more going into Saturday, when I lost money (spread out over many tourneys) trying to win a seat into the Sunday big one. I mentioned some of those heartbreaks immediately above.

So, a nice start to 2008. My account is near an all-time high (and probably hit or just missed it before Saturday’s losses). I’m still annoyed at my site, but I’m learning to manage my frustration and plan accordingly.

Lois is Always Right

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OK, the title might be a slight exaggeration. In the 26 years that Lois and I have been together, I am reasonably sure that she’s been wrong at least once, perhaps even twice. 😉

Of course, being a man, I still argue (like a blithering idiot), until (yet again), she ends up being right. 🙁

I could set up a completely separate blog about this topic alone, and write a new story every single day, and never run out of content. Instead, I’ll just cover three very recent examples, and try not to let the length of this one post get too out of hand.

In our apartment, we have had horrendous problems over the years with clanging pipes. Randomly, 24 hours a day, you could hear one or a series of loud bangs, sounding like someone was banging on the pipes with a hammer. In the middle of the night, it wakes us up, and during the day, it makes Lois jump whenever it occurs.

About 18 months ago, after trying everything they could think of, the super tried the one last possible thing. They shut off the water and blew the air out of the pipes. Amazingly, the noise stopped completely!

Nine months ago, it began again, with a vengeance. We immediately told the super that the problem was back, and could be blow the pipes again. I’ll spare you the nine months of excuses, and sheer idiocy of his responses, but, he never did it. Most people would have given up. Lois isn’t most people.

She waged an escalating campaign with the management agent (which also led nowhere for months!), eventually reaching the owner of the management company. Finally, last Friday, they blew the air out of the pipes. Did the noise stop? You betcha. It is simply inconceivable that the same super who successfully solved this problem 18 months ago was so pigheaded this time around.

Second, Insurance. We received our annual homeowners insurance bill two weeks ago. When Lois saw the premium, which was up a small amount (again, as it is every year), she immediately called the company. She pointed out that we’ve had the house insured for 19 years, have never made a claim, and yet were watching our bills ratchet up dramatically.

Our original policy was with Geico, but in 1997 they exited the homeowners business, and automatically transfered us to Travelers, and we’ve been with them ever since. When the policy was transfered, it had risen by 33% in 9 years. In the next 10, under Travelers, it has risen an additional 33% (over the transfered premium!) so that it was now slightly more than double the original premium.

The representative that Lois got was not sympathetic. In fact, she was downright threatening. She told Lois that if she insisted on re-rating the policy, it could easily go up, perhaps way up, and that we’d be better off leaving things alone. She told that to the wrong person. 😉

After asking for a supervisor, and getting the same exact nonsense, Lois tasked me with doing some research. I was not happy about it.

To make a long story short, while I took care of everything, which I wasn’t happy about, Lois was really right. In the end, I signed up with Hartford yesterday, and my new premium is less than half of our Travelers premium, and is less than our original premium when we first insured the house! To add insult to injury, my new deductible is 20% of the one I had with Travelers. I could drop my new premium even further if I was willing to live with the old deductible.

Of course, I fought her along the way. At one point, I made the mistake of telling her that even if we could save money, it would likely be $200, and simply wasn’t worth the trouble. She enjoyed throwing that in my face yesterday, as the savings are not only dramatically more than that, but they are also annual, as in the gift that keeps on giving.

I got five quotes, and the worst one was cheaper than what Travelers was charging us. Just for yucks, Lois called Travelers yesterday (before we signed), to give them one last chance to do the right thing. They didn’t, and they’ve now lost a good customer.

Last one (for the moment). I reported here that we had bad dampers on our heating system. As a follow-up to that, I also reported here that we had bad service associated with replacing the dampers.

When Lois hears a noise, she can usually intuit whether something bad is about to happen or not. Of course, I argue every time that it’s just normal, even though it rarely is…

So, for the past two weeks, she has been complaining to me that every time our heat kicks in, there is a strange whistling noise, and when it shuts off, there is a thud. I heard the thud, but didn’t think it to be unusual.

Over my objections, she called the heating company and scheduled an appointment to check it out. That happened yesterday afternoon. The guy started out as unbelieving as me, and was borderline rude to Lois. Once he (finally) tuned in to her complete frustration with him, and to the fact the she wasn’t going to let him bully her with his attitude, he actually started paying attention to what she was saying.

Once he did that, he agreed to open up the heating ducts to check out the new dampers. Voila, he said they were installed incorrectly! He worked for over two hours, reinstalling them, and (shock, shock), no noises on startup and shutdown.

He told Lois that if it hadn’t been corrected, the motors would have likely burned out much sooner than normal, so it was a good thing that she called.

Even though he was rude to begin with, he took his job seriously, and apparently did it well. Lois tipped him quite generously. Of course, this shocked him, and he tried hard to refuse it. Again, she won. 😉

Is there a lesson here? Sure, Lois is always right! Have I learned that lesson? Of course not! Without a doubt, I’ll be arguing (probably shortly, even today) over whatever the next issue is. 😉

Rhonda Vincent at Joe’s Pub

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Friends of ours were coming into town this week from Vancouver. They were free Monday night (last night) so we suggested an early dinner followed by a concert at Joe’s Pub at 9:30pm. Rhonda Vincent and The Rage were performing. She’s the queen of Bluegrass Music (which I love). We sent them a link to a YouTube video of her, and they agreed to the plan.

As my regular readers know, Joe’s Pub is one of our favorite places. That said, they are not without their problems, and the cumulative effect is getting a little annoying. This is only the second time that we’ve gone to the late(r) show. We discovered Joe’s Pub when I was looking to see if The Duhks were playing in NYC. They were playing the 9:30pm show at Joe’s, and we didn’t know any better, so we booked the tickets and went.

The doors are supposed to open at 9pm for the 9:30pm show. They never do, because they never clear out the folks from the earlier show in time to do that. That’s not the biggest issue, although on a night as cold as last night was, and with us arriving too early (8:30pm), an extra 15 minutes standing in the frigid cold was less than pleasant.

What’s annoying is that they insist on you ordering dinner in order to reserve a table. That’s not a problem with the early show, because they open the doors at 6pm (well, never before 6:05, ever, and sometimes later), but the shows generally start at 7 or 7:30pm. So, you have time to relax, order dinner, and not be rude to the performers.

For the 9:30pm show, you order at 9:29, and the food doesn’t come out until after 10pm, when the show has been on for 30 minutes already. I don’t mind buying the same amount of money’s worth of drinks in order to reserve the table, but the food part and the slow service is marginally annoying.

Anyway, last night’s plan was to challenge the written policy of dinner only, and have dinner in advance, and only drinks (possibly dessert) at the show. The best laid plans…

Our friends spent the day doing something that sounds incredible, flying around in Zero Gravity! They were part of a five hour program run by this company. The program ended with some kind of food, so when our friends got to our apartment, they weren’t that hungry. So, we hung around our apartment for a while, and then headed straight to Joe’s, intending to eat there.

Since I had had the Seared Tuna twice there in the past 10 days, I switched to a cheeseburger. Excellent as well.

On to the show. The only substitution from the normal band was the banjo player. Kenny Ingram’s wife had some medical problem, and he stayed behind to be with her. Daniel Grindstaff sat in for him (or rather, stood all night), and he was amazing. While all of them (including Rhonda) are excellent musicians, Daniel (on the banjo) and Hunter Berry (on the fiddle) were particularly notable.

Rhonda’s voice is excellent. Unfortunately, they never quite got her microphone level right the entire night. I’ve never had that happen before at Joe’s. Considering that I was closer to her than anyone else (other than the band), having my left elbow on the edge of the stage right in front of her, I was able to hear and enjoy the performance, but it could have been better.

As evidence of how close we were to her, here’s a not-so-great shot, that did not use a telephoto lens. 😉 (as always, click to enlarge):

Rhonda Vincent at Joe’s Pub

One minute before the show started, a guy from the back came up to Lois and told her that there were a bunch of guys from Fort Hood in the back (at least that’s what I heard), and could she (Lois) make sure to ask Rhonda to play God Bless The Soldier (which is a beautiful song, specifically inspired by a female soldier from Fort Hood!). I guess that Lois projects an image of getting things done (which is interesting, since she’s most definitely the get it done person in most groups). She said she would.

Immediately (before they started to play), Lois called over the guitarist (Darrell Webb) and relayed the message. He said he would tell Rhonda. He appeared to a minute later, but for all I know, he was telling her that they needed to call security on Lois, or at least keep an eye on her. 😉

All in all, an excellent show. She’s really wonderful, and so are The Rage. She’s really beautiful, and looks like she’s 30. That’s not likely, as she told the crowd that she’s been married for 24 years, and has two daughter’s, ages 21 and 19! Lois and I need to get some of the water that they have in the Missouri town that she’s from. 😉

When Joe’s Pub personnel signaled Rhonda that she needed to get off, she sang one last song before leaving the stage. To that point, she hadn’t sung God Bless The Soldier. Lois tried to catch her attention before she got off, but I stopped her. I suspected that she was saving that for the encore.

When she came out for the encore, she had a guitar (first time for the night, as she played the mandolin for all other numbers), and only Hunter Berry (the fiddler) came out with her. Lois called her over (have I mentioned that Lois is a get it done person?). Rhonda leaned down and Lois told her about the Fort Hood request. Rhonda said that’s exactly what she intended to play for the encore. All was good with the world, as she did a wonderful version, including telling the inspiring story behind the song, and we all left on a high note!

We had a great time, and would definitely see her again given the chance. We’d also go back to the 9:30 show if the right performer was there, but we’d be gnashing our teeth all the way. I am grateful that the majority of the shows we have been interested in are the 7-7:30 ones, and I hope that it will continue to be the case.

Poker Update

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Interesting few days of poker… In my last post on poker, I mentioned that I felt ripped off by my site for not allowing me to use my Tournament Dollars (TDs) to register in last Sunday’s big tourney. This was the first time ever that TDs weren’t an option.

I also mentioned that I wasn’t going to log on again until they responded to my two complaints, one of which was the highest severity. They finally responded on Wednesday late afternoon (from two messages sent to them on Sunday!).

Their answer was completely unsatisfactory. Essentially, they changed their policy, and the Sunday tournament is now cash only, no TDs. The annoying part is that I earned the 215 TDs by winning an entry into the Sunday tourney, and then unregistering. That had always worked before. Now it didn’t…

So, it caused me to change my strategy. I had 215 TDs, that could be used in almost every other tourney, just not this one. I played on Thursday, and used the TDs to enter the nightly Omaha Hi-Lo tourney that I like so much.

I ended up third, getting back $257.60. The next day I played in some cheap qualifiers using TDs only (even when I have TDs, I always used cash in the past). I just missed winning a seat, but converted the TDs into $6 more in cash (woo hoo). 😉

Then yesterday, they had the same deal (perhaps it’s permanent now) whereby you can play in any or all of 16 tournaments, and if you make the final table, in addition to any cash prizes that you might earn, you also get a free entry into the Sunday tourney.

I used TDs only, all day. I played in four of the 16 tourneys, and also in a normal qualifier for the nightly Omaha Hi-Lo, which was another of the 16 tourneys. In addition to winning an entry into the Omaha tourney, I cashed in two of the earlier ones, including finishing seventh (out of 515 entrants!) in one. For that, I got back $90.12 in cash, and the free entry into the Sunday tourney.

I then played in the Omaha one. I ended up finishing 13th. That was in the money (only $31.20), but three away from winning another entry in the Sunday one, as I missed the final table. So, I cashed in three of the five tourneys that I played in, including one final table!

So, I haven’t spent any cash since the “event” last week. But, my account has gone up by over $400 in the same period and I still have 71 TDs left. Can’t complain about that, though I can complain about how I handled myself in the big one tonight…

After my disaster in the big one (see, now you don’t have to read the notes below) 😉 I just finished 16th in the Omaha, and added another $28.80 (woo hoo) to the cash hoard. Crazy tournament, with tons of roller coaster ups and downs. I lost some giant hands to complete idiots who got lucky. I’m looking forward to playing with them again. 😉

Here are my notes from that event…

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1020 entrants, top 110 paid

I was playing in another tourney when this one began, so I
played extra conservative in this one, until a few minutes
ago, when I won my entry into the Omaha Hi-Lo nightly
tourney.

At one point, I had AA, and someone limped in front of me,
but when I raised, everyone folded.

Then I had a very nice hand, with some nice luck as well. I
had 88 in the small blind. One limper, and I raised, the big
blind called and the limper folded.

Flop came 567, which was (obviously) very nice for me. I bet
the pot and he called. The turn brought the lovely 9 for the
straight, but it put two spades on the board. I bet the pot,
and he called. The river brought a 2 of spades, so the flush
could have killed me. I plowed on bravely, and went all-in
(he had me covered). He hesitated, and called. Turns out he
had 66 and flopped a set, but didn’t raise on the flop.

I’m in good shape now.

866 left, in 69th

Made it to the first break, though I just gave back a
non-trivial number of chips on the last hand before the
break. Oh well…

821 left, in 126th

Man. I raise with AJ. Two callers. Flop comes 7AJ. I bet the
pot, and get called by one. Turn is a 9. I bet the pot,
which puts the other guy all-in. He calls. He had 77 and
flopped a set. Back to the same number of chips I started
with. Oy…

761 left, in 488th

Just pushed with AK. Other guy had KK. I’m out in 736th.

Rascal Flatts at Madison Square Garden

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Last night we finally saw Rascal Flatts at Madison Square Garden (MSG). I have written a number of times about the company that owns MSG (and also Radio City Music Hall and The Beacon Theater). That company is a subsidiary of Cablevision. They run their concerts like clockwork, and I think that is extremely customer friendly.

Actually, The Beacon Theater is an exception. Both MSG and Radio City are like on-time trains. The Beacon is more relaxed (in the bad sense), and often starts the shows pretty late.

Last night started at exactly 8pm (as announced), with Kellie Pickler. We were far enough away that I couldn’t appreciate her beauty. Her voice is good, and the songs are good enough. That said, given the lousy acoustics of MSG, there was nothing special about her performance, or her group’s. I was impressed that many of the people in our section sang along to every word of her songs, so the draw last night wasn’t exclusively Rascal Flatts.

She performed eight songs, for 36 minutes, and was definitely a hit with the crowd.

After a 24 minute break, the lights went off at exactly 9pm.

Like I said above, we were extremely far from the stage. In fact, exactly opposite the stage. For all I know, we were in the exact same seats that we were in for the Kenny Chesney show. Smack in the middle of the floor, there was a large round stage with the words Rascal Flatts on it. Before Kellie came on, Lois conjectured that perhaps Rascal Flatts would perform there. I was sure she was wrong, because there was no access to that area.

It wasn’t used during Kellie’s performance, and we both noted that the people sitting at the seats on the floor behind that structure seemed like they got ripped off, since seeing over it to the real stage appeared to be obstructed.

After the lights went off at 9pm, we started to hear the music without seeing the band yet. When the lights came on (to the crowd’s frenzy), the three guys in Rascal Flatts (RF) were emerging (rising) from the circular center stage. The rest of the band (five other musicians) were on the main stage. The crowd went nuts, and suddenly, our seats weren’t so bad. The previously awful seats on the floor, were now front-row good.

They sang one song in that configuration, and toward the end of the number, a very large bridge came down from the ceiling, connecting the circular center stage with the main stage. They each walked (one at a time) over the bridge, while continuing the song, and ended it on the main stage. Holy moly, it was amazing! Then the bridge went up, and they covered the center stage again, and all was back to normal.

Here’s a shot of them after the center stage was up and lit. You can see the bridge clearly behind the stage. Click the photo to enlarge it:

Opening Number from Rascal Flatts at MSG

They are absolutely amazing performers, and the symbiosis with the crowd is at least as good as it is with Kenny Chesney’s shows (which are legendary). As I’ve said before (and even earlier in this post), the acoustics at MSG are horrible. Every single note on the bass guitar literally shakes the floor and the seat you’re sitting in. Guitar solos are piercing (not in the good sense).

None of that mattered last night. If you were there to hear music, in silence, it would be disappointing (though I doubt that RF is capable of disappointing!). But, I would describe last night (as did they) as more of an amazing party, than an acoustical event where you come just to hear the music. For this kind of show, you come to be part of the music. Lois described it as an old-time revival meeting.

Gary LeVox (the lead singer) has an absolutely incredible voice. We’ve known that, but it’s also powerful enough to be able to overcome the horrible acoustics, reasonably well. In other words, he was absolutely amazing last night.

That said, he was particularly sensitive to the fact that the crowd wanted to sing every single word of every single song along with him. He began most songs singing relatively softly, in order to let you hear the crowd pretty clearly. Then, as the song built momentum, he would raise his volume and show you what makes him so special.

All three of them have wonderful personalities and interacted with the crowd in delightful ways. After a bunch of amazing numbers, the bridge came down again. At the time, all three RF guys were on the main stage. But, when the circular stage came up, there was a drummer with a drum set on it. Joe Don Rooney and Jay DeMarcus went across the bridge to join the drummer. When the light faded on the main stage, Gary LeVox was left on the other side.

Jay DeMarcus normally plays bass, but on the center stage, he played an electric piano, extremely well. The three guys (Jay, Joe and the drummer) played two or three numbers, that were much mellower, but excellent nonetheless. Then the bridge came back down, and Gary joined them. They played a bunch of numbers. The center stage rotated very slowly (in both directions!), so that everyone could see every one of them, from every angle.

Here’s a shot of the three of them plus the drummer, playing a set on center stage (click to see a larger photo):

Rascal Flatts plus Drummer on Center Stage

Then the bridge came down again, and the three of them went back to the main stage. They continued doing smash hit after smash hit. Other than chatting occasionally to the crowd, there were almost no breaks between songs. When they finally said goodnight, they had played for 94 minutes. The lights stayed off, so we knew they would be coming back for an encore (how could they not?).

Here’s a shot of the entire stage. You can see that they had giant screens where they showed videos, stills, colors, etc. If you look closely on the top left quadrant, you can make out the bridge that’s hanging in the air (at least the steps on either end), and on the bottom of the black blob on the left, are a person’s legs hanging down. I believe he’s the bridge operator. Again, click to enlarge:

Rascal Flatts at Madison Square Garden

Immediately after they started the last song of the evening (the last one before the encore, that is), 10 Marines in full dress uniform marched on to the stage, and stood in a line behind the band. The crowd started to clap loudly even before Gary encouraged them to, at which point essentially the entire crowd stood up and gave a giant ovation to the Marines, who saluted back. I can’t begin to tell you how unusual it is in NYC, and I don’t know if it’s more Country Music Fans in this case, or respect for the choice that Rascal Flatts made, but it was heartwarming nonetheless.

When the lights came back on, Gary was alone rising from the center stage again, but you could hear one or two instruments on the main stage, which was still dark. He started singing one of their signature tunes, Here’s To You (which I predicted to Lois they would do for the encore). When the song began to build, the bridge came back down, the lights came on the main stage, and he crossed over (slowly, singing to all the people on either side of the bridge along the way).

After that, they played another number. The crowd stood for the entire encore (many people stood for the entire concert, but thankfully, no one who was immediately in front of us in our section).

When we left, Lois said that it was the greatest concert she’d ever been to. I totally understand her enthusiasm, but disagree on the terminology only. As far as concerts go, it’s going to be really hard for me to ever agree that any show at MSG will even come close to hearing someone like Girlyman play an intimate club like Joe’s Pub. That’s not just a gratuitous plug for Girlyman, but a contrast to listening to a concert rather than participating in a party.

It was an awesome night, period, regardless of the acoustics.

Now I have to explain just how magical a night it was for Lois. I’ve written often about The Wailin’ Jennys. We’ve seen them twice live, and like Girlyman, their concerts were both better than the Rascal Flatts one (in my opinion, with the caveats about terminology mentioned above). We’re seeing them again on April 8th at Joe’s Pub (we haven’t seen them there yet), and I literally am on pins and needles with excitement, looking forward to that night.

To continue, Lois really fell in love with them the second time we saw them live, at Gravity Lounge in Charlottesville, VA. Joe’s Pub will be almost as intimate, so we know we’re going to love it. Since then, without a doubt, she plays the Jennys on the iPod in the car, more than any other artist. Still, she plays many others as well.

The one unfailing truth though has been that as we get to within 10 minutes of our house in Westchester, for at least two months now, 100% of the time, Lois always plays Heaven When We’re Home. It captures the spirit we both feel about coming home to our house, which we don’t get to spend as much time in as we’d like.

This morning, we drove back from the city to the house. She played Rascal Flatts songs the entire way, up until we hit the driveway, when she turned off the iPod. I was stunned, no kidding. Clearly, she had RF on the brain, and the Jenny’s couldn’t get through! 😉