May, 2008:

Scott McClellan

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When news of Scott McClellan’s new book What Happened came out earlier this week, I was sure I would blog about my reaction the next day. By the time I got ready to start writing, so many things had been said, that I lost the zeal to share my thoughts.

The story continues to get an amazing amount of coverage, with commentary ranging from quite insightful to quite inane. By yesterday morning, I decided to ignore this topic. I am so far behind in writing about a number of things I’d like to, that this seemed to be done to death.

Then this morning, I see two editorials in The New York Times, and I get just enough inspiration to put fingers to keyboard.

The first one that I read was by Gail Collins, using Bernard Kerik as her whipping boy in the anti-loyalty rant that was breathtakingly naive.

The second is Bob Herbert, someone whom I’ve grudgingly come to respect (though not admire), at least for his intellect, and somewhat for his articulate and consistent portrayal of it. Unfortunately, while this editorial is consistent, he uses Scott’s book as an excuse to get some of that consistency off his chest, since he’s been busy lately taking Hillary to task a little more often than he’d like. Thankfully (for him, courtesy of Scott), he’s back on message.

While there are supposedly some things in the book that are downright laughable (I say supposedly because I have no interest in reading it, and never will), for the purpose of my discussion, I’d prefer to assume that 100% of the content is verifiably true!

Most of the White House responses center around the loyalty theme, not just the obvious stuff, but also the claims that Scott never shared his concerns, even once, with any of his colleagues, even ones he remained close with after he left. In that regard, they also claim that he was disloyal in not sharing those thoughts at the time, because they claim that the White House and the President in particular, were open to such candor of opinions (true or not!).

We can dismiss the majority of the golly, see we were right all along comments from people who up to just a week earlier happily painted Scott McClellan as an idiot puppet of the regime.

In between those are a fair number of insightful analyses on both sides of the political aisle. One line that amused me was by Dick Morris, feigning shock at the concept that a President would try and sell a war, pointed out that the Gettysburg Address was a propaganda speech. In other words, all Presidents sell all wars.

In a delicious irony to this whole story, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Scott’s Father, Barr McClellan, published a much ridiculed book in 2003 called Blood, Money & Power, claiming that LBJ had JFK killed. But I digress…

To me, the only interesting point is one of personal integrity. Again, keep in mind that I will suspend disbelief and assume that everything Scott says in the book is the gospel truth!

Exactly why does Scott choose to share this information with all of us? More importantly, why now? The famous saying:

timing is everything

doesn’t get repeated ad nauseum because it has no basis in reality.

If we are to assume (believe!) that he is doing this to save countless future generations the despair of this kind of politics as usual, then the timing becomes even more curious. He’s been out of office for just over two years. Couldn’t the saving have begun sooner?

Had he come out shortly after leaving office with his revelations, he would have been an even hotter topic on all of the shows that are drooling over having him on. Of course, it would have been hard to monetize that instant celebrity, and coming out with a book two years later would have been a complete yawn.

On the other hand, waiting until the new year, when the President would have been out of office, and the election over, one way or the other, might have yielded fewer book sales (perhaps dramatically fewer ones, especially if Obama were to win the Presidency, and the urgent need to paint McCain as four more years of Bush wouldn’t be as enticing as it is for some).

No, this is timed to extract the maximum amount of money for Scott. If for any reasons it also happens to sway the election toward the Democrats, so be it, though that’s giving Mr. McClellan way more credit and respect than is due him.

No, to repeat, this boils down to a personal integrity issue, one which Scott McClellan has none of, as in zero. This is but another in a very long string of kiss and tell books, coming in all shapes and sizes. I have no interest in any of them.

I am not interested in the ones that bash Democrats (e.g., the Clintons), Republicans (e.g., the Bushes), Hollywood (too many examples), corporate titans (also too many examples).

Why? Because most of them are written by nobodies (Scott included), that would continue to be nobodies, if it weren’t for someone else who had given them a chance. When they can’t parlay that chance into an honest career, they resort to kiss and tell, or in other cases, direct lawsuits.

This book, and the timing of its release, is no different than the various nanny tales that come out over the years (or bodyguards, etc.). Hangers on, who would be invisible to the world, except for the fact that they are always around famous people, by virtue of those famous people employing them.

If the book doesn’t sell well (already not realistic, but since I allowed for the possibility that it’s all true, let’s speculate that it might not sell well either) 😉 then I strongly suggest that Scott get a job as a nanny for someone famous, like the Jolie-Pitts, so that he can have a second chance at fame and fortune, when he outs them in a tell-all bonanza…

To me, the saddest thing about the book being in print, is that it gives excuses (good ones, unfortunately) to people who can’t look forward. They get to climb back on their high horse, point their fingers, and tell you that they were right all along. Golly gee, I’m just as proud of you as I am of Scott McClellan.

And, just like Barr McClellan’s book likely influenced Jr.’s decision to cash in too, the success of this idiot book will encourage future idiots to sell their souls as well, for the almighty dollar…

Angel Band at Joe’s Pub

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If you’re one of the few people who reads the comments to these posts, then you probably know how we spent last night. Angel Band performed at Joe’s Pub. It also happened to be the official release party for their brand new CD With Roots & Wings. It’s also available as a download from Amazon.com.

We’ve seen Angel Band twice before, at BB King when they opened for David Bromberg (Nancy Josephson’s husband, and a long-time favorite performer of mine!) and when they opened for David at Paramount Theater in Peekskill, NY. In both shows they were wonderful (as reported here and here) and we bought their one CD, Beautiful Noise, and have listened to it many times since.

Last night it was all about them (though David Bromberg’s band backs them, so he was on the stage the entire time). It was their show, their party. More to say about that after the review of the set itself.

Regular readers know that Joe’s Pub is our favorite place to see live music. Angel Band came out at exactly 7:30pm (the announced show time). The three ladies, Nancy Josephson, Jen Schonwald and Kathleen Weber were joined by David Bromberg (guitars), Bobby Tangrea (mandolin and fiddle), Bob Taylor (bass) and Nate Grower (fiddle). Here they all are on stage:

Angel Band

After getting their positions set on the stage, the ladies erupted with an a cappella rendition of Hey Papa Legba, the first cut from the new CD. The acoustics at Joe’s Pub are among the best, when the person working the sound board knows what they are doing. Last night, the person working the sound board was nearly perfect! (Bromberg’s guitar had terrible feedback for five seconds, and at the end of one song, Nancy’s microphone nearly exploded, otherwise, one of the best blended sounds ever!)

One of the things that distinguishes Angel Band from a number of other vocal groups that we love (Girlyman, The Wailin’ Jennys, The Weepies, etc.) is the raw power that each of Nancy, Jen and Kathleen produce. And yet, even though they are belting it out (with all of the emotion that connotes), their blended sound is perfect and never overwhelms. I can’t explain the acoustics behind that (other than to credit their sound person again!), because it feels like you should be knocked out of your chair by their individual and collective power.

You are, sort of, by the beauty of their sound, not by being overpowered by it.

They performed at least seven of the 13 songs on the new CD (perhaps one or two more). They were all fantastic. On the first CD, few (if any, sorry, I’m not sure) of the numbers were written by Angel Band. I’ve reported in the past that Lois is drawn more to music written by artists that perform their own creations. I never cared, but am more sensitized to it after 26 years with Lois. 😉

The new CD has a number of songs written by Nancy, Bobby Tangrea or the two collaborating together. It still has covers, including Angel of the Morning, which is the one duplicated song from Beautiful Noise, though the version on the previous CD is nearly one minute longer. They performed that last night as well, amazingly, with Nancy holding a note at the end for so long that she received an ovation that lasted through the normal end-of-song ovation. She had a good joke about it too, which I’ll keep secret, so that you have another reason (aside from their singing talent) to see them live.

So now, I have four versions of Angel of the Morning in iTunes. Two by Angel Band, one by Juice Newton, and one by Girlyman on their new Live CD. Guess which one I like best? 😉 Seriously, I love them all, and I’ve been listening to Juice Newton’s version for the longest time (and have never tired of it!), but Girlyman’s is the mellowest, and most soulful rendition of the four.

In an irony (for me, since I was unaware of it), Nancy explained that the author of Angel of the Morning, Chip Taylor, also wrote Wild Thing. The irony is that one of Girlyman’s funniest bits on stage is their rendition of Thing Wild, singing Wild Thing backwards. So, they cover two different Chip Taylor songs, one forwards, and one backwards. 😉

After saying goodnight, they returned to the stage for a one-song encore. It’s one of their signature numbers, One Voice, written by Ruth Moody of The Wailin’ Jennys. I’m nuts about this song, and Angel Band does it wonderfully, each and every time.

They were on stage for exactly one hour (including the encore). I’ll have more to say about that in a minute. When the show was over, we sprinted to the back, where they were selling the new CD. We were first on line, and I also got to finally meet Nancy.

Nancy Josephson

We have traded a few emails since I bought Beautiful Noise directly from her nearly two years ago! It was nice that she remembered my name (not that it’s all that common). 😉 Of course, we got the CD signed by all three of them, thanks Angel Band!

The CD is gorgeous, and I recommend it highly! The cover shot for the CD was taken before last night, because you’d have trouble recognizing both Jen and Kathleen from that photo. Kathleen cut her hair to just below ear length, and Jen chopped it all off in a complete buzz cut. 🙂

Here are close-ups of Jen and Kathleen, so you can see the difference:

Jen SchonwaldKathleen Weber

Here are individual shots of the rest of the band:

David BrombergBobby TangreaBob TaylorNate Grower

Now the back story to last night. Having seen Angel Band twice before, both times opening for David Bromberg, we were used to seeing them for exactly one hour (which for an opening group, is actually on the generous side nowadays!). We were really looking forward to seeing them at Joe’s Pub for two reasons:

  1. It’s our favorite place, regardless of the band
  2. We expected a longer show than usual

Unfortunately, when I saw that the start time was 7:30pm, not the more typical 7pm, I knew the show couldn’t be more than 75 minutes long (with encore), given that there was a 9:30 show as well.

They are also playing tonight, at BB King, a place we also like a lot, opening for David Bromberg. So, we could have had the same length show, and the enjoyment of a full David Bromberg set as well, by going to BB King. Of course, I prefer Joe’s Pub, and an early night, so I had a real dilemma.

I started this post by mentioning that you might have known we were going. That’s because the Angel Band publicist commented on this blog a few weeks back, pointing out the upcoming CD Release and the Joe’s Pub date.

I wrote to him asking about the short show. He contacted a member of the band (my guess is Nancy, but I have no way of knowing), and he replied with the following direct quote:

…we’ll give ’em everything we got and leave ’em lying in the aisles

OK, it was only an hour, but I will heartily admit, she (whichever of the Angels it was), was right. We left thoroughly satisfied with the performance, other than always wanting more from any artist we really like. They really do give every show their all, and the fans completely appreciate it!

Last night was unusual for another reason. The majority of the audience was related to at least one member of the band. The release party was more of a family get-together. It was pretty cool. We walked in right behind a group of them, which included David’s brother Charney. He sat immediately in front of us. Nancy spent an hour before the show making the rounds with various family members. A number of the cousins had never met before, and we were smack in the middle of all of the introductions.

This kind of scene was right up Lois’ alley, and even if the show wasn’t good (which you now know wasn’t the case), she might have called the evening a success just for the people watching. 🙂

So, the concert was a complete success. Unfortunately, the aftermath wasn’t. We intended to head up to the house last night. We boarded a bus heading to the apartment. The air conditioning was blasting (a good thing for Lois). After a stop or two (perhaps the bus driver overheard one woman complain when she got on), he shut off the air conditioning.

Lois doesn’t do well (in general) with motion, in particular fits and starts, and when you add stale warm air to the mix, she gets sick instantly. She also doesn’t recover for long periods of time. By the time we got to the apartment, she was violently ill (nauseous and dizzy). I suggested we spend the night in the city instead of going to the house. She insisted. As silly as that was, I have learned (the hard way) not to argue (at least not too much).

We made great time going home, but it did nothing to help her get better. She’s totally out of it today as well, having recovered not even a bit, no doubt made worse by being in a car immediately after the bus ride. Hopefully, she’ll be back to normal tomorrow! 🙁

Sneaky Wicked Surprise

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Our Richmond friends have had a very busy year, and it’s hardly over. In addition to graduating both of the kids (already reported) they have an upcoming wedding to produce.

Immediately after the wedding, the new couple is moving up to NYC (well, immediately after the honeymoon). 😉

That should be enough to keep anyone busy, but not our friends! 😉

Before the wedding date was set, they had a big family trip planned. It’s possible that this will be the last annual family trip where they can all be together, given where the kids are headed (geographically and career-wise). So, they will be spending 10 days in Thailand and Singapore.

Their flight to Singapore is from JFK, so they came up early to spend some time in NYC with us. Once we were sure what their flight info was, I decided to be sneaky and pull off a surprise. As reported a number of times in these pages, we had an aborted attempt to take them (the parents) to see Wicked with us.

I also reported that we weren’t likely to go again, unless they could make it too. You can read the three reasons that would get us to go again at the bottom of this post. Given that there were going to be three other guests, two of whom had seen the show (one of them, twice), coupled with the fact that I really wanted to get great seats for the parents (and it would be tough to get seven seats together at this late date), we decided to shoot for just two tickets.

I checked every day for a week, including places like StubHub, and finally, after no good choices for days, snagged two great seats toward the front of the orchestra. We said nothing until our guests arrived. After having a nice lunch together, we sent the parents on their way to enjoy the show. There is little doubt that they were surprised, but we were still nervous as to whether they would enjoy it.

While they were at the show, the rest of us went to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It was mindless fun, with the key word being mindless. Seriously, one of the stupidest movies I’ve ever seen, but if you’ve enjoyed any of them before, you’ll probably want to see this one too, just for completeness sake. It still amazes me when the talent associated with making this kind of movie can spend this much time and money, and create something so unbelievably stupid.

We all met back at the apartment, and the parents got home shortly after we did, and they said that they loved the show. Whew! 🙂

We asked them to bring back a Playbill, so we could know who they saw. Elphaba was played by Stephanie J. Block. I reviewed the performance that we saw her in the post linked above. She was good, but not great in any way. Glinda was played by Kendra Kassebaum. We had seen her before too, and I just assumed (incorrectly) that we saw her with Stephanie J. Block. So, I raved about her to our friends, telling them that they saw someone really special.

Unfortunately, it gnawed at me for a bit, and this morning, I just checked my own blog, and I realized that it was Annaleigh Ashford who we saw twice, once with Stephanie, who was brilliant in the role. Kendra Kassebaum was not so good, as I reported in this post.

Oh well, now there are three possibilities:

  1. Our friends were being polite, and didn’t think highly of her
  2. They don’t have a frame of reference, and thoroughly enjoyed her performance
  3. She got better 😉

I still find the show awesome, even when the leads are clearly inferior to the great ones, so I can easily believe that our friends loved it as well.

In a small word irony, on the same weekend that our VA friends came to NYC on their way to Thailand, on Friday, I got an email from our friends who live in Thailand that they were passing through NYC on their way to a trade show. Reasonably amazing that they would all be in the city at the same time.

David Grisman at BB King

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This is a little late, as we’ve had company since yesterday morning, and I’m just now getting a few minutes to bang away at the keyboard.

On Friday night Lois and I went to BB King Blues Club to see one of my long-time favorite artists, David Grisman. I’ve never seen him live, but I own a number of his CDs, starting way back with his 1990 release of Acousticity.

The show started seven minutes late (somewhat unusual for BB King). He had four other band members comprising David Grisman Bluegrass Experience (DGBX). They’re all listed on the page linked above, but they deserve individual mention. Here’s the entire band on the stage:

David Grisman Bluegass Experience (DGBX)

After the first number, David said that he was going to showcase each member of the band individually. He started with the guitarist, Jim Nunally. He sang lead (on a number of songs, and harmony on nearly every one) and played lead guitar (acoustic). He’s quite good, but not in the league of the many guitarists that I cover in these pages. Solid.

Next he featured the banjo player, Keith Little. Keith has played with some of the greats in the industry. He too plays extremely well, and sings really well (lead on some numbers, and harmony on all others). I really liked his playing, but he too wasn’t in the same league as Bela Fleck, Ron Stewart, and some others that we’ve seen recently. More than solid though.

Next he featured the fiddle player, Chad Manning. Wow. This guy totally blew me away. In addition, when he played simultaneously with David (a world-class Mandolin player), or in a duel with David, it was blissful.

Finally, he featured his son, Samson Grisman (Sam). He’s about to graduate from High School. David joked that Sam was playing hooky in order to make the show. He played an upright acoustic bass. He’s incredible. On the song that he was featured, he basically played lead bass, something that you don’t usually see or hear about, for an entire song. He was excellent, throughout the night. A major star in the making, no doubt!

They played for 30+ minutes and then David shifted gears. He took us through a history of Bluegrass music, explaining how each of the pioneering stars got their start, formed their bands, in what years, etc. He then picked one song from each of those legends and the band played it to perfection. As David himself said, in addition to entertaining, it’s also nice to be able to inform as well. I agree! Here he is, informing us:

David Grisman

David has a wonderfully warm style when he engages with the audience. He’s like a seasoned college professor, sharing knowledge in a comfortable style. He’s witty and gentle. That said, like a good comedian, he can hold his own with potential hecklers (not that anyone in the crowd was actually heckling). On one occasion, and entire group of people off to the side yelled that he needed to turn it up.

Without missing a beat, he said “We can’t. But, even if we could, we wouldn’t. These are old instruments and they’re meant to be played this way. If we turned it up, we wouldn’t be able to stop. We’d just keep turning it up, and it just wouldn’t be the same music!”

I agree with him completely. The volume level was perfect. The only time you had to strain to hear clearly was when he was speaking, and that’s only because there were a number of people who took that as their cue to catch up with their friends. Luckily, very few people opened their mouths while the band was playing.

They played for 93 fantastic minutes before saying goodnight. After a standing ovation they came on and played one song for an encore. David hesitated, then said “Hey, I think I have some friends in the audience, perhaps I can coax them to come up and play, if you don’t mind staying a bit longer.” The crowd hooted their agreement.

The first guest he brought on the stage was none other than the ultra-famous John Sebastian (of Lovin’ Spoonful fame). If you’re young, or old enough to have lost your memory, here are but a few of his mega-hits: Summer in the City, Daydream (What a Day for a Daydream), Do You Believe in Magic. If none of those ring a bell (really?, none?), then you have to know his hit Welcome Back, the theme song from the show Welcome Back Kotter. 😉

John Sebastian

They played a song together (Sebastian and DGBX), and then he brought up another friend. I thought his name was something like John Scholes, but I can’t (easily) find a mention of that, so someone will either have to help me out here, or I’ll continue to embarrass myself. He played banjo and guitar. Here he is, please help!

Unknown Guest

Together, they played at least two more songs, perhaps three. So, the encore turned out to be a very special treat, and long as well. When they really walked off for good, it was exactly two hours on stage (including encore). A fantastic show!

We decided not to stand on line, hoping that the holiday weekend would mean that the crowd would show up later than normal. We were right enough. We arrived at 6:20pm, and got seated in the stage area, but at a table on the right edge. We had the head two seats (which we prefer) so we were happy with the compromise of not standing for an extra 30-60 minutes, but still winding up with decent seats.

Our table was a table for six. After about 15 minutes, they seated two people at the other end of the table, leaving the middle seats open on both sides. Even though the show sold out (it was quite a large crowd), they never seated anyone between us. I guess people preferred to stand at the bar (or didn’t realize there was an empty seat here or there). That made it extremely comfortable as well.

But, it allowed something else to happen as well. After the other people at our table were already there for 30 minutes, the waiter delivered to them an order of the nachos. Lois and I have seen dozen of these nachos fly by on a number of occasions, but no one at our table had ever ordered them. They are monstrously large, and are piled with meat (smoked pulled pork, bbq chicken and beef, at a minimum).

We’ve fantasized about ordering them, but I definitely need to drop a bunch of pounds before I’d tackle it (Lois won’t be enough help). So, we turned to the other people and joked that we were jealous. It turns out that it was a father and son. The son had graduated from Haverford the week before (just like our godchildren’s dual graduations), and this was part of their weekend-long celebration.

The dad plays mandolin (recreationally) and has been a Grisman fan forever. The son plays mandolin and fiddle, and after resisting for years, fell in love with Bluegrass music as well. When we started discussing some of the shows we’ve each seen recently, it turns out that we were both (the dad and us) at the Dan Tyminski show at The Egg in Albany. Small world.

We chatted with them for 30 delightful minutes until the show started. Thank goodness no one else was seated between us, or we would have missed out on the chance to meet two extremely lovely people!

Willie and Howard

Doofus Music

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For those of you who know that my favorite group is called Girlyman, you won’t be surprised to hear that I don’t judge a group by their name. 😉

In this post (ironically about Girlyman!) near the bottom, I mentioned that I had lunch with a good friend who I used to work with for years at UBS. I didn’t mention his last name, but unfortunately, I need to out him in this post, whether he likes it or not.

During that lunch, I mentioned that we were going to see Girlyman that night, and we got to talking about the type of music we listen to. He told me that his parents were both musicians, playing a number of genres, but definitely fitting into the Bluegrass/Folk on a broad scale. Of course, I love that kind of music.

So, what’s the name of their group? Currently, Doofus. Doofus consists of four people, two married couples, Neal and Coleen Walters and John and Heidi Cerrigione. Prior to Doofus (and possibly parallel as well, I haven’t checked), Neal and Coleen Walters also produce music under their names, and have also been in the Mill Run Dulcimer Band.

I checked out some of the sample streams and instantly loved the music. Neal and Coleen are the parents of my friend Chris, so now you can guess his last name. 😉

Chris encouraged me to contact his folks to ask about purchasing some of their CDs. After doing that, I decided that I really want to own them all, rather than fall in love with a few and go back to the well again. So I ordered all 13 CDs, one of which is a three CD set of Autoharp music.

The CDs arrived while we were away celebrating the graduations (oh yeah, and working at Zope). I ripped them and loaded them on my iPod the minute I got my sweaty little hands on them. A total of 278 (or 279) tracks on the various CDs (four by Doofus, two by Neal and Coleen Walters, six by Mill Run Dulcimer Band and the three CD set of Autoharp music).

So far, I’ve listened to all four Doofus CDs. I love them all. It’s a mixture of mesmerizing instrumentals and gorgeous vocals always backed by fantastic musicianship. I’ve only listened to two Mill Run Dulcimer tracks so far and they are exceptional as well. I am truly looking forward to enjoying the remaining CDs over the coming week.

I am also very excited that Neal and Coleen (and Doofus too) perform live, mostly on the East Coast (lucky for us), so one of these days, I will definitely be making it our business to go and see them. It will surely be a treat!

Tonight we’re seeing the David Grisman Experience (he’s an incredible mandolin player) at BB King. First concert in three weeks, so we’re salivating. I’ll write about that tomorrow.

Amazon Unbox

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I haven’t had an interest in any of the movie download services (until yesterday). First, we don’t watch that many movies. Second, we have so many DVDs that we own, and probably will never watch. Third, since we only have laptops, disk space can become an issue if the download is purchased and is meant to persist forever.

There are a few TV shows that we really like. A number more that we watch regularly but don’t care about as much. One of our favorites is NCIS (Navy Criminal Investigative Service). We liked it from the very first episode, but not without reservations.

The stories are compelling and extremely well written. The twists and turns are clever without being absurd. On the other hand, for too long (at least 3+ seasons) the banter between the unit (specifically, one of the male characters with any female) was so juvenile as to be completely unbelievable, especially in this type of unit in these types of situations.

It was so maddening that we often discussed dropping NCIS from our regular habits (as we’ve done with CSI, CSI: NY, Cold Case and many others, after watching them for years). We didn’t stop, because the stories themselves were probably the best on TV, week in and week out, with very few exceptions!

Thankfully, at least a season ago, they toned down some of the idiocy, without losing each character’s individuality. It could still be less, and be a better show, but it rarely grates on me too badly.

So, being a must watch show for us, I record it on three separate DVRs each week. It records in HD on my Verizon FiOS DVR, and in standard definition on my DirecTivo and in the apartment (where it could also be HD, but I preserve disk space on that DVR more carefully).

We’ve been away for a few weeks, working and enjoying our godchildren’s graduations. When we got to the house, I saw that the FiOS DVR was 99% full. That’s because it’s the only one that I allow HD recording on. It had three episodes of NCIS on it (4/29, 5/6 and 5/13). It also had three or four episodes of House M.D in HD on it. All of those episodes were duplicated on the DirecTivo.

I knew that the stuff that was scheduled to record that night (this past Monday) would wipe out unprotected older stuff, so I chose to proactively delete shows to make room. I couldn’t decide between NCIS and House. In the end, I decided to delete NCIS because some of the scenes in House can be all the more disgusting in HD. 😉

We then ended up coming to the apartment a few days earlier than expected. When we got here, I was reminded that on occasion, the DVR here (supplied by Time Warner Cable) locks up, and even though there is plenty of disk space, nothing gets recorded until I reboot it. That happened the week of 4/21 and I didn’t get to reboot it until 4/30, which meant that I missed NCIS on 4/29 on the apartment DVR.

No biggie (or so I thought) since I have it up at the house on the DirecTivo. But, it also meant that we wouldn’t watch the remaining NCIS that we have here, until we got back to the house. Being the clever guy that I am, I connected my laptop to the DirecTivo via my Sling Box. I also connected my S-Video cable from my laptop to my TV.

I fired up the DirecTivo, found the correct episode of NCIS and hit play. A second later, it prompted me to save or delete the episode. Huh? After doing that a second time, I went into the episode information screen, and saw that the duration was 0:00. Ugh, for whatever reason, it failed to record.

What to do? Well, cleverly, I went to cbs.com to see if they offered up streaming video of the episode. Indeed, NCIS is one of the shows that they offer full episode streaming for (not all, and I have no idea why!). Unfortunately, they only offered the last three episodes, all of which I have on two DVRs.

I can understand (somewhat) why they don’t offer all episodes for streaming, forever. That said, it seems silly to cut it off at three, and to make the current ones available, which supposedly have more of a premium value to them. Then again, I don’t make these decisions for anyone, including CBS.

Searching the net, I came up with NCIS episodes being available for sale on Amazon Unbox. Like I said in the introduction, I’ve never had an interest in this, or any like service. That said, I’ve been delighted with Amazon’s MP3 Download service, so I at least trusted this brand and believed that the experience wouldn’t annoy me.

We decided to spring for the $1.99 to fill in our missing episode. The application downloaded and installed quickly. The 856MB episode file took a little longer to download (roughly 30-40 minutes). That part would have been a lot quicker if we were at the house, with our FiOS service. 🙂

I still had the video cable in my laptop, connected to the TV. So, once the episode downloaded I was able to fire up their player and watch it on the TV instantly.

The quality was quite good. We thoroughly enjoyed the episode, In The Zone, and were glad to spend the $1.99 to not have a gap in our collective memories of this show.

While each episode easily stands alone, even if it makes reference to past events, character development is always a nice touch. This episode focused on a cast member that rarely gets on air time, Nikki Jardine. If she ever plays a more prominent role in the future, this would have been a really bad episode to miss. Of course, she might never be on again, so who knows. 😉

We’re back to normal now, and can catch up with the rest of the shows on the normal DVR. We also watched the episode of House through the Sling Box, that wasn’t recorded in the city either (due to the reboot problem), so we can now watch the rest of those as well.

A very long post, just to tell you that Amazon Unbox works well, as advertised. While I don’t anticipate using it often, it’s very nice to know that it’s there for any future emergencies, or even desires. 🙂

Dr. Dave

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Last week I reported on our goddaughter’s graduation and noted that we had one more to go. The formal part of the second one, our godson graduating from Medical School, is now done too. There is still some celebrating left to do tonight before it’s all officially over.

On Friday, the Medical School held their convocation. It was held in the VCU basketball arena and was a wonderful two-hour ceremony. Excellent speeches given by various faculty and alumni and a moving speech from the graduating Class President.

Awards were given to some top achievers and each member of the class walked on to the stage to be hooded (an ancient tradition honoring students receiving advanced degrees). We swelled with pride throughout the ceremony, as did every single person in the audience, for their doctor.

Here is David about to be hooded, then in full hood regalia:

David about to be HoodedDavid with Hood

The next morning was the conferring of degrees, which was part of the full VCU graduation (including undergrads and all other schools). This was a very large gathering and was held in the Richmond Coliseum. Of the many people who came to see our godson graduate, I was the only one not to attend this part. I had other duties to perform, and I held up my end of the bargain.

Just for a sense of scale, first a shot of the empty floor before the Medical School Convocation, followed by the full floor at the VCU Graduation:

VCU Med School GraduationFull VCU Graduation

Between the two ceremonies, we can now definitively answer Yes to the age-old question: Is there a Doctor in the house? 🙂

Proud Parents with their newly minted Doctor:

David and Parents

We had lovely meals both Friday and Saturday night with family and friends, and tonight is the final send-off when a much larger group will get together at one of our favorite local Richmond restaurants.

Here is a shot of the cake before the first night’s dinner:

Dr. Dave Cake

As David himself noted at dinner last night, this was the end of 20 consecutive years of classroom education (not including kindergarten).

Lois brought a special bottle of wine (called Doc’s Own) from a very special person (Dr. Naumberg), who she worked for many years earlier. The story is memorialized (and laminated) 😉 and the bottle has a picture of Dr. Naumberg (now 90-years-old) on it:

Lois Presenting Doc\'s Own to David

It’s now officially OK to get sick in America. Dr. Dave will come to the rescue! 🙂

Here’s a photo of David with a local medical contingent, consisting of his Aunt (a Nurse) and close family friends (a Doctor and Nurse, husband and wife):

Medical Contingent

In a small world story, Lois and I ended up sitting immediately in front of the parents, sister, fiancee and future in-laws of one of our godson’s good friends. When that friend and his fiancee came for a visit to NYC two years ago, they joined all of us for a great night at The Blue Note Jazz Club for dinner and a concert.

With our backs to them, we didn’t immediately recognize the fiancee. But, when the sister tried to take a photo of the rest of the group, Lois offered to take one that included her, and as we began to speak to them, we realized the connection. Amazing stuff… 🙂

Here are the proud godparents, with the newly minted Doctor, proud as they can possibly be!

Lois David and Hadar

BSOD Update

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In my Laptop Spring Cleaning post, I mentioned that Lois had been suffering from daily BSOD’s (the infamous Microsoft Blue Screen of Death crashes). I also mentioned that after the spring cleanup, she went five days without a crash. That joy was short-lived, as the crashes returned.

Some days, the machine wouldn’t boot. You could hear the drive spinning, but the Post (what the BIOS shows while it’s starting up) was blank. The only reliable fix was disconnecting the battery for a minute, or worse, disconnecting the hard drive cable, and reconnecting it. Clearly, both painful solutions, since I had to open the bottom of the case to get at those devices.

On Monday this week, neither of the above tricks worked! Oh oh, I couldn’t get Lois’ machine to boot, and this was not a happy situation. Then, I got a partial Post screen (it still hung), but I saw that the number for the amount of RAM in the machine was wrong. Lois has (or had) 1GB of RAM, two sticks of 512MB each.

The machine was now showing 512MB. So, I assumed that one of the sticks went bad. I searched online for 1GB RAM prices, and the newer DDR2 chips are so much cheaper. I didn’t care if they would run slower than they are capable, as long as they ran as well as the more expensive correct memory would.

I decided to write to the owner of the company that I bought the laptop from, PowerNotebooks.com. I have a ton to say about them, and have been procrastinating writing a long post for weeks. I’ll get that out at some point (probably next week). I asked him whether the PC5300 sticks would work in my PC3200 machine. He cautioned me that they might not and gave me a very good suggestion on how to find out.

But, much more importantly, he told me that it could just as easily be a bad RAM slot (rather than a bad RAM stick). Honestly, that never occurred to me (I don’t know why!). At the end of the day, I removed one of the sticks from Lois’ machine, and it still wouldn’t boot. I moved the stick from one slot to the other, and the machine booted instantly.

I switched the chips and the machine booted instantly. I inserted the second chip (yes, I’m using chip and stick interchangeably here) and the machine refused to boot. Voila, Mr. PowerNotebooks was correct, the slot was bad, not the stick!.

This morning, it occurred to me that when we ordered Macs for almost everyone here at Zope, we ordered the memory separately (way cheaper than from Apple!) so we had extra 1GB PC5300 memory chips that we pulled from the Macs. I tried one in the good slot, and it doesn’t fit. The small slit that fits around the small plastic protrusion (forcing you to put the stick in correctly) is a drop smaller than on the PC3200 sticks.

Oh well, at least I now know all of the answers and mysteries of the universe (or at least of Lois’ laptop!). We ordered a single 1GB PC3200 stick today to get Lois back to where she was on memory. She’s been running for the past two days with 512MB, with zero crashes. Of course, we’ve gone a few days in a row before without any BSODs, but I’m betting that this bad RAM slot was deteriorating all along, and was causing intermittent (irreproducible!) errors. At least I’m desperately hoping so!

One Down One To Go

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So, you may have noticed that this space has been pretty quiet in the past two weeks. Exactly two posts since the Dolly Parton one. There are two reasons, we’re down at Zope for two weeks, so the days tend to be a bit busier for me (don’t even get me started on what Lois’ life is like down here) and our weekends are filled with joyous celebrations.

Last weekend was our goddaughter’s graduation with a Masters in Accounting from The Mason School of Business at William and Mary. She was the only person in her class to finish the degree with a 4.0 GPA (can you see my proud smile?).

Chris and Laura Graduation

Last year, when she graduated with a double major (English and Business) she won two awards: Highest GPA in the Business School and the Wall Street Journal Award (yes, her name appeared in the Journal as the representative from W&M).

If you’re a regular reader of this space, then you know that she’s getting married this summer (busy, busy, busy). Her fiance was in the Navy for six years prior to going to W&M, so even though he’s older than she is, he graduated from the Mason School of Business at W&M this year (undergrad). Amazingly enough (or not, for after all, she chose him!) 😉 he won this year’s Wall Street Journal Award at W&M! We were there to see both of them accept their awards.

Chris and Laura Diplomas

Pretty cool. Just as her free subscription to the Journal expires (that’s the prize), his begins. I’m sure he’ll let her peek at his copy. 😉

Congratulations to both of them on all of their amazing accomplishments, especially in light of their incredibly hectic schedules planning a wedding and a move to NYC right after their honeymoon! We couldn’t be prouder of both of them!

The title says one down (covered above), and one to go. This weekend is our godson’s graduation from Medical School. We’ll be attending various ceremonies and celebrations with the extended family throughout the weekend. There are times when life can be very sweet and rewarding, and this is definitely one of those times! 🙂

Update: added two photos to the post above.

Testing Windows Live Writer

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I’ve never been that tempted to try a fat client blog writing application. I’ve been reasonably pleased with the built-in WYSIWYG editor in WordPress. I don’t typically blog when I have no Internet connection, which is one of the better reasons given by those who use these tools.

One of my friends (Jamie Thingelstad) swears by a Mac program that he uses to create his posts. Today, I was reading a post on 10 blogging tips on Life Hacker. In the comments below, I was amazed at the number of people who were wildly promoting the Windows Live Writer (WLW) client for authoring their posts. Clearly, this wasn’t one MSFT lover trying to push a lousy tool.

So, I downloaded and installed it. It took me a while to get past the configuration, which was quite frustrating. It won’t even start up until you get the config correct. That seemed silly, since the errors weren’t useful in helping me debug the problem.

Anyway, the problem had nothing to do with WLW. I had a rewrite rule (Apache) on my server, which prevented WLW from sending the appropriate commands. Once I fixed that, the rest of the configuration completed automatically, including bringing down my CSS/theme so that WLW could show me roughly what my post would look like as I type it (which is way more than the WYSIWYG part of WordPress, which doesn’t apply any CSS to the real-time typing).

Anyway, this will be my first live post with WLW (assuming it works). I don’t know (yet) whether it will be my last, but I suspect not. I haven’t investigated any of the settings/options as yet, so it certainly didn’t require any work to figure it out.

🙂

OK, so I hit the Post Draft and Edit Online button (a very cool idea), everything just did what you’d expect. It created a draft on the server, and messaged Firefox (yes, WLW didn’t hijack me to IE, but rather respected my default browser choice!) with the correct URL to the draft post! I’m adding this paragraph and the one below it in my normal online interface.

The only glitch is that the Alt-Text for each of the above links was lost (I filled it in on the WLW side, so I’ll have to look into that). Fixing it was easy, but everything else just worked. Of course, I haven’t done anything like upload photos to a gallery, so that might be an adventure as well. So far, so good.