February, 2008:

Internet Connectivity Insurance

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In the house, we have Verizon FiOS service (triple play, Phone, Internet, TV). In the apartment, we have Time Warner Cable (Internet and TV). Both services are very reliable (in terms of availability). Beyond that, Verizon FiOS is so dramatically better, I keep praying for when they’ll figure out how to deploy it to large apartment buildings in NYC.

The biggest difference in the service is the speed. On the FiOS link, I have 30Mbps downstream, and theoretically, 5Mpbs upstream (though no site seems to accept data at that rate, so it’s somewhat meaningless). On the TWC link, it’s between 4-5Mbps downstream, but a poky 364Kbps (yes, K, not M) upstream. Most of the time, that’s OK, but when sending large attachments, or updating a large blog posting πŸ˜‰ it can be reasonably painful.

The other difference (for me, not between the services) is that at the house (on FiOS), I’m wired the entire way. At the apartment, I use WiFi. Lois uses WiFi at both places, and it’s rock solid at the house.

At the apartment, the WiFi is often flaky, even though we’re not all that far from the access point (it’s in another room, and there’s one wall between us, but it’s not more than 20 feet away). At some times, it’s rock solid, at others, it can drop out completely.

It’s possible that the router itself (a Linksys WRT54G) is flaking out. On the other hand, sometimes, it can go for days on end without a problem. Slightly more likely is the fact that we live in a heavily populated area, and there is likely a crazy amount of interference of all types on the 2.4ghz band.

So, this past Wednesday we drove in from the house to the apartment because we had tickets to see Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood at MSG that night. (Completely unrelated to that post, here is my review of that concert…)

We got to the apartment mid-morning and immediately logged on. The weather was horrible outside, and it’s possible (though I can’t imagine how) that it affected the WiFi signal as well. Within minutes of being logged on, we were experiencing tons of dropouts on the WiFi. The TV signal was fine, and I was able to make VoIP calls (which bypass the WiFi) without a problem, so the basic Internet service was definitely up as well.

After about an hour of complete frustration on our part, I decided to put the backup plan into action. As the name of the post implies, I have insurance for just such situations. For a few years now, I pay for an unlimited data plan with Sprint to use each of our Treos (I have a 755p, and Lois has a 700p). It’s not cheap, and I would probably save a ton of money if I paid only when I used it (because it is, after all, just for emergencies), but I really hate metering, and getting smacked with out-sized bills, even if overall, it would be cheaper.

Years ago, when few hotels had free WiFi, it was a very good deal, as we often both used our phones as modems for hours on end. Now, it’s actually rare that we stay at a place that doesn’t have free WiFi. Therefore, it’s also rare that we use the Treos to connect our laptops to the Internet.

On Wednesday, I pulled out both phones, connected them with USB cables, and connected via Sprint. We both stayed connected for at least six hours, never had a single drop of the connection, and neither of us felt that it was sluggish in the least. I didn’t measure the speed that day, but in the past, in the apartment, it has averaged roughly 400Kbps downstream and 100Kbps upstream.

I would hate to see what that one day bill would have been, which is I pay the set amount each month. Ironically, this is the second time this month that we’ve used the service. When we were visiting my folks on February 6th, Lois needed to do a ton of work (thankfully, I didn’t). She was using the WiFi in their apartment, and it was working fine for everything, except sending mail. Obviously, it was critical that she be able to send emails.

I realized fairly quickly that Bellsouth (excuse me, AT&T) was likely blocking outgoing SMTP that wasn’t going through their servers, but I wanted to visit with my folks, and I didn’t want to dork around with her machine, or my server. So, I just plugged her in to the Treo, and connected to Sprint, and she was fine for hours.

The next day, I just changed her settings to send through Bellsouth and that worked fine too.

So, while I’m definitely overpaying, I’m very happy to report that at least on the rare occasions when I need it, it not only works, but it works flawlessly, and provides a very satisfactory experience in terms of speed as well. That’s exactly how all insurance should work. πŸ™‚

Al Jarreau and Najee at the Beacon Theater

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The Beacon Theater has been running a Valentine’s Day Concert for some number of years, sponsored by CD101.9, the local NYC Smooth Jazz radio station.

Last year was the first time Lois and I went, and we saw Dave Koz, along with David Benoit and Jonathan Butler. The mention of that concert was one paragraph buried in a very long post about Rediscovering Live Music. That’s too much to read, so here’s the relevant paragraph:

We saw Dave Koz at the Beacon Theater on Valentine’s Day. It was an amazing show, even though the acoustics were horrible! He had two special guests that played most of the evening with him and his band. David Benoit and Jonathan Butler. David Benoit is one of the great jazz pianists. Lois is now one of his biggest fans. I had never heard of Jonathan Butler before. He’s a South African singer and guitarist. He blew me away. Anita Baker was supposed to be a special guest, but she got snowed in and couldn’t make it. Koz got his buddy Be Be Winans to step in at the last minute. Be Be sings β€œThe Dance” on the Koz album of the same name, and is one of our favorites. It was a special treat to see him sing that song live!

When I saw that there was another Valentine’s Day Concert this year, headlined by Al Jarreau with Najee opening for him, I grabbed the tickets immediately. A little over a week ago, I received an announcement that CD 101.9 would no longer be playing Smooth Jazz (they’re switching to some kind of Rock format). They made sure to point out that the concert was going to be held as planned.

I’ve written about the Beacon Theater a number of times, and the fact that they are owned by Cablevision, which also owns Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall. Of the three, I’ve also noted that the Beacon starts its concerts on the late side.

Last night, we decided to take the bus. I left plenty of time, and we didn’t have to wait for the bus that long. Lois always wants to leave earlier than I do, but last night, she relented. Unfortunately (for me), there was more traffic than I anticipated, and a police action in Times Square, and a Fire Engine a little further up, and it was clear that we wouldn’t get there as early as I had hoped. Still, I wasn’t nervous, because they always start late.

We got there at 8:04, so not too late. The house lights were still up, whew. But, as we walked down the aisle to find our seats, the lights went off, and Najee’s band started to play. Oops. Luckily/thankfully, the usher at the head of the aisle guided us perfectly. She said: “You’re in the fourth row from the stage, five and six seats in from the aisle.” We were able to find our seats without reading the numbers. Another whew.

The seats were a huge (and very pleasant) surprise. I knew we were in row DD, but in some theaters, AA comes after Z, in others (perhaps most Broadway theaters), AA is the first row, as turned out to be the case at the Beacon. Yay!

I wasn’t familiar with Najee’s music, though I’ve know of his reputation as an amazing musician for many years, so I was excited to see him. He was awesome, as was his entire band. He plays a number of instruments (different forms of Saxophones, a flute, etc.). Here he is playing the flute (click on any photo to see a larger version):

Najee on the Flute

While every member of his band was incredible and deserves a direct mention, I’ll cop out and call out two of them. Unfortunately, while I paid attention each time Najee named the band members, I also assumed that I could easily find their names on the Internet today, and for whatever reason (brain addle, etc.) I simply can’t! πŸ™ The only name I am sure I can recall is the percussionist (different than the drummer) who is Victor Williams.

The drummer (feel free to leave me a comment and fill in his name! Update: as you can see in the comments, his name is Kentric Morris) was extraordinary. While he was playing an awesome solo, Najee came on the stage, grabbed a bottle of water, showed it to the crowd, then handed it to the drummer. He drank the entire bottle (holding it in his left hand), and continued the solo (feet and right hand), without missing a beat, in a pretty wild (in the good sense) solo. Wow.

Then, while still playing the same solo, a minute later, Najee came on the stage with a Blackberry in his hand. He asked the audience to yell “Hello” as he pointed it to the crowd. We did. He asked us to yell louder, we did. Then he handed the phone to the drummer. Again, the drummer continued the solo while speaking on the phone. It turns out it was his mother, and he had to excuse himself for having to get off so quickly. It was hysterical, especially when he promised her that he had attended church this past Sunday. πŸ˜‰

The other guy to single out was the guitarist. He was formerly with the B-52s. I thought the name was “Chuck”, but I can’t find any mention of that, so I’m sure I was wrong. Anyway, aside from being an excellent guitarist, all but one of Najee’s numbers were instrumentals. The one exception was sung by the guitarist, and he did a heck of a job. He’s from Roanoke, VA if that helps identify him. πŸ™‚ Perhaps, one of you can recognize him from his photo:

Najee Guitarist Singing

Update: People in the comments confirmed that the guitarist is Chuck Johnson.

Aside from making great music, Najee is personable and very conversational with the crowd. They were on for just under one hour, leaving the stage at 9pm.

As happened the previous night at MSG, they didn’t cover the stage between acts. Since we were in the fourth row, we got to see the entire disassembly and reassembly of all of the equipment for the two groups. They opened up the back of the stage to get the equipment straight out to the trucks. That meant that the outside air was rushing in during that operation. I was in a T-Shirt, but loved the breeze. Lois was in long sleeves, and had to put on her winter coat. πŸ˜‰

Al Jarreau’s band came on the stage at 9:32, and they started to play at 9:34 while the lights were still on. The lights were turned off by the third note, and people rushed to their seats. A minute later, Al came on the stage to a thunderous applause, along with a female singer (again, really sorry about not nailing people’s names last night!). She joined him on four or five numbers, and they sang wonderfully together.

Al Jarreau in a Duet

In addition to having one of the silkiest voices around, with a mind-boggling range, Al is also a great entertainer, who is enjoying himself on the stage as much as the crowd is enjoying him. He’s 68-years-old, and hasn’t lost even a touch of his vocal capabilities. When he sings in a deep register, it’s smooth, clean, powerful, and you’d think he was a 400 pound bassist. When he reaches for high notes, there’s no strain in his voice, and he can whisper them, or belt them out. To repeat my characterization above, simply mind-boggling.

I’ve been a fan of Al’s forever. I bought Breaking Away on vinyl, when it first came out (in 1981), so it’s at least 27 years that I’ve been listening to him. I love that album so much, that I also own the CD.

If you don’t know him, get to know him. πŸ˜‰ In addition to phenomenal singing, he also scats with the best of them. But, in addition to normal scatting (whatever that means), he scats all of the instruments in his band. If you close your eyes, so that you don’t know it’s him, you could easily confuse his voice for a real instrument. It’s cool, trust me. πŸ™‚

As with Najee (who joined Al for one wonderful number!), Al has an incredible rapport with the crowd. There’s something Buddha-like about Al. He radiates love, peace and joy, and openly promotes prayer and mindfulness throughout the show. Here’s a photo of the two of them together:

Al Jarreau and Najee

He played an extraordinary set for just under 90 minutes, including an encore. He never left the stage after saying the first goodnight, slipping into the encore. I was thrilled to be there last night!

One political footnote.

If you’ve read my stuff before, you know I really can’t stand when an entertainer mixes politics into the show. I’ve also said, if you’re going to do it, make it part of the music, not a speech.

Both Najee and Al made exactly one reference each to something that could be considered political. In both cases, it was classy and understated, and most definitely not preachy. Both could have (and possibly should have) avoided it, but I can’t imagine they offended anyone, certainly not me.

First Najee. He pointed out that he was in LA (Ventura Boulevard I think) and saw 25 people demonstrating on behalf of Obama. What amazed him was that all 25 were white people. He (Najee) pointed out that 50 years ago, that sight would simply have been inconceivable, and it made him proud to be an American, and very hopeful about what it meant for our collective future.

I completely agree with him, as did the crowd. This wasn’t an endorsement of Obama, nor a refutation of Hillary, nor a put-down of Republicans. Merely, an observation that something fundamental may finally be changing (for the better) in this country, when it comes to tolerance of differences (racial and otherwise). Amen!

Al’s was more political, but as classy as could be in that regard. In introducing one of his more famous songs, We’re In This Love Together, he said that he was dedicating it to sending a message to Washington that we don’t want any more war. He then wove that theme into the song itself, two or three times.

But, I say it was classy, because he never once mentioned Bush, The Administration, Republicans, Conservatives, Right-Wingers (those who conspire vastly and those who don’t), etc. He didn’t need to curse any of the above, to get his message across.

To that, I also say Amen. We can all have our own points of view, but we’ll never come to any collective understanding if the civility in our dialog continues to be rhetoric and defamatory based.

Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood at Madison Square Garden

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Lois and I have never watched a complete episode of American Idol, and the only time we’ve even seen a reasonable portion of one was at our godson’s apartment, the night that Jordin Sparks won.

So, we didn’t know Carrie Underwood from that show (though, of course, we knew of her). We fell in love with her when she released her first CD, and have loved pretty much everything she has done since then as well.

When I saw that she was opening for Keith Urban at Madison Square Garden (MSG), I grabbed two tickets for us, a while ago. We aren’t all that familiar with Keith’s music (though we obviously hear his more popular stuff on the Country channel on XM Radio). We figured that at best, it would end up being a bonus like Kenny Chesney was (when we really went to see Pat Green and Sugarland!), and at worst, we’d know to avoid Keith in the future.

I wrote about that night here, and as you can see (or already know), we were blown away by Kenny’s performance. πŸ™‚

We were both marginally surprised that Carrie opens for Keith. She couldn’t be much bigger on her own, winning award after award, and selling CDs like crazy.

Last night’s show was scheduled to begin at 7:30pm. As I’ve written a number of times before, MSG usually runs like an on-time train. It’s a pleasure to know in advance that you won’t be sitting around for hours wondering when the show is going to start.

Oh well, the best laid plans… Last night was a wild exception to the norm. At 7:35pm (already five minutes late, no biggie yet) they put up a very big screen, with a digital timer on it, counting down from five minutes. You could feel the excitement in the crowd, as people focused on the counter. So, the show would only be 10 minutes late, but, you had five minutes warning, so, not too bad.

When the clock hit 10 seconds left, people started to clap and get really excited. When it hit zero, the lights went out. Typically, the music would start (in the dark), almost instantaneously. Unfortunately, nothing, for more than 30 seconds. A few minutes later, some yellow lights above the stage came on, but were facing out toward the crowd. It was masking the stage, so perhaps this was part of the show.

Nope. A few seconds later, the normal background music (from the speakers, not the stage) started up. No way the show was about to start. A few minutes later, the rest of the house lights came back on. No announcement, which was very disappointing. Then the digital timer came back on with five minutes again. Much less excitement in the crowd this time, as most people ignored it.

This time, the crowd waited until the countdown was at five seconds before starting to clap and cheer. When the lights went off this time, indeed, the music started in the dark, a few seconds later. When the stage lights came on, Carrie wasn’t there yet. As you started to hear her voice, they started showing videos on the very large screen behind the stage. Intermixed with desert scenes (including snakes), were snippets of Carrie, looking like she was walking through the video onto the stage. It was strange, but sort-of cool too.

Instead of her magically appearing from the video screen, after a bit, she emerged front and center stage, rising slowly from underneath. The crowd ate it up.

Let’s get the mundane out of the way. Carrie Underwood is stunningly beautiful. Of course, if you didn’t know that already, then you don’t own a TV, have never glanced at the cover of a magazine even casually, or have very strange taste. πŸ˜‰

(As with all the photos in the this blog, click on any one of them to see a larger version):

Carrie Underwood on the RunwayCarrie Underwood on the Runway 2

Carrie has an exceptional voice (duh, that’s probably true of most Female Vocalist of the Year winners). Her songs are really good as well, and the selection last night was excellent. Her band is obviously top notch as well. All that said, with the lousy acoustics (in general) at MSG, she wasn’t the best fit for the arena. Don’t get me wrong, her talent was obvious to everyone there. In addition, Lois believes that Carrie was working through a cold (and I think she’s right).

One of the problems (acoustically) is that Carrie’s voice is loud, clear and she hits lots of very high notes as well (with lots of power!). At MSG, it was simply piercing. Not her fault, as hitting the notes is exactly what she’s supposed to do. Still, it was on the painful side at times, not just because of the volume.

She has great stage presence, but even though the crowd loved her, it wasn’t the same energy (not even close) that we’ve seen with other performers at MSG. I was very surprised.

One thing that was very different from all other opening acts that we’ve seen at MSG (and most other places), was the staging. Normally, the opening act does everything in as muted a fashion as possible, in order to avoid any upstaging of the main act. Since Carrie is a legitimate headliner (in my opinion at least), she had way more glitz than any other opening act we’ve seen before.

There were two floating screens on either side of the stage, tall and thin, that mostly showed her live, so that people sitting far away (like us) could see her up close and personal. Behind the stage, where the counter had been, was a large screen showing videos in the background. She also changed her outfit four times, making five separate outfits during her show.

To recap, she came on at 7:50pm and played for exactly one hour. She then came back for a very nice encore, going off the stage at exactly 9pm. So, she was on for 70 minutes in total, after the 20 minute delayed start.

There was a 30 minute intermission, while they prepared the stage for Keith Urban. For the first time ever (in our personal experience), the effort was entirely visible to the crowd. Usually, they hang a very large black cloth to cover up all of the activity.

While we were killing time, we were chatting about how great Carrie was, but how horrible it was to see her at MSG (she really belongs at Radio City Music Hall, which would complement her strength amazingly well!). Lois said “I’m done with MSG, this is the last time I want to see a concert here.” I completely understood her feelings, but felt bad that certain acts would be shut off to us (e.g., Rascal Flatts).

At exactly 9:30pm, the lights went off, and the mood in the crowd changed dramatically. The second the first note on the guitar was heard, a bunch of people starting standing and going crazy (that didn’t happen for Carrie at all), unfortunately, including the two women sitting in front of us…

I won’t be able to do justice to the slick way they used the giant video screen behind the stage to introduce the first song, but trust me, the effect was mesmerizing, creative, and very cool.

When they finally lit up the stage, and Keith (and the band) were all out there (rocking their hearts out!), the crowd was in a complete frenzy. I was pretty sure it would be just like the Kenny Chesney show, but I was wrong. πŸ˜‰

Kenny’s show is a party, and he’s the guest of honor. He loves his fans, and it couldn’t be clearer, but it’s not really about the music (at least, not the one show that I was at). The music that night was great, and his band is exceptional, but it still isn’t/wasn’t about the music (to me).

That’s different with Keith Urban. In addition to the reason I mentioned above, about wanting primarily to see Carrie, I was curious about Keith, because my godson saw him two years ago in Washington, DC, and told me that he puts on a great show, and that he’s an incredible guitarist. So, I was definitely curious.

Props to my godson, as he was correct on both scores. Without a doubt, Keith Urban is one of the greatest entertainers I have ever seen.

Let’s start with something I really can’t explain. He (and his band, obviously) pretty much overcame the horrible acoustics at MSG as best as can be expected. There’s something about their sound that works in that place. As nuts as we are for Rascal Flatts, they did not overcome the problems, but we loved them despite that. Some part of it has to be the emotional connection with Keith. You are so sucked in, you aren’t distracted by the acoustics.

Perhaps the most brilliant touch last night was the simplicity of the staging. Both Kenny and Rascal Flatts had amazing technical displays, and wonderful uses of them. Still, on some level, they are a distraction from the band, and the music.

Keith had a giant screen behind the stage. For all but two or three numbers, it showed the live action on the stage (of course, mostly Keith himself). For a venue like MSG, it made all the difference in the world. Now, no matter where you are sitting, you see him (or whomever else they are highlighting) larger than life, including every facial expression, and guitar lick. It was fantastic.

Keith Urban on the Big Screen

I mentioned facial expressions because there is such a warmth and sweetness about him that is completely infectious (in fact, that’s true of the majority of his band as well), and if you weren’t in the first few rows, you wouldn’t connect to that unless they projected it so clearly.

Most of the repertoire last night was driving hard rock. It probably qualified as Country (for the most part) because of the themes and harmonies, but from a musical point of view, hard rock it was. But, he’s a very talented and varied musician, and he switched gears a number of times, including a few acoustic guitar numbers, and at least two numbers with him playing piano!

He has an excellent voice (I hadn’t appreciated that as much before last night), which somehow, wasn’t ruined by MSG either.

Here’s another example of simplicity. As I mentioned in this post (and showed photos as well), Rascal Flatts did some cool numbers on a rotating center stage, that had a special bridge which was raised and lowered at various times to give them access. It was way cool. Last night, Keith had a circular center stage as well, but there was a permanent runway connecting the two, and he used the runway effortlessly, all night.

Keith Urban AloneKeith Urban on the Runway and Big Screen

During one set, the core members of the band (six I believe) were on the center stage, and it was a little mellower, closer to us, and amazing!

Keith Urban on the Circular Stage

While the entire band was superb, I feel the need to specifically call out the drummer, Chris McHugh. I had never heard the name before, but obviously, I’ve heard him before. If you look at the page I linked to, I own at least four of the albums he’s played on, and I saw the movie Cars as well. I don’t know how he finds the time to eat given how much studio work he puts in, but he’s so amazing, that I understand why all of these superstars want him!

Keith Urban with Chris McHugh

Two final examples of Keith connecting with the crowd. Toward the end of the show, he walked off the stage into the crowd. Not just a few feet, but way into the crowd, and then up into the stands! Of course, he was mobbed by back-slappers, etc., and yet never missed a beat of playing his guitar, or singing. (I’m not sure Nicole Kidman should see this next photo.) πŸ˜‰

Keith Urban in the Crowd

Then, when he was jamming with one particular group of people, he took off the guitar, took a marker from one of his helpers, signed the guitar, and gave it to a couple. Because of the giant screen, we could see every nuance of the gesture. The woman looked like she died and went to heaven. Keith continued to sing, ran back to the stage, grabbed another guitar, and rocked out the rest of the song on the runway.

The second example will have to wait so it can be delivered in the correct order. πŸ™‚

Keith played for 100 minutes before saying goodnight. That alone is longer than most acts play, especially when the opening act plays for 70 minutes! In addition, the energy level they all put out (but him in particular!) was so high, that keeping it up for that long can’t be easy. So, when the lights went out, Lois said: “Surely, he isn’t coming out for an encore, right?”

I laughed, and said: “No way he doesn’t come back out!”

He did, for a solo on the piano, in a beautifully moving song that he sang for his wife, as a Valentine’s Day tribute (she’s apparently back home in Australia at the moment). Then the entire band joined him, and they did at least three more numbers. The encore lasted 20 minutes (sweet!), so that he was on for a total of two hours, which put the end at 11:30pm!

Keith Urban on the Piano

Near the very end of the show, they set off a number of confetti canons simultaneously. Here’s a fuzzy shot (larger than the rest) to give you a sense of the mayhem. πŸ˜‰

Keith Urban Confetti

After the show, nearly every single one we’ve ever been to, the lights go out, and the artist is gone (after the encore that is). The house lights then quickly come up, indicating to the audience that they should get out! πŸ˜‰

Last night, when the encore was over, the lights never went off. After the band collected together in front of the stage to take a group bow, they all stuck around and kept thanking the crowd. Then, even when the rest of the band was long gone, Keith kept walking around the stage and the runway, and thanking every section that was still around. There was no way we could even consider leaving before him.

It was very moving for both of us. There was a humility to his actions that was overwhelming.

So, I have no idea whether we’ll ever be back at MSG for a concert or not, but we’re not likely to be able to duplicate this experience without seeing this type of crowd interaction, on this scale.

Did I love it? Absolutely! Am I a Keith Urban fan now? Yes, at least for his live performances. I’m not really sure I’ll run out and buy his CDs, but I might. Do I prefer him (specifically, this show!) to Girlyman or The Wailin’ Jennys? (not just another gratuitous plug) πŸ˜‰ Definitively, no!

There is an intimacy that comes with seeing people like Girlyman and The Jennys in a small venue that can’t be described accurately to someone who hasn’t experienced it. Aside from that, I actually prefer (reasonably strongly) the music and lyrics that both of those groups create to the more general Country music songs (which I love as well, but not as much, and differently).

That said, I am still amazed/impressed by how close Keith got to creating a sense of intimacy in a cavernous place like MSG.

Borders CD Deal

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Borders is currently running a deal where each customer can purchase up to three CDs at any of their stores at 40% off each CD. It’s a three day deal, with tomorrow being the last day.

I don’t know if you need to be a Borders Rewards member, but I think you do. It’s free to join.

Here a link to the current coupon, if you’re interested.

Today, we drove back from VA to NY. On our way, we first stopped at the Borders in Fredericksburg. We printed out two copies of the Coupon, and each purchased three CDs. One is Bad For Good, The Very Best of Scorpions. Finally, after raving about them a couple of months ago, I picked up one of their CDs.

For the past month, Lois has been bugging me to pick up a CD of The Young Rascals. Amazingly, I found The Very Best of The Rascals, which had the song that she wanted. That was a giant surprise.

The other four (just for completeness sake) are: Trisha Yearwood – Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love, Randy Travis – Worship and Faith, Greatful Dead – Europe 72 (I already own the vinyl, which I never ever play any of, but amazingly, Lois picked out this CD), and a compilation of Classical music.

Sorry for the late notice on the coupon, but hopefully, some of you can take advantage of this offer. πŸ™‚

Disappointing Poker Today

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So, we’re back in the hotel in Fredericksburg after spending the week in Florida. We were both exhausted, so other than a quick shopping trip this morning, we spent the day in the room.

I spent a fair amount of time playing poker during the day, all in qualifiers. I won a seat to the big tourney at 5pm today, and won two entries to the 7pm Omaha Hi-Lo (so, I have a spare one to use in the future).

I didn’t take notes, so I’ll be somewhat brief. There were 989 entrants in the 5pm, with top 100 paid. It was a crazy tournament for me. When there were roughly 800 left, I was probably in 750th (in other words, not doing well).

I then had 55 and went all-in. I got called by AKo, and the 55 held up. The very next hand, UTG raises, I go all-in again with QQ. He thinks for a while, then calls with JJ. QQ held up, and now I’m in reasonable shape. Very next hand, I raise with ATd, he’s the only caller (he’s now crippled, so I’m not worried). An A comes on the flop, and he pushes his last 140 chips. I call. He has A9. A ten comes on the turn, to seal it for me.

I then hang with the same number of chips forever. Then, with JJ in the small blind, I call a raise for 1/4 of my chips. Flop comes 79Q. I check, he goes all-in and has me covered. It was a smelly bet, and I had a very long way to the money anyway, so I called. He had Q8s (which made his pre-flop raise a little stupid). Still, I was reasonably dead. River brought the wonderful J and I doubled up. I was now in 185th place with roughly 500 left.

Cutting to the chase, when my chips were again cut in half, and the blinds high, I pushed all-in with AK. Got called by a big stack with 99, and by a smaller stack with 46. A nine came on the turn (not that he needed it, since I never paired my K or A), and I was out. I finished 163rd. Another close to the money, but not quite there.

Similar (not as close) result in the 7pm. 125 entrants, top 20 paid, and I finished in 52nd (my AA37 got busted when the caller flopped two pair, J7).

So, good results in the qualifiers, bad results in the actual tourneys, where it counts more. πŸ™

Even though I haven’t played too much this month, it’s reasonably bad so far…

Goodbye Florida

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This morning, we drove from southern Florida, and arrived mid-afternoon in Savannah, GA, where we are camped for the night, before heading back to VA tomorrow morning.

The weather in Florida was fantastic (84, sunny, and breezy) and our visit with my parents was delightful. Serendipitously, Lois and I interviewed a wonderful person over dinner at PF Changs last night (man, we really love that place). He is based in Miami, and happened to contact us (Zope Corporation) this week, and it all just worked out to meet him in person.

Last year, I forgot my sandals at home, so even though I had shorts with me, I didn’t wear them. I didn’t repeat that mistake this year, and it was great to come from the cold in the North East and just wear shorts for four straight days. I wavered about wearing them today, because I didn’t know what the temperature would be in Savannah.

It worked out perfectly. It was 69 degrees when we got here. Ironically, just two hours later, when we went to dinner, it was down to 60, and felt more like 45-50, and by then, I had put on my pants and a sweatshirt, and everyone was the better for it. πŸ˜‰

On the recommendation of some friends, we drove downtown to the “Historic District”. We ate dinner at Belfords. Beautiful place, with fantastic food.

Another anomaly on the ride today. Nearly 8 hours in the car today, and we never once turned on the radio, the iPod, the XM satellite, etc. Lois worked for much of the trip (emailing on the Treo, and speaking a fair amount on the phone, including a few interviews), but otherwise, we talked a lot. You’d think that after 26 years together, we’d run out of things to say. You’d think that, but apparently, you’d be wrong. πŸ˜‰

Last year, for the first time, we used HiltonHHonors points for our stay on the way down, in Florida, and the way back as well. It was a hit last year, so we did it again this year. The only difference is that last year, we only stayed at Hampton Inns. This year, we stayed at the same Hampton Inn near my parents, but we stayed at a Hilton Garden Inn in Daytona Beach, and tonight in Savannah as well. Very nice hotels, and we’ve been treated very nicely by the staff at both HGI’s.

Lois ended up working like a dog on this trip (especially yesterday, where other than joining us for lunch, she was working the laptop at my parent’s apartment non-stop). I just had a great time with my folks and didn’t think about work too much.

One last comment about the temperature. I don’t understand how this works, but most of the time that we drive through Florida, the temperature (according to the thermometer in the car) typically doesn’t vary even one degree, the entire length of I95. It’s a really long stretch, so this simply doesn’t make sense to me. Also, as I noted on my post earlier this week, Savannah was warmer than Daytona was on Monday, and it was a a few degrees warmer again today.

Canada Rocks

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We love a number of Candian artists. They are producing very fresh sounds north of the border. At the top of our list is/are The Wailin’ Jennys. Some others include The Duhks, Celine Dion, Don Ross, Antoine Dufour, Barenaked Ladies, Chantal Kreviazuk, Shania Twain, Sarah McLachlan and many others.

Today, I was alerted to the following short blog post. That post includes the following link to the Candian Broadcasting Corporation’s live concert archives, all available for streaming! It’s a very long list, so there’s lots of music to discover and listen to.

There is a concert by The Duhks, and one by the Jennys there as well, so you can’t go too wrong. πŸ™‚

A Semi-Vacation

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As is now our annual custom, immediately after enjoying a wonderful Superbowl party with our friends in Richmond, we headed out early this morning on the long drive to Florida, to visit my folks.

We drove for 10.25 hours today and are now in Daytona Beach, immediately across the street from the speedway. More driving tomorrow and then the rest of the week with my parents.

For me, this is as close as it gets to a vacation. I only checked email on my Treo once before we hit the road, and once when we stopped for lunch. Not staring at a computer screen the entire day is partially a vacation to me. Of course, now I’ll be on all evening, but that’s fine, because it also includes playing one online poker tourney. πŸ˜‰

The reason I call it a semi-vacation is that Lois works straight through, even when we’re in the car. She works the Treo like it’s a laptop, and touches base with the office a number of times a day as well. Even when we’re with my folks, one ear is on our conversation, and the other on her email.

We had a fantastic ride down today, with close to zero traffic. It was 36 degrees in VA, 60 in North Carolina, 78 in southern South Carolina, 81 in northern Georgia, and 78 throughout Florida. A very nice change from the northern weather we’ve been living with lately (it was 27 when we left NY last Sunday).

We typically listen to the iPod in the car most of our trips. I don’t know exactly what was different today, perhaps the daunting task of DJ’ing for 10+ hours, but Lois asked me to put on XM Radio instead, early on, and we ended up never turning it off the entire way (we did change the channels as our moods changed).

We never turned the iPod on, and that was highly unusual.

Anyway, I’m really looking forward to the decompression, and I hope that Lois finds at least a drop of respite. More importantly, if she doesn’t, I really hope I can avoid being sucked into any of it. πŸ˜‰

Super Superbowl

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What a great game last night. We had a bunch of people over (or rather, we were two of the bunch of people at our friends’ house in Richmond, VA), and it was a great party all around (food, conversation, game, etc.).

As I noted in this post, I didn’t bet on this year’s Superbowl (at least, I didn’t intend to). πŸ˜‰

Before the game started, a friend egged me on to bet him, and he wanted me to take the Giants. Even though I was pulling 51-49% for the Pats, I really didn’t they’d cover the spread even if they won. Plus, I knew I’d enjoy an outright Giants win as well.

So, I reluctantly agreed to break my non-betting rule, and risked an entire $1 on the Giants! As you all know by now, I am $1 richer (in real cash money!). πŸ™‚

Online Music Services

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I’ve threatened for a few months now to write a Pandora vs Last.fm post. Every week, I decide to finally write it, and then procrastinate again, for numerous reasons. Recently, I decided to boil it down to a very few points, just to get it out (finally).

But, before doing so, I decided to do a little research, since a number of things have changed recently (some dramatically, like Last.fm’s recent announcement about being able to stream songs for free, up to three times).

In doing the research, I found this blog post which summarizes and categorizes 38 different online music services (including the ones I intended to cover). While he doesn’t go into depth on any one of them, it’s a fantastic resource to decide what sites you might wish to explore.

I wouldn’t have, and couldn’t have done as good and exhaustive a job putting that list together. Therefore, I can now (happily) concentrate on the few things that I specifically wanted to get off my chest.

In January 2007 I signed up for an account on Last.fm. At the time, I was mostly listening to XMRadio (I posted about my XM Radio experience here). At the time, we hadn’t had our explosion of discovering new music. Last.fm sounded like a good idea, a way to discover new music by typing in an artist that you already liked.

It amused me for about a month, then I got tired of it and stopped using it completely. The main reasons were that at the time, they never included any songs by the artist you entered to begin with, and they often ran out of similar artists (quickly sometimes) if you didn’t start with a mega-star.

Some things have changed, some things even dramatically (recently), as you can now pick specific songs by specific artists to hear, up to three times each, for free. Still, the biggest value (to me) in Last.fm, is one that I think is interesting, but doesn’t grab me personally all that much. That’s the ability to have friends, and see what they’re listening to, in real-time, in graphs of the past, etc. Don’t get me wrong, it’s cool, and I check out my own listening habits on my profile on occasion, but I only have three friends at the moment, and I’m not desperate to increase that list. πŸ˜‰

Months later, I finally started using an alternate service that I had been aware of for a while, Pandora. I am dramatically happier with Pandora than with Last.fm. If you start with an artist, in addition to hearing similar artists, you also hear a ton of music from the artist you started with mixed in as well.

Their selection of similar artists is fantastic. I can listen for hours on end and it’s extremely rare for me to hear something that I feel the need to rate poorly, or skip, etc. I’ve discovered a number of new artists via Pandora (and yes, I’ve bought their music, so Pandora helped promote them!).

I have a number of stations, and I most often play a quick mix of four of my stations. The only complaint I have about Pandora (and it’s extremely minor) is that they repeat the same songs a little more frequently than I’d like (it could be hours before a repetition, but sometimes, I listen an entire day while working at Zope). To be sure, they are repeating songs that I love, and that I’ve thumbed up, so it’s not terribly annoying. πŸ˜‰

They too have some kind of friend stuff, but I have zero friends on Pandora (and I’m not looking for any), so I don’t really know how it works. I’ve added the Pandora App to my Facebook account, so when I’m listening to Pandora, friends of mine on Facebook can see what stations I’m listening to on Pandora.

I have over 7000 songs in iTunes, so I really don’t need an online service to find something to listen to. That said, I still listen a bunch, for three reasons:

  1. Convenience. I don’t need to think about what I want to listen to, just what type of music I’m in the mood for. I then don’t have to operate anything, the music just continues to come at me. I can pause a song, and come back to it hours later, and it picks up exactly from that point.
  2. Discover new music. I have tons, but every once in a while, it’s nice to wander into new territory.
  3. Surprise! Even if Pandora were to serve me songs that I already own, the order comes as a surprise, so it’s often like a little gift. Sure, I could turn on shuffle in iTunes, but I’d still have to pick at a minimum a genre, in order to get a similar experience, and Pandora keeps it even narrower than that, in a very nice way.

I had a few other things I wanted to cover, specifically, but I’m going to punt on them for now. With one exception, and I welcome any thoughts on this particular topic.

A number of bloggers have some sort of streaming widget on their site. Some even have more than one. Others have links to mp3 songs that can be downloaded (whether they mean you to or not).

While I applaud the desire to share music as widely as possible, and understand that it can easily end up creating a much larger audience for the artists in question, in the end, something feels wrong about it. I can’t imagine that the majority of bloggers are getting specific permission from the artists or the label.

If it’s only available via streaming, it’s a little easier for me to swallow. While some technical types will be able to capture the stream if they want, the overwhelming majority of people won’t bother, even if there are software downloads that they can use to do it for them.

But, when the link can be right-clicked, and saved, it amounts to mass distribution of copyrighted works. Am I missing something here?

I have promoted many artists in these posts, often with links included. That said, I’ve never once considered offering up a link to something that I own of theirs. I link to their site, to their MySpace site, to YouTube videos, etc. I’d love to attach particular songs to my posts, but again, I just feel that without explicit permission, I’m taking a liberty that isn’t mine to take.

So, any contrary opinions out there? Some of the people who are freely sharing music on their blogs are people I respect enormously, so I’m not saying that they are doing anything wrong, just that I don’t understand all the ins and outs yet. If I don’t get satisfactory answers here, I might post a comment on some their sites, but I don’t want to appear to be pointing a finger, which is the last thing I want to do!