November, 2008:

My Fortune Cookie

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On Wednesday, we took two friends for their first experience of the wonder that is the Peking Duck House in NYC. At the end of the meal, they delivered the fortune cookies, as always. The four of us each got unique fortunes, so I had only a one in four chance of getting mine. Here is what mine said:

The more you give, the more you have.

Read it carefully, it’s not the cliche that most people use, which is: The more you give, the more you get.

If you know me, then you know that I already believe and live the version that was in my fortune cookie. Why then did I get it? Obviously, to share the philosophy with the rest of you! πŸ™‚

I know that it’s hard in these times (perhaps in all times!) to think about giving first, but giving doesn’t have to be monetary. There are other ways to be generous:

  • Be kind to everyone (even rich people) πŸ˜‰
  • Listen as carefully as you can, to strangers as well as friends (learn how to listen if you aren’t in the habit of doing it regularly!)
  • Make people laugh (it heals more ills than you would think, and has only one known side-effect, it’s infectious!)
  • Share a favorite song with someone (music can come close to laughter in lifting our spirits)
  • Tell an uplifting story

If you do all of the above, and more (including being generous with your money if you can afford to be), then what will you have?

  • As many friends as you could ever dream of having (and good and true friends at that!)
  • Peace of mind
  • Love
  • Laughter
  • A lifetime of wonderful memories
  • More goodies that are a secret, so you better start giving if you want to discover them! πŸ˜‰
  • For those of you who are only driven by greed, there is a good chance that money will come to you through all of the wonderful connections and listening that you will do (see, I’m not above bribing you to do the right thing) πŸ˜‰

So, get started right away. Start giving, so that you can have infinitely more than you have today!

P.S. With this post, I am starting the giving. Tag, you’re it!

Girlyman at Joe’s Pub

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Last night was our eighth Girlyman concert. It was the third time we’ve seen them at Joe’s Pub (where it all began). The other five shows were spread out over five venues, in two states, in five cities, with vast differences between the venues and at times, the audience makeup as well. These statistics may become relevant later in the post. πŸ˜‰

There were many things that were typical of every Girlyman show:

  1. Amazing music
  2. Lots of laughs
  3. Adoring audience
  4. Great venue
  5. Long line after the show to say Hi to Girlyman and buy Merchandise

Some things were notably different. There are probably many reasons for that, including some that I probably couln’t guess, but here are the three categories of things I believe contributed (perhaps all incorrect):

  1. Obama becoming the President-Elect the night before
  2. Girlyman playing in NYC
  3. 9:30pm show, rather than the typically earlier shows we attend

Before I tackle each of those, in the order I listed them, I’ll say something that is also delightful (but both different and not different at the same time) about most Girlyman shows. Even though we’ve just seen Girlyman shows four times in a three week period (meaning, the same tour), their repertoire is large enough to mix it up, even on consecutive nights, to keep it fresh for the fans who attend more than one show.

Last night was no different (in that it was different!). πŸ˜‰ They played Saints Come Marching In. This is only the second time we’ve heard it live, the first being on November 4th, 2007 at the Highline Ballroom, so it was like an Anniversary Gift. πŸ™‚

It was one of the five great songs they introduced last year, but also one of the two (Trees Still Bend being the other) that didn’t make it to the Somewhere Different Now Live CD. On the other hand, they’ve been regularly playing Trees Still Bend on this tour, but not last night.

Another one that I listen to all the time on the CD, but haven’t heard live in a long while was Good Enough. There were a few other differences from recent shows in the playlist, but my observations to those changes might be more appropriate in one of the three above-mentioned categories.

Here are photos of the three of them. We were flush up against the stage, so the angles aren’t great, and the lighting was aimed toward the cameras, etc., so apologies all around:

Doris

Doris

Ty

Ty

Nate

Nate

1. Obama

Aside from the obvious fact that Obama won a clear majority across the country, including winning some previously hard-core Red States, there are few places where his support is more obvious than NYC. Any mention of his name last night (or allusion to the victory) brought incredible cheers from the crowd, and joy from Girlyman. They told amusing stories of a party the night before, and bantered with the audience, very happily.

Aside from the natural focus on this historic event, and the relief that most of the people in the audience (and most definitely on the stage!) felt at the end of the current Administration, it also affected the playlist of the show!

In the previous seven times that we’ve seen them perform, the last six in a row all had the same opening number for every show: On The Air. It’s a fantastic song in every respect, but it also sets such an up-tempo that we think they are smart for opening with it, and getting everyone’s juices flowing.

Last night, they opened (after a nod to Obama) with Through To Sunrise. While also an upbeat song (and for a very long time Lois’ favorite Girlyman song, though on occasion she’s not as sure, because others are rising fast to catch up), I believe they chose it because it is their protest song against the current Administration. They didn’t introduce it as such last night, but I’d be surprised if I was wrong. They play that song in most shows anyway (thankfully!), but opening with it was a statement (IMHO).

I already mentioned above that Saints Come Marching In was added to the playlist. Ty introduced it as fitting last night, so I assume that this one too moved them in relation to Obama’s victory to get back on the list.

Finally, while they play Amaze Me at many shows, right before they played it last night, Ty said that she’s been waiting a long time for America to Amaze Her (since she wrote the song over seven years ago), and it was clear that she was no longer singing it as a hopeless plea, but rather as a done deal!

2. Girlyman playing in NYC

Girlyman is consistently excellent wherever they play. Their audiences love them wherever they play. Those are just the facts (ma’am). But, this crazy thing started right here, in little ‘ol NYC, so their tenured fan base is here. That too is just a fact. Moreover, since they lived here for six+ years (as Girlyman), many of the people who come to their NYC shows are close friends, independent of the music.

Like it or not, that changes the character of the shows in NYC a bit (or sometimes more than a bit!) from some other venues. Girlyman definitely feeds off of the energy in the NYC crowd, as do the vast majority of the audience (perhaps all), but I do think about what it must be like for a first-time attendee, who may even know and love the music, to find themselves in the midst of this kind of a love-fest.

That would be on even a normal night in NYC. Add to that the euphoria of the Obama victory, and it was more than a little raucous there. For one (bad) example, Girlyman rarely curses on stage (I said rarely just to cover myself, because I was tempted to say never). Last night, more than a few times, the expletives flew. For those who might prefer not to hear that, I can only hope that they could appreciate the unique circumstances of last night’s show, and not think about it too much…

3. 9:30pm start time

Joe’s Pub has an early show (start time anywhere from 6:30pm to 7:30pm) and a 9:30pm show, nearly every night. The two prior times that we’ve seen Girlyman there, they had the earlier show (one of those times, they also did the 9:30 show). For most folks, there are pros and cons associated with that. For us, it’s mostly cons, other than the overwhelming pro of getting to see Girlyman in the first place!

Pros (for some people, not us!):

  • Don’t worry about having to leave work early
  • Potential for a show to go longer. Early show has a hard-stop deadline
  • Some artists don’t wake up before 9pm πŸ˜‰

Cons (for us, and some other people, clearly not all):

  • Doors rarely open by 9pm when they are supposed to
  • Not enough time to finish dinner before the band comes on stage
  • A very late night (way past our bedtime)
  • The show might be shorter (e.g., if the band needs to hit the road)

All of that was in play last night. The doors didn’t open until nearly 9:20pm, for a 9:30 show, where you are expected to order dinner! I am not blaming Joe’s Pub, that’s just the nature of the beast, and I understand it. But, we hate to eat in the band’s face (we sat flush up against the stage!). Nothing we could do, so we did it, as discretely as possible.

Girlyman is performing in Philadelphia tonight, and I think it caused them to play a few less songs than they have at every other show we’ve been to on this tour (three others). They were also likely exhausted from partying the night before, and I am not blaming them for that either. πŸ˜‰

The other change (not likely caused by any of the above) is how the show ended. On this tour, they’ve been closing each show with Joyful Sign. They did that last night as well. Then, after the inevitable thunderous applause, they came out for their typical encore. Also typical of this tour, the first song they played for the encore was a brand new one, My Eyes Get Misty (I really like it a ton!).

In the three previous shows on this tour (and in most of the ones in the Fall/Winter tour), they conclude with Son Of A Preacher Man (and on occasion, though not often enough, they throw in the Girlyman Benediction). Last night, after singing My Eyes Get Misty, they left the stage. What? Really?

The applause didn’t die down, so they came back out (reasonably quickly). That was unusal as well (score another one for NYC). At that point, I was sure they would do Son Of A Preacher Man. Wrong! They asked for another request (The Shape I Found You In was the requested number during the regular show). This time they performed Speechless, another great song. Then they left the stage for good. Definitely different, though no complaints!

Since I’ve gone on for a long while already, I’ll keep the backstory short this time. We invited two very dear friends who we get to see all-too-rarely. We asked them to meet us at Joe’s at 8:45pm. Lois always insists on leaving too early, and I usually resist just enough to irritate her a lot, but not get to the venue ridiculously early.

Last night, I irritated her, but not enough to avoid getting there ridiculously early. πŸ˜‰ We were first on line (shocking) when we arrived at 8:19pm. The guy working the door came out and said “You realize that the show that’s currently going on won’t end until past 8:40, right?”. Sadly, I told him we realized that all too well… πŸ™‚

But, in an amazing stroke of serendipity, roughly six minutes later, our friends (who drove in from Long Island) found a legal spot across the street from Joe’s, and we got to catch up and chit-chat for nearly an hour before the doors finally opened. That was an unexpected treat.

Three of us had the burger and all raved about it. The fries are heavenly too. Last night was the first time that I have seen Joe’s have a Price Fixed offering, and we took advantage of that as well, so we had starters and chocolate cake, all for a very reasonable price. OK, to be honest, it was more than reasonable for Lois and me, since our guests insisted on paying for dinner. Thank you very much! πŸ™‚

It was raining throughout the evening, and since we live very close to the midtown tunnel (which our friends had to go through anyway), they gave us a lift back to the apartment. That was a very nice ending to an exceptionally enjoyable evening.

We already have our tickets for the next time we’ll be seeing Girlyman, which is April 4th, 2009, at The Barns at Wolftrap (where we saw them this past March). We can’t wait, but somehow, we’ll make do…

I Fully Support President Obama

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I voted for John McCain, so did Lois (or so she told me).

Each of us admitted to the other, that even though we knew in advance that we were voting for McCain, we hesitated in the voting booth, and wanted to vote for Obama. Not because we believed the rhetoric, and certainly not because we wanted to vote for the obvious winner.

We each wanted to vote for Obama because we long(ed) for an America where it would not be unusual for a Black person (yes, including a Black woman), a Hispanic, a woman, an Asian, etc., to be our nation’s leader.

I don’t know why Lois still pulled the lever for McCain, but I know why I did. If I had voted for Obama, it would have been a vote for Affirmative Action (a form of reverse discrimination) and I am really against all forms of discrimination, even reverse ones.

Update: a friend of mine emailed me to ask if I really thought that many people were voting for Affirmative Action by voting for Obama. My resounding reply was No. I meant that remark to apply personally, to me only. I wasn’t on the same wavelength with Obama ideologically, so I wouldn’t naturally have voted for him (just like I wouldn’t have voted for Hillary Clinton). But, I was still tempted to vote for him, purely for Affirmative Action reasons, and in the end, I couldn’t justify that.

Even though I voted my conscience, I am at peace with Obama’s victory, and even happy that it was a crushing one (another nail-biter like 2000 would have been devastating to the national psyche in my opinion). As I’ve written before, McCain deserved to lose, almost regardless of who his opponent was. At least his opponent qualified for marking this as a truly historic moment in the US, and one that we don’t need to wait 100 years to realize was such a moment!

Perhaps the single biggest frustration that Lois and I have had with uber-Liberals for the past eight years is that we believe that a majority of them deeply wanted the country to go downhill, for two reasons:

  1. So that they could be right (OK, I should have said: correct) πŸ˜‰
  2. So that they could guarantee a Democrat in this election (anyone but Kerry would have crushed Bush in 2004!)

We don’t want or expect people to be polyanna about our situation, but we also don’t expect a constant chicken little attitude either. Bush bashing was not constructive. Obama bashing will not be constructive.

I implore everyone (Republicans, Independents and Democrats who didn’t vote for Obama and LazyFolkβ„’ who should have but didn’t vote!) to rally behind our new President as if they were his most fervent supporter.

It’s time for us to prove that the slogan Country First is not just another Madison Avenue creation, but something that we truly believe. Let’s lift each other up in every way that we can. We have enormous challenges ahead, and we should not use the fact that we are in the midst of a slide to blame either side.

To the Bush bashers I say this: It’s Over, now Get Over It!

Obama will not fix all of our ills overnight, or even quickly, even if he is perfect. So, don’t get defensive and start looking backwards to blame Bush for how bad a mess he left, as an excuse for why it isn’t better yet. We face difficult times. Let’s look forward and try to make a better life for everyone, rather than be stuck in the rear view mirror, and guarantee another round of flame throwing.

If you need to take a moment to gloat, go for it, I won’t hold it against you. But then, let’s get to work!

I sincerely hope that Obama is the President for the next eight years, not four. I hope he’s the greatest President we ever had (but hopefully not will ever have, for obvious reasons), and that I can proudly vote for him in 2012. He didn’t earn my vote during his campaign, but he has four years to earn it the next time around, and I’m pulling for him to do it!

Rebuilding jackkapanka.com

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I have written twice now about taking over the maintenance of Jack Kapanka’s website. There were three distinct phases of working on the site:

  1. Fix the broken links
  2. Change the home and store pages (adding PayPal support)
  3. Redesign (rebuild) the site from scratch

All three phases are now done, though there is no trace of #1 or #2 left, now that #3 is complete.

I have zero design skills. I have very limited experience building websites. Therefore, I struggled mightily along the way. I had to Google my brains out, and still had a number of false starts and long debugging sessions.

So, I decided to write this post for two reasons:

  1. I’m sure I’ll be building other sites in the future, and I could easily forget some of the things I discovered along the way
  2. While everything I did was discovered through the web, I found different bits on different sites, so I might save some poor soul a few minutes in the future if they stumble on this post

I did not take notes along the way, so this will most definitely not be exhaustive. If I later recall anything that is material, I wll come back and update this, again, just for posterity.

The site I inherited was being hosted on a shared system, running Windows Server, with IIS serving up the pages. As far as I know, I have no access to the IIS instance (which is likely shared, though I don’t really know). I have no shell access, just web and FTP.

The site was coded a long time ago, was optimized for 800×600 resolution, and was stitched together with a complex web of HTML tables, with images in different cells, which had been sliced up from original PSD files, to create a look and feel. Everything was an image, but they weren’t uniform in size. Some spanned multiple columns, other multiple rows, etc. Rearranging anything on the stite was a nightmare (for me, with my limited skills!).

The menu system was 100% JavaScript (JS). Each menu item had an image background, with the top level menus having images for the labels. Many other navigation elements on the site were JS-based, giving little or no feedback to the user that clicking would take them somewhere. There were no scroll bars for any long content (like the Bio), as they wanted the neatness of an 800×600 design, so you paged a few paragraphs at a time with JS controls.

Having nothing to do with code, the site was typical of many artist sites, very dark (in this case brown), and completely image-laden. I am sure that they think it’s edgy and cool, and perhaps it is. That said, it’s also often hard for people (especially older people, who might actually have disposable income) to see well or navigate. Lois and I prefer lighter themes, with less images, when possible.

Many of the links on the site were broken, and the reasons varied (target was missing, link had a typo, target was renamed, but still existed on the site, etc.). Some of the important content needed to be updated to reflect updated contact info and to correct typos as well.

So, the first sweep of the site was straightforward, but painful. I fixed the broken links and the content. The only thing that made that painful was tracking down the right targets or deleting the links, and finding the content which was buried deep within nested tables, while ensuring that I didn’t disturb the flow in the small viewport.

Once the site was stabilized, the next priority was getting a PayPal button on the site, and an embedded YouTube video of Angel In My Arms (perhaps Jack’s most famous and successful song) right on the front page. Most people who visit the site are looking for that, and for the ability to purchase a copy to use for the Father/Daughter dance at their wedding.

I had never incorporated PayPal into any site before, but this turned out to be the easiest part by far. Once you have a PayPal account, which Jack did, you basically log on to your account there and fill in a small form and they generate a button and the associated code that you simply cut and paste into your site. It just worked, the first time.

Embedding the video on the home page was much more painful. I didn’t have the skill (HTML or image manipulation) to embed it into the existing table structure, possibly requiring a different slicing and dicing of the background images. I wrote a separate post about Table2CSS describing this amazing tool that helped me accomplish that. Basically, Table2CSS turned the home page into a CSS-based page (no tables whatsoever), with every cell from the original table becoming a named DIV.

This allowed me to position things with much greater accuracy, at the CSS level, without having to worry about spanning rows and columns. As I said in that post, this is not a good way to code a production site, but it was the perfect way to quickly accomplish my goal, and buy myself time to consider the real redesign.

Once that was done, I was ready to consider the new site. I have direct experience with two systems for building websites: Zope and WordPress. Opticality.com is built in Zope, and this blog is built in WordPress. Both of those systems are designed to produce pages dynamically, assembling the pieces with programming logic and content that is typically stored in a database. They offer tremendous power. Zope and WordPress are but two of dozens of extremely popular Content Management Systems (CMS). They are designed to handle this exact type of problem.

Unfortunately, they are also typically designed to run in a slightly higher-grade hosting account (shared is still fine), with WordPress being more available on some lower-level hosting accounts. Neither seemed to be a good option for this account, and I didn’t want to be one of those people who told Jack “You have to upgrade your account, because I have a hammer, and therefore all problems are nails…”

Also, while I wanted/needed the benefit of a template-based solution (on the existing site, the JS-based menu was embedded directly in 50+ static HTML files!), it didn’t need to be a dynamic template system, since for the first cut, there was no need for personalization (i.e., different users don’t get different views of the same URL).

So, the first two decisions that I made (after way too much Googling, reading and a bit of experimenting) was to select the YUI Grids CSS for the base CSS layout engine and the htp: HTML pre-processor for the static templating system. The live site uses both, so those initial decisions stuck. That said, along the way, the YUI Grids frustrated me enough that I nearly bagged it, and went so far as to implement another one before switching back.

The entire YUI system (of which Grids is but one small piece) is very powerful, elegant, and well-documented. Unfortunately, I didn’t want to have to read for days, to create a simple layout, so I didn’t. In not reading, I missed one crucial piece, which none of the examples or Layout generators included. As a result, while the layout looked exactly like I wanted it to, the reset portion of the Grids system (amazingly, I actually knew what that meant) πŸ˜‰ wiped out all styles. So, lists didn’t look like lists. Headings didn’t look different than normal text, etc.

Fixing it turned out to be trivial, but not when I had no clue as to what was going on. The fix meant including just one more YUI component, Base (which redefines all of the various HTML elements to a sane default that Yahoo feels works well in most browsers). I agree, and for the most part have kept their defaults, but I was pulling out my remaining single hair until I realized what I was missing.

I looked at a number of template systems, and I am completely used to the concept of templates in both Zope and WordPress. This was the first time I used a static template system. Basically, you assemble the final production page from a variety of different inputs (page fragments that can be stored in separate files, variables, blocks, etc.). You run the preprocessor on a template input file, and create the resulting static HTML file to be put on the live site.

HTP is quite powerful, yet unbelievably simple to use for the use-case that I had. I couldn’t be happier with my choice in that regard. I have a single master template for the entire site (at the moment). That one template includes a number of different files: the head section of each page (where CSS files are referenced, etc.), the header (where the Jack Kapanka graphic is placed on every page), the menu (so that I can change the menu in one place and regenerate all of the pages with a single command!) and the footer. The template then references variables and variable blocks, which fill in the title of each page and the main content and right sidebar content.

I can restructure the entire site (navigation or look-and-feel) simply, or change the content or sidebar for any individual page just as easily.

To make my life easier, after struggling for a while, I gave up on trying to pin the footer to the bottom of the actual browser page. Not only do I know that this can be done (I found many excellent working examples of how to do this), I have even done it before on other projects. What I couldn’t do was get it to work within the confines of the YUI Grids CSS, without reading tons of stuff. I just gave up, and put in scrolling content in the main viewport, ensuring that no page was too large. I’m not thrilled with the result, but it got me to where I wanted to be much more quickly, so the tradeoff was reasonable (from my personal perspective).

Aside from the YUI CSS, there are only two other CSS files. One for the menus and the other for the content. Pretty simple to maintain and both are relatively small.

Because I am sensitive to people who have poor vision (after all, I live with someone who is essentially legally blind), I coded the various CSS elements to be sized in ems, rather than pxs. This way, if people resize the content by pressing Ctrl+ or Ctrl-, the page resizes fairly elegantly (at least it did for my hundreds of tests on four different browsers, YMMV).

Finally, I also tracked down a flash-based MP3 streaming embeddable object (the first one that I used worked fine in all but IE), and used that to stream the 30-60 second snippets of a variety of Jack’s wonderful songs.

Right before making the site live, I considered that I was putting up a vastly reduced number of pages as well as renaming some basic pages from .htm to .html. That meant that links that people had bookmarked, or perhaps more importantly search engine indexes, would break on nearly every page. That just didn’t feel right.

Redirecting would be trivial in a real CMS, where the headers get spit out by the CMS, and writing logic to catch all missing pages (404s) is generally built in or trivial to write. That wasn’t the case here, and there were roughly 30-40 pages that needed to be redirected (not necessarily to a direct replacement page, but to one of a variety of catch-all pages for each category).

I found the answer on a number of sites. It involved making a directory called XXX.htm (for example). In that directory you create a single file called default.asp. In that file is a tiny VBScript that calls two functions that redirect the page. It was trivial, though tedious to do for all 30+ pages.

I’m sure I’m leaving tons of stuff out (e.g., along the way, to debug the CSS, I ended up installing the Firefox plugin called “Web Developer”, which very nicely complemented Firebug). It was a godsend to be able to change CSS on the fly, and see the result in real-time in the browser window. I also made very heavy use of the JS Console window in both Google Chrome and Safarai (on Windows). They are very similar (with Safari being more sophisticated, but Chrome being much faster).

Like I said above, if I realize that I’ve left out something material, I’ll come back and edit this in the future…

Image Rich Lyrics

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There are two kinds of great songwriters in the world: those that can tell stories in easy to grasp (yet captivating) words, and those that can paint the richest canvas with image-laden words. Of course, there are many super-great songwriters who can do both equally well, and move between the two at will.

We are familiar with many such talented songwriters (I wrote about one earlier today, Jack Kapanka), largely because Lois has been a devoted listener of words forever, and she deeply cares about who wrote the songs (as I’ve written about often) sometimes more so than who made it famous.

When an artist can also deliver their own creation in a stunning and moving way, that’s when true magic is made. There are many artists who achieve that, including many that we listen to and see frequently. However, no one does it better than Girlyman (at least not in our opinion).

I love nearly every one of their songs, almost equally (though I recently revealed that I still have no trouble picking Hold It All At Bay as the #1 choice). So, while I’m about to pick one specific song to make my point, I am not suggesting that they don’t have other just as special songs, because in fact they have many.

What happens to me with Girlyman songs is that hearing any one of them can suddenly get under my skin (that will become even more meaningful, in an ironic way, in a minute), and I end up playing the song over-and-over in my head, sometimes for days on end.

The current song that keeps playing in my head is The Shape I Found You In. The trigger was hearing Girlyman perform it live in VA (I think it was at Birchmere). We’ve listened to it a bunch of times since in the car as well, but my head plays it back non-stop.

You can check out the complete lyrics (they’re very short). But, as gorgeous as the poetry is, this is also one of those songs that take on an even deeper meaning when performed, in this case specifically by the same artist who wrote the song (Ty Greenstein, supported by Girlyman). Even though the lyrics are short, the pacing of the song is slow, and builds and emphasizes the deepest lyrics in a very emotional way (giving added meaning to the words).

While I often hesitate linking to home-made YouTube videos of live shows, because the quality of the sound and the panning of the camera often don’t show off a group as well as the actual show comes off, I’ll do it anyway, to make my point about how the singing of this particular song is very different from just reading the poetry. In another small-world story, this particular video was shot seven months ago by our recent neighbor at Golding Park Cafe this past Saturday!

Now, to the point of this post. πŸ™‚

None of us are perfect significant others, as much as we’d like to be, or like to believe we are or can be. What we rarely are conscious of though, is that we bring so much baggage from our previous relationships, that it’s nearly impossible to achieve that perfect harmony. When things go badly, we rarely have the insight to realize that a previous relationship created a trigger we couldn’t avoid.

Ty captures this searing insight perfectly in this song. More important, she does it not by telling a story, but by painting a clear picture, in very few words. The famous saying goes: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words. But, in Ty’s hands, A Phrase is Worth a Masterpiece Painting!

Here are two phrases that keep going through my head:

But your heart was busy within
Building bomb shelters under your skin

and:

So I felt around in the dark
Building rope ladders into your heart
Climbing hand over hand to get in

Earlier, I said that many of their songs get under my skin. The first phrase above contains Building bomb shelters under your skin. What an image!

When I hear Ty sing: Climbing hand over hand to get in, I nearly cry for everyone who has found the right person, but can’t reach them, because of the damage someone else has caused, previously.

I am grateful every day of my life that Lois and I found each other, and battled (in every sense of the word!) through the scars of our previous relationships, to reach each other’s true core, and make a wonderful life together!

Jack Kapanka

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A few weeks ago, I wrote two posts about a website I was working on for a new friend. Neither of those posts is really germane to this one, but for reference, they were here and here. Those were techie posts, this is not, other than repeating how we came to discover Jack Kapanka in the first place. Sometime later this week (could even be today, who knows), I’ll complete the techie part about the site as well.

Regular readers of this space know that our goddaughter got married on July 5th, 2008. Prior to that wonderful event, the father-of-the-bride emailed Lois with a link to a father-daughter dance song that he was considering for the wedding. For whatever reason, the link was broken and Lois couldn’t find the song.

Instead, she Googled the name of the song, Angel In My Arms, and found a YouTube video of the song. Lois didn’t realize it was a different song, by a different artist, with the same song title! She fell in love with the song immediately, and wrote back our friend telling him so. After another back-and-forth, they realized that they were talking about different songs.

Lois decided to buy two copies of Jack’s CD (which includes Angel In My Arms on it), so that our friend would have a copy for the wedding, should he decide to use the version we fell in love with. The only problem was that Jack’s website was a little broken, and Lois had trouble placing the order. After hunting around a lot more than she should have needed to, she found a valid email address and wrote that she was unable to order the CD.

Jack himself answered the email, and Lois and he conducted the sale directly, and a few days later we had the two CDs in our hands. It turns out that the rest of the CD is fantastic as well, so it was a real treat given that we had only heard one song before ordering it.

You can read Jack’s bio for yourself, where you will learn that he’s already had one helluva ride through life. For example, he was born blind, and miraculously regained sight in one eye at the age of two! What’s important about Jack’s life isn’t any sadness or pain that he might have endured, it’s that it has given him a perspective and a voice that come through in all of his incredibly moving songs.

Jack jokes that he can write a jingle about almost anything, quicker than most. Not only do I believe him, but I’ve heard a number of them that will likely never see the light of day, so I know it to be true for a fact. He empathizes with everyone he meets, and captures the deepest meanings of any moment that he writes about. Yet, he does it in the plainest language, that we can all appreciate and understand, placing us in that moment as well.

In addition to being an amazing songwriter, he also has a heart of gold. Jack has written (and performed) theme songs for a number of wonderful organizations, including (but certainly not limited to!) the Special Olympics, Military Veterans and Freedom Ride.

Finally, he has a wonderful voice. All of the songs on the CD feature him singing lead, and we can listen to his voice all day long. Still, even though he is an excellent performer (he sang in front of 70,000 people at the 2002 Citrus Bowl!), he’s first and foremost a wonderful songwriter, who can tell very varied stories while extracting the core lessons we can all share from those stories.

Once we got a taste of his CD we continued to correspond with Jack and have since become good friends. We’ve had the pleasure of meeting him as well and verifying his qualities and talents face-to-face. As a result, I undertook to fix his broken website. After simply fixing the broken links, I then added a PayPal button making it easy to order his CD (so, go there now, and order the CD, no delaying!).

However, both Lois and I still didn’t like the ancient design (and I couldn’t stand the code), so I redid the site from scratch (which will be the subject of another post). This site has significantly less content than the previous one (so far), but it should be easier to navigate, order the CD, and build from here (which we fully intend to do). You can listen to 30-60 second clips of 13 songs (he actually has enough material for another CD waiting in the wings!). You can read the lyrics to those songs, read the stories behind seven of them, and watch six videos (full sound tracks) as well, all at this link.

The new site launched on Halloween, so it’s still fresh, and possibly contains problems that I am as yet unaware of. Feel free to leave me feedback in a comment to this post, or contact me directly if you find a problem, or have a suggestion for improving it that won’t be beyond my meager technical skills.

We are lucky to know Jack, and now the rest of you are lucky to be able to discover Jack’s gift for yourselves.

October 2008 Poker

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Wow. I was so excited and absorbed with our surprise trip to Cobleskill yesterday that I completely forgot to report on my poker results for October. While I was playing the big weekly tourney this evening, I realized that, and now that I’ve lost that one (part of next month’s report), I can now report on last month.

Bottom line: a loss of $488.75. Not so great. That said, it was actually a pretty good month. I made money playing Omaha (Hi), and cashed consistently. I lost all of my big weekly entries, which dragged me down. I played very little this month, so a few losses in the big one overwhelmed good results in general.

No complaints. I actually thoroughly enjoyed myself this month, regardless of the economic result. Even in the ones that I lost, I didn’t have lasting feelings of frustration, which is a nice improvement. πŸ™‚

See ya next month…

Girlyman at Golding Park Cafe

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For the few people who follow me on Twitter (I have a private feed, so there aren’t many), they knew something was up yesterday when I tweeted the following:

Heading out for a long and secret adventure with Laura and Chris. Back around 1am, blog tomorrow! πŸ˜‰

So mysterious. Now the mystery can be revealed. We have tickets to see Girlyman this Wednesday night (Nov 5th) at Joe’s Pub. We were intending to take Laura and Chris with us (Laura is the only member of her family to not see them in concert yet). Both Laura and Chris work in and around the Financial Services industry in NYC, and both have long and unpredictable hours.

We were worried that they might not be able to make even a 9:30pm show, so when I spotted the Golding Park Cafe gig, I made an unusual offer to them. They could take the train to our house, have lunch in Westchester, and drive with us for three hours, to guarantee that they would see Girlyman sooner rather than later. Thankfully, they liked the idea, and off we went.

I’ll complete the rest of the back story after I talk about the show itself (Lois will probably nag me that this intro has been too long already). πŸ˜‰

Golding Park Cafe is a spectacular place to see a group like Girlyman, so we’re both thrilled that we made the effort to go there (Cobleskill, NY, for those who didn’t follow the link to the Cafe). I guess that they can accommodate a maximum of roughly 100 people, and there were close to that number last night. We sat in the front row. It was awesome.

Here they are, individually, as they stood on the stage, left-to-right:

Doris

Doris

Ty

Ty

Nate

Nate

There were two firsts for us last night:

  1. Girlyman took a break, and played two distinct sets. That hadn’t happened in any of our previous six shows.
  2. They purposely (and correctly) lowered the volume dramatically to fit the size, layout and mood of the place (thanks to Turtle – their road manager, and sound engineer last night – for doing that, and getting it just right!).

While everything was definitely amplified (voices as well as instruments), due to #2, it was closer to an unplugged (completely acoustic) experience, than any previous Girlyman show. It was mellower, and therefore somewhat different and very interesting. For one example, some of the songs seemed to be a 1/2 tempo slower, but purposely so, with all of them on the same page.

The other difference (not mentioned above) from their recent tour (where we saw them twice in VA) was a possible glitch in the live recording equipment. They now record all of their shows live, and if you buy (pre-pay) it after the show, they mail you the CD after they get back and mix it properly.

We purchased CDs for both of the VA shows that we attended (and are breathlessly awaiting their arrival). Last night, because of the possible glitch, Girlyman did not want to take anyone’s money in advance. Instead, they took email addresses for those who are interested, and if they can produce the CD when they get back from the tour, they will contact people and arrange to sell and deliver the CD.

As usual, they were on, in every sense of the word, as performers. They were really hysterical all night, including dealing with the possible recording glitch. They are quick witted, warm and engaging (with the audience, as well as between them), making for a wonderful evening of fantastic music and great laughs.

The show was called for 7:30pm. They came on at around 7:45pm. The first set was 54 minutes. The second set (including an encore) was a little over an hour, making for nearly two hours on stage. Very generous, and thoroughly appreciated by the audience. They performed a total 21 songs, including two requests and two numbers in the encore (no, I didn’t count while they were singing, Lois snagged the set lists). πŸ˜‰

OK, now more back story…

When possible, we like to support the venue. In this case, the venue made it clear (which we love) that they served dessert and coffee, but they encouraged people to support the town and have dinner locally before the show. We wanted to do that, as well as arrive early enough to not worry about finding the place, or have any crazy Thruway traffic problems.

While we knew the doors didn’t open until 6:45pm, we timed it to get to the Cafe at 4pm. Our intention was to wander around the town, have an early-ish dinner, then be at the Cafe in time for the doors opening, so we could get front-row seats.

We pulled up to the address that our GPS guided us to at exactly 4pm. It was a Youth Center, with no signs (that we could see) mentioning Golding Park Cafe. Lois got out to ask where the real Cafe was. I didn’t have a view of Lois, but Laura (who was in the back seat) told me that a van door opened up and Lois seemed to be chatting with someone inside the van. At that moment, a very nice gentlemen wandered over to the car to tell me where we might eat in town.

It turns out that the van was the infamous Girlyman road van, and Lois got to say a quick hi to them before they set up for the show. The lovely gentleman who helped me out turned out to be our host for the evening (Brian Kaiser), current Treasurer of the Cobleskill Partnership, Inc. When Lois got back to the car, she told me who was in the van, and I went to say a very quick hello to Girlyman as well, then we headed out.

Don’t ever understimate what we’re missing by not having a Walmart Supercenter in Manhattan, we don’t. So, before worrying about dinner, we doubled back to spend some quality time at the Cobleskill Walmart. All four of us got at least one thing, and Lois and I got a lot more than that. πŸ˜‰

We then made a quick (and successful) stop at the Ace Hardware for Laura and Chris to pick up some fasteners (or brackets, I’m not really sure) for their bookshelves.

Finally, we settled on a local Italian Restaurant (and Pizza shop). It was crowded, so clearly a local favorite. We enjoyed it too. We then walked around a bit, and got back to the Cafe parking lot at around 6:15pm. Here’s proof that we walked around the town:

Hadar Laura Chris Cobleskill

Hadar Laura Chris Cobleskill

We went inside at 6:50pm, and there were five people sitting in the front row already (it can accommodate perhaps 12). However, when I paid for our tickets (we had reservations), we were ushered to table 17. There is no bad seat at Golding Park Cafe, and table 17 certainly would have been fine. But, after driving three hours to get there, and waiting another three hours to be seated, coupled with the fact that Lois is essentially legally blind, we really were hoping for the front row.

Our request wasn’t handled as smoothly as one could hope, but in the end, they did the right thing, and we were seated exactly where we had hoped to be. Whew. πŸ™‚

Above, I mentioned that there were already five people seated in the front row. It turns out that they are huge Girlyman fans (as were a number of people in the crowd, including a family who drove down from Rochester, NY to see the show!). Girlyman thanked the Rochester folks for coming the furthest distance. While they drove 30 minutes longer than we did, our guests had an extra 45-minute train ride to get to our car, so technically, they came the furthest. πŸ˜‰

The other fans that sat in the front row are also bloggers. This morning, Lois got a Google Alert pointing to their blog about last night’s show. If you click through (and you should, because they also have a very cute YouTube video of three of them doing Girlyman’s Everything’s Easy!), you will note that Lois was the one who took the photo of all of them together at the show. πŸ™‚

Even though we were all pretty stuffed from dinner, we ordered coffee and dessert (an excellent Pumpkin Pie for three of us) in order to support the Cafe. I insanely overtipped our waitress. I italicized waitress, because the argument amogst our group was whether she was over or under 12-years-old. When we saw her out of uniform at the end of the show, we all seemed to agree that under 12 was more likely accurate. This is, after all, a Youth Center… πŸ™‚

At 7:45pm, Brian Kaiser came on stage to introduce Girlyman. In my life, I have never heard such a heartfelt and gushing-praise introduction for an artist. Of course, Lois and I not only agreed with every word he said, but would have said the same thing if we were the ones introducing Girlyman! Nate noted that they would never be able to live up to that intro. Of course, he was wrong. πŸ˜‰

Every Girlyman show we’ve been to has had extremely enthusiastic audiences. Last night was significantly more special. In fact, the applause were so long, so hearty, and nearly overwhelming (after every song!), that Nate coined the term: Extended Applause (aptly so!). Later on, when that continued to be the norm, he joked about Inspector Gadget, and renamed the extended applause to Go go extended applause (if you’ve never seen Inspector Gadget, never mind…). πŸ˜‰

After the show, Lois said a quick goodbye to the band, and hopefully successfully signed up to be notified if the live CD becomes available. The rest of us didn’t want to get trapped by the crowd that was gathering to buy CDs, T-Shirts, and meet Girlyman, so we didn’t get to say goodbye. We hit the road, and arrived home a little before 1am. Thankfully, we gained an hour on the clock last night (good timing Congress!).

Of course, we’re not satisfied, so we’re doing it again on Wednesday evening, bringing two new (soon-to-be) Girlyman fans with us. πŸ™‚