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Sneaky Wicked Surprise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh well, now there are three possibilities:

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

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

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

David Grisman at BB King

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

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

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

David Grisman Bluegass Experience (DGBX)

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

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

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

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

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

David Grisman

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

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

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

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

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

John Sebastian

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

Unknown Guest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Willie and Howard

Doofus Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon Unbox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Dave

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

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

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

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

David about to be HoodedDavid with Hood

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

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

VCU Med School GraduationFull VCU Graduation

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

Proud Parents with their newly minted Doctor:

David and Parents

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

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

Dr. Dave Cake

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

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

Lois Presenting Doc\'s Own to David

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

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

Medical Contingent

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

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

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

Lois David and Hadar

BSOD Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Down One To Go

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

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

Chris and Laura Graduation

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

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

Chris and Laura Diplomas

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

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

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

Update: added two photos to the post above.

Testing Windows Live Writer

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

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

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

Everybody Clap For Everybody

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For Jewish folks, Lois and I listen to way more than our fair share of Christian music. Aside from the fact that we’re both Country/Bluegrass fans (which has more than it’s fair share of faith-based lyrics, even in normal songs), and aside from the fact that we both love Christmas music (buying quite a bit of it as well), we also purchase specifically Christian music.

Perhaps the best example of this is a group (really their leader) that we’re simply crazy about, Ceili Rain. We own all of the CDs. In this post I mentioned that we discovered them through Kathy Mattea. On September 13th, 2001, we were driving back to NYC from VA, and when we came around 495 approaching the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel, and saw the smoke rising from the WTC site, the song Love Travels (from her Love Travels CD) started playing. Lois owned the CD for a while, but for whatever reason, this was the first time she popped it into the car CD player.

Clearly, the song got to us (but even more to Lois) instantly. As I’ve mentioned numerous times, Lois really cares about knowing who wrote a song. She looked it up and found out that Bob Halligan Jr., the head of Ceili Rain, wrote the song. He also wrote That’s All The Lumber, which Kathy also covered. We bought the CD Ceili Rain, by Ceili Rain, which has both of those songs on it. Kathy’s versions of both are gorgeous (in every way), but there’s a rawness to the way Ceili Rain does it that I prefer.

From there, we’ve ended up buying all of their stuff. Last August we bought a bunch of their CDs, including No You No Me. Since we’ve accumulated tons of music in the past year, it took a while for Lois to finally listen to all of them. She instantly fell in love and connected with the song Everybody Clap For Everybody. Lois is all about fairness toward everyone, always, no excuses and no compromises.

Most of our closest friends are deeply religious Christians (mostly Baptists, but not exclusively). One family home schools their children. I wrote about the 10-year-old recently, when we took him to see Girlyman at Joe’s Pub. He and his 7-year-old brother are sports fanatics (playing as well as watching). Lois thought that Everybody Clap For Everybody would be a great song/message to share with the boys. She asked me to get a copy of the CD for them.

I ordered it from a seller on the Amazon.com Marketplace. I had it shipped to us at Zope, expecting to deliver it in person to our friends in Leesburg the following weekend. It never showed up. 🙁

I waited a few weeks, and the USPS tracking number never got updated. The package appeared to be stuck in Elkton, MD. Meaning, the shipper sent it, but the Post Office lost it. Shocking, I know…

I contacted the seller, and he told me that one in 100 packages ends up in the ether. He immediately refunded my money and told me to keep the CD if it ever showed up. Wow, that’s great customer service, an extremely rare thing nowadays. That was on February 28th!

We were down at Zope at least two separate trips in March and then again on April 1st, and the CD never showed up. We spent the rest of April in NY. Yesterday, we left super early from NY to head back to Zope, stopping to visit our friends in Leesburg on the way. We got there in time to see the 10-year-old play in a baseball game. Unfortunately, the 7-year-old played at 9am, and we were unable to get there in time.

After spending the rest of the afternoon with them, we headed to Fredericksburg. We stopped into the office before heading to the hotel. Sitting on my desk was the CD of No You No Me! I couldn’t believe it. No one in the office gave me a heads up, which leads me to believe that it only showed up this past week (and they knew we were coming down).

It seemed amazing that I became aware of the CD on the same day that I watched a baseball game in Leesburg (the intended recipients of the CD). Not just that, but they played the best team in the league (undefeated) and valiantly came back from down 8-1 to lose 8-4, with some chances (blown calls by the umpires!) to narrow it further. The song would have been appropriate after that game. 😉

Anyway, aside from shipping the CD to our friends tomorrow, I contacted the seller and told him that I insist on paying him, even though he told me I could just keep it. I haven’t heard back yet, but one way or another, he’s getting rewarded for his excellent customer service.

Now, if all of us could just learn to clap for everybody, and let go of all of the pettiness that we feel and exhibit all too often, that would just be very cool indeed. In the meantime, to get you into the mood, go out and get some Ceili Rain and start soaking up the philosophy! 🙂

Dolly Parton at Radio City Music Hall

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I’ve been a huge fan of everything Dolly Parton forever. Her music is great, her movies are great, her larger than life look and persona are great and she’s an all around fun and nice person. She also comes across as a genuine and caring person, including leading and being involved in a number of worthy charitable efforts.

The above site is coming soon and at the moment is just a cute flash intro to her other properties. On the music front, here is Dolly’s website.

We had tickets to see Dolly at Radio City Music Hall on March 7th, 2008. It’s one of the most beautiful theaters around, with pretty good acoustics for a place that large. We’ve seen a few shows there in the past year, including Martina McBride and Harry Connick Jr. I was way more excited than Lois about seeing the show and was very disappointed when she had to cancel (thankfully, it turned out to only be a postponement) due to health problems.

The show was rescheduled for May 1st (last night), and we hung on to our tickets and sat in the same seats. Very rear orchestra (10 rows from the back, 41 rows from the stage). Not so great seats for seeing, but just fine for hearing and experiencing the entire show.

The show was called for 8pm, and at 7:35pm it started to rain, so getting in was slightly less than pleasant. We were in our seats by 7:50pm and the place was at least 1/2 empty so I knew the show wouldn’t start on time.

The house lights went off at 8:12pm. When the curtain was pulled back, only the drum was playing (keeping a very straightforward beat) and one other musician was on stage, just clapping to the beat. The crowd started clapping along, keeping the same lively beat, with the excitement building. Then, one by one (or possible two at a time, etc.), more musicians kept coming on the stage, each clapping to the same rhythm (meaning, not playing their instruments, except for the drummer).

They kept coming out. Meaning, she has quite a large band. When they were done, there were 11 people on stage! Three back-up singers and eight musicians. Then Dolly came out (from the back of the stage, or even possibly from below or above, but not from the sides like the rest of them, I just couldn’t see). The crowd literally exploded.

All of the photos in this post are terrible, sorry. We were very far back, the lights were dim, flash photography wasn’t permitted (of course, it was going non-stop all night anyway!), and it wouldn’t have made a difference from our seats. The worst part is that Dolly’s outfit in the first set was the brightest white, and the rest of the stage and band were muted, so the contrast makes Dolly look like a cut-out. Anyway, just to give you a flavor, I’ll sprinkle in five photos in all.

Dolly Parton

She burst right into a number. Her voice is/was fantastic. She hasn’t lost anything over the years. The back-up singers were great as well. The band is excellent too, but as opposed to many other shows we’ve seen, they really take a very backseat role to Dolly, with very few if any leads/solos. In a way (though the scale can’t be compared!) this was more like the Joan Baez concert, where the band faded and let her shine.

Dolly Parton Band

For the one person out there who doesn’t know this fact, Dolly writes most of her own songs, brilliantly. She’s been a prolific songwriter for over 40 years, with lyrics and music that span a wide range of topics and styles. If you’re over 20 years old and don’t know the song 9-to-5, then I don’t know what to say to you. That’s one end of the spectrum, purely fun stuff. As a contrast, she also wrote I Will Always Love You (and performed it brilliantly last night!), which was covered by Whitney Houston (earning Dolly a ton in the process).

She’s campy, in looks and personality. Her bubbliness (notorious) and incredible energy level were both in full gear last night. Whatever ailed her, forcing the postponement of this tour, is well behind her now. In addition to singing many crowd favorites (she can’t possibly do them all in one show, given how many she has!), she tells very long and detailed stories throughout the show.

With some acts, you might be screaming inside your head for them to play more music. With Dolly, you are putty in her hands, and are delighted to be taken wherever she wants to take you. Seriously, everyone in the audience was hanging on her every word. She’s funny, warm, interesting, thought provoking, etc.

Early on, she mentioned that they were ready and raring to go at 8pm (Radio City is very good about starting shows on time), but they mentioned to her that because of the rain, it was taking longer to get the crowd seated. By the time her third number was done, the place was jammed (as in full).

Also different than acts as large as hers, playing venues as large as Radio City, there were no big screens, pyrotechnics, razzle dazzle (other than Dolly’s innate razzle dazzle!). On the one hand, we were marginally disappointed that the two big screens on the sides of the theater were dark, because it would have made it easier to see her up close and personal (like they had for Martina). On the other hand, there was something slightly refreshing about a straightforward concert that was about the music and the stories, rather than techno distractions (as cool as they often are).

They played for 55 minutes and then took a break. The break lasted 22 minutes. When they came back out, Dolly had changed outfits (the only change of the night). She then did a romp of partial covers (meaning, cover songs, that they only played parts of). She basically covered big hits chronologically through the years (50’s, 60’s, 70’s, etc.). Just a few examples: Great Balls Of Fire, R-E-S-P-E-C-T, among many others.

She used this mini-set to showcase the singers and some of the band members. Each singer sang at least one solo (really well!). The lead guitarist did Johnny Be Good. Because none of the covers was full length, they were able to get a majority of the 11 singers/band members involved in the showcase. It was very cool and very well done. Afterwards, Dolly introduced each of them by name. I couldn’t have possibly remembered each of their names, and they’re not listed on her site (always a disappointment to me when that happens). Anyway, like I said above, all were excellent, no exceptions.

Dolly Band Left Side

Dolly Band Right Side

Dolly herself is quite an accomplished musician, though for the most part, she sings without an instrument. Last night, she played a bunch of instruments, at least for part of a song, really well! Here are the ones I recall:

  • guitar (acoustic and electric, both really well)
  • piano
  • penny whistle
  • dulcimer
  • harmonica (wailing!)
  • banjo (for just a few seconds, in a very funny bit)
  • fiddle (a little longer than the banjo, but not much)

I don’t think I’m forgetting any other instruments, but perhaps I am. To repeat, we’re talking about an extremely talented lady, in every respect imaginable. Here she is on the piano, though you can’t make her out (other than her figure) at all:

Dolly Piano

The second set was nearly 50 minutes. When she said goodnight, the crowd were all on their feet and clapping wildly. Thankfully, even though she left the stage, they didn’t try to trot off the other 11 people and then trot them all back on for the encore. Dolly came back out a minute later and did one number. When it was all over, she was on stage for 132 minutes, including the 22 minute break. A very nice length indeed.

For each of the two sets, the people in the front stood for the first song, causing a rolling wave of everyone else standing up so that they could see the stage. In other words, for the first song of each set, everyone in the crowd stood up.

When she sang 9-to-5, the entire audience stood and sang along (really well!). When it was over, and the crowd was still going nuts, she made the crowd sing one verse all by themselves. It was pretty cool. The crowd also stood for the entire song during I Will Always Love You.

We’ve seen lots of shows filled with crazed adoring fans (Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts, Kenny Chesney, Martina McBride come to mind, but it feels unfair to leave out Jerry Jeff Walker and many others!). That said, there was something qualitatively different last night. The fans seemed overjoyed just to be there. I can’t describe it, other than to give two tiny (insignificant) examples:

  • You could see the gratitude on the face of one person, when it was clear that the other person (of the couple) arranged for the tickets
  • People kept turning to complete strangers (including to us!) and beaming, saying things like “is this fun, or what?” In other words, they just couldn’t help sharing their joy

Ultimately, for me, the proof positive was seeing Lois enjoy the show (and the experience) much more than she (much less I) expected her to. I felt vindicated in insisting we not miss this.

We have good friends across the cul-de-sac from us. The husband is a huge Dolly Parton fan. When Lois realized how big a fan he was, she practically offered her ticket to him. I would have been delighted to go with him, but thankfully, Lois decided that she really wanted to see what all the fuss was about. 😉

Finally, Dolly played a bunch of songs from her new CD, Backwoods Barbie. The songs were all good. I already have Better Get To Livin’ on my iPod, as it was offered as a free download of the week a while back on Amazon.com. It’s great, as are a number of other songs on the CD that I’ve heard. We’re definitely buying a copy soon!