January 2008 Poker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lois is Always Right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rhonda Vincent at Joe’s Pub

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rhonda Vincent at Joe’s Pub

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poker Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are my notes from that event…

********************************************************

1020 entrants, top 110 paid

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

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

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

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

I’m in good shape now.

866 left, in 69th

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

821 left, in 126th

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

761 left, in 488th

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

Rascal Flatts at Madison Square Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opening Number from Rascal Flatts at MSG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rascal Flatts plus Drummer on Center Stage

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

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

Rascal Flatts at Madison Square Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CMA Writers Series at Joe’s Pub Featuring Rascal Flatts Songs

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In November, we attended our first CMA Writer’s Series event at Joe’s Pub, and covered it in this post. As mentioned in that post, we purchased tickets that night for the next in the series, which was last night.

Whenever we can, we reserve the same table for two, and last night, we had been told that we had our usual table. Unfortunately, when we arrived, they apologized and seated us right up at the stage (knees touching the stage, literally). We had previously discussed trying that particular table out in the past, but never bothered. Except for the fact that we were right under an electric piano, which obscured the view a bit (more for Lois than me), it wasn’t a bad spot.

Perfect chocolate martini – check! Perfect Seared Tuna – check! Perfect French Fries – check! Perfectly boring me, sticking to my usuals – check! 😉

Last night was a celebration of Rascal Flatts music, though they played a number of other songs as well (which were all great!). It was meant to coincide with Rascal Flatts playing at Madison Square Garden tomorrow night. Yes, Lois and I have tickets. 🙂

Bob DiPiero was the host (I think he’s always the host). The other four (one more than last time) were (in seating order): Danny Orton, Steve Bogard, Tony Mullins and D. Vincent Williams (Bob sat in the middle).

In closing the November show, Bob mentioned that at the end of January, he was going to visit the troops in Iraq with Kix Brooks. A while ago, a good friend of ours gave Lois a book called Dear Soldier. Lois decided then and there to get some copies and give them to Bob at the next show.

So, last night, before the show started, Lois went backstage and asked someone to get Bob to come out. After a bit, he did. They chatted briefly, and she gave him two copies to bring along with him to Iraq. She told him that if it seemed to resonate with the soldiers, that we’d be delighted to buy many more copies and get them delivered over there.

In closing last night’s show, Bob said that a wonderful woman from the audience gave him a couple of copies of Dear Solider to deliver on his upcoming trip. It was extremely nice of him to recognize Lois publicly, and yes, she’s a wonderful woman, in all respects. 🙂

On to the show. It was excellent. As I’ve mentioned before, half the fun is hearing all of their stories (they’re writers, after all) 😉 and last night was no exception. They are fun, interesting people, who tell the tale of their lives through their songs. Then, famous artists make those songs famous, and we associate the words with their lives, but it’s the writer’s life that created those songs.

We had a blast, and will definitely continue to support the CMA Writers Series at Joe’s Pub when they’re next in town!

Lost Season 3 on DVD

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Well, mid-January has arrived, and as predicted, we found some time to hunker down and watch Lost Season 3 on DVD.

We started on Sunday, and with a push to stay up much later than we typically do, finished the entire season at midnight last night. There are 23 episodes in season three, roughly 45 minutes each (since there are no commercials), so total viewing of roughly 17 hours. Whew. 🙂

The bottom line is that I thoroughly enjoyed it (I believe more than Lois did, but she enjoyed it as well). That said, the details aren’t as simple as that.

I had heard the following complaint from a number of die-hard Lost fans, who watched season three on TV last year: “Too many repeats!”. I didn’t know exactly what to make of that comment when I heard it (over and over). I didn’t want to ask for clarification either, because I’m one of those people who love to be completely surprised, whereas Lois loves to know exactly what’s going to happen.

Now I can guess what they meant, but I still can’t be sure, because I didn’t watch it on TV, waiting a week for each episode. Originally, I thought that perhaps they meant that season three was delivered with lots of full-episode repeats throughout the year, making it painful to keep the story fresh and connected week-to-week. Now I think that people were complaining that in each individual episode, there was more repetition of previously viewed scenes.

I don’t mean the inevitable “Previously on Lost” mechanism that nearly all serials have to use, but rather flashback scenes that were 95% identical to previous flashbacks, only shown from someone else’s point of view. It’s a legitimate complaint. But, on DVD, when watching in marathon sessions, it’s not as bad.

I think the real frustration with that technique in a weekly serialization, is that you get less new stuff, and then have to wait another week for a dose. On DVD, you plow through the repetition, pick up the new 5% in the scene that they were trying to convey, and find out the new new thing minutes later anyway.

Another complaint (that we had) is that the show meandered a bunch in season three. Not in the sense that they had no ideas, but rather that they crammed in too many ideas and plot twists. Some were truly mind-bending, but I believe that this is due more to the fact that they hope to spin this franchise out for so long, that they want to plant as many seeds and hooks as they can. If they told a deep, but simple story, they’d be under pressure to wrap it up more quickly than otherwise.

As with the past seasons, the finale is a two-hour action-packed frenzy. They introduced a new technique in those episodes that hadn’t been used before in the previous 69 episodes, and it was horribly executed (in my opinion). I won’t ruin it, for those who are like me, and won’t want to know. Trust me, I didn’t give away anything with the above.

Both Lois and I felt that the writing in season three was a bit “Lost” (sorry, couldn’t resist). That said, I still loved it, will absolutely watch season four, and will continue to praise the show to newcomers, searching for something they can obsess about, lose themselves in, and soak up tons of entertainment time on, for relatively little money.

The only argument in our house will be whether we agree to suffer the weekly episodic wait (Lois is leaning in that direction), or skip this season and wait for the DVD (my preference). Lois wins nearly every argument on every subject matter, so you can guess what the outcome of the above dilemma will be. 😉

As with the past seasons, I am continually impressed with the ingeniously simple explanations that they often come up with when solving a previous puzzle/conundrum. Many times, you wait for a fantastic (as in fantasy!) explanation, which would be fine, but perhaps not as satisfying as a clever explanation that you just hadn’t thought of.

Bill Cooley Now More Accessible

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I am very happy to announce that Bill Cooley now has a MySpace page. I have raved about Bill ever since seeing him live with Kathy Mattea at Joe’s Pub.

The only problem was that spreading the word about how great this guy is was difficult, because his CDs weren’t as easy to purchase (or listen to online) as some of the other people that I’ve been writing about lately.

Some of that just changed, and hopefully more will as Bill gets closer to delivering his next CD sometime this year.

On the MySpace page (linked above), you can hear four tracks from his existing CDs. They are all beautiful. As opposed to the Candyrat guys (who are all awesome as well), Bill has a much wider range of styles, including playing with other instruments accompanying him rather than just pure guitar (which I also love, but variety is nice too) 😉 and Bill is a master of all the styles he plays!

On a personal note, I was really happy to see the MySpace page, because I saw his upcoming concert schedule. On April 1st and 2nd, he’s playing with Kathy Mattea (the Coal tour) at the Barns at Wolftrap.

We’ve never been there before, but people say it’s one of the best places to see a concert. We have tickets to see Girlyman there on March 26th already (we’re experiencing withdrawal as we haven’t seen Girlyman live since November 4th). Given that we’ll already be in VA that week, I just snagged tickets to the April 1st show for Lois and me. Yippee, a chance to see Kathy and Bill live again!

Candyrat Records

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I have written twice now about Magnatune as a real leader in the new age of publishing music. I am completely impressed with their business model and operation, and if you missed the first post, here it is.

Candyrat Records is another cool online music label, but they don’t quite measure up to Magnatune in my opinion.

First, let’s cover what makes Candyrat Records cool.

  1. They have some amazing artists on the label
  2. They actively promote many (not all?!?) on YouTube
  3. Those that they promote, are very high quality videos (specifically, the audio is very good quality, so you really get a good sense of the artists capabilities)
  4. They offer DRM-free downloads (320Kbps MP3’s)
  5. They sell some/most (not all?!?) albums on Amazon.com MP3 downloads also

I’ve been threatening for a few posts now to tell how I discovered Magnatune and through them Jeff Wahl. This is as good a time as any. 😉

In this post, I mentioned that Rob Page (CEO of Zope Corporation) had introduced me to an Andy McKee video on YouTube. That video was posted by user “rpoland”, who I believe is the owner of Candyrat Records. He has 108 videos posted. Most of them are for a variety of acoustic guitarists that Candyrat represents.

At the time, I didn’t pay attention to that, but I did fall in love with Andy McKee. Instead of going to Candyrat’s site, I searched for Andy McKee on Amazon’s MP3 downloads site. I found three albums and bought them all immediately.

A few weeks after I bought those albums, I was listening to Pandora. I have six different stations that I’ve created on Pandora, and one of them is mostly acoustic music. On January 2nd, 2008, I heard a song that I thought was fantastic, so I made sure to write down the artist’s name: Don Ross. I went to YouTube and found tons of videos of him as well, and noticed that it was the same “rpoland” and Candyrat Records.

This time I went to the site. I saw on the front page of the site that a few days from then, Don Ross was releasing a new CD with Andy McKee. Cool! I went to Amazon.com and checked for Don Ross, and sure enough, they had something like five of his CDs available. I decided to wait to see if they would pick up his new CD when it was released.

When the day came, I checked, and Amazon was not carrying the new CD. They still aren’t, over a week after release. So, I decided to investigate Candyrat a little further. I searched for Candyrat DRM. I found a very interesting blog post here. As you’ll see if you read that post, he makes a lot of the same points I make here (or will make, shortly). 😉

When I clicked on Magnatune, I listened to Jeff Wahl (and watched a bunch of his YouTube videos as well), and ended up buying all three of his CDs (as previously reported).

Now that I was sure that Candyrat music was DRM-free, I decided to buy the new Don Ross and Andy McKee album from them, which I did. While everything worked, and the experience wasn’t bad, it wasn’t Magnatune quality either. Here are the material differences:

  1. Music is available in one format only, 320Kbps MP3 (or you can order a physical CD). Magnatune is just awesome in offering a variety of download formats
  2. You can only pay with PayPal. I happen to have a PayPal account, so I personally don’t mind. I know that you can use a plain old credit card through PayPal, but there are still many people out there who will likely be nervous about new-fangled services like PayPal. It should be an option. They should get a Merchant Account and accept credit cards directly.
  3. All music costs $9.95 per CD. (OK, I didn’t actually check all the music on the site, but all of the albums I checked were $9.95.) There are two separate problems with that. The first is that as I mentioned previously, not all music is created equally, and therefore shouldn’t necessarily be priced equally. But, the bigger problem is that when the same CD is available on Amazon.com, it’s cheaper, so it would appear that they are driving you to purchase on another site. Perhaps that’s their intention.
  4. When you purchase on their site, the zip file you download has horrible naming conventions for the files inside. Magnatune unzips into a perfect directory tree for direct import into iTunes (and most other naturally organized music player software). I had to create my own directory structure and rename and move all of the individual MP3 files in the Candyrat download. Not a huge problem, but annoying nonetheless. Another reason to buy their albums from Amazon.com when available!
  5. All Magnatune albums (over 441!) are available on Amazon.com. Some (many?, but not all) Candyrat albums are. Why?
  6. On Magnatune, I can listen to every album, for free, completely. On Candyrat, I can hear 30 seconds of each song. The saving grace is that for the artists I was interested in, there are a plethora of YouTube videos, but Magnatune still gets it more correct on this feature.
  7. Pricing differences! Aside from the fact that Magnatune lets you name your own price (with a $5 floor), they suggest a price for each album. Their suggested price is the same price they’ve negotiated on Amazon.com. Candyrat sels their albums at a fixed price (that’s fine), but charges more than Amazon.com. How can their costs be higher to deliver directly when they don’t have to pay Amazon?
  8. Transparency with the artists. I love knowing exactly how much money that I spend is going to the artist with Magnatune. If I knew for sure that spending the extra $1 with Candyrat over Amazon was putting that $1 directly in the artist’s pocket, perhaps I would pay it happily. But, for all I know, that extra $1 goes only to Candyrat, in which case the Amazon experience is better, so why not save the $1 as well?

There may be some other differences, but those generally cover the big points for me. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing evil, or even wrong with Candyrat, but they don’t get it, quite like Magnatune does.

As for artists, I’m in love with the Candyrat acoustic guitarists, of whom they have a number of superstars! Since discovering Don Ross on January 2nd, I have bothered to look more closely at Candyrat, and have purchased one album by Peter Ciluzzi, one by Craig D’Andrea, and two by Antoine Dufour. All of them are spectacular, and all have amazing YouTube videos available. I have linked one to each of their names, but you should check them all out, and then buy their music (I bought mine on Amazon.com, not Candyrat.com).

In addition to the above, Candyrat also represents Kaki King, who I’ve written about before. I bought two of her CDs from Amazon as well, and a third is available on Candyrat, which I may buy in the future.

So, I’ve supported Candyrat and their artists quite a bit lately. I’ve purchased two more Don Ross CDs from Amazon, the Don Ross and Andy McKee one from Candyrat directly, the two Kaki King, the three Andy McKee, and the four mentioned above (Peter, Craig and Antoine), for a total of 12 CDs in a short period of time.

I know this is crazy long already, but I need to add one more story to the mix. When the Don Ross and Andy McKee album was announced, a quick search showed that they were touring together. I was really excited to see them. Unfortunately, they are touring in Hawaii and the West Coast only (for the time being). I mentioned to Rob Page that I really wanted to see Andy McKee live, and he said that he too had looked at his site and couldn’t find anything on the East Coast.

When I went to either Don Ross’ or Andy McKee’s MySpace page (I can’t remember which), I noticed that the top friends linked were all Candyrat artists. I think it’s really cool that they support each other so well, and it’s one of the benefits of the label I guess. That’s how I first discovered Craig D’Andrea. Then, on his MySpace page, I saw that he was playing in NYC on February 17th at the Canal Room.

When I clicked over to their calendar, I saw that Andy McKee was headlining that show, and Craig was the second guy listed. The third guy listed was Antoine Dufour. By the end of the day, I had tickets to see the three of them (I can’t wait for Feb 17th!), and had bought Craig’s CD and both of Antoine’s. I love them all, but even though Antoine is listed third on the bill, I may actually be most impressed with him. I’m listening to him on iTunes now as I type this post. 😉

Whew. Another mega-post, sorry, but I had to get this all out of my head, and I finally did. 🙂

Jeff Wahl on Magnatune

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In this post, I wrote about a wonderful online record label called Magnatune. I mentioned that I had downloaded three albums by a specific artist, but wouldn’t mention that artist in the post.

His name is Jeff Wahl, and he’s another great acoustic guitarist. In my next post, I’ll finally tell how I discovered Magnatune, and therefore Jeff Wahl. I have written a fair bit about acoustic guitar music in the past two months, with a drop more to come in the next day or two (then possibly silence on the topic for a while).

Jeff isn’t as flashy as some of the others that I have written about (and that I will write about shortly), but he’s rock solid, and I really like his music. I liked it the first time I listened to it, but it has grown on me (considerably) each time I’ve listened to it.

He has three albums, all good, but I’ll list them in the order that I like them (at the moment):

  1. Guinevere
  2. Guitarscapes
  3. Meditative Guitar

To repeat one of the great things about Magnatune, you can listen to full albums, for free, an unlimited number of times. So, by clicking on the link of Jeff Wahl’s name above, you can hear all three albums at your convenience. When you’re on that page, right under his name at the top, are the names of the three albums, and to the right of each, links to play them in hifi, lofi, etc.

Another wonderful thing I’ve already mentioned about Magnatune is that I am encouraged to give away three copies of the music I purchased and downloaded. As opposed to the Phil Keaggy CD that I am giving to Sally in three weeks (sorry folks, you snooze, you lose!) 😉 this one won’t be in the form of a contest. The main reason is that anyone can listen to all of Jeff’s albums any time they want, for free, as long as they’re online.

So, I don’t feel I’m denying anyone by not giving them a chance to get one for free.

My biggest decision isn’t who to offer it to (I have some ideas already), but rather how. I can give all three albums to just three people, or I can spread the love and give one album each to nine different people (not the same album, three different people get three different albums). I’ll make the decision and distribute the music (or rather the links!) this week.

Jeff also puts up a lot of videos of him playing on YouTube. Here’s one example. He also responds to users who comment on his videos. Seems like a very nice guy, and I wish him the greatest success with his music! Since you can listen to all of his music at Magnatune, having YouTube videos is a bonus, but not a must-have, since his style is less visually compelling than some of the other acoustic guitarists featured on YouTube.