Cheap Music in NYC

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The New York Times has an article today on cheap and free music in NYC. Worth the read if you live in the city, or visit once in a while, and want a more adventurous sense of the local music scene here. Registration is required to read the article, but it’s free.

White Out Conditions in Westchester

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We had to run some errands this morning. We left the house at 10:20am and drove to Chappaqua. While there, it started to snow. By the time we got back, less than 30 minutes after it started snowing, the conditions were white out and the roads were extremely slick.

When we got within 8/10’s of a mile of our house, we started seeing multiple accidents, with multiple police cars on the scene. The last stretch to our house is first entirely up hill, then entirely down hill. No momentum on the up hill, because one of the accidents was a car that was wrapped around a telephone pole on the opposite side (must have lost control coming down the hill), with air bag deployed. 🙁

Took a very long time to make the final 8/10’s of a mile, but we made it safely, so we’re not complaining.

Drive safely out there!!!

Jamie Lissow Strikes Again

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If you read this post, and this one, you know that we thoroughly enjoyed seeing Jamie Lissow perform with Kevin Meaney at Tarrytown Music Hall last Friday night.

If you have lots of extra time on your hands, and also read the very few comments made on my blog, then you also know that I only found out Jamie’s last name because he posted a comment and that’s how I discovered it. 🙂

Once I learned his last name, I went to his site. There, I found out that he was appearing on a TV show called Red Eye, on Fox News Channel. This is a comedy show at 3am that does a fast-paced take on items in the news. I’ve seen it once or twice in the past.

So, I set the DVR and we’re watching it now (it was on at 3am this morning). The entire show is actually pretty funny, and Jamie held his own really well! During one of his very funny lines, they flashed a message that he was appearing this coming Sunday at the Gotham Comedy Club in NYC.

I went to their site, and he wasn’t listed. There are two shows on Sunday, and both are audition shows. Lois called, and Jamie is the MC of the second show at 9pm.

Under normal circumstances, we would definitely go. This weekend, we have three people staying with us. When we have company, we work hard to find things that they will enjoy, rather than things that we might otherwise do ourselves. So, if this isn’t their cup of tea, we will end up passing.

In order to leave our options open, we made a reservation for five people for the 9pm show, just in case, and we explained the situation to the person who took our reservation. 😉

Obviously, we’ll cancel well in advance if we end up doing something different.

Whether we go or not, if you want to see a funny comedian (and perhaps many of them), then go to the Gotham Comedy Club this Sunday night for the 9pm show!

My iPod Nano Teaches Me New Tricks

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Mostly, I listen to music on my iPod. On occasion, I have listened to an audio book or two, while exercising. One thing I have never done is watch a video. My old iPod 30GB probably could do it as well (it certainly could display photos), but I never even tried (not even a photo).

Up until very recently, I never subscribed to a podcast either. I have listened to a dozen podcasts directly from their authors’ websites, mostly poker podcasts, but never on the iPod, or through iTunes.

Two months ago, Lois sent me a link to a podcast from KCRW’s The Business, where they interviewed the producer of the show Wicked, Marc Platt. She didn’t listen to it, but asked me to check it out. I found it extremely informative, and I ended up subscribing to The Business podcast through iTunes.

I still hadn’t listened to any of the additional six episodes that automatically downloaded to my iTunes and then sync’ed to my iPod, but I knew that one day I would.

For 10 years, Lois and I commuted daily on the Metro-North railroad to NYC. I can’t recall the last time I’ve been on that train, but it has been years, for sure. Last night, a good friend was in town from Minnesota. We agreed to have dinner in Grand Central and I took the train in and back.

At first, I thought I’d bring along my Grado SR80’s and really enjoy some music on the train. Then I realized that the rumble of the train would cut into my enjoyment, since the Grado’s are not noise canceling, and my Sony and Bose NC’s were both in the city.

So, I realized that this would be a perfect opportunity to listen to a podcast or two. I already had episodes of The Business loaded up, but it occurred to me that this was a unique and ideal opportunity to see if there were some interesting video podcasts available. Clearly, I can’t watch video when I’m driving in the car (or can I?). 😉

So, I used iTunes to search for some video podcasts, specifically concentrating on comedy first. I read reviews of the Comedy Central stand-up excerpts, and most people were really disappointed with them. Then I read glowing reviews of a podcast by scantily clad women doing the news. People swore it was hysterical, and pleasing on the eyes as well.

How could I resist? So, I downloaded a dozen episodes (they average roughly three minutes each). I then downloaded 10 episodes of the Onion video podcast (I have read a few of their mock news articles online, and usually enjoyed them thoroughly!).

On to the train, turned on the Nano, and started watching the ladies doing the news. They are indeed easy on the eyes, even on a tiny Nano screen. That said, 95% of their material is mind-numbingly boring. You can see where they are aiming (on occasion), but it’s really tedious. Hard to imagine something three minutes long can get tedious, but they achieve it brilliantly!

So, while they beg (on every episode) for bloggers to link to them, I just can’t bring myself to throw them a link. I’m unsubscribing from them.

Of course, since they are so short, I watched them all…

Then I moved on to the Onion. Way more professional (meaning, superb fakes of real shows, like their spoof of the Today Show). The comedy though is very up and down. All of the ideas are clever, but some of the execution is not only tedious, but feels like watching a train wreck. Others though, are delightful and brilliant. So, I’m not unsubscribing the Onion just yet.

The real point is that the experiment worked. I could use my crappy ear buds, on a raucous train ride, since high fidelity was not necessary. The video made the focus of attention easy, and the ride in both directions quick. That said, I finished the ride with another audio-only episode of The Business. Even though I had no video to keep me entertained, the content was way more interesting, and therefore kept me much more engaged. I am most definitely going to continue listening to future podcasts from them. They average close to 30 minutes in length, so it’s a commitment.

Jamie Lissow and Brian Kiley

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In this post, I mentioned two guest comedians whose names I wasn’t sure about.

Thankfully, one of them, Jamie Lissow, commented on my posting, so I now have his correct name and website (now linked to his name earlier in this sentence). A very funny guy who you should try and see live if you get a chance!

That inspired me to check for Brian again. It turns out I guessed the spelling of his last name incorrectly. It’s Brian Kiley, one of the writers on the Conan O’Brien show. He’s extremely funny as well.

I feel better now that the record has been set straight on these two talented comedians! 🙂

Frozen Shoulder

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For the past four months, I have had pain in my upper right arm, 1/2 way between the elbow and shoulder, whenever I move my arm/shoulder away from my body, or over my head. If I move too quickly, the pain can be intense. Otherwise, it’s just wildly uncomfortable, and I have to stop immediately.

Googling around seemed to indicate one of two problems: Frozen Shoulder, or Pinched Nerve.

A week ago on Tuesday, I had my annual physical. My doctor referred me to a leading orthopedic specialist (Lois looked him up, and she thinks he’s the Met’s team physician!). It took over a week to get an appointment, but I got in this past Thursday (two days ago).

After a detailed examination, and five X-Rays, he diagnosed it as Frozen Shoulder.

Vigorous physical therapy is the prescription, with nearly 100% success of recovery. Apparently, even without it, most people regain a majority of their original motion within two years.

He referred me to a top sports therapy group in NYC. We called, and they charge $325 per session. The doctor told me to have three sessions a week. Ouch! $1k/week? I don’t think so. Who needs their right arm anyway? 😉

Seriously though, given all of the manipulation that he did, and that the X-Ray technician did as well, I already had more motion in the arm the next day, and with exercises that I found easily on the web, I intend to start the regimen myself first.

I’m now officially on the road to recovery! 🙂

Extreme Temperatures

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Lois and I lead a crazy life on a number of levels. One of them, is the temperature that we typically keep our house at. In the winter, we tend to keep the thermostat on 58 degrees. It sounds colder than it is, given that we have amazing flannel sheets and a very thick comforter, etc.

Essentially, we spend 99% of our time in the bedroom. If we turn on the heat, the bedroom gets very hot very quickly, and the rest of the house stays cold. The thermostat is in the dining room, so we have to keep it very cold there in order not to broil in the bedroom.

In the summer, we keep the thermostat close to 80 degrees. Again, if we turn on the air conditioner, the bedroom freezes quickly. So, instead, we use a fan in the bedroom, and we don’t mind being a little on the warm side. We had a fan that lasted forever that we had purchased from Sam’s Club, but it broke this year. I ended up buying a tower fan by Lasko that we were pretty happy with all summer.

Back to our current situation, dead of winter…

There can often be a chill in the air in the bedroom. Two months ago I had a brainstorm. While shopping at Sam’s Club (one of our favorite places), I spotted a ceramic space heater by Lasko. Ours looks something like this, but I’m not sure it’s the exact model. Similar tower design to the fan we bought over the summer. The fan was $40, and the heater was $50. Both have remote controls.

The heater ended up being one of the better purchases we’ve made. It heats the bedroom quickly, maintains the temperature easily, can be set to keep a specific temperature or shut down at a specific time, etc. Very versatile and fits our needs and lifestyle perfectly. As a bonus, we expect smaller bills from ConEd, but we’ll see at the end of the winter.

That’s not why I started this post though. I just wanted you to get a sense of what the temperature should have been in the house this week…

We left the house on Monday morning to spend a few days in the city. When we left, the thermostats were both set at 50 degrees (we only have two zones, one upstairs, and one downstairs). We got home at 10pm on Thursday night (we weren’t planning on returning until Friday morning, and it turned out to be lucky that we came home early).

The minute we opened the door from the garage, Lois says to me “come in here quickly, something is wrong with the heat.” She was right (though I wasn’t as sure as quickly as she was).

It turned out that the house was 97 degrees! It was a furnace, even for people who like it hot. Clearly, the heat kicked on at some point during the three days, and never kicked off again!

I had to turn off the emergency cutoff switch to the furnace. We left everything off all night, and it only got down to 70 degrees by morning, which for us, was like keeping the heat on all night long. 😉

We had the service people out during the day. I had mis-diagnosed the problem to be a bad thermostat. They correctly diagnosed it to be a bad damper (one of the motors and blades that controls which zone gets the heat, etc.). The repair guy bypassed the bad damper (downstairs, which we rarely spend any time in anyway), and everything is back to normal for the moment.

They are supposed to come next week and replace the dampers and get us really back to normal. Now that we have the space heater in the bedroom, the only reason to run the main heat is to ensure that the pipes don’t freeze in the walls. Otherwise, we would only care when we have company. 😉

Kevin Meaney at Tarrytown Music Hall

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A while ago, Lois and I had to make a decision as to which of two shows to attend last night (December 7th, 2007). There was another Dave Koz and friends concert (including Jonathan Butler, who blew me away the last time), at the Beacon Theater, and Kevin Meaney at the Tarrytown Music Hall.

We loved the Dave Koz concert last time, so that would have been an easy one to pick. That said, we like to spend weekends at the house whenever possible, and I like Kevin Meaney (and comedy in general), so we decided to see Kevin.

It was snowing much of the day, so only having to drive 10 minutes was welcome, though we had to walk very carefully from where we parked.

Kevin was pretty funny right off the bat. I knew that he had a few guests scheduled (it was his Christmas Show), so I was actually a little surprised that he opened the show himself.

He brought out seven little kids (the oldest had to be 7 or 8). He interviewed each of them, and it was absolutely hysterical. Then they all sang one Christmas song together, and the kids were done. Very cute.

After a little while, he introduced a comic whose name I didn’t catch, but both Lois and I think his first name is Jamie (see comments, as we now know his last name is Lissow), and he lives in NYC. He had a slightly strange style, and it took a few minutes for him to warm up, or for the crowd to warm up to him, but once he got rolling, he was really funny. Cheeks were officially hurting by the time he was done.

After a few more jokes by Kevin, they broke for intermission. After the intermission, he introduced a comic whose name I thought was Brian Kylie Kiley (now we know) (sp?) who is a staff writer on Conan O’Brien. Unfortunately, I’ve tried to search for him (and Jamie) and couldn’t find either, so I am sure I got his name wrong too.

He was essentially a one-style comic, but he had it honed to perfection. He would tell the setup, wait five bananas, and deliver a punch line that was always 100% misdirection. Here is a typical example, though this particular joke is both old, and not even remotely one of his better ones: “Now that I’m a parent, I call my Dad for advice more often. He always says the same thing… (count to five bananas…) ‘How did you get this number?'”.

Anyway, the above joke aside, he was very funny. My cheeks really hurt again when he was done.

The only marginally unfortunate thing is that Kevin Meaney ended the show with a movie that he shot in Tarrytown that afternoon. There were clever moments, and it showed off his skill at improvising, but ultimately, it wasn’t that funny, and there were a few uncomfortable moments as well. It was a waste of time…

I am an over-the-moon lover of comedy. I would rather laugh than do anything else. I am also an easy mark. I am happy to laugh at bad jokes, if I can see where the joke was heading. Lois, on the other hand, enjoys a good laugh, but the joke better be clean, and delivered well, etc. In other words, she’s a much tougher critic than I am.

I really didn’t expect her to enjoy the show last night, and I greatly appreciated that she was willing to go in good spirits. Thankfully, she really liked both Jamie and Brian (again, perhaps we got the names wrong), and 1/2 of Kevin’s stuff made her laugh as well (she was nuts over the part with the little kids).

So, it was a very successful evening!

No Longer a Digital Download Virgin

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In this post, which I just published a few minutes ago, I mention that I just purchased Acoustic Sketches by Phil Keaggy. In that post I said that I would write separately about how/where I purchased that “CD”. This is that tale…

I have purposely avoided the seduction of purchasing music for downloading online, even though I buy most things online (including the vast majority of the CD’s that I buy), and even though 99% of the time, I listen to ripped MP3’s of the CD’s that I buy!

Why? By far the biggest reason has been DRM (Digital Rights Management). I am 100% against illegal trading of copyrighted material, in any form. I want to see artists/authors compensated fairly for every user of their works. That said, as a consumer of a legitimate purchase, I want to be able use that work for my own benefit, in any manner that pleases me (short of making it available illegally to others!).

DRM sounds harmless enough. After all, I can certainly listen to the music that I purchased, as many times as I want, right? Sure, to begin with. But, if I buy a DRM-protected song on iTunes, I can play it on my laptop, and only on an iPod (and a specific iPod at that!). Today, I love my iPods, so it sounds like there is no problem. However, in the future (could be soon), I could easily fall in love with a new device (say, the next generation Zune), and the song I’ve already purchased will not run on that device, simply because I chose to buy it from Apple.

Ugh. Further, the CD provides a perfect backup device on two fronts. First, I don’t travel with it, so it sits with all of my other CD’s, patiently waiting to be re-ripped should the need arise. Second, it’s at the highest possible quality, so if in the future I want to rip into a new format (not MP3), or a higher bit rate, I can easily do that. But, since for now, I am happy listening to 96kbps MP3’s, I save space on my laptop and iPod while still owning the master copy on the CD.

If I download a song, even a DRM free one, I have to actively think about a backup strategy for it. Not rocket science, but an extra step at a minimum, plus, it’s not likely to be CD quality (not that I can hear the difference), so I can’t (necessarily) take advantage of future encoders.

The only thing that ever made me feel badly about not downloading was the immediacy and convenience of the process. The impulse nature didn’t hit me as much. Under most circumstances, I’m happy to wait a week to get my delivery from Amazon.com in the mail.

A month or so ago, I looked into the new Amazon.com MP3 download service. Here is the page for Acoustic Sketches. The more I looked into the Amazon service, the more I liked it. DRM free. 256kbps encoding (like I’ve said too many times, I can’t hear the difference, but others can, so the sale should give a reasonably high quality file). I decided that sometime in the next few weeks, I’d take the plunge.

Acoustic Sketches turned out to be the perfect guinea pig, because the price of the downloaded album is $9.49, and the price of the CD is $14.99 (though I can swear that when I looked yesterday, it was $16.98, but perhaps I am just crazy…). That’s a big enough difference to make the plunge obvious. Also, since this was still a bit of a gamble for me, if I hated the result (for any reason), I wouldn’t necessarily feel the need to run out and buy the real CD, which I would if I were buying something from Girlyman (for example).

So, earlier today, I hit the “One Click Purchase” button, and a few minutes later (probably more like one minute on my FiOS connection) 😉 I had the entire CD downloaded. Yes, I used iTunes to “convert” to 96kpbs. I intend to archive the 256kbps version for posterity, but I still prefer the smaller files on my laptop and iPod.

If you read the post before this, you know that I am extremely happy with the album itself, so obviously, the resultant download worked as well as expected (from a sound quality point of view). That said, there are a number of things that I am truly unhappy with (perhaps frustrated with is a better term). None of them will stop me from purchasing more music from Amazon.com, because I definitely will, but nonetheless, the experience is far from what I’d like to see (given my personal preferences!).

So, what’s the problem?

Purchasing the music couldn’t be simpler. On Windows (and I think Mac), there is a small helper application that you can install if you want to purchase entire albums. You don’t need to install anything to download individual songs, though the helper app makes even purchasing a single song easier.

The app can be configured to automatically import (add) the song/album to iTunes or Windows Media Player (WMP). I found it a tad strange that you can’t check off both, but it’s not a big deal to me. After all, I could have a Zune and an iPod, and want each to be sync’ed from their own library, etc.

First, the songs have the most important ID3 tag information already encoded. That’s a good thing. Except, the name of the song also has the name of the album in it, in parens. This is silly, since the album tag is filled in correctly! What’s worse, the filename is taken from the name tag, so the filenames on the system have the parens and the album name in them as well. Ugh.

That might be the only real complaint, since I think the rest has more to do with my personal preference. From that perspective, I recognize that few other people will be annoyed by these nits, since they won’t go through the process that I did, but here it goes just in case anyone cares.

If you say that you want the files automatically imported into iTunes, then you get a copy of the file in iTunes (meaning, a duplicate on the filesystem, not just a pointer to the file in the directory where you download the files). Not a huge deal, but still, something to potentially have to clean up. For me, this becomes necessary (though annoying), because iTunes will only convert files that are already in iTunes. In other words, I can’t pick a file in a directory unknown to iTunes, and tell it to convert that file to MP3 in iTunes (that would be ideal for me for this application). Perhaps there is a way to do it in iTunes, but it’s definitely not obvious.

Next, when I use iTunes to convert the file, there is no option to replace the existing file. So, I end up with two files in the iTunes application. I know, this is an iTunes problem, not an Amazon one, but it still affects the entire pipeline of deciding to purchase music online. One file is the original 256kbps file, and the other is the new 96kbps converted file.

Next, because both files are in the same directory, iTunes had to create the new one (the one I want), with an extra “1” hanging in the filename, since the original has the correct name. So, after I delete the original file (in iTunes, not my canonical Amazon download directory, which I will archive permanently as the original file), I need to change the name of the file on the filesystem. Of course, that means telling iTunes (file by file!) that there is a new location for the file.

Finally, I need to edit each song individually to remove the album name and the parens from the ID3 tags.

When all is said and done, I still end up with the album on my computer a week earlier than waiting for the CD to arrive, and the sound (to me) is identical. But, I had to work a lot harder than I should have, even though I got it sooner, and paid less. When I rip the CD, it goes directly into iTunes, with the correct filenames and the correct bit rates in one motion, and I already have my permanent archive in master format. Oh well…

One last nit. If you looked specifically at the Acoustic Sketches page on Amazon.com MP3 Downloads, you will note that in addition to being able to purchase the entire CD for $9.49, you could purchase individual songs. Note that #7, Looking Back, is only 40 seconds long. It still costs the full freight of $.99. Fair enough. Oh oh, wait a second, now look at #12 “50th, The”, which is 7 minutes and 2 seconds long. It’s $1.94.

What? They want more money for long songs, but no discount for teeny tiny songs? Just seems wrong. If a song is $.99, I can live with that, but then long songs should also be just $.99…

So, am I likely to purchase more CD’s for download? Definitely. But, if it’s a favorite artist, and the price differential is close, I will likely still buy the CD instead. A specific example is the new Little Big Town album A Place To Land. It’s $8.99 to download (cool!), but only $9.99 to purchase the CD. We are nuts about Little Big Town, the difference in price is small, so I will likely purchase the CD.

Phil Keaggy Acoustic Sketches “CD”

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If you read this post, then you know that I intended to purchase Acoustic Sketches by Phil Keaggy. Today, I did just that. How/where will be the subject of my next post.

I listened to the entire album today, I like it a lot. Just Phil, no complications with other instruments or musicians. While I will listen to selected cuts on The Master & The Musician many times, I will listen to this entire album even more.

I will almost definitely purchase Freehand – Acoustic Sketches II as well (I listened to the 30 second previews, and I like them as well).

Finally, someone else (besides Eric) whom I respect enormously just pointed me to Phil Keaggy’s “Beyond Nature” CD, which I will definitely get based solely on his recommendation. Unfortunately, it isn’t available at Amazon, and while Buy.com lists it, they are “temporarily out of stock”. So, I will search a little wider…

Thanks again Eric, both for introducing me to Phil, and for pointing me to Acoustic Sketches.