FiOS TV Leads to HDTV

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As much of a technophile as I am, including being a gadget freak, I am also a reasonably late adopter for many technology breakthroughs. This included being very late to the Compact Disc party, among others.

HDTV was no exception. I have friends who have had HDTV for a few years now, so I know how awesome the picture is compared to regular TV, but still, I wasn’t motivated to get one.

Usually, it’s pure laziness that causes me to adopt late. In fact, many of my most favorite gadgets were gifts. In that regard, I’m easy to get gifts for (albeit very expensive ones!), because I usually don’t rush out to buy the latest thing. I am thankful that my first Blackberry, first Treo, first GPS, etc., were all gifts, or I might never have gotten them, and I love(d) them all. πŸ™‚

In the case of HDTV, it was more of a logistic/tactical reason, rather than pure laziness. In our family room (downstairs), we have a 60″ rear projection Mitsubishi TV that we bought when we first moved in to the house, over 18 years ago. After weeks of nightmarish repair calls 11 months after we bought it (one of the few devices that I ever bought an extended warranty for!), they finally agreed (reluctantly) to replace the motherboard with the newer model (Diamond Vision II). Since then (17+ years), the TV has been flawless. The picture is hardly state-of-the-art (not even close), but it’s big, clear (enough), and has tons of stuff sitting on top of the massive cabinet that it is housed in (in other words, it’s a useful piece of furniture as well as being a functional TV).

It’s (obviously) not HD capable. When we first bought it, we had sliding glass doors to the backyard patio right next to where the TV currently is. Getting this monster in the house wasn’t all that painful. A few years later, we sealed off those doors and they are now just a giant (un-openable) window. The thought of ever replacing that TV is daunting. I have no idea how we’ll get it out, other than completely breaking it up. That would be a shame, as it would make for a fine TV to donate, to the local VFW for example.

In addition to that, I have DirecTV (non-HD version!), and had Cablevision without a cable box, and therefore without HD service either. I could get a new HD capable dish for DirecTV, but then my current DirecTiVo (with 250GB disk in it) would become useless. Painful upgrades, including installing the new dish outside, but still, I’d have to deal with the TV itself. In other words, status quo was the perfect solution. πŸ˜‰

Upstairs in the bedroom, where we actually watch TV 99% of the time anyway (the downstairs mostly gets watched on Football weekends, by me alone), we had a 27″ regular TV. This TV also showed a nice picture, but it’s as pedestrian a TV as you can find. Only two inputs, coax and red-white-yellow audio/video input (which is called Game mode, for Nintendo-like consoles). The size of the TV was determined by the available shelf space in our wall-to-wall built-in. Given how deep the TV was, and the size of the only opening made for a TV, this was as big as it could get.

Enter FiOS TV a few weeks back. Previous to this, all of our equipment was downstairs. There was a single coax connecting the downstairs to the upstairs TV. Using a remote control extender, I could turn on various devices downstairs, and watch the DirecTV upstairs, etc. If all downstairs devices were off, then the basic cable was automatically passed to the upstairs TV.

With FiOS TV, we had our first cable box in the bedroom, including our first DVR in the bedroom. Of course, it is also an HD box (both DVR and live). After thinking about it for a whopping two weeks, I decided to break down. Yesterday, Lois and I went over to Sam’s Club to buy an HDTV. I don’t know all that much about them, so I spent about 30 minutes doing very light research (difference between Plasma and LCD, etc.).

Given that these sets are flat panels, I knew that I could go bigger than the current 27″, since the TV could be wider than the opening that the current one is in. I figured that I could go as high as 46″, but 42″ was likely optimal. Sam’s carries lots of HDTV’s, in all sizes and capabilities. After browsing for a long time, I narrowed it to a JVC 42″, a Sharp Aquos 42″, and a Magnavox 37″ (that I knew would be much more pleasing to Lois, aesthetically). All were full HDTV, 1080p, 1920×1080 resolution. I was leaning toward the Sharp. The JVC only had a 1200:1 contrast ratio (I have no idea whether that’s good or bad, but some other sets there were 15000:1, yes 15 thousand), so the JVC sounded puny next to that. I think the Sharp was 6000:1.

Well, it turned out that on the shelves under the demo TV’s, there was no Sharp, but there was one JVC, and one Magnavox (the 37″). I grabbed the JVC and ran. πŸ™‚

Amazingly, the TV comes with zero cables, other than the power cord. Clearly, they assume that whatever source you are connecting to the TV, had to come with cables, or you prefer (yeah right) to buy your own. This, on a TV that can accept 5 simultaneous inputs of varying types! (actually more, but who’s counting)

Having not had any experience with HDTV, or even component cabling, and having hooked it all up before bothering to read either the JVC manual (which I eventually read cover-to-cover) or the STB (Set-Top-Box) manual, the only way I was able to get a picture was to use the lower-end red-white-yellow audio/video connection. That doesn’t carry full HD on it. So, while the TV looked very good (very good indeed!), it still wasn’t awesome. So, I got online and ordered an HDMI cable, which will arrive in a week.

After reading both manuals, I realized what I had done wrong, and I was able to use the component video plus separate audio cables, and I now have full HD working on the TV. Wow, cool! The HDMI cable should be simpler from a cabling point of view, but I doubt the picture will be materially better (if better at all).

Of course I was right about the aesthetics, as Lois wished (after the fact) that we had gone for the 37″ model. I (of course) am delighted that we went with the 42″ one. πŸ˜‰

Lois also wished that it came in either white or grey, rather than the stark black (our built-in is cream colored), but there really was no choice at all, especially given that there was exactly one 42″ 1080p in stock. That said, none of the other demo models were really anything other than black or charcoal gray either…

At the moment, we can’t (without a lot of pain) watch the DirecTV upstairs. While I have a pair of video extenders somewhere in the house, an exhaustive search didn’t locate them (it’s been over 10 years since they were used). I ordered a new pair from X10 on Friday, and they too should get here by the end of the week, when the HDMI cable shows up. That should easily let me switch between FiOS and DirecTV. I still won’t have HD from the DirecTV dish, but it should still look awesome on the new JVC.

While it’s still likely off in the distance, we can both already feel more HDTV’s in our future. At some point, I’ll break down and replace the ancient TV downstairs, especially now that the FiOS stuff will immediately work on it. We had also already discussed getting one for the apartment living room. We never watch TV there alone, but it’s a gathering place when we have company in the city, which is reasonably often, so we might break down and do that in the near future. We’ll let this one sink in first though… πŸ˜‰

Silly DKIM Update

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This is an unnecessary post. I’m mostly doing it because I said I would, but really, because I changed the permalink structure of this blog, and this will be my first post with the new structure (though old posts are available under the new scheme as well). πŸ™‚

It’s been a little more than three months since I started signing all outgoing mail with DKIM. The only smtp servers other than mine that seem to always sign with DKIM are gmail servers. Many Yahoo! users don’t send through their smtp servers.

Like I said, nothing real to report, just that after 3 months, gmail users are the only ones who I reliably see DKIM signatures for.

On a Girlyman Mission

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There, I said it, I’m not embarrassed to be a Girlyman Groupie. πŸ™‚

I’ve previously written about my accidental discovery of this wonderful group. If you didn’t read it, you don’t need to bother, as I’ll summarize much of what I said there here, and provide the more important of the links here as well.

First and foremost, I’m about to rave about this group. I realize how subjective music appreciation can be, so before you continue reading here (assuming you’ve never heard of them and aren’t sure whether your tastes are like mine), I strongly suggest that you take a break and listen to the full length, free, streaming songs that they have on their Myspace page. There are typically 5 songs available there. At the moment, Joyful Sign (the title cut of their latest CD) starts streaming immediately. If you listen to exactly 40 seconds of the song, and don’t love it, you can safely skip the rest of this post.

Many reviewers have written eloquently about Girlyman, comparing them to a modern-day, three voice Simon and Garfunkel, or perhaps more aptly Peter, Paul and Mary. Those are fine comparisons, and I wouldn’t disagree, and I certainly loved (and still do!) both of those groups from my early days of listening to music. That said, Girlyman is more than that. Aside from their wonderful lyrics (many deeply soulful songs), and their stunning harmonies (which they utilize more effectively than the above two groups, IMHO), they also play many different styles of music.

I guess that from reading most of the reviews, one would tend to try and classify them as a Folk group. They certainly play a lot of Folk music, so it’s not a misnomer. That said, they also play some damn good Pop as well, except that by design, their instrumentation is lean (and clean), so they don’t necessarily produce the typical bigger sounds expected in a Pop group. They have a number of songs that are classically Bluegrass. A few songs that are wonderful Country as well.

They produce the different styles in part by switching instruments (e.g., bring the Banjo and/or Mandolin in for a Bluegrass sound), but actually more by controlling the nature, volume and type of harmonies that they sing in order to shift to another style. In other words, rather than having a much bigger band sound (like Rascal Flatts for example, one of our favorites, and another group that harmonizes amazingly), they choose to use their harmonies as pure instruments, creating the same feelings, but not the same big band sound.

I certainly hope that they will make it big, they richly deserve it, and the world could stand to discover them. That said, I know how tough it is (statistically) for any group to make it (now more than ever, with the accelerating death of the traditional Music Company business), and in particular with this more quiet, contemplative style of music. So, I feel like I’m on a personal mission to ensure that as many people are exposed to Girlyman, so that they can make their own decision.

I previously reported that we purchased two of their CD’s at their concert at Joe’s Pub in NYC. They were Joyful Sign (their latest) and Remember Who I Am (their first). As mentioned, our godson got the band to sign Joyful Sign to us, and we’ll treasure that forever. πŸ™‚

In order to spread the word, and support the band in the most direct way possible, we just bought 11 more CDs from the site linked above (in both album titles). We bought 5 copies of Joyful Sign, 2 copies of Little Star (the one CD we didn’t have yet), 2 copies of Remember Who I Am, 1 copy of Shadow of a Habit (the album by the two women in Girlyman, before Girlyman was formed, when they were called The Garden Verge) and one copy of Never Enough Time (a solo album by Nate Borofsky, before he, Ty and Doris formed Girlyman). We’re giving out copies of Joyful Sign to some of our friends this weekend, and we’re excited to directly share their music in this way.

I have a lot more listening to do (and I’ve done a lot already), but here’s my current take on ranking the CDs (this is on the assumption that you end up being interested, but aren’t crazy like us, so you don’t go out and buy them all). πŸ˜‰

Joyful Sign, simply fantastic. A number of styles, all done extremely well, with soaring harmonies and melodies that will grab you by the throat. Warning: some of the songs stick in my head in ways that I can’t get out, even if I want to, so if you listen to the CD a few times, be prepared to find yourself uncontrollably humming, whistling, etc., some of the tunes. You’ve been warned!

Remember Who I Am. A close second.

Shadow of a Habit. This is the one with just the women, who were known as The Garden Verge then. This is a somewhat more mellow sound, but their harmonies are nearly as amazing, even though there are only two of them.

Little Star. This is by no means a weak album, but it doesn’t have the overall oomph that Joyful Sign or Remember Who I Am have.

Never Enough Time. A very nice album as well. There is some beautiful harmony on it as well, but it’s more of a solo effort. I don’t know (because I didn’t research it), whether it’s Ty (or Doris) singing with him, but I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if it is.

Here’s what I find interesting about the above. If I fell in love with Remember Who I Am when it first came out, I might have been disappointed in Little Star (no, it’s not a bad CD, just not as strong). This might have led me to believe that they were running out of creativity, etc. Thankfully, I heard Joyful Sign first, their third CD, and it is amazing. So, whatever caused a slight dip in between the strong beginning and the current acceleration of their talent, I can still appreciate as a strong album on its own, even if not up to the new standard they set with Joyful Sign.

Aside from bringing an excellent voice to the group (both as soloist and harmonizer), Nate brings a little more up-beat-ness to the musical variety of Girlyman. Some of the more interesting sounds are noticeable on his solo album, which has a little more tempo to it than some of the Garden Verge stuff.

The blend of their respective music, voices, writing talent, etc., is absolutely wonderful.

So, even though we just saw them recently, we found out (through their mailing list) that they are coming back to NYC to the Highline Ballroom on November 4th. We were scheduled to leave for Virginia that day, but changed our plans now to be there. We bought a couple of extra tickets and we’re taking some friends to the show to spread the fever. πŸ˜‰

I noticed that they were playing next week in Minneapolis, and immediately wrote to two of my friends there suggesting that they take in the show. Hopefully, they will, and will report back enthusiastically.

For the rest of you, Girlyman seems to be touring all over the place this fall, and I strongly recommend that you check their schedule and see if you can catch them in person.

Hope to see you all at a show in the near future, and if you can’t make it, buy a ton of their CDs. πŸ™‚

Bad result in Sunday Big Tourney on 9/2/2007

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No narrative necessary. Here is the log from my notes from today’s tourney, the first one in over a month that I got to play in…

846 entrants, top 90 paid

800 left in 11th
723 left in 35th
677 left in 56th
631 left in 26th
523 left in 13th
399 left in 283rd (I played one hand really badly!!!)
326 left in 269th
255 left in 114th (I got wildly lucky, thankfully!)
216 left in 110th
163 left in 138th (folded one hand I should have played!)
142 left in 133rd (folded another winner…)
134 left in 107th (won an all-in)
128 left in 117th

38 to go to the money, it’s going to be really tight!

118 left in 100th
103 left in 99th

13 left to the money, not looking great…

Had a tough choice, and I asked Lois what do. There were 97
people left (7 to go), and I was extremely low on chips.
Someone went all-in. I had JJ. I knew that I was likely a
slight favorite, but if I lost, I was out of the money. If I
won, I would definitely be able to make the money.

Lois said “Go for it”. I did. He had AQ. An A came on the
flop, and I was out in 96th. Oh well. So close, and yet, so
far!

I misplayed one hand very badly, and then got a little
tentative in two hands that would have won as well. In other
words, I truly didn’t deserve to make the money, even though
I came really close…

Independently, I came third in an Omaha Hi-Lo last night, and third again in the same tourney today, so I’m up for the month (since I won the entry into the big one in August, so there was zero cost to play it in September).

So, in truth, I can’t really complain. πŸ™‚

August 2007 Poker Update

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Another month, a ton more poker played. πŸ™‚

The month started off OK with 5 days of poker generating $70 of profit. Then a trip to Zope made for zero poker played for the next 5 days (until the weekend). For the next few weeks, I was really busy on weekends, and while at Zope, had no time to play during the week either.

When I got back to NY mid-month, I got to play during the week, but weekends were still busy until the end of the month.

I started losing in dramatic fashion for a few weeks in a row. I made a few bone-headed moves, that I knew were bone-headed moves when I made them (a little out of frustration, and a little out of feeling that my luck just had to change, which is a different form of frustration). That said, for the most part, I believe I was playing as well if not better than I did in July (when I was winning a ton), and I was just wildly unlucky on more rivers than I can remember in recent history. As they say, if you get all of your money in with much the best of it (meaning, not 50/50 races), then you’re playing well and doing your job.

So, with the exception of the few bone-headed moves, I really shook off the bad beats (better than I ever have before), and I plowed on, playing the same way. I was surprised that I was able to handle the slide as well as I did (psychologically), but I have to admit that a huge part of it is that my account is so healthy, that I knew that even if the slide continued for months, I still wouldn’t have to put any new money in my account, and I could continue to play with confidence. There’s nothing like a healthy account (bank, brokerage, poker, etc.) to keep your decisions on track.

At the peak of the bad streak, I was down $354! Not a good thing, but truly nothing compared to my July win.

Then, with nothing changed on my part, but with fewer river beats, my results started changing, and dramatically at that. In addition, on at least 3 occasions, I was the one with the lucky river, handing someone else a bad beat. πŸ˜‰

I started cashing frequently in Omaha Hi-Lo tourneys. There were many (some pretty small), but the highlights were a second that returned $343 (I won my entry into that tourney for $3). I was the chip leader when there were only 2 of us left, but I can’t complain. The day before, I finished fifth in the same tourney (also won my entry), and got back $131 for my $3.

Bottom line, I ended up $74 for the month (after hitting up $119 mid-week). I’m pretty happy with the turnaround, and with the fact that I didn’t get frustrated and start playing too stupidly.

Sounds like a reasonable month, given how badly it went in the middle. Well, it was actually a much better month than the “bottom line” implies. As I noted in a non-poker post, I was unable to play in any of the big Sunday tourneys in August. I was busy at 5pm (booked in advance) on every single Sunday. While I played a few qualifiers this month (because you can unregister and use the Tournament Dollars [TDs] for a future entry). I lost them all.

This week, I am available to play (tomorrow). It won’t be August, but the qualifiers played this past week are part of my August results. I played in two qualifiers this week. I won a seat in both! That means that in addition to playing in the big one tomorrow, I had enough TDs to play in a future Sunday big one of my choice, without having to play in another qualifier. Each was worth $215, and they are not included in my results for August. In fact, they both show up as losses, so I’m negative $46 for those two entry fees. To be consistent with previous accounting (and I’m comfy with that decision), any winnings in future tourneys with these TDs will be free money.

In addition to that, I’ve won quite a number of qualifiers to my nightly 7pm Omaha Hi-Lo (I had a really good streak), and used one of them on Monday night (that I had won on Saturday!) to win the afore-mentioned $343!

The point is, that this month turned around a lot more than just -$354 to +$74.

So, another month with a positive cash-flow in poker, therefore another happy month. πŸ™‚

Pat Green, Sugarland and Kenny Chesney

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Another long one…

Last night Lois and I saw Pat Green, Sugarland and Kenny Chesney at Madison Square Garden (MSG) in NYC.

We don’t own any Kenny Chesney albums, and don’t know his music well at all. I have heard many times that he gives one of the greatest shows, but that alone wouldn’t have necessarily gotten me to buy tickets, especially as far in advance as we did. I believe that Kenny Chesney was the top touring artist in 2006, but for sure was the top Country touring artist then. He is currently projected to be the top Country touring artist in 2007, and the second overall, to the Police.

Regardless of whether we should have wanted to see Kenny Chesney, we both really wanted to see Pat Green and Sugarland. Lois has loved Pat Green from the first song she ever heard of his. I think he’s great too. I am nuts about Sugarland. Lois likes their music, but Jennifer Nettles grates on her a little like fingernails on a chalkboard. She appreciates the beauty and power of her voice, but can’t stand what appears to be an overly put on twang. Just listen closely to any word she pronounces that rhymes with “life”. I can’t do it justice, but it comes out like: “laaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyyf”. Anyway, it doesn’t bug me in the least, nor distract from her absolute brilliance as a singer.

So, we were both instantly committed to going to this show, and we considered finding about about Kenny Chesney to be a likely bonus, rather than the actual draw to go. We bought the tickets well in advance, and tucked them away in our trusty drawer.

We walked from the apartment to MSG and got there a little before 7pm. Since the primary purpose of MSG is to house the Knicks (basketball) and Rangers (hockey), seeing a concert there can be less than ideal. We didn’t want to sit on the “floor” (though tickets were available), since it’s flat, and typically everyone in front of you stands the entire time, forcing you to stand too (keep in mind, we’re old folk). So, I purchased tickets directly opposite the stage, about 1/2 way up the arena. From a broad perspective, these are/were good seats. But, practically speaking, they are nearly a city block away from the stage (given the oval nature of the arena), so the performers look a little larger than ants.

I have written before about the group that owns MSG, Radio City Music Hall and The Beacon Theater. They run their concerts like well-oiled machines, starting with the marketing and finishing with the actual schedules of the concerts. I am incredibly impressed with everything they do. To begin with, they send two emails, spaced a few days apart, reminding you about the upcoming show, and giving details (like starting time, order that the artists will be appearing, etc.). Very nice touch.

Since they run their shows like an on-time train (if only they owned an airline!), we knew that Pat Green would be hitting the stage at exactly 7:30pm, not a minute later. Indeed, he did. He played 5 songs, and was on from just about 1/2 an hour. He was great. I didn’t recognize 3 of the 5 songs, which were likely off of his new album (Cannonball) which we own, but I haven’t listened to yet. The other two were wonderful, including his biggest hit, Wave on Wave, which he closed with. It was incredibly well done, and the audience went wild for it, singing along the entire song. He had tons of energy and was super jazzed to be in front of such a big crowd in NYC (specifically at MSG), and kept repeating that throughout his set.

After exactly a 15 minute intermission, Sugarland came on. They played for 45 minutes and played hit after hit. I knew every song, and delighted in every song. Not only do they sound great, but their energy is incredible as well, and Jennifer Nettles gives an excellent show. She dances and prances and basically engages the audience extremely well. And, of course, there’s her voice. πŸ™‚

As good as both Pat Green and Sugarland were, to me, MSG is not nearly as good a venue to see these types of groups as the other places we typically frequent. It’s not just that it’s large, but given that it’s a sports arena, it’s gigantic, there is no carpeting, etc., so sound just bounces around the place. That forces them to really crank up the volume. Of course, while that solves some of the problems, it creates new ones, including reverberation, piercing notes, etc. It can really be quite unpleasant at times. This is no fault of the bands, nor likely even of the people working the sound board, just a fact of life in these kinds of arenas. Given how many fans Kenny Chesney has, he can’t realistically come to NYC and play a smaller venue, unless he does what The Allman Brothers Band did, and play for a few solid weeks at a place like the Beacon Theater…

For both Pat Green and Sugarland, there was a giant drape behind the stage showing the cover of their current albums. On either side of the stage was a very large screen showing the highlighted performer (live) at that time. So, even though people were small on the stage (from our seats), you could always see what the current soloist (vocal, guitar, drum, etc.) was doing, reasonably clearly. It was nicely done.

Both bands were really excellent as well, though because of the acoustics, it took effort to pick out individual instruments.

After a 20 minute intermission, things started happening. I’m not trying to be mysterious, we really didn’t know exactly what was going on because they dropped another drape in front of the stage during this intermission, so whatever they were doing behind it, was invisible to most of the crowd. During the other down times, they played pretty good music (a very wide range, not only Country). All of a sudden, it started sounding like the band (Kenny’s) might be playing live (but a tad subdued) behind the big curtain. Not sure, but after the fact, I think not!

Anyway, they started with an interesting set of videos on the aforementioned large screens on the sides of the stage. The excitement was certainly building. Then, the video switched to a (likely) live feed labeled KennyCam. So, from backstage, you (supposedly) were seeing everything Kenny was seeing, but of course, you never saw Kenny himself. It was definitely cool, if a touch on the cheesy side as well, since it dragged out for quite a while (MSG is pretty darn big after all).

When he showed up on stage, they dropped the drape from the front, the crowd erupted maniacally. The entire stage had been transformed into a multimedia showcase. There were even larger screens (at least 4) behind and above the stage, and they were utilized to perfection! On occasion, they showed live scenes, on occasion music video style action, and on occasion just very heart-warming stills or videos of scenes that seemed to go with the current song. Truly brilliantly done.

Even though I don’t know his music (in the sense that I don’t own his albums, and therefore specifically listen to him multiple times), I recognized the vast majority of his songs (even many of the words). This is a testament to how much radio air time he gets, since Lois and I often listen to Country on XM Radio (as previously reported). I characterize most of his songs as fun, in the style and sense of Jimmy Buffet. Kenny’s sound is much larger. He has a huge band, including 4 horn players, multiple lead guitarists, and I’m reasonably sure there were two drummers on the stage as well. They were extraordinary musicians, and somehow, rose above most of the acoustics problems of the evening. Don’t ask me to explain how.

Kenny is a breathtaking performer. Pat Green and Sugarland had seemingly infinite energy, but you have to trust me when I tell you that they didn’t even come close to how much running around Kenny does on the stage. It’s 100% for the benefit of the fans. He does everything he possibly can to connect with as many individual fans as he possibly can. He shakes hands, gives high fives, etc., whenever he gets the opportunity. He never stops smiling, and seems to care deeply about the audience and their enjoyment.

As opposed to some who choose to be political on the stage (in either direction), he made one very simple statement: “There are a lot of problems in the world. We can’t possibly solve them tonight, so let’s enjoy the music and have a good time.” Amen!

I might have thought in advance that he was particularly beloved by humans of the female persuasion. I would have been wrong. The guys in our section were insane for him. Many were dancing throughout the show. All knew every word to every song, and belted them out as loudly as you can imagine. It was actually fun being surrounded by people who clearly idolize the performer they came to see. The energy was contagious in a way that both Lois and I (independently!) described as “being in a revival meeting”. It had the same kind of genuine fervor.

For me, I don’t think Kenny has such a great voice. There’s nothing wrong with it, and perhaps he missed a note here or there because of the physical energy he puts out. That said, it didn’t make the slightest difference. There was a pure joy throughout the show, that is in some ways indescribable.

I would sum it all up with one word (but you have to pick the word) πŸ˜‰

Extravaganza or Spectacle

Here’s what I really think going to his concerts is all about, and I think he’s well aware of it, and his fans are too, even if it’s not conscious on their part:

A Kenny Chesney concert is an opportunity to come sing your favorite songs with Kenny himself!

Seriously, 90% of the crowd sang every word of every song with him, as loud as they could, and Kenny encouraged every bit of it, often stopping to sing and pointing the mike into the audience. It was like being invited into his living room for a sing-a-long, with 15,000 of his closest friends.

At one point he said that he had taken his gang out to the Yankee game the night before, and sat in the 10th row (the Yankees beat the Red Sox that night, in fact, they swept this week’s series). Shortly after telling that, he brought out Roger Clemens on to the stage, and then Johnny Damon. I think there was a third Yankee as well, but I didn’t catch his name. The crowd went berserk! During the song (that they sang with Kenny!), Roger pulled up his son from the crowd. It was a wild scene in the audience, and at the end of the song, they strapped a guitar to his son (who seemed a little overwhelmed), and it was as cute as you could imagine.

The encore was one of the more unusual (and fun) that I have ever seen. When they came back out, they did a fantastic number (sorry, I don’t know his music well enough to drop the right name here). After that, the band played without Kenny (a fantastic song as well, with each taking wonderful solos). Kenny spent the time thanking/saluting the crowd, and signing dozens of autographs on hats, programs, etc. He was like a machine, and the fans were eating it up. It was a true celebration of the evening between the star and his adoring fans.

So, we had a great time, and enjoyed the Kenny Chesney concert way more than either of us thought we would, in particular, in a venue that was less than perfect for music. Bravo!

Verizon FIOS TV

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So, I’ve been using Verizon FIOS for my Internet connection in the house for quite a while now, and I absolutely love it! When they first installed it, the tech said that they would be introducing TV over the same fiber connection, likely within 6 months.

Well, it’s been much longer than 6 months, but it finally became available.

Lois and I have relatively pedestrian TV watching habits, including not owning an HDTV (even though I think they are awesome). I had both a cable connection (just basic, no boxes) and a DirecTV satellite with a large-drive DVR connected to the satellite. Don’t ask why I didn’t get rid of the cable when I got the satellite over 12 years ago…

I also have a pretty screwy (but very reliable) wiring setup to allow the cable or the satellite to be displayed on either of our two TVs (one upstairs, one downstairs). That was (by far) my biggest hesitation in ordering FIOS TV.

I got the announcement of availability in my neighborhood in the mail, and then researched it online. As intrigued as I was, I actually decided to wait a while, just because of the pain. Then a few days later, while at Zope, I got a marketing/sales call from Verizon (almost definitely outsourced), pitching me on taking the FIOS TV package. What convinced me in the end was that they too (like the cable companies) are now offering “Triple Play” (phone, Internet and TV). Well, I already have phone and Internet from them, and adding TV will actually lower my combined bill (Verizon and Cable) by a reasonable amount, while giving me more channels plus a DVR for the FIOS stuff as well.

Sold!

So, they installed it yesterday. The tech was great, and I only had to explain my screwy wiring once, and he got it right. Cool. But, in order to get the cooler services, they also had to swap the free WiFi Router that they had previously installed for FIOS Internet service with a better one that handled OnDemand TV as well. The old router was a Dlink 624. When first installed, I was apprehensive, because I didn’t think all that highly of Dlink stuff. It has been flawless for over a year, and I customized it to handle all of my special needs (notably VoIP and Slingbox).

The tech replaced it with a gigantic Verizon-branded router. Turns out that it’s an ActionTec model, clearly made for Verizon.

He told me that I really shouldn’t change the defaults. Yeah, right. πŸ˜‰

Well, by default, it worked correctly (and well) for the Internet, but it didn’t work for my Sling and VoIP, because they were set up to do things in a special way.

The router has a very powerful menu system, which was not intuitive, nor easily discoverable. I struggled to find the right bits to make my changes. When I finally found the right bits, any change I made was “accepted”, but then the router simply stopped working. It would not hand out any DHCP addresses that weren’t the original default. It had no way (that I could find) to marry a MAC address to a DHCP address to “lock” a machine to a particular address.

Oh well, after doing a “Factory Reset” a few times, I gave up, and decided to live with their defaults.

It was extremely painful to make the changes to my Asterisk machine (Red Hat 9), because I can’t easily log in to it, and I couldn’t ssh to it because it was on a different network. πŸ™

I had to boot a Rescue CD, enable ssh, ssh in, mount the internal drive, edit the networking startup scripts, and then reboot. Finally, I got all the right bits working, and the machine (and VoIP service) was working again. The Sling was slightly easier, but painful as well.

Anyway, Lois asked if it was worth it to have upgraded, and the answer yesterday was clearly “No”. Now that’s it’s done, I’m feeling less negative, and we’ll see wither the FIOS TV stuff makes up for the hassle…

A very Wicked Sunday :-)

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If you read my last post, you know that the highlight of yesterday was going to see Wicked for our fifth time. In addition to that specific highlight, the day turned out to be spectacular in a number of other ways. Therefore, this post will likely be very long, and I apologize if you’re only tuning in to hear what we thought of the two leads in Wicked. You can either search or skim to find out the $64k answer to that question. πŸ˜‰

Amazingly enough, I have checked off every single category that I have previously used in this one post. Well, it’s only amazing because there is something about each category in this post. Clearly, I could just check them all off every time if I felt like it. πŸ˜‰

We debated going in on Saturday night, but that decision ended up being made for us when I won a free entry into the nightly 7pm Omaha Hi-Lo tourney, which I played in the house. Since we’re less than a week away from the monthly poker update, I’ll just say that I came 10th (they paid the top 10 only), so it was a “good” result, but economically, far from first place (first was 15 times larger than the prize I won!). Also, because of Wicked on Sunday, this was going to be the fourth straight week that I would not be around to even try and play in the big Sunday weekly tourney. OK, that accounts for the Poker and Gambling categories being in this one.

When we woke up on Sunday, we both checked email on our Treos, and neither of us turned on our laptops. When we got home, we didn’t turn them on either. That made yesterday one of the only days in recent memory when we were in NY, didn’t have company, and both of use chose not to log on the entire day. Not sure it ever happened before, but if so, it’s a rarity. That also meant that there was no poker played yesterday, which is also unusual for a day in NY without company, but not as rare as not logging on. So, this qualifies as being in the Computers, Poker and Gambling categories.

We drove in on the early side, straight to the apartment. On the way, we listened to the latest CD from Girlyman (previously reviewed here) Joyful Sign, and loved it the entire way in. Shortly after arriving at the apartment, I went on my 8+ mile walk around the city. The weather was nearly perfect. 100% cloud cover (the sun didn’t even peek out for a second), and not too hot or too humid. Ten degrees cooler and it would have been perfect. My typical time (average would be a misnomer here) is 2 hours and 15 minutes. Yesterday it took me only 2 hours and 5 minutes, so the cool weather helped. Of course, I listened to my iPod the entire way, and it didn’t freeze this time, adding to the nice day. This qualifies for adding Music as a category, and of course, the entire post qualifies for Personal.

After a shower, we relaxed and watch Friday night’s episode of Monk (on the DVR). We always love Monk, but this episode was weak in comparison to most. We still enjoyed it, but aside from sharing with you what we did the entire day, it also qualified as one of only two things during the day that also correctly put this post into the Frustration category.

We debated what to do about lunch. Both of us were hungry enough to do a big meal, but after the gorging that we did last weekend, we were both glad to have slowed down this week (amazingly, I lost all of the weight I gained last weekend!). So, we also didn’t want to go too crazy. We finally decided to go to the Palm, across from the theater, but not over do it. Yeah, right. πŸ˜‰

We got to the theater, picked up our tickets at the Will Call, and crossed the street, only to find out that the Palm doesn’t open for lunch on Sundays. Perhaps they don’t open for dinner either, but a passerby told us they did, so they might. Marginally disappointed, we decided to find another restaurant. I spotted an Applebees 1/2 a block away on Broadway and 50th. We decided to head there. Serendipitously, when we got to the corner, I spotted the other Ruby Foos on the corner of Broadway and 49th. I previously blogged about how great Ruby Foos is, though I’ve only eaten at the uptown one before. Clearly, we both felt that we were meant to eat there. πŸ™‚

The menu is identical to the uptown location, and the decor is as well. The building itself uptown is two floors, so the layout inside is much more opulent, but there’s nothing wrong with this location. We both thoroughly enjoyed our meals. That’s not entirely true. Lois actually didn’t like the filler and sauce for her main dish, but we so enjoyed the calamari appetizer, that eating just the grilled shrimp and scallops off of the top of her dish was good enough. This paragraph qualifies for the Food and Dining categories.

At the end of the meal, our waitress asked us if we were going to see a show. When we told her it was Wicked, she said that she was really interested in seeing it, because whenever her sister comes to visit her in NYC, she goes. Her sister has seen it five times, but our waitress was working each time, and hasn’t gotten to go yet. Omens anyone? I mentioned to the waitress that we were about to catch up to her sister. πŸ™‚

We strolled over to the theater, and were blown away by how good our seats were. It turns out that EE is actually the 4th row, not the 5th, as the AA row is only right and left orchestra. Essentially, the real orchestra is in row AA. πŸ˜‰

Of course, the omen of EE (5-5) for our fifth time, wasn’t lost on me. πŸ˜‰

We knew we would love the seats, and the performance, but we were both nervous about the abilities of the stars. I don’t want to turn this into a mystery novel, so I’ll dispense with the suspense. We knew within the first few notes that Glinda (played by Kendra Kassebaum) sang, that she was not going to cut it, by our standards. She has an excellent voice, but she doesn’t put it together for this role. Not even all that close. She’s by no means awful (like the understudy I wrote about), but it was passable, at best. OK, we still had anticipation of how Elphaba would sound.

She comes on in the second song, but doesn’t sing until the third. In the second song, it was obvious that Elphaba (played by Julia Murney) was an excellent actress. We were not disappointed in the acting of any of the previous leads (other than the understudy), but we typically sat much further back, so you don’t really appreciate facial expressions, etc. In fact, everything was far more interesting this close up, and I was painfully aware that it would be easy to get trapped into only wanting to see shows where the seats were this good. Given how much we’ve enjoyed so many other shows, and Wicked in particular, from much worse seats, that would be a real mistake!

Then we got to song #3, the first of many that showcase (or can) Elphaba’s talent and range, “The Wizard and I”. As with Glinda, it was obvious in the first few notes that Julia didn’t have it. She’s not bad either (though I believe that the raw vocal talent between the two lies in Kendra, not Julia). There are two problems with Julia’s voice:

  1. She can’t transition ranges smoothly. She might be able to sing in a particular range (high or low) reasonably well, but when she switches (which this role does frequently), her voice often cracks, or does something else that is less than stellar.
  2. She has no power, and when she pushed the notes that require it, I felt badly for her. Also, she couldn’t hit the highest of notes required by the role.

The last problem, though it was relatively minor, is that each of them brought their own special little styling or phrasing to their solos. None was over the top (as was the case with the oft-mentioned understudy), but it’s annoying nonetheless (I’ll expound momentarily on that theme). That said, one surprising positive note was that there was little fooling around when they sang harmonies together, and for the most part, it was pleasant and reasonably done, but most certainly not spine chilling!

The closest I’ve ever sat before yesterday was 22 rows back (so 18 rows further than yesterday). Lois had a single seat in row L once, when we bought an extra ticket for a surprise visitor from England. I sat with our other two friends in the balcony that day. Even in row L, which was only 12 rows further than yesterday, Lois says she saw so many new things from the close-up seats. That’s not a major statement though, since those of you who know Lois, know she’s essentially legally blind (no, for those of who don’t know Lois, that’s not a joke, or a crack at my wife). So, she was particularly thrilled to see things that I had easily seen before, even from far away. I think it made the performance magical for her, even though she felt the same way (if not even more critical) about the singing of the leads.

Now my exposition on styling and phrasing. Feel free to skip this rant, or the rest of the post, if all you came for was a review on this performance of Wicked. You’ve gotten that already. πŸ˜‰

I completely understand (but don’t like!) when a musical group that has been around for ages gets tired of playing the hits in exactly the same way each and every day. From my perspective, it’s still incumbent upon them to deliver what their paying audiences expect, but at least I understand it.

In some cases, they have good reasons/excuses. Bruce Hornsby is now teamed with Ricky Skaggs. When they perform, it’s mostly a Bluegrass theme, and it gave Bruce the opportunity to update some of his big hits in a radical way, but perhaps still appreciated by the fans who came to hear Bluegrass!

For a different perspective, I always love to listen to the live version of Mr. Bojangles by David Bromberg. The song was written by Jerry Jeff Walker. As an aside, Lois and I attended a benefit in Austin, TX in May 2006, with a lot of famous people presenting and/or performing. One was Jerry Jeff, who sang Mr. Bojangles (wonderfully!), and we were about 15 feet away from him! David tells (in the middle of the song) how he and Jerry Jeff used to play the song together live every night (forever), and how he (David) never tired of it. On the other hand, Jerry Jeff did, and after they would perform it for the audience, they’d play it for themselves, and “do horrible things to it“, so I really do understand.

The other excuse/reason to muck with a song would be if you were playing it to the same audience frequently, and you might expect that they would appreciate hearing it differently.

Unfortunately, none of those situations applies to a Broadway play. The overwhelming majority of theater goers are seeing any given show for the first time (and likely only time for that show). Second, the cast didn’t write the songs, and rarely have been in a given role for that long, and shouldn’t have the need for artistic freedom with the piece. Not to mention that there is (or should be!) a director involved, ensuring the quality.

Theater goers should easily fall into one of three categories:

  1. Never seen or heard the show/music before. While you can argue that they might like the stylized version, or least not know or care about the difference, I doubt you could argue that they would like the original (often Tony-winning!) version any less.
  2. Been to the show. Well, they’re coming back for more. πŸ˜‰ Unless they saw this specific cast, doing this specific stylized version, odds are that this group will be at least somewhat disappointed.
  3. Never been to the show, but listen to the CD. This might be the largest group, but certainly is second behind #1 if not. This group only knows the gold standard for how the music is meant to be sung. If they’ve listened to the CD more than once (or, in my case, over 1000 times, no exaggeration), they have no choice but to be disappointed. The correct version is imprinted on their brains. πŸ˜‰

There must be thousands, if not 10’s of thousands of ultra-talented actors/singers out there who would kill for an opportunity to star in Wicked. Here’s why I simply can’t comprehend the way the show is being performed (and I’m sure there has to be something wrong with me, or my thought process):

For the auditions, tell people that they have to listen to the Original Cast CD 1000 times, and come back when they can sing it note for note. Only then, do you audition for the acting part of the role.

What could be simpler? No styling, no phrasing, no ad-libing of any kind. You can either nail the songs or you can’t. If not, then Next!

But, for some reason, perhaps that the Director is bored hearing the same show every day, they allow the improvisations to continue, and they continue to recruit sub-par singers…

OK, it’s finally off my chest (sort of). Both Lois and I are decidedly against seeing it again with these two ladies in the lead. Here’s hoping they get swapped out sooner rather than later. That said, both of us thoroughly enjoyed the experience yesterday, and got to concentrate on other aspects of the show, which were delightful from our up-front perspective. I’m still laughing at the woman who reviewed the story as weak, the sets as weak, and the singing as fantastic. Oh well, that’s what makes the world interesting. πŸ™‚

So, is there a lesson learned here? Yes, trust YouTube! Seriously, it was obvious even from the really poor quality of the cell-phone made YouTube videos of both leads that this was not a role they could handle. The seats were too good, and everything else about the opportunity as it unfolded was awesome, that we really couldn’t pass it up. But, I know to trust my instincts in the future, and go with the force, Luke…

Both Fiyero and The Wizard were played by actors new to us in their respective roles. The Wizard is a character actor whom we’ve seen on TV hundreds of times! Both were outstanding, and added thoroughly to our enjoyment of the show.

The above obviously qualifies for both the Broadway and Music categories, thus rounding out all of my previous categories (with one exception, which I’ll get to next). Hopefully, it was obvious to you that the performances of the two leads was the second reason that this post qualified for the Frustration category…

If you needed any proof of why Lois and I are together after so many years, I’ll share an honest-to-goodness story from yesterday, which is not as uncommon as you might think. During the performance, I was thinking that if I were Bill Gates, I would rent out the theater on a Monday when it was dark, pay Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel (the two original leads, and both are on the Original Cast CD) to join the remainder of the current cast and chorus (or, if I really was Bill Gates, probably bring back the entire original cast for the night), and invite 2000 of my closest friends, to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime good time.

At intermission, Lois turns to me and says: “Wouldn’t it be great if we were rich, and we could pay Stephen Schwartz (the creator of the Wicked Musical) to get Kristin and/or Katie Kate Reinders back together with Idina or Eden Mendoza Espinosa (thanks very much to Steph for correcting my hurried mistakes in the comment below!), for just one night, and invite all of our friends?”

Folks, I’m not kidding. We’re too alike for our own good. The difference between us is that Lois only wished to be rich enough to pull it off. I wished to have the kind of money Bill Gates has, so that pulling it off wouldn’t make a dent, or seem even a little unusual for me to do. πŸ˜‰

I’m telling this next part out of order, because it is 100% inconsequential, other than it is a perfectly valid reason to tag this post with the final category, VoIP. πŸ™‚ While I was out walking, Lois called my cell phone, something she rarely does. She let me know that she couldn’t dial out normally from the apartment, but had to add a prefix of “9”, which routes through our external VoIP provider (see, a legitimate use of the VoIP category). Turns out that calls routed through our house line (which is our default) were failing because the house router got a new dynamic address from Verizon FIOS that was not in the previous ranges, and the firewall at the apartment didn’t like the new address. Problem solved easily this morning…

So, you think you’re done reading? I beg to differ. Our day was not over yet, as this was about Sunday, not just Wicked. πŸ˜‰

We went back to the apartment, packed up, and headed back to the house. On the way home, we listened to another Girlyman CD (Remember Who I am), and it too is excellent! Just as we were pulling in to our cul-de-sac, a car pulled in behind us. Our neighbors two doors down were coming home from the movies. We’re nuts about both of them (and their daughter), and even though we live 200 feet apart, we rarely get to spend quality time with them given each of our schedules.

So, after 10 seconds of schmoozing in the cul-de-sac, we unpacked our car and walked over to their house. We hung out for nearly 2 hours, and then got home and collapsed, watching two 1/2 hour comedies to unwind (both were hysterical), and then dropped off on the early side.

Finally, something not really related to Sunday. Aside from Wicked yesterday, which was a last minute thought, I have been unable to play in any of the weekly Sunday big tourneys in August so far. This has been marginally disappointing, given my excellent (if lucky) results in July. I did play in a number of qualifiers during the month, even knowing I couldn’t play that week, because you are permitted to unregister a seat, and get Tournament Dollars (TDs) which you can use to register into a future tournament. That said, since I knew I couldn’t play, I didn’t enter many qualifiers. I didn’t win the seat in any of them…

Today, while writing this blog, I decided to try my hand at a qualifier, given that I’m likely to be free (for the first time in a month!) this coming Sunday. I put up $15.50, and top three players out of 40 would win an entry. I came third, and won the seat! So, in the first try to win a seat in the first tournament that I can actually play in, for the least amount I could realistically spend to get in, I got the seat. Woo Hoo. Happy endings all around. πŸ™‚

P.S. Even though this post is incredibly long, somehow, I feel that I’ve left out something important from yesterday. Oh well, I should have logged on last night after all. πŸ˜‰

Can you count to 5? :-)

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I just checked, and while I mention our obsession with Wicked in 2 (or 3) postings, I have never blogged about Wicked directly. I was surprised, but it made sense when I thought about it for a second. I started this blog right after our last viewing of Wicked. Last? Yes, for the few of you out there who are woefully uninformed, Lois and I have seen Wicked 4 times already, all between July 5th, 2006 and December 29th, 2006.

It is far and away our favorite show of all time on Broadway, and between us, we have some shows that we’ve seriously loved, going back to Richard Kiley in Man of La Mancha, the original Fiddler on the Roof, etc. We’ve also loved some recent shows (including Brian Stokes Mitchell in Man of La Mancha, he was simply amazing!).

Of the fours times we’ve seen it, one had an understudy for Elphaba that was awful. Even so, not only wasn’t the show ruined for us, I still loved it! I have to say that I felt bad for the rest of the audience who was seeing it for the first time and thought that this is how it was supposed to be performed! πŸ™

Unfortunately, on that day we happened to take two very good friends with us, who happened to be filling in for two other good friends of ours who had to cancel at the last minute, and they really didn’t enjoy it as much as we expected they would. Perhaps if the lead Elphaba had been there, it would have made a difference…

You might wonder whether we had any desire to see it again? The definitive answer is yes. We haven’t gone (or even tried to go), because the two leads both changed on January 9th, 2007 (10 days after the last time we went), and the few YouTube videos of each of them doing their Wicked roles elsewhere were awful. I was wildly disappointed, because the thought of seeing fresh faces doing the leads was a positive thing for me.

I often think about how to find out whether they have settled in to the roles or not, and we are both itching to see it again. Today, out of the clear blue, I did a Google search for “wicked broadway review julia”. I found a review by someone in NJ who saw it this week. She (my assumption as to the gender) was wildly disappointed. That said, the review was the exact opposite of what I expected. She hated the story line (thought it was boring), hated the sets (thought they were boring), but (and this the point!), she got the chills when the two witches sang together.

All I was curious about is whether these ladies can sing. Of course, trusting someone who completely missed the beauty and depth of the storyline, and didn’t understand the simplicity and power of the set design, didn’t leave me in a very trusting mood…

So, off I went in search of more reviews. I found a NY Times site with 756 reviews of Wicked by users (not critics). A maximum of 5 stars, plus commentary. The average rating was 4.25 out of 5. So far, so good, but, how fresh were these reviews? Luckily, they are sorted in reverse chronological order, and the top 4 all had seen the two women I was interested in learning about. All 4 of them gave 5 stars, and all four wrote glowing reviews (which, aside from not knowing these particular leads, I completely agree with, every single word).

So, it would seem that either the YouTube videos were misleading, or they’ve gotten better now that they’ve been on Broadway for a long time, or, like the one night we had the awful understudy, the show overcomes inferior performances all on its own!

We’re up at the house for a slightly longer stretch than usual (what a blessing!). We have to be in the city Wednesday night and Thursday night this coming week. Lois asked me to check whether there were tickets available for either night. I laughed for two reasons:

  1. The show is typically sold out months in advance
  2. We have tickets to see Kenny Chesney on Thursday night, and I have dinner plans with a former colleague on Wednesday night

πŸ™‚

So, on a lark, I just searched for the next available dates. Amazingly, there were two tickets available in the orchestra for this Sunday’s matinΓ©e! I asked her if she wanted to “go for it”, and she was extremely enthusiastic about doing it! We never (and I need to emphasize, in case the bold lettering didn’t make the point, never) go into the city from the house for an activity by ourselves, and return to the house the same day. Yet, we’re about to do just that! πŸ™‚

Now, for the piΓ¨ce de rΓ©sistance, the seating. We got tickets in row EE, center orchestra. I told Lois that was possibly the last row, and she said she was fine with that. However, after paying for the seats, I discovered that it is the fifth row. We have never had seats this good in our previous times there, so we are quintuply excited (get it?). πŸ˜‰

Anyway, that’s it for now. I’ll be sure to write up something small (or long) πŸ˜‰ when we finally get to see it for our fifth time.

Bodies the Exhibition

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This is my final post about our adventures this past weekend (hey, stop clapping!). πŸ˜‰

After our lunch at Pizzeria Uno on Monday, we walked through Bodies. Our godson just finished his third year in Medical School, and this weekend was a celebration of his completing his Medical Boards on Friday of last week. So, he had a particular interest in seeing this exhibition.

This isn’t usually my cup of tea. I was happy to go, but didn’t really know what to expect.

So, this still isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but I have to say, the entire exhibition is truly a work of art, and fascinating on any number of levels. Having a med student with us made it all the more special, as he was able to point out specific examples of things that gave unusual views of how the body works, etc.

I was mildly surprised at how many kids were there, given that it could be construed as an icky display on a number of levels (these are real dissected human beings!). But, it’s all tastefully done, incredibly skillfully, and with wonderful explanations accompanying exactly what you’re seeing and why.

We took our time walking through the exhibit, and it took us roughly 90 minutes start to finish. I think we all enjoyed it thoroughly, and I know that I learned a lot as well.

Definitely recommended, especially if you have the slightest interest in understanding how the body works!