Friday, February 29, 2008

W.O.F. 3

It's Weird Object Friday! So let's get right to it!
What is this thing??? (Clues have been carefully duct taped)
Anyone passing by is invited to leave a comment and try to identify this thing.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

squirrel's-eye view of front porch

If a squirrel or other low-lying animal approached our front porch, this series of pictures simulates their view (aside from the fact that they would be seeing in black and white, as I recall). It is remarkable how daunting a set of steps appears to be for a critter, but they really don't seem to think much of it.

Today's sports team name of note is the Poca (WV) Dots. This town of 1,013 in Putnam County, West Virginia, just down the road (I64) west of Charleston, turns out a full roster football team year after year. You can read all about them on the web, but I'm not sure why you'd want to unless you were from around there, a homesick alum, or just killin' time surfin'. I would add that you will not likely find a sports team logo much easier to replicate, artistically, than a "dot".

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Decent Snow

It's good to get a decent snow at least once a year. We've had some two or three inchers, but today Mother Nature has dropped six or seven inches on us and is continuing to whiten up the place. The dog loves it - she gets to sniff footprints and do her snowplow impression. The birds probably do not like it that much - but they endure. The plowboys, dozens of them with pickups and blade attachments, come out of the woodwork and get busy clearing drives and lots.

I like tromping around, beating overloaded bushes back up to their normal stature with a broom, watching our elderly dog cavort, and just following the flakes as they fall and ride the wind. Plus, interesting weather gives you something to chat about around the water cooler or meeting table, when you're reaching for some common denominator small talk.

We have to get out and enjoy this one because it is, after all, late February. This could be the big one for this year.

Addendum: We continue to seek out and bring to you what we consider to be the finest team names in the world of sports. Today, given the icy weather, we salute the Brandon (Manitoba) Wheat Kings, a member of the Western Hockey League. Brandon is a city of about 40,000 people, second in size only to Winnipeg in Manitoba, and is set in a very agricultural area. Needless to say, lots of wheat is grown out there. There are 22 teams in the WHL; among them, the Edmonton Oil Kings, Moose Jaw Warriors, and Chilliwack Bruins.

Monday, February 25, 2008

I Can't Believe I Watched the Whole Thing

I can take the Academy Awards or leave them. I usually leave them. Inexplicably, I appear to have watched the whole thing last night, from the meager beginning award (placement of microphones in a foreign documentary under eight minutes) to the bitter end (best picture). I guess I was simultaneously reading the Sunday paper, and I was on the phone for a while, but I'm pretty sure I watched it from beginning to end with at least some attention. And it was not all that entertaining, although it struck me that the quality of the ads rivaled those of this year's Super Bowl.

I'm not a follower of those who glitter in Hollywood. Out of the five or so pictures up for best flick, I had seen one (Juno). The only other award winner that we had caught - and just last week on DVD - was Ratatouille, which is an above average animation, in my not well informed opinion.

I only recall one highlight from the whole seventeen hour production. Or maybe it went 27 hours. It was when the unknown (to me, which is not too amazing) man and woman who had sung that low key song from the movie about the man and woman writing the low key song in question, were getting their award (for their low key song) and the guy said some nice things about the rise of independent artist, then the orchestra, which was very aggressive this year, cut in and did not let the poor low key young woman say anything, then there were some advertisements, then Jon Stewart, righting the wrong, let the young woman come back out and say a few words, and she said some nice things about hope and dreams, and she got a really nice round of applause. I liked that. It was almost a little movie in itself, about how these unknown (again, to me) people who can't even afford a guitar that doesn't look like it ought to be condemned and demolished, could rise to the heights of Hollywood ballyhoo. I'm proud of them, and happy for all of us, as the take-away is that we can achieve the dream if they can. Although they do have the advantage that they are pretty talented writers and performers.

After that, not much to talk about, although that woman from Michael Clayton seemed somewhat interesting and not yet a part of the jaded Hollywood crowd. Good for her. And then I always like seeing Helen Mirren. I'm a big fan; those mysteries on PBS (BBC) where she was a chief of detectives were the best, and I did catch her convincing Queen Elizabeth turn. And the exposition of the skinnier Coen Brother (First time up: "Thanks". Second time up: "I really don't have anything to add". Brilliant and concise.)

It got me thinking about awards and how these actors and even the key grips and gaffers are quite blessed in that America - nay, the world - cheers with them when they get awards. I do some city planning in the course of my employment and last year I took part in a plan that won an award, and I can tell you that I did not feel America, or in this venue, my home state, cheering - mainly it was a room of fellow planners, politely applauding and probably plotting their run at the award next time. Don't get me wrong; it was great. But I would never expect anyone outside the profession to work up much interest in the award.

And I am sure that, in Sheraton Hotel ballrooms across America, plumbers applaud plumbers of the year, librarians quietly pat librarians of the year on the back, and Subway franchise owners probably gather in a room to honor the franchisee of the year before digging into their chicken...subs.... And that's great and it feels good and is a decent career highlight for anyone.

But even though last night was the least-watched Academy Awards show in recent history, nevertheless, approximately forty-seven billion life forms from several galaxies were watching and rooting these larger-than-life stars on to victory. It's interesting, how much stock we put in these people. How we thrill for the victor, and at the same time, watch the four losers in their little pictures within the picture, making sure they are gracious enough to applaud the winner and not pout.

It is said that this year's slate of victors is pretty much bereft of glamorous big-time star power, and that's why the ratings were low (people saw it coming, I guess). For me, I'm all for the triumph of the little guy (and gal) so I'm tickled when some hitherto unknown writer with even a shady past gets up there to grab her Oscar and asks, dumbfounded, "What just happened?" That's what it should be all about - another one of us regular folk, the ones the candidates are all stumping hard for right now, ascends the steps, accepts the statuette, and enters the ledger book of Hollywood history. Hooray.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Sunset at the Reservoir

Took the dog out to the reservoir this afternoon. She loves it out there, and we enjoy the peace, quiet and large supply of water. Late February, and one wonders; is this the last snow cover of the year? Probably not. There really has not been that much snow on the ground, yet this winter just feels like it was a tough one, climatologically speaking. Most of the people I talk to are ready to bring on spring. (And yes, I messed a lot with the brightness and contrast on the tree shot).

Friday, February 22, 2008

W.O.F. 2

It's Friday, and that means "weird objects" around this sector of the blogworld. So here is my contribution for this week. What is it?

And to add to the discussion of egg cups begun on my sister's blog (see link to right), here is our entry in the egg cup world:

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Night The Moon Went Out

I was heading home from a meeting tonight, thankfully eastbound and thus enjoying a front row seat at the eclipse. Back home, my wife was pointing a camera at the event. The Canon S3 may not deliver noise-free zoom shots of astronomical phenomena, but I thought some of these shots were kind of cool. The bottom two show that effect where the atmosphere screens out the blue rays and reddens up the moon a bit.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Bowling: Up the Wrong Alley

I just read an article online that made me as mad as Bill Clinton after an Obamaite critiques one of Hil's pantsuits. OK, this is not on the order of the Pakastani elections, or even our elections, but I'm telling you, it just ain't right.

The article says the United States Bowling Congress, the preeminent ruling authority for the noble sport of bowling, is planning to move their headquarters out of Milwaukee. Now, I have never actually been to Milwaukee, but to my thinking, and from what I know, it is the perfect home for any U.S. Bowling Congress. The beer, the blue collar aura; it's just a perfect fit, just as you'd expect a U.S. Hacky-Sack Congress to be in, say, Venice, California.

That's not the worst of it. The U.S. Bowling Congress plans to move to Arlington, Texas. Yes, I said Texas. Home of longhorn cattle, Chevy Suburban driving weekend cowpokes, barbecues, line dancing... Not the rust belt, indoorsy, smoke filled pastiche that is keggling!

I would imagine some Lone Star legislative hotshot promised some tax incentives, maybe free or reduced office space, and probably a mandatory bowling curriculum in all Texas K-12 classrooms. Any way you slice it, though, it makes about as much cultural sense as putting a salt water fishing hall of fame in Kansas City. A Cowboy Hall of Fame in Boston. You get my point.

For years I've lamented the loss of the concept of the true sports team, as in a bunch of guys and/or women who play together, year in/year out, and gel as a synergistic unit. Hasn't been such a thing in pro sports for decades. It's all Jerry McGuired now, and the only loyalty left is to the almighty sawbuck.

Now it's a new era. Not just teams, but entire sports can be bought, coerced, and cajoled into moving from one region to another. Who knows; we may wake up one morning to find the NFL has moved to Singapore. Think about that.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Plop Server

I thrill to the old and the new. Really, I celebrate both. While I spend way too much time scanning on-line newspapers, I am still a big fan of the newsprint variety. I still feel like a kid at Christmas when I open my hotel room door and find a local paper - or a USA Today - lying there at the threshold.

However, the electronic newspaper has a marked advantage over the Gutenberg version in at least one big category, and that is delivery into the home. That picture above is of this morning's Sunday paper, lying on the sidewalk in about an inch and half of water. Care was taken to bag the paper, but not so much to tie the bag, so water found the pulp. Later this morning, various sections of the paper could be found drying out above furnace vents.

Oh, we have complained, and inquired of the circulation department, "Is it asking too much to have the paper delivery guy hit the porch?" I remember in my media circulation days, the district route manager, Bernie Sigwart, would pass on a note that, for example, "Mr. Jones at 63 Altamont wants his paper porched". And we took those orders seriously. We'd hit the porch.

Not our paper dude. There is a regular pattern now where we complain, he bullseyes the porch for about a week, then it's back to the early morning scavenger hunt. I think it gets down to finding it hard to get good help these days and, by extension, the ignoble decline and fall of America as a first rate international contender in the world market for goods and services.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Frenetic Times. WIldly frenetic.

Yep, exciting times here at home. I think the energy level is best illustrated by this shot of the dog. Perhaps the most thrilling aspect of all is that that's actual sunlight streaming in on the carpet. No one around here can recall the last day that our carpet was so illuminated. And, as you can see, it is getting quite a rise out of the dog.

We got out of the house this morning for a pancake breakfast supporting the local "Reach our Youth" program - a "big brothers/big sisters" type operation. I knew one of the guys working the kitchen - the sausage cooker - and complimented him on his sweatshirt. There is nothing like an imaginative college sports team name and logo to complement a fine pancake and sausage breakfast. I've always enjoyed the Cincinnati "U.C. Bearcats", for example. I mean, what is a Bearcat, some oddball hybrid found only by packmuling deep into some hitherto unspoiled Indonesian woods?

Anyhow, the sweatshirt this morning touted the "Scottsdale (AZ) Community College Fighting Artichokes". I mean, can it get any better than that? Pugilistic obscure (to Midwesterners) vegetables? I am not sure, but I intend to keep doing the due diligence to find out.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Hiromi Uehara - Pure Joy

Ok, I'm not a huge jazz fan. But I came across a video by pianist Hiromi Uehara and her band, and I was entranced. Hiromi is schooled in classical piano (a Berklee grad), and she knows how to rock as well as hold down the keyboard end of a jazz trio. But perhaps, aside from her virtuosity, her greatest asset is her unmitigated, infectious joy. She is having big fun up there playing. And her drummer and bass player are no slouches.

You can find a great example of her work at

OK, you have to overlook her "big hair", and I'm not sure what's up with the bass player's sweater, but if watching a video of this trio doesn't make you smile at least once - well, as they say - check your pulse.

Odd Object Friday

My sister (blog link to the right) has suggested that Fridays become "Weird Object Friday" in our little blogworld. So ok; I'm in! Sorry I don't have any "mystery object" whose use you cannot discern. Maybe next time if I really root around.

Today's selection appears to be an armadillo or similar species. Very colorful, painted on wood. I believe I procured this little guy after walking across the bridge from Laredo TX to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. There were lots of souvenir shops over there and lots of trinkets to purchase. I understand that Nuevo Laredo is a much less safe place than it was when I was there; a shame.

Anyhow, this week's weird object was signed underneath by Joaquin Hernandez Vasquez. Gracias, Joaquin.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy V-Day

This is, to my thinking, the only acceptable "romantic" holiday. That Sweetest Day stuff is so much capitalist hooey. This one is a bit special, and cleverly positioned in the middle of a month that is so intolerable at times that they - mercifully - made it the most brief of months.

So, anyhow, best Valentine's Day wishes to you all, and know that we are nearly halfway to March.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

They're Hungry Out There

I noticed a few grackles out on the tree this afternoon, feeding off the suet cake, so I went to get the camera. Came back to find a redheaded woodpecker leaving the cake, probably intimidated by this bigger woodpecker, a "red bellied" - a misnomer, as the red is definitely on the head, but that name is already taken.
So I got a picture of this one, whom we call "big guy", since he's somewhat larger than the usual diners out on the tree.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Weekend Get-Away, With Wind Chill Factor

Spent Saturday and much of Sunday with friends at Maumee Bay State Park, near Toledo, Ohio, situated on the waterfront. Seven of us rented a cabin for the night, a two-floor building with lofts and a gas powered fireplace and - thankfully - good heating. The weather was bearable for starters, so some of us got a walk in along the 2 or 3 miles of boardwalk over the assorted wetlands. A nice walk; we spotted six deer maybe 50 yards away, eating vegetation and hanging out.

Later that evening, as if it were not cold enough, a front blasted through, across the adjacent "Scottish links" golf course and against the western wall of the cabin. It was good and cozy inside as the wind chill factor dipped well below zero. We played an inane game called "Spoons".

Driving to the lodge for dinner earlier that evening, we had to stop the car for eight single-file deer (perhaps the same party we had come across on the hike) who crossed right in front of us like a fairly fast freight train. They were heading for the links, perhaps to graze on the rough. Or maybe a late tee time.

My family's association with state parks goes way back, and they have been a wonderful diversion from reality for us - ever since the kids were puny. This weekend was no exception, even with single digit temps and the wind raging outside. It was good to share a weekend and a cabin with our old friends (by which I don't necessarily mean the friends are old so much as the friendships are old... However, to indicate some degree of longevity, some of us stayed up watching a Peter, Paul and Mary documentary, an old PBS funding drive mainstay. And at least one of us knew just about all the words to these 40-50+ year old songs.)

On Sunday, after a quick tryout of the ping pong and pool tables, and some antics on the raquetball court on my part (wherein I proved I could whack the thing at least -actually at most - about four times in a row), we said our goodbyes, trotted off into the wind and our cars, and in our case, my wife fed some leftover grapes and crumbs to a seemingly early and misguided flock (there were 100 of 'em!) of robins.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Lucille (apologies to B.B. King)

We are going back forty years here. Just about forty years ago, a neighborhood buddy sold me a guitar for two bucks. Yep, kids, that's back when two bucks could buy you a GUITAR. Well, this guitar, anyway.

I named her Lucille. Yes, a blatant rip-off moniker based on B.B. King's beloved Gibson ES-345 or some such number. But that was her name, and I so named her with green Dymo label tape to make it official.

This thing is no Gibson. It is a no-name brand. It is a very inexpensive acoustic that will NOT stay in tune, and at least one tuning peg is bent about 20 degrees. When I first procured her, I didn't know a lick or a chord, but I learned a few, and I recall composing a very poignant, socially conscious song about living up in my Fifth Avenue apartment in NYC, far above the madding crowds, and so forth.

I went off to college and lost track of Lucille, who was relegated to the back of a closet. While in college, I bought a more suitable Alvarez acoustic, and Lucille was all but forgotten.

Only this past Christmas, while visiting back home, someone had released Lucille from her nearly four decades of languishing in the recesses of the closet. I cannot explain the feeling, but it was a fine reunion. I went out and bought some new light gauge strings, lovingly cleaned and polished off four decades of dust, and strung her up (backwards, as I am a lefty). She came home with me, and I've been strumming and picking for a little bit almost every day.

I'm not sure if it's for the music, or for the bar chords I'm finally trying to get comfortable with, or if, while I am under her spell, Lucille is really just a pretty effective time-travel machine.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Lakefront Property!

The weather in our neck of the woods has been insanely variable this winter. It was crazy cold for a while, then the temps roared up into the 50's. We spent one recent night listening to peals of thunder. The rains came until there was nowhere to go, so new bodies of navigable water were formed all over northern Ohio.

This has happened two or three times in the years we have lived here. Our back yard becomes a lake (I would sell naming rights, but it will likely vanish in a day or two. If it didn't, it would be tempting to stock the lake and drop a line in from the deck.) Does the lakeside status hike neighborhood property values? No; I think any gain is offset by the damp (putting it mildly) basements around here.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Wasteland Rant

Granted, we only get basic - and I mean basic - cable TV, but once in a while I like to settle in and waste some time being caught up in some vapid program. I have a favorite show or two, but the writers will need to settle up and write before these programs resume charming me.

So tonight I took a chance and flipped the dial (Actually, punched the remote repeatedly. There are no dials. As in "dial up the milk man on the phone, will you?") until something caught my attention.

In trying to find escape, I found out something about myself. Turns out, I'm a prude. Turns out I ditched a show because of its ethics and moral turpitude. It is one of those "reality" shows. I had already skimmed past something about teams of dancers having to compete and lose team members one by one. I had also opted out of "Deal or No Deal", the show where, as I understand it, the skill set that wins prizes for you involves guessing which of 24 briefcases held by gorgeous models - whose skill sets involve being gorgeous and being able to hold a briefcase and operate its clasp - contain cash values that are relatively low - and somehow avoiding revealing the highest numbers until the end. They mix in some shadowy God-like character on the other end of a very special telephone coaxing you out of the game with cash offers, but I'm pretty sure that you're pretty much in there with Lady Luck unless you possess the skill set of X-Ray vision and can see through those briefcases.

Anyway, the careful reader may discern that "Deal or No Deal" is no deal for me. So I moved on, and here is the show that made me realize that, at least on some level, I am a prude.

I stopped at another one of these "reality" shows long enough to figure out what the rules of the game were. They were this: Young, mid-twenties males and females mingle in some wonderful vacation setting. They meet each other, sort of like what used to be called a "mixer", and after a few days of learning astronomical signs and other vital information, the females, one by one, select a male with whom they wish to share a hotel room for the next week or so. Ostensibly to watch TV (probably more channels than I receive) or read the network-provided Gideon. (I'm kidding!)

If more than one girl selects the same guy, the guy has to pick just one of the girls to be his room mate. Score one for the prudes! The show is promoting good, old fashioned monogamy!

But here's the fly in the ointment - there is one more female than males. This means the odd-female-out gets a room to herself, in which she must brood and plot. Her goal, as explained by the lovely hostess, is to wreck at least one of the newly formed pairings, horn in on and beguile the guy, and become the new room mate.

So first we have couplings out of nothing within a matter of days. But this is too old-fashioned; we need to turn one of the females into a home (or, more properly, hotel room) wrecker!

I have no idea where this ultimately leads, but I am guessing not to silver anniversaries. Further, I am not sure what skill sets this particular show supports.

I moved on - to a sitcom that had a few laughs, but whose main plot involved a woman lamenting that her boudoir skill set was lacking.

That was about it. Again, this is basic - basic - cable, so I am sure there is quality programming out there in the nether reaches of the cable world, and shame on me for not plying Time and/or Warner with more dollars so I can access it. But at least it got me to turn inward and discover a little more about myself.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Music: Chasing the Long Tail

Chris Anderson wrote this book called "The Long Tail" a couple years ago based on an article of the same name that he authored in Wired Magazine. The premise was that where we once all used to listen to, watch, and buy the same stuff, there is now this bell curve of cultural choices where the end of the curve, the "tail", goes on and on and the small numbers buying each of a zillion choices are as significant as what used to be the zillions of people buying a few products or partaking of a few cultural phenomena (like Beatles records, or Star Wars movies, or "All In the Family"). We all do our own thing now, and there is less and less that holds us together as a culture, guiding our talk around the water cooler, recalling shared experiences. About all we've got today, lucky us, is "American Idol" and Britney's latest midnight run to the ER.

This long tail effect seems to be especially taking hold in the world of music, where there are sea changes in how the whole business model of purveying music to people works. Things like the CD, the music store, and the "album" seem to be endangered if not already obsolete.

Despite the seemingly sorry state of the music industry, music itself seems to be thriving. For example, I have always been drawn to the more flashy, chops-laden, and sometimes edgy music known as progressive rock, or prog. Prog had its heyday (some call it the first golden era) in the early 1970's, with a number of top-selling bands pushing their envelopes: your Emerson, Lake, and Palmers, King Crimsons, Yeses, Tulls, Focuses (Foci?). Everyone has heard something by at least one or two of these.

There followed a backlash as straight-out rockers stripped back to the essence of music, and "punk" ruled the day, not nudging, but forcefully kicking prog off the charts and into the shadows. Then there were the eighties, but I don't want to upset you, dear reader.

There were some flare-ups in these years, as some formerly esoteric artists went more than a bit mainstream and were rewarded with riches. Genesis, for example, became platinum sellers as Phil Collins abandoned the drumkit for the spotlight.

The last fifteen to twenty years, however, have seen prog, as just one genre of music, or actually a cluster of genres, go pretty much underground. However, interestingly, there are now more prog artists for the ardent fan to follow than ever before. Just fewer fans out here on the long tail. And new ways to find the music, since Wal Mart does not stock it, as it in fact reduces the number of titles in its lowest-common-denominator inventory. The best avenue is the Internet: through listservs and discussion groups, on-line niche vendors, news sites like the excellent Dutch Progressive Rock Page (, artists' websites, and giants like Amazon, whose inventories reach far down the tail.

Numerous sub-genres survive, including Neo (perhaps the most accessible prog, with artists who emulate the orchestral sound of Genesis, or the 1980's band Marillion); RIO (rock in opposition, with its more challenging, atonal, amelodic sounds); Canterbury, sounding like the rollicking music from that region of Britain; fusion (shared with the jazz world; the half jazz/half rock hybrid laid down by Return to Forever, Weather Report, and Mahavishnu Orchestra, and plenty of others less well known); symphonic prog (pretty much self-explanatory), and such out-there labels as Zeuhl, "popularized" by the French band, Magma, and its resident genius Christian Vander , who not only created his unique chanting music, but also invented the language used for the chanting. The second picture at the top of this post is of Magma appearing at the Northeast Art Rock Fest ("NEARfest") in Bethlehem, PA, last summer. The picture above it is of the Italian band, Le Orme, busting out their sitar at a previous NEARFest. Le Orme has been around since the 1970's.

Prog has always been an international genre. Its germination was largely in England with the above-mentioned Tull, ELP, Genesis, Yes, King Crimson, etc., but American prog bands (notably Kansas) sprang up, and other countries (Italy, Germany, Japan, Argentina, Sweden, to name a few) made and continue to make large contributions.

These musics (doesn't it sound more like an academic treatise when one says "these musics?) continue today with an ever-growing repertoire, and thanks to affordable computer-based studio and mixing programs, the zero material costs of mp3s, and the global reach of the Internet, but many, if not most, of their musicians have day jobs. It's fun and rewarding, but few can make a livin'.

Prog is just one of the genres of music that I enjoy. Many other genres are no doubt experiencing the long tail and a resulting intimacy between the artists and their fan "base". An example of this intimacy is this: One of my very favorite CDs from about three years ago is called "The Feeling of Far", by a guy named Fritz Dotty. I bought this CD from Mr. Dotty, who was selling them at NEARfest that year. I emailed him later, to tell him how much I liked what he had done. He emailed me back and thanked me for the kind words.

No, the music I enjoy will never, for the most part, get to number one with a bullet on the Billboard charts. I am not even aware of what music actually does rest in that lofty position these days. But as long as there are ways for appreciative listeners to obtain and support the music that represents their favorite part of the long tail, music will survive and most of us will be happy.