Happy New Year and enjoy the extra second

December 31, 2008

Happy New Year to all. But 2009 will arrive a second later than we all thought. An extra second is being added to 2008 to keep things in sync.

If you want to understand why, check this out…

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Best Jazz CD of 2008

December 30, 2008

I was ready a recent “top 10 jazz albums” article (funny that they still call them albums) and was surprised by one that I had missed. And a big one.

If you have no interest in jazz, music, or history, you should probably stop reading now.

Sonny Rollins is one of the great jazz musicians of all time.  He is one of the few that you can refer to in the present tense (78 and going strong). The jazz greats of the 40’s and 50’s (golden era of jazz) tended to have various vices, most common and deadly among them heroin. Many jazz greats died young (only the good, right?).

Sonny Rollins got busted for heroin in the 50’s and was sent to a (then) experimental Methadone treatment jail. In the 50’s John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins were the premier jazz tenor saxophone players (their only recording together, “Tenor Madness” (circa 1956) is a classic). Coltrane would die at 40 of liver cancer (believed to be caused by heroin use). Sonny would keep on going.

Sonny Rollins has always had a reputation for being better in concert than in the studio. I’ve seen him a few times and he is always awesome. The album released this year is a collection of live recordings that Sonny finally consented to be released (he is apparently hugely self-critical).

One of the things that I’ve always loved about Sonny Rollins was his musical sense of humor. In jazz there is a technique called “quoting”. For those that know little about jazz, in general the group plays the melody of the song (called the “head”) and then improvises using the same chord changes as the melody and then they play the “head” again. There are obviously many songs that  use the same or similar chord changes. “Quoting” means playing a different recognizable melody that fits the chord changes of the song you are improvising on.

You can be listening to Sonny Rollins doing a solo over some jazz tune and suddenly he’ll be playing the Looney Tunes (Bugs Bunny for those too young to know Looney Tunes) theme song because it happens to fit the chord changes and then he’ll go back to improvising. That is his sense of humor.

If you ever get the chance to see Sonny Rollins live, you need to go. It doesn’t matter if you like jazz or not. It’s like having the chance to see Pavarotti. Even if you don’t like opera, it’s a once in a lifetime chance. When Sonny Rollins dies, there are no more jazz greats left. Sure there are new jazz musicians who are great, but Sonny Rollins is a pillar of jazz history. Enjoy him while you can.


Merry Christmas

December 23, 2008

Or Happy Holidays depending on your preference. This year the holidays totally seem to have snuck up on me. But we did manage to get Danielle and Victoria to see Santa at Macy’s.

We were pretty confident that Tori would be fine with Santa. She is totally not shy (unlike Danielle). If you’ve seen Santa at Macy’s, they have an amusement park like method of winding the long line around. At one point you walk through the inside of a “train” which is supposed to be the train to the north pole. When you come out on the other side there are all sorts of cool things for the kids to see while the line continues to Santa (actually multiple Santas, but they do a very good job of hiding that fact).

Right at the beginning of the “north pole” there is this huge tree with a big face and the eyes move. Kind of cute. Freaked Tori out. All the sudden we weren’t so sure how it would go with Santa.

Thankfully we got past the big tree and then Tori got into all the other cool things. And when we finally (actually the line wasn’t bad, maybe 20 minutes) got to Santa’s little building, Tori saw Santa and started yelling, “Santa!, Santa!”. We had to hold her back until it was our turn. She went right to Santa’s lap (Danielle, of course, is an old pro).

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all…


Google Sync Put to the Test

December 19, 2008

I woke up this morning to a dead Blackberry. Low level hardware failure. Not recoverable. OK. I’ve been using Google Sync to keep my calendar and contacts in sync with Google Calendar. The phone is insured. Should be no problem, right? In theory anyway…

Well for once theory meets reality. I go to Verizon, they hand me a new phone and get it connected. I immediately download Google Sync directly from the Blackberry and connect with my Google account. Before I got home, my entire calendar and contact list was restored. No issues.

Sweet.


Where have I been?

December 18, 2008

OK, I’ll admit it. I’ve been a blogging slacker. And I’m unemployed so you’d think I’d have tons of time.

In an attempt to catch up, this will be a fairly random posting.

Fist of all, what have I been up to? Hmm. Not telling. There are some things going on that might work out or might not and for now my answer is no comment. I do not currently have a job, I am not currently making any money, I am strangely busy and having fun. Create whatever rumor you like based on those minimal facts. You are unlikely to be correct.

To get in shape, I’ve been trying to get into swimming. We belong to a new YMCA with a nice Olympic sized pool. I take Danielle there, but when I’m with her I basically stand around trying to teach her to swim. My running tends to slack off in the winter (between the cold and the dark I am just not motivated) so swimming seemed like a good approach for someone with some free time (though lately not as much).

So I’m still a fairly lame swimmer, but I’m to the point where I can do 20-30 minutes of lap swimming at an easy pace with no breaks. It is really good exercise. The strange thing is that as a runner I expect to be sore after a workout, but swimming is so low impact that I’m not. So I feel like I didn’t work that hard. Until I walk home. Then I realize that I’m exhausted.

What else? Football season has been interesting but not so great. My Packers are just beat up and lame. I’ve been following the Jets as a Favre fan, but they are all over the place. I’ll root for the Giants if they aren’t playing the Packers, but they are starting to show major problems.

The past few years have taught me (as a Knicks fan) to not pay much attention to the NBA. This year the Knicks are actually watchable, though they are clearly laying the groundwork for 2010.

Normally I’d be gearing up for college hoops, but Indiana is going to be so bad this year. I like their new coach but he has a couple years of rebuilding to do. I’ll be doing a pool for March Madness so if you are interested enter your information here.

It will be a mild Christmas this year as we try to be frugal, but we’ll do the usual. We always go to my wife’s sister’s place for Christmas morning. That’s a good, casual Christmas day. Close family, minimal stress, fun with the kids.

The girls are doing great. Danielle just turned 6 and Victoria just turned 2. Victoria has started to (occasionally) use the potty which is awesome. She has a while to go before she’s doing it for real, but I can see the end of Pampers forever.

Victoria is a piece of work. In many ways she is the total opposite of Danielle. Dan is a typical first child. Generally well behaved, smart  (OK, I’m biased), a bit shy, always wants her parents.

Tori gets into everything she shouldn’t. Just today she managed to get to the power strip with the plugs for cable/phone/cable modem/router and turn everything off. I think she’s smart like Dan, but at 2 it’s hard to tell. But shy? Forget about it. If I’m staying in the apartment and a random stranger is going outside, she’s going with the random stranger.

Danielle is starting to read on her own which is huge fun. She’s really into it and will try to read every book we have. You realize how wacky many English words are when you are helping someone learn to read. When she sees a word like “right” telling her to “sound it out” just isn’t that effective.

My mom’s Alzheimer’s is a bit worse. She’s to the point now where she forgets words so often her sentences are total gibberish. It’s hard being far away because talking to her on the phone is largely pointless. She was given hospice care a few months back which is supposed to mean that she has 6 months or less, but I think she’s going to be around a while. Which is somewhat ironic because I know that she wouldn’t want to stick around in her condition. Probably the hardest thing this fall was not being able to discuss the election with her. My mom was a hugely political person and extremely liberal. She probably would have voted for Hillary in the primary to try to elect a woman, but she would have been incredibly happy to see the first black president elected. Sad that she has no clue.

But otherwise our family’s health is good. My wife’s brother (who smoked like a chimney) had a mild heart attack and then had triple bypass. That turned out to be the best possible thing because now he’s quit smoking, is exercising and is really turning his health around.

2008 was definitely a challenging year, but 2009 should be much better. I am definitely looking forward to the new year.

And I’ll try to blog a bit more…

Random links:

Cool astronomy pictures

Might only be funny if you’ve been in NYC cabs…

A tremendous "year in pictures" page. The last surfing picture is amazing, but there’s something about #23. It looks like a bunch of guys at a park until you look close and realize they are shooting bows and arrows.

And finally, I’ve said this before, but the best Christmas album ever…