Sunday, September 30, 2007

What a Wonderful Life !

George Bailey and I lead parallel lives. Would the world be better without us? Hardly! Friday night, I witnessed a wedding like no other. Magic and joy combined for a wonderful experience. Around me were so many people, all so happy, together for a special moment in time. My work created this event. Let me explain!

For ten years, I held a demanding job in Manhattan that stressed me for everything I was worth. One of my responsibilities was maintaining a creative staff to meet the demands of all my clients. In a world dominated by per diem temporary help, continuous recruitment was the rule. I met a lot of people! I also introduced them to each other and watched the drama unfurl. It was often quite a show in itself!

Without my passion for discovering new talent, this evening's event would not be happening! I hired the groom in 1997. I hired the bride in 1999. I hired one of the bridesmaids in 2000. I also hired Stephanie, Deborah, Kevin, Bob, Christine and Jody. David, Chuck and Larry worked for me too. If I hadn't created this community, so many things may not have occurred. Now they were all together and two of them were getting married! Even if I had the smallest role in creating this event, I was so proud!

The affair was charming. Staged in a historic mansion overlooking the Hudson Valley, the view and the sunset were stunning. A passing rain cleansed the air. During the informal ceremony, a single brown bat soared in the distance gathering its dinner. (Was it an omen?) Bagpipers, delightfully echoing throughout the evening, made the wedding whole. It was a night to remember.

From the moment I arrived, I felt like George Bailey (from the classic movie 'It's a Wonderful Life') right after he regained his mortal soul. My enthusiasm for life, and this moment in time, was boundless. I had retired from my exhausting job and lifestyle about a year ago and had not seen my old employees in a long time. Both the bride and groom were two of the best people I ever hired. I was so honored to be invited to their wedding. All my other ex-employees were remarkable, unique and so much fun to be with. Attractive, charming, creative and artistic, my friends were all perfect complements to each other, especially the bride and groom!

Everyone needs a boost in their self esteem from time to time. This was my night. My wife was so enchanting, heavenly and beautiful. The evening reminded me of our night years ago. How I loved being there with her sharing this delight! The wedding and reception was a touch of class. The music and food added perfection. Can you tell I had a great time? I was so glad to be alive and know so many exceptional people. I'll always remember this night as a culmination of ten years of strenuous work. Now, the bride and groom are off to Tahiti. On the night of their wedding, I was in paradise too! No man is a failure who has friends. On this night, I was the richest man in town. What a wonderful life!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Three For Fall... #1 Pushing Daisies

Are you ready for the Fall season? Here are three confections to look for as you are getting out your sweaters and getting ready for Halloween:

This Fall, clean up your yard, frolic in the leaves and discover flowers blooming on your TV! How can you make it happen? Simply mix together the scripts of Twin Peaks, Ally McBeal and Gilmore Girls and add a pinch of playful morbidity! Voila! Now enjoy an (almost) new twist in TV screenwriting. Set your Tivos for ABC on October 3rd and watch the latest spin on quirky, clever patter and panache known as Pushing Daisies.

New face Lee Pace discovers, early in life, that he can revive the dead with just a touch of his finger. Flirtatious tension never hurts, so let's revive a recently murdered unrequited love (Anna Friel.) The ensemble cast can be found in a cartoonish dive dubbed The Pie Hole. It's as crazy as it sounds with eye-popping visuals that are bound to be Daisies' signature style. I've seen the pilot and I can't wait for more! We hope audiences won't want to see the show go six feet under!

...#2 Tinsley Mortimer

I'm sure that you have had quite enough of Britney and Paris. Fear not! The new 2007 'It Girl' is on her way! Here comes the next perfect face: Tinsley Mortimer. Unlike her fictional namesake Tinsley Carmichael, Ms. Mortimer is the one to adore at every Park Avenue party. Married to a renowned investment banker named Topper, Tinsley's favorite pal is her sister-in-law Minnie Mortimer. Tinsley began as a stunning tennis player who launched her career at Vogue before a stint at Harrison & Shriftman, a high profile New York PR firm. Then she got married!

Now Tinsley is everywhere! She'll flash her curls at fund raising charity events, appear at high profile show openings and will always be seen at the beguine. Her line of Japanese handbags is now the Jimmy Choo you can carry with you. A graduate of Ivy League Columbia University, petite Tinsley is known for being genuine, confident and lots of fun. Intellect and style is always a thrilling combination. Welcome Tinsley to the mainstream!

...#3 Natalie MacMaster

If you want to come back down to earth, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia might be a grand place to land! It is the centre of nouvelle Gaelic culture - a place very close to heaven. While you are there, you might want to hear angels sing (and play fiddle.) May I introduce you to Natalie MacMaster, possibly the finest performer to ever travel The Cabot Trail. Beyond her music, she also has a teaching degree, two honorary doctorates, is a member of The Order of Canada and the mother of two children. A fine lass she is!

Her performances have brought audiences to their feet for nearly 15 years. A live audio CD captured some of her charisma in 2002. Canada's CBC Television aired one of her concerts several Christmases ago, but unless you taped it, the joy slipped through your fingers. At long last, Natalie is releasing a full-length DVD "Live in Cape Breton" on November 6th. It will also be seen across America in March 2008 on PBS. I have already ordered my copy, but I can't wait that long. I'll be catching her on tour next month!

The joy produced by Natalie and her band will make the darkest soul dance! Her energy has no bounds. She is a fine and gifted fiddler, a playful dancer with a voice so versatile. Her sweet voice can portray the saddest lament or the elation of love. Traditional ceilidh music is only the beginning of her repertoire. Natalie loves to stretch her limits with every show. Catch her if you can! (Check out today!) With Natalie's music, what a fine Fall you will have!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Night of the Bees

Radio listeners across America are trying to hide from a monster, but there is no shelter. After spending its adolescence in technical trials during daytime hours, IBOC has now come out at night. IBOC is the acronym for in-band on-channel, a method of sending digital audio along with old-fashioned analog radio signals. It's marketed, confusingly, as HD Radio. In theory, HD Radio should be transparent to the end user listener. In reality, the system is anything but on-channel. It actually uses about five channels to convey its information.

For example, in New York City, WOR broadcasts on 710 kilohertz. When it turns on its IBOC equipment, the digital noise it produces can be heard on 690, 700, 720 and 730 kilohertz with a reduced fidelity analog audio signal remaining on 710. During the daytime, AM radio signals only travel, at best, 100 miles, so the effects of IBOC's digital noise are somewhat contained. At night, AM radio signals can been heard long distances from their origin. With thousands of AM stations broadcasting simultaneously every night, the result is a chaotic soup. Now add wideband digital noise via IBOC. Only the very strongest signals can survive to provide useful reception.

Adding to this problem, the receivers that can decode HD Radio require a very potent signal to resolve digital audio. The end result can be digital audio delivered via the AM band, but it is only available to a limited audience with close proximity to the broadcaster. So many of us hear the noise, but so few of us can hear the intended clear signals! It sounds like a thousand bees relentlessly heading in your direction!

The signature of AM radio has always been highly reliable and resilient long distance communications. With the advent of HD Radio, AM has been scaled back to a local medium with limited distribution. Shows that enjoyed nearly nationwide coverage, like WSM Nashville's Grand Ole Opry, are being shattered by all the new interference produced by the wideband nature of HD Radio.

HD Radio broadcasters are also in conflict with themselves. CBS owns both KDKA 1020 Pittsburgh and WBZ 1030 Boston. AM radio DXers have noticed that both stations have only been operating their HD Radio equipment irregularly at night trying to reach a compromise to keep both station's coverage area whole. We have met the enemy and he is us! The effects of HD Radio interference may be the final death blow to struggling small local radio stations trying to compete in very difficult market situations. This noisy hash may extinguish all hope of local stations being heard in the clear ever again.

A similar IBOC system is being used on the FM band. FM allows for more bandwidth allowing IBOC stations to broadcast more than one audio source on their frequency. Noise to neighboring channels is similar, but the relative short range of FM contains the melee. The FM version of HD Radio also requires a very strong signal to be decoded. Reception can be finicky in nature. These signals need to be received perfectly to provide the intended results to the consumer.

HD Radio may be a short term band-aid for aging over-the-air technology. Multi-channel digital satellite radio and WiFi delivered radio and television will probably be the standards for the future. Large conglomerate broadcasters, who own hundreds or thousands of stations, are desperate to counteract the onslaught of competition from the Internet, iPods and various other methods of streaming. It seems ironic that the industry that insisted on narrowing the fidelity of AM radio to 10 kilohertz over a decade ago to clean up adjacent channel interference now allows 30 kilohertz or more bandwidth to compete with other digital media!

AM DXers are hoping that two strategies may help silence nighttime HD Radio. The rallying cry has already begun to complain directly to the FCC and the offending broadcasters about the reduced coverage and noise that HD Radio brings. Possibly more significantly, our neighbors in Canada and Mexico are not yet participating in HD Radio or endorsing its use. The deluge of interference American HD broadcasts inflict on their signals may create quite a dilemma that can only be solved by silencing HD's use at night. Time will tell! If you notice new broadband noise on AM radio, you are probably listening to the sound of 'progress!' Stay tuned, (if you can stand it!) Even better, hear it for yourself at:

Sunday, September 9, 2007

I Love Lucy

Last night, I saw Lucy Kaplansky perform at The Towne Crier. It’s a little restaurant, bar and club nestled into the mid-Hudson Valley in New York. You would be hard-pressed to find a more intimate setting and better atmosphere. Picture Lucy, dropping by your over-sized living room, casually singing and discussing her tunes with fifty of her best friends. Endearing. Wonderful. Memorable.

Lucy is a proud mother of a four year old girl named Molly. Her delight in her parenthood was the theme of her set. She glowed telling stories and singing tales of her experiences as a Mom. Lucy also shared her warm memories of her Dad who passed away last year. I did not know very much about her work before this performance. Afterwards, as she greeted the crowd as they left, I felt as I had rediscovered an old friend.

She also has a passion for sorrowful songs of lost or unrequited love. This is the standard ‘good stuff’ songwriters thrive on. Lucy didn’t wallow in remorse. Her lyrics were heartfelt and telling about her personality. Recollect for us about all the things you miss, all the things you crave, all the things you feel. Lucy has a gift for sharing her heart with originality and grace.

Lucy is part of a community of performers that include her friends Shawn Colvin, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Dar Williams, John Gorka and Greg Brown. Superficially, she could be categorized as a folkie singer-songwriter, but a label like this would not do her justice. Her persona is quite genuine and mature. She is not trivial and sing-song simplistic. Her lyrics are thoughtful and succinct. Each song was a tasty gem that had been developed and honed over many performances around the country.

Listening to Lucy inspires you to dust off all the experiences of your life to recall and contrast with her lyrics. She inspires you to search your soul. There is no flash and glitter here. I admired her self-esteem. With Lucy, barriers are lowered and all the nuances of her emotions and experiences are shared willingly. Her frankness was unexpected and almost disarming. See her perform and you’d want to invite her over for coffee the next morning!

Fellow singer-songwriter Patrick Fitzsimmons opened for Lucy. Patrick hails from Vermont and has a casual style singing mostly about happy events in his life. His signature move is his ability to use an acoustic guitar as a percussion instrument. Patrick provided a very pleasant warm-up to a memorable evening.

The Towne Crier is a treasured resource for all who seek fine music. Their food is surprisingly good, too! Check them out at: Lucy can be found at Take a look. You may discover good times and great thoughts.

Towel Bar Fix !

How do you replace a missing towel bar? You have two matching ceramic towel rack supports but nothing to hang things on. Wood will not flex enough to fit into place. Adjustable bars, with a hold-down screw, are not continuous and are ugly. After many days of thought, I devised the perfect solution: I used a carefully measured and cut piece of half-inch white PVC pipe. It flexed enough to be wedged into place and is firm enough to support plenty of weight without bowing. I know this is a simple idea, but I am quite proud of the results. It looks quite presentable and cures a problem, with a custom fit, at very little cost. Sometimes the simple things provide the most satisfaction!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A Soul?

Superficial analysis would find that a stuffed animal is composed of a couple of plastic eyes, maybe some other ornamentation and a large wad of polyester fiber all contained by a few pieces of cloth sewn together. This is what it becomes after your dog mangles it, it is left on a highway shoulder for a month or it winds up in a land fill. Is that really all it is?

Added value begins in many ways. The first step is usually when the toy is given a name. Now the stuffed animal counts, at least a little, to its owner. It helps if they are fuzzy and cute. Feel has a lot to do with how you feel about them. If they are soft and fit into your hand, they are a good candidate for endearment. Attachment seems directly proportional with age. If the toy has traveled many miles and shared days, months or years with you, it gains more sentiment. As the fuzzy nap begins to wear, imperfections in color, a stain or two and random (possibly memorable) dirt all add to the level of satisfaction it can bring you.

It doesn't need to be a stuffed animal. It can be a doll, a blanket, a shirt, a pillow or even a plant. Blankets can be loved to death. I have seen blankets become frayed, fall into pieces, shredded, tied into knots to retain some resemblance of a whole and, finally, become a sacred thread or two. No matter how worn it becomes, it constantly increases in value in huggabilty!

The amount of soothing satisfaction and comfort provided by a cherished object is immeasurable. When personal relationships collapse, or during periods of great loss, the things you love to clutch can certainly become your best friend. Their services are never-ending and nothing is asked for in return. It's a one-way street. You can take all you want without any obligation to return the favor. What a great arrangement!

Just imagine what you would hear if the object you clutch could talk! You would remember how you first met your "friend," when you decided it was special and all the fun and horrible events you both lived through. The trip to the hospital when you got your first stitches after a fall. The night your cat did not come home. The horrible predicament in sixth grade when you thought everyone was looking at you. You know you can never part with it no matter how old you grow. Certainly, it is a guilty comfort and pleasure.

But do these things really have a soul? Is there more to their part in your life than what you might expect from a couple of yards of cloth? I think it is all in the eyes of the owner. Reaching back centuries or more, endeared fetishes held much greater powers than simple soothing. VooDoo Ouanga dolls held the most tremendous powers known. Look into their eyes. Are they magical? Are they spiritual? Is there anything going on inside them?

The relationship between "friend" and owner is passionate and personal. In a random survey, when asked what makes these things special, the number one answer was 'I don't know.' It's personal and it's remarkable. It's a reminder of past events, good and bad. It's comfort. It's security and love. Does it have a soul and spirit all its own? Only you can decide. Just don't take it away from me!