Thursday, December 11, 2008

Forget Me!

Everything you touch is disposable. Why not you? The new Windows Live Hotmail is ready to erase you permanently! One click and POOF! You are forgotten! Just think what a powerful tool this would be if it really worked on humans. You could erase that old flame, terrorizing teacher or obnoxious boss. Maybe you would choose to disappear from your responsibilities or try to vanish from your most embarrassing moment. Even better: You could lose the obsessive lover you could really do without. (Remember Glenn Close boiling that pet rabbit?) Wouldn't this be a great way to get out of that dreaded staff meeting or holiday party? I think Microsoft might be test marketing their next great application! Microsoft Forget Me - because you don't want to be remembered. It's part of the brand new Microsoft Emo Suite for Windows Vista. Altering reality at stores near you!

Monday, December 1, 2008



Up in the sky!

Is it a bird?

Is it a plane?

No! It's Venus and Jupiter putting on a magnificent show tonight in the southwestern sky!

The brighter object, below the Moon, is Venus. Just above is Jupiter.

What a wonderful sight to behold!

Happy (astronomical) holiday!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Squeeze the Lemon (and make lemonade!)

It's not easy being a music fan these days. AM, FM and satellite radio have all faded away as sources of new and interesting tunes. Another multimedia device has replaced both television and radio. It's called a laptop computer and my headphones are now permanently plugged into it. Within it is a remarkable and nearly endless world of music to discover!

There must be a zillion music and webcast sites awaiting you. Lots of them pour mainstream rock into your ears often with self-indulgent messages provided by the program producer. Slacker, Live 365 and Rhapsody immediately come to mind. Unfortunately, these sites long for the same two things traditional radio needs: deep playlists and informed programmers. How much AC/DC, Springsteen and Jimmy Buffett can you really handle?

Moving away from the mainstream, two sites are truly remarkable in their approach. Pandora Radio, (,) produced by a group known as The Music Genome Project, allows you to create 'radio stations' based upon artists you already know and love. It's the musical equivalent of Alice falling into Wonderland. There are an awful lot of performers out there looking for attention and fans. Pandora really lets you discover them en masse. Don't worry. You can plug in the names of big acts, too! Go ahead! Start with the name of a relatively obscure singer and Pandora will find dozens of similar artists to audition for you. Not only are the singers beautifully combined by personality and style, the mixes flow gracefully from key to key. Pandora is another word for musical nirvana!

Adding to the pleasure, Pandora asks you to rate the songs that you find memorable with a 'thumbs up' or 'thumbs down' to build their knowledge base. Of course, they also provide hooks to allow you to buy the tunes if you really like them. Biographies are available for every performer and you can read other listeners' reviews and preferences. You can bookmark artist's names or particular songs allowing you to research more about them and discover what they are all about. It's a lot of fun and (warning!) you could spend a lot of time here!

For a more commercial approach to the indie music scene, take a ride over to Amie Street. ( Here you will find the on-line equivalent of that great record store that used to exist ten years ago but went out of business. The price of downloading tunes is directly in proportion of their popularity. Tunes from unknowns can be downloaded for as little as a few cents. The most popular acts sell their songs for 98 cents each. It beats iTunes no matter how you look at it!

There is one catch to visiting Amie Street. All you will find here are independent artists. If you are charting on Billboard's Hot 100 every week, chances are Amie Street won't be listing your CDs any time soon. On the other hand, if you are dreaming about performing for the first time, strumming your guitar on your bed in Slow Snake, Wyoming, this is the site for you!

Listen sweetheart...I can get you on stage! Amie Street also allows you to post all the new music you can gather and begin selling it on line. You can instantly become your own record promoter, producer and music company with just a few mouse clicks. Record your tracks, begin a listing for your act, upload your tunes and sit back and wait for fame! When you are done, earn credit towards music purchases of your own by recommending tunes you like to other Amie Street users.

Don't forget two other sites to augment your discoveries: My Space Music and You Tube. Both sites have become the village square open mic soapbox for the world's new and upcoming artists. Who knows? Maybe you'll find the next Rachel Correll there! (She actually is a big deal if you happen to be from her corner of North Carolina. You see, it's all about her Fender acoustic and her dalmatian Arabella...) Write your own declaration of independence from repetitive mainstream rock 'n' pop. It's all waiting for you inside your computer. Isn't it time you tuned in to something new?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

XM R. I. P.

XM Satellite Radio is scheduled to pass away on or about November 15th. Born September 25, 2001, XM lived for seven good years and was loved by many. Now, the radio service that changed our way of listening and introduced us to many new musicians and talk personalities is about to be swallowed by Sirius the whale. On the brink of its own extinction, Sirius revived itself in 2006 becoming a one trick pony by signing shock jock Howard Stern. This once-meek satellite service is now inheriting the earth.

As the consolidation of these two recently-merged companies continues, programming will become more and more a simulcast than two different distinct flavors. Many XM employees have already been dismissed from their headquarters based in Washington, D.C. Most severely hit were air personalities and support staff for XM’s dozens of original music channels. Nearly all of these innovative XM channels are about to be replaced by bland Sirius equivalents produced from New York City.

I mourn this loss. XM Radio was revolutionary in presenting a wide and vast variety of music from nearly every conceivable genre. Where else could you hear eclectic channels filled with movie music, Broadway tunes, bluegrass, blues, Mexican tunes or hits from the 1940s? XM introduced me to many, many new artists and I began to love radio again. I had not enjoyed a renaissance like this since the advent of free-form FM radio in the late 60s.

XM’s glory days are sadly about to end. If predictions prove true, November 15th will be the day the XM music died. The switch will be thrown and the Sirius channels will reign. The past seven years will always be remembered fondly. XMs music was hosted by many, many knowledgeable and enthusiastic expert hosts who really had passion for their music. Listeners developed strong relationships with all the XM presenters who gladly served as great teachers and entertainers to us all. Goodbye, my friends, and thanks for some great times!

Sirius Satellite Radio, chaired by media mogul Mel Karmazin, has always been known to emulate “real” (terrestrial) radio and its narrow playlists. XM had a similar series of monotonous channels that were managed by another media monster, Clear Channel, but those in the know avoided them at all costs. I will try to keep an open mind and sample the Sirius offerings in the weeks and months to come. Only time will tell if the new Sirius programming will grow or wilt.

The consolidation of XM and Sirius certainly will not increase their overall popularity. There is little incentive to invest in equipment and subscriptions to a medium that might soon be defunct or obsolete. America’s favorite source for tunes, Apple’s iPod, will continue to be a strong and bold distribution tool for the musicians. Word-of-mouth can be a powerful force! Eventually, as many have predicted, satellite radio may become a partially-free nationwide medium just to survive financially.

In the future, satrad’s biggest competition may be the Internet offering thousands and thousands of worldwide broadcasters vying for our attention. This system of distribution is just about to flower and bloom. My only wish is that music and performance royalty regulations will not squelch the homebrew feel of many of today’s Internet micro-broadcasters producing programs in basements nationwide. Public access radio might finally get its day in the sun, but expect heavy protest from the entrenched media establishment. Independent Internet radio is the strongest hope for America’s music lovers and for those who seek novel and interesting talk programming. Rest in peace XM. Our years together will never be forgotten.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mice !

My car smelled like hay, but this was not surprising. I live in farm country and the fragrance of a barnyard is commonplace. Where did the strong hay smell come from? Did I run over horse droppings? Did I pick up something that stuck to the undercarriage of my car? What could it be?

Clues were forthcoming. The first hint was quite curious. The grated air vent, at the bottom of the windshield, suddenly was missing a few little pieces plastic here and there. Were they gnawed away? One afternoon, a burst of fine pieces of foam rubber flew out of the blower fan like confetti on New Years’ Eve. The mystery had only just begun.

In time, I became very used to the hay smell. It slowly began to weaken. Maybe this olfactory oddity was coming to an end? The smell changed for the worse. It began to smell…reeky. What started as a reminder of stinky sneakers turned, day by day, to increasing misery. One morning, I started the car and death filled the air literally. Something had passed away and it was now decomposing.

The reek was loud and unbearable. I had to dismantle the air system as soon a possible and discover what was going on. One of the places I work at had both a large and small shop vacuum cleaner. I first opened the large air filter compartment tucked under the hood. There could be no doubt a nest had been made! Mice are good at four things: gathering, eating, nesting and making a fecal mess. My car’s new residents were skilled in every way!

The air filter had become only part of their nest. They collected hay, shreddings of cloth and wool, pieces of leaves and sticks and everything else they could find to create a fluffy mess (and good insulator.) Several handfuls were pulled out before I could vacuum it out. But wait…there was more! I opened the vent cowl right under the windshield. Another nest was found, but no mice! More cleaning but no carcass!

Finally, I went to the cabin air filter behind the glove compartment. The second I opened the black slotted door I saw the filter edge, once white, was now a grayish black. I pulled it out slowly and found a dirge of mice droppings and odiferous horror along with a small mouse now demonstrating rigor mortis. Satisfied with my findings, I drove off to my other office stopping to get a new air and cabin filter on the way.

Disappointment took only seconds! There was still something dead in the car. The only place I had not cleaned was the fan mechanism itself. I stuck my hand into it and felt tons of spinners from a maple tree. Then, eek! I felt something small, furry and still a little wet. It was mouse two (the sequel.) I borrowed another shop vac, with a very narrow hose and managed to snake it into the fan housing to clean it out. I heard the spinners get sucked into the vacuum. Twick-twack, twick-twack and then a big flump! Mouse two had been sucked away. I continued to vacuum until the last spinner was gone. Hopefully, this was the end!

Ninety-five percent of the stench was now gone, but odeur de souris still filled the air. It had become a combination of foul aged dust, familiar to anyone who has ever cleaned a heating duct, combined with the memory of decomposed vermin. Garaged, with windows wide open, I dream of the day the smell will cease. Sorry, no pungent green cardboard Christmas trees for me! Patience is a virtue and I will clean and polish until I find satisfaction. Oh, mon Dieu! What I would do for a breath of fresh air!

Friday, October 3, 2008


Here is everything you need to know about the DTV transition in one concise article:

On Tuesday, February 17, 2009, analog TV broadcasts will go off the air. If you use an antenna to receive TV, and your set does not have a digital tuner, you will need to either buy a new digital TV set or buy a converter to allow your old TV to receive digital broadcasts.

It's hard to buy a new TV that does not have a digital tuner. Highly recommended is the Sony Bravia line. If you need a converter, the Zenith DTT900 is the model to get. It is also marketed by Best Buy as the Insignia NS-DXA1. The federal government is providing $40 discount coupons to partially underwrite converter purchases. Call 1-888-DTV-2009 to apply. Converters typically cost about $60.

Hook-up of converter boxes is easy. The antenna cable connects to the box. Connect a cable from the converter to your TV and watch DTV on channel 3. The box also has analog video and audio outputs. Use RCA type jumper cables to connect to your VCR or directly to your TV. The Zenith has an interactive on-screen guide that will get you going fast.

Before you act, see if you can receive digital over-the-air TV. Go to: Mid-page, go to 'start here.' Enter your exact address and how high your antenna might be (figure ten feet per floor.)
When your results pop up, click on 'Post-Transition Only Digital.'
Don't get dazzled by all the data. The only two columns that matter are the station's call letters on the far left and the column that says Signal RX (dbm). If the signal number is lower than - 70 (i.e. -57,) it will be fairly easy to bring in the station. The range between - 70 and - 80 means reception is still pretty probable. Between - 80 and -100 will require an outdoor antenna and preamp. Beyond that requires luck, skill, the correct weather and a lack of leaves on your trees! Height is everything - the higher up your antenna is, the more channels you will receive.

If you need an outdoor antenna, buy a 4-bay or 8-bay bow-tie antenna. These antennas work very well between channels 7 and channel 60 where all the new DTV broadcasts will be found. They have very low wind resistance and are light and easy to mount. Bow-tie antennas also have a broader pick-up 'nose' than long Yagis and react better to signal fading. Highly recommended are the Channel Master 4221A (4-bay) and 4228A (8-bay.) The 4-bay version should be adequate if you are inside the city limits. Please use an antenna pre-amp (Channel Master CM-3039) with these antennas to boost the signal to your set.

After you become familiar with your new TV or converter box, it is essential that you learn how to scan for new channels. The Zenith/Insignia box calls this feature 'EZ Add.' (see picture above) On transition day, February 17, 2009, many stations will be changing from temporary digital broadcast channels to new permanent ones. You will have to rescan your set or converter to continue to see these channels. On the Zenith converter's remote, press 'menu,' (you'll be in 'setup',) arrow right and down one to 'EZ Add' and arrow right or bulls-eye to start. After the scan is done, press 'menu' twice to end.

Following transition day, channel allocations will change forever.
Channel 2 will be on 33, channel 4 on 28, channel 5 on 44 and channel 9 will be on 38. Channels 7, 11 and 13 will all be using their current analog channels to broadcast digitally. In the end, these channel frequency swaps don't really matter. Channel 2 will still show up on your converter or new TV as channel 2-1 even though it is actually on Channel 33. Digital virtual channel numbers often don't match the actual TV channel they are on. Television broadcasters will continue to use their old analog channel names as a convenience to their viewers. A new 'EZ Add' scan is needed to allow your receiver to re-learn where your local channels have moved to.

What should you expect to see? Digital TV is interesting. You'll never see interference, 'ghosts' or 'snow.' You'll see a perfect picture or nothing at all. Broadcasters often multicast with their new digital signals sending out more than one channel at a time. You are bound to enjoy new extra 'virtual' channels. Both NBC (4-2) and ABC (7-3) run full-time weather channels for your convenience. ABC repeats its evening newscasts during prime time on another virtual channel 7-2. Channel 11 broadcasts a Latino channel, LATV, on virtual channel 11-2. PBS stations provide three or more channels of programming instead of just one analog channel. Living 50 miles from the city, I can see about 60 digital channels over-the-air with just an antenna!

Get ready for great change. Remember that all your little portable TVs, the one that is not hooked up to cable in the second bedroom and the TV set at your Mom's house using an antenna will stop working. You'll only see snow! Keep in mind that your TV Sound radios, like the Radio Shack Portavision series, will also stop working. They won't pick up digital signals either! Be prepared and act now!

If you have any questions, please e-mail me at I'll be glad to take your questions. Good luck!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I Have Seen The Future!

When was the last time you heard of someone buying a radio? How do your kids watch “TV?” And what on earth is ‘cable?’ The age of separate appliances for entertainment is nearly at an end. Radio and TV now arrives via fiber over the Internet. The term ‘broadcaster’ is being replaced with ‘program producer.’ It’s a new world coming, you no longer have to wait to see!

You can fast forward to the future today: Simply log on to your favorite streaming video or Internet audio site. My current favorites are and features shorts and full length versions of ABC’s prime time shows and more in full HD quality. Get a good connection and you’ll see the sharpest 16 x 9 picture you may ever hope to see. Port the VGA or S-Video output of your PC to your large flat screen display and you have seen the future! Commercials are easy to endure at less than 30 seconds each. ABC’s advanced presentation even brands your playback to your area by showing you the logo of your local old-fashioned TV station.

A similar site is the Fox and NBC consortium called Hulu offers more shorter length clips than ABC but also presents full-length movies with ‘limited interruptions.’ I watched the old classic ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ and saw a single commercial inserted every 20 minutes or so. Not bad for free! This could be what ‘television’ evolves into.

You can easily build a new-wave media center for yourself. All you need is more and more laptops! I tried seeing how many baseball games I could watch all at once using Major League Baseball’s I watched four 1.2 mb streams without losing definition and continuity. It was pretty amazing! MLB does not air most of the commercials seen on networks like the Yankees’ YES or the Red Sox’s NESN. You’ll see an animated standby slide instead which takes a bit of getting used to. Baseball games local to your area may be blacked out, as well.

If you don’t have a method to portal your PC to external screens directly, you can also sneak the video onto the big screen using your kid’s video game console. I use a Nintendo Wii to watch You Tube videos or whatever else suits my fancy. Game consoles are limited in resolution and playback abilities. For instance, a Wii can only play back You Tube videos in regular size. It does not have enough horsepower to produce a ‘full-screen’ rendition, but you can zoom the images as big or small as you like. It’s not a bad compromise and the Wii interface is very easy to use.

Internet radio can be a lot of fun, too. Better than any shortwave set, I tune into Ireland, Scotland, Australia, Canada and a host of others in perfect quality and often in very nice stereo. I can tune into BBC Radio Scotland, RTE One from Ireland, OZ FM’s rock’ n’ roll from Newfoundland or WCBS Newsradio in New York City. It’s all there and it’s by demand.

So, let’s see…tonight I’ll watch the CTV news from Canada, take in The Late, Late Show from RTE Ireland, watch a few music videos on You Tube and listen to Michigan Public Radio before bed. Who needs a radio and TV? It’s all on my computer and it’s all free!

Monday, September 22, 2008

My Friend Bill

William “Bill” Stocker, N8LFR, passed away Sunday evening, September 14 at about 8 pm at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Saginaw, Michigan. Bill was three days short of his 84th birthday. I knew Bill through my participation in the original Old Goat’s Net on the Lake Huron Amateur Radio Club repeater located in Bad Axe, Michigan. Bill was the cornerstone of amateur radio in these parts and quite a remarkable man.

Bill was a true radioman known throughout the county as a fine professional. A World War II veteran, Bill sometimes worked for the local two-way radio firm, Thumb Radio, was the caretaker of the local TV station, WDCP Channel 35 in Ubly, and also served as the custodian of the LHARC repeaters in Bad Axe. Bill was the seasoned authority on all things electronic. He was an avid ham and was always willing to take questions and always offered thoughtful answers.

Bill loved his community serving as mayor and councilman in his hometown of Bad Axe. He was a member of the VFW and Masons and also volunteered as a firefighter. His goal in life was to make the world a better place. He succeeded time and time again.

Nearly every Fourth of July, Bill rode the Masons’ float in the Port Austin parade. I remember Bill, one summer, donning a ‘McDuff, the Crime Dog’ suit for the parade. It was a big oversized costume, inflated with a running fan, and it was really hot to wear in the summer’s sun. Bill didn’t mind because he knew how much the kids liked it and had worn it all over the county at charity events. When the LHARC annual picnic came along at the end of July, Bill once again got into the suit just for the fun of it. What a guy he was!

Bill’s demeanor was always low-key and thoughtful. He was a good listener and would make everyone feel like they were important to him. I was often astounded when Bill shared a point of radio history or a nugget from his vast experience. There wasn’t anyone who doubted Bill was ‘Mr. Radio’ in Huron County and beyond. His voice was quite familiar as the identifier on the two meter repeater we all still use on a daily basis.

I only get to spend a handful of days every summer in Huron County so I never got to know Bill as well as I had liked. For nine summers I have checked into the LHARC Old Goats’ Net every morning like clockwork. You’d better believe that the very first check-in most mornings was Bill’s familiar voice chiming in with ‘N8LFR’ (his amateur radio call sign.) Now, there will always be a void because Bill is missing. Bill always encouraged younger hams to chair the daily net and learn about the repeaters. Now, their time has most definitely come. Things will never be the same. We will really miss you, Bill.

Friday, September 19, 2008

I Dare You!

Do you remember recess in grade school? Someone always had a dare. "You do it!" "No, you do it!" I vision the same scenario when presidential candidates are chosen. It's a lot of work. The pay isn't great. Eight years and you're done. No, you do it!

Look at this year's battle for the big prize. Our best corporate and political leaders are nowhere to be found. What remains are two spineless pairs of sparring partners each without any substance. Even more disconcerting is their ability to respond to each other's actions. It is no different than a childhood schoolyard. Is this the best America can do?

Let's start with the Democrats. After a long and trying primary season, discarding the elections in Michigan and Florida on technicalities, Barrack Obama emerged as their choice for president. Perceived as young, ambitious and somewhat devil-may-care, Obama needed more substance and credibility. The Republicans already had an old guy to show their strength and conservatism. Well, the Democrats found a non-descript old guy too! Enter Joe Biden, an old goat to balance out the wild young colt!

Mr. Biden is an interesting case. He weaseled his way through Syracuse University after being caught plagiarizing considerable content in his law journal entry. Five deferments, based on his mild asthma, freed him from serving in Vietnam. He is probably best known for his endless wandering questioning of Supreme Court nominees Clarence Thomas and Robert Bork. More recently, his derogatory quotes have brought him grief. Who could forget: "You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I'm not joking." (Does he know Apu at the Kwik-e-Mart?) What a formidable guy!

The Republicans are no different. John McCain is as non-descript as any Democrat running for The White House. Seeing the gap that Mrs. Clinton left as she exited this circus, Republican marketing specialists sent out their call out of the castle: "Bring us a woman!" And they did! Enter Sarah Palin, a pistol-packing Annie Oakley from Alaska. What a perfect choice to reinforce an old and weak jellyfish! One woman is no different than any other. Sarah will do fine! And Vern, I understand she can even kill and quarter a deer! Do you believe that? What a winning team!

You don't have to be a woman to find this behavior completely insulting. Leaders of the G.O.P., just how shallow and stupid do you think we are? My disgust was amplified to rage after catching a TV discussion the day Palin was announced as the veep pick. On-screen, I saw a middle-aged female 'expert' remarking that women of the 21st century simply have to make choices and achieve their own balance in their lives. Business and personal achievement are much more important than family...and after all, the kids will adapt. Yes, in life we all adapt even if we have pregnant teenage daughters. Parents can't be held responsible for these things! Ma, when I grow up, I want to be just like her. Yeah.

Vice-presidential wannabees aren't that important, are they? Examine the tentative nature of our presidential candidates. Barrack Obama would be the first Afro-American president. How I wish it weren't true but race still angers irrational extremists. John McCain is a battered Vietnam War veteran, aged 72 years, who has had three of his four limbs broken and has fought cancer. Both are not secure bets for surviving four year terms. Would Biden or Palin suffice as our country's Commander-in-Chief? Wait a minute. Didn't Biden have two bouts fighting brain aneurisms? Is young Sarah Palin our only hope? I hope not!

Should I feel disgusted or just sad about our state of affairs? America has become a depressing place to be. The greed of Wall Street is undermining all our savings and hard work. The political parties want to serve stale bread instead of enticing us with gourmet delights. Family values no longer have value. Do we have to accept rapid decay as a way of life? I wonder how long it will be before someone of competency leads America with authority and confidence. Our country is in dire need of a skilled leader instead of a cardboard figurehead. "You do it!" "No, you do it! I dare you!"

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Ready? Repair Remote!

Remote controls are nearly disposable. If it breaks, just buy a new one. But what do you do when the original one that came with the unit has a unique feature that you really like and can not be replaced? Can you actually fix these things? The answer is ‘yes!’ If you own a soldering iron, or know someone who does, it becomes a lot easier.

Here’s how: Most remotes fail due to excessive dropping or dirt. There are very few parts in a remote control, so troubleshooting is not hard.

Your most useful tool is unlikely. Digital cameras perceive a much broader spectrum of light than the human eye. Aim a digital camera at the LED at the front of the remote. Press any button. The camera will interpolate the infrared light of the remote into a visible light you can see through the camera’s screen. (See picture above.) If you see the light, you know the remote works. If you don’t see the light, the camera will guide you to success.

Proceed like this: Use a long blunt object, like the back of a butter knife, to carefully pry open the remote. Be gentle and go slowly. When you open it up you will have two halves of the remote’s case, a rubber keyboard and a printed circuit board.

Take a look at the printed circuit board first. Are the metal springs or tabs that hold the batteries in place clean? If not, clean them with a pencil fitted with a white (coarser) pen eraser. A regular eraser may suffice. Clean away any leaky battery goo while you are at it. Alcohol on a Q-tip works as a good solvent for these messes.

Look and see if the spring or tab for the batteries still connects to the circuit board well. If it has cracked loose you can often repair it with a delicate touch of solder. Similarly, look at the LED at the front of the unit and the little crystal (silver chicklet or cylinder) that acts as the frequency standard for the pulses the remote creates. All should be well attached to their connections on the circuit board. Re-solder them if they are not.

The rubber button pad is actually is a piece of nifty technology. Each button has a little black dot on the side that touches the circuit board. When you touch the button, and the little black dot touches the circuit board, you actually change the amount of magnetism at that point which, in turn, changes how many electrons hop across the switch. Wow. And it works very well!

The rubber pad and all its little pieces need to be clean to work well. Pepsi syndrome and crumbs can really ruin what the buttons are trying to do. The circuit board needs to be clean, too. Gently wash the rubber pad with soap and water and air dry it (no heat!) Remember to stop the sink before washing. You don’t want to see an essential tiny part go down the drain! Gently clean the circuit board with a touch of alcohol on a Kleenex. Never scrub!

Now it’s time for the big test. If you can, try to operate the control without completely assembling it. Opening and closing the remote’s plastic enclosure can be a bear. Look through the live view feature of your digital camera and see if the LED is now emitting light when you press a button. If it isn’t, look further at all the parts to try to discover what is wrong.

Finally, if a remote is emitting light but still doesn’t work it may be programmed wrong. I saw this problem recently with a universal remote. The batteries had been out of this remote for a long time and all its settings went back to factory defaults. It no longer operated the TV it was once programmed for. Look online for the guide book and code list for your universal remote and try to reprogram it. To efficiently search on-line, you’ll need the remote’s make and model number for an accurate match. Look for numbers engraved in the plastic or written on the inside of the battery compartment or on the battery cover. If you can’t find a guide for the exact remote, look for similar models. You may ‘luck out.’ I did! Take my hints and give it a try! Fixing them might be a lot less remote than you think!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Seven Years Ago

We all know what happened seven years ago. I wanted to record my personal experiences regarding the day’s events and all the days that followed. It started as a fairly typical day. I got off my commuter train in Scarsdale and visited my dentist. When I rejoined Metro-North, heading for New York City, the train was very crowded and I had just enough room to stand by the door.

I walked across Manhattan as I did every day. The route took me through midtown from Grand Central Station to the far west end of 57th Street. At the time, I worked at the CBS Broadcast Center as the manager of CBS News Graphics. I arrived at about 8:45 am and settled into my office. About ten minutes later, the guy who worked in the office next door to me said ‘Hey, you have to see what’s on TV! A plane crashed into The World Trade Center!’

Both of us were watching local TV newscasts and flipping back and forth between channels. It was approaching the top of the hour at nine o’clock. Our morning news show, The Early Show, was just about to sign off. Anchor Bryant Gumbel ended the last moments of the show with a shot of smoke coming out of the Trade Center making a quick comment as end credits ran on the air.

At the top of the hour, all the network and local newscasts returned to the air live. Everyone was confused. Immediate reports speculated that it might have been a wayward small plane. Distant shot or close-up, the entire world seemed to be watching the accident via television. Just a few minutes later, we saw the silhouette of another huge plane make a unusually large turn over the Hudson and plow into the other World Trade Center tower at full speed. We didn’t know what was going on but we knew it was going to be a long day.

Both my next door neighbor Brion and I were responsible for show crew requirements and we were already on the phone calling everyone we knew. The message was simple: Come to work and prepare to stay a long time. Newscasts would be on the air all day long and someone had to be in the studio to make it happen. We had mixed results. Some people wanted to run in. Others insisted on staying home. By about 9:45 am, we started hearing scattered reports about other plane hijackings around the country although the various accounts were only fragments of information.

Around ten, the first tower collapsed to the ground. I remember concentrating on my recruiting work and watching the TV in my office through the corner of my eye. Various directors and producers were calling clamoring for every person they could think of. Hotel rooms were being booked. Alternate transportation was being arranged. By 10:20, I remember NBC’s Today Show mentioning that there was a possibility that several other planes may have been hijacked with unknown destinations and that there was a massive fire at The Pentagon in Washington, D.C. It was obvious that an attack was in progress en masse but why it was happening and who was participating was a mystery.

Around the same time, people down the hall at CBS Master Control had received phone calls from the transmitter engineers on top of the North Tower. They were pleading for help surviving with the oxygen provided by Scott air packs that they had for emergencies. The panic was intense. How would they get down? There was a tremendous fire from the plane crash below them. I remember my corporate e-mail begin to be filled with reports from observers and gatherers of news as all-points bulletins to everyone who could read it. No one knew where this was going. It was around this time that I realized that my amateur radio handi-talkie had been stolen out of my carry-all bag never to be seen again.

At 10:30, the North Tower teetered and fell to the ground. The signature tall red and white TV antenna wobbled on the way down like a car whip antenna in the breeze. I remember thinking ‘So that’s what they look like when they fall’ knowing that I would probably never see anything like that again.

During the next hour, we heard more details about The Pentagon plane crash and another aircraft down in Pennsylvania. Fighter jets were everywhere, it seemed. All commercial flights had been diverted and grounded. Where was President Bush? Had Vice President Cheney taken over the government? Only then did we think that the CBS Broadcast Center might be a target, as well. Things calmed down a bit. I was glued to my phone still working on crew requirements.

As the day progressed, we heard that the Hudson River crossings were closed and that the West Side Highway had been halted in its tracks, as well. One of my Chyron operators was stuck in her car, stopped at a dead halt, for nearly six hours. Traffic was impossible. Some people managed to get in and arrived every once in awhile. Around 3:30 pm, my friend Kevin and I decided to venture outside to a local deli to bring back a late lunch. The air smelled like a wet construction site. We were miles away, yet we could easily sense our proximity. This was real.

By this time we were all exhausted and tired looking for adrenaline to carry us through the long haul ahead of us. One of my friends, a camerawoman named Michelle, had been rumored to have been at the site during the collapses. Later that evening I saw her covered with white powder as a souvenir of her plight. I was so glad to see her alive and well. It was another reminder of how close we were to the site.

The afternoon dragged on with endless speculation regarding what had happened. Of course, non-stop news and special reports were to continue all night. My telephone pleading for crews changed to a relentless search for hotel rooms. The work never ended. The requests kept coming for every future day part. Crew the overnight show. Crew the morning show. Get people in for emergency edit sessions. All of the New York City TV stations were off the air except Channel 2 who still had a transmitter at The Empire State Building. All the broadcasters’ equipment at WTC was now crushed and buried in the tower rubble.

If I remember correctly, we finally got off the air with continuous coverage at 9 am Wednesday morning about a full day after the initial events. My wife called me asking me to call my daughters’ school. It had not occurred to my daughter, until she went to class, that I had not come home. I insisted that she be brought out of class so I could tell her that I was OK. She sounded very relieved when she heard my voice. I had been up the entire night and I was hungry and tired and sleep-deprived. I finished my final hotel and crew arrangements and had my ducks in a row. I headed home just around noon time.

Manhattan was as quiet as it might be on an early Sunday morning. I walked across town back to Grand Central Station. I think only the main entrance was opened. The train home was unusually full. Grown men were seen wearing sunglasses to hide their eyes as they were crying and weeping aloud. Nearly every station I passed had women with children standing on the platform waiting for fathers and husbands to finally arrive. Some never did.

The days that followed were the beginning of a new world. Police and National Guardsmen were seen at nearly every Manhattan street corner. Complete streets were closed off by large concrete barriers. Travel was limited and restricted. Every building wall and lamp post was covered with flyers seeking missing people. Business was not back to usual for quite a long time. We got used to armed patrols on our commuter trains and in Grand Central Station. Suddenly, we really were in a police state.

As time went by, we heard about the casualties: The husband of a tennis partner, the brother of an old work mate, the sister of an employee. Everyone seemed to know someone who had been taken victim by the disaster. We all felt the lack of freedom. We all saw the new Manhattan skyline – towers missing in the distance. The planes following the LaGuardia flight path, that sends aircraft north up the Hudson River, now gave me chills and continues to. Things will never be the same. My daughter visited the disaster site months later. On a piece of plywood fence she left her summary: ‘god Bless Amarica. One home. One peas.’

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Desert Island Discs

If you could bring only ten tunes to a desert island, what would they be? I just reorganized all my CDs and visited with some old musical friends. After brief thought, I compiled a list of ten favorite songs…and here they are:

1. LTD – Back In Love Again. If I had to embarrass myself by ‘getting down’ in my car, with the radio blasting, this would be the tune. It’s down-home danceable funk, complete with a hot horn section, perfect for polyester. You must check out the You Tube clip of this song ripped from an old recording of Soul Train! Lead Singer Jeffrey Osborne (pictured – before his solo career) leads a big band all dressed in red jumpsuits and serious Afro hair-dos. These guys are no amateurs! They used to back-up Sam and Dave! The bass line alone is plenty to get you up and going. I defy anyone to not dance to this! By the way, L T D stands for Love, Togetherness and Devotion ba-by!

2. Aretha Franklin – Freeway of Love. Mariah Carey? Celine Dion? Please! Aretha is the Queen of Soul and the Queen of All Singers. Ladies, take note: This is how it’s done. There is no other and there will never be. Her career is amazingly diverse in style. Her superior quality is constant. So, drop the top, baby and let’s cruise on into ‘It’s Better Than Ever’ street!

3. Michael Jackson - Don’t Stop (‘Till You Get Enough.) This is what happens when you simply have the best in the world: Michael Jackson, Hollywood’s finest session musicians, legendary Quincy Jones as producer and Bruce Swedien completing the final mix. Collaborative and complex, this recording is a delight to be enjoyed again and again. Listen on headphones. Listen on speakers. Listen in your car. You’ll hear more and more. Every instrument is crisp and present. The spatiality of the stereo image amazes me. So much is going on here and it all comes together with orchestral harmony. The song itself is killer enough to make any dance floor die and die again. Big band funk with Latin percussion. Who thought this up? Aren’t you glad they did!

4. Shawn Colvin – Tennessee. She may be from South Dakota, but her heart and soul heads towards Nashville and Memphis. Confident and filled with procacity, this is Shawn at her very best. Bela Fleck came by for this delight, the kind of record ready for flying along I-40 with the top down. Another beautifully clean recording with an amazing three-way guitar break creating a centerline for the progression of this tale. Who ever heard of a love song to a state? The lyrical imagery and the hot musicianship make this quite a valentine.

5. Mary Chapin Carpenter – I Feel Lucky. Chapin is a very smart lady. With Ivy League credentials, she has charmed us for years and years with her insightful storytelling and ingenious moving lyrics. Here she is - sassy and simply a lot of fun – a devil-may-care attitude to an improbable lottery win. Clever and crafty, this playful satire perfectly captures a sunny day of play. Great fun! (While you are at it, check out Wynonna Judd’s Girls With Guitars. It’s a stealth Mary Chapin song, with all the same feeling, that Wynonna was lucky to get and perform.)

6. Wilson Philips – You’re In Love. Sometimes formulaic pop music really does work. This song is a case in point. The singers are excellent. The tight musicianship compliments the unrequited regrets of the songwriter’s voice. I have always visioned the singer of this song peering sadly out the window of a small corporate jet heading skyward and not looking back. Michael Landau’s lead guitar delivers a solid statement of unquestioned fate for the former lover. I guess it was never meant to be but this song tells it so sweetly.

7. Chic – I Want Your Love. As far as I am concerned, Chic lead guitarist Nile Rodgers is the most prolific producer and musician of the late 20th century. I Want Your Love was one of his earliest gems recorded with his bass player buddy Bernard Edwards by his side. Nile’s distinctive guitar lead and Bernard’s extraordinary bass line produce a groove like no other. (Catch Sister Sledge’s He’s the Greatest Dancer for another delightful dose of classic Chic sound.) In later life, Nile’s golden touch created masterpieces for Diana Ross, Deborah Harry, Madonna, Duran Duran, David Bowie, The B-52s and even rai star Cheb Mami. Rodgers continues to produce and inspire to this day.

8. Don Henley – End Of The Innocence. Written in 1987 during the era of Ronald Reagan and Gary Hart, this song, co-written by pianist Bruce Hornsby, sounds as rich as it did twenty years ago. The lyrics intertwine a hateful disdain for the political establishment and a passion for the songwriter’s true love. Was it intended to be a song for hopelessly-in-love political activists? You could think about this one for a very long time. Bruce Hornsby’s biting piano style perfectly frames some of the most brilliant lyrics you may ever encounter.

9. Steely Dan – Time Out Of Mind. Many consider Steely Dan’s Aja to be one of the greatest recordings, technically and creatively, ever made. This song belongs to their follow-up disc Gaucho. So, what is it all about? An enticement from a drug dealer? A challenge to embrace adulthood? It’s all in the ears of the beholder. Besides Steely Dan’s Fagen and Becker, you’ll hear Rick Marotta, The Brecker Brothers, David Sanborn and Mark Knopfler. Harmonies provided by Leslie Miller, Patti Austin, Valerie Simpson and Michael McDonald. The crème de la crème. This is a sophisticated recording for adults with a mature funk. Think of it as a fine blended whisky. So soothing… nice and tasty worthy of several helpings. So sweet the sound!

10. Natasha Bedingfield – Unwritten. Unwritten is like Jack’s beanstalk. It just grows and grows and grows! First released in 2004, it’s been a part of five movie soundtracks, world champion ice skating competitions and American Idol. It’s serenaded the Degrassi kids and served as the theme song for The Hills on MTV. Others know it for promoting Pantene hair products. Many versions and dance mixes have been released adding more and more life to it. Simply put, it’s everywhere! The lyrics are forthright and inspiring. Listen to this song and you’ll be ready to conquer the world! Natasha’s bluesy carefree style carries this anthem far and wide. It could easily be the most successful (and catchy) song of this century.

Postscript: The song of this summer should have been Metro Station’s Shake It, the infectious dance tune, until it was discovered that one of their lead players, Trace Cyrus, is the brother of Miley Cyrus a/k/a Hanna Montana! (Horrors!) The award therefore goes to Natasha Bedingfield for Pocketful of Sunshine, another dance-up tune from her repertoire of songs filled with motivational lyrics. Honorary mention goes to Jordin Sparks for One Step at a Time, inspiring listeners with positive lyrics and a well-crafted harmonious sound to create a tasty tip-of-the-hat tribute to Quincy Jones’ signature style.

Now the interactive part: What are your top ten tunes and why? What songs did I mention that are so off-base I have to be kidding? Send your comments by clicking below. I’m looking forward to see what you think!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Fall for Fun!

Last September, I wrote about events to anticipate during the fall season. Many of last year's favorites return in the next four weeks. What a month of anticipation and enjoyment!

It could be the best reason to own a television! Pushing Daisies is finally returning to the air on October 1st at 8 pm on ABC. There simply is no other show like it. Ned the pie maker, his true love (at a distance) and his unrequited love (named Olive Snook!) will be back in brilliantly colored high definition before you know it. Season two has a lot in store for us. Olive (pictured) becomes a singing nun, Chuck creates quite a buzz as an undercover 'bee girl,' and you'll dim sum and lose some! Personally, I can't wait!

Pushing Daisies is so cleverly written that you can't just watch it once. Recording the show is essential to catch every nuance of their brilliant writing and visual puns. Instructions: Repeat often and enjoy more and more! Each episode is a gem in itself. For die-hard fans, this fall's treat is doubled. All the episodes of Pushing Daisies' first season, including last year's amazing Halloween episode, are scheduled for release on Tuesday, September 16th on DVD and hi-def Blu-ray disc.

September will also be filled with music thanks to WLIW Productions on Long Island. Look for two of their presentations on your local PBS stations:

Carole King will welcome you into her living room starting Sunday, September 6th with an hour-long concert embracing her most famous signature songs along with her catalog of American standards that have proved successful for so many others. Her smiles alone will make this evening special.

Only a day later, Cape Breton's most famous lassie, Natalie MacMaster, will dance the night away fiddling a full round of new jigs and reels. Natalie will share the stage with several members of her talented family along with banjo legend Bela Fleck. Hayley Westenra adds her vocals to a memorable and haunting version of Joni Mitchell's 'Both Sides Now.' What a weekend this will be! Look for Natalie starting Sunday, September 7th on PBS.

This autumn will be exciting on the big screen, as well. The highly-anticipated movie version of Jeanne Duprau's City of Ember is scheduled for release on October 10th. When the lights go out, Lina and Doon will be seeking clues to save the city in a big, big way! Stephenie Meyer's best-selling first novel, Twilight, will debut as a movie on November 21st just in time for Thanksgiving. Girl loves vampire. Love and blood...or is that love of blood? It should be a wild ride, we all agree!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Girls Like Carole, Joni and Carly

On a hot summer day in August of 1973, Carole King performed before tens of thousands of people in the middle of New York City's Central Park. The concert began at 7 pm, but the crowd began to gather hours and hours beforehand. I joined a bunch of friends from my high school to queue for most excellent viewing at about noon. We staked out a choice spot right in front of center stage. A better time you couldn't create if you tried!

Seven hours is a long time. We were lucky enough to watch sound check, at about 1 pm, consisting of a few fragments of Carole's songs performed to a near-empty lawn. We had a chance meeting with one of our very favorite high school teachers Alice Gold. My good friend Doug and I also had a casual conversation with an intriguing long-faced blonde woman who had something to do with the concert. Chatting near the performance stage, with a police department sawhorse between us, we talked about music, about the crowd and about life in general. It was interesting but seemingly insignificant. We didn't think much about our encounter at all.

Carole played a long show including nearly every song from her classic album Tapestry. As the day turned to dusk, Carole's performance shot electricity into New York City. Standing in the middle of a huge meadow, with 60,000 other fellow fans, the feeling was remarkable. New York's music lovers were celebrating in unison!

The show ended at about 9:30 pm and we picked up our blankets and headed home via the subway. It occurred to us that, if we made it home on time, we could watch coverage of the concert on the 11 o'clock TV news. I arrived home a few minutes before 11 and turned on the set. The Carole King story was the big item of the night and detailed coverage was everywhere. We saw footage of Carole performing, people in the audience, and (holy cow,) the blonde woman we talked to during the afternoon. It was Joni Mitchell!

Fast forward 35 years! As if a Freedom of Information Act request had been fulfilled, author Sheila Weller has now revealed everything you ever wanted to know about Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, James Taylor, David Crosby and the entire neighborhood of singer-songwriters of this genre. Her book, Girls Like Us, feels like a miraculous detailed dream of full-access to the longest rock tour of your life. You are surrounded by all the talent you could ever find in the 60s and 70s. Better still, you know everything about them: their lovers, their passions, their emotions and their struggles with artistic competition. This is an amazing book.

Ms. Weller would make an exceptional private investigator. Her book is filled with meticulous and inquisitive research leaving no stone unturned. She interviewed every personality, every friend and acquaintance and every passerby. She painted her story with the detail of a Where's Waldo? portrait. Not a soul was missed! Everyone is there and the stories are addictive. This is not a casual showbiz biography or the mere tale of three women who defined the music of their age. It is snapshot of an entire era perfectly capturing how life felt before, during and after the Summer of Love.

Sheila really knows how to tell a story. Open her book and begin a 600 page real-life mystery. New revelations abound! (Her vocabulary alone is inspiring.) Curious about Carly's romantic fling in France? Joni's days as a budding fashion model? Carole's teenage days at the Brill Building? It's all here! This book is more fun than a carnival ride that never ends. Trust me! I often felt like a little kid crying "Tell me more! Tell me more!" How I wish every book was like this.

Completely involved in this masterwork, I ordered a copy of Carole King's recently released Tapestry- Legacy Edition two CD set. One disc is her classic album now with full digital clarity. The bonus disc contains the entire album (except for Way Over Yonder) recorded live at concerts in 1973 and 1976 including the Central Park happening. Listening to this live CD brought me full-circle. I had stepped back in time more aware than I could ever imagine. 37 years later, Tapestry is still fresh and delightful.

Sheila Weller leaves no hanging threads! Her coverage of the lives of Carly, Carole and Joni continues to present day. Girls Like Us is only the start. For those who want to travel further, Sheila shares her journal detailing the creation of each chapter and provides an endless bibliography for your use. This book is entertaining, a great source of reference and a keeper. Pick up a copy before it's too late!

Bush Tree !

Just east of downtown Port Austin, Michigan, along the north side of Pointe Aux Barques Road, there is a miracle to behold. It's not just a bush. It's not just a tree. On first examination, there appears to be only one trunk! Somehow the bush and tree are one! It's the bush tree - Port Austin's most amazing natural wonder - now captured in exclusive pictures for Write or Karl Me! How did it come to be? The mystery may never be solved!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

His Last Lecture

Randy Pausch died yesterday. At 47 years old, he is survived by his wife, Jai, and their three children.

His passing brings sadness but it was not unexpected. Randy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer two years ago. A well-known professor at Carnegie-Mellon University, he became renowned for his developmental work in the world of computer graphics. Pausch did not resign from his life after learning his fate. His predicament inspired him to write and present a last lecture encouraging others to achieve their childhood dreams. Randy lived to see his.

Pausch preached a mantra focusing on the importance of family, mentoring and creating a thoughtful legacy for oneself. In his words: "We can not change the cards we a dealt, only the way we play our hand." At face value, his talk pivoted on what many of us consider common sense peppered with his undying joie de vivre. His Last Lecture gained its popularity from the way it was delivered, not necessarily due to its novel content.

The Last Lecture was recorded for posterity as Randy's goodbye to the world. He simply wanted to create a vehicle to be remembered by for his family, friends and associates. The nearly two hour recording was posted on You Tube and became a phenomenon. His edgy assertive style and die-hard positive attitude quickly gained fame by word-of-mouth and media spin.

For a few months, Randy seemed blessed. His medical condition improved. He was invited to reprise his lecture across the country. The lecture was transcribed into a best-seller book. Now his flame has gone out but his love of life lives on.

We would all be blessed if our work, thoughts and beliefs were so universally received as Randy's. He was granted his last wish. If you are looking for new drive and direction in your life, The Last Lecture is a good place to find it. Spend two hours reading Randy's thoughts or watch him in action. You will be glad you did and that is exactly what he had in mind.

Mamma Mia!

Have you ever been to a party where nearly everyone is in on a private joke and you just don't get it? Now, through the miracle of modern cinema, this very uncomfortable feeling has been captured in 108 minutes of on-screen horror. It's called Mamma Mia! which is the probable reaction of every viewer who does not possess the required amount of estrogen necessary to embrace this mess within its designed framework. What were they thinking?

Mamma Mia! is based on a song which became the basis of a long-running Broadway musical. Now it's a screenplay! Its foundation is the remarkable catalog of music written and performed by ABBA, one of the most successful pop music groups of all time. Somehow this sure-fire train of success has become hopelessly derailed. A generic storyline of young people in love, combined with many beauty shots of romantic Grecian islands, kept the uninitiated viewers (like myself) occupied for the first two or three reels. Visual and aural pain followed!

The casting defies logic. Mamma Mia! is jam-packed with ABBA tunes at every appropriate (and inappropriate) moment. Yet, none of the main players can competently carry a tune. At least, to the audience I sat with, this deficiency was completely acceptable. It doesn't matter that she can't sing! That's Meryl Streep up there as the promiscuous mother of the bride-to-be! (Oh, brother!)

I completely confirmed this theory at the very end of the film. After 45 minutes of thinking to myself 'Please make it stop!' the entire ensemble appears on screen, decked out in disco attire, for a finale to accompany the credits. The song finally ends. The credits end but the movie doesn't. Meryl comes out of character, into a close-lens shot, and asks the audience 'Do you want another one? Huh?' More credits followed with more tuneless singing and new over-the-top costumes. This produced a final high-five between the movie and its assumed endearing audience.

The marketing geniuses at Universal should have subtitled this flick Postcards From The Edge II - The Greek Love-Child Wedding. ABBA's music was misused as an awkward vehicle for all the miscast stars. This is the Hollywood equivalent of an often-used vacation time strategy: Put ketchup on it. It will taste better. Meryl Streep, and her leading man Pierce Brosnan, should be turning red! Superstars or not, this movie is simply inedible.

Please keep in mind that I am not a subscriber to this gag so my kvetching maybe irrelevant to your potential enjoyment of this movie. Mamma Mia! has earned record-breaking box office numbers since its release propelled by the charms of its cast alone. Rest assured: It's not the plot. It's not the performances. Mamma Mia! indeed!