Monday, March 31, 2008

Collection of Cool

It all started with Archie Bunker. During the final season of All in the Family, and its sequel spin-off Archie Bunker's Place, a young actress was added to the cast for new blood and spunk. Danielle Brisebois stole the heart of America with her little girl smiles and charm. About ten years later, Danielle befriended a talented lad from Grosse Pointe, Michigan named Gregg Alexander. They shared an insatiable love for rock 'n' roll. Gregg enjoyed some early success releasing a couple of solo albums and writing some songs for acts like Susanna Hoff's Bangles and Belinda Carlisle. He was a fun guy to know.

Together, Danielle and Gregg gathered some friends together and formed a gifted gang of musicians who became known as The New Radicals. Their 1997 album 'Maybe You've Been Brainwashed, Too' has become legendary in the history of California rock. It became the fulcrum between the Todd Rundgren generation and a new wave of bands like The Red Hot Chili Peppers. The Radicals anthem 'You Only Get What You Give' has been used time and time again in a variety of settings that often disregard its main disestablishment theme. Play it time and time again; the song gleefully rants and rocks. How this tune became the background for the new HDTV service of PBS I'll never know!

The Radicals all went their separate ways, but Gregg and Danielle still have a heavy grasp on American pop. Gregg hit it big producing the mega-hit 'Game of Love' with Michelle Branch fronting Carlos Santana. Danielle has skyrocketed like fireworks in the world of songwriting. Clay Aiken, Kelly Clarkson, Mandy Moore, Kylie Minogue and Kimberley Locke have all recorded her songs.

Danielle's very hottest hit is a song you might have heard of called 'Unwritten.' Natasha Bedingfield first recorded it in 2004 for her debut solo album. It simmered and cooked for years serving as background in a few movie soundtracks including Disney's 'Ice Princess' and 'The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.' Unwritten's pot started to boil over in 2006 when Natasha was finally discovered in America. The song dominated radio airplay for months and is now heard behind commercials for hair products and in dance clubs where multiple remixes keep the song fresh. You have never seen a hit with this much play and penetration.

Natasha and Danielle (pictured above) continue to cook on the front burner. Natasha's latest single, 'Pocket Full of Sunshine', was written by Danielle, Natasha and their friend John Shanks. The album's first single 'Love Like This' is the ultimate cool. Natasha's work is positive, proficient and self-assured. It is always fine to hear her groove. Where will Danielle turn up next? Check out her nearly unknown gem 'Just Missed the Train' including tracks from her 1994 debut album and previously unreleased material. Watch her web site at: It's bound to be fun.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Puppy Pals

Do you ever dream about being surrounded by puppies licking you and kissing you all over? It can easily happen if you are a puppy raiser! Guiding Eyes for the Blind, based in Yorktown Heights, New York, breeds and trains the best work dogs you'll ever find. It takes over a year, and many volunteers, to develop a new seeing-eye dog. One of those volunteers could be you!

Our home often becomes a puppy palace where young dogs mingle with our three year old black Labrador retriever for experience and fun. All puppy candidates must be socialized with many other dogs (and people!) in many different situations to become eligible for year-long training as work dogs. Only the best dogs are chosen. The others become wonderful pets like our 95 pound bundle of prancing joy!

We spend many hours with the puppies and help them overcome their individual deficiencies. Guiding Eyes supplies a worksheet with every canine candidate stating the challenges each puppy needs to meet. The experience is not unlike raising a baby human. You quickly get used to chaos and insanity. Few things in life are more satisfying! Sit in a big easy chair with two or three furry faces sleeping on your lap and you'll understand what I mean.

The best doggies go on to intense training, visiting many different locales, becoming alert, aware and perceptive beyond your imagination. By the time these dogs reach graduation day, (the day the raisers hand the dogs to their grateful permanent owners,) they are proficient work dogs of the highest caliber. Guiding Eyes is renowned for producing the finest guide dogs in the world. It is a pleasure to be part of the process.

If you love dogs and creating miracles, take a look at their web site at: There are dozens of ways to volunteer and become part of the Guiding Eyes family. Your donations are always welcome. You'll find them at:

Guiding Eyes for the Blind
611 Granite Springs Road
Yorktown Heights, New York 10598
Toll Free Phone: 800-942-0149

Wash Dish!

Here’s the dish on dishwashers: Some tips from a seasoned installer I recently met.

If you want to save some money and improve your washing efficiency, warm rinse your dishes in the sink closest to your dishwasher, then immediately run your dishes. Dishwashers run on hot water only. When you prime your hot water pipes by rinsing right before you wash, you get hot water immediately into the dishwasher and your dishes come out cleaner.

Take a look at how your dishwasher is mounted. The washer’s control panel should reach out slightly in front of your cabinetry. If not, the steam rising from the washer will expand the wood above the washer and/or stress the veneer of your Formica top. The steam vent should be allowed to breathe! In any case, a quick application of Thompson’s water seal or similar moisture proofing treatment to the exposed wood adjacent to the dishwasher will preserve its original appearance for years to come.

It sounds crazy, but run your dishwasher empty once a month substituting orange Tang for dishwasher soap. Tang is rich in citric acid and will clean off deposits from hard water and minerals and keep all your pipes and filters clean. It also says something about actually drinking this stuff! Believe it not, rinsing your machine with Tang is great preventative maintenance adding many more years of life to your appliance.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Very Swift!

Some recipes are reliable and satisfying but never make you say ‘wow!’ Macaroni and cheese, chicken noodle soup, corn flakes, peanut butter and jelly…you just can’t miss. Tried and true and all for you. Music is no different. Round up some of Nashville’s finest musicians, insert some guaranteed hooks, add some predictable youthful innocence to the lyrics and front your product with a pretty face. You’ll be all set.

Hold on! Here it comes again! No, it’s not Shania Twain. This generation’s Hostess Twinkie is named Taylor Swift. Don’t get me wrong. Although a lot of people obviously like this stuff (and probably don’t admit it publicly,) there is only so much sugar you can take. The proficiency of all involved is undeniable. These people know how to make records that cook. Sadly, this city livin’ woman ain’t got no soul. Am I wrong? Squeeze the lemon hard! Release the album once, meter your audience, remix the album and more than double your sales. Big Machine Records is turning every stone!

Take a listen. Taylor’s two biggest songs hit the 12 to 25 year old demographic with a bull’s eye arrow. “Our Song” is catchy but pushes the sugar-is-sweet button really hard. The third time Taylor flips her voice singing ‘and you talk real slow, ‘cause it’s late and your mama don’t know…’ you really want to reach for the ‘way too cute’ switch. Want to really overdose? Watch the video. Get ready because here it comes!

“Teardrops on My Guitar” is just slightly more palatable. I don’t know who Drew is, but he really should re-think his dating choices. Taylor and her friend Liz Rose nailed this one. It’s all here in one song: Everything a teenage girl can lament to and relate to. You have to admit it is brilliant, but is it genuine? My standards may be really high, but when I listen to a song I have to buy the fact that the performer feels something about what they are singing. Just a little. C’mon!

I’m looking forward to Taylor’s brand new fall release. She is teaming up with ultra-hot Colbie Caillat and Big and Rich’s John Rich to write the songs. You know the production will be first rate. Let’s hope she can mature and season her act to compliment her potential. I don’t want Wonder Bread. I want the real thing. Let’s hope Nashville’s oven bakes Taylor’s next one well. They’re making me really hungry for something good.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Help Us Help You !

Here is a great way to spend the next 30 minutes: Write a summary of your life. Why? Should something happen to you, it would be the greatest gift you could give to those who may need to care for you, or your estate, if you can no longer do it yourself. Let me explain.

When someone dies or becomes infirm, difficult tasks face those who survive. This initial period of discovery can be time consuming and quite frustrating when no clues are left. A case in point: A distant relative passes away. They live far away in another state. Where do you begin?

Finding recent tax filings can be a wonderful place to start. The past few years' IRS 1040 forms will, at least, get the ball rolling with discovery. What happens if your relative has been on fixed income and has not needed to file tax returns? The search can be long and hard.

Monitoring the mail and incoming phone calls can yield some clues. Speaking to friends and neighbors can help too. Eventually, anyone who wants money comes looking for it! Without proper records or clues, some items may never be found.

Your list can help considerably. Simply take a piece of paper and write down all your assets. What bank accounts and investments do you have? Do you hold any real estate? What credit cards do you hold? Do you have more than one mortgage? If you have a safety deposit box, where is it and where are the keys? Who is your tax accountant? Who is your lawyer?
Where are your bank accounts held? Who are your doctors?

Documents are essential and should be held in one obvious central place. Make sure your collection includes birth and death certificates, marriage certificates, discharge papers from the armed forces, automobile titles, insurance cards and registrations, Social Security and Medicare cards, life insurance contracts and your instructions for funeral wishes. Most important: A will and a health surrogate assignment document! Make a habit of reviewing your will once a year. An out-of-date will can be a nightmare in itself.

Another wonderful gift to your family is funeral insurance as an irrevocable trust. These policies cover the expenses of the funeral of your choice eliminating a large burden for everyone who survives you. By making the policy an irrevocable trust, the money spent on this insurance becomes an exempt asset in the eyes of Medicaid. Since these policies accrue interest, their initial worth grows as time goes by.

Take a lesson from Mahatma Ghandi: Die with no more possessions than your glasses! If you slowly transfer the ownership of all you hold in this world, while you are alive, many fewer questions will arise. This is another way to have a better relationship with Medicaid. If you have little or no assets, you will qualify for this kind of insurance more readily. Get to know what insurance vehicles may be able to sustain you if you are infirm. Learn the difference between Medicare and Medicaid. Get to know all about Medicare Part A, B and D. Don’t transfer your assets in a hurry. Consult your tax accountant and lawyer for advice. There are strict rules concerning how to disperse your assets gracefully. Abide by them!

Also, think about establishing a joint bank account with someone close to you. This will give them instant access to funds should problems arise. Consider this article as a starting point and inspiration for action. There are many more items to address that may be particular to your life. Plan now and live all the days of your life in peace (and bring peace to others!) Amen.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Her Name Is Iran

From an American perspective, Iran is a far-off desert land filled with oil fields and industry. Iran’s rich history dates back thousands of years nearly to the beginning of civilization. Yet, we know so little about Iranian lifestyles, cultures and religions. To many, their people and their lives are a mystery to us. Interested in learning more about the country once known as Persia? Let me suggest an excellent place to start.

Born in the United States to Iranian parents, Davar Ardalan is the perfect tour guide to this part of the world. Her fascinating biography, ‘My Name is Iran’ has both literal and figurative meaning. Her proper first name actually is ‘Iran.’ What a fine ambassador she would make for either country.

Davar’s book chronicles her quest seeking a true and self-satisfying identity. Her complicated and tumultuous life has seen her morph between a modern American woman and a subservient Iranian willingly locked into an arranged marriage. Her book follows her long search for a place to comfortably rest her soul. Although the perspective is from a personal point of view, Davan’s biography also serves as an authoritarian primer about life in Iran.

She has adopted many, many places as her home. A very complicated and diverse life she has led. Davan comes from an enormous family that was very influential in the establishment of modern society in Iran. Several family members of her generation migrated to The United States in search of a richer life. All have experimented with lifestyles both traditional and modern. Some chose one; others chose both. Davan could not decide.

As you read, you will understand how her deep heritage in the Middle East has altered the direction of her life. She seems nearly taunted by both sides of her fence. During most of her young adult years, Davan could not resolve where to go or how to ultimately live. You feel her struggle. Her understanding of both her cultures is so full. If she could only embrace one to call her own!

'My Name Is Iran' is filled with many studious footnotes further explaining the history and the stories behind the many people mentioned in her tales. The book is a masterwork. Not only is Davan a great student of her family's legacy and homeland, she shows sensitivity to her readers with in-depth explanations providing all the background you may need to understand her life in whole. Her tireless work has created a gem which may open her ancestral world to an audience otherwise blind to all of Iran's cultural wealth. It is an unusual and interesting read.

This is not a dry and dusty history book. The tone is personal and passionate. Much is to be read about Davan's personal life: her two marriages (one to a second cousin,) her children, the beloved members of her family and all the things that bubble and cook in her pot of life. What a cast of characters are to be found in all her relatives! Follow her life as she matures from a young girl to a woman immersed in American culture. Later, she returns with conviction to a harshly structured lifestyle. In the end, she becomes a producer and correspondent for National Public Radio working with renowned journalists like Jacki Lyden and Daniel Zwerdling. Quite an amazing life!

Invest some time and read this book. You will begin to understand the spirit within the souls of Davan’s people. She'll take you to the site of Solomon's Mosque, the Alborz Mountains and the lands once ruled by Cyrus the Great. Learn about her father's renowned architectural blending of styles both old and new. Feel the excitement in a place half way around the world. Will she ever find balance between the two distinct cultures of America and Iran? Davan offers much to discover. Her pages combine into a journey you won’t forget. For an introductory taste of her work, please visit Salam!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

See the Future

Leap day only comes once in four years. What a day it was! I leaped into a new world of television technology and the federal government underwrote my adventure! I had just received my 'granny coupons' good for a two $40 discounts on digital television converter boxes. My two red credit card coupons, with nifty eagle holograms, had been received the day before in the mail. They would expire in 90 days. It was time for action!

Luck was on my side. I walked into my local Circuit City and asked about converter boxes. They had just come in, but they only had one model! By some divine miracle, they were actually the exact converter I wanted: The LG designed Zenith DTT900. I bought 40% of their stock. (They had only 5 of them. I bought two!)

Excitement filled the air. I had read about the LG's prototype in trade magazines and on Internet reflectors for months. This is the model of choice for DXers. DTT900s feature the very latest 6th generation chipset with cutting edge features and fun. I couldn't wait to get them out of the box!

You become impressed from the very start. The front panel display features an elegant two color display for power. While idling, the front panel LED is red. Turn it on and it turns to a deep blue. The deep blue LED will blink when the box receives commands from the remote control. It is a very appealing design.

You'll discover one clumsy flaw when you attempt setup. The box itself can only be turned on and off or change pre-determined channels with its three front panel buttons. Without the remote you will not go farther. There is no provision for manual entry. No remote? You simply can't activate the box. Beware as you install the provided Chinese AAA battery. It is wrapped in thin clear plastic that could easily not be seen. This had me going for a few seconds. Unwrap it and it works much better. Amazing, huh? Thankfully, these were the only negative features that could be found.

The initial setup was quick and easy. You select which language you'll use, a default aspect ratio and then you auto-search for channels. The search takes about one minute. The search software accounts for all the virtual channels received, so your final number may seem inflated. I have one broadcaster in my area that offers 10 virtual channels! Finally, you select your time zone and you are all set. Total time: less than two minutes. I've never seen one easier.

The on-screen display has the same classy look and feel as previous models designed by LG but better. All the graphics look refined and large. The automatic channel scan is much faster. My first scan produced 51 channels when my outdoor 8-bay bowtie antenna was pointed toward Manhattan. Not bad for almost 50 miles away! Picture and sound come on immediately when the scan is completed. A nifty new addition is a drop-down menu when you manually enter channel numbers. Finding channels becomes fast and efficient. Type '2' and you'll get all the virtual channels that begin with '2': 2-1, 21-3, 21-4, 21-5, 25-1, 25-2. Just arrow down and enter and you are there! Unlike many other DTV devices, the LG design also allows complete entry of specific complete virtual channel numbers, not just the overall channel. You can go immediately to 50-5 instead of going to 50 and then doing a cumbersome scan to get to 50-5. It's well designed for easy viewing.

Other nifty features are an automatic self-setting clock and an advanced broad display signal meter. Both can be accessed via remote control. The signal meter provides a fast-updating on-screen display combined with a beeping audio tone reminiscent of signal meters seen on DirecTV boxes. As the signal gets stronger, little beeps get faster and faster. My guess is that this was intended for antenna alignment when you can't see the on-screen display but you can hear the TV set's audio. The handy remote also includes an audio control. If you are using an old TV that did not come with any remote, this added feature is a welcomed blessing.

The deep menus provide even more fun and flexibility. You'll find a wide variety of aspect ratio settings to fit the received video to your screen exactly the way you would like to see it. You can quickly change the look with your remote. Fullscreen? Widescreen? Compressed? Cropped? No problem! You can adjust the audio to play in mono or stereo. It even has an auto-off feature allowing you to turn off the box after a certain amount of time, if you like.

You’ll find just as many options if you like to view closed captioning. Every variety of captioning and text pops up instantly through a flick of your remote. You can even choose between HD 708 captions and SD 608 captions. Unfortunately, sometimes you have to look around. If you set it for 708, and only 608 type captions are being sent, you’ll have to search around for results. The converter will not sense what is being sent and switch automatically.

Generation 6 chipsets provide one admirable advanced feature. When a received signal is weak, the picture content does not switch to black instantly. You’ll see the picture perform an interesting blurry tiling effect updating only the parts of the screen showing action until it gains enough information to go to full-quality again. It’s more appealing to watch, but creates some wild morphing effects on days when signals are not up to par.

So how is reception? It is better than older design digital tuners I have auditioned. Don’t expect miracles. The new Zenith will bring in distant reception better than ever before, but some new digital stations are still deficient in signal strength. When the actual transition to full digital broadcasts on February 17, 2009, some stations will move their digital signals from temporary UHF frequencies to the VHF channels they now use for analog. This may make all the difference for reliable reception in the future. Keep in mind any reception you receive will look simply beautiful. You will never see snow or ghosts ever again!

You will probably see more channels with the Zenith converter than you do now, but they may not necessarily be the same ones you were watching in analog! In my particular case, fully switching to digital removed NBC, the CW and one PBS affiliate from my roster. I started with four analog PBS channels. I now have 9 digital PBS channels to choose from. I gained a host of oddball digital virtual channels with sometimes entertaining content. For instance; I can now see an all-Anime animation channel perfect for teenagers.

All in all, I’m very satisfied with this little converter. It is obvious that it is the product of several generations of development. It is concise and well-brewed. The price is right. Even if you pay full list price, the Zenith DTT900 may cost you $20 plus tax using a government provided ‘granny coupon.’ Apply for free ‘granny coupons’ by calling 1-888-DTV-2009. Keep in mind, this converter needs an old fashioned TV antenna! You really can’t go wrong. Go have some fun and go digital today!