Monday, October 12, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Looking for new adventures in Halloween fun? Anyone can carve a pumpkin but sculpting a drawing onto one is even better. Search the Internet for your favorite pumpkin design or draw one yourself. They all look good in pictures, but how do you transfer it?


I eyeballed a picture of Elmo with a great big smile. After a few minutes of thought, I discovered new use for my Dremel tool. Using a fine #192 high speed cutter, I slowly and patiently created a rough outline of the drawing freehand. Then I followed through by carving away the larger areas. Anyone who knows me well knows I am no artist! If I can do it, so can you!


With the Dremel tool rotating at its slowest speed, make gentle light strokes with your cutter. Remove just the tough top orange skin of the pumpkin revealing the bright yellow meat. No need to cut holes deep into the interior like a jack-o-lantern. Without the opaque skin, light will shine right through from the inside of the pumpkin. It may take a while to complete your masterpiece, but the final product proved it was worth the effort. I never knew Elmo could be look so spooky!



Monday, September 28, 2009

You Know You Are From Newfoundland When...

1. You never meet any celebrities except Buddy Wasisname and Toni Marie Wiseman.

2. Your idea of a traffic jam is ten cars waiting to pass a tractor-trailer on the "TCH".

3. "Vacation" means going to St. John's for the weekend.

4. You've seen all the biggest bands 10 years after they were popular everywhere else.

5. You measure distance in hours when traveling across the province, and full days when measuring distance across the country.

6. You know several people who have hit moose more than once.

7. Your classes were often cancelled because of snow.

8. You often switch from "heat" to "A/C" in the same day.

9. You use a down comforter in the summer.

10. Your grandparents drive at 100/km per hour through 13 feet of snow in a raging blizzard - without flinching.

11. Your social life consists of drinking at parties, in the woods or downtown, and bingo, darts, cards & fishing after 30.

12. You see people wear hunting clothes or jogging suits to social events.

13. You install security lights on your house and garage and leave both unlocked.

14. You think of the major four food groups as moose meat, beer, fish and berries and a typical meal portion for you would feed a European for two days.

15. You carry jumper cables in your car and you know how to use them.

16. There are 4 empty cars running in the parking lot at the convenience store at any given time.

17. You only own three spices: Salt, Pepper and Ketchup.

18. You design your kid's Halloween costume to fit over a snowsuit.

19. Driving is better in the winter because the potholes are filled with snow.

20. You think everyone from a bigger city has an accent and dresses funny.

21. You think lingerie is a short flannel night dress.

22. You know all 4 seasons: Almost Winter, Winter, Still Winter and Construction.

23. It takes 3 hours to go to the store for one item when you're in a rush because you have to stop and talk to everyone you know.

24. You have a satellite dish/cable with 500 channels and still watch NTV.

25. You consider a snow blower a recreational vehicle.

26. Everyone knows a snowmobile in the back of a new truck is the sign of a well off person.

27. You have your own rubber boots & ball cap for picking berries and fishing.

28. The shed or the barn are acceptable places for grown men and sometimes women to drink and socialize.

29. You actually understand these jokes, smile, and forward them to all your friends from Newfoundland.

Pictured: NTV's Toni-Marie Wiseman

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Fun For Fall !


This Fall’s fun starts with a Pixar party. Look for their amazing re-release of Toy Story and Toy Story II now digitally re-rendered in 3D coming to theatres on October 2nd. If the return of Buzz and Woody are not enough, November 10th will bring the home video release of the latest Disney – Pixar masterpiece: Up. Carl and Ellie will finally appear on the small screen and the search for Paradise Falls will begin again.


As a long-time fan of Pixar, I went to see Up out of loyalty expecting just another animated feature. Two hours later, I walked away moved and stunned with its quality. It’s hard to imagine a movie better than this. I made a point of seeing it the next night in 3D. If you haven’t seen Up, pre-order the DVD now! Money back guarantee!


Have Mercy


My only bet for the 2009 Fall TV schedule is NBC’s new hospital drama called Mercy. Newcomer Taylor Schilling leads the cast as nurse Veronica Callahan, part of a troika of women meeting the demands of modern medicine. You may recognize one of the other nurses supporting Taylor played by Michelle Trachtenberg. Michelle is a now-grown-up teen icon best known for her roles in Gossip Girl, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the movie Ice Princess. NBC has heavily promoted Mercy with multiple free iTunes video clips and on-air spots. It seems to have a better-than-average appeal with fresh and edgy writing. It premieres nationwide on NBC-TV September 23rd.


See The World !


You might also enjoy a very interesting experiment being conducted daily by ABC News. Their World News Webcast represents a completely new wave of news broadcasting. You’ll see a refreshing new spin on content tailored for the under 50 crowd including great features like New Music Monday and Friday At The Movies. Someone at ABC is obviously thinking about the future. World News Webcast is technically anchored by their broadcast icon Charles Gibson but frequently replaced by a farm team of ABC correspondents on their way up. Many of the field reporters are testing their wings, as well. Make a point to watch this free daily download, available from iTunes or directly at http://abcnews.go.com/WN/Webcast.


Play Your Kazoo !


If you happen to be awake during the wee hours, try your radio for entertainment. One show should not be missed. Check out The Steve LeVeille Broadcast on the air on WBZ 1030 AM from Boston weeknights from midnight until 5 am. You’ll hear radio like it really should be: It’s fun. It’s local-oriented. It’s very informative. It’s habit-forming and – warning – it can be really silly. Steve is a wonderful combination of seasoned newsman, talented interviewer, insightful commentator and musical performer (he plays sax and a mean kazoo.) WBZ reached 38 states at night, but if your radio can’t pull him in listen on-line at: http://player.play.it/player/player.html?v=4.7.124&id=92&onestat=wbz.


Sweet Sounds


Musically, Colbie Caillat recently defied a sophomore slump with her tasty second full CD ‘Breakthrough,’ featuring her latest single ‘Fallin’ For You.’ Also look for a hidden gem ‘Hoy Me Voy,’ a duet with Colombian superstar Juanes. You’ll find it on Colbie’s EP ‘Coco Summer Sessions’ released last November. It’s hard to get Colbie out of a recording studio: Look forward to a handful of new Christmas songs to be released in the next few weeks. One for fun and fun for fall!



Friday, September 18, 2009

Are We Human?

It’s my favorite song of the year, but it leaves a lot for interpretation. The Killers, a Las Vegas based rock band, are enjoying well-deserved success from nearly everything they do including the mega-hit ‘Human.’ At first listen, it’s a 80s retro dance tune with a great beat and a wacky keyboard riff in the right channel. It’s got enough compression for AM Top 40. Warning: After a couple of listens, the lyrics will grab you!


Just what are they trying to convey? Their lead singer, Brandon Flowers, asks us ‘Are we human…or are we dancer?’ That’s ‘dancer’ singular. Possibly a new type of life form or discipline? We’ll see! It’s supposed to be all about a reference made by Rolling Stone guru Hunter Thompson that society is decaying into a bunch of directionless dancers. OK, sure.


Maybe the vision should be of a newborn coming to life: ‘I did my best to notice - When the call came down the line - Up to the platform of surrender - I was brought but I was kind - And sometimes I get nervous - When I see an open door…’ Another faction of Killers fans likens the song to the attributes of a puppet with the lyrics: ‘close your eyes – clear your heart – cut the cord.’ Indeed, maybe we are inanimate: ‘My sign is vital – my hands are cold – and I’m on my knees looking for the answer…’ What does it all mean?


Is something evil about to happen? Human sadness, defeat and resignment come next: ‘Pay my respects to grace and virtue - Send my condolences to good - Give my regards to soul and romance - They always did the best they could - And so long to devotion - You taught me everything I know - Wave goodbye - Wish me well.. - You've gotta let me go’ (Maybe even suicidal?) There is also a sense of departure reminiscent of David Bowie’s classic ‘Space Oddity:’ ‘Will your system be alright - when you dream of home tonight? - There is no message we're receiving - Let me know is your heart still beating!’ By the way, did Major Tom ever make it home?


You could think about this for days. I have! No matter how far you go in thought, it’s a great song musically and lyrically. You can even be silly: Maybe The Killers long to be Santa’s reindeer! ‘Are we human or are we Dancer?’ Onward Prancer! Onward Vixen! Give them a listen at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n6r4KT8-VX0. The Killers’ CD Day & Age, including ‘Human,’ is available on iTunes and everywhere. Their three other CDs are killers, as well!



Monday, September 7, 2009

Look! Up In The Sky!

What a bright star! I wonder what it is? The night sky is constantly changing filled with mysteries waiting to discover! Only a passing interest in astronomy? It matters not! Free road maps are available. Just use the Internet to begin your journey!

My favorite guide to the sky is a very simple program called Skyglobe. It was written by Mark Haney when dinosaurs ruled the Earth back in 1989. Originally intended for the DOS operating system (pre-Windows,) Skyglobe allows you to identify all you see in the sky and more. You can easily change the detail and complexity of its portrayal to highlight the brightest objects you see. Want to recall something you noticed two nights ago? Press a couple of keys and you can fly back in time. It is the most simple and useful program you may ever encounter!

The latest DOS version of Skyglobe (3.6) can be downloaded for free at:
http://www.sidewalkastronomy.com/skyglobe.html. Even your old computer in the basement can display Skyglobe with ease! It will run on all versions of DOS and Windows up to XP. Recent computers with Windows Vista or XP can support a fascinating program called Stellarium. This is a quantum leap beyond Skyglobe with advanced graphics and features applicable to the most advanced user. Find it at: http://www.stellarium.org.

Looking for a nightly guide to the sky? Bookmark
http://www.earthsky.org/tonighthome/. You’ll be directed to stellar points of interest updated daily. What a wonderful way to learn about the universe! Its part of a wonderful gift called EarthSky, a wealth of knowledge and facts ready for your discovery. You could spend a lot of time here! Start tonight! Look! Up in the sky!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Digital Doesn't Do

The transition to digital television has come and gone and the results are in. When it works, it works well-providing ghost and noise free pictures with an enormous full gamut of colors. The key phrase: ‘When it works.’ It simply doesn’t.

Over-the-air TV is used by three groups of viewers: People in cities without pay TV, people in rural areas beyond the reach of pay TV and a few people in suburbia who don’t want to pay for pay TV. I recently visited rural Michigan and the comments were universal wherever I went: ‘Why did they turn off TV?’ Digital TV actually means no TV to many, many viewers.


My family’s home in mid-Michigan is about 75 miles from the closest TV broadcaster. Previous to the transition we could see quite a few channels with varying degrees of snow and continuity. Because of our great distance from the origins of these analog broadcasts, weather and ionospheric conditions could change our reception wildly. Regardless of reception conditions, you could always see something. America has now turned off its analog broadcasts. One of Canada’s two major networks, CTV, has recently dropped its analog TV broadcasting from many outlying regions of Ontario. All that remains, in my area of mid-Michigan, are three distant channels all carrying Canada’s other TV network CBC.


If you took the advice of broadcasters and bought a converter box or new digital TV you would be heading for the return counter. My top-of-the-line Zenith DTT901 converter not only did not work in mid-Michigan, it did not see any signals at all. Not one. Zero. The televisions in local bars, restaurants, hardware stores and the bakery were all turned off. The hair salon was OK. They had switched to DirecTV long ago.

At home, I live about 45 miles from broadcast central: Manhattan’s Empire State Building. Only with a sophisticated outdoor antenna combined with a pre-amp can I bring in passable signals most of the time. My trusty VHF-UHF log periodic attic antenna, which has served me well for 40 years, is now inadequate and obsolete. Digital TV doesn’t seem like a one-for-one replacement for analog. Only under optimal conditions do we see digital anything. Informal viewing using portable receivers, or battery powered TV during blackouts, is now impossible. TV sound radios are now silent, as well. What have we gained here?

Digital radio is not much better. HD Radio receivers, seeking digital radio signals, also require a solid signal to work properly. This is hard to achieve especially in moving cars or anywhere electrical noise is present (nearly everywhere!) Few receivers are available. Only one portable HD Radio has been offered, its reviews are marginal, and it only receives FM. Years after its introduction, HD Radio has stalled and its sails forever luff. Thank goodness analog radio broadcasts have not been turned off, as well! HD Radio is actually a full step backward. The ‘compatible digital’ signals broadcast create great havoc with their analog mates and reduce reception coverage especially on AM.

Professional two-way radios also suffer from digital deterioration. New York City’s police and fire departments wrestled with digital handi-talkie radios for years. It was the same old story. When they worked, they were perfectly clear (when they worked.) If the H-T’s signal faded or otherwise became corrupted nothing would be heard at the receiving end. This can really ruin your day if your life depends on solid communication. We could also talk for years about the sonic difference between vinyl records and CDs (and ultra-compressed iPods.) The only instance of digital success may be the improvement of DVDs and DVRs over analog VHS tapes!

Should we abandon digital transmission? Not quite yet. We must remember that we are still in the infancy of the development of these mediums. Some recent improvements are especially encouraging. Verizon’s V-Cast TV broadcasts, locally transmitted on former television channel 55, seem to lock with consistency while being viewed with handy hand-held devices. The British have refined their digital radio broadcasts achieving reasonable nationwide acceptance. Using fully-wired delivery, digital is hard to beat. Former shortwave enthusiasts delight in the crystal clear fidelity of Internet radio.

Broadcasters should resign themselves to digital’s over-the-air shortcomings. It is very hard to compete with the incredibly robust nature of good old AM radio or analog NTSC TV. Noisy or not, analog gets the message through the most difficult situations. How I miss the good old days! Change is never easy! Bring back my old TV!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Meteors !


Standby for the greatest show on Earth!


Debris from the tail of the Swift-Tuttle comet is about to brush our night sky and the results should be spectacular. The best time to look should be this Tuesday night into Wednesday morning (August 11th and 12th) after midnight and just before moonrise.


Face the northeast sky and look for the constellation Cassiopeia. It looks like a wide-open W. The radiant center of the meteor shower should be just a bit lower in the sky, just above the constellation Perseus (resembling a stick-figure man without arms.)


The show has already started! About a week ago, just before dawn, I witnessed a stunning meteor illuminate the sky while riding in my car. All I could say was “Wow!” Anytime this week you’re likely to see amazing displays fly through your evening sky!


The later you stay up Tuesday night, the better the show should be! The Perseid shower is known for long, bright and streaky meteor bursts just like a natural Fourth of July celebration. Hunt for a good dark place away from ground light and city centers. Set up your lawn chair and bring some snacks! (Don’t forget the bug spray!) You should enjoy the best all-nighter of your life!



Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Friday, July 17, 2009

Changing Times

It’s time to think in a whole new light. In the year 2009, everything that you considered commonplace and part of your routine can no longer be taken for granted. It truly is a whole new world. From my perspective, three things were always undeniable. There would always be radio, television and newspapers. Poof! None of these are now safe from extinction. Lights are going off…literally!


It is becoming harder and harder to purchase a self-standing radio. Who listens to the radio anymore? People listen to iPods or ‘radio’ via the Internet if they listen at all. Besides NPR, and a choice show here and there, little deserves our attention.


This has been an interesting year for television. I’m writing from a rural outpost in mid-Michigan where traditional television has just ended. We used to be able to see a handful of stations over-the-air. Dozens of channels were available via satellite. DirecTV recently raised their rates and scores of people in our neighborhood dropped the service. Analog television succumbed to digital and with it went all our reception. Only one TV station comes in when it feels like it. Watching a show that may be interrupted at any moment is unnerving at best. We also see some Canadian television drift in from across the lake, but the Canadians will turn off all their analog TV by August 2011. So now we entertain ourselves with DVDs or digital downloads.


Newspapers also seem to be on life-support. Our local journals, The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News, are now only weak memories of what they used to be. The physical size of the paper has shrunk and so has the page count. Even worse, the content of the paper only encourages its demise. As it decays, all of us reach for content via Internet sites.


Somehow, the experience is not the same. It’s hard to take a computer to the beach or make it a companion in the bathroom. It’s more formal and requires more effort. I also find it narrows your ability to discover items outside of your usual scope. Why don’t newspaper sites read like a newspaper instead of an endless list of stored articles?


See the light? Not for long! Incandescent light bulbs will be phased out in the year 2012. Start hoarding 100 watters now! Soon, you won’t be able to buy them! By 2014, the 75, 60 and 40 watt varieties will disappear, as well. Will we be left in the dark? Not really, but the color temperature is bound to be different. Someone has to develop an efficient new-wave lamp that is warm and cozy like today’s light bulbs. I can’t imagine a world lit in harsh red-deficient light.


Change is inevitable, but what I will miss most about the old world is immediacy and local content. My daughters are interested in The Beatles. They were fascinated to hear how, when The Beatles first arrived in America, all of New York City was listening to WABC deejays interviewing The Beatles live from their hotel room. Everyone had a transistor radio tuned to WABC and everyone was listening live, all at once, to the same thing. To the new world of iPodders, ‘live’ is an amazing concept.


Major news purveyors, like The New York Times or ABC News, may survive the Internet revolution. For example, the ABC News daily podcast is the center of my daily viewing. But what happens to local news? At home, I live in a suburb of New York City. Only fifty miles from a huge city, no local radio station truly covers my local news. A couple of townie papers are still printed but they are suffering from the poor economy and dwindling readership. Will anyone ever try to recapture local news services? Will it ever again become economically viable?


Welcome to the new world. In time, many people will acclimate to it or, if you are young enough, know nothing else. I may be nostalgic and set in my ways, but I will miss the good old days. Maybe we will need to revert back to basics like talking to neighbors. Will all local news be transmitted in Tweets? Time will tell!



It's Growing!

Boris, come quickly! I think it’s growing!


The monster within is getting larger and larger.


No, it’s not a creature from the Black Lagoon.


It’s the world famous

Bush Tree seen along

Pointe Aux Barques Road in Port Austin, Michigan.


We first visited this natural marvel last year and now it’s even bigger! Experts tell us that the tree is beginning to engulf the bush. Eventually, we may need to rename it The World Famous Tree Bush. Wait and see!


Exclusive coverage can always be found right here at Write or Karl Me!



Monday, April 13, 2009

I Gotta Be Me !

As an interviewer, you quickly discover most people just love to talk about themselves. Even more, everyone loves an interested audience. Befriend anyone, from any walk of life, and chances are they will pour their heart out to you if you are willing to listen. It's a basic human need: Self-esteem and building self worth could be the most important ingredient to long-term happiness.


What if casual day-to-day encouragement is not readily available? Your boss just isn't giving you enough attention. Friends simply don't realize just how wonderful you are. Achievements aren't producing the kind of recognition or monetary gain necessary to make it all worth while. Even your dog isn't enthusiastic when you come home at night. Where can you go to assuage your thirst for a pat on the back?


This is the year 2009, after all. It seems like the entire world is centered around their computer. Constantly checking your e-mail, you search the Internet for nearly everything: shopping, information, entertainment and fun all await you at your fingertips. Your computer is not just your virtual friend. It can become your most avid audience! Finally, here comes your thunderous applause!


Welcome to the new world of ME. No need to wait for the world to react. Just go online! It all started with MySpace, where you can instantly create a showcase for you and your work. MySpacers discover, early on, that building a site and a cyber-identity takes a lot of work. Your place will be compared to others and competition is stiff. This is especially true when you participate in MySpace Music. To garner notice and renown, content must be concrete, creative, alluring and unique in every respect. Creators know MySpace can be enormously effective, but often it's just not that much fun. It's hard work!


Let's fine tune this idea and turn up the fun. Who needs formal content, anyway? Self-esteem can be found in a flash with Facebook. Here, not only is your immediate stream of conscientiousness worthy of worldwide exposure, everything your friends are thinking can become a part of the soup, as well! It's not formal. It's not structured. It's wild in the streets with nothing barred. The spotlight is on you and you'd better like it.


Participating in Facebook requires a good dose of courage and lots of time! You'd better monitor the outside world and how they respond to your postings. Here comes another hit-and-run vandal about to post 20 year old pictures of you at a wild college party or in a suit of clothes now not fit for intergalactic aliens! Friends of friends you barely knew will want to cuddle up to you. Good or bad, is any publicity good publicity? Did you really need that much attention? (I didn't even like Martha Ross!) Everything I have to say is funny and important, but do I really want to hear what you have to say?


OK. OK. MySpace was way too much work. Facebook is fun, but can be really embarrassing. (Did I really post what I thought about...) Let's move on to Twitter. No pictures. No fluff. You get 140 words, at any given moment, to speak your mind. At very best, you get to post an icon picture and your concise bio. Now you are talking! In a flash, you broadcast to the world! "I am so great because...!" All your e-mail contacts and friends are awaiting your next move. Now I really need my Blackberry!


Twittering is immediate! The stage is lit. The crowd has gathered, but, wait a minute. There is no curtain! There are no intermissions. Don't post for a day or two and the masses get anxious. Is there a problem? Did something go terribly wrong? Twitter requires for you to be up and rolling 24/7. You are on the air, with your A personality, and we await your every move. You wanted attention. This is it! Go baby, go!


Twitter is mainline right now. Members of Congress were using it during Obama speeches. Rush Limbaugh has 13,200 Twitterers following him around. How long can it stay truly now and hip? Just when you thought Twitter cracked your figurative bathroom door just a little more than you like, here comes a site which will slam it open! Take a look at the latest meteor to flash through the sky: Heartbeat.com.


What an amazing idea! Heartbeaters wear an all-in-one sensor to allow complete monitoring of not only your every thought but your bodily functions, as well! Now you can discover what your spouse had for lunch, what made your sister's heart rate accelerate and when your kids sneak a snack. Using the GPS plug-in, (now in Beta version,) you can literally know where everyone is! Your site's map plots your location on a cool map that you can customize with your own colors. I can't wait to get my starter kit! (I hope this never becomes reality!)


Of course, there are also the old-fashioned methods of gaining love and self-esteem. Remove all electrons and think about writing amorous words with a pen. Give your spouse a hug and a kiss. Walk the dog with your kids. Have lunch with your best friend and walk away with new bounce in your step. Consider where we might be if all the effort that is poured into cyber-sites would energize people directly. You could gain warmth in your heart without exposing your soul to the world. Technology has its place, but once in awhile, you should get off the highway and enjoy old country roads. It's waiting for you. Now cue Sammy Davis, Jr's "I've Gotta Be Me!"






Monday, March 23, 2009

Swing Seat Fix


After five years outdoors, my daughter's swing seats cracked and broke in half. I was left with the hard plastic seats, broken in half, swinging in the breeze, connected to steel S-loops at the end of the chains. Replacement seats were not hard to find but how do you attach the new seats to the chains? It would take a lot of leverage and strength to bend out the S-loops and cutting all of them off would be nearly impossible. S-loops are hard and tough! Without a large bolt-cutter to snip the loops in the swing chain, I needed a good alternate solution.


A quick visit to my local hardware store solved the problem. I bought a set of threaded steel loops to create the missing link between the seats and the S-loops. I quickly sawed off the remains of the broken seats from the S-loops. Now the S-loops were free at the end of the swing chains. With the threaded link's loop open, both the S-loop and the swing seat mount can easily slip into the threaded loop. When you screw back the loop's long threaded nut, the link becomes a very secure connection between the chain and the new seat. I had to shorten the length of the swing chains slightly to compensate for my new threaded link addition. A couple of quick snaps at the top of the chains and the project was complete! It was an easy and satisfying fix.

Monday, February 23, 2009

I Pod. Do You?


There was a time when life was so easy. You sang. People liked you. A&R agents would sign you. You would record. Radio stations played your work. Fame brought you wealth and the opportunity to continue performing. It was not easy to break through the system, but if you had talent and flair you could rise to the top.


This old world has disappeared. Record companies have consolidated into just a few mega-monopolies. Only huge stars are allowed to flourish. Others are not allowed. No wonder American Idol attracts so much attention! The world of American media promotes what they deem as superstar music and they try to make you listen to it ad infinitum. Does this brainwashing work? The current young generation simply doesn't buy it.


Dry rot usually occurs after years of abuse. Finding new artists is time consuming, expensive and requires effort. Lots of money can be spent chasing ghosts which negates profits. Radio and television do little to promote music or the desire to create it. Commercial content and DJ chatter kills all possible airing of radio tunes during most dayparts. Promoting your act using movies only works if you are part of the Disney machine. (It may bring horror to most but repetitious Radio Disney actually airs many acts not heard elsewhere!) It took decades to kill radio. The carcass is now only bones. Even satellite radio has now fallen to greed. Is there no place to go?


My true love, XM Satellite Radio, has lost its soul while being eaten alive. After the merger with Sirius, the deterioration was swift and rampant. The amount of obscene humor channels doubled. Some channels seemed dedicated to discussions of genitalia. There was an onslaught of channels dedicated to single artists. (It became obvious that this was a scam to sell airtime to promote new albums or to bolster sales of standard archive material.) All the Latino channels disappeared except one. The new emphasis was not quality but financial greed.


Most disconcerting was the loss of programmer expertise. All the experienced and knowledgeable people who loved their music and knew how to present it disappeared off XM rapidly after the Sirius takeover. The few channels that did not follow FM sounding pop or single artist formats were dumbed down and homogenized. In simplest terms, the 'good stuff' was gone. Regardless of when you tuned in, there was simply nothing to comfortably spend your time with. The commercial content became more and more inescapable. XM Satellite Radio died consumed by the same mindset that killed FM before it. It was so good while it lasted. Why could it not continue?


For many years, I was a dedicated advocate of XM Satellite Radio. This was the medium that had brought a new non-commercial alternative to FM radio. Shows like 'Artist Confidential' and XM Public Radio made the service worthy of subscription dollars. Call me a music snob, but I simply won't listen to drones of stale pop music. This is now all XM has to offer.


Quick analysis will make obvious why radio music is so unlistenable. Back in the 1960s, rock radio stations would play music from the last few months with an oldie from a few years back tossed in now and then. The music was always fresh. We had no reason to hate it. Progressive FM radio appeared in the late 60s bringing forth a whole new concept in pop music. Disk jockeys were allowed to use their personalities and love of music to build audiences. It was a healthy time to listen.


Perversion of the musicradio art came later in the 70s with the domination of Top 40 radio. Very narrow playlists tried to draw in the most listeners possible who would always hear a hot hit when they tuned in. The repetition of songs and heavier commercial content and clutter removed the joy from listening. Some of the personalities remained but by the advent of 1980, it was done. Radio had lost its zeal to business greed.


Do the math: Most pop music stations rely on a music library of no more than about 5000 songs. You'll hear these songs over and over and over again. You have been listening to the same hits of the 1960s for 50 years! Even the hits of the 90s are ten years old! It is absolutely maddening! It is the same monotonous drivel over and over again! Make it stop!


My frustration is amplified when I think of all the singers, songwriters and musicians who can not get airplay no matter how hard they try. Thank the Lord for new oasis like MySpace Music, Pandora, YouTube, Last.fm and Amie Street. This is where the latest generation of listeners find their tunes. What a shame that radio was not allowed to flourish.


New technology may be the ultimate savior. My knee-jerk response to the death of XM was the purchase of a Generation 4 Apple iPod. It is quite a sophisticated toy. This tiny, thin rectangle is capable of holding every CD I own (and then some) and also plays back remarkable video content all available at the touch of my finger. My only regret is that it does not have more than 16 GB of memory. Only a few days into this experience, my free space is dwindling rapidly!


Using an iPod is a lesson in do-it-yourself radio. You become your own music director and program producer. I find myself searching and searching for new artists and new Podcasts. There is a lot of trial and error. Being passionate about new music requires a lot of work. Luckily, for those who have true love of music, this is an enjoyable pursuit. Your best resources are links to other artists' web sites and word-of-mouth. You'll find well-developed communities of musicians all looking for attention and fame. This is more fun than any video game!


The results are immediate and satisfying. My tastes lean heavily toward Celtic culture and music. Using an iPod has instantly connected me with Cape Breton, Ireland and Scotland like never before. You can customize your delights unattainable anywhere else. The only thing missing is up-to-the-minute news and sport. Good old AM radio fulfills most of these needs.


Change requires adaptation. I'm trying hard. Yes, this is the world in the year 2009. If radio, in all forms, is obsolete you must move on. I don't mind going down the hill, but sometimes I feel as if I am traveling with the precariousness of someone on a luge sled! How foolish the broadcast industry has been in alienating all its clientele. Sorry, I just can't listen to endless snarky chatter and commercials. There is a beautiful new musical world out there. Have you heard this one?


Also, I congratulate all who have mastered the art of Apple’s iTunes application. This iPod support program and database requires hours of patience, experimentation and adaptation. The most important information about iTunes never makes it into any ‘help’ site. Learning how to fine tune the database using ‘Get Info’ is an honored skill all its own. I’m very pleased with my progress but I have resigned myself to the realization that your quest for iTunes knowledge never ends!


So welcome to the future of media where the Web brings all you ever wanted to your fingertips. Eventually, the entire world will be wired for WiFi and you will discover Web access nearly everywhere. You won’t even need a CAT5 cable to connect. Wait a minute. Isn’t wireless Internet really radio? It sure is.



Sunday, February 8, 2009

Alice's Wonderland

Alice Peacock has created a wonderland for herself that every singer-songwriter could enjoy: Imagine a world where you can create outside of everyday commercial formulas. The canvas is yours. Write your songs. Develop your arrangements. Recruit your own support ensemble, public relations firm and distribution company. No outside demands or insistence. It’s your project and you’re in control!

Every note of your CD becomes your choice and responsibility. No big conglomerate will decide your fate. It’s your recording the way you want it to sound! It takes a lot of work but the benefits are worth every second. You also gain the luxury of releasing multiple versions of your work. Would you like it as a lounge ballad or as an upbeat rocker? Suddenly, you are in the driver’s seat.

With endless confidence and independence, Alice has been building her career for over a decade. So far, she’s enjoyed a couple of brushes with fame. Her most famous song to date was adopted as the anthem to promote a line of sinful Hershey’s chocolates. Her song and their candies share the same appropriate name: Bliss. The original CD version features a wild psychedelic intro reminiscent of San Francisco in the summer of 1969. A guy you might have heard of, John Mayer, sings along with her as a duet. Don’t like the psychedelia? Try the House of Blues version with John and Alice available on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrOcUe4hhZE. A third version, this time unplugged and acoustic much like her Hershey’s performance, is available free on the website at alicepeacock.com. She covers all bases!

Speaking of covering bases, Alice sung the National Anthem at a White Sox playoff game. Her songs have been featured in several movies and she’s had number one records in far-off places like The Philippines. Every once in a while you’ll hear her work sneak into teenage television dramas. Italian legend Enrico Nascimbeni recorded several tunes in duet with Alice. Her diversity is superceded only by her confidence.

Listening to her work one thing rings true: Alice Peacock takes chances. She goes with her vision of how her work should sound and allows her compositions to develop as if they were living things. Included are musical influences from all over the world of popular music. Alice also wears her heart on her sleeve. Each successive CD has shown new maturity and sophistication. Like proud gardeners, her fans delight in seeing her grow. It’s hard to compare her to other singer-songwriters. Her signature is all her own.

Alice’s is at her best when she sings about the strength and security that love can bring. When all the elements she creates align during a recording session, Alice just sparkles and shines. Her last CD, the remarkable Who I Am, features two songs that are simply stunning. Early on, she primes your ears with a beautifully-penned song, inspired by metaphysics (!), called Time. “I think we're measured by our heart, if we've been kind and done our part. Will anyone remember me?”

Later in the CD, Alice’s search for identity and self-esteem becomes magical with her finest masterpiece to date: I’m Still Here. Here the lyrics are simplistic but the performance is so memorable. I listened to this cut about a thousand times and continued to be amazed. “Baby if your dreams have a hard time coming true, you know just where I'll be - standing there by you. I'll be at your side to help you face your fears. No matter where you go, I'm still here.” It’s not often you’ll hear such innocence and devotion so perfectly portrayed.

Alice Peacock doesn’t limit her skills and ambition to the world of music. With help from her husband, Hugh Haller, Alice founded a wonderful non-profit organization called Rock for Reading (rockforreading.org.) Year after year they have raised money for providing books and funding literacy programs for children in the Chicago Metroplex. Hugh also works with Northwestern University as their Camping and Education Foundation President presiding over Camp Ogichi Daa Kwe for girls and Camp Kooch-i-ching for boys both based near International Falls in Minnesota.

A new chapter of Alice Peacock’s career begins soon. Her fourth CD, Love Remains, will be released on March 10th. It represents a whole new turn to Alice’s career and a reflection of her current state of life. She’s gone country! Recorded in Nashville, with some of America’s great studio musicians with country chops, Love Remains purveys a down-home feel reminiscent of Alice’s upbringing in White Bear Lake, Minnesota (just outside of the Twin Cities.)

Alice’s life comes alive in Love Remains. Listen carefully and you’ll hear her enjoying her love with her husband and her desire to soon become a mother. She also touches upon spirituality, most notably in ‘If I Could Talk to God.’ Take a visit to her web site and audition them yourself! Only three tracks have been officially released. I can’t wait to hear the rest! In the meantime, Alice will be touring venues all over America this Spring.

Warning: Alice Peacock’s music is a lot like a yummy apple pie. Once you taste it, you’ll want more and more. I discovered Alice’s work less than a year ago and she quickly became one of my very favorite singers. Look for her work on her web site alicepeacock.com and her MySpace Music page at: http://www.myspace.com/alicepeacock. Just press ‘play’ and enjoy!

Photo credit: Peter Nash



Saturday, January 24, 2009

Shall We Dance?


Washington, D.C. Tuesday, January 20, 2009


A day this special should never end! The evening after the inaugural was to be as special as the day itself. My wife and I were invited to prom night at Union Station: The Eastern Ball honoring those who hail from New England. It was a wonderful night in quite an unusual venue.


If you haven’t been there before, your first impression of dancing in a train station might not be that appealing. This was certainly not the case tonight. Union Station had been transformed into a palace of marble and stone. Its ornate architecture was anointed with patriotic buntings and decorations. Colored lights, combined with a variety of different motifs, gave each area an entertaining theme.


The ball formally began at 10 pm. A long line formed early to pass through metal detectors, security screening and coat check. Three stages were set in various corners of the main floor. A party band was playing Motown hits when we arrived. The crowd was a random mix of old, middle-aged and young. Everyone looked elegant in a variety of tuxedos and ball gowns. A vendor was taking souvenir pictures using the ball’s logo, a commemorative inaugural seal, as a background. Two stages sat dormant. What would happen next? You had to wait and find out!


At 11:30, the musical gears changed dramatically as the stage on the left in the main room hosted legendary singer James Taylor along with a backup band featuring Russ Kunkel on drums and his sister Kate Taylor as one of the backup singers.


Watching Taylor’s set was a really unusual experience. I found myself on a line for bar drinks that happened to be right nearby the stage. Not knowing that his set was about to start, or where it was to be performed, I received a flute of champagne for my wife and – poof – all of a sudden James Taylor was singing just a few feet away! The setting couldn’t be more informal. The entertainment was stunning! “That’s James Taylor singing over there!”


James Taylor’s set was heavy in his old standards like “You’ve Got a Friend” and “Up on the Roof” with some tasty deeper cuts like “Copperline.” He spiced it up by doing some covers, most memorably Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman.” It was sweet and mellow and completely appropriate for the crowd. They loved him. He loved them. So what if he was singing at a party in a train station!


Taylor sang so sweetly for about an hour and said he would be back for a second set in about fifteen minutes. Actually, Joe and Jill Biden showed up nearly immediately thereafter by surprise on the opposite stage. After a brief welcome speech by the new Vice President, the couple took a polite dance with Mrs. Biden dressed in bright red.


Tired and weary at half past midnight, my wife and I were almost about to go when we noticed that a color guard and marching band were assembling behind the stage the Bidens had just used. The rumor in the crowd was that the new President would be appearing at about 2:30 am (!) since this was to be their last event of the evening. We were very glad we stayed!


A silence fell over the crowd as the color guard began to march on stage. An announcer proclaimed “Ladies and gentleman! The President and First Lady of the United States!” Michelle Obama, in a long white gown, appeared from the right side of the stage followed by her husband, in a conservative tuxedo, from the left. A quick speech followed, by the new President, with the theme of “This is just the beginning!” As a farewell for the evening, Mr. and Mrs. Obama danced to Etta James’ version of “At last, my love has come along.” Everyone held cameras and cell phones over their heads to document the moment. It was the perfect ending of a perfect day.


Now that the ceremony was over, we decided to make a fast break for the coat check room, on the lower level, to beat the enormous crowds. We were very lucky to be one of the first on line. We headed up to the main floor to catch James Taylor’s second set for a moment or two before we headed out to find a cab home.


Outside Union Station was not appealing. Porta-potties lined the street and they had run over. Lots of paper and other debris littered every street. It was as if two million people had visited D.C. all at once! Unfortunately, the cab line in front of the station was non-existent with concrete barricades blocking the main entrance for security. We launched out onto the nearest street corner, by the Postal Service building, and tried to hail a cab competing with dozens of other couples. We saw Obama’s nearly-endless motorcade leave Union Station. There must have been two dozen vehicles in procession, with flashing red and blue strobe lights, heading rapidly for The White House. We finally hopped into a cab and arrived home around 1:30am. Oh, what a night!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

We Begin Today

Washington, D.C. Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Have you ever seen two million joyous people together in celebration?

What an amazing and unusual sight to see! The District was closed for the day. The Metro trains were packed to capacity. The streets had become seas of people. Major roads were completely closed to vehicular traffic. The tone of the crowd was positive and patient. They were all here to celebrate America.


No need for Metro tickets today. The trains ran free. Too many people! Without a single incident, the crowds continually poured into the National Mall starting right after midnight. My family was honored to be some of the very few who secured reserved invitations. Our goal was to reach The Purple Gate and take our stand with a thousand other people off to the left of the capital steps. Away we went!


Today was a day for walking. You simply had no choice! In a most organized fashion, people arrived en masse from all over the world. Every street corner featured hawkers selling commemorative t-shirts, pins, hats, and calendars. The most popular vendors of all were selling life-saving packets: hand warmers! It was much colder than expected - in the low 20s with brisk wind included. The sky was clear. The sun warmed the steps of The Capitol and the crowd.


The gates around The Capitol were scheduled to open at 9:30 am. We arrived about half an hour earlier and found our place in a crush of people on Louisiana Avenue. Shoulder-to-shoulder we became friends with out new neighbors quickly: A couple who had come from Greensboro, North Carolina, friends who worked on the Obama campaign in Alaska, an excited young lady from Brooklyn. It was a cornucopia of America united in glee.


The civility of the crowd was admirable. If emergency personnel or an official needed to get through the crush, room was promptly made. We all thought the situation was unique, unusual and unordinary, yet everyone played their part with care and calm.


When the gates finally opened, at about a quarter to ten, all went through a security check with a long line of metal detectors. Oh, did we enjoy the freedom of leaving the crush of people! It was short-lived. It appeared that a couple of thousand people had been invited to stand in the small triangle of space allocated to us. Shorter and younger people simply couldn't see over the taller members of the crowd. Not being satisfied by our fate, we decided to move around to find a place with a better view.


We almost found it: A tiny wedge of space by a makeshift staircase separating sections bordered by a large bush. After standing there for a few minutes, we saw a few people go into the large bush and never come out. Our curiosity got the better of us, so we followed into the bush. Inside the green, nothing could be seen. Someone asked "What's on the other side of the bush?" and the immediate reply was "Narnia!" We all laughed aloud.


What actually was past the bush was Nirvana! It was a wide-open section set aside for a more elite group of invitees with room to spare. We enjoyed a beautifully centered view of The Capitol steps with all its flags, buntings and adornments. Some of the people were quite clever. The floor was covered with wood chips, not grass. I'm not quite sure how they did it, but many people created mounds of the chips to provide an extra six inches of height to see the event. We shared the boost with others and it made a big difference in our view.


Looking back on the crowd was a sight to behold. Although our view was somewhat blocked by fences and partitions, we could see an endless sea of people reaching far beyond the Washington Monument about a mile away. People who could not manage to squeeze into the mall pressed into adjoining streets hoping to get a glimpse of a Jumbotron screen or just hear the words being spoken. District was on pause. The inaugural was all that mattered.


Just before the ceremony began, the huge Jumbotron screens showed all the dignitaries and honored guests arriving. President Bush's image brought loud boos quickly retorted by a nearby woman yelling "Hey, we're all Americans today!" which drew applause. Of course, any images of the Obamas brought thunderous cheers.


The crowd had a good sense of humor. The inaugural began with formal introductions of all the attendees as they emerged from the main archway decorated with a stately red velvet bunting. As President Bush was announced the crowd began to loudly sing the old pop song "Na-na-na-na-hey-hey-hey-goodbye!" Laughter abounded! Wasn't it symbolic that Vice President Cheney was attending in a wheelchair? Also funny were chairlady Dianne Feinstein's calls for us to stand or be seated. For a grand majority of us, sitting was simply not an option! So few had seats!


The pacing of the inaugural was thoughtful. Periods of spoken word were blended with song like chorus and verse. Aretha Franklin magnificently sang "My Country 'Tis of Thee." Yo-Yo Ma and other gifted musicians performed an Aaron Copeland melody. The military band sounded sweet with fine pomp and circumstance.


The ceremony had a serious tone. It is time to get back to work. It is time to stop decay. It is time to reclaim our freedoms. It is time to make the government once more ours. "You will be judged by what you can build, not what you destroy." All I could think was: "It's about time this happened. Why wasn't it sooner?" What a thunderous sound was heard when Obama ended his speech!


As the ceremony ended with a benediction, the crowd was overcome with joy. As we all began to leave, we were startled by the unexpected appearance of a single presidential helicopter rising above the left side of The Capitol. Many yelled "Goodbye, Bush" and some impolite epithets. A new time had officially begun.


As the crowd began to dissipate, it evoked images of the end of the world. Few vehicles, if any, were moving about. Throngs of people jammed the streets. Legions of police and troops aided the masses homeward. Interstate 95, and many other major roads, was devoid of all traffic replaced by seas of people. It was an once-in-a-lifetime event that continued for hours.


The crowd left quite a mess. The entire city was dotted with overflowing garbage pails, rows and rows of endless porta-potties and debris rolling across the Mall and the streets like tumbleweeds. Vendors prices had suddenly halved and they were eager to unload their remaining goods. I even saw one character selling Obama condoms!


The stress and length of this momentous day did not deter the crowd from being polite, orderly and conservative. Everyone was smiling and cheering. Chants of "O-bam-a! O-bam-a!" rose at any occasion. We walked by L'Enfant Plaza to see an enthusiastic bazaar and party going on with many vendors selling souvenirs, food and nearly everything the day called for. People were walking and walking and walking for hours after. It seemed to go on forever. The Metro stations that remained open were jammed with police allowing metered groups of riders down slowly as room allowed. Long lines were everywhere! Eventually, at long last, we all arrived home. What a day it was!


We were not just celebrating the freedom this country has enjoyed for over 200 years. We were celebrating our new-found freedom and our new hope. We have reaffirmed everything that our country stands for. Now, finally, again we are free to proceed and further our precious country into the future. Will we succeed? Two million people gathered to exclaim: Yes we can.