Sunday, December 09, 2007

A First Time

An upright moment. The form will improve.

"How many days until I can go skiing?" Elianna has been asking that question pretty much daily, for... well, ever since she agreed to take lessons the the Winter Walden ski school.

Yesterday she told the piano teacher. She tried on the boots in the den, get in to the skis. She could barely contain her excitement. But today was the day. Up early, in to the clothes, equipment to the car, for the 400 yard drive to the Middle School for the bus out to Mt. Brighton. Of course, we warned her that she would fall... a lot.

Her cleass had two teachers. One is famous for wearing underwear outside his ski clothes. As he introduced himself, he told the class that if he fell, they should throw snow on him... but that they couldn't do it on purpose. Of course, 10 minutes in to the class, the other teacher was accidentally knoced down by a student; Elianna wasted no time at all. Snow from her, and then the other students, too.

Watching from above, inside, with the other adult supervisors, had elements of comedy. Falls, weird falls, and one fall flat on her back. Fortunately nothing hurt, except pride. It took most of the day to be able to get to the top of the tow rope, even with help from a teacher.

Most if the time that I saw, it seemed she was on her back again, between frustrated and crying. And it's sometimes all a parent can do to stay out. Because, of course, that's not the way she'll remember it. Maybe the time she fell on her rear and slid most of the way down the bunny hill that way. Or maybe the one time, toward the end of the day, when she made it to the bottom of the hill without a fall. I could hear, from the bottom of a nearby lift, her calling to her underwear-clad teacher to see where she was. Mostly, though, that it was fun and she already wants to know when she's going again.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Golden Compass, God and The Force

The Golden CompassLori and I took a rare night out last night, first snowstorm night of the year. She wanted to see "I'm Not There," but I just wasn't too keen on it. But then we saw that there were some "sneak preview" showings of "The Golden Compass" around the area, so we decided to catch one down in Southfield. For those familiar with the area, we were at Star Southfield, a 20-plex that's gone shockingly downhill since AMC took over there a while back. Maybe it was the snow, but it seemed nearly empty there this evening, and all the eateries and side shops in the complex have been closed save a single sad sub shop. The subs were pretty good, anyway.

But on to the movie. First things first: No matter how this is promoted, "The Golden Compass" is not a good movie for young kids. We left our kids at home, and I'm glad we did. Aaron would have had a very difficult time following the plot, as especially at the beginning it's very dense; Elianna would have been scared at several points in the movie. Also, though there isn't much blood, there's a lot of violence and death. On the other hand, we ran in to one of Aaron's best friends there, along with his whole family, and it looked like they came out unscarred.

I'll note here that I have not read the His Dark Materials Trilogy books, nor had I read some of the more "controversial" articles that have shown up at various sites, so let's start with the basics. No one kills God in this movie. The book's author, Philip Pullman has been quoted to great extent on his beliefs; however, the claim (by would-be protesters) that "there is no God" is not in this movie. Whoever is sending those notes, not only hasn't seen the movie, they really have little idea what's in it.

As for the content... It's a solid fairy tale for older kids and adults. Not as inventive, nor I think as well made, as last summer's "Stardust," but enjoyable in its own right. Dakota Blue Richards, in the role of Lyra, is fantastic. Unfortunately, the same can't quite be said for Nicole Kidman in the role of Darth Coulter... oops, Mrs. Coulter. The film makers even got Christopher Lee to reprise his role as Count Dooku... oh, make that First High Councilor. That is to say, the patterning on "Star Wars" seems awfully heavy, especially once the movie gets rolling and the soundtrack starts to become overwhelming. In one scene, when a "big secret" was revealed, I just leaned over to Lori and whispered, "Luuuuuuke! Luuuuuuke!," and she about doubled over... it was just too easy. In some respects the most interesting parts were at the very beginning, when the concepts of the parallel universes and of people having daemons were explained.

As with "Star Wars," this movie is basically a big adventure with some symbolism you can either take seriously, or ignore. The Empire... er, Magisterium, is presented as a caricature of the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy, with lots of fascist storm troopers - many with really bad head gear. Essentially, they seek to control all thought by disconnecting people from their souls. Of course, they're only there to help you (and yes, they even use that line). Free thought would undermine them, so they muse eliminate it. The Force is Dust, and trust your feeling is now ask the Golden Compass. Lyra, the child of prophecy (sound familiar?), must use The Golden Compass to save her world... and all others.

While I definitely had the impression that I'd seen this basic story before, the adventure was still a bunch of fun. The bear fight was wonderful, getting applause in the theater. And the climactic battle scene was spectacular.

Unfortunately, the movie ended without anything resembling resolution, beyond advertising that there will be a sequel. I half expect it'll be called "The Magisterium Strikes Back."

As for Dobson-style protests, forget it -- there's really nothing to protest.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving Raspberries

Just a few weeks ago, when a seemingly extraordinary heat wave allowed us to keep the pool open well in to October, I wrote about a potential Thanksgiving Pool Party. OF course, I wasn't exactly serious, as we closed the pool just two days after the note... though it might have been warm enough to swim on Halloween.

It wasn't warm enough to swim, but things stayed alove. Leaves stayed on trees. And without a hard freeze, many plants continued to grow.

It snowed a bit Wednesday night. And, no, we didn't go swimmimg yesterday on Thanksgiving. But we did go out and pick raspberries. We had cousins visiting. From Florida. And, when brunch was over, I just asked, "who wants to go pick raspberries?" They may live in Florida, but they still understand that something about raspberries in Michigan in late November just seems a little... weird. So, out we went. A nice full basket later, we were satisfied. Elianna ate all the raspberries, of course.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Bruce in Michigan, November 5, 2007

A quick show, so a pretty quick review.

The band is so tight now that they're wonderful every night, it seems. Last night's setlist certainly wasn't as exciting as Sunday night's in Cleveland, and perhaps I felt a few too many moments where Bruce was playing a role... but it's a really good role -- that of "Bruce Springsteen."

The setlist highlight was "Jackson Cage," which I don't think I've ever witnessed before. It was flawless to my ears, and the transition in to "She's the One" was perfect. The low-light was "Working on the Highway." A good friend of mine tells me that song is a "girl thing."

The line-up for the pit was an extraordinary sight. After 1140 wristbands for 250 pit positions in Cleveland, it was 754 wristbands for 570 pit spots yesterday. Good thing for us, we were 524/525 from the lottery winner. But that's not what made it extraordinary: what did that was that Jerry and Palace personnel lined up all 754 wristband holders on the indoor entry steps by the box office. It looked like the high school class of 1980, from a really big high school, all neatly lined up for a group photo.

Before the show, was talking to Lauren, who mentioned "I'll Work For Your Love." Lori came over, and immediately said how much she hates that one -- as in, she has the CD in the car and hits the skip button when it comes on. I didn't prep Lori for that. So, clearly, Bruce dedicated that song to me: So says my friend Chris. I will concede this: they played it competently. And this: it has dangerous potential to evolve in to "Leap of Faith" lite, including the shtick. And this: Chris has a wicked sense of humor. And so does Bruce.

During the encores, Bruce asked a 6-year old kid up front what happened to the sign he'd been holding. The sign was retrieved, and Bruce held it up for the audience. The sign was a song request, and Bruce played it: "Ramrod." The scene made for a highlight moment for any night, even though it replaced "Kitty's Back" in the setlist. The kid (name is Noah) was in major fist-pump mode (both arms) throughout. Later, Bruce let him play the guitar during "Born to Run," and he ended up with Max's drumsticks. I suspect it's a night he'll never forget.

The crowd was a little weak by comparison to the previous night. There were large sections of the upper bowl sitting empty. Among those who showed up, song recognition was also a bit weak. Those of us on the floor chanted out the audience participation portion, but for "Girls in Their Summer Clothes" it seemed like we were nearly the only ones who knew the words.

The show barely made it to 2 hours, and for all I've defended short shows, it felt short this night.

The 5-song suite at the end was superb; Bruce's solos in Devil's Arcade and Badlands rocked (I think Badlands was Stevie's on some previous tours, but I noticed Bruce took it last night for all it was worth). And, at least from where we were, the sound was great.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Discography and Amazon, 2007 Q2

In late 2005, I established an associates account with amazon, going primarily from my discography page. Any sales generated by people navigating to amazon from my site generates commissions, that amazon eventually sends my way.

As I noted at that time, anything that comes my way from will be turned over to charity, on a quarterly basis, doubled by a match from me. All selected charities will be from the set of charities documented at my charities page.

During Q2 2007, a total of 43 items were sold by amazon off links from the site. Total commissions for the quarter were $32.19. With rounding, this quarter's donation+match is $65.00. This brings the total raised for charity since the inception of the amazon account up to exactly $1000, to 11 different charities.

The donation for Q2 is being made on November 7, 2007. This evening, Bruce Springsteen is appearing at an event titled Stand Up For Heroes: A Benefit for the Bob Woodruff Family Fund. To commemorate this event, the Q2 2007 donation is being to the Bob Woodruff Family Fund.

The Bob Woodruff Family Fund for Traumatic Brain Injury assists service members injured while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Special emphasis is placed on the "hidden signature injuries" of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – traumatic brain injury (TBI) and combat stress injuries including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The Fund works with private industry and government to develop public awareness and excellence in research, education, prevention, diagnosis, treatment, support and resources for the injured and their families as they reintegrate to duty or civilian life.

To donate to the Bob Woodruff Family Fund, please click here.

Thanks to everyone who has participated!
Results for Q3, along with the next recipient, will be up in a couple months.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Burst Just Like a SuperNova (Cleveland, November 4, 2007)

One great thing about seeing many Bruce Springsteen shows is, the next show just could be the best yet. It's one of those euphoric feelings that comes from sharing the space during one of those evenings when all I can say is, "he's on fire." Tonight was one of those nights.

As I was in General Admission, I arrived early for the "pit lottery." And, since the arena is connected by an indoor walkway to my hotel, I left my jacket behind.

The walkway was closed, the lottery was outside, I was wearing a t-shirt, and though it was reasonably nice out, it was still November in Cleveland.

Just behind me in the line was a man with 3 young girls, ages 9, 10 and 12 ("almost 13," she said). They had made signs and the oldest had one rolled up in her pocket, so I asked them to show me. The best of them said, "Dance With Me." There were 1100 people lined up for 250 pit spots, I had no jacket and the temperature was dropping.
The setlist was a powerhouse. Attack, attack, attack. Perhaps the only exception being the rap leading in to "Livin' in the Future." Every song just sizzled, from the very beginning. "Radio Nowhere" and "Night" set the tone, and it went from there. "It's So Hard to be a Saint in the City" was incendiary, with a guitar duel between Bruce and Steve that surpassed their duel just a few songs earlier in "Gypsy Biker." As that song reached its climax, with Bruce signaling Max with head nods and going ever faster and harder, the folks near me were going in to a frenzy. The band didn't quite get the ending… but no really cared.

The middle of the set featured a "women's section," starting with Patti taking lead for he song "Town Called Heartbreak" (from her album "Play it as it Lays," which I'd recommend to anyone). Patti seemed to be in a very good mood, and her interactions on stage with Bruce almost had me wishing for them to go get a room already… except that it'd interrupt the concert. Then, "Tunnel of Love," again featuring some strong Patti harmonies. And, a tour premiere of "Be True," maybe the first time since it was part of the "Tunnel of Love Express" setlist. By the end of the song, Bruce was egging on Clarence to play his solo as it was on the original b-side; every time Clarence would play, there Bruce would be, saying, "play a high one!," until Clarence relented and played one (and got it, too).

Whether Bruce's message reached the audience, I can't be sure. Too many were just having too good a time.

"Kitty's Back" sparked the encores, and, after "Born to Run," it was time for "Dancing in the Dark." The girls were front and center (yes, we "won" the lottery!). He saw the sign. Cameras were ready… and… no dance (if he had danced with them, it would have been posted by now). Judging from their smiles afterwards, I think they were ok with that.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Thanksgiving Pool Party in Michigan

Back in January, I wrote about the local weather. Seemed we were getting unusually warm weather for an extended period of time, and it seemed a bit... scary. For a period of more than a month, every day was warmer than "normal," most by a wide margin -- 10 degrees or more.

Well, the early fall provided an encore of the heat. Today marks the 22nd consecutive day above normal, and the hottest came last. This past weekend saw temperatures 25 degrees above normal.

So what else is there to do, but... SWIM!!

So we sent out the late invites. Had to call it early, 'cause by 3:45 the sun's behind the trees.

And people started to come.

And some more people came.

Because when it's 90 degrees on October 8th in Michigan, that's what you do. At least, given the opportunity. Glad we didn't stay the whole weekend in Philadelphia! Gotta live in the moment at home. Last Sunday was the sukkah pool party, this weekend 40 people for the October pool party.

Yesterday was the last of the sweltering days. Since it was a work/school day, no swimming in the heat, just in the evening, after the sun went down. We said our goodbyes for the year.
The last swim.
Elianna did one last pool dance to celebrate the end.

The temperature dropped a little today, tomorrow fall sets in, and the day after that the pool closes and we prepare for winter.

Unless there's a change in the weather. If the heat sticks around just a little bit more, maybe we'll have a Thanksgiving Pool Party.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Stubbed a Toe in Philly (Wachovia Center, October 5, 2007)

After my dad died, we flew in to New Jersey for the funeral and shiva. The rabbi got to the house a few minutes after I did, to go over the funeral as well as the traditions of mourning. He brought his low chairs for the family, and started talking. I knew most of the basics, no shaving or sex during sheloshim, stuff like that. Then he mentioned other “don’ts,” and got to “no live music for a year.” He spoke of how he had had to leave his own daughter’s bat mitzvah party because it was during his mourning period for his mother. So I thought about it. And realized that, despite the positive impact of such a prohibition on my budget, that this was one minhag I did not care to fulfill. At least, I’d have one exception to it, ‘cause when it comes to Bruce it’s not just music to me.

The Philadelphia shows went on sale during shiva, but a good friend bought a pair of General Admission for the first night, and held them for me to consider. So I thought about that, too. Philadelphia has the best crowds. It’s a weekend. I might need to be there.

Yesterday, feeling not the slightest guilt except for the budget, we flew in. We drove out to Pat’s King of Steaks (no cheese whiz for me!!), where I’d never been before, and which was pretty much entirely filled with people getting a late lunch before the show. Met many friends we hadn’t seen in too long, and many more I knew only as a screen name. And everything was ok.

The GA system is a “lottery,” whereby numbered wristbands are handed out and at some point shortly after 5pm one of the wristbands is chosen to be first in to the front area. We barely missed… on the wrong side – meaning we weren’t going to be in the front area at all. Worse, as we were going to hear the lottery, Lori stubbed her toe on a paver, wrecking one nail. We had to find first aid. This is where things got slightly zany: We discovered there was no first aid at that hour. But we did get let in to a side room where one of the employees gave Lori a bandage and advised us to come back closer to show time (then she had to take a call 'cause someone in the parking lot had a heart attack... and, of course, there was no one on site who could do anything to help). Every time the door to the little room opened we got a quick blast of the E Street Band on stage, as this was during soundcheck. I couldn’t make out what they were doing; later I was to discover that this wasn’t due to being far away (we were actually reasonably close to the stage, though I didn’t know it at the time).

As show time approached and it was time to go in, we approached the “wand guy,” Roman, and explained the predicament. We found the right guy. He walked us around the facility back to First Aid, talking about how his band is Van Halen and they were just there the previous week, and then at First Aid Charla bandaged Lori’s toe up to the size of a little blimp, and then the best part: a side trip to Guest Services to trade our General Admissions for pretty decent lower bowl seats. Turns out they basically had an entire section set aside for people who had GA tickets and couldn’t do it (from the few we spoke to, mostly for medical reasons). A bunch of people who had automatically selected “Best available” at ticketmaster, and for whom it just didn’t compute when they got to the venue and discovered that meant, “no chair.”

The show opened with the band taking the stage to the sounds of “Those Daring Young Men,” played on a calliope that rose up behind Max, the type you might find on an old merry-go-round. A throw-back to the Sessions tour, or maybe just to simpler times before everything crashed down to the ground, as it gave way to a blast of guitars announcing “Radio Nowhere.” And at just about that point, it hit me: THE SOUND SUCKS!! Really, really, really bad. As in, not worthy of a major act in 2007. As in, “What the FUCK are they THINKING???”

I got over that, though, maybe in part because at least it wasn’t too loud or distorted, just… muffled. So at least I wouldn’t end up with a splitting headache. Once I got beyond focusing on the sound, I could concentrate on the show, and I can just say, so far I love this setlist.

Over and over again, one song would set up another, a point/counterpoint/counter-counterpoint. The isolation of "Radio Nowhere" followed up by the communal commitments of "No Surrender" set the tone.

The introduction to “Magic” – one of the rare Springsteen songs that does not include the song title in its lyrics – as being not about magic but “tricks.” “Magic” was perhaps the only song of the evening not done as a guitar attack, it was basically a somber Bruce/Patti duet.

This led to possibly the most daring arrangement of the evening (or maybe the only daring arrangement of the evening), a mashup of ZZ Top’s "La Grange" in to “Reason to Believe,” along with a searing harmonica part through the bullet mike. Near me, someone just blurted out, “wow, he can play!

Bruce introduced his rap to “Living in the Future” with his bits about what’s happening now, from the frivolous to loss of habeas corpus. Surprisingly – to me, anyway – this bit drew some booing from the crowd (no, it was not Bruuuuucing). But that didn’t last long, and for the rest of the evening the crowd was a typical zany Philly crowd – that is, the best you’ll find anywhere. The counterpoint to this was a passionate reading of “The Promised Land.”

After an audible to “My Hometown” (audible to… “My Hometown”??), the band played another seeming head-scratcher, “Darlington County.” Darlington is, by Bruce standards, a light song about what happens to some young folks when their hijinks go wrong. Where do we go from there? After a bit of silence, we got our answer: "Devil’s Arcade." Maybe that's what happens to some young folks when other people’s hijinks go wrong? The sequence beginning with "Devil’s Arcade" to end the set, going through “The Rising,” “Last to Die,” “Long Walk Home,” and “Badlands,” immediately takes its place for me as one of the truly great setlist sequences I’ve heard from Bruce. “Long Walk Home” just hits me in the gut, every time I hear it.

The setlist started with a bit of bravery: an attempt at “Girls in their Summer Clothes” without the wall of sound. As it was warmer on this October day than it had been on the 4th of July, it felt literal. This should eventually work, but the band doesn’t quite have it nailed yet.

The closer of “American Land” featured all of the band (except Max) at stage front, with a double accordion attack from Roy and Danny, and Clarence on penny whistle. It also had a bunch of folks dancing in the aisles… even if the sound system meant that we heard almost none of the words.

And that was it. 23 songs, a little under 2 and a half hours. And for us, now back home, without any guilt at all.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Wise Men Are All Fools

The song "Last to Die" was just broadcast on The Today Show Sunday Edition.

On the initial mp3's that passed around earlier this month, I liked the song, didn't really love it.
But live, it just slaughtered. Maybe it was different because the sound was so clear or the voice so upfront in the mix so I could understand the words, but it just seemed to me to be the most powerful damn thing I've heard from Bruce in about... I dunno, forever. Even with the audience shots of folks clapping along, having a "good" time.

Just so many lines in the song that leap out. Kids asleep in the backseat, maybe a reminder of "Seeds," with a different kind of numbness and rage.
Today falls during the festival of Sukkoth, when traditionally the biblical text Koheleth (Ecclesiastes) is read. Koheleth asked, "What advantage does the wise man have over the fool?"
Well... what if the (self-proclaimed) wise men are fools? Do we then just hear the cries of those who rule among fools?

There's nothing new under the sun, all the while we burn. The last to die? It's you or me, spiritually it's all of us.
Anyone who missed it, go out to or to youtube and catch it online. Or just click on the embed.

last to die

we took the highway till
the road went black
we'd marked, Truth or
Consequences on our map
a voice drifted up from the radio
and I thought of a voice from long ago

who'll be the last to die for a mistake
the last to die for a mistake
whose blood will spill, whose heart wil break
who'll be the last to die, for a mistake

kids asleep in the backseat
we're just counting the miles, you and me
we don't measure the blood
we've drawn anymore
we just stack the bodies outside the door

who'll be the last to die for a mistake
the last to die for a mistake
whose blood will spill, whose heart wil break
who'll be the last to die, for a mistake

the wise men were all fools, what to do

the sun sets in flames as the city burns
another day gone down as the night turns
and I hold you here in my heart
as things fall apart

a downtown window flushed with light
"faces of the dead at five"
our martyr's silent eyes
petition the drivers as we pass by

who'll be the last to die for a mistake
the last to die for a mistake
darlin' will tyrants and kings
fall to the same fate
strung up at your city gates
who'll be the last to die for a mistake

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Just Looking for Some Inspiration... and finding it

In late August, I received an email from an account manager at Special Ops Media in New York, asking if I might be interested in receiving a review copy of Patti Scialfa’s new album Play It as It Lays and post a review of it. It was a form letter, likely sent to anyone with a reasonably well-known Springsteen website. Nonetheless, having liked Patti’s first two albums well enough, not minding receiving promo material, and without promising what type of review I might give, I figured that yes, I might just be interested.

The disc arrived August 31, which, as anyone who has read any of my other recent blog entries might know, was about the worst possible day to arrive. August turned to September, my priorities turned to those of mourning, and the package did not make the trip to New Jersey. I asked a long-time friend if he wouldn’t mind writing the review for me.

Three weeks have passed. I’m returning to some semblance of normalcy. Patti’s album was released, to occasionally glowing reviews. Bruce’s album leaked more than two weeks ago, and my blog piece on that was picked up by Harp, generating about 1500 hits for an otherwise low volume site. Another friend tried to cheer me up by floating over an advance copy of another artist’s upcoming CD (it worked, the CD is a gem). But I didn’t get my ghost-written review for Patti, and so finally I opened the package for myself.

First, the downside – and really, there’s only one. The packaging sucks. At least, on the review copy. The inserts aren’t there. No credits – and on this album, I’d like to be able to hand some out. Just a watermarked CD in a plain red Columbia paper slip case.

The album, however, rocks. I worried a bit as to how I might write the review if I didn’t really like the record, but I needn’t have bothered: I love it. This is Patti’s best album to date. Her singing, which sometimes on her first two albums made her sound like she was trying too hard to be someone else (e.g., Rickie Lee Jones) is assured and confident. The vocal harmonies are exquisite, and the band is excellent.

The opening track, “Looking for Elvis,” throws down the gauntlet: Through remembrances of Septembers past, of looking for inspiration and for "something to rock her soul," of vivid dreams and awakening to carnival dust, the singer declares, "Stand up and deliver if you want my trust." The track features a searing bullet-mic harmonica part by Bruce Springsteen, punctuated at the end by his vocal calls through the mic; anyone who remembers his use of the mic during the “Devils & Dust” tour would recall the sound. (But anyone looking specifically for Bruce on this album may be disappointed; despite his presence on several tracks it’s his only prominent moment.)

Some songs brought back melodic ghosts for me: “Town Called Heartbreak” reminded me of Southside Johnny’s “Why is Love Such a Sacrifice” -- on which Patti sang harmony, way back when. “Play Around,” called up images of at least half a dozen of Bruce’s songs, though the more I let it rattle around the more it seemed – oddly, to me – to conjure up an answer, 20 years on, to his song “All that Heaven Will Allow” (with a bit of “Two Faces” thrown in for good measure). But while I might go looking back to ‘60’s R&B or some such on some songs, mostly I could just lay back and enjoy the groove.

Another temptation is to evaluate whether this album is a confessional. Particularly since the man, in most of the songs, seems like nobody’s prize. I tend to think it's not… but were I to make an exception, it would be for the final two cuts, in particular the album’s title track. In it, the singer addresses her partner, acknowledging the bad as well as the good, and ultimately decides to “play it as it lays.”

As for the album, I can just play it. If it ultimately gets lost due to Bruce’s disc that is coming out in just two weeks, that’ll be a shame, as this disc deserves to be played, often.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

A little Magic - addendum

It seems my last blog entry got noticed at Harp Magazine. Which means a couple things:
  1. Traffic went up; more than 100 visitors found the way via that magazine
  2. I get to see how other writers interpret what I had to say.
The piece starts like this:
Springsteen’s New Magic Album Leaked In Its Entirety Online
Fred Mills
September 7, 2007

Despite stringent security precautions on the part of Columbia Records to keep Bruce Springsteen’s new album Magic under wraps until its official Oct. 2 release date, as of this morning MP3s of the entire album were flying around the Internet faster than you could say “Rosie, come out tonight!”

Twelve songs in all had been posted to various websites or file-sharing services—one of them, “Terry’s Song,” about Springsteen’s late friend Terry Magovern, is reportedly a track that isn’t on the album and will presumably turn up as a bonus or a B-side.

In short order, the bloggers ground into action:

At the Matt Orel “Orel Family” blog a fairly in-depth, and somewhat critical, review of the album was posted.

ok, "fairly in-depth," I like that. And I guess it was "somewhat critical," though overall I do like what I've heard on the first 4-5 listens.

Mostly, I was relating the nearly... ahem... magical timing of this material becoming available, to where I was personally in the immediate aftermath of my father's passing. Of course, Bruce has dealt with death throughout his career, whether directly (e.g., recent songs "Silver Palomino" and "Terry's Song") or more generally (e.g., at least 2-3 songs probably on every album). And there's always an aspect to carrying on, despite that darkness: Gonna be a twister to blow everything down that ain't got the strength/faith to stand its ground. That's what this week is for, in my tradition, and I can relate to that. Even if the new album wasn't quite all I hoped it would be on first listen.

I should note one more item about my first listens to Magic: Listening to mp3s on poor speakers is always a risky proposition. I transferred over to a more respectable system yesterday, and noticed that the compression on the mp3s was very noticeable. I expect it will sound much, much better on the official release.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Bruce Springsteen and a little Magic

I’m sitting here, trying to come to terms. So far as grieving goes, I’m somewhere between denial, anger and acceptance right now. Part of me wants to yell at my dad, “how could you have done this?” but then I remind myself that he’s the one who’s gone. People coming and going from the same house where I grew up. So many of the appliances and furnishings and even wall hangings have remained unchanged from the 1960’s. Everything’s the same. Some of the kids I went to elementary school with, I’ve seen their parents these last 3 days. Or the kids, some of them still live in town, some of them came back. There are too many desserts. Way too many. More keep coming in, and we can’t keep up, and there’s one less person eating them, anyway. Cousins I haven’t seen in 20 years, super 8 movies to thread for the first time ever (dad always did that), we can all see ourselves from happier times in 1968.

As I write, washing over me are the sounds of “Long Walk Home,” a track from the soon-to-be-released album Magic, by Bruce Springsteen. Hey pretty darling, don’t wait for me, it’s gonna be a long walk home. It’s a throwback album, something like what he might have made after the Gary US Bonds albums of the early ‘80’s, almost. The album isn’t due out until October, but it leaked this afternoon, and it’s been some time since I’ve needed a tonic quite like this. When they built you brother, they broke the mold.

Love is a power greater than death. Well, not quite.

My father was a great fan of swing music in general, and of Benny Goodman in particular. That was his music. He didn’t show off his knowledge very often, but if you put on any old jazz record for him, within a couple bars he’d tell you the song, the band, the players, and if it was a song with multiple versions, he’d tell you which one. In 1986, my sister graduated from college in California, and the family all came out for it. Benny Goodman died that weekend. My dad was 65, and for the first time I saw him look like an old man, as if his youth had just been robbed.

“Magic” isn’t an unqualified success for me yet, though I like it enough. “Radio Nowhere,” with its strident beat and a tune vaguely reminiscent of the Tommy Tutone hit “8675309,” gets the album off to a good start, but “You’ll Be Comin’ Down” just never seems to get off the ground, with riffs that seemed pulled from the back catalogue and a sax part that I can only describe as perfunctory. “Livin’ in the Future” is maybe my favorite track so far: Livin’ in the future and none of this has happened yet. But of course it has, the nightmare is here. But we can still dance and groove. The song is light, almost a cross between old J. Geils and Bruce’s own composition “Out of Work.”

Unfortunately, too many of the tracks that follow seem to drag. This is particularly true of “Your Own Worst Enemy,” and the Beach Boys style song “Girls in Their Summer Clothes,” which had my brother commenting that “for this song half the crowd will be snoring and the other half will be sending their husbands out for beer,” and while that may add up to one half too many, it’s not yet easy for me to envision that one working live. The low point for me so far is “I’ll Work for Your Love,” in which the Catholic imagery is overdone to cringe point.

A few years ago, my dad told a story of traveling from his Army post at Fort Ord down to Los Angeles to see Benny Goodman play. He’d never told me he’d traveled for his favorite artist, but now I started to understand a kinship. I asked him, about how many times did he see Benny Goodman. “About 19.” Not 18 or 20? “Nineteen.” There was nothing more to say. I just smiled.

“Gypsy Biker” starts off with a harmonica wail that sounds like the studio version of “Empty Sky,” always a highlight. “Magic” is one of the few tracks that depart from the classic E Street sound, and it’s among those that work best: Leave everything you know and carry only what you fear. It reminded me a bit of “Nothing Man” and “Further On (Up the Road).” The other more topical songs – “Last to Die” and “Devil’s Arcade,” also worked well for me.

I don’t know that I’m ready to see this tour. I won’t try for tickets when they go on sale this weekend. Maybe later, maybe when I’m more ready.

I watched a video today, my own wedding. At the end of the chair dance, when we put him down, the video shows him coming over to me and hugging me. Maybe the only time, ever, at least like that. I had forgotten that little detail. And part of me wants to yell at him again, but I can’t, not quite. So I’ll sit here a little more, listen again, and try to come to terms.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

November 25, 2006

Yesterday one of my best friends and I were having an email discussion on some things, including my ailing dad. He ended one email by saying, "it’s always sounded to me like there was as much affection as respect between the two of you and that is a very good thing. And he kept the Chevy."

Yes, he did. Not that he kept it in perfect condition, but he did keep it.

So I wrote back:
Did I tell you about our last trip to NJ as a family? Aaron always asks to go for a ride in the Chevy. So, last day home, he convinced my dad to start it up. After a couple tries, he got it running. It wasn't exactly stable, but it ran. Then he said to get in, I figured he'd take it around the block. But, noooooooo!! He goes past the school. and out to Millburn Avenue. Holy shit, we're all going to die. And the kids aren't even scared! Then he turned on to Vauxhall Road! My dad was never much of a driver anyway, and I'm wondering if he's totally lost his mind. Then he kept going! Out to Librty Avenue, and on to I-78!! I'm basically gripping anything I can now; the car doesn't have seatbelts. He took it halfway to the airport before getting off the freeway, and then coming back home. Whitest knuckle ride of my life. And Aaron wanted more. So I took over behind the wheel, and drove it around the neighborhood, feeling my pulse return to something approximating normal.

So, last night, I went in to iPhoto and found the photographic evidence. Here it is, from November 25, 2006, Millburn, NJ, and some scary places nearby:

It starts with Dad driving Aaron around the block. This part isn't so scary.

Now Elianna has gotten in, and I'm in too, and we are all trapped!

I won't swear it, but I think this was on I-78. I figured there might as well be some evidence in the aftermath...

I think Aaron enjoyed it more.

And somehow, we all made it home in one piece. I'm in the reflection of the garage window.

Two final pictures:
November 23, 2006. When we went in for Thanksgiving, Aaron loved a chance to use the electric knife on to help carve the turkey.

November 26, 2006. The last full family photo.

If you have any remembrances, please comment.
Leo Orel, 1920-2007.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Splashdown! Barry Bonds and the witch hunt

Well, old Mitch Albom finally pissed me off enough that I fired off a letter.

I'll note, before getting to the letter, that Albom is hardly alone in devoting multiple articles to pontificating on the evils of Barry Bonds. Never mind that Bonds just set the all-time record, or that -- 3 years after the implementation of steroid testing -- he is having, by a wide margin, the greatest season ever for a player of his age. Never mind that, in their disgust over a man they don't like and their "I'm shocked!" reaction to various as-yet unproved (and uncharged, in any official sense) allegations, they seem to be unable even to see what happend on the field.

Last week, I was subjected to Bob Costas speaking decisively on multiple forums. "Absolutely," he said to Wolf Blitzer on the CNN show "The Situation Room" when Blitzer asked if Bonds used steroids, as if Costas had been right there in the room with Barry. Costas added that there was "no other possible explanation." Never having been one to declare guilt by process of elimination, I reject this argument, but at least I understand that Costas may be sincere in his approach.

So then we get to something that's unfortunately more typical. The article that pissed me off is here: If you decide to click, be prepared: Its title is "755! But feat will become farce." Lori was actually somewhat swayed by it. After all, Albom wouldn't mislead or accuse someone who's not guilty (though he might be able to say a thing or two about showing up for sporting events).

Albom then managed to swipe a 2nd time on Wednesday, that one is titled "KING BARRY: Home run record's glory will be disputed forever" and it is at It contains the remarkable claim that anyone who dares to disagree on certain basics of the discussion (e.g., is RACE a factor?) don't even deserve to be in the discussion. Fortunately, I don't need Mitch's approval to discuss.

Anyway, here's what I fired off:

Subject: 755! But feat will become farce
Date: August 10, 2007 1:22:19 AM EDT

Interesting article.

But if there's one thing I despise, it's when statistics are mangled or distorted, and worse, by people who should know better.

For example:
You choose to ignore the mind-boggling fact that, for his first 13 seasons, Bonds averaged 32 home runs and a .290 batting average, but, beginning when he was 34 -- an age that foreshadows retirement for many ballplayers -- Bonds somehow averaged 49 home runs and a .329 average for the next six seasons.

C'mon, Mitch. You're giving equal weight to Bonds's 1986-1989 seasons? That's just statistical silliness, and you're way too smart for that.

The steroid allegations are that he started in 1999.

So, let's look at comparable data.
Now let's look, say, the 7 years before the allegations, 1992-1998.
They will show that Bonds batted .307 during that period, with a .618 slugging percentage, 39 HRs and an average OPS+ of 185.

You choose to ignore that Bonds, who, in his 20s, never hit more than 46 home runs a year, suddenly, when he was 37, hit 73 in one season.

He hit 46 home runs playing his home games in Candlestick Park. He had 37 the following season when the strike hit, which put him on a pace for 52. That's what you choose to ignore. His 365 total bases in 1993 were the highest NL total since the 1970s, and his slugging percentage of .677 and OPS of 1.136 were the highest since 1948. His back to back seasons over 200 OPS+ in 1992-1993 were the first time an NL player had surpassed 200 OPS+ in consecutive seasons since Rogers Hornsby in 1924-25. That's what Barry Bonds did in his 20's, just on the power end of it.

You might also note that Hank Aaron's career high in HRs was also at age 37 -- even though he played 20 fewer games that year than when he was younger. You may also note that Aaron, who averaged 34 HRs per season from ages 30-34, averaged 41 HRs per year from ages 35-39. At ages 30-34, Aaron averaged 17.6 ABs/HR. From ages 35-39, he averaged 11.8 ABs/HR. So, beginning at age 35 -- "an age that foreshadows retirement for many ballplayers" -- his HR rate increased by 49%. Which is comparable to Bonds's increase in HR rate, during the years you cite (54%).

Should we accuse the Braves of cheating? It was their decision to move in the left field power alley by 10 feet those seasons to a ridiculously short 375 feet, a decision that clearly helped Aaron in the pursuit of Babe Ruth. Aaron had never hit more than 23 home runs at home in his "prime" years, but somehow managed 31 at Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium in 1971. Should we asterisk 8 of them? What about for the other 4 years the fences were in?

You choose to ignore the common-sense argument that players don’t suddenly become more powerful and more productive as they approach 40.

Have you checked in to the performance stats of Roger Clemens lately? How about Carlton Fisk? Didn't Aaron's former teammate Darrell Evans play for the Tigers and have a huge power surge at ages 36-40 (his HR rate increased by 79% over his age 31-35 seasons), or did I imagine it?
I don't recall anyone batting an eye when Nolan Ryan, who hadn't exceeded a strikeout per inning rate through his mid 30's, managed 11.48 at age 40, and then 11.32 at age 42. Ryan's strikeout rate at ages 40-44 was more than 40% above what he had managed a decade earlier, and his best 3 WHIP years were at ages 42-44. Was he not more powerful? Was he not more productive?

In yesterday's follow-up, you wrote:
But there are a few things this is not. It is not about race. It is not about personality. If you cannot get past those stumbling blocks on such an important issue, you don't deserve to be discussing it. You really don't.

Sorry, you don't get to shut down discussion like that. You really don't. Maybe in The Free Press, since you're the one with the column, but not out here. 'Cause if you write things like "the common sense argument" without at least acknowledging that it's not unprecedented, without at least acknowledging that the other (mostly white) guys above had late career spikes that are comparable in degree to Bonds but are absent from these discussions, then what else is there to conclude? The choices aren't pleasant here.

None of which is to proclaim Bonds as innocent. I don't know, and I suspect that you don't, either. (I can, however, proclaim Bonds to be the best baseball player I have ever seen. I can do that without any hesitation at all, though I confess that Willie Mays was past his prime by the time I saw him). If you happen to know Bonds's hat size pre- and post-, I'd love to know it. I see that accusation all the time, but somehow it always lacks the specifics.

It's about all of those things. Isn't it? Though I'd prefer it to be about baseball. It still could be that, I believe.

Best regards,
Matthew Orel
West Bloomfield, MI

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Discography and Amazon, 2007 Q1

In late 2005, I established an associates account with amazon, going primarily from my discography page. Any sales generated by people navigating to amazon from my site generates commissions, that amazon eventually sends my way.

As I noted at that time, anything that comes my way from will be turned over to charity, on a quarterly basis, doubled by a match from me. All selected charities will be from the set of charities documented at

During Q1 2007, a total of 58 items were sold by amazon off links from the site. Total commissions for the quarter were $49.01. With rounding, this quarter's donation+match is $100.00.

While I had considered going to a single charity going forward, recent tragic events made the choice of recipient very easy. I have selected Joan Dancy and PALS Support Group as this quarter's recipient. The donation is made in memory of Terry Magovern. PALS is a grassroots organization that helps and provides assistance, services and programs that support ALS patients and their families. PALS also aims to aid patients by loans of equipment, to award direct monetary grants to ALS patients and/or their families, to enlarge the body of ALS knowledge, to educate the general public on the disease and to encourage scientific research for the prevention, alleviation, care, treatment and cure of ALS patients.

Unfortunately, there website for Joan Dancy and PALS is still incomplete, and does not include online donation capability. To donate by check, send to:
Joan Dancy and PALS Support Group
Riverview Hospital
1 Riverview Plaza
Red Bank, N.J. 07701

Since I started the amazon association, more than 450 items have been sold at Amazon via links from These sales resulted in total donations of more than $900. A listing of the results by quarter is available at

Thanks to everyone who has participated!
Results for Q2, along with the next recipient, will be up in a couple months.


Monday, July 30, 2007

A night with Al Green and B.B. King

A couple weeks ago, Palace Entertainment did a quickie 2-day half-price sale on tickets to a bunch of concerts here this summer. So I picked up a couple shows. Tonight’s was the “B.B. King Blues Festival,” with B. B. King, Al Green and Etta James, and $10 a ticket for the lawn, parking included. Can’t beat that.

The time was listed as 7pm, and with multiple artists on the bill, I figured they’d start on time. But I really wanted to see Al Green. We missed him the last time he was through. Of course, I wanted to see B.B. King and Etta James, too, but figured we could afford to miss some of Etta’s set if it meant avoiding Pine Knob traffic, and we just saw B.B. a few months ago and figured it’d be pretty similar.

We aimed for a 7:30 arrival; unfortunately, it seems like everybody else did, too – we ended up in a mile long backup. By the time we got out of the car, we could clearly hear “Let’s Stay Together” coming from the speakers. Damn! Got to the entry, and found out why: “Etta James will not be performing tonight.” No explanation. The song ended as we climbed the hill, and I almost freaked. It was 8pm, could Al Green be done already?

Fortunately, he wasn’t. The lawn was packed. Not the pavilion; apparently the masses had all caught the sale, and it was one huge party zone up there. I can’t say what it was like down in the pavilion; it looked pretty dad and the back half was empty. But up top, it was about 50/50 black/white, all together, and it seemed like everyone knew the words to every song, and a good portion of them were up and dancing the whole time.

As for Al? He was in very good voice, with a tight band, a couple cool male dancers, and from his version of the BeeGees song (which he owns), to the closing combination of “Tired of Being Alone” and an extended “Love and Happiness,” the performance sizzled.

After that, B.B. was, dare I say it, a bit of a letdown. He can still play, and boy can he sing, but he was way long on the hoary shtick and not enough on the music. The party zone wanted to worship, but too often it just wasn’t happening. Viagara jokes only go so far, even for an octogenerian. Some of the spoken bits worked, especially the ones about his youth; unfortunately they seemed the exception this night.

As it was when we saw King in January at the Fox, a centerpiece song was the Bono-authored “When Love Comes to Town,” a presentation seemingly made more for its connection to U2 than for any worthiness in the set. It received a polite ovation, but when he followed that by going in to “All Over Again,” the wave of recognition was immediate. But when that was followed by a spoken intro to “Ain’t That Just Like a Woman” that had to last 10 minutes, we’d reached our limit – and apparently so had plenty of others. We had determined not to stick for the end, anyway, due to the traffic, but that one chased us, along with several hundred others. As we headed for the parking lot, he was doing a beautiful version of “You Are My Sunshine,” and we could hear the guitar sing from time to time as we left.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Go to TravBuddy, Get a Map

Today's little experiement. Went out to because I saw a link to it from another blog and thought it'd be cool. A few minutes later, my own map of where I've been (no separate entry for Hell, Michigan). So, here goes, my own map:

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Dylan at Freedom Hill

Last night we saw Bob Dylan at Freedom Hill Amphitheater over in Sterling Heights. The show was hot, though maybe not quite as much as the Palace show last November. Bob's been touring with he same band for several years now, and they were pretty tight throughout.

Freedom Hill is about in a county park about 20 miles due east from our house. Surface streets all the way, and we managed to catch every red light. We wanted to see Jimmy Vaughan open, but by the time we got there he was almost done, we got to hear about the last 10 seconds of his final song. After a couple minutes, I went over to the souvenir stand; Dylan always does venue-specific posters now, and I'm a sucker for 'em. I got to the front of the line, and behind the table was... Jimmy Vaughan. So now I have a signed poster. Vaughan was standing with a tall bald guy in an ancient Bob Seger t-shirt, some folks seemed to recognize him, too.

Dylan opened with Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 while Jimmy was signing, and as I don't much care for that song, that was fine by me. I got back inside, and first thing I noticed was that Bob was playing electric guitar. Last time through, he had been keyboards only. But this time, he was not only playing, he was occasionally taking lead. Not that he should ever be confused with lead guitarist Denny Freeman, but he wasn't half bad, either.

The second thing I noticed was the color co-ordinated outfits in Dylan's band. All the guitarists wore grey jackets and black hats, but Bob wore a cool black jacket with a grey hat, he also had a white shirt and yellow tie, and looked more than a little dashing on stage. George Recile and Donnie Herron did not have the jacket/hat combos.

After Just Like a Woman, which featured Bob's longest lead of the night, he went to the keyboard and ripped in to The Levee's Gonna Break. The songs rocked, and Bob actually seemed to be having fun on stage, even goofing with some folks in the audience. He teased with the harmonica, finally using it for My Back Pages and a few songs after. His vocal delivery of the chorus of My Back Pages, a choppy staccato that drove home the words, got a big ovation.

During Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine), the tall bald guy with the ancient Bob Seger T-shirt re-appeared, along with the not quite ancient Bob Seger, and they settled in 4 rows directly in front of us. Seger the man stayed until the middle of Thunder on the Mountain, but tall bald guy (I have since learned that he is Bill Blackwell, Seger's road manager) came back in for the closer. We passed him in the concourse as we were leaving, he was talking loud in to his cell phone: All Along the Watchtower!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Merchants of Chennai

A few days ago, I went to lunch with a former work team of mine. As it happens, the members of the team are all from India, and we chose an Indian restaurant for the occasion. Much of the conversation was light-hearted banter about foods and gardens; of course, being at an Indian restaurant, I could get all the explanations of the southern Indian cuisine being served (I passed on the mango mousse, which I learned isn’t really a dish native to India, anyway).

As we talked, the conversation moved to the education systems. Sreedhar explained to me that, in his school, in all but the Tamil class, only English was allowed in the classroom. Tamil is the native language of Chennai, Sreedhar’s home city. He had gone to a Catholic school there, and related, still apparently with some sense of horror, of how he had had to study The Merchant of Venice for two years. I asked what he remembered of the book, and mostly he remembered the book’s cover sheet, which was in cyan.

Shabbir laughed. “Did you read, The Merchant of Venice, too?” “Yes.” “Same book with the cyan cover sheet?” “Yes.” Shabbir is from Bangalore.

I went around the table. Manoj? “Yes, we read it.” Kumar? “No, but we performed a scene in drama class.” Sri? “We did the whole play is drama.” Javed? “We read it.” Finally, poor Muthu confessed that he hadn’t been forced to read “The Merchant of Venice”: “We read Hamlet.” That doesn’t count!! Swarna? "We read it."

What is it with The Merchant of Venice, anyway? I don’t think I ever read it, though of course I know Shylock’s speech. I don't think many Americans read The Merchant of Venice in high school. How is it, then, that in a random sampling of 8 Indian colleagues, 7 had either read or performed it in their high school years?

Of all of Shakespeare, why that one? Most of the assembled had read no other Shakespeare, just that one play. Except for the two who had performed The Merchant of Venice, none had seen Shakespeare performed, either. They hadn’t even heard of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, which is just a couple hours away.

I just looked up this year’s schedule. It includes The Merchant of Venice! I think I’m going to send Sreedhar.

The day after the lunch, I led a meeting. Niran participated by phone; he hadn’t been at the lunch. At one point, while a technical matter was being resolved, I asked, “Niran, when you were in school, did you read The Merchant of Venice?" Manoj chuckled. “Yes, of course,” came the reply.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Support Us in Tour de Cure!

Aaron and I will be cycling in the American Diabetes Association's Tour de Cure fund-raising event one week from today, June 10, 2007. The Tour de Cure is a series of cycling events held in over 80 cities nationwide. We have joined thousands of others to pedal in support of the Association's mission: to prevent and cure diabetes and to improve the lives of all people affected by diabetes. Aaron is 10 years old and riding for the 3rd time this year, and is very excited to be part of the event again.

I am asking you to help by supporting our fund-raising efforts with a donation. Your tax-deductible gift will make a difference in the lives of the 18 million Americans who suffer from diabetes and the 20 million people in the United States with pre-diabetes. It is faster and easier than ever to support this great cause - you can make your donation online by simply clicking on either of the links at the bottom of this message. Any amount, great or small, helps in the fight against this deadly disease.

To donate at Aaron's page, please go to
To donate at my page, please go to

Thanks for your support,
Aaron during the 2006 Tour de Cure in Brighton, Michigan

Friday, May 11, 2007

Coins Don't Smell, You Do... or Do You?

This evening, Lori alerted me to an article she found at "weird science" on MSNBC --

She tried to tease by asking, "why do you get that odor when you touch coins?," to which I quickly answered, "a chemical reaction."

Her follow-up surprised me more: It's from iron in the coins!

Here's the article text at msnbc:
"That metallic odor you smell after handling change? It's created by the breakdown of oils in skin after touching objects that contain iron. The chemical reaction has most of us running to wash our hands to get that musty scent out."

As any numismatist surely knows, there's no iron in US coinage, nor much of anywhere else. Most of our coins are made from an alloy of copper and nickel. the penny is mostly zinc (since the early 1980's, prior to that it was mostly copper), and the golden dollar contains manganese in addition to copper, nickel and zinc. I had an amazing experience a couple months ago, in which I spotted a rack full of pre-1971 half dollars at the teller's station of the local bank (after the teller explained that a customer had brought them in along with a few Eisenhower dollars to exchange for bills after finding them in a home piggy bank, I immediately bought all 17 of the 40% and 90% silver coins, for face value!), but other than that I haven't seen silver in circulation recently. Of course, in 1943 pennies were made of steel, but I haven't seen a steel penny in circulation since I was a child.

The msnbc article was sourced from Live Science, at That article has an author, by the name of Ker Than, and quotes "study team member Dietmar Glindemann of the University of Leipzig in Germany."

As it happens, the 1, 2 and 5 eurocent coins are mostly steel, though each of those coins has a copper coating. So, even in Europe, there is no contact with an iron-based substance. And, if specific to European coinage, one would hardly know by the uncritical re-printing of the story by sources such as msnbc and foxnews.

Interesting, though, I found in Discover Magazine a variant of the story, this time more plausibly linking the odor to a reaction to copper, not iron. The story quotes "Virginia Tech organic chemist Dietmar Glindemann," apparently newly arrived from Leipzig.

So I've written notes to Mr. Than and Dietmar Glindenmann; it should be fun to see what they have to say.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Pinewood Derby Champion

Aaron with the winning car
When I was 9, I joined Cub Scouts for a year. I don’t remember all that much about it. I started a coin collection as a suggested project. We went to a Yankees game at the old Yankee Stadium, and Bobby Murcer hit two home runs. The den leader showed us a tributary of the Rahway River that ran right through the basement of his house.

The other thing I remember was the Pinewood Derby. I had no skill to make a car, and what I remember mostly was painting it. I put it on the kitchen table and spray painted it royal blue. Little dots of royal blue paint remained on the kitchen wall until the day the wallpaper was replaced many years later. But it wasn’t very stable, and my Pinewood Derby career was over after the first race.

Aaron is in his 4th year in Scouts. He doesn’t pay much attention to the various achievements and patches, I think the patches have collected in a draw and the achievements have gone mostly unachieved and unattempted. Even the derby was a little iffy this year. His first year, he shocked nearly everyone, except maybe himself, by winning his first two races as a 7-year old and making it to that year’s semi-finals. His car beat a big car with a giant Sponge Bob on top, of course everyone else was rooting for Sponge Bob and Aaron thought it was all very funny.

But the last two years had both ended too quickly, in first round losses. Last year Aaron was sure he had a fast car, but he had the misfortune to be matched up against an eventual finalist in the first heat, and lost a close race. My one input as an officer this year was to insist that the races not be single elimination. I had to promise Aaron he’d get at least two races before he’d agree to do participate again.

Aaron made the car himself. Dad’s involvement ended when the official Grand Prix Pinewood Derby Kit was delivered to the house. Aaron took it from there, except for enlisting Mom to help with sanding and gluing. We put the car on the kitchen scale and it weighed 4 ounces – one ounce short. In the past, we supplemented by putting pennies on top, but this time Aaron had a brainstorm: batteries. One on each side should be about enough. Lori insisted only that they be dead batteries, but we could only find one dead AAA, so we sacrificed a new battery to the cause. They were glued in to place, and we were good to go.
There were about 22 cars in this year’s derby. The race organizer brought a digital postal scale this year, and Aaron’s car came in at 5.0 ounces. I have no idea what we would have done had it been 5.1.

The race organizer had it set up so that each car would get at least one race on each track, thus eliminating the track as a factor and also giving each kid multiple chances. But that also meant it could take a long time to get to some of the cars. Aaron’s was the very last car to race. He was getting frustrated. In the meantime, one of the adult volunteers accidentally kicked the car, and another managed to bump it as well, causing the left battery to come off. Aaron got the glassy eyed look, which meant two things: 1) yell at the adult volunteer, and 2) emergency procurement of a piece of tape. The car bandaged battery back in place, was declared ready to race.

The first race came up and… it won. By a lot. The car quickly acquired a nickname: Duracell. And so it went through the preliminary races, and also the final round. And so Aaron got his ribbon.

Then we discovered that, due to an entry error, Aaron’s car hadn’t actually raced one of the 2nd place finishers, a car that was also undefeated. So we had two final heats. Duracell will be retired with a final record of 14 wins, no losses, and one dead heat. And until next year, Aaron is the fast car builder of Pack 364.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Cherry blossoms and duck eggs

7pm this evening
Spring finally arrived here last weekend. In March, we briefly considered skipping right by spring and on in to summer, then for most of April we skipped past spring the other way back to winter. The crocuses bloomed early and were eaten by a rabbit the next day. The cherry blossoms nearly bloomed two weeks early, and then nearly froze off the trees.
The crocuses, the day before the rabbit ate them
Finally, last Friday the temperatures eased over 50, and we were able to get the trees sprayed. This is important, as we prefer our cherries without the worms. Then, on Saturday, spring arrived. I had to be a spectator that first day, as somehow I ended up with some friends at the Corner Bar of the Townsend while very tall former basketball plaers came and went, and some very nice looking woman was telling me how she’d been at the Tigers game that day but they’d lost “in overtime.” So I knew spring had arrived: I was sure she was hitting on me.

Sunday was the coming out party. Cleared the dead canes from the black raspberries, went for a bikeride with Aaron, who is now 10. Saw how much he has improved. I had to get a new battery for my tripmeter, and when I pt it in I didn’t notice that it defaulted to metric. It said I was going 36 when I hit that bump along Franklin Road. My tripmeter said we went 18km, but Aaron told me it was 14 miles. I think he needs a new tripmeter.

Sunday was supposed to be the last nice day. We even ate outside, only to be interrupted when the neighbor called to tell us they had successfully trepped the groundhog and that we just needed to see it right away. That was one big groundhog, I hope it’s the one that ate our corn last year. Or maybe the racoon they caught on Saturday. If they catch a few more I’ll consider forgiving them for being Republicans.

It stayed nice on Monday. Aaron and Elianna have learned to try to chase ducks from the pool. The ducks invade from the late winter until the pool is opened and the water starts to heat up. Early April, they’re there. One year, a duck made a nest in the hostas, and tended to them dutifully. It was going to be a celebration when the eggs hatched, but then there was an awful war, and when it was over there was a dead duck in the pool, and a mess of broken eggs scattered about. The momma duck came back, poking around, seeing if there was anything to salvage, but ducks don’t salvage broken shells.
one duck egg being kept warm in a shoe box
So Aaron had a squirt gun, and was yelling at the ducks yesterday, with Elianna merrily following. The ducks wouldn’t move. Then Aaron must have gotten a lucky shot with the water, and the ducks vacated, leaving behind... an egg! On the edge of the pool cover. No nest. Just out on the pool cover. After handling the egg, shaking the egg, testing the egg, the children decided they’d really like to hatch the egg. It now sits in a shoe box under a lamp. We’ve read that it is almost certainly already dead, but they’ll try anyway. Elianna is prepared to be the momma duck already, with her little duckling in tow.

Monday night, the cherry blossoms came out. A sea of white. Both trees on the same day. Countdown to cherry season, but for today and tomorrow enough to see the trees, out at the same time as the daffodils and the forsythia and the first of the tulips, with the chives up and the asparagus just a couple days away, along with the apple blossoms and pear blossoms. It’s almost too much beauty, all at once. Our other neighbor is moving to Arizona. We understand... but we don’t.
Happy Birdoodle daydoodle!!
Today was Elainna’s birthday. I picked her up from gymnastics, and she was singing, loudly. First in hebrew, then, “Happy birdooddle daydoodle toodoodle youdoodle oodoodle,” over and over. She flits around, arms in motion like nothing quite so much as a butterfly, if only she were light enough she’d take off. She’s the one who might say, “Quiet! I’m in the middle of a dream.” Presents of a toy pegasus and other characters, a cake to eat, and dreams today of being the mommy duck.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

... And the Rabbit Died

Friday was my birthday. Born on Friday the 13th, and for the 6th time in the 45 years since, a birthday on Friday the 13th. The first wasn't until I turned 11, and I got sick that day, so I figured for a while that Friday the 13th birthdays might be bad.

This year, it was dinner at the in-laws. Elianna spoiled the "surprise" Thursday night, when at dinner she blurted out, "we ordered a cake!!" That's ok, I can live with that, so long as I get my slice of 7-layer cake.

We went to the in-laws separately; Lori with the kids and me from work. After dinner, I trailed on the ride home. As Lori approached the driveway, a rabbit darted out in to the road. And... Lori hit it. Or it hit Lori. I'm not quite sure which, it just got swallowed up by the underside of the car, and as Lori pulled in to the driveway there was the rabbit in the road in what had to be horrible pain, making spastic leaping movements to and fro though not able to get to its feet, its eyes wild with terror in its final moments.

I drove around it, and up to the garage. Lori and the kids were exiting the car, both of them saying "we win, we win" as a statement of a "race" home. I said to Lori, "I can't believe you hit that rabbit," and after she finished saying "what rabbit?" and "I didn't see any rabbit," continued, "I hope it was the one who ate our crocuses," and, "is it still there?"

"Well," I thought out loud, "it's probably dead by now."

And then a slice of human nature revealed itself to me.

"Can we see? Can we see?" The cries were clear. We walked back to the road, and the rabbit by now was quite dead, but it was dark. "Can I get a flashlight? Pleeeeeaaase?"

It was more exciting for them than the robin that managed to fly at full speed in to the living room window last week, crashing with a explosive thud and remaining plastered to the window just long enough for us all to see the feathers fly.

Saturday morning, the rabbit was gone, like it had never happened. Big rabbit, too, wonder what made off with it. I hope it wasn't the animal that ate our corn last year.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Gorging on P2P

Note: This post originall appeared at

Market research cited in an article in Monday's New York Times says that users of peer-to-peer downloading networks—BitTorrent, LimeWire, and the like—downloaded ten times more songs than users of "legit" download services like iTunes. More than 5 billion songs were downloaded from P2P source in 2006, as opposed to 509 million legal downloads, said NPD Group, a market research firm.

Those numbers didn't ring true to me. Here's my response:

I would guess that 10:1 is seriously understated—I wouldn't be surprised if it's closer to 100:1.

The article doesn't capture how these ratios work out when considering "officially released" content as opposed to "bootleg" content. For example, the torrent site (capped at 100,000 free members) has a strict policy banning any material that is either in official release or likely to become officially released.

On March 21, the files for a full-length Bruce Springsteen concert DVD from Paris 1985 went up. Not just a handheld thing, this was from the monitors, first-generation. 28 songs. 12 gigabytes of data. And many hundreds of people logged on, downloading the whole thing. How many song downloads is that, just for that one show? Well, I'll count: Dimeadozen reports that there have been 769 downloads so far. In addition, a Springsteen-only torrent site called Jungleland has had 956 downloads. That's 48,300 song downloads, just for that one show. In addition, there are currently another 122 people in the process of downloading the show from the two sites (and there are likely other torrent sites hosting it as well), so that'll be an additional 3,416 downloads, for a total of 51,716 downloads, or about 20 terabytes of data. And that's in less than two weeks, for a single 22-year-old concert.

There's a Simon and Garfunkel show from 2003 that's generated more than 130,000 downloads. Bob Dylan's show in Sweden on Sunday had already produced 2750 completed song downloads with 3200 more in process as of Monday afternoon; his club-gig show last Tuesday is nearing 20,000 completed downloads. Pretty much every show he does will do similar numbers—at 3 shows a week, that's nearly 3 million song downloads just for Dylan on an annual basis, just for his new shows. You get the idea, I guess; there's nothing on iTunes or similar services that will be remotely in the same order of magnitude.

Of course, those numbers are global; the Jungleland numbers, in particular, are majority outside the U.S. But the general concept remains (and Dimeadozen is majority U.S., in any event).