Sunday, January 25, 2009

Music is in the ear of the beholder

Once in a while I get the chance to sit down for a couple of hours and record a piece of music. More often than not, it’s not a song writing venture. Rather, it’s an opportunity to capture a few ideas on the computer that might be useful someday.

These short pieces usually remain unnamed and are more likely to be background music in one of my videos than turning into songs one day. Here’s a sample of three such tunes I like to call music beds.

Music Bed One (0:50)

Music Bed Two (1:08)

Music Bed Three (1:38)

Other times, there’s a specific purpose for composing a piece of music. For a series of TV commercials for Ring Bros Marketplace in South Dennis, I was looking to create a retro piece of music that would remind people of the 50s and 60s; a time when markets were smaller, you knew the butcher by name, and milk was delivered to your doorstep.

Ring Bros Jingle (0:30)

You can watch the commercials at

Lastly, I’m sometimes inspired by an event and capture it in music before the moment gets away. One of those times was when I heard that our grandson had successfully completed his first day of potty training. Time for a song: Potty Boy.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Pooper scooping the East Lawn

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We’re on the cusp of an event that will change America forever; the culmination of an unprecedented period of politicking and lobbying; the result of many debates and impassioned pleas. I’m, of course, referring to the White House takeover by our next First Pet: a labradoodle.

Apparently, the Obama kids, Malia and Sasha, have been conducting their own campaign which was every bit as compelling as the Senator’s. Back in November, President-Elect Obama revealed to George Stephanopoulos on ABC television that he and Michelle had acquiesced to adding a dog to the First Family.

George seemed unusually interested in the proposed choices: a Portuguese water dog or a labradoodle. We all remember George Stephanopoulos as an eager fourteen-year-old serving as Clinton’s first press secretary. Actually, Dee Dee Myers, at a much more mature age of sixteen, was the official press secretary, but somehow George beat Dee Dee to the press briefings for the first six months and just winged it.

After a series of gaffes, George was relegated to Senior Advisor on Policy and Strategy, a title for an invented job that included, believe it or not, emptying Sock’s litter box. Who could forget Socks the Cat? He was an unusual choice for First Animal, a position that had been held by a dog since Lincoln interrupted the streak by introducing his pet porcupine, Pricky, to the White House.

It seems that the labradoodle is pulling ahead of the Portuguese water dog in the race to the White House. That makes perfect sense to me, a Texas kid who fished the backwaters of the Nueces River using waterdogs (not sure if they were from Portugal) for catfish bait. Why in the world would anyone adopt a waterdog as First Pet? They’re ugly, don’t live very long, and the slime is downright nasty.

What is a labradoodle, you ask? Good timing, because I was just about to tell you. It’s a cross breed involving a French poodle and a Labrador retriever. (I always thought poobrador would have been a more appropriate name based on the frequent deposits our black lab used to leave.) Since French bashing came into vogue—remember freedom fries?—breeders have been trying to reinvent the Eurocentric French poodle.

Dropping the “French” from French poodle just wasn’t enough to fool people into buying these Parisian elitist canines. So they put them in a cage with cocker spaniels and out popped the cockapoo.

It turns out that cocker spaniels—a small, feisty breed that suffers from Napoleon complex—when paired with the intelligence of French poodles, produce an animal capable of winning the Battle of Waterloo; not something you want hanging around your house while you’re away at work.

So along comes an Australian breeder with the idea of mating a Labrador retriever (known for their absolute devotion, low IQ, and 24/7 shedding) with a French poodle (known for their brainpower, low level of allergens, and a Rogaine-like ability to hang on to their hair). The perfect pet with all the plusses of an allergy-free teddy bear combined with the innate need to fetch your morning paper and police the floor around the baby’s high chair.

What better animal could you pick for First Dog? The only thing to do now is to pick one up from the local pound, a politically correct move loaded with symbolism for the new administration. If one isn’t available, I have to believe that an AKC-registered labradoodle will somehow find its way to the K Street Animal Shelter just in time to fulfill Malia and Sasha’s dream.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Passing gas (stations)

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We use less gasoline than most of our friends. With the office a mere half mile away from our house, and the bank, cleaners, post office, drugstore, deli, supermarket and liquor stores (five, to be exact) all within a one-mile circle, we could drive a Hummer and still spend less at the filling station than the average Joe.

Speaking of which, a guy in the office building behind us used to drive a Hummer. He quit doing that when gas hit $3 a gallon. I miss looking out my window and having the entire view taken up by the grill of his Arnoldmobile.

Several of our friends and clients own Toyota Priuses (I have no idea how to pluralize this name—maybe it should be Priui) and I have to say they feel really good about themselves. Who wouldn’t when you can drive to Bolivia on two tanks of gas?

We, on the other hand, are still driving our 1997 sedan with 185,000 miles on it. (More on this at .) Since Mary and I work together, we’re able to share this car, which gets about 27 MPG highway and 22 around town.

Someday, however, this car is going to reach the point where maintaining it is more expensive than replacing it. I argue that replacing your vehicle with a new one cannot be cheaper, ever. Too much depreciation right off the bat. Ever try to sell a brand new car back to a dealer? Somehow, that first hundred miles reduces the value by a couple of thousand dollars. Not only that, but those $400-a-month payments you avoid by hanging on to your junker translate to $4,800 a year in repairs before buying new makes sense.

Mary argues that the decision should be made on other factors, such as maintaining the quality of our marriage. She doesn’t appreciate my optimistic view that our car will go another 150,000 miles. If history is an accurate predictor of the future, we’ll probably be in the market for a new car sooner than later.

So I started researching possible alternatives. I actually rode in a Toyota Prius. Roomier than I would have guessed. And everyone I know who owns one swears by it. When I ask how much replacing the battery is going to cost, I’m met with a range of answers from $2,000 to $3,000 to “I hadn’t thought about that.”

Is the 48 MPG city and 45 MPG highway (yes, I’ve got those figures in the right order—see enough to justify a $3,000 battery replacement after 100,000 miles? Let’s see: The cost of fuel for 100,000 miles of driving at $2.50/gallon is about $5,200 at 48 MPG. Adding $3,000 to this cost is the equivalent of getting worse gas mileage, or 30 MPG.

There are plenty of conventional gas engine cars that do better than that, which you can also expect to run well over 100,000 miles before needing expensive repairs; the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic to name just two. The Prius pollutes less, I suppose, and you get that good all over feeling being part of the hybrid club. It’s like being a Harley owner without the leather.

The other alternative I considered is called the Smart ForTwo. It’s a two-seater that traces its roots back to Mercedes-Benz and Swatch, the Swiss watchmaker. (See

This is a glorified golf cart with an engine about half the size of the one on my brother’s old motorcycle. It gets 33 city and 41 highway, not exactly impressive numbers for a vehicle you can drive from the street right on to the front nine without turning a head. And Consumer Reports rates it 28 on a scale of 1 to 100, earning the lowest score in the entire category of subcompact cars. It has basic car-like components, like a steering wheel and four tires, but so does my grandkid’s Cozy Coupe II.

As you can see, I’ve done exhaustive research on potential replacements for our trusty 1997 automobile and it leads to the indisputable conclusion that we should keep it until the odometer rolls over to a quarter million miles. At that point, I’ll initiate another comprehensive analysis of our options and report back to you.

P.S. Please don’t let Mary know I’ve written this column.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Like, I mean, read this

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In all honesty (like it would benefit me somehow to be lying to you this early in my column), it drives me crazy when people start and end their sentences with meaningless and unnecessary words. Basically, you know, the truth of it is that this is often a way to stall for time while one desperately gropes for a relevant thought, if you will. Like, I mean, why bother to open your mouth at this moment in time if you have nothing to say in terms of the conversation at hand? With all due respect, at the end of the day, it’s not rocket science to practice a little conciseness with the spoken word, so…

Whatever happened to the tried and true umm, uh and that sound people make by pulling their tongues away from their pallets right behind their front teeth (take a look at any Bill Belichick interview if you need a demonstration)? Don’t worry, they’re as popular as ever. These utterances and sound effects are actually how people pronounce commas, periods, ellipses, semi-colons and em-dashes. You always thought these symbols were silent, didn’t you?

My preparation for this column included Googling the phrase “annoying phrases.” As usual, the ever efficient search engine returned 1,830,000 results in an astounding 0.14 seconds. I didn’t have time to review the last 100,000 hits, but I did find out that Oxford researchers published their Top Ten Most Annoying Phrases of 2008. They’re published in the book Damp Squid: The English Language Laid Bare, but to save you the £15 and the agony of reading the Queen’s English, here they are:

1 - At the end of the day
2 - Fairly unique
3 - I personally
4 - At this moment in time
5 - With all due respect
6 - Absolutely
7 - It's a nightmare
8 - Shouldn't of
9 - 24/7
10 - It's not rocket science

I love fairly unique. Absolutely! Other variations include very unique, somewhat unique and really unique. Look, unique is unique. There’s no gray. It’s either unique or it’s not. There are no degrees of unique. Although, with the huge number of stories on this topic I found on the Internet, I’d have to say that this column is relatively unique.

I mean, now I have to introduce something in order to make this piece a lot more unique. So I looked up Lake Superior State University’s List of Banished Words, published in 2003, just to see how well we’ve responded to this fine educational institution’s edicts some five years later. See the entire list at (They must have plenty of free time up there in Sault Ste. Marie.)

In the category of Politics and the Media, LSSU banished homeland security and weapons of mass destruction. I clearly remember how silly I thought homeland security was for the name of a government department. It sounded like something that a room full of pardners with two first names (such as William Robert, aka Billy Bob) would invent down on a ranch. Oh… Now I get it. And so much for banishing weapons of mass destruction. Not only did it catch on, but we now abbreviate it WMD and everyone knows what we’re talking about.

The frost-bitten scholars also listed, in the category of Business, the word extreme. Once again, not only did this word hang around, it was abbreviated X and attached to every activity that needed some additional pizzazz or element of danger. The X Games, the Xbox, the Macintosh computer operating system OS X—simply a coincidence that its predecessor was OS 9? There’s even a band named Extreme, led by Nuno. I thought Bono was a strange name.

If you’re getting the idea that Lake Superior State University is spitting in the wind (an inadvisable thing to do in the Michigan winter), I just might second that. Perhaps five years is too short a time for these clever, ear-catching words and phrases to run their course. I mean, we’re not throwing groovy and neato into every other sentence these days. Even the more recent rad and gnarly have all but evaporated from our lexicon, but we are having to deal with snarky and mouse potato.

We’ll always be looking for acceptance within our peer groups by adopting the latest in hipspeak. My bad for trying to invent a new word, but I’ve been attempting to get one to catch on for years—a phrase, actually—so I’ll give it one more college try. The phrase is butt yeah. It’s used when you’re delivering an enthusiastic affirmation. For example, “Do you want these two tickets for the Celtics game?” “Butt yeah!”

If butt yeah gets the traction it deserves, I’ll release this follow up phrase shortly thereafter: Butt no! “Hey, do you kids want to go to the ballet?” “Butt no!” And if that sweeps the nation and the English-speaking world, I’ll unleash the ultimate butt maybe.