Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Heavy Hitters

I've been a fan of personal injury attorney's commercials for as long as I've been familiar with the genre. It pleases me to no end that there is apparently a production agency that has used the same slogan and jingle for different law firms in the Providence and Upstate New York markets. Here's one of the commercials for Syracuse's own heavy hitters Alexander & Catalano, and here's a commercial from Providence's Heavy Hitter, Rob Levine.

Must Love Dogs

Since I've tried to at least mention all of the movies I've watched this year, I'd be remiss to not finish the job before the new year. I was disappointed with V for Vendetta, which we watched a month or so back. I didn't like how the movie felt the need to spell out every detail about the plot to the viewers (sometimes, more than once). The story and setting drew a lot of obvious parallels to George Orwell's 1984, which hurt the movie since it's pretty hard to measure up to 1984. Of course, you shouldn't really trust the words of a critic who fell asleep before the end of the movie. It did clear up some confusion I've always had about Guy Fawkes Night, but I still don't really understand why the British named the holiday after Fawkes. Isn't that sort of like the US making 9/11 a national holiday and calling it Osama bin Laden Day?

I finally got around to seeing Hot Fuzz over Christmas. I liked it, though not as much as I liked Shaun of the Dead. I think Hot Fuzz may have been a bit too over the top for me. It's possible that I haven't seen enough action & cop movies to truly appreciate the depth of the satire in Hot Fuzz.

Finally, I went with my dog-loving family to watch Marley & Me after Christmas. It's pretty much a movie about a dog with a perfunctory mid-life crisis tacked on. Don't bother seeing it unless you really like seeing dogs chew on furniture.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hub Cap

The great jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard passed away yesterday. He hadn't been very active recently and I haven't listened to his music in a while, but he was one of my favorites back when I was first getting into jazz. I don't have any of his recordings as a leader and I thought that Out to Lunch was the only recording of Hubbard that I owned until the LAT obit reminded me that he played on Coltrane's Ascension sessions, but my old college radio station had a lot of Hubbard's recondings on vinyl and I spun them regularly. One my favorites was Live at the Northsea Jazz Festival 1980, which is the only post-Blue Note Hubbard album that I've listened to extensively. He was truly one of the last of the great hard bop players.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Out Like a Lamb

The most depressing part of the Lions amassing the NFL's first 0-16 record is the realization that I grew up during the post-merger golden age of Detroit Lions football. The reason that is depressing is because the Lions' post-merger golden age of the 1990s wasn't much of a golden age. While they made six of their nine post-merger playoff appearances during the 1990s, they still only won one of those playoff games, never even made it to the Superbowl, and only had five winning seasons. The Lions record from 1990-99 was 79-81, which is much better than the 40-104 record they've managed to amass over this decade, but it's still a losing record.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Infamous Bowls

Some people complain about how the proliferation of huge restaurant chains has destroyed America's regional diversity. What these people fail to realize is that restaurant chains don't destroy regional culture; they demarcate it. Take Bob Evans for example. That middle American dining institution has no franchises in New England and only a handful of them in the other northeastern states (unless you consider Pennsylvania part of the northeast - PA is lousy with Bob Evans franchises).

I had kind of forgotten about Bob Evans until I was back home for Thanksgiving and saw a commercial advertising their answer to KFC's Famous Bowls. It's called the Chicken Fried Deep Dish Dinner, and it takes the KFC Famous Bowl and goes a step further by adding a biscuit into the mix. I've always been fascinated by the Famous Bowl. I'm convinced that the dish was created when someone at KFC headquarters walked into the test kitchen and demanded that the chefs create a new dish that incorporated all existing KFC menu items. I'm not the only one who is fascinated by the Famous Bowl either - comedian Patton Oswalt has carved out a niche for himself in the comedy world with his Famous Bowls routine. With Bob Evans' recent shot across the bow in the Famous Bowls Wars, both of us should have plenty of material to feed our Famous Bowls obsession for the foreseeable future.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Meanwhile, Back in Communist Russia...

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra was in town last week. Michelle has been interested in seeing their show for a couple of years, so we decided to check it out. I went in with pretty low expectations, but I still managed to leave disappointed. The Christmas portion of their show is built around a "true meaning of Christmas" narrative that is borderline nonsensical and difficult to follow. Mixed in with the narrative are heavy metal interpretations of popular Christmas carols and original songs. The original Christmas songs, with the exception of a couple that they played near the end of the Christmas portion of the concert, were awful. I don't understand why they didn't make better use of the existing body of Christmas music and fables that are already known and loved by the majority of western world. Creating new and compelling holiday music and stories is a pretty tall order. Based on the legion of fans who go to see their show every year, I guess the TSO has created a Christmas story that resonates with some people, but it didn't do much for either of us.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


As anyone who still has a job is probably aware of by now, companies are trying to minimize the costs of doing business during these lean times. I got an e-mail from management at my job last week outlining a number of cost-cutting initiatives that have recently been put into effect. The one that caught my eye was an admonishment for employees with company-provided mobile phones (a club that I am not a member of) to stop texting so much. I've always wondered why texting is so expensive. After all, a single text message is at most a couple hundred bytes worth of data. A voice call is at least thousands of bytes per second. Based on the five minutes of research I just did, it appears that it's because texting is such a cash cow for wireless carriers. By charging ridiculously high rates for text messages, carriers basically force anyone who wants to use text messaging on regular basis to buy an unlimited plan, guaranteeing them an extra $5-10/month per customer over the life of their contract. Carriers can charge whatever the market will bear, of course, but any business that is built on constantly ripping off its customers is setting itself up for fall when someone comes in and challenges the status quo. At the very least, once Internet-connected mobile devices achieve critical mass, text messaging is going to go the way of the CB radio unless the pricing model is rationalized.

I've been sitting on this post for a couple of days and wouldn't you know it - Google has gone ahead and added SMS text messaging to Gmail. I don't this is going to put an end to extortionate text messaging rates, but I'm still holding out hope that Google/Android is going to finally force some sense into the US cellular phone market.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Pipe Dream

I've created a couple new Yahoo! Pipes for Michael David Smith's writing on College Football Talk and Pro Football Talk. It probably would have been more useful to put these together earlier in the football season, but I never got around to it (which was just kind of dumb on my part, since it took all of five minutes to put these feeds together). Here's the College Football Talk feed URL and here's the one for Pro Football Talk.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Walk on Water

Google Maps is a great tool and it keeps getting better. Their public transit and walking directions are nice new feature. The walking directions are really cool because Google Maps will gladly generate walking directions for any route, no matter how ridiculous it might be. Here's a nice leisurely stroll you might want to take the next time you need to go from LA to New York but aren't in a big hurry. Google estimates that it would take you 38 days to make the 2800 mile trek (assuming you don't stop anywhere along the way).

Michelle discovered an interesting routing for her trip to Falmouth. The walking directions have you hiking all the way up to Boston, hopping on a ferry to Provincetown, and then walking all the way around Cape Cod. When we first looked at it, we thought that Google was suggesting that you walk on water from Boston to Provincetown. While it may sound like Google is copping out by including a ferry ride in the walking directions, I doubt that pedestrian traffic is allowed on the bridges that span the Cape Cod Canal, so there technically is no way to walk to Falmouth. Perhaps the next release of Google Maps will include a swimming option.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Flat Earth Society

The Flatlands Collective
Lilypad - Cambridge, MA
Thursday, December 4th

The Flatlands Collective is a group of Chicago musicians and the Boston-based Dutch saxophonist Jorrit Dijkstra. I'm pretty sure that this was the first time I've ever seen Dijkstra live. I've certainly had plenty of opportunities to see him play, but for whatever reason, it never worked out until yesterday. Dijkstra impressed me more as a composer and bandleader than he did as a soloist last night. In his defense, the music was structured in a way that didn't give the musicians as much of a chance to stretch out as a normal free jazz unit and the ensemble had a tendency to drown out the soloists, which may have been due to the acoustics of the room.

I really like the sound that larger ensembles are able to produce and the pieces that I enjoyed the most at this show were the ones that really made use of the entire group, especially, the horn section. It was also great to hear Frank Rosaly play again, after being so impressed with his playing the last time I saw him. I felt he shined as an accompanist the last time, but this time, I was more impressed with his solos. He used a lot of dynamic and rhythmic contrasts, which gave his solos a real lyrical quality. I was most impressed with clarinetist James Falzone. I had never even heard of him before the show so I had no idea what to expect, but I was really blown away by both the quality of his phrasing and the consistency of his tone.

I really enjoyed some of the tunes the band played and some of them didn't do anything for me at all, there wasn't very much middle ground. Most of the time, however, it was a really good show.