Tuesday, November 30, 2004

When we cleaned out the house in Vermont, one of the things we came across was an electronic piano keyboard. It was a pretty nice one, too, a Yamaha which could sound like about a half-dozen different instruments. It had a MIDI interface, too. No one else was claiming it, so we took it home.

A. and I were talking about ways to release some of my stress from work and we came up with the idea of a hobby of some kind. The problem with hobbies is that they take time, something I have in short supply between work and the kids. It would have to be something I could do at home in the evenings after the kids went to bed.

One of the things we discussed was learning to play a musical instrument. I had made an abortive attempt at learning to play the guitar a few years back. I had bought an acoustic guitar and some software to help me learn. One night I installed the software and did the first few lessons with the guitar. Three weeks later I finally got around to picking it up again. The guitar went back to the store and the software is abandoned in the basement somewhere. My only other musical experience was playing the clarinet in junior high school. I was terrible. Since then, the only musical instrument I’ve played is the stereo.

I had always thought it would be fun to learn to play the piano. We actually have an upright piano in the living room which my father-in-law got for us a few years ago. I now had this MIDI keyboard which I could hook up to the computer. An idea was born.

The one part the keyboard was lacking was a power supply, so A. contacted Yamaha and purchased a replacement. I ordered a MIDI to USB interface and the eMedia Piano Method 1 software from Amazon.com. They arrived a few days later, and I set the whole thing up on a table in the basement.

I’ve now been going through the lessons for about a month, about three days a week. I played my first song last night, a little ditty about rhythm that I played with four fingers on the black keys. I really like the software. Combined with the MIDI keyboard, it gives me feedback as to how I’m doing in the lessons. There are videos with a music teacher to explain some of the concepts. There is also an animated keyboard to show you the fingering on the keys.

I’ve done about 20 lessons out of the 316 on the disk, so I have a long way to go, but I feel like I’ve accomplished something. My goal is to eventually be able to play Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” (lesson 309). I figure that’s a good year away, but I’m not in any rush.

Monday, November 29, 2004

We spent Saturday, believe it or not, at an art museum. The amazing thing is, we spent a good part of the day there and I wasn’t ready to kill myself by the time we left.

We decided that we needed a family outing on Saturday, since the Thanksgiving weekend canceled swimming and Girl Scouts and soccer ended a couple of weeks ago. It was a beautiful late autumn day and after going back and forth on where to go, we decided on the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. Salem, of course, is best known for the late 17th century witch trials, but the art museum is supposed to be first rate. They had a few things that sounded to be of interest, including one of the best exhibits of Korean art in the United States.

So we got out of the house early and headed to Salem. It had been years since A. and I had been there, and we missed a turn, but we eventually found a (free!) parking garage near the museum. We made a quick stop in the nearby visitors center and picked up a local guide and a map, then headed into the museum.

After we paid our admission fees we started out at the interactive kids area. There was lots of stuff here for the kids to do - puzzles, drawing, games - and we spent quite a bit of time in this room. We then checked out the Korean Art exhibit. The kids seemed really interested, which was good to see.

We had also bought tickets to tour a Chinese house that the museum had disassembled brick by brick in China and brought to Salem, reassembling it inside the museum. The house was occupied by a family in the early part of the 20th century and the museum had done its best to make it look like it did then.

After our tour of the house we decided it was time for lunch. The restaurant in the museum wasn’t appealing to us, so we decided to check out a couple of places we had seen on the map. We settled on Rockafellas and had a really good lunch. They were apparently having some kind of kids day, since Santa was there (the kids were unimpressed since Santa doesn’t come to our house), there was a woman who was doing these remarkable face paintings and the kids lunches were free! A. and I both had sandwiches accompanied by sweet potato french fries, and I was able to sample the new Samuel Adams winter brew, which was quite good.

We spent a bit more time in the kids area at the museum and checked out the maritime art exhibit (some amazing ship models there) and then headed home, as everyone was pretty tired out. I had forgotten what a great little city Salem is, and it was fun to spend time there. We’ll certainly be making another visit sometime next year.

The Red Sox earned another postseason honor, being named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsmen of the Year. The Sox are the first pro team to be recognized by SI. The last Red Sox player to be recognized was Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. Given the magnitude of the Sox comeback over the Yankees and the breaking of the curse, I think it’s a well deserved award.

I’m really looking forward to a vacation in just 27 days (not that I’m counting or anything). We’ll be taking our annual trip to stay with Mom and Dad in Florida during the kids Christmas break from school. We’ve got a visit to Sea World planned, along with our annual visit to Chef Mickey’s with the entire family. We’ve got something new planned this year, too - a pirate cruise for the kids that leaves from Disney’s Grand Floridian resort and takes them around the lake to the various resorts on a treasure hunt. The reviews of this I’ve seen online have been universally positive and I’m sure the kids will have a blast. They even get a pirate hat with Mickey Mouse ears attached! While the kids are off doing that, A. is planning to get a pedicure at the Grand Floridian’s spa and I’ll probably rent a boat or something.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

I went to see the premiere of the Major League Baseball World Series 2004 DVD on Monday night at the Wang Center. The place was packed with citizens of Red Sox Nation wanting to get the first look at the compilation showing the Sox historic victory over the Cardinals last month.

I walked over the the theater from work and got there about an hour before the 7:30 showtime. I got my ticket at the will call window and waited for the doors to open. While I was waiting, Sox CEO Larry Luchino arrived and signed some autographs for the fans waiting outside. Once the doors opened, I made my way into the lobby.

There was less there than I would have expected. A few posters trumpeting the release of the DVD the next day were scattered around the area. There was the requisite souvenir stand selling assorted Red Sox paraphernalia, but that was about it as far as baseball theming. The only other thing that told you this was a baseball event was that the Wang Center concession stands were selling ballpark fare like hot dogs, peanuts, popcorn and beer, probably not the standard fare. They were, however, charging ballpark prices for the stuff.

Most of the VIPs were at a private party up on the second floor, although longtime Red Sox radio voice Joe Castiglione mingled with the people. Very few people bothered him. Although practically everyone in the crowd certainly knew Joe’s voice, only a small percentage of them could have picked him out of a lineup. I shook his hand and then went into the theater to find my seat. I had a great seat in the second row, just to the right of the center section. Since the orchestra pit section of the theater was between the first row and the screen, I wasn’t uncomfortably close, even sitting that far down.

The program got started about 10 minutes late (the fans were starting to chant “Let’s go, Red Sox” at that point). The theater was packed with about 3,500 people, another testament to the drawing power of the Red Sox. How many other teams would draw a sellout crowd to a huge theater to see a DVD they could buy the next day on a Monday night, competing against the local team on Monday Night Football?

The program started with a couple of folks from Major League Baseball Productions who worked on the DVD. They gave a bit of an introduction and mentioned that they had 500,000 copies of the DVD ready to ship on Tuesday, which was more than double the previous record. They then introduced the guys we were really waiting to see: Terry Francona, Mike Timlin and Trot Nixon.

They came up on stage carrying the World Series trophy. I have to admit to misting up a bit - it was the first time I had laid my own eyes on the trophy since the Sox won last month. The crowd, needless to say, went wild and Francona wryly noted that “If we only had a little enthusiasm, we’d be OK.” Francona made a few additional remarks and the the film started.

I really liked what they did with the DVD for the most part. They spent about 20 minutes on the season with highlights and interviews with players and management commenting on the events. Each great play and the first appearance of each player brought a cheer from the crowd, almost as though they were watching this live at Fenway Park. There was even a bit about the Nomar trade, during which Theo Epstein commented that if it hadn’t worked out, it could have set the franchise back for years.

There was a very short section on the ALDS win against the Angels - probably less than five minutes and then it was on to the Yankees series. The Sox epic comeback against the Bronx Bombers was certainly the highlight of the season, and fortunately MLB gave it the showcase it deserved. The final section of the video was on the World Series itself, and the Red Sox total dominance of St. Louis. It then finished up with the Red Sox return home and the parade.

Overall, I really liked the DVD. I thought the highlights they selected to show were representative of the Red Sox season, and I thought the interview clips with the players were good. We probably could have lived with a little less Kevin Millar, but you can see why the camera goes to him. He’s a pretty funny, charismatic guy and he no doubt has a job waiting in a broadcast booth somewhere when he retires. There were no clips of anyone drinking Jack Daniels shots, though.

I could have done with a few less mentions of the Curse, though. Really, how many times do we have to hear that it’s been 86 years since the Sox last won the World Series? How many black and white clips of Babe Ruth did we really need to see. I know the Curse is a compelling, irresistible hook for someone making a film like this, but really, enough is enough.

My only other quibble is that they used the Dropkick Murphy’s version of “Tessie” over the end credits. It was OK, but I would have preferred another Fenway Park standard - “Dirty Water”, perhaps?

The only people who showed up on screen who got booed (other than the Yankees) were Nomar, Governor Romney and the Globe’s Dan Shaughnessey. I had seen Shaughnessey in the lobby earlier in the evening, so I have to wonder how he reacted.

All in all, it was a great night and I really enjoyed seeing this for the first time with a big crowd of Red Sox fans. I’m sure it’s a disk I’ll watch again and again and again.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Nice little brawl they had in Detroit over the weekend, eh? In case you've been living under a rock the last few days, Ron Artest and other members of the Indiana Pacers took a little field trip into the stands to beat on some fans who threw a cup of ice at Artest and the Pacers. Artest committed a borderline hard foul on the Pistons Ben Wallace. Wallace overreacted; shoved Artest and then things went downhill from there, culminating with the fisticuffs in the stands and a fan coming out on the floor and getting decked.

As a result, NBA Commissioner David Stern suspended Artest for the rest of the season; his teammates Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O’Neal got 30 and 25 games, respectively.

Is this deserved? Absolutely. Players just should not go into the stands. Period. Regardless of the provocation, there is no reason for players to leave the playing surface. If they do, they get what is coming to them.

However, the Detroit fans are not blameless in this. People who throw things in the stands should be arrested and charged with the appropriate crime. The NBA (and all professional leagues, for that matter) should be working on plans to get tough with fans who go over the line. Buying a ticket is not a license to scream some of the vulgarities I’ve heard at professional sporting events, and it certainly gives no one the right to throw objects at players or other fans.

On another topic, I took the kids to see The Spongebob Squarepants Movie over the weekend. The kids really liked it, and it was tolerable for me. I’m not a big Spongebob fan, but I’ll occasionally watch it with the kids when it’s on. The show can be pretty funny in 15 minute portions, but an hour and a half is about an hour and 15 minutes too long for me.

I’m off to the premiere of the 2004 World Series DVD at the Wang Center tonight. There are supposed to be some Sox players, and I’m hoping that the World Series trophy will be there as well. I’ll post a full report later in the week.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

You’ve gotta love this quote from Disney CEO Michael Eisner. Eisner was testifying at the trial for the lawsuit filed by Disney shareholders to recover the $140 million in severance that Michael Ovitz received when he was let go by Disney.

"The two biggest personnel mistakes like this were Michael Ovitz - and Mo Vaughn," said Eisner, referring to the costly first baseman who flopped for the Angels baseball team when it was Disney's. "

Poor Mo. His career got ruined through injuries sustained while playing for the Angels and now he is getting dissed in court by Michael Eisner.

I took the kids to see The Incredibles this weekend. What a great movie. A great story, genuine characters (they seemed a lot more “real” than the characters I see in a lot of live action flicks). Lots of great inside jokes for fans of the superhero genre, as well. My favorite was Edna Mode’s rant on how impractical capes are. The kids loved it, too. Within 10 seconds of exiting the theater J. was asking me if we would get the DVD when it comes out. He also decided that he was Dash and took to running everywhere. R. liked it, too, and assigned the characters to members of our family, with the cat being Jack-Jack.

It was really painful watching Drew Bledsoe against the Patriots last Sunday. I really think it’s time for Drew to hang up his spikes. He had a quarterback rating of 14, and only threw for 76 yards and was intercepted twice (and there could have been a couple of more.) It’s sad to see a guy who led the Pats to a Super Bowl and was the face of the franchise for the better part of a decade fall this far.

Friday, November 12, 2004

I had a great evening last night with my friends Bismo and The Hey . We got together to toast the World Champion Boston Red Sox at a local pub. A very nice place, too. It’s called Stones Public House and it’s in an 1830’s vintage building by the railroad tracks in Ashland, MA. It’s a very comfortable place with good food and good beer. The place is also reputed to be haunted, which just adds to the fun.

One of the things we talked about was where Curt Schilling’s post-season performance puts him in the pantheon of Boston sports legends. The way I see it, there are four guys at the very top: Bill Russell, Bobby Orr, Larry Bird and Ted Williams. These four guys were at the top of their sports for extended periods of time and spent virtually all of their playing careers in Boston. The only guy around now who has a chance to join this group is Tom Brady. He’s certainly got the performance and championship credentials, but hasn’t been playing long enough.

Does Schilling fit in with that group? No. If he had played most of his career in Boston and capped it with his performance in the post-season, I would say absolutely yes. But this was a one year thing.

Schilling going out and pitching with a tendon in his ankle stitched to his leg ranks as one of the gutsiest performances in sports history. The Red Sox probably would not have beaten the Yankees and not won the World Series without him. He also had one of the great single seasons ever from a Boston pitcher, finishing second in the Cy Young voting and winning 21 games. He came here to help break the curse, and he did it. Curt Schilling talked the talk and then he walked the walk and I salute him for that. However, it doesn’t, for me, put him up there with Russell, Orr, Bird and Ted.

Curt Schilling’s absolute opposite is Ron Artest of the Indiana Pacers. Artest recently told his coach, Rick Carlisle that he needed to take a month off because he was “tired” from getting ready to release a new album for his record label. And he doesn’t seem to understand why this is a problem! I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when this news reached Larry Bird’s ears (Bird is now the Pacers president). Bird, who was the poster boy for a great work ethic when he was a player, must be beside himself. If Ron Artest wants to be a record producer, good. Go ahead. But don’t do it on the Pacers time, and don’t let your teammates down.

Of course, this may all be a clever publicity stunt on Artest’s part. After all, I’ve heard the release date of this album mentioned about a hundred times since this all blew up in the media. But somehow, I don’t think so. I really think this guy is so selfish and so self-absorbed that he doesn’t even realize he’s doing anything wrong.

Behavior like Artest’s is a big part of the reason I don’t really watch the NBA anymore. Selfish players, too much one on one play, too much hacking and not enough scoring have really made the pro game tough to watch.

Monday, November 08, 2004

St. Louis teams may want to stay away from New England teams for awhile. First the Red Sox decimate the Cardinals in a World Series sweep, then yesterday the Patriots clobber the Rams. The game featured, among other things, Troy Brown at cornerback and a touchdown pass from Adam Vinitieri to Brown on a fake field goal.

The kids had a very busy weekend with soccer, swimming, a Korean Student Society event at Tufts, Sunday School and a birthday party that R. was invited to on Sunday. We didn't get to see The Incredibles with all the other stuff going on, but I'm planning to take the kids next weekend. The reviews I've seen have been outstanding and I'm a big Pixar fan, so I'm really looking forward to seeing the film.

The Tufts event was fun. We met up with the kids "bigs" at a bowling alley in Somerville near the Tufts campus. This place looked like it was right out of the '50s. No electronic scoring. No video games. Just bowling alleys, pool tables and lots of wood paneling. They even had a mechanical cash register! The kids had a great time, and A. and I enjoyed having someone else watching the kids so we could just relax and watch the action.

I've been reading a lot of the commentary in the papers and online about how the election shows how divided the country is. On one side is the blue states that voted for John Kerry, which include the west coast, the northeast and the upper midwest states. The other side is the red states that voted for President Bush, the south and the middle of the country. A lot of pundits are weighing in on the reason for the stark split - differences in morality, religion, etc. Many of them are saying that the blue states have a lot more in common with Canada than they do with the red states. So a lot of maps have been making the rounds showing the blue states merging with Canada and the red states forming a new country. The names are usually "The United States of Canada" and "Jesusland" or something like that.

While the maps are somewhat tongue in cheek, the point they make is interesting. It appears that a large part of the country is voting based on moral issues - abortion, stem cell research, gay marriage; where another part is voting based on economic and foreign policy issues - health insurance, jobs, terrorism and others. These certainly aren't exclusive: there are certainly people in blue states that vote for Bush and people in red states that vote for Kerry. But there is certainly a difference in what people consider to be the critical issues and what they think government should be doing.

One other issue is that some people seem to be woefully uninformed before they vote. One poll showed that three-quarters of Bush voters believed that Saddam Hussein had wepons of mass destruction and was involved in 9/11, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Would a lot of these people have changed their votes? I don't know, but I think you really need to have correct information before you vote.

I'd also be interested to see what would happen if the Democrats put up a more compelling candidate. As I heard Curt Schilling say on the radio this morning, a lot of people voted for either George Bush or the guy who wasn't George Bush (including me). John Kerry just didn't do it for a lot of people. He wasn't inspiring, and he came across as aloof. The Democrats have to find someone who can get people excited, or they're going to have a hard time ever recapturing the White House.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Here's a little election wisdom from my five year old:

R. was telling me about the mock election they had at her school, which Kerry won. So she asked me what happened in the "real world", as she put it. I told her that President Bush won and he would be president for four more years. So she told me, "Well John Kerry won at our school and that's a good start."

Now if they'll only let elementary school kids vote...

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Note: I wrote this yesterday, but didn't get a chance to post it. Unless there's a significant change in the way things are going, it looks like we've got four more years of George Bush.

Election day.

I went to vote this morning and posted my ballot for John Kerry. I've discussed my rationale for voting for Kerry here prevously. It's really much less a vote for Kerry than a vote against Bush. John Kerry simply doesn't impress me. However, George Bush scares me. His inability to admit mistakes, the intelligence screw ups that led us to the war in Iraq and his mishandling of the economy (particularly the giant budget deficit) have proven to me that he is not the man to have the most important job in the world. Maybe John Kerry won't be much better, but I don't think he can be worse.

OK, that's it for politics. Back to the important stuff...

What does it say about the magnitude of the Red Sox win that the issue of Time Magazine appearing on newsstands the day before the election has the Sox on the cover?

I dropped a big wad of cash on Red Sox "stuff" over the weekend. T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, the special issue of Sports Illustrated. I'm also looking forward to the books that will be coming out in the next few months, particularly Stephen King's and Dan Shaughnessey's.

The number one question that came out of the Red Sox victory seems to be how Red Sox Nation will handle success. After losing the unique distinction that goes along with the curse, will the Sox become just another franchise?

My opinion is no. I don't see Red Sox fans becoming less rabid now that the team has finally won the World Series. If anything, a taste of victory may bring even higher expectations next season.

Another point: we've heard about the Curse of the Bambino for years, and the Cubs have the Curse of the Billy Goat. How come no one ever talks about the White Sox? The South Siders last won a World Series the year before the Sox, but no one ever chants "1917". The curse there, of course, would be the Black Sox scandal that occurred during the 1919 World Series, but it never seems to get the play the Red Sox and Cubs do. Maybe it's because they haven't lost in the mind bending ways the Red Sox have over the years, nor are they as lovable as the Cubbies. They've just been mediocre for decades. Nothing romantic about that.

The Patriots finally had the spotlight back on them after the Red Sox victory parade and what happens? They lost, breaking the record 21 game winning streak. Actually, they got their butts kicked by the Pittsburgh Steelers and ended up losing 34-20. It was bound to happen eventually. I had been saying before the game that this was a good candidate for them to lose one. The Steelers are a good team, they were playing at home and they were coming off their bye week. So the steak is over, but lets see if the Pats can start another one in St. Louis next week.

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