No Christmas CD This Year

I first laid eyes on a CD burner waaayyyy back in 1996. At the time, even a lowly 2x burner cost around $499, so I couldn’t afford my own. Thankfully, my ex-girlfriend’s mother had one, and she let me borrow it whenever I wanted.

That year I made my first “Christmas CD”. As you might guess, it was a CD full of Christmas music. But not just any Christmas music – it was “cool” Christmas music from bands like The Ramones, Cocteau Twins, Sting, XTC, Captain Sensible, and other New Wave\Punk\80s artists I love.

As time went on, I downloaded more and more of these tracks, and the “Christmas CD” became an annual tradition. Last year, I even put together a “ 10th Annual Christmas Compilation”, but with one twist – I didn’t put it on CD. So many people have iPods and other portable players these days that putting out a CD image for people to download seemed much more complicated that just mixing it all together into one huge MP3 file. That way people could burn it to CD if they wanted, or just dump it to an iPod… or whatever they wanted to do, really.

I’m sad to report that there will be no CD\MP3 compilation at all this year. Why? Mainly because I haven’t found any “new” Christmas songs I like. I’ve completely tapped the store of 80s\New Wave Christmas songs. If there’s a Christmas song by an 80s performer that I don’t have… well, I’d be shocked. And although I’ve looked in to songs by 90s\2000-era performers, I’m just not feeling them. These songs seem… well, “sacreligious” isn’t perhaps the best word for it. But they seem to have a “let’s see how screwed up we can make this song!” vibe to them. It’s like they’re not taking it seriously. And that leaves “traditional” Christmas songs by Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby… which are fine, but it’s just not me.

Maybe next year I’ll find some new material. Or maybe I’ll feel inspired enough to choose from the same 126 songs I’ve been using for the past 10 years. Or maybe not. This year, at least, the Christmas CD just isn’t going to happen. My apologies!

Cool Beans!

The Charlotte Observer newspaper recently ran a story about local radio personality and author Sheri Lynch. Lynch and her family purchased a 4,000-square-foot home in Charlotte’s Myers Park neighborhood back in 2006, and the Observer article was all about the trials and tribulations of the family’s renovation of the house. At the end of the article, the author posts a quick list of Sheri’s favorite places to hunt for bargains in the Charlotte area… one of which is Lisa’s work! Sheri says:

For more great deals on high end furniture, accessories, fabric, you name it: A. Hoke Ltd. 725 S. Cedar St., 704-358-0277. “(It’s) a very fancy to-the-trade interior design company that periodically throws open their doors to the public for a scary-good sale,” Sheri says. “This is a mailing list you want to get on.”

How cool is that, huh? And not only is my honey “the glue that holds the company together” (my phrase), guess who does their IT work? Yep – Belmont PC!

Just… Wow!

The following picture appeared in last week’s issue of The Sporting News with the caption “Yes, this is an actual picture from a Florida Marlins game”. Even with that caption, I thought it was a joke. Maybe it was a picture of batting practice, or of some special event (a school field trip, maybe?) and the Sporting News guys were just being funny?


Come to find out, they were being serious. It’s an actual picture from September 12th, 2007, when the Marlins hosted the Washington Nationals. Florida won 5-4 in 12 innings, and this page about the game at Yahoo! News says that “[t]here were about 400 fans on hand when the game started Wednesday afternoon and the announced attendance was 10,121. The Marlins have the smallest total attendance in the majors.

400 people? That’s sad. Even sadder? Ushers wouldn’t allow people to move up to better seats, even though there were thousands of empty seats available.

Using Word 2007 With WordPress

I’ve been using WordPress for a few months now, and while I really like it so far, it’s not perfect. Upgrading certain plugins can be a royal pain-in-the-ass. Manually editing PHP code to get some plugins to work gets on my nerves. And creating complete backups of the site is a multi-step, manual process.

But these are occasional irritants. One thing that bothers me on an almost daily basis is the WordPress text editor. You normally enter posts into WordPress by logging in to the “site admin” portion of the site and clicking on Write > Write Post. You are then taken to a page that contains a small text window, a category list, an upload editor and a few other authoring widgets. The text window has a toolbar which allows you to click a button for basic tasks, like changing text to boldface or italics, or adding a link or picture, or indenting  a paragraph.

The problem with the text editor is that the text input window cannot be resized. So one is forced to type a post – however long – into a box that’s 659 pixels long by 166 pixels tall. You can get a feel for what this is like by opening Notepad on your system, resizing the window to a small rectangle on your screen, and typing away. You can never get a good feel for how long a post is overall (since you have to scroll up and down to see your complete post), and the constant scrolling sometimes drains my creative juices as I become more worried about technical aspects of my post than creative ones. And to make matters worse, the WordPress text editor toolbar is achingly limited. In many cases, one has to click the “Code” tab at the top of the editor window to see the post’s markup code and enter certain codes (like block quotes) manually.

There are replacement editors out there, but sadly they either cost money, are a huge pain to install (requiring substantial manual hacking of WordPress’ PHP code)… or they simply aren’t much better than WordPress’ own editor. So where can you find a good editor for WordPress? An editor that works offline, works in full-screen mode, and has a plethora of editing tools built right in? If you have Word 2007 installed on your computer, you already have it!

Open Word and click on the “Office” button in the upper-left corner of the window. Click on” New” and select “New Blog Post” in the window that appears. Click on “Manage Accounts” and choose “New” to set up your blog on your system. A drop-down box will appear that lets you choose what type of blog you have – currently, Windows Live Spaces, Blogger, SharePoint Blogs, Community Server, TypePad and WordPress are supported. Click “Next” and enter the details about your blog requested on the page that follows (this varies depending on your blog type, but usually the box will want your blog’s URL and your username and password).

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My First Time…

“You never forget your first time”… or so the old saying goes. There was a thread in the DVD Talk forums the other day asking readers what their first album and\or CD purchase was. I took the topic and ran with it – here’s my response:

My first single: “King Tut” by Steve Martin. Yep – there’s no accounting for taste sometimes.

My first 8-track: Crusin’ by the Village People. I probably got it in 1977, when I was 6. My mom had a ’77 Lincoln, and the car was still pretty new when I got the tape, so that’s how I date it. Anyway, I was blissfully unaware of the whole “gay” thing. I just thought it was fun, poppy music. And if you think about it, to a six year old, there really isn’t much of a difference, on an intellectual level, between Barney and the Village People.

My first album: Duran Duran by Duran Duran. Interestingly, the band was almost completely unknown in the US at the time – late December of 1981. I was almost 11 years old back then. I went to an Atlanta-area mall with my grandmother so she could return\exchange some unwanted Christmas presents. There was a Record Bar store next door to the Piccadilly Cafeteria where we had dinner, and I talked her in to letting me go in. I looked around for a few minutes and found a British copy of Duran Duran’s first album – the original first album, mind you, not the 1983 U.S. re-release – in the bargain bin for $5.99. It looked cool, and I begged her to buy it for me. She did, and my love affair with Brit New Wave was born.

My first cassette: I have no idea, although two K-Tel cassettes stick out as being possible “firsts”: Hooked on Classics and some K-Tel’s Best of 1981 tape with Sheena Easton (“Morning Train”), Melissa Manchester (“You Should Hear How She Talks About You”… uuuugh!) and Steel Breeze (“You Don’t Want Me Anymore”). I honestly don’t remember cassettes that well, because: a) I went through them like tap water (I know I had at least 4 copies of Never Mind The Bullocks on cassette) and b) some neighborhood kid stole all my tapes back in 1983. Actually, if blank tapes count, then my first tape might have been blank. My Dad bought a cassette recorder, and I got my Mom to buy me some blank tapes. I made some fake radio shows, took the recorder into the woods to record nature sounds… and eventually hooked it up as a storage device for my Apple ][ computer. Saving computer programs to cassette tape? God, I’m old!

My first 12″ Single: “Rio” by Duran Duran. This one’s kind of funny, actually. I had no idea that 12″ singles even existed, so one day I walked into my local Turtles Record Store (damn, I am old!) and saw this mysterious British record. It was large, like an album, but it only seemed to have 3 songs on it. And one of them was almost 6 minutes long! What the hell? Was this some new Duran Duran album? Did the British version of the Rio album only have 3 songs on it? If so, why did the American version have 9 songs? And why did the American album have a nice cardboard sleeve while this one had a cheap paper sleeve? Wait – the songs are played at 45rpm? Why was this record only $3.99? It just didn’t make any sense at all! I ended up buying it – my extreme confusion notwithstanding. I soon became friends with a guy named Don who had just opened “Skip’s Records” in a nearby strip mall. He explained that 12″ singles were played by DJs at nightclubs and they had these versions of songs called “remixes” on them. He also explained that although his name was Don, his Dad had fronted the money for the record store and his name was Skip, hence “Skip’s Records”. Don was a helpful guy.

My first CD: it’s kind of hard to say. I got a CD player from my parents for Christmas in 1985, and my uncle and grandparents got me CDs of Duran Duran, Rio and Seven and the Ragged Tiger as presents so I’d have something to play on it. So those were my first discs… but I think The Cure’s Staring at the Sea was the first CD I actually bought myself. Wait… Staring at the Sea was the CD, right? And Standing On a Beach was the cassette? Or was it the other way ’round? Bah – stupid Cure making things all difficult!

And while we’re at it:

My first concert: My parents took me to see The Beach Boys at Lanierland Music Park in the late summer of 1983. It wasn’t my choice, but it ended up being kind of cool ‘cos Dennis Wilson died a few months later. The first concert I actually chose to go to was Men At Work, also in 1983, at the old Omni in Atlanta. I still have the ticket stub – it was only $11.50 per ticket! I remember being miserable before the show because I was going to get braces in a week or two and so the orthodontist had put spacers in my mouth earlier that day. I remember my mom taking me to some fast food place at the Omni International before the show. I remember almost crying while eating ‘cos my mouth hurt so bad! But as soon as “the Men” came on stage, it was all forgotten! What a great show that was!

Ahhhhh… good times!

A Mystery Solved!

A few days ago, someone posted a thread at the DVD Talk forums about PBS shows your remembered from your childhood. I ended up posting this:

OK, I’ve been looking for the name of a 70s PBS show for ages, but it seems as if PBS only made the show for my elementary school – no one else I’ve ever asked about it seems to remember it at all:

It was called “SOMETHING & Butterflies”, where SOMETHING is a word that’s been lost to my memory. It was your typical PBS “what would YOU do?” show, where they’d have a little story, then the screen would freeze, and your teacher was supposed to talk to the class about what just happened and ask how kids in the class would react in a similar situation.

But here’s the thing, though: it was a bit surreal. I remember one episode where a little Hispanic kid (the show was “ethnically balanced” in that 70s PBS kind of way) was asked by his grandfather to help him paint a chicken coop. The kid wanted to help his grandpa, but also has a daydream where he’s covered in paint and chicken feathers, and all the kids from his school surround him in a circle and laugh at him. The camera work during all this was really surreal, and there was calliope music in the background that got louder and faster as the camera spun ever faster around in a circle.

There was another episode where a group of friends – since this was 70s PBS, it was a Hispanic boy, black boy, a white girl and an Asian girl – were walking down a street when they passed by an abandoned warehouse. One of the boys wants to go inside and check it out, and the other have a discussion about whether it’s the right thing to do. The boy eventually convinces the other to go in, and after a few minutes in the warehouse (which looked like something out of the Saw movies), someone falls and gets seriously hurt, and the rest of the kids try to help. I can’t remember what happens next, but I think the fire department shows up and saves the kid.

Anyway… I know it sounds silly, but I’ve been trying to remember the name of this show for years. I don’t obsess over it or anything, but I *do* think of the show several times a year and try my damnest to remember the name of it… only to come up blank. If ANYONE remembers the name of it, I’d be forever in your debt. It would resolve one of the great mysteries of my life, right up there with what happened to those car keys I lost back in 1994!

No one over there could (or would) help me with this, so I looked into it myself. Of course, I’d done that a few times in the past, but this time I used a carefully crafted Google Search to find out that the show was called Bread and Butterflies. I guess that seems a bit obvious now, but for years I was under the assumption that the first word had two syllables, like Breadsticks and Butterflies.

In any case, there’s precious little information about the show on the Internet. Google only found around 4 pages that even referenced the show at all. There is no “Bread and Butterflies Tribute Site” or anything like that. The show doesn’t even merit a Wikipedia page, so I guess I’m not the only one that (almost) forgot the show!


If you enjoy photography, you’ll probably enjoy It’s a site that lets random strangers upload any picture they want to the site. And, surprisingly, the site works. You’ll see the occasional “goofy pic” you might have gotten via email, but for the most part, the site features hundreds of serious photographs. Some are travel pictures. Some are “artsy” kinds of things. But almost all of them are pretty darn good! Be careful with this site: it’s one of those sites that you could waste hours visiting!

For what it’s worth, I uploaded a pic of my own to the site:

Biltmore House Lion (Thumb)
(Click to enlarge)

This is a picture of the stone lions at the entrance to the Biltmore House in Asheville, NC. I took it with my Canon PowerShot S400, then loaded it into Photoshop, converted it to greyscale and played around with the levels a bit. I hope you like it!

SONGS I LOVE: “Fields of Gold”

Eva CassidyOK, between The Last Town Chorus, Mazzy Star and Carla Bruni, you might think that all I ever listen to is mellow music sung by waify chicks. I assure you that that’s not the case… but I did want to turn you on to this tune. It’s a cover of Sting’s “Fields of Gold” by Eva Cassidy.

Eva Cassidy was born in Washington D.C. on February 2, 1963. Although she could sing just about anything – her repertoire included jazz, blues, folk, gospel and pop – Eva had a hard time getting noticed outside the Washington D.C. area. Her first band was called Easy Street, and they performed mainly at weddings, corporate parties and area pubs. She then got a singing gig at Wild World (Six Flags) in Maryland, then went on to sing in D.C.-area bands such as The Honeybees and Characters Without Names (later called Method Actor). During most of the 80s, Eva had to work side jobs to pay the bills, such as being a plant propagator at a nursery and as a furniture painter in Maryland.

Eva’s luck began to change in 1992. D.C. jazz legend Chuck Brown got a hold of a cassette tape of Eva singing and was enchanted. This quickly led to Eva doing a duet album with Brown, and record companies began scrambling to sign her up. Sadly (for us), all these labels wanted to whittle Eva down to a single genre, something she flat-out refused to do. So she recorded a single here, a duet there until January 1996, when she recorded Live at Blues Alley. Eva wasn’t happy with the album, as she had a cold the night the album was recorded.

Sadly, she wouldn’t have time to record much more: in July of 1996, she noticed a pain in her hip, which she attributed to the awkward stances she had to take whilst painting some murals. When the pain didn’t go away and, in fact, got worse, she went to her doctor, who diagnosed her with melanoma. She would be dead in 4 months time. At her final performance in September 1996, Eva took the stage with the aid of a walker, sang “What A Wonderful World”, and was then taken to Johns Hopkins, which she never left. She died on November 2, 1996.

Knowing that makes her version of “Fields of Gold” just that much sadder. It’s a haunting thing, and it exemplifies what was best about Eva Cassidy: the ability to cut through the treacle and get to the heart of a song. If you hate “melismatic masturbation” – the annoying tendency of singers like Whitney Houston and Christina Aguilera to run up and down the scales simply because they can – then you’ll love Eva Cassidy. Her music is, in fact, the exact opposite of that. Have a listen:


Eva’s posthumous career has been huge in the UK. In 2001, the compilation album Songbird  (from which “Fields of Gold” is taken) reached #1 after the BBC show Top Of The Pops 2 aired a video of Eva performing “Over The Rainbow” at Blues Alley. “Over The Rainbow” became the most requested video ever shown of Top Of The Pops 2 despite the fact it was just a homemade video made by someone in the audience. A book about Eva’s life – also called Songbird – sold over 100,000 copies in the UK. And, in 2003, another compilation album called American Tune became Eva’s third consecutive posthumous #1 album in the UK – a feat that even Elvis Presley or Jimi Hendrix couldn’t do.

God bless, Eva. Your beautiful voice haunts us still!