Guest Speaking at Alex's School

IMG_5279 Each month Alex's class learns about a style of music. This month it's Jazz and I was invited to come into the class and talk to the class about some jazz instruments. On Wednesday 2006-10-19 I had the honor of being a guest speaker at Alex's School. I brought in a Soprano, Alto and Tenor Saxophone and a Trombone. I explained that jazz was a style and showed them how to play some familiar songs straight ad with a jazz feel. Christine suggested showing them playing a song slow and fast which went over very well. They clearly preferred fast as well as a little improvisation. Having played a for many types of audiences, I can comfortably say that the kids in Alex's class (3 to 5 year olds) were the best audience ever. As soon as I started improving or diverging from the melody they start cheering!

Alex was my assistant. He showed the other kids how to work the saxophone cases, and saved me from playing the soprano while it still had the pad saver in it. [Playing a sax that still has a pad saver is analogous to walking down stairs and getting to the bottom floor and then taking one more step as if you were still going down. ] He also requested I play Old McDonnald Had A Farm which was a big hit. After I talked about the saxes and played a few songs (Row Row Row your boat, Jingle Bells and a few others) I took out the trombone and let the kids (one at a time) work the slide while I provided the wind power. Alex showed the other kids how this worked and most of the 30 kids gave it a try. Friends and Family can see the pictures here if you're logged into flickr.

When the visit was done it was the usual gig breakdown of the equipment. The big difference was Alex was there to help. He helped take the instruments apart, put the pad saves back in and store them in the cases. It went a lot faster with his help.

It was a blast to visit Alex's class. I was blown away by how well behaved they were. Thirty kids sat in a circle for about 40 minutes. They listened, asked questions shared stories and seemed to have a lot of fun.

The Swing Set

For Alex and Conner's Birthday a bunch of relatives chipped in and we got them a swing set. It came in a bunch of boxes with pieces of wood, metal and plastic. Oh yeah, and about 1000 nuts, bolts and screws (weight ~ 30 lb). The instructions stated that it should take two adults approximately 6 hours. This is the tale of how the swingset was put together and how the instructions are a festering load of feted dingos kidneys!

The person that wrote the instructions is probably still laughing. Let's just do a little math. There are 21,600 seconds in 6 hours. That gives you 21.6 seconds to identify, line up and fasten each nut, bolt, washer, lock washer, screw and inset bolt [33 different types and sizes all delivered in one big bag. For clarity sake here are some example sizes of the screws: 1", 1 1/4", 1 1/2", 1 3/4", 2", 2 1/4" all the way up to 3 1/2"]. As you can imagine it's really easy to determine which is which at a quick glance. The 21.6 seconds assumes that there is something there to screw into or together and that you're not stopping to drink beer. There were something like 200 pieces of wood, metal and plastic that needed to be sorted, and assembled with the fasteners above. Here's what it looked like out of the box:



So unless you're part of an Indy 500 pit crew, 6 hours is a criminally negligent estimate. Reza and I started the swing set and were able to get two of the walls together in the first few hours. Within one week we had the swings up, just in time for Alex's birthday. I continued to plug away at the ladders, tower floor and walls intermittently over the next few weeks with help from John, Reza and Christine. One weekend I put the roof panels together. Thankfully, Pepere, Uncle Ron and Uncle Joe were in town and were able to help me persuade one of the roof panels into place. In this context persuade is equivalent to the way you move a house 2 inches to the left.


A few weeks passed and I put together the slide with Alex's help. The instructions said I needed to dig a 12" hole for the slide support post. Here's a picture of Alex in the hold I dug [~3 feet deep]. I ended up having to cut the support post with a hack saw because 3 feet was still too shallow. Again, they are probably still laughing.



Victory was achieved last weekend when Reza and I raised the roof and poured the cement for the slide. So 6 hours and 2 guys was closer to 7.5 weeks with 5 guys, one wife and a small but helpful child.


Alex and Conner love the swings and Alex can't get enough of the slide which makes it all worth it.

The Red Sox Game

On July 29th I went to a Red Sox game for Andy's (one of our former drummers) bachelor party. We sat in the stands and the sun blazed above us and slowly moved from just left of directly in front and above us to just right of there. The game went 11 innings, it was really hot and worth every minute when the Sox beat the Angels. We even made it on TV. The black dot indicated by the arrow is Andy. I was sitting three seats to his right.


Two weeks later a guy I work with named Chris took a picture at a night six game just a few rows behind where we were sitting. As you can see we had a really good view.

Fenway Sunset

Fenway at night

Google NavBar & Toggle Google

I just release an update to the Google NavBar & Toggle Google Homepage Module. This is the module that:

  • Lets you hide the search bar and save most of the real estate at the top of the personalized google homepage.
  • Let you selectively add useful links to the top of the homepage.

About two weeks ago the existing module stopped as a result of some updates google made to their personalized home page. Their changes were pretty cool and made it much easier to make the Google NavBar & Toggle Google Module work. While I was in the code updating it to work with the new hompage internal layout, I made some additional changes.

  • Added Docs & Spreadsheets and removed writely and spreadheets as individual links
  • Added the ability to configure the top right of the page so you can get rid of the Classic Home link that I never use.
  • Changed the name of the module from Toggle Google to Google NavBar & Toggle Google homepage module.
  • Note: you need to put in your google username if you want your email address to show up at the top of the page. I'm trying to find a way to make it automatic, but so far no luck.

Taking Home Movies on the Road: Converting Video for an ipod

I've been doing a lot of business travel lately and decided to take some of our home movies along with me on my video ipod. It wasn't as easy I had hoped. iTunes doesn't recognize .avi files, so they first need to be converted into mp4 files. Then once they're in iTunes, they need to be converted again in order to play on the ipod. The steps below explain how to convert a video. As tedious as it is, If you have to sit on a away from your family, there's nothing better than bringing some home movies of the kids along for the ride.

  1. Install Video Lan. Its an Open Source Video tool that does just about everything you could want to do to video.
  2. Put the following all on one line in a .bat file in the same directory as the source AVI. Either Rename the source AVI to SOURCEFILE.AVI or edit that name in the line below.
    "C:\Program Files\VideoLAN\VLC\vlc" "./SOURCEFILE.AVI" :sout="#transcode{vcodec=h264, vb=512, acodec=mp4a, ab=128, channel=2, audio-sync}:std{access=file, mux=mp4,url="./OUTPUTFILE.mp4"}" --sout-transcode-width=320 --sout-transcode-height=240 --aspect-ratio=width:height

  3. Run the bat file
  4. Import the resulting OUTPUTFILE.mp4 into iTunes
  5. In iTunes right click on OUTPUTFILE.mp4 and select "Convert Selection for iPod"
  6. Delete the original from itunes (use Right Click ->Get Info to determine which is which. keep the one in the iTunes directory)
  7. If updating your iPod from a playlist be sure to copy the new (converted) video into your playlist.

My First Bumper Sticker

Stewart Colbert 08 bumper sticker

Nothing says "I am ashamed of you my government" more than "Stewart/Colbert '08" - John Stewart 2006-10-08    Source

I put my first bumper sticker on my car today. It's funny and sad at the same time. I really hope there's someone worth voting for in '08.