Merry Chrismount

Give me a week off, and I will goof off like nobody’s business. It’s been really nice to do it, frankly — I am always running like mad so to have a full week was the ultimate Christmas present. I almost feel relaxed!
I have played a bit more of Mass Effect — I certainly like it, but I don’t love it (Ryan professed to having a man-crush on it, but I’m just not wired the same way) — and I’ve played lots more WoW with Kat, which is still great quality time together. I have three Alliance and three Horde characters; all three Hordies are now no less than level 40, which means Wyldann — the enchanter/tailor mage I almost deleted out of frustration, until Kat’s brother showed me how to play the class correctly — finally got his mount.

I’m also about to break 50 with my warrior Gwynhwyfar, and I have an epic 2H sword waiting for when I reach 52. I don’t think I’ll be able to do that before the break ends, but it would be nice. Kat’s interested in leveling our level 55s so we can finally see Outland or Outworld or whatever the hell it’s called.

Becoming a right-brain bowler

I used to bowl in elementary school, in a Saturday-morning league with my friends. I was white, it was suburbia — it was what you did. I was never that good — career high was 197 — and I still have my ball. I had it redrilled a few years ago and bought a new bag and, now that my feet have settled in at 9.5, shoes. I got the flashiest/ugliest shoes I could find. They look like Darth Maul.

Today I went bowling for the first time in about three years, and I realized it was high time I corrected some old mistakes. I have always ended my approach on my right foot — great if you want to shatter your ankle with the ball as it passes by, but not great if you want to be consistent or have proper form. So I am trying to retrain my brain to end the approach on my left foot — four steps, swing back on the third, release on the fourth. Ish. Close as I can come.

First game was a 150, using Dan’s Old Broke-Down Right Foot Style. It also started to make my infamous right knee hurt — all the momentum goes to one side of my body, and guess where it ends up? So the second and third games were lower — 112 and 126 — but at least eight out of each 10 frames, I convinced my body to get with the new program. It will take time but I feel like I overcame the mental block.

I’m going to be funny to watch in the meantime.

Christmas 2007: Kat wins

Paranoid, subterfuge, double-crossing, lies, and trickery. This is Christmas in my house. And it’s always merry.

When Kat asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I said “It seems silly, but I’d like a Baby Taylor.” This didn’t surprise her; she knows how I am about the T5 and the 410. But her mom just had a guitar custom-built by Bernie Lehmann, a luthier in upstate New York, and the two of us have been nerding out about rare woods and inlays and other cool things you get to play with when you have an acoustic custom-built. So when Kat — who usually dozes off when I start talking about Engelmann spruce vs. Sitka spruce with her mom — suddenly says, in the middle of a game of WoW, “What’s your favorite tone wood?” I got more than a little suspicious.

Oh no, I thought. The Baby Taylor is pretty simple and straightforward; it’s fairly affordable, and I’d played one at Gryphon and loved the sound. They only make it in two flavors, spruce and mahogany. She’s not going to do something crazy, is she? Maybe her mom got her all excited about that luthier and they hatched a plan. It doesn’t help that she just visited…

So over dinner about three weeks ago, I said, “I think I know what you’re up to.” The conversation turned into a “yes/no/no comment” interrogation, but when I suggested that she had two accomplices, she said “yes.” That would be her mom and the luthier, right? So we made a deal: I would write down what I thought she’d gotten me and seal it in an envelope, to be opened Christmas day. She, in turn, didn’t want to guess what I’d given her (because I thought she figured it out from my awkward questions) but she wrote down her guesses about my guesses and put those in a different envelope.

This morning, the last gift was opened and it was a piece of paper which read:

Dear Dan —

Left your gift hanging around. You’ll find it well hidden — don’t get sucked in.

— Santa

I just laughed my ass off. Kat found a way to sneak an Easter egg hunt into Christmas morning. Sure enough, in the closet with the vacuum cleaner, was a lovely spruce Baby Taylor, complete with gig bag — just what I wanted!

Now it was time for the letters. Kat opened my letter. It read:

I have reason to believe that you are planning some sort of custom-made travel guitar with your mother and Bernie Lehmann. If not an actual guitar, then certainly a guitar accessory or perhaps another stringed instrument.

I’m crazy? You’re crazy.

Merry Christmas,
Your Loving Husband

Kat’s sealed reply:

You now know you got a Baby Taylor. I believe you thought that I got a custom guitar made for you by Bernie Lehmann — mom’s guitar tech.

Funnily enough, I had two accomplices to try to figure out what flavor of Baby Taylor you wanted, after I called Gryphon and they told me there were three options — all mahogany, spruce top over mahogany, and spruce over maple. After freaking out about what to get, a trip to Taylor’s website told me that they were wrong.

Clearly, they weren’t the only ones. She later admitted that her clairvoyance was due to her accomplices, one of whom was Kimzey, who I’d babbled to about my fears that Kat was going overboard en route to rehearsal. She set me up so Kat could spike.

In my defense, I had the spruce model of Baby Taylor specified on my Musician’s Friend wishlist, but Kat hadn’t thought to check there. If she had I never would have suspected anything and my imagaination wouldn’t have run away with me. But other than that — as usual — Kat thought of everything and was always at least one step ahead.

Here’s hoping your holiday was just as interesting.

Does the end justify the means?

Old question, but I’ve been asking myself that as I watch a particularly whiny blog entry shoot to over 500 Diggs. Short version: We called Sony for a loaner review unit of a Bravia HDTV and they said no purely out of PS3 solidarity. I thought that was short-sighted and ridiculous — especially as a happy Bravia owner myself! — so in a fit of pique I posted a petty article about Sony being petty and, for good measure, attached a sensational headline (“Sony Doesn’t Want Your Money”). The result was a good chunk of traffic and, as always with the internet, a ton of snap judgments (not that mine weren’t!) and assumptions. People seem to think we were trying to scam a free HDTV, but the truth is that we sign a loan agreement for hardware that we review and return it by a specific date. The more comments I read, the less understanding I see. The internet is nothing if not full of noise and the gap between reader and audience is not getting smaller, as I’d hoped it would.

The morning after, though, I regret posting the story the way I did. I wish I’d gone with a more accurate headline (“Sony to OXM: No TVs for You” didn’t occur to me at the time but would have been more accurate) and I wish I’d left off some of the nastier assumptions toward the end; commentary on the severity and depth of the console wars would have been better. I didn’t want to edit it today because, well, good or bad, what I wrote is what I wrote, and I have to stick with it. I’m chalking it up to a learning experience, but it’s been on my mind a lot today.

But here’s what bothers me: I sunk to a lower level here, going for the sensationalism angle, something I’ve always wanted to do to see what would happen. Now I can’t help but wonder whether we would have gotten the traffic/attention without the cheap shots. Would just opinion have been enough? I’m honestly not convinced. I look at the stories that get heat on other sites and the bulk of them — especially gaming related — are tilted or snarky or sensational. And the audience often says things like “that’s not professional,” yet they reward that unprofessional behavior with traffic and Diggs. Walking the line between what the audience clearly responds to and what I feel comfortable publishing is going to be a daily challenge.

I have much to learn as I get more involved in the web. This is just one early lesson.

Devon update

I haven’t posted much about our ragamuffin Devon since we first got him, but he basically runs the house now. For one, he’s twice the size of Sadie, who ain’t thrilled. For two, he’s as tolerant and human-loving as we had hoped he would be. Every so often you find a cat that likes you as much as you like the cat, and Devon is one of those. He’s got a lot of personality and generally wants to be near us whenever possible.

Since he was poking around my messenger bag when I needed to go to work one morning, I put him in there to see if he would stay. He did. Thus was born the first annual Take Devon To Work Day.

As you can see, he’s excited.

The Van Halen show

So after all that waiting, the concert was last night. It was…not everything I’d hoped, but damned close.

The Good:

  • Eddie was sober.
  • Eddie got his tone back. New amps + cable + proto EVH Wolfgang sounded wonderful.
  • Eddie was in shape.
  • Alex was in shape.
  • Dave was in amazing shape.
  • Truly classic setlist. (“So This Is Love” was a nice surprise.)
  • No bass solo!
  • Two Charvels (both to go to eBay, no doubt to be bought by overzealous rich middle-aged guys), and a little Frankie for “Little Guitars.”
  • Eddie and Dave smiling and goofing around. I don’t care if it was scripted. My heart leapt.
  • Mike Weigand went with me and we had fun spending time together.

The Bad:

  • Bad house mix — Genesis sounded great in the same space a few months ago…
  • I don’t remember seeing Michael Anthony.
  • Wolfgang has all the stage presence of a walrus…
  • …And twice the body weight. Kid just looked unhealthy in comparison to the ripped geezers. Now we know where all the brown M&Ms went.
  • Wolfgang is not living in Michael Anthony’s shadow so much as his dad’s. The striped bass, complete with poorly routed humbucker and reflectors on the back, was more than a bit much.
  • Wolfgang flashed a bumper sticker on the back of his bass that said “I can barely see the road” when Dave sang same lyric in “Panama,” and Dave stopped to plug the fact that you could buy that sticker before you left the show.
  • Eddie only pulled out Frankenstein for the encore.
  • Ed’s solo was just uninteresting. I hate to say it, the tone was there, but it really sounded like random wankery this time.
  • Surrounded by trailer trash and women who wanted to be MILFs but just weren’t.

I’m glad I went. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it. I had fun. But it wasn’t transcendent, though it could have been if the sound mix was up to snuff. I’d love to see (or rather hear) a DVD. And I hope they make good on the promise of doing an album.

A sample of my stool

I am a sucker for customer rewards program. I always sign up for frequent flyer miles, and I will shop at a different supermarket if it gets me more invisible points with someone’s redemption scheme. As a guitarist, I have often bought D’Addario strings. They’re usually the cheapest option, so that makes them attractive. But they also offer Players Points, so for every pack of strings you buy, you get 3 points. Turn in the points for swag like t-shirts and pint glasses. Simple, but the idea of getting something free (not that a $10 t-shirt after buying $60 worth of strings is really “free”) does influence my decision.

With all the guitars and basses in the house, I buy a lot of strings, which means a lot of points. I also buy cables and accessories like that, which nets me even more points since Planet Waves is part of the D’Addario family. (I love the Planet Waves stuff because it’s always cleverly designed and high quality — Lammy’s tuners and most of the cables for my PA are Planet Waves). And best of all, the points don’t expire, so I can just hoard them for years.

Which I did. I didn’t see a t-shirt design I liked for a while (they change annually) so I decided to go for the biggest item on a list, a stool. I always wanted one. It’s totally mundane, but there you have it. It’s practical and it became my white whale. It was 120 points, but after about two years of collecting points, I finally sent away for it.

That was July. After six to eight weeks, I dropped a note and asked for a status update. They acknowledged my order but said they were waiting for stools to come in. A few weeks later, I was told they were still backordered, but I’d have it no later than the first of November. And when I wrote in in early December to inquire about it…I was told that my order had been lost.

But…they said “we’re putting in a new order for you right now, you’ll have it within a week.” And I did!

It came during a busy day at work but I had to take a few minutes to put it together. It was a major award! I wrote back to D’Addario to thank them and let them know I got it safely.

Then, a week later…

I guess my original order wasn’t so much lost as processed without being noted. I wrote in and asked if they wanted it back, but I figured the shipping wouldn’t make it worth their while. I even offered to send in the 60-odd points I had collected since. They said no, but thanks for being honest, and enjoy the matched set.

I never lost my temper, I never send a rude e-mail, and they stayed cordial throughout too. It was an accident, in my favor, but I think one of the reasons they didn’t care about me sending it back is that I was never a dick about it. So often I see people get irrationally angry over, like, minor human mistakes, and karmically, I just didn’t want that on me this time. Patience and understanding wound up with a happy ending.

And hey. Free stool.

My wife: Now available online

After 13 years of print and several months of learning CSS, Kat has just launched her first web site. Well, two, actually — one for herself and one for a client.

I am, of course, proud — in that way that you get proud when you haven’t done anything to help, really, but you just sat there and said “I think that looks good” or “this link doesn’t work.”

Next up: sites for Fast Times (you’re looking at the height of my web abilities, so I can’t wait to see what she comes up with) and possibly a visual tour of my guitar collection. Perfect for those nights when you can’t get to sleep.