Friday, July 03, 2009

hold everything

Dear Postmaster,

The Automated Postal Centers at the Post Office are wonderful things. I use them to mail packages without waiting in line at the counter. Postal customers have gotten used to the machines being available 24 hours a day.

At this time of year, many people need to stop their mail before going on vacation. The post office has a simple form on a yellow postcard for this purpose (PS Form 8076). During a recent visit to a local branch, all the "Authorization to Hold Mail" forms were locked up in the counter area. Wouldn't it make sense to have a stack out by the Automated Postal Centers? Perhaps the APC could be used to electronically send instructions to the carrier to hold the mail. May I also suggest that there could have been a sign informing customers that it is now possible to print the forms at home and (in certain zip codes) to put mail on hold online. Such a sign may have kept this unidentified man from using a Priority Mail envelope as a tool to retrieve a form after hours.

P.S. My friend Bean says hello.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

drop it like it's hot

The concept of First Night (Name of Your Town Here) started in Boston in 1976. I don't know if it was on January 1, 1976 or December 31, 1976 but that's not important right now. It has since spread to dozens of cities nationwide. Knoxville climbed aboard the First Night bandwagon a year ago.

First Night's mission
is "to foster the public's appreciation of visual and performing arts." In addition to all the musicians and artists on the First Night Boston schedule, there are two comedy improv troupes performing, Improv Asylum and Improv Boston. First Night Knoxville has followed that model by booking Einstein Simplified for performances at 9:00 and 10:15 p.m. We go on after two shows by ventriloquist Gene Cordova in the TVA West Tower. Somebody from First Night Knoxville asked Paul Simmons if I could plug the event on the radio. Unfortunately I can't because a competing radio station is an official media sponsor. Last I heard, there's a chance we could be on "Live at Five at Four" on Wednesday afternoon to promote First Night Knoxville.

Three of the other First Night celebrations were included on Trip Advisor's list of the quirkiest New Year's events. First Night Bethlehem ranked #2 because of their clever and quirky Marshmallow Peep drop at midnight. An improv group from Philadelphia called The N Crowd is among the entertainers there. First Night Talbot in Easton, Maryland, made the list because of their crab drop. At First Night Raleigh they drop an acorn. Raleigh also has a performance by an improv group called the Transactors.

The Peep drop got me thinking about Knoxville's festivities. At midnight a ball will drop from a crane in Market Square. The ball is okay, I guess. It's good enough for New York after all and could be thought of as representative of our Sunsphere. But why not drop something that just screams East Tennessee? How about a couch? Or a women's basketball? Or a papier-mâché head of Cas Walker? What's your suggestion?

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Monday, December 22, 2008

sing in exultation

The piece of music that makes it feel like Christmas for me is the "Christmas Festival Overture" by Leroy Anderson. The composer took several popular Christmas carols and songs and arranged them in a medley. The best parts of it were clearly influenced by Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture." My favorite segment is a mashup of "Jingle Bells" and "O Come All Ye Faithful." There's a new BBC recording of Anderson's holiday works that includes the overture. I literally got goosebumps when I heard the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra perform the opus on Saturday night.

The SLSO's home is the beautiful Powell Symphony Hall, a former vaudeville and movie house. Prior to the concert, they projected messages on a screen reminding the audience that photography was prohibited and that ushers would provide cough drops before the show started. Coughing must be prohibited too. I was impressed that at one of the refreshment stands they sold slices of cake and pie, egg nog (spiked and regular) and hot cocoa. Meanwhile on stage, soloist Doug LaBrecque put the broad in Broadway as he sang to the rafters. He thanked his arranger Wayne Barker for working up some nice orchestrations to include the excellent St. Louis Children’s Choirs on "Do You Hear What I Hear?"

All the songs we heard at the concert and the songs we heard on the weekend's long car trip got me thinking about the good, the bad and the ugly of Christmas music. Relient K's version of "Sleigh Ride" is a favorite this year. I also still enjoy The Blenders singing "The First Noel" and the Brian Setzer Orchestra doing "Angels We Have Heard On High," which is downloadable for free for a limited time on Look up pop perfection and you should get "All I Want for Christmas Is You" by Mariah Carey. It is flawless both as a song and as a record. Ask the Grammys if you don’t know the difference between the two.

I've come to realize that "Baby It’s Cold Outside" is really a woman’s song. I don’t like versions in which the female part is a throwaway, for example when Dean Martin sings it with some anonymous chorus girls (sorry, Bean.) I loved the version on the Mark & Brian Christmas album, not because of Barry Manilow but because of the great voice of listener Pamela Holt. Even better is the cover of the song on the "Elf" soundtrack, sung by Zooey Deschanel and Leon Redbone. When Zooey sings the line "my sister might get suspicious," how can you not think of Bones?

My daughter left a comment on Bean's Christmas Music Everyday blog. He posted a song called "Christmas Eve in Washington" that seems to be disliked by everyone I know. As far as I know, it only gets airplay in D.C. That reminds me. Let me air a gripe about all the radio stations that play only Christmas music for the month prior to the holiday. I've already written about the uneven ratio of sacred to secular songs. Now I want to know why you cut us off cold turkey at 11:59 p.m. on the 25th? When you go back to playing the best mix of yesterday's favorites and today's whatever, I'll be listening to Christmas music for a few more days. I think you should leave some Christmas songs on the playlist through New Year's Eve. Oh and one more thing, when you play an instrumental version of "Sleigh Ride," keep in mind that Leroy Anderson was the composer of the piece. You often make it sound like he played all the instruments on the recording by the Boston Pops or another symphony orchestra.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

mother-flunking shame

Fluffernutters were the topic of conversation when our friend Mary called from California the other day. She thought of me as she and her son were spreading Marshmallow Fluff and peanut butter onto graham crackers. I told her that I put a piece of paper in the suggestion box at The Cupcakery on Friday with my requests for Fluffernutter, S'mores and Rocky Road cupcakes.

While on the topic of sweets, Mary asked if I had heard the sad news about Mother's Cookies going out of business. I told her yes, and that I had also heard about their sister brand Archway Cookies biting the dust. I was a big fan of their soft oatmeal cookies before my weight loss. Unfortunately for one fan, the company's closing has made her Halloween costume obsolete.

My wife had forwarded a Slashfood post about Mother's Cookies to me with a note wondering what snack parents would send to school with their kids. She served as Head Room Mother for several years while our kids were at St. Finbar School and remembered that most events with refreshments involved a big platter of the circus animal cookies that Mother's made.

Maybe fans of the frosted animal cookies need not despair. I saw a bag of a similar product made by Keebler while at Food City yesterday.

When I told our friend what my wife had said about Mother's Cookies, she informed me how things have changed since we moved away from Burbank. Mary and her family recently moved from Orange County to Riverside County. In both jurisdictions, the school system prohibits parents from sending in any cookies, cakes or cupcakes to share with the class for student birthdays. No wonder Mother's went out of business! Instead parents may send granola bars or non-food items like pencils. That will last until someone gets hurt. Be careful, you'll put an eye out kid!

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

son of glitch

Here's a suggestion for the NFL and DirecTV. Next year, add some preseason games to your fabulous NFL Sunday Ticket subscription package. It's not that I particularly need to see second and third-string squads battling for a place on the roster. Every year the first Sunday of the football season means that it's time to work out some technical problems before being able to watch a game. Why not let us fans get our bugs fixed during the preseason?

The DirecTV Supercast came in handy last year. I often watched games online while at work on Sundays. My first several attempts to log in today failed. The error message told me that the Supercast was only available between noon and 8:15 p.m. There was no way for me to tell it to check its watch and see that it was just after 1:00 p.m. This year, the Supercast uses its own streaming video player powered by Adobe AIR technology. They say it's still possible to watch the feed through a web browser with the latest version of Macromedia Adobe Flash. Unfortunately the computers at work don't have the right software and I don't have the administrative privileges to do anything about it. Once I got home from work today, I gave the Supercast player a test drive and was duly impressed. There was no delay between the video on my television and the video on my computer. The picture quality was very good in the small player, not so much when expanded to full screen. I could easily click between games and the Red Zone Channel. At least next week my son will be able to use my password to watch the Redskins game in his dorm room. During our practice run today, neither he nor I had any trouble viewing the games that were also being shown on broadcast TV in our respective areas.

NBC's "Sunday Night Football Extra" player was less impressive. The bells and whistles are a great idea. It's cool to be able to switch camera angles at will. However the stream was choppy and the picture was a little blurry. During commercial breaks, the NBC feed was replaced with other game highlights presented by studio hosts from the NFL Network. Those hosts and highlights had a much better picture quality than the live game. After a while, the video player tried to cut me off. I had to click "yes" to continue watching. On top of all that, the Internet feed was sometimes delayed from the broadcast by up to ten seconds. I was hoping that NBC would give us picture quality as good as we saw online during the Olympics. Instead I was left wondering if some network executive gave the order to keep the online stream inferior for fear of losing his television viewers to the Internet.

An online promo for Notre Dame football reminded me of something I heard during yesterday's NBC telecast from South Bend. Knoxville Catholic High School standout Harrison Smith is a red-shirt freshman for the Irish. You might remember reading my blog entry when he was being recruited by both Charlie Weis and Philip Fulmer two years ago. When Harrison made a good tackle in yesterday's game, the announcers revealed that the other players call him "Hayseed."

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

uproar at four

People in Knoxville are passionate about their local TV news. I came to this obvious conclusion when I saw that the most commented upon story on the News Sentinel website today was "WBIR cancels 'Style.'" I also had a pretty good idea based on the number of people who click on my blog after searching for names like Abby Ham and Stacy McCloud. In addition to the news article, Terry Morrow wrote a blog entry analyzing the reasons behind the cancellation of "Style."

The reader comments turned into a venting session about WBIR, WATE and WVLT. Some guys are more interested in whether or not Stacy is wearing a wedding ring. Others have not gotten over the loss of former Knoxville anchors like Jessa Goddard or Kristen Hoke. A lot of readers seem obsessed with the Glitterville guy.

There are a few hidden nuggets of value buried amidst the snarkiness. Why not make "Style" a half hour show at 12:30 p.m. instead of running "The Beverly Hillbillies" reruns? Maybe there is a certain amount of repetition among beloved Ken Schwall's stories. And perhaps too much time is devoted to the weather segments on days when there is no severe weather.

I'll have to strongly disagree with the commenter who thinks that Michele Silva was rude. I've been a guest on "Style" and I've seen Michele at many events. She's one of the nicest people in town.

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Sunday, July 06, 2008

light 'em up

Like previous years, my TiVo and my HD-DVR got a workout on the Fourth of July as I tried to record as many fireworks shows as possible. I couldn't find any coverage of Nashville's display but there were plenty of other choices. Nashville, Knoxville and Washington DC used Pyro Shows of LaFollette to light up their skies.

The best part of Boston's fireworks came during the song "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" by Dropkick Murphys (no relation). The music and the green explosions were a perfect match. But c'mon CBS, that show needs to be in high definition like "A Capitol Fourth" on PBS.

The musical highlight of the DC show was the "1812 Overture" although it was also pretty cool to have the explosions start while Jerry Lee Lewis was on stage singing "Great Balls of Fire." The worst part was when they cut away from the fireworks to show Jimmy Smits standing at a podium. Why not just let him do his part as a voiceover? Plus the Clark Gable mustache isn't working for him.

Our local Knoxville fireworks were televised after a weather delay. Did it actually rain on World's Fair Park or was the wind enough to put the festivities on hold? The highlight of the telecast for my wife and me was seeing our friend Mike sit in with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra. They had him play his accordion during a selection from the "Kit Kittredge" soundtrack. Mike plays keyboards at our church and has a day job in the symphony's business office. As nice as it is to have coverage of our local symphony, there's very little point in televising fireworks without the benefit of HD. I think the viewing audience would have been better served if WBIR had broadcast NBC's HD coverage of Macy's 4th of July Fireworks from 9:00 to 10:00 p.m. They could have shown a tape of the KSO from 10:00 to 11:00 or even 11:30. As it turned out, the Knoxville fireworks didn't begin until 10:20 or so.

The music accompanying the New York fireworks had a very Broadway feel to it, whether the songs were early rock 'n' roll or from the big band era. On the song "Give My Regards to Broadway," they made a point of zooming in on an illuminated Macy's logo every time the instrumental version of the tune got to the point where the lyrics would have said "remember me to Herald Square." Okay, we get it. Macy's flagship store is in Herald Square. And there was a "Miracle on 34th Street," we know. Parts of the patriotic medley, they called it "The Nation's Overture," reminded me more of "Fantasmic" than anything else. Although the "Tennessee Waltz" put me in mind of Knoxville, the highlight for me was "Sing Sing Sing." It seemed the best fit for fireworks being shot in triplicate from three barges.

HDNet ran some hi-def fireworks on the Fourth. Except that they were from the Kentucky Derby Festival in May. To make things worse, they didn't bother to pick up the synchronized music soundtrack. Instead we heard the boom of the shells, a hint of the music in the distance and the same crazy woman whooping after every burst. Travel Channel had live coverage of the fireworks in Washington but they had no music and no HD (on DirecTV). What's the point of showing that? At least the spectators near their microphone did some normal oohing and aahing instead of all that overzealous whooping on HDNet.

For me, fireworks are made better by the addition of the right soundtrack. WENS in Indianapolis used to sponsor a fireworks show perfectly named SkyConcert. Friday's telecasts gave me two ideas that, by writing this, I will drop in the cyber suggestion box known as the Internet. The instrumental parts of "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" would make a great addition to the Boomsday soundtrack. Secondly, HDNet should bring their fancy cameras to Knoxville on August 31 to record both the audio and video of Boomsday in hi-def.

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

feedback loop

Do big companies pay any attention to the suggestions we submit? A few years ago I wrote to TiVo about two little things that were bothering me. They have since fixed both issues. Maybe I had something to do with it or maybe it was just a coincidence.

On weeknights, I record "Jimmy Kimmel Live" on WATE. The next morning my TiVo should still be on that channel in case I want to hit rewind and see the visual of something that I heard on the audio simulcast on "World News Now." Sometimes I wouldn't turn on the TV until later when I wanted to see something on "The View" or the noon news. More than a couple of times a week, the TiVo would be tuned to the Discovery Channel instead. The TiVo had switched to it at 4:30 in the morning to record some movie trailers and car commercials that show up in the main menu. I wrote to complain that my TiVo should leave things the way it found them. I suggested that they insert a command to return to the previous channel after recording their infomercials. If there's a button on my remote to go back to the previous channel, they should be able to write a line of code for it. They must have agreed because it's no longer an issue.

On another occasion I wrote to TiVo asking them to make it easier to record future episodes of a show I had sampled. If I tried one episode of a show and liked it, I would have to search for it in the guide to find more. For shows that were still on the To Do List, they have a button marked View Upcoming Episodes. That button would go away once the show was finished recording. I suggested that they keep it around. Their solution wasn't perfect, you still have to look for it under More Options, but it is satisfactory.

I once asked the manager of a new movie theatre to lower the intensity of their hand dryers because the noise was deafening, especially when the bathroom was crowded and all the dryers were in use. They said they would.

Those same dryers gave me the idea for my next suggestion. In the locker rooms at the UT Student Aquatic Center and at most fitness centers, they have hand dryers placed at two heights on the wall. One is for drying hands, the other for drying hair. My idea is to add a dryer lower on the wall for drying feet. I gave my idea to the front desk staff at one branch of a health club. Meanwhile, a friend and co-worker of mine is about to take a new job in marketing at The Rush, a fast-growing chain of fitness complexes based here in Knoxville. I will bug him with my idea until he talks his new bosses into doing it.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

loss of momentum

It feels like there should be a football game on today. We're ready for some football but there isn't any. Bring on the Colts and the Bears! As usual the NFL has given us a feast of good playoff games only to create a famine on the Sunday before their biggest game. Of course, the best solution would be for the NFL to drop the bye week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl. Since that is very unlikely to happen, a year ago I suggested that they try moving the Pro Bowl to this weekend. So what if the Super Bowl players miss the Pro Bowl, right? Here's my new suggestion for 2007: a "Consolation Bowl" played by the losers of last week's games. Who wouldn't have enjoyed seeing the Patriots and the Saints play a meaningless game to fill today's void in the NFL schedule? Or instead of it being meaningless, allow a big sponsor to pony up a huge cash prize for the winning team. Without a Super, Pro or Consolation Bowl to entertain me today, I'll have to settle for staring at the Bundt Cake Bowl I saw at Williams-Sonoma the other day:

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Monday, January 01, 2007

sting like a bee

Choosing which Rose Parade coverage to watch this morning was easy. I went with the high-def, commercial free telecast on Discovery HD Theater. It turned out to be (as I had suspected it might) a simulcast of KTLA's coverage. I would have thrown my support behind Knoxville-based HGTV's coverage if it had been available to me in HD (hint, hint for next year, HGTV). The difference in visual quality was enough to keep me from changing channels even if it meant getting irritated at a couple of things about the way KTLA covered the parade.

My blog got a lot more hits than usual today from about 148 people looking for information about Stephanie Edwards' absence from KTLA. Given all the interest, one of the other networks should have hired her for the day (hint, hint again, HGTV). Many will disagree but I thought that Stephanie's replacement, Michaela Pereira, did a very good job. As I listened to her speak after one of Bob Eubanks' comments, the word that kept coming to mind was "perseverance" because it certainly wasn't "chemistry." At the end of the parade, Eubanks announced that his contract was up and that he didn't know if he would be back next year. Now that Stephanie is gone, they may as well replace Bob too. Didn't Bob and Stephanie used to also host KTLA's telecast of the Hollywood Christmas Parade before being replaced?

It's too bad the floats couldn't have been driven a little more slowly. After the last parade entry rode past, Michaela and Bob still had to fill about 25 minutes of airtime. With a two-and-a-half hour time window and no commercials, we should have had plenty of time to see each of the 45 floats and to hear each of the 21 bands. I felt that KTLA spent way too much time instead on the 23 equestrian units. Make that 22 equestrian units plus one llama unit, which was actually somewhat interesting. During one of his overly verbose descriptions of yet another one of the horse entries, Bob described a rider as one of the most famous charros in America. At this point I was thinking that Bob should have just gone ahead and declared him the most famous charro. I mean, can you think of another, more famous charro?

My biggest disappointment was the minimal camera time given to the Grambling State University marching band. The band members were dressed as imperial officers from the "Star Wars" films. The KTLA cameras focused on Darth Vader and the marching stormtroopers and mostly missed the fancy moves of the Grambling band.

KTLA dropped the (audio) ball during Katharine McPhee's performance and during the appearance of their very own Stan Chambers. I understand the difficulty of creating live television but if there is one person on a float that the KTLA audience should have been able to hear, it was Stan Chambers. The audio mistake with McPhee was frustrating but perhaps KTLA can take some consolation in the fact that NBC had a similar audio problem with another "Idol" reject, Lisa Tucker.

I recorded NBC's coverage of the parade and listened to it this evening. I say "listened" for two reasons. First, it was a standard def telecast recorded in medium quality on my old Series2 TiVo, so the floats didn't look anywhere near as good as on the live, HD telecast. And second, I only recorded NBC to hear the banter between Nancy O'Dell and Billy Bush, who did a fine job of being both entertaining and informative. They are comfortable enough to ad-lib with each other and smart enough to revert to the script at the appropriate times. I heard them say their telecast was available in HD. I would have watched them live on my plasma screen if they had been commercial free and if they hadn't gone off the air after only 90 minutes. Best of all, they seemed to spend less time on the equestrian units, except for the llamas, which were somewhat interesting.

For a while I thought that Oklahoma had invaded California and taken over control of the parade. All the famous Oklahomans were riding on the state's two floats. Nothing says Oklahoma to me more than Nadia Comaneci. Too many of the floats featured butterflies and hummingbirds. I especially enjoyed the float from the City of Palmdale. It depicted a family of desert tortoises, much like my late great pet Mo. Unfortunately, Burbank's float didn't win anything this year. The best float was the one with the fire-breathing dragons from Honda.

Here's a final suggestion for KTLA. Stan's grandson, Jaime Chambers was really good on the parade pre-show. Maybe you should test his booth chemistry with Michaela. Or with Lu Parker.

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Saturday, January 28, 2006


After providing America with 20 consecutive weekends of entertainment, the NFL takes it all away a week before their biggest game, Super Bowl XL. Remember back when the league first switched to a 17 week schedule? That year they eliminated the off week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl. It was much better. Here's a modest proposal. Move the Pro Bowl to the weekend before the Super Bowl. We would have some football to watch tomorrow although without the players from the Steelers and Seahawks. Think back to past Pro Bowls. Did it make any difference if the players from the Super Bowl teams were there or not?

There is a definite letdown after the Super Bowl. White Castle has created a fun website at to suggest that the day after the Super Bowl be made a holiday, like the day after Thanksgiving. The site claims that 1.4 million Americans call in sick the day after the Super Bowl. It says we should play on Sunday and rest on Monday. Wouldn't it be easier to just move the Super Bowl to a Saturday?

Even if the game is bad, the commercials are usually good. features the best commercials of the past and previews this years ads.

Speaking of the NFL, did you see that they are adding a third game on Thanksgiving night? It's part of a new package of Thursday and Saturday games on the NFL Network. The league has taken a page from the Redskins playbook and will broadcast games on its own network. The press release doesn't say if they will set the game schedule in advance or leave it flexible like the Sunday night package on NBC. I don't think flexible scheduling would work for these games. It would be very tough on season ticket holders. How much advance notice would they get before finding out that their team's game got moved to a Saturday or a Thursday, especially Thanksgiving?

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