Italy Trip

So the big news for the end of 2018 is we went to Italy. I didn’t post anything while we were on the trip because I was too busy enjoying myself, and I didn’t want it to be known we were out of town for so long.

The trip was amazing. My wife is a natural born travel planner. She put the whole thing together and got the idea to go for Christmas and New Years after seeing pictures from a friend of her’s who did the same thing last year.

We took the kids and they are great travel companions. We visited Venice, Florence, and Rome over 10 days. You can never spend enough time in Italy i have discovered. However, we did spend enough time there to get a great feel for it.

I will be posting more details from the trip in individual pages on the site. The first installment is ready and online now. Go check it out.

Take his wife, please!

Several people whose opinion I trust(ed) have told to me to check out “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” because I like comedy so much. Oh my god, I could barely make it through the first episode. I hated it so much, words couldn’t describe it. Thank God, Emily Nussbaum, TV critic from the “New Yorker” did it for me.

Everyone overacted in the episode I saw. Like “Madman”, its a reproduction of a reproduction. The creators appear to be modernizing the past as it should have been instead of portraying it the way it probably was. What’s next? A remake of “I Dream of Jeannie” with some stupid twist like a secret dominatrix lair in her bottle?

I wanted to like Mrs. Maisel because I wanted to find a show I liked period. It has a great cast and the premise (though I haven’t seen Tony Shaloub this cliched since “Wings”). To say it’s edgy is to misunderstand the term. Instead, it’s horribly precocious and pretentious. But that’s not the worst thing about it. It’s phony, sterile, and predictable like a Dan Brown book.

I remember when everyone was reading “The Da Vinci Code”. They talked about it like they had been reading some illuminated manuscript they discovered in the catacombs of the Vatican.

We were out to dinner with a bunch of friends who had all read it. Everyone was sharing parts they loved. I finally chimed in, and per my usual, ruined the moment, and said, “doesn’t it bother any of you that Langdon pretty much solves everything on the first try?” Pause, and everyone went back to gushing over the book like it wasn’t fiction “I had no idea Opus Dei existed.”

The Da Vinci Code and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel remind me of Michael Crichton’s books – a tired hero trope with a veneer of research. It’s like someone took some Elmer’s glue and stuck a hardcover version of a better book over a ratty pulp paperback.

I’m glad to see scripted television come back, but the glut of reality TV and user generated content on YouTube has lowered the bar that even mediocre and unoriginal are good enough to escape real criticism.

2018 in review the books

I got on a tear toward the end of the year reading books. Though I don’t remember them all, here’s a short list of the ones worth mentioning.

 

This book was much better than his last one because he goes back to the semi-autobiographical essays I like so much.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t mention reading a quasi self-help book because most of the rehash old ideas and don’t tell you anything you didn’t already know. This one actually had some decent insights. In particular, start small, really small and also change how you see yourself in order to implement a new or break an old habit.

I pre-ordered this book after listening to Nell Scovell’s interview with Marc Maron on his podcast. There’s a lot of great stories, some funny, some not funny at all, about her experience as a comedy writer.  

I read about this book in the Wall Street Journal and had to get it. I haven’t been a hardcore “Simpsons” fan for quite some time, but still like the show. There are some laugh out loud funny parts in this book.

I’m still not finished with this book. I have been reading it at bed time, and only manage to get through about 1/3 of a chapter before falling asleep. It’s a great read and has some interesting theories about how and why this country is bat shit crazy. It’s not boring, but it is set in a very small type.

I grabbed this one at our local bookstore on an impulse at the beginning of the year. And now I can’t remember a thing about it. I finished it, so it must be decent.

The author of this book was on “Fresh Air” and was a really great interview guest. I ordered the book and started reading it. I got about half way through it this summer and put it down and opted for some more uplifting books.

This book was a Christmas present from my brother in law who knows I’m a big fan of the show. It’s the kind of book you can pick up read a few entries and put it down. You know, a toilet book. Marc Maron is a surprisingly good interviewer and gets a lot of guests that either appeal to me right away or surprise the hell out of me as interesting.

I literally just cracked the spine on this one yesterday and have only gotten about 30 pages in. It looks to be an eclectic and fun read. It’s not just one long narrative. There are pieces written by other people as well as random cartoons and recipes.

This isn’t a complete list. Just the stuff I remember for now. If I think of others worth mentioning, I’ll update this post.

2018 in review the concerts

This year was a so-so year for concerts. We didn’t see that many and the ones we did aren’t that memorable. All told I think it was 4 or 5 and I did posts for most of them. We do have one more coming – John Legend’s Christmas Show in Oakland.

Here’s a list of shows we saw and their posts…

There’s always someone playing in the Bay Area, so hopefully in 2019 there will be something good.

Let Me Clear My Throat

I was listening to Marc Maron interview Mike D and Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys yesterday and decided to pick up their new book. I thought it would be a good read for a traveling. I was wrong. I have no idea if the book is any good yet, but it weighs a ton.

Weighing in around 3-4 pounds.

Like a lot of teens from the 80s, I liked “License to Ill” when it came out. But I was totally sick of it by Summer. So when “Paul’s Boutique” came out I pretty much ignored it, despite friends telling me it was worth a listen.

It wasn’t until I saw them live on the “Check Your Head” tour that I really appreciated the Beastie Boys. I had friends who worked for Jam Productions in Chicago and they got us into a show at the Riviera for free.

We missed L7, the opening act, and the show was already underway when we got there. It was total bedlam on stage and in the audience. They were playing their own instruments and tearing it up. All I remember was there was a ton of light. It was not dark like most concerts.

I got up in the shit pretty quick and joined the melee. I had seen several shows there before, but this was the first time they were just letting anything happen. They weren’t stopping any of the stage diving or crowd surfing, so I partook.

What I love about the Beastie Boys is they’re not just a band that played music. They were more like 3 dudes who played with music.

Hopefully the book as entertaining as they were.

Christmas Vacation

Last night, we saw “Christmas Vacation” in a theater. Of all the movies I’ve seen in my life, I think this is the one I’ve seen the most. In the 30 years it’s been around, I may have missed one or two seasons. It’s one of those movies that I remember laughing my ass off the first time I see, and that’s why I can still laugh now.

The first time I saw it was when it came out in 1989. I was in college and over Christmas Break and visiting my parents who were in San Diego at the time. The other movie we saw was “War of the Roses”.

We did a shit ton of stuff on that trip including the Rose Bowl Parade, the NBC studio tour, and a Luau for New Year’s Eve.

The best part of the trip was seeing the Tonight Show live. It was the last show of the decade, and Johnny Carson was still the host. Dad managed to get some standby tickets by phone that morning. It meant getting in line a couple hours before the show to improve our chances of getting in.

The show had everything for a Tonight Show fan. The guests were Tim Conway, Park Overall (from “Empty Nest”), and a juggler who played a piano with his balls. Get your mind out of the gutter, and watch the video to see what I meant. For a bonus, there was a Mighty Carson Art Players sketch with Johnny and Tim Conway doing something about golf I think.

You gotta love YouTube.

Before the show, we took the NBC tour. The thing I recall most about that was seeing gameshow sets and how flimsy they were up close. I think it was the “Jokers Wild” set that looked like something from a high school stage play.

While waiting in line for the show, the Tonight Show band walked by having just wrapped up their happy hour at the bar across the street.

During the tour, we got to go back stage. We even saw the star on the floor where Johnny stood during his monologues. What struck me was how small the whole thing is. From TV, the stage looked huge, but the distance from Johnny’s desk to the band was only like 20 feet.

Ed McMahon warmed the crowd up with some slightly dirty jokes. After Jonny’s monologue, they broke for a commercial and he talked to the audience. Someone asked him about his car, and he made a joke about how hard it shifting a manual 6-speed can be in LA traffic.

It was cool to see him in the flesh, but even impressive how he could think on his feet and be funny just interacting with the audience,

After the show as we were driving back to the hotel, Johnny pulled out of the NBC lot and right in front of us on Alameda avenue. We drove behind him for a couple blocks before he exited onto the freeway. What was most surprising to us, was he hadn’t stuck around after the show any longer than we did.

Elf

Last night we saw the movie “Elf” in the theater. I don’t remember what I really thought of the movie when it first came out in 2003. I just remember I didn’t used to like Will Ferrell, but I do now and have for some time. 

He’s perfect in the movie because he really sells it, especially with the facial expressions. It’s almost a perfect script in terms of following the form without getting tired. Don’t get me wrong, it’s full of holiday movie clichés, but that’s required of the genre. What I like is it didn’t use any of the pop culture clichés of 2003 that would make it feel horribly dated today, like say “Shrek”. Which I hated then and still do.

Decoding the coding code

This guy makes a great point about ignoring the hype around teaching our kids to code. We shouldn’t. Instead, we should focus on developing their problem-solving skills.

I couldn’t agree more. We never encouraged our kids to develop skills over learning how to learn. You can figure out skills later in life after deciding whether or not they’re worth it. 

Plenty of people who were conned into developing skills have been left in the dust of progress and change. In a world that is always changing, mastery isn’t nearly as valuable as adaptability. 

Besides, most of what they teach kids about code today in school or one of those bullshit code academies is already obsolete. 

If you’re thinking of pushing your kids to learn code, ask yourself why. Is it because you think they’ll make more money? If that’s the case, you’re better off encouraging them to be an Instagram influencer. They make a shit ton more money for doing absolutely nothing. If it’s job security, then tell them to go into elder care or nursing because there are way more openings in those fields, and they have yet to find a way to offshore them.

I have a lot more I’d like to add to this topic. Stay tuned.

All about the bass

I have been relearning the bass, or should I say, teaching myself. I used to take bass guitar lessons in high school. My first teacher was a guy named Tommy O’Donnell. His nickname was OD and he taught at Miller Music. It was one of those old school type of music shops that mostly sold pianos and organs. 

He was a heavy metal guitarist and would sit in the back of the store and shred. He took me on as his first, and only bass student. For lessons, I’d bring in a tape, listen to it, and he’d figure it out. The first song I learned was “Blood and Roses” by The Smithereens. 

While it was cool watching him figure out things by ear, he didn’t teach me how to figure things out on my own. Lessons were $5 for 30 minutes and I quit going to him after 4 or 5.

My next teacher was an actual bass player.  He worked at Guitar World, a “real” guitar store in Normal, IL. I can’t remember his name, but we all referred to him as “buddy”. He wore a denim vest and bell bottoms when it wasn’t ironic or fashionable. 

Buddy was way more academic than OD. Instead of music theory, he’d spend most of our lesson time on rock history. He spent at least four weeks on Jaco Pastorius. 

Jaco Pastorius or possibly James Franco.

After two teachers, and only learning a handful of riffs, I bagged lessons and just tried to figure out bass on my own. Eventually, I got bored with it and took up guitar.

Over the years I would take it out and tinker, but I never wanted to be a bass player. I only took it up because I wanted to be in a band, and that was the only opening. 

I have a renewed interest in bass because I recently sent mine into the shop for some basic maintenance. It had been sitting in the cases neglected for a few years and the neck started to curve. My local music shop sent it out to a guy in Berkeley. 

It should have been a simple one-day thing, but it was taking weeks. Then one day, the guy called me to let me know he was done. He also wanted to tell me how impressed he was with the guitar and the shape it was in. 

The bass is an ’87 G&L SB-1. I bought it brand new for $299. While I knew then, G&L was a quality guitar, I was disappointed that I couldn’t afford an Fender. Funny enough, G&L is the guitar company Leo Fender started after selling his namesake to CBS.

My 1987 G&L SB-1 Bass in extremely good condition. Back from the shop and sounding great.

I bought it to replace the cheap bass I originally bought because I was in a band with some friends, and wanted to look cooler. The band dissolved a couple months later. 

Today, I watch my kids figure everything out on the internet and I’m motivated to do the same. This time around, I’m actually doing what I wouldn’t do back then – read. I can still read music (because I took piano lessons before I took guitar lessons). Now, I can figure out a lot of things quicker, because I’m actually studying music theory as well as the riffs I want to play.

Yosemite, again

We took yet another trip up to Yosemite this right before Thanksgiving. It was our second time this year. We went up earlier to catch the fire falls but missed it. 

It was a very short day trip with my father-in-law. We had to be back for dinner in town, so there wasn’t any time for hiking or site seeing. Instead, I just got a couple pictures using my phone and Osmo Mobile.

  • Wide-angle Half Dome
  • Super Wide Half Dome
  • Outside the Majestic (Formerly the Ahwanee)
  • Large rock
  • Great room of the Ahwanee
  • Great room of the Ahwanee