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20 years since my first home video recording July 25, 2014

Posted by Mike C. in Comedy, Media, Personal, TV, Video, Weather, Wrestling.
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On July 25, 1994, my father came home with a brand new JVC VHS-C camcorder; or “Palmcorder.” It was intended for him, but I ended up using it more often. After nine years of appearing in front of Dad’s previous camcorder – a VHS one – as an awkward child with a still-unnamed disorder – Asperger syndrome – I finally had control behind the camera. Most early video was regimented and experimental, recording the same areas and rapidly zooming in and out constantly.

Here are the first 48 seconds I recorded 20 years ago today at twilight, shortly after a thunderstorm came through Wantagh:

This was followed by close-ups of license plates on my mom’s, dad’s, and aunt’s cars. Then, my sister Lauren had her turn with the Palmcorder, recording our cousin Rebecca watching WWF (as it was known back then) Monday Night Raw on TV with her in her bedroom. But she didn’t stop there, heading to the den during a commercial break to record our parents and great-grandparents, with a rerun of Murphy Brown blasting on the TV. Becca was also in the den, making a funny expression with her hands on her hips.

A side note: Thanks to a shot of the TV included in Lauren’s recording, I noticed Tom Poston was in the Murphy Brown episode. A trip to IMDB confirmed that the rerun episode was “Crime Story,” which originally aired five months earlier.

On the two humid mornings that followed, until the 31-minute VHS-C cassette reached its end, I walked around the house, panning around nearly every room and every corner of the front yard, back yard, and driveway. I even experimented with flipping the Palmcorder upside down and flipping it back to the correct way. I did that a few more times between then and September.

In the years that followed, my video recording skills gradually improved. Including the first camcorder, I went through three different JVC VHS-C camcorders, each one more technologically advanced than their predecessor. I captured over 70 hours of material and dubbed them onto a combined 30 VHS tapes. I still have some of the master VHS-Cs. I converted the videos to AVI computer files back in 2010.

In October 2000, I went digital with a JVC MiniDV camcorder. And in June 2003, I was given a Canon GL2 MiniDV camcorder to use for my college senior project.  I recorded here and there with the two camcorders, logging another 13 hours of video – not counting the senior project – until my last recording on July 25, 2007. Since then, I’ve only recorded special events.  I converted the MiniDV tapes to the computer, as well.

When the GL2 broke down in 2011, I switched to a JVC Everio AVCHD camcorder with internal memory and an SD memory card. And that brings us to the present.

I hope someday soon to get a professional HD camcorder with an internal hard drive. Until then, I’ll stick with the Everio.

4:35 PM UPDATE: Five hours ahead of the time I recorded 20 years ago, I went outside with the Everio and retraced some of my steps from the original recording.

Unfortunately, the skies were devoid of airplanes, which meant I couldn’t retrace that step. Meanwhile, there’s a plane flying overhead as I type this last sentence.


“Weird Al” Yankovic, Mandatory Fun July 24, 2014

Posted by Mike C. in Comedy, Media, Music, Personal, Technology, Video.
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Album cover scan

My CD copy of Mandatory Fun by “Weird Al” Yankovic arrived in the mail on Wednesday afternoon. After ripping the tracks to my computer, I listened intently to all of them, following along with the lyrics in the liner notes. There are 12 songs on the album: a mix of parodies, original compositions, and a medley.

I usually listen to contemporary jazz and jazz fusion, especially if there aren’t vocals. So, you may be wondering why I would own a “Weird Al” Yankovic album. I’ve admired “Weird Al” for years, dating back to Bad Hair Day, which my sister Lauren received back in 1996. And since I’m not into mainstream pop and rock, Al’s parodies are as close I choose to get.

Here are my three favorite original compositions on Mandatory Fun:

  • “Mission Statement,” a Crosby, Stills and Nash pastiche a la “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and “Carry On,” filled with corporate gobbledygook and cliches (i.e. “synergy!”)
  • “Lame Claim to Fame,” an homage to Southern Culture on the Skids, wherein a man shares his tangential connections to celebrities

I can relate to the line about having the same birthday. I share my birthday with several public figures. Off the top of my head, there’s Lorne Michaels, Danny DeVito, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK). There are others. I don’t consider this my lame claim to fame. It’s a series of prideful coincidences. My lame claims to fame are my radio shows, photo recaps of events I attend, and occasional reviews like this. (That was self-deprecation.)

  • “Sports Song,” a deeply honest fight song that lays out what the opponent is in for

As for the parodies, my three favorites are:

  • “Word Crimes,” a parody of “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke, which includes verses on the misuse of “I couldn’t care less” and “it’s”

Listen for the intentionally-placed split infinitive. I loved the time-compressed definition of “contraction.”

  • “Handy,” which parodies “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea, a nearly three-minute handyman commercial

What can’t he do?

  • “Foil,” a parody of “Royals” by Lorde, which describes two uses for aluminum foil: to store leftover food and as a hat for conspiracy theorists to block governmental mind control

I laughed my way through the conspiracy theory part.

There are video equivalents to each of my favorites:

“Mission Statement”:

“Lame Claim to Fame”:

“Sports Song”

“Word Crimes”:



A “Weird Al” album wouldn’t be complete without an accordion-driven polka medley. The one on Mandatory Fun – “NOW That’s What I Call Polka!” – was superb. These medleys are the second way I prefer to hear mainstream pop and rock. (The third way is through covers by jazz artists.) The segues between lyrical excerpts were seamless. And I got a kick out of the sound effects and spoken interjections.

Facebook deserves credit for motivating me into buying Mandatory Fun. If the first video from the album, “Tacky,” hadn’t been trending last Monday, I wouldn’t have seen that video or the seven videos that followed. I wouldn’t have listened to excerpts on Amazon. I wouldn’t have bought the album at all. But I bought it, I listened to it at least once, and I’ve shared my review.

I hope I haven’t written “like a spastic,” and that you’ll forgive my Oxford commas.

Bill Heller, “Find the Way” July 21, 2014

Posted by Mike C. in Internet, Jazz, Music, Personal.
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Keyboardist Bill Heller makes his solo debut with Find the Way, available now at CD Baby and iTunes.

Bill’s Rippingtons and Jazzaphonic bandmates are peppered throughout the album, in addition to Carl Fischer, Luis Bonilla, and Ronnie Gutierrez.  Except where noted, Joel Rosenblatt played drums and Dave Anderson was on bass.

1. Guaraldi (5:19)
This is a tribute to the late jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi.  Jeff Kashiwa, Bill’s Rippingtons bandmate, plays soprano saxophone and flute.

2. Down & Loaded (5:32)
This has a Les McCann “Compared to What” feel to it.  I first heard Bill perform this at Eric Marienthal’s Boulton Center show (and masterclass) in March 2011.  Eric, who was also with the Rippingtons, is featured on three other Find the Way tracks, but Jeff Kashiwa handled tenor sax on “Down & Loaded.”  Jeff can also be heard on tenor on “Blackbird on a Fence” and soprano on the title track.  This is one of three songs to feature Frank Bellucci on drums and Jim Cammack on bass, Bill’s Jazzaphonic bandmates.

3. Bill’s Bop (4:34)
This is the second song with Bellucci and Cammack, but the only one of the three where Jim plays electric bass.  Eric Marienthal plays lead alto sax along with backing saxes and flutes.  This bop made me swing from side to side in my chair as I listened to it.

4. Blackbird on a Fence (4:22)

5. Find the Way (5:06)

6. Hanna (4:51)
Eric Marienthal returns on soprano sax and flute in this song that takes me back to when I regularly saw Bill perform with drummer John Favicchia‘s Dharma All Stars.

7. Alone (5:28)

8. Latinesque (5:53)
This wild Latin tune features Carl Fischer on trumpet, Luis Bonilla on trombone, and percussion from Ronnie Gutierrez.  It’s the first of three tracks with Dave Karasony on drums and Rico Belled on bass.  This also reminds me of the Dharma All Stars.

9. 5 for 1 (5:34)
This is the last song to feature Eric Marienthal, who plays alto sax here, as well as for Frank Bellucci and Jim Cammack.

10. Afrikaan (4:40)
This South African homage is the second to feature Dave Karasony and Rico Belled.

11. My Thing (4:56)
Karasony and Belled’s last track.  Each part of the song is played in a different keyboard setting.

12. Trottoir du Musette (1:05)
Bill shows off his accordion on the final track.  The translated title is “Sidewalk Musette,” and it makes you feel like you’re walking the streets of Paris, albeit with drum programming.

In the two weeks since Find the Way arrived, I’ve listened to it at least five times.  “Down & Loaded” is my favorite, with “Bill’s Bop” and “5 for 1” close behind.  I love Find the Way, and I hope you do, too.  Pick up a copy today at CD Baby or iTunes.

Planting Fields Arboretum pictures July 3, 2014

Posted by Mike C. in Jazz, Music, Personal, Photography, Travel.

I didn’t say anything about it here, but last August, a few days before the Spyro Gyra Smooth Cruise, my girlfriend and I went up to Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park in Oyster Bay.  It was the first time either of us had been to the park in over a decade, years before we met.  We only went there for concerts, not touring the sights.  This time, we went solely to look around.

Here are select pictures from our sightseeing:















I hope this has inspired you to visit Planting Fields Arboretum.  As long as the weather is dry when you go, you won’t be disappointed.