Welcome to our web site. For more information about Stephie's art, please also check out artbystephie.com.
For Matt's writing projects, please go to storiesbymatt.net. Enjoy your visit here!

08/29/16: I am done with allmusic.com. I used to use the site to see what albums a particular artist had released, or to read the band bios or album reviews hosted there. Some of the reviews were not that good, which I guess you could say about any review site, but absent of anything else, they provided some information on what albums were better or worse in an artist's catalog.
     I guess I hadn't been on there in a while, and when I went there to look up something I was presented with a white box on a black screen notifying me that because of my use of an ad blocker, I would not be able to view their content. I had three choices: install some kind of browser extension, turn off my ad blocker, or pay for a subscription. Since I'm currently unemployed and I rarely use the site, a subscription was out of the question. I refuse to install the suggested browser extension, which I suspect will just open my system up to more advertising, so I figured fine, I'll disable my ad blocker.
     Pardon the all caps, but OH MY GOD! The first thing that happened was that the top half of the screen was replaced by an ad. A full half-page ad! I then went to look up the information that I needed and besides the upper-third ad, there were three identical ads on the same page, all shouting at me that I "didn't need a gun if I had this tactical flashlight." I quickly got the information I was looking for, turned my ad blocker back on and deleted the allmusic link from my bookmarks folder.
     I use an ad blocker (and Flashblock as well) not to deprive any web sites from any revenue they may get from ads, but to prevent the type of ads that interfere with what I'm trying to do, which is learn something or be entertained. In my opinion, ads that jump around the screen, expand to move the text I'm trying to read, play videos automatically, or overlay content on the site have no place in my browsing experience. I also object to the bait-and-switch type ads (like outbrain and taboola) that show the same thing over and over and that appear to be news stories but are actually links to an aggregating site with even more ads and may contain a link to the article I might want to read.
     I apologize to sites that have respectful ads and are just trying to make a buck, but you are too few and far between in my experience. Every so often I click on a link which has content that doesn't work right in my current configuration (Facebook videos don't work for me) but I figure that missing out on another cute dog video is a small price to pay for my piece of mind. By the way, if anyone knows of a NFL news aggregator similar to the one Yahoo used to offer, but doesn't REPEATEDLY prompt me to log into their Fantasy Football game, please let me know because I'm on the lookout for one.

08/28/16: The Tamale Hut Cafe Reading Series last night was the release party for my latest book, The Sleep Detectives Go to Washington. I wanted to something special, like I did with the radio show last time, so I adapted a chapter or so of the new book as a script and bookended it with an announcer in the style of Frazier Thomas on Family Classics. Well, it's more than just the style. We recorded it so you can hear what I mean. Click over to my writing web site and listen for yourself. Then you can hop over to Amazon to buy the book! It's available in paperback and for your Kindle. And if you read it, please leave me a review on Amazon. The more reviews I have, the more people can find me there and maybe buy a book or two.

08/17/16: Back when my main music listening time consisted of popping a cassette in my car stereo, there were a few tapes I had that tended to say in the player for more than a few plays. I remember listening to Lou Reed's New Sensations album front to back many times in a row when it first came out. Likewise John Fogerty's Centerfield, Tina Turner's Private Dancer, Simon and Garfunkel's Live in Central Park, Little Feat's Waiting for Columbus, and the soundtrack to Rock 'n' Roll High School all benefited from the auto-reverse feature in the car deck, playing the tape over and over for weeks at a time
     The analog to that in these days of mobile devices and MP3 players are albums (because I still think of music in terms of albums) that stay on my player or phone, even as I rotate other music on and off. The foremost example is a 1999 Poi Dog Pondering concert I recorded off of WXRT. That was the first thing I loaded on my Archos Jukebox, as well as on several Nokia Internet Tablets and smartphones, and is still on my current phone as of today. There are also a couple of Captain Beefheart albums that I can't bring myself to delete.
     Lately I've been listening to a couple albums by a band called Love which seemed to have taken up residence on my phone. One is their classic album Forever Changes, which shows up on a number of "greatest albums of all time" lists. But the other is a greatest hits collection called Revisited. I got my copy of Forever Changes on CD a few years ago, but my copy of Revisited is on vinyl. I remember buying it many, many years ago at Rolling Stones, a huge north-side record store. I picked it up because I wanted to hear the original version of "Alone Again Or", a song I really liked as covered by UFO on their Lights Out album. I listened to the album a few times and while I liked the original take on "Alone Again Or", I was not that excited about the rest, and it soon wound up filed in my record collection.
     After I got a copy of Forever Changes, I thought I'd give the Revisited collection another try and found that I really liked most of the songs on there. There's a little late-'60s vibe to the music, but all of it is a little ... odd, I guess is the best way to describe it. Wikipedia says that the band mixed "psychedelia, folk, hard rock, blues, jazz, flamenco and orchestral pop" and it really has a unique sound. I've always had an affinity to late-'60s psychedelic music, and this is firmly in that vein, but there's other stuff going on, like the trumpet solo on "Alone Again Or". I really like it.
     I was listening to it today and the very first track, "My Little Red Book", got me curious. I looked it up on-line, ostensibly to find some of the lyrics that were a little unclear, and discovered that it was a cover and that the song was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. I went to YouTube to try to find the original version (oddly, the reason I bought this album in the first place) and discovered lots of versions: Manfred Mann (the original), Burt Bacharach with Tony Middleton, The Standells, Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, Elvis Costello, Ted Nugent, and Toni Basil (although I wouldn't recommend clicking on that last one.) How odd that a song would be covered so many times, and by such a range of different performers. Check out a few and see what you think.
     And if you're in the mood for another exercise like this, check out YouTube for all the versions of "Alone Again Or". I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, because it is a great song.

08/16/16: Back when I was working, I did not have speakers for my computer. At home, I rarely have my speakers turned on. Since I essentially don't have audio, I don't watch many videos linked in news stories or blog posts. Part of it is also technical, since I run an ad blocker and Flash blocker to avoid things jumping around my screen when on the 'net and that confuses some pages containing videos. But mostly, it's because when I do try to watch a video I'm interested in, I typically have to sit through an ad or two, then a graphical/music introduction, then the reporter or blogger introduces themselves and welcomes me to their video, telling me what they're about to tell me and asking me to subscribe to their channel, all before giving me some information that I could have read in two paragraphs and moved on. Usually when I click on a link on Google News and it turns out that the link takes me to a video without any accompanying text, I just close the window, figuring that I didn't really need that information.
     Another problem is that the video is usually linked to YouTube, and you don't need me to tell you what a time suck that particular site can be. I frequently go to view a video demonstrating a feature of a program I'm using (something that I could easily learn in a few sentences of plain text) and wind up a half-hour later watching clips of exotic animals or people doing stupid things or music videos from the 1980s.
     But as much as I avoid videos, every once in a while I stumble across something that really catches my eye. For instance, I was directed to this video from a link on BoingBoing.net. I was a Hot Wheels fan when I was a kid, so I think that's why it appeals to me so much. I could put this on a loop and watch it all day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12Coi4_BVL4

I'm proud of the fact that since I started this site in 2003, only a few months have passed without at least one post. You can see that at the list of monthly links at the bottom of the screen. Sometimes, though, I'm too busy (or too lazy) to write up what I want to say at the time I want to say it, so I make a note of it and write it up later, backdating the post to when I wanted to say it. But sometimes there are other reasons why I don't want to post something on the day it occurs. I'm writing this almost two months late, because I wasn't able to any earlier.
     We lost our beloved Kisu today, a few months shy of her 15th birthday. She'd been having problems for a while, not so much physically but mentally. Her vet described it as doggy dementia or doggy Alzheimer's. I started to write up the details of recent weeks, but you don't need to know any of that. I'd prefer that everyone remembered her as the sweet, friendly dog that everyone knew and loved. I'll simply say that we had an incident this morning that indicated it was time.
     I'd spoken to the vet a few weeks ago when he put her on some new medicine to try to make her comfortable, and at the time he told me that when we felt it was time, I only needed to call the office. This morning I called and made an appointment for the afternoon. Kisu was fine in the car, and behaved perfectly when we brought her out and to the back of the clinic. I like to think that she knew what was coming and was ready for it. The whole process took surprisingly little time to complete, and we were with her the entire way, talking to her and hugging her and loving her. Dr. Palmer and everyone at the Burr Ridge Veterinary Clinic in Darien was terrific as the always have been. They took great care of her throughout her life, and were wonderful for us at the end.
     I've said that the day Cheyenne passed away was the worst day of my life. This was easily the second, only because Cheyenne's passing was so sudden and Kisu had been in decline for a while. We miss her terribly, and while I'm sure we'll adopt another dog eventually, she'll never be replaced in our hearts. Sleep well, pumpkin.

07/15/16: From the time I set my MythTV DVR up until a few years ago, our local Channel 7 was running a package of old black-and-white movies in the early hours of the weekend. I recorded many of the films, and while not all of them were gems, they were an interesting snapshot into the way Hollywood used to work. Before everyone had a TV in their home, there was a constant need for films to show at local movie theaters, and there were a lot of people who (presumably) made a living making films that never won awards and never were on critic's year-end best-of lists. That's the kind of fare that Channel 7 used to show.
     I just watched one such "programmer," as some called them. You Can't Beat Love (1937) was about a playboy lawyer (Preston Foster) who runs for mayor of his town on a dare from the daughter of the incumbent, played by Joan Fontaine, and it was a hoot. I recognized Paul Guilfoyle (not the CSI guy) from the credits, who I'd seen as the Saint's sidekick in a few 1940s movies, among other roles. But at one point, the current chief of police tries to trap the lawyer in a love nest with what I assume was a local floozie, a round-faced blonde doing a weak Mae West impersonation. For a laugh, I looked her up on IMDB, expecting her to have only a few credits and a bio that says she was pigeonholed into those type of parts. You can imagine my surprise when I looked up Barbara Pepper and the banner photo on IMDB was a scene from Green Acres, a favorite of ours, on which she played Doris Ziffel! At the time of this movie, she was 22 and four years into a career which ultimately spanned 36 years, from a few uncredited chorus girl gigs in 1933-4 to an uncredited appearance in the Jerry Lewis feature Hook, Line and Sinker in 1969. Watching her I never would have guessed. (A side note: her Green Acres husband, Hank Patterson, had a similarly lengthy career, from uncredited appearances in a few 1939 westerns to a long stint on Gunsmoke, ending in 1975. While most of his IMDB credits are westerns, he was in the Beginning of the End (1957) which you all remember as the giant grasshoppers attacking Chicago. I recently saw him in an episode of the 87th Precinct TV show from 1961.)

07/04/16: Today's the fourth of July, not one of our favorite holidays. I've had an aversion to fireworks since I was a kid, when my parents were dead set against my brothers and I playing with explosives, no matter how small. I can't see what the problem would be. As I got older, I just saw anything but the best professional fireworks display as a colossal waste of money, and of time needed to clean up the debris afterward. Don't get me started about how fireworks are supposedly illegal in Illinois, yet the people with the biggest illicit fireworks shows seem to be off-duty cops.
     But the real reason why I don't like the holiday these days is the way pets are affected. Cheyenne never really cared for the local explosions, but Kisu was petrified by the smallest pop from blocks away. We would be walking and hear a firecracker in the distance, and she would immediately turn around and head for home, where she would cower somewhere near us for the rest of the day. Even the Thundershirt, which helps out tremendously for thunderstorms, did nothing to calm her down. The last few years we used tranquilizers from the vet to get us through the day.
     But we don't have to worry about that now, with Kisu having lost her hearing earlier this year. The revelers actually started a few days ago, and she doesn't hear anything. She's happily walking down the block as the lunatics on the next block set off firecracker after bottle rocket after what have you. We're sad that she can't hear us any more, but it's a blessing today. Happy Independence Day!

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