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!

12/25/09: Kisu asked me to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year.

And she also says to check out her page to see the video of her romping in the show!

12/21/09: I've been a fan of the Irish band Horslips since probably 1979, when WXRT was playing "Loneliness" and "The Man Who Built America" on a semi-regular basis, and I picked up a couple of their albums at Kroozin' Music on Archer Ave. The last time they played Chicago was in December of '79 at the Park West, but it was a 21-and-over show and I was not quite old enough to get in. They broke up the following year, and I figured I'd never get to see them live.
     And they were supposed to be very good live. In the early '80s, I was able to get most of their records from a great used record store on Clark Street called "Just For The Record". (Legend has it that Al Jourgensen of Ministry once worked there!) One of the guys in the store said he actually saw Horslips perform at a club in Schaumburg and described them as "like an Irish Grateful Dead, real laid back and talking to the audience between songs." I figured I would never get a chance to see them, so I had to be content with listening to the albums I had been fortunate enough to find.
     Then came the Internet. I searched for Horslips info, but all I could find was a general "Irish music" site which had a couple paragraphs about the band. At the same time, WXRT's web site had a message board where people could post messages to other fans, and there was a section where you could swap things you taped off the radio. I knew that XRT had broadcast that last Park West Horslips show, but I had never heard it, so I took a chance and asked if anyone had a tape of it (and of a show from around the same time featuring FM, a progressive rock band from Canada) and as luck would have it, a guy from Chicago responded that he had both shows. I don't remember what I offered him in exchange, but I soon had cassettes of both shows, which I promptly turned into CDs using the brand new CD burner I had just installed in my PC. I even made a fancy cover for the jewel case and everything! I may never find anything else about the band, but at least I had that show.
     Then I got another e-mail. A guy in Ireland had seen my posting about the shows and was wondering if I ever got a copy, and I could send it to him. I was so excited! I didn't know who this guy was, but he was from Ireland! I sent him a copy of my fancy CD (which looks a little cheezy in retrospect) and he sent me a CD by Moving Hearts, another Irish band that merged Irish folk and rock. He also sent me a couple other Horslips concerts which had been broadcast on the radio. Not long after that, the official Horslips website went up, and the band announced that they would be reissuing all their albums on CD. No plans to play live, though.
     Time passed, I lost track of my pal in Ireland, the Horslips site kind of stagnated for a while as there was no new news after the CDs were all released, but I still was playing my Horslips albums. I made a compilation CD for one of the other dog owners in Cheyenne's obedience class after Stephie mentioned the band to him. Then in 2004, there was a flurry of activity on the 'net. A group of fans had put together an art exhibit in Derry of all their collectibles, with album covers and concert posters and all things Horslips. And the band was so impressed that they showed up at the opening night and played a few songs live! I was stunned! And on top of it all, one of the guys that put the show together, Paul Callaghan, was the guy I had swapped CDs with! That show got the guys together and they went on and recorded an acoustic album of their old songs. There was even a DVD documentary about the band. With all that activity, there were even rumors of a tour, with a supposed stop in Chicago! But again, time passed, not much new on the site, and life went on.
     I can't say what it was this summer, but something got me thinking about that art exhibit five years ago. One day, out of the blue, I thought that I would check the web site, and IF they were going to display the show again (as they had a few times since the initial Derry exhibit) and IF we had enough lead time, we should try to go to see it. We were planning on going to Ireland next year for our 20th wedding anniversary, so if we could see that while we were there, it would be almost like seeing the band. So I logged on the 'net from work and navigated to the Horslips web site, and darn near fell out of my chair. They were getting back together for two shows in December! I couldn't believe it. Wouldn't it be great to go? But no, that's silly, we can't go to Ireland for a concert...
     On the way home from work that day, I dialed up some Horslips on my mp3 player and instead of hearing the music, I kept hearing something that my Mom and my Aunt Vi say many times. They would tell me that if there was something that I really wanted to do that was not illegal, and would not "break the bank" that I should do it, because life is short. I got home and told Stephie that we should really consider going.
     I'll continue this later, but in the meantime, I've started to put up some pictures I took. You can see them here.

12/14/09: Well, it's back to work. As you can see, I only had 634 e-mails waiting for me when I got back!

Also, I should have the vacation pictures up in a day or so.

12/08/09: Hey, we're back! Guess where we went for the weekend! More details to follow...

11/27/09: Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. We had a very nice day, with Stephie cooking (and Kisu helping, as you can see) and my family coming over to share in the good food and good conversation. I hope everyone's holiday was as nice as ours.
     Lots of things have been happening lately, but I've just been too lazy to write. I had a business trip to Calgary back in October, which ate up most of the month with getting approvals and booking the flight and room and getting a passport and everything. I planned to post stuff from up there, but the beginning of the week was extremely busy with work, then I caught a bad cold and the rest of the week was miserable. I did spend a lot of time asking people "How's it going, eh?", which really never gets old. The work part of the trip didn't go well, but everything else was fine. One thing that was pretty cool was that I used Gizmo5 ( a VoIP app) on my Nokia N810 to talk to Stephie each night from my hotel room. We didn't use the video chat, since she doesn't have a camera, but the voice part was as good as a regular phone but with no long-distance charges!
     Likewise, there's been lots of stuff is going on around here. Stephie has a couple new pieces on her art page, and she had a booth at a local art show recently, but due to lack of promotion, very few people attended. It was good experience for her, with transporting all her artwork and setting up her display and all, and the people running the show were very apologetic, so if they have it next year, she'll participate. We did discover that we really need to work on her self-promotion, though. For one thing, there was no notice on this site that she was even going to be there! That's something we're going to have to improve on next year. We're also thinking about trying to sell her artwork on eBay. I'll post a link if we do that.
     And Kisu's been just fine. She's still having problems with her eyes being very dry, but the drops and ointment that she now gladly lets us apply seem to be helping out a lot. We've also been letting her off the leash in the yard or when we're taking her to the car, and she's really doing well with that. Last week, Stephie took her around the block without her leash, but I'm a little uncomfortable doing that. It's not that I think she would run away. I'd actually be concerned that I would be distracted and not notice if she took off after a squirrel or bunny until it was too late. I had her in the yard once when she saw a squirrel and started after it, but I was able to call her back before she really got going. I'd be afraid of her running into the street.
     Otherwise, all is well here. I'll try not to be so lazy in the future!

10/02/09: I ran across this Dilbert strip from 1991 recently and thought it was pretty funny, so I showed it to Stephie. She insisted that I put it up on the refrigerator, because it reminded her of so many conversations that we've had over the years. But the more I think about it, the joke is pretty much obsolete, because as everyone knows you can now access the works of Shakespeare or study the history of Greece on the Internet. No optical disk needed!

By the way, you should check out Stephie's Art page, because she has a cool new picture up there.

Nineteen years ago, I made one of the best moves of my life when I married my best friend. We were discussing this last weekend and my Dad joked "And they said it wouldn't last!". I replied "Nobody ever said that. What they said was 'What took you so long?'". It was obvious to everyone even then that we were meant to be together, and they were right. Happy Anniversary, Stephie!

08/24/09: I had the radio on last week and I heard a song that I hadn't heard in a long time. Apparently, on that date in 1969 "In the Year 2525" by Zager & Evans was the number one song in the country. Wikipedia says that it was the number one song in the country the week of the first moon landing. It was also the number one single the week that the original Woodstock festival was held. I used to like that song, but as I was listening to the lyrics, it struck me what a creepy song it actually was. I mean, I knew it was all doom 'n' gloom, but "Everything you think, do, and say, is in the pill you took today". Brrrrrr.
     But it is a catchy tune, and I couldn't get it out of my head. Oddly enough, we don't have it on the MP3 jukebox at home. I could have sworn I picked it up somewhere along the way. I wanted to play it for Stephie yesterday but it wasn't there.
     I did finally get it out of my head yesterday but I went into the local hardware store and went down to the lower level, where they usually have "oldies" playing, and guess what I heard. Yep, "In the Year 2525"! I don't think I'd heard it in years, then twice in one week? I guess that's a sign that I'll just have to buy it.

07/30/09: Earlier this month, I read a fascinating book about the making of, and subsequent restoration of, Napoleon, a French silent film made in 1927 by Abel Gance. I saw Napoleon in 1981 or '82 at the Chicago Theater, with a full orchestra, conducted by Carmine Coppola (Francis Ford's dad) who had written a score for the restored version. I was blown away by the film, which ran for almost four hours, even even the friend I took, who had never seen a silent movie, though it seemed like much less. This book was published around that time, and was written by Kevin Brownlow, who had almost made it his life's work to get this film restored.
      The first half of the book details the making of the film. Gance used many techniques that were revolutionary at the time (many he invented himself) but have become commonplace today, like widescreen projection, extreme close-ups, hand-held cameras, and MTV-style editing. He also seemed to have pioneered going way over budget, both in money and time, and apparently made very little money for his efforts.
      The second half of the book, however, was almost more interesting to me, in which Brownlow discovers the film as a youngster by way of a severely edited version, then over time assembles it back from bits and pieces to wind up with the version that I saw on the big screen. He buys, begs, borrows, and at one point secretly copies different prints of what is basically the same movie to gather all the different scenes in order to recreate the film as close to the original version as he could get. In this age of home video, where we can just get pretty much any movie you want delivered from Deep Discount or Netfix, it is astounding to me that it took him years and the cooperation of film archivists in several countries just to be able to see a movie that may still not be exactly as it was when it was first released.
      Not that you can see it today. Film fans have been waiting patiently for a DVD release of this film, but as I understand it, worldwide there are three companies who claim to have the rights to it, and use the legal system to enforce their rights. Brownlow has done more reconstruction after the Coppola version and had a new score produced in 2000, but that version can't be shown in the US, supposedly because the Coppola's won't let it be seen. I have a VHS copy of the Coppola version that one of Stephie's friends recorded for me years ago off a cable channel that we did not have, but as I was reading the book I was looking on eBay for the laserdisc version that came out in the early '80s, which is the best we can get in the US without a DVD release. Imagine my surprise when I found it (reasonably priced!) at the Hillside Record Show a couple weeks ago. Now all I have to do is find four contiguous hours to watch it.
      And since I'm writing about silent movies, I should probably mention that the Silent Film Society of Chicago is running their Silent Summer festival every Friday through August 28 at the Portage Theater. I may be going tomorrow by myself, but Stephie and I are going on the 21st to see Douglas Fairbanks in The Thief of Baghdad. I saw it years ago on TV and can't wait to see it on the big screen, with live organ accompaniment. There are worse ways of spending a couple hours on a Friday night.

06/24/09: Stephie's friend Diane, who some of you know of from their Science Fair adventure, recently earned her Master of Science degree in Plant Biology and Conservation. She followed up this amazing feat by scoring a spot on a summer-long research expedition to the Arctic Circle! There should be a picture around here somewhere of her, proving to us that she's really there. We're going to miss her, but as a small consolation, she took everyone's advice and set up a blog, so at least we can read about her adventures. And as it turns out, she writes pretty well! Is there anything this woman can't do? Click here to read about her adventures on the not-so-frozen tundra.
     I, on the other hand, have just gotten off my lazy butt long enough to put up another page of vacation pictures, this time featuring our visit to Disney's Animal Kingdom. Click here to check them out.

06/04/09: A couple years ago, I realized that I was not putting much of a dent in the huge book collection that Stephie and I had accumulated over the years. I would try to read at night, usually in bed, but sometimes I would get through only a couple pages before I found I couldn't keep my eyes open. It was taking me forever to finish a book, so I started taking one to work with me every day. I figured it'd be better than just working through lunch or surfing the 'net while eating. That turned out to be a great idea, so much so that I completed reading 41 books last year, a personal record.
     I also found that I enjoyed when people asked me what I was reading. Granted, I'm not always reading great literature, but it was fun explaining what "pulps" are (a personal favorite of mine) to people who had never heard of them. And it turns out it's great for your morale to get away from your desk for an hour in the middle of the day. Who knew?
     I mention this now because coming up next week is the primary reason why I have a massive backlog and sometimes have trouble deciding what to read next. Tomorrow starts the big Little City Used Book Sale at the Westfield Old Orchard mall in Skokie. It's a huge tent sale which benefits The Little City Foundation in Palatine, and always signals the beginning of summer for us. This year the sale starts on Friday, June 5th and runs through Sunday, June 14th. Click here to see the full schedule. As usual, they will be accepting book donations right at the sale, so we plan to donate at least as much as we bring home, probably more. Click the picture of the flyer here for more details of the sale, and plan to pick up some fine reading at some great prices.

06/01/09: I just put up the first batch of pictures from our Florida trip. Click here to check them out. The picture here is us on the Dinosaur ride in Animal Kingdom. As you can see, Stephie is having a great time, but I'm not sure what I was looking at. Probably something shiny.

05/20/09: Hi, we're back. We spent the last couple days in sometimes sunny Florida. This was our first trip to Disney World and certainly is like going to another world! I will be putting some of the digital pictures up over the next couple days, as well as some of our thoughts on the experience, and when Stephie gets her rolls of film developed, I'll put some of those up as well. In the meantime, I wanted to share one of the best pictures of the trip with you. It was taken at Discovery Cove, during our "Dolphin Interaction". Yeah, that's Stephie, smooching a real dolphin (her name is Dixie). It was a great trip overall, but that experience (the whole Dolphin Interaction, not just the smooching) was definitely the high point.

05/01/09: Holy cow, it's May! Where is this year going? Time always goes by much faster when you're busy, and we did have a very busy April, but May already? Next thing you know, it will be summer!
     At least Stephie's been productive. She has a couple new pieces on her web site, and they are pretty awesome. Click here now to check them out.

04/03/09: Sugar-free Peeps? Really? What's the point?

03/16/09: We had two concerts on two consecutive Fridays in March. March 13 we saw Poi Dog Pondering at the Beverly Arts Center. We've seen them play to thousands of people at Naperville Rib Fest and to hundreds of people at Fitzgerald's and they are always terrific. The Beverly Arts Center is where we saw the Ventures last year and it's a great place to see a show. Well, it is if you're not on the main floor where the drunk concertgoers are constantly going up and down the aisles while the band is playing, or standing in the middle of the aisle talking on their cell phones. And these two girls in our row seemed to have gone out and come back every other song. And what's with all the empty seats? The show sold out in two days, but the four seats in front of us and the two next to us were empty the whole time! And don't get me started on the talking between the songs and during any somewhat quiet part. Sheesh! Um, sorry, where was I? Oh, yeah, the Beverly Arts Center is a great small venue, especially when you're sitting up in the balcony.
      The big revelation, though, was the week before, when we went to the House of Blues to see Great Big Sea. I thought GBS was, well, great, which I expected ever since picking up their "Something Beautiful" album a couple years ago. I'd have to say that is one of my favorite albums of the last five years. And they really looked like they were having fun on-stage. A couple weeks ago we watched the DVD of 'The Last Waltz', and in it Robbie Robertson of The Band briefly spoke about what a hard life touring can really be, but when I was watching these guys, I kept thinking "That looks like a lot of fun!".
      But as good as Great Big Sea was, the opening act might have been better. These four guys came out on the stage with no introduction, picked up their instruments (drums and washboard, guitar, and two violins) and had the crowd jumping from the first song, and really didn't let up for forty-five minutes! The band's name is Scythian, they're from Washington DC, and here's a clip I found on youTube (not the show we saw, unfortunately):

These guys were tremendous! Except for maybe the Lackloves a couple years ago, I never had an unknown opening act blow me away like that. After their set I went and bought all three of their CDs. Of the three, I'd recommend "Immigrant Road Show", which is the only one that contains the current lineup of musicians. They said they have a live CD coming out in the spring, and if it captures half the energy of the show we saw at the House of Blues, it will be in heavy rotation here and in the car! I'd go see them again in a heartbeat.

03/01/09: A bunch of things to catch up on:

- A couple weekends ago we went to Galena for a little Valentine/Birthday weekend getaway. One of the highlights of the trip (and the main reason for going) was the eagle-watching tour that we took on Saturday morning. We climbed on a bus and rode around the Galena/Dubuque area, which happens to be right on the migration path of the Bald Eagles as they move up along the Mississippi river to their summer home in Wisconsin and Canada. We had an unofficial count of 45 eagles, between the ones we saw in the trees and the ones we saw soaring through the air. They are magnificent animals to see in an artificial setting like a zoo, but they are breathtaking to see in the wild. The tours are held on Saturday mornings in January and February, so if you find yourself in Galena around those times next year, you can do worse than taking a couple hours to see our national bird in the wild.
      We also discovered that it's best if I drive and Stephie navigates when we go places. I was not feeling well so we reversed our usual assignments for the trip out, but I thought I was paying attention. Imagine my surprise when we saw the sign that said "Welcome to Wisconsin." (For those of you who don't know, Galena is not in Wisconsin, nor is Wisconsin on the way to Galena.) Turns out I missed an exit and had been driving 20 minutes in the wrong direction!

- Galena is a cute little town, with lots of nice shops and restaurants, but in the middle of winter they don't have much of a night-life, so we found ourselves flipping through the cable channels and discovered that Comedy Central was showing "Idiocracy". I had read some positive things on this movie (in fact it's near the top of our Netflix queue) so we settled in to watch. The story in a nutshell is that a regular guy is selected for a hibernation project by the Pentagon, but instead of waking in a year he wakes in 500 years and finds a society so "dumbed-down" that he is now the most intelligent person in America.
      It was not a great movie, but it made me laugh many times. I thought the premise of the movie, that dumb people are breeding at an alarming rate while the intelligent people are not, was brilliant. Maybe the execution left a little to be desired, but it was entertaining and really made me fear for where society is going. And watching it on Comedy Central really hammered home the central theme of the movie, since the commercials seemed to be part of the movie. We're watching these characters do stupid things, then the next thing you know you have Larry the Cable Guy on the screen, and you have to remind yourself that it's a commercial and not part of the movie! It looks like it's on Comedy Central again next weekend, so you can check it out for yourself.

- And speaking of movies, we finally watched "Yesterday Once More", that DVD that we received damaged from Netflix four times. So was it worth all the aggravation? Yeah, I'd say so, at least up until the ending. So many times lately we have been enjoying a movie up until the very end when something happens that either ruins it for us, or just disappoints us in some way, and this was one of them. The movie was very well done, with great scenery, good acting, interesting characters, a complex plot but not too complex to follow, and of course, the adorable Sammi Cheng. I liked it all the way up until the ending.

- Last week a guy at work told me that I had one of the coolest screen-savers he had ever seen, but what he didn't know what that it was just one of the default options in Windows: "My Pictures Slide Show". If you select that from your Display Properties dialog box, you can point it to any folder on your system, then when the screen-saver kicks in, it will cycle through the pictures in that folder. I currently have it pointed to a folder full of old pulp covers, so when I'm not at my desk you can see a steady stream of Doc Savage, The Shadow, The Spider, Weird Tales, Operator #5, Black Mask, Captain Future, and other colorful covers. I used to have a folder full of silent movie posters, and that was pretty cool, too. All you need is a bunch of pictures (and Windows, of course) and you're all set.

- If you've been reading this site for a while you may recall that I had written about a Flash-based Theremin app that I had that required an old version of Shockwave to run. Well, for some reason I found myself on the theremin.info site and found that a guy named Jim Spinner had created a free Theremin Simulator that did more than what the Flash one did, and it ran as a single executable, so you don't have to install anything on your system. Sure, it doesn't have a virtual Leon Theremin that you can control like some kind of a puppet, but it can make some pretty cool sounds. Check it out!

- And the picture? I was digging through one of my junk drawers and found three strips of stickers that Chris, Ricky and I got when we went to the old Disney Quest indoor theme park that they had downtown many years ago. They had these vending machines that took your picture and inserted it into one of the backgrounds you select. This is the one Chris took. I could have sworn that I put mine up on this site sometime ago but I may be mistaken. I'll have to get mine and Ricky's up soon.

02/08/09: Two new pieces were posted to Stephie's Art Pages today. Click here to check them out.

And the fifth time was the charm for "Yesterday Once More", as Hartford, CT came through with an undamaged copy! We'll be watching it in the next couple days and I'll let you know if it was worth the trouble.

02/01/09: Netflix update: Erie, PA lets me down! The latest version of Yesterday Once More came from the Erie, PA shipping location, and wouldn't you know it: it's cracked as well, as you can see in the picture (click for a larger image). That makes four times this movie showed up damaged. I wonder where the next one is coming from.

01/23/09: It's a conspiracy, I tell ya...

We've had Netflix since January of 2001 and have had very little trouble with the service. The occasional missing or damaged disk, but for the most part our membership has been trouble-free. The only real "problem" we've had is every once in a while, we can't figure out who put a specific movie on our list. I don't think movies are randomly added to the list, but it takes so long for a movie to bubble to the top of our queue (usually 80 to 100 movies) that neither of us remember putting the movie on the list.

Recently, I noticed that we were in line to get Yesterday Once More, a Chinese romantic comedy starring the adorable Sammi Cheng, star of one of my recent favorites My Left Eye Sees Ghosts. It was coming from Memphis, which is not unusual when the movie is not a popular release, and I think Netflix gave us an additional movie because of the delay, which was nice. The movie arrived, and I put it aside to watch later. But when we got around to watching it, I noticed that it was split almost in half. Not a problem, since Netflix has a facility for reporting damaged disks. I did so and sent it back.

Later I got an e-mail that said that another copy was on its way, this time from Minneapolis. It arrived and I immediately checked it and it was cracked into three pieces. Again I reported the damaged disk and sent it back. The next replacement was coming from Madison, WI. It got here yesterday as we were leaving the house. I almost checked it then, but I put everything back in the mailbox until we got home. Sure enough, this copy was split, also in three pieces but differently from the other two.

I'm beginning to think that I'm not supposed to see this movie. I wonder if it has something to do with the bone-chilling cold that we've had around here lately. Or maybe the studio that put the disk out had some bad disk stock. I don't know. I just hope that Netflix doesn't think I'm breaking these disks on purpose. I really want to see this movie. Honest.

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