Thursday, October 30, 2008

An anniversary gone by

Tuesday would have been my 24th wedding anniversary. I recall it as one of my most blessed and most perfect of days. Everything had been planned and mapped out for me in advance. All I had to do was show up in my tuxedo and say my "I do's." It was a Sunday and there were meticulous plans as to when I was to make my appearance and when my bride was to be there. We weren't supposed to see each other during that day prior to the ceremony because superstituous members of the family said it would be bad luck. So, I was at the morning brunch for an hour and then I had to leave in anticpation of my wife-to-be showing up to meet with family, friends and well-wishers there. During the day, I cooled my heels waiting until it was time to leave for the synagogue. When it came to the wedding ceremony, I merely had to wait. And wait. And wait some more. My bride had arranged for limousines to pick up her bridal party, which had assembled at the Fairmont Hotel. The grooms, ushers and I had to get to the synagogue by the appointed time on our own. While the crowd gathered, an organist played Beatles songs during the period prior to the actual ceremony. It was a key point upon which my wife and I had insisted. Several qualified organists had turned down the opportunity to perform citing "artistic differences" in our choices for selections. At the last minute a friend of a friend volunteered to take on the job, but he went to Florida the week before to party with some of his friends and made both my future wife and I very stressed because he didn't bother to show up until the day of the rehearsal in order to familiarize himself with the organ and to pick up the music. That was the only real stress we dealt with in the days leading up to the wedding. My bachelor party the previous Thursday night was a disaster, but it was a carefree affair. For those of you who would like to think that there were strippers or pole dancers prepared to give lap dancers to moi, forget it. It was a very tepid evening consisting of a bunch of guys drinking a lot of booze at Pat O'Brien's in the French Quarter (a giant hurricane in a souvenier glass about the size of a small fish tank) and a trip back to a hotel room that quickly emptied when one of the members of our party emptied the contents of his stomach in the middle of the carpet. Gee, how romantic! The rehearsal dinner at the Fairmont Hotel the night before the wedding was a very swank affair and the best part was that the master of cermonies was my dad, who also stood as my best man at the wedding the next day. Sadly, the wedding book that he, the rabbi who performed the ceremony, my uncles, my wife and I signed was lost to the ravages of flooding following Hurricane Katrina. So, too, were all of my wedding pictures except for one picture of my bride that was kept in a frame very high on a downstairs wall. So, too, was the book of Beatles music the organist played. Yet, I still remember the day as a bright and beautiful memory of a romance that culminated in a grand candlelit event at Touro Synaogue attended by four hundred of our closest friends and family members. No rank waters or encroaching mold and mildew could ever wipe away my memories of that day or of the woman I loved so long ago or my dad, who both left this world within three weeks of one another ten years before the hurricane that decimated my city.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Missing Commandments

Aside from having to repair a tire on the same day, the most distasteful thing I had to do this past Saturday at the Fall Encampment (see Monday's "Alone in the Woods with 2,000") was look through a storage shed at Salmen Scout Reservation looking for the Ten Commandments. Perhaps I should explain. For the past four years I have had the pleasure of leading a Ten Commandments Hike for the Southeast Louisiana Council of the Boy Scouts of America. Since 2004 we have had over 1,100 participants take the trek along historic St. Charles Avenue. At each stop along the way a religious leader or Scout leader would talk to the crowd and speak about one of the Ten Commandments. Since the 10 Commandments are generally recognized as the foundation of most of the world's largest religions, the concept is to reinforce the similarities between different faiths and to promote religious tolerance, diversity and acceptance under the umbrella of Scouting. In order to have a graphic reminder of the Ten Commandments, I made up ten foamboard cutouts in the shape of tablets, each bearing a Commandment. We've used the past four years at each stop and stored them after each hike in a room for safekeeping at the Southeast Louisiana Council's building in Metairie. A few weeks back that storage room was emptied in preparation for some new room assignments and the Ten Commandments were placed somewhere for safekeeping. Unfortunately, when I inquired as to their whereabouts, no one knew where they were and several professionals suggested they might have been placed on a truck that ended up being sent to the Scout camp located outside Kiln, Mississippi. The ranger in charge of the camp, Pat Necaise, and I both went through every box, locker and compartment we could find that afternoon. Nothing. Nada. No trace of the Ten Commandments. I sent off worried e-mails to all of the professionals yesterday asking them to make a concerted search again, but I was becoming quite anxious over the prospect of having to re-craft the tablets, each bearing Hebrew and English fonts. The prospect of at least 12 hours of work was looming large. Luckily, I received a call from the Scout Executive's administrative assistant within an hour and several e-mails back from others announced the happy news. "Ten Commandments Found!" read one. It's nice to know that even in the busiest or most turbulent financial times that I will be keeping (quite literally) the Ten Commandments from now on. And I can say for certain that I will positively be keeping them in my home. So, the Commandments are no longer missing and I can praise the Lord that they have been found. I am sure that the Almighty would remind me that the Ten Commandments have been around since Mt. Sinai and that I shouldn't have been so worked up over losing these foamboard representations. Perhaps my favorite saying about the Ten Commandments is this: God may very well have written the first prescription. After all, he told Moses "Take two tablets and call me in the morning!" The hike begins at 10 a.m. on Friday, November 28. It is open to the public. For more information go to
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Monday, October 27, 2008

Alone in the woods with 2,200 others

This weekend was a special one. Friday afternoon I headed off to Salmen Scout Reservation, located outside of Kiln, Mississippi (the home of Brett Favre) to help run the annual Fall Encampment. An expected 2,000 Cub Scouts, parents, grandparents and siblings blossomed to 2,200 as registration continued on Saturday morning for the event titled "Swamp Stomp." Activities for the Cub Scouts ran the gamut from canoeing (only permitted for Cub Scouts at council events), to preparing discarded flags for proper disposal, to archery, b-b guns and land boat races to name just a few. Several members of the award-winning Chilankatoba Lodge's Native-American dance team performed from the early morning till late in the afternoon on Saturday. On Saturday night the hillside next to the lake was filled with all of the participants who were treated to an incredible arena show with fun skits (pie throwing, "guests" like Homer Simpson, etc.) and a 20-minute long fireworks display that would rival many of those put on by major metropolitan markets. Sunday I helped lead an interfaith religious service that got everyone in a proper mood to pack up and move back to their homes. Despite this being the first camping experience for hundreds of participants, the campsites showed little wear and tear when all was finished. Much of the "Leave No Trace" component of camping was embraced throughout the weekend, I am happy to report. All in all it was a happy time with near perfect weather of blue skies and little wisps of clouds in the sky. Temperatures were pleasant during the day and a little nippy at night, but then that's what campfires are for, aren't they?
FourFront Productions'  presentation of Alan Bennett's "The History Boys" finished its run yesterday at Southern Repertory. Lucas Harms, one of the lead actors in the production and one of the four producers who gave the production company its unique name, thanked everyone who attended and reminded the audience that their next presentation will be "Altar Boys" on April 10 though 19, a short run during a very busy time of year in the city. The very large cast, practically all male, was very ably directed by Fred Nuccio, longtime stage manager at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre. Aside from Harms, veteran director and performer David Hoover, who heads up the drama and theatre department at the University of New Orleans, and Beverly Trask added support to the cast members who portrayed British upper schoolboys. Among the excellent performances were those by P. J. McKinnie (Dakin), Joe Siebert (Lockwood) and Alex Lemonier (Posner). Lemonier sang several duets with Dr. Brian Rosenberg, who played piano throughout the three-hour show (including intermission). Rosenberg was bit by the acting bug prior to his becoming a doctor and it was a pleasure to see him still tread the boards , even after Meanwhile, Cripple Creek Theatre Company continues its production of "Erik the Fourteenth," a never-before-American-staged-play by Swedish playwright August Strindberg, until November 10. Quite compelling was the performance turned in by Keith Launey in the title role of the 16th Century paranoid, schizophrenic Swedish king, who literally went mad.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A Rolling Stone uses no floss

Believe it or not, Bill Wyman, the former bass player for the Rolling Stones makes 72 today. That's not just unbelievable, but downright scary. Wyman, Rolling Stones enthusiasts will tell you, he left the group in 1992 to tour with his own band, Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings. For me, though, the Rolling Stones have always been (as billed) "the greatest rock and roll band in the world." True, they have gotten on in age and they haven't topped the charts lately, but the legacy they have left us since the early 60s is a treasure trove of some of the best rock, blues, dance and, yes, even country songs from the hit parade. The truth is that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have been at the core of a hit-making, money machine for over four decades. I've always loved the Beatles, but the Rolling Stones have, due to the length and breadth of their work, have always been at the top of my best band list. It is a fact that the late Stones guitarist Brian Jones and I share the same birthday. When I lorded over my oldies show on WTUL-FM during the 1970s and early 1980, I closed every show with a song by the Rolling Stones. I am also proud to admit that the very first concert experience I had outside of New Orleans was in 1972 at the Rolling Stones' appearance in Mobile, Alabama. The two opening acts were not unknown or without talent. In fact Tina Turner had the first set, while Stevie Wonder followed her. Then the bad boys of British rock took the stage. It was an unreal night, but we were all kept in check by the numerous Mobile police officers armed with billy clubs who hovered over the crowd. Since that time I've seen the Stones in 1975, where they began their world tour in Baton Rouge. There were three other shows beginning in 1978 where I saw them again in the Superdome. All of these shows were special, although I must admit that the memories are a bit hazy now in of my years. But, then again, with Mick Jagger at 65 and Keith Richards set to reach that hallmark in another month and a half, I'm beginning to feel a bit younger.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The good, the bad and the ugly

In order to keep myself from bemoaning the declining state of the world economy, I have been scanning other headlines. The national news media has been clamoring for stories on the two presidential candidates as well as focusing on the economic downturn. So, I have been heading to the local newspaper pages or TV to find items of interest. The three items I found that made the most impact are not unlike the title of that old Clint Eastwood spaghetti western: "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly." (cue the music) THE GOOD. (♪Ahhhhhhhhh♪) First of all, the local recovery czar, Ed Blakely, has created some concern that he may not be staying here by next Mardi Gras. Seems that the $150,000 salary Blakely has been drawing in addition to his professor's salary he banks from the University of Sydney (as in Australia) is enough to keep him affixed in the city whose skyline he predicted would be full of cranes by last year. In case you didn't hear, the skyline is still unobstructed by cranes, although lots of pigeons still abound. Blakely claims it's all about his family in Sydney and how they need him. Eyebrows were raised a few weeks ago when Blakely headed over to burgeoning Dubai to consult with Middle East officials there about sustainable development. It's interesting that the recovery czar was there, since Dubai has 30,000 construction cranes, or about 24% of the total world's 125,000 cranes. Perhaps he wants to tend to his family's needs. I think that's possible, but it is curious. 
THE BAD. (♪Ahhhhhhhhh♪ )Meanwhile, a New Orleans police officer, Christopher Buckley, was arrested on Tuesday and charged with the rape of the 13-year-old daughter of his girlfriend. Apparently the ten-year veteran had been accused of rape at least twice in the past, but the district attorney's offices run by Harry Connick, Sr. in 2001 and, later in 2003,  Eddie Jordan chose not to seek an indictment of Buckley due to the  "failure of the victims or the victims parents" to cooperate with prosecutors, according to New Orleans police superintendent Warren Riley. The earlier cases involved one 16-year-old and two others ages 12 and 15. It's incredible to me that he got away with this kind of behavior with juveniles virtually unchecked by authorities. Suffice it to say that he is being held without bail in the House of Detention, where some of the criminals he arrested during his career may be alerting the rest of the population there as to who their newest inmate is.
THE UGLY. ( ♪Ahhhhhhhhh♪ )The last item of local interest caused me to look twice and make sure I had read it correctly. Apparently, the tradition of Louisiana malfeasance, political chicanery and corruption has not been wasted on the young. Miss Teen Louisiana, Lindsey Evans, lost her crown two days ago after it was revealed that she was arrested on charges of beating a food check (eat-and-run) and possession of marijuana last weekend. According to police, the pretty 18-year-old blonde did a very blonde-thing while dining with three other girlfriends. Instead of making a clean getaway, she left behind a pocketbook with her driver's license inside as well as a small amount of marijuana. When Evans and her posse returned for the pocketbook, police were there to escort her and her cronies down to the Bossier City jail. All four were booked with possession and theft. Paula Miles, the president of RPM Productions, the sponsor of the beauty pageant, stripped Evans of her title this week. Ironically, the next Miss Teen Louisiana will be crowned on November 1, so it won't be long before we are represented with a new captivating beauty. Let's hope that she doesn't also turn out to be another beauty in captivity.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Joy of Torah

Would that I could take pictures of the joint Simchat Torah services held last night at Gates of Prayer Synagogue, the Reform house of worship where Orthodox Congregation Beth Israel meets. Just ponder the diversity of Jewish worship at Gates of Prayer. It was there that Rabbi Uri Topolosky welcomed Conservative Congregation Shir and rabbinical student Andy Shugerman to Beth Israel's meeting room and erstwhile sanctuary. Earlier, on Sunday, Shugerman welcomed Beth Israel to enjoy a Hoshanna Rabba sing-along featuring the dynamic voices of Pey Dalid. Pey Dalid and Ofer Kurtsburg, Beth Israel's own chazzan, sang along with Topolosky and his administrator, Rabbi David Posternock. Both Topolosky and Posternock provided additional guitar accompaniment to that of Pey Dalid, which also has a percussionist in the group of four. Because it was Yom Tov, no guitars were used at last night's Simchat Torah service. It really didn't matter, though. Everyone bellowed out their joy in enthusiastic fashion throughout the night, eventually dancing in the street with six sefer Torah scrolls, five from Beth Israel and one from Shir Chadash. It was the second year in a row that women were able to joyously dance with the scrolls, something that had never happened in 103 years of Beth Israel's existence until Rav Uri came to New Orleans last year. This new tradition was presaged by a fun game of Jewish Trivia moderated by Rabbis Topolosky and Shugerman. The singing and dancing was energetic and very physical. Pey Dalid even performed their own version of Jewish "gospel." It was inspiring to say the least. Because of the holiday, I couldn't take any pictures. Can I at least get an amen and a hallelujah?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Shemini Torah or Simchat Atzerets?

Well, I am confused. I know it is supposed to be Shemini Atzerets, the last day of the Succot holiday. Apparently, though, it is Simchat Torah/Shemini Atzerets, according to the Reform world. So I am wishing my Reform friends a joyous Simchat Torah (or as I used to say Simchas Torah) and waiting to wish the same to my more observant friends at sundown Tuesday. In any event it is weird to have different groups of Jews worshiping the same holiday on different days. You wouldn't have that problem in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Ah, well, guess I should just let it happen and enjoy

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A busy day

It's been a relatively busy day here in New Orleans. First, this morning I awoke and headed out to the Welcoming AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps to New Orleans program at their new home on Jefferson Avenue. The AVODAH House is owned by former Anti-Defamation League Director Jerry Himmelstein and his wife Linda, the former House of Ruth director. Following the Katrina disaster, both of the Himmelsteins took up residence in the great Northeast. Joshua Lichtman, the program director of AVODAH, New Orleans learned of the lease availability of the house for the program when he arrived here from Detroit (hometown) and New York (AVODAH headquarters) and it was tabbed as the residence for the nine AVODAH Jewish Service Corps members. Rabbi David Rosenn, founder and executive director of AVODAH, was down for the kickoff, held inside the sukkah (booth) that was constructed in the backyard. Following two theatrical offerings -- "Nunsense" at JPAS's Westwego theatre and "Die! Mommy! Die!" at Le Chat Noir --I headed to Metairie last night for a joint Hoshana Rabba program held at Conservative Congregation Shir Chadash. Jewish singers and musicians Pey Dalid provided a joyous noise along with great musical interplay with Beth Israel Rabbi Uri Topolosky, chazzan Ofer Kurtsberg and JTS rabbinical student Andy Shurgerman, who is one of two students leading the congregation while a replacement for former Rabbi Ted Lichtenfeld is found. The crowd was most receptive and the only problem was that the sound had to be turned down by 10:00 p.m. Meanwhile, after a day of eating on the run, my stomach decided to have a discussion with me late tonight. By the way I believe my stomach won the debate.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Le Petit's two grand hits

It is not unusual for a playhouse to have a production treading its boards. It is expected. What is unusual is when a playhouse has two or more venues to allow simultaneous mountings of different shows. If, in the course of mounting these two shows, one of them is a hit, that is also expected. Everyone can be proud that, apart from the artistic triumph, the public was affected by it and provided an economic return to the theatre. But when both of these simultaneous productions find artistic merit in the theatre community and runaway success at the box office, it is highly unusual and a moment to be savored by the playhouse. That is exactly what is happening for the next several weeks as Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre mounts two highly anticipated and wildly successful productions of "Rent" and "Assassins." Both are ensemble shows, but the comparison stops there. "Rent," the voice of the millennial generation by the late James Larson, is an in-your-face loud, raucous roaming commentary on relationships, AIDS, poverty and the need for community. Stephen Sondheim's "Assassins" is a little-known, highly controversial work about those that successfully slew or attempted to slay standing presidents of the U.S. "Rent" engages our sensibilities about love, disease and capitalism, while "Assassins" makes us cringe at the demented figures who tried to justify the ultimate removal of office by a member of the electorate. The community in "Rent" is engaging and, despite their lot in life, proud of who they are. The ragtag group of misfits in "Assassins," from John Wilkes Booth to James Guiteau to Leon Czogolsz to Lee Harvey Oswald is pitiful. Yet, we are drawn to them despite the horror of their actions. It is not unlike watching a train wreck. We are repulsed, but cannot turn away. Sondheim's music is at his very best here and the cast does well to bring texture to the different layers the composer brought into the score. "Seasons of Love," which opens, continues and closes the second act of "Rent" has become an anthem for Gen-Xers and others. "Assassins" has its most compelling song in "Another National Anthem," where all the major characters are on stage complaining about why they did what they did and their misguided justifications for their actions. The young cast of "Rent" is terrific with very few "big name" local stars, while "Assassins" boasts New Orleans's own Ricky Graham, Gary Rucker, Jimmy Murphy, and Vatican Lokey in key roles of Guiteau, Oswald, Booth and the Proprietor, respectively. Suffice it to say that the two are both very different, yet both excellent in their own right. Artistic Director Sonny Borey is to be congratulated for dual successes on twin stages and a testament to the powerful recovery being felt in the New Orleans theatre community. Break a leg, fellas. Uh, Mr. Booth, especially in your case!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Vote for humor

This country has always had its share of laughter at the expense of its politicians. Office holders and incumbents have made great targets for comedians and sharp-tongued critics since before we broke free from the yoke of colonialism. It was important for Revolutionary era writers like Benjamin Franklin to capture the public's attention by deflating self-important figures and corrupt officials with a humorous jab rather than risk arrest and possible incarceration by leveling charges in print. In "Poor Richard's Almanac," he wrote many humorous passages such as "A countryman between two lawyers is like a fish between two cats." Well over a hundred years later it was just as important that Will Rogers, whose daily column was read by millions of adoring fans, was also able to poke fun at Washington politicos in a way that made Americans proud. "I don't belong to any organized political party," he would explain. "I'm a Democrat!" Growing up, I recall the antics of Bob Hope and Johnny Carson as they would take politicians to task in a variety of ways with Hope starting in the golden days of radio and Carson brilliantly slicing up political figures in his daily monologue on The Tonight Show. TV's "Saturday Night Live" with Chevy Chase, the late Phil Hartman, and others made the nation laugh at presidents, senators and mayors in a way that both humbled and endeared them. More recently, the country has enjoyed a comedic break from the heated political battles for the presidency with comedienne Tina Fey's brilliant depiction of Republican vice-presidential candidate Governor Sarah Palin. Fey has taken the opportunity to carry the portrayal from "Saturday Night Live" to her own award-winning "30 Rock." All of this, of course, leads us to consider the comic performances at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner held last night in New York where candidates Obama and McCain took a break from their campaigns and playfully roasted each other to the delight of the crowd (including former First Lady Hillary Clinton) and for the benefit of Catholic charities. It was nice to see both senators using less rhetoric and posturing and taking time out for levity. How wonderful it would be if the race for the White House could be decided by the candidate who leveled the best one-liners or who had the best comic timing. Instead of trusted advisors and spinners, the campaign could be decided by the best comedy writers and humorists. Oh, well, I can dream, can't I?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Did I miss something?

Well, the stock market continues to amaze me with its incredible version of the "Limbo Rock" (How low can you go?) With the exception of Monday's unprecedented 900+ point jump, the market has lost big time every day of the month it's been open. The word "panic" hasn't been bandied about much, but yesterday BusinessMirror's John Magnun used it to describe the state of financial affairs he finds exists on Wall Street. Interestingly, he suggests investing in Canada, China and the Phillippines stock markets over our own. As a matter of fact, he went so far as to suggest that turbulent Iraq offered better opportunities for investors if only they traded more than a paltry million dollars a day. Makes one think that the real slide has only just begun. So with all of our portfolios from three-quarters to half of their worth just a few weeks ago, the question begs to be asked: how long will it take for us to recoup our losses? According to experts, five years and more is the normal reply. The upside may be that interest on mortgage payments will continue to be low for some time to come with the caveat that fewer mortgages will be approved because of the tighter finances of most banking institutions. Interest payments on investments will also stay low for the foreseeable future making bonds seem somewhat more attractive in the short run. All of this seems to have started on Ben Bernanke's watch as Federal Reserve Chairman. Bernanke lowered the key rate to 1.5% last week in an effort to stave off the global crisis. So, the question must be asked, from an outsider like me, would this have happened on Alan Greenspans's watch?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day

Today is Blog Action Day and a very large community of 11,000 bloggers worldwide has been asked to mobilize against the common enemy of poverty. I am not sure in these uncertain financial times that blogging about poverty will bring about changes in anything but attitude. Yet, attitude is important if positive changes are ever to come about. Poverty is a regretable and unfortunate situation endured in various degrees by 55% of the world's population. It is not widespread in the United States, many of you would say. However, keep in mind that a surprising number of Americans are only two paychecks away from hitting the poverty line themselves. That's a shocking consideration. Poverty is a major disease, a natural disaster or an accident away for too many of us eeking out a living the best we can. What is important is to keep in mind that poverty is not a choice, but a condition that can be remedied over time with the proper application of determination, spirit and good luck. How can you fight poverty? Well, we can all start with small steps. Contribute to local food banks and donate to local agencies that battle poverty as much as you can comfortably. Give to the United Way and ask if your workplace provides matching funds for any donations you may give. Check out your local church, temple, synagogue or mosque and inquire if any congregation members need a job. A lot of able workers find themselves down temporarily due to circumstances beyond their control. Many of them are just looking for a hand up, not a handout. In terms of fighting poverty worldwide, there are many forward thinking organizations that do a lot of good work. There are several United Nations organizations that spring to mind such as the United Nations Development Programme that pumps millions of development dollars into local economies. Find a program that sets well with your own philosophical outlook and give generously. Poverty may be inescapable for some, but it need not be permanent. It's up to us to make a difference. Change your attitude first. Then make a game plan and initiate action.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

It's a hard drive gonna fail

Ever wonder what makes a hard drive suddenly give up the ghost? In almost every situation that the "heart" of a computer goes south, I am amazed. It is not unlike people who have atherosclerotic heart disease. One minute they appear healthy and robust and the next minute they have keeled over suffering from a myocardial infarction. As any schoolchild can tell you (and you can never find one when you need one), a hard disk drive (or HDD) is a collection of spinning disks that revolve at very fast speeds, typically from 5400 to 7200 rpm (revolutions per minute), for most consumer models to extremely fast enterprise models that cruise at 10,000 rpm or more. Because of the stability of hard drives and for processors to be able to read and transfer data to them, the most modern computers demand larger hard drives and faster speeds to be able to access the data more readily. The faster the disk drives spin, the more heat is generated and the greater the demand for cooling inside. Except for a small hole designed to vent the pressure that rises inside, hard drives are sealed. Most people have never seen the insides of these marvelous devices, but they are exquisite in the simplicity of their design. But therein lies the rub. The simplicity of their design belies the complexity of technology that make hard drive disks perform so well. There is a motor that physically spins the disks and a very light head that reads them as they spin. Oftentimes the motor will fail due to an electrical short or the arm that holds the head may fail to find its "landing spot" and may score the platters, which are very similar in appearance to CD ROMs or DVDs. Hard disk drives have evolved through the years from SCSI (small computer serial interface) types to PATA types (IDE and EIDE drives) to the more recent ATA and SATA (Serial ATA) types. Yet, they are all remarkably similar. When they fail, they fail abruptly, many times with no advance warning. It boggles the mind what it is. If RAM (memory) is too low for an operating system, it may result in excessive paging to the hard drive. This extra overhead and the physical constraints of having to keep paging files on the drive have often contributed to hard drive failures that I have seen. One unfortunate fellow replaced his hard drive three times before I insisted he upgrade the memory in his Windows 2000 computer to 1GB RAM. He hasn't had any problem with his hard drive since. An occasional defragmentation of a hard drive is a good practice, but with the larger drives that abound today, less defragmentation seems to be the rule. Windows XP and Vista operating systems analyze drives prior to defragmentation and more times than not don't recommend drives to undergo defragmentation. Deleting unnecessary and temporary files is also a good rule to follow to get hard drives to work at optimum speed. One of the best things to do to maintain a hard drive, though, is to get a good surge protector. More times than not a small surge through an AC line will jump the power supply and the motherboard and kill the hard drive. Don't ask me why. Suffice it for me to say it just happens. The main rule to remember, though, is backup the data regularly. Like the humans that invented them, hard disk drives are all destined to die one day. It's not if it will fail, it's when. Remembering to upgrade RAM, using a good surge protector or UPS (uninterruptible power supply), and performing occasional deletion of files and defragmentations are all good starts. Keeping your fingers crossed is also highly recommended.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Three weeks

With only 21 days until the elections, the frustration levels seem to be reaching near capacity for most voters to deal with the two presidential candidates and their respective campaigns. Whether Democrat or Republican, a lot of voters have been shaking their heads and wondering aloud if there weren't some better choices for the nation and the Free World. Ironically, in a race where both candidates bellow they are instruments of change, most voters I talk with grudgingly wish they could change the candidates. If we were to believe the polls, Barack Obama is as far ahead as 11 percentage points. That's an incredible swing when one considers that McCain and Obama were in a virtual dead-heat a month ago. But that was before the stock market started to slide and before the world went into economic crisis. If the economic crisis deepens, Obama could certainly maintain a double digit lead over McCain. It really is fish or cut bait time for both of these presidential possibilities, a fact not lost on the news media already clammoring for more dirt on Sarah Palin. Even neutral Tom Brockaw on the Today Show this morning commented on the runaway status of Obama and how unstoppable he seems to be. John McCain's "they forgot to let you decide" speech might be seen as a nice sound bite on the evening news, but it does smack of desperation. "My friends, we've got them where we want them," he was heard to say earlier today. Hmmm...I didn't realize that McCain wanted to lose that badly. Frankly, I wish he would take off the gloves and be specific in what his platform means for the future of America. I know it's wishful thinking, but, perhaps, at this last upcoming debate, we'll hear less of the same and more of what informed voters need to cast a considered ballot.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Another lost Shepherd

On Friday the local electorate was shocked, shocked I tell you, that another politician admitted to wrongdoing and would soon be sentenced to spend time away from his constituency in the slammer. State Senator Derrick Shepherd, a West Bank official had been indicted over a year ago, charged with money laundering. Despite his protestations of innocence, Shepherd managed to get himself in even more hot water when he allegedly entered his girlfriend's home in the middle of the night and took her cellphone without her permission (see "A Shepherd who lost his way"). Although she recanted days later, police found Shepherd at his residence early the next morning enjoying a lap dance from some, uh...dancers when they came to get his side of the story. Unfortunately they did find at least a grain of truth to the story as well as the young lady's cellphone. Shepherd was incarcerated until he could be arraigned, but his bail from the other federal charges complicated his life. He had to live in a halfway house for a day or so until a judge placed him under house arrest and forced him to wear an ankle device that let authorities know where he was at any time. That debacle cost Shepherd his Senate assignments while he continued to prepare his case against the federal charges. Shepherd was a Judge Advocate General in the Army Reserves. His guilty plea on Friday was made in exchange with U.S. Attorney Jim Letten's office dropping five other charges. Had it gone to trial he may well have spent the rest of his life behind bars. Shepherd resigned his seat, lost his ability to practice law and ended his military career on a low note. It is another sad lesson that the electorate has to endure from a politician whose meteoric rise was almost as spectacular as his recent crash and burn. The future seemed full of bright opportunities for Shepherd just two years ago. His sentencing from the federal judge will come in January, but the other mess with his girlfriend has yet to be settled. It is possible that he could have more time tacked on for state charges, although I hope the authorities will cut him a break. He has done more to himself than any punishment that could be dished out by a judge or jury. Meanwhile, one of Shepherd's closest allies is U.S. Representative William Jefferson, who is waging his own battle against federal charges in an upcoming trial in Virginia. Whether Shepherd will be asked to testify against his friend and benefactor is speculation right now, but it is a good bet that Shepherd will be asked to turn state's evidence in order to lighten his sentence. Jefferson, in a runoff with former TV newscaster Helena Moreno, doesn't seem worried, but with family members indicted or already pleading guilty, this latest episode with Shepherd can't be seen as anything good. It will be interesting to see what shakes out with his race. Due to the large black electorate, many experts expect him to win the runoff, despite the aggressive run that Moreno has made, beating seasoned politicians like Troy Carter, James Carter and Cedric Richmond. If Jefferson wins, he still might end up having to give up his seat were he to be convicted in Virginia. It means that the soap opera we call Louisiana politics goes on.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The slow process of fasting

Well, another year on the Jewish calendar has started and after the major hurdle of fasting for Yom Kippur, I am refreshed and ready for the upcoming Succot holiday. It is an acknowledged fact that ten days into the beginning of a new year (this year is 5769) the Day of Atonement looms large. After gorging ourselves on bushels of apples slathered in honey for a sweet year, we are admonished to stop eating and drinking for this one holy day. We also cannot bathe, wear leather soled shoes, or have sexual relations throughout the entire 10 Days of Awe (or 10 Days of Penitence) that make up the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I know. A lot of you are wondering what leather soles on shoe bottoms have to do with anything in particular. That's really an easy one to answer. Remember the Golden Calf? Yes, the one Moses's older brother Aaron forged out of gold while Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. Well, the sages say that to wear leather on our feet would remind Jews of how they strayed from the Almighty at a time when they should have been blindly obedient. So, no leather is the watchword, although technically just the shoe bottoms is all required. The rest of the laws of Shabbat (no writing, making fire, doing work, etc.) are also observed, but the major difference is that on the Sabbath we are required to eat. Yes, it's in the fine print of observance for the day, although some vegetarians are shocked to find that the specific reference is to eat meat. That's because eating meat at a meal is seen as a special event and the sages (there they are again) decided that the Sabbath deserved a special meal to set it apart from the regular week when we may or may not decide to eat meat. Yom Kippur is a major fast day. It begins at sundown and ends sundown plus about a half hour after sunset the following day. We cannot eat or drink anything. With the exception of necessary medications, we cannot pass anything between our lips except for prayer and greetings to friends and family at the synagogue or temple. The upshot of the Day of Atonement, though, is to focus less on ourselves, but to strengthen the relationship between ourselves and the Almighty by acknowledging the sins we have perpetrated against others or have occurred beyond our control over the past year. I must admit it is a good way to start the year off right with a clean slate. Those sages (again with the sages) instruct us that our names are inscribed in the Book of Life on Rosh Hashanah, but that our fate is sealed on Yom Kippur. Who will live, who will die, who will gain wealth, who will be poor, etc. is all inside that book. With the current state of the stock market and the worldwide financial crisis, I wish I could get a sneak peek into that book to recoup some of my recent "corrections" in the market. Then again, maybe not. Only joking, Lord.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Needle and the Damage Lagged

Terry Soltzberg and the Space Needle's own Lunar Orbiter

Twice in as many months I have been to the Northwest and found myself traveling backwards against the natural progression of the time zones. I have done that only a few times before and can't say that I noticed any residual effects like I've experienced last month and at this juncture. I am fairly certain that I am in the throes of what travelers call jet lag. It is odd that the only cure to jet lag is its same cause: to wit, time. Of course the reason our inner clocks are so off kilter is due to changes in our inner clocks. According to experts, it takes a day for one hour of time zone change to be corrected. So, since I crossed over two hours, I should expect to take at least two days to fully recover. Only one problem. Yom Kippur begins at sundown on Wednesday, hardly enough time to prepare for fasting.  Guess I'll have to pray that I make it through the affliction.
Meanwhile, I wanted to publicly thank Clevleand's own Terry Soltzberg of Midwest Information Systems or Infosys, who was my companion during the recent SMB Nation conference in Seattle.  The last night we both flew out of Sea-Tac Airport together and took time to dine in the restaurant at the Seattle Space Needle before our respective flights.  It was a magnificent repast with the piece de resistance of a Lunar Orbiter, a chocolate sundae served atop a  dish holding a bed of dry ice that smokes up the table. It was wild and definitely worth the trip. Terry is seen with the timeless dessert above that has been served inside the Space Needle since it opened in 1962. Thank you, Terry, for all you did to make me feel at home in Seattle.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Worrying about the Windows way

Microsoft VP Cindy Bates with Erig Ligman, SMB Nation CEO Harry Brelsford and Arnie Mondloch

The question that many in the field of computing and small business support have to consider today is whether to hitch their stars to the Microsoft Windows wagon blindly and hold on with all their might or keep their eyes open and do much the same. Windows Small Business Server 2008 has so much potential for providers and for end users that to find another business solution with as much potential and promise as what it will offer businesses would be impractical. But change is always forthcoming and dealing with it is always stressful. The last day of the SMB Nation conference started with several Microsoft executives who presented opportunities for computer consultants and small and medium businesses alike. Frankly, the auditorium was full of very dedicated consultants and professionals who have more than a glimmer of worry about what these changes will portend for themselves and their business clients. Microsoft is cutting much of the financial incentives they have offered to their partners in the past, while now attempting to encourage end users to work directly with Microsoft "in the cloud." This is definitely making many IT professionals upset with the way Microsoft is attempting to skim off clients and business. At the same time many IT professionals and managed services providers are anxious to implement upgrades and work closely with their partners in providing cutting edge opportunities to their customers. In a very real sense it is becoming less necessary for computer consultants to know the needs of their clients' computers and more for them to become a trusted advisor to the business. Dealing with security, data backup and making businesses more productive is the great aim that everyone at SMB Nation has in view. But the bigger question is how to make their own businesses more profitable too without losing clients to Microsoft. Microsoft U.S. Partners Strategy, Marketing and Programs vice-president Cindy Bates and two members of her team, Eric Ligman and Arnie Mondloch, unveiled programs that will enrich many of the members in the audience and make many happy clients too. Partnering with Microsoft has great potential and the returns in investment can be incredible, we all learned today. But if Microsoft really values the IT professionals who have grown their clients into profitable end users, they might want to consider that we are a big reason for that. How we implement Microsoft's business solutions and how quickly they go out into the marketplace will determine whether it is advisable to worry about the future or to roll forward with it with a smile on our faces and profits on our books.

Meeting Clay Eals at SMB Nation event
Clay Eals, the author of Steve Goodman: Facing the Music is a longtime resident of Seattle and he was kind enough to show up this morning and meet with me to chat about his favorite musician. Goodman, the talented performer and composer who died in September of 1984, was the well-researched subject of Eals' 778 page volume published by ECW Press. He was kind enough to sign my book and talk about Goodman and what he has meant to him. He even wore his City of New Orleans Amtrak jacket in my honor.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Telephonation for a nascent telephony

Captain Harry Brelsford steering the Telephonation ship

So many of you may be wondering what is this strange thing called VoIP? It's pronounced VOYP and like orange and purple I have yet to find a rhyme for it in English. VoIP stands for "voice over IP" (as in Internet Protocol) and it is a technology in which the Internet is married to present phone technology to permit transmission of telephony over the Internet. It is an opportunity to add voice to the computing mix and has limitless possibilities for businesses who look to save on the cost of existing phone lines by replacing them with individual IP phones. These IP phones have been making great incursions into the marketplace and for small and medium businesses in the Enterprise looking to replace outdated systems VoIP is a prime consideration. Because of its many features like integrated voice and e-mails and the fact that most businesses now maintain "fat pipes to the cloud" (high speed Internet access), VoIP is fast becoming one of the greatest cost-saving measures to be implemented over a local area network. At SMB Nation, CEO Harry Brelsford just announced the launch of Telephonation. With Microsoft's Response Point coming on strong now, VoIP technology is becoming a viable option even for the small business owner who needs to put in a simple telephone system. Imagine saving on the cost of inside wiring and renting phone systems from typical vendors like AT&T or cable systems. No longer does a business owner have to pay a substantially higher cost for phones or deal with mediocre bandwidth utilization. It may surprise some to learn that the largest number of vendors appearing at SMB Nation this year are voice sponsors. VoIP solutions have been available for a number of years from vendors like Cisco, but business owners were not endeared to the high cost of licenses per seat that could send the cost well over $300 per phone. At that rate, AT&T and cable seemed reasonable. However, as more players have jumped into the telephony game, costs and licensing have come spiraling downward. It now makes sense to examine the IP phone as a cost-effective business solution. With SMB Nation CEO Harry Brelsford taking the wheel of the Telephonation ship, will VoIP steer into clear waters or is the channel already too crowded with other worthy vessels? Only time and a steady hand at the tiller will tell.

Experts SBS Diva Susan Bradley and the legendary Ofer Shimrat

Yesterday's general session with SBS Diva Susan Bradley and Ofer Shimrat on the "gotchas" associated with implementing Windows SBS 2008 was a perfect wedding of the best of practices for software (from Bradley) and for hardware (from Shimrat). Bradley's SBS Diva blog has been a font of extremely useful information, while Shimrat has long cultivated a reputation as a master of building well-designed hardware solutions. While the two of them offer very high levels of knowledge about SBS 2003 R2 (not shipping from Microsoft as of October 1), there were a number of questions about implementing SBS 2008 that gave these two experts much to consider. Bradley and Shimrat both pointed to huge memory utilization by the OS that required a minimum of 4GB of RAM to adequately allow the server to idle properly. Microsoft officials in fairly small numbers at this year's SMB Nation (as opposed to previous years when the event was held in Redmond) might well have cringed over many of the problems they both saw with the long awaited OS in addition to migration guru Jeff Middleton's alarming notes on migration paths and potential pitfalls in an earlier morning session. Then again, there was the quote from a Microsoft worker in the convention hall who said yesterday "I'm from Microsoft. I'm here to help." Makes me feel so warm and fuzzy.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Las Dos Amys

Amy Babinchak and Amy Luby at SMB Nation's Saturday lunch

Two of the important ladies attending SMB Nation are both named Amy. Amy Babinchak is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) who handles support services for IT professionals like me and others attending SMB Nation. She is considered an expert on firewall protection and has advocated very strongly for ISA Server under the Windows Small Business Server platforms. One of the interesting turns for IT professionals that has happened since the announcement of the release of Windows SBS Server 2008 has been the decision by Microsoft to no longer include ISA Server in its newest platform. That has translated into a number of hard decisions by IT consultants as to how to maintain ISA Server under a Windows SBS 2008 environment or whether to find a hardware device or software solution that might do the same job as ISA. Babinchak's talk titled "Decisions, Decisions, Decisions," dealt with many of these challenges for those IT professionals who protect networks from outside attacks or intrusions that might emanate from within. A remote operator who telecommutes from a home computer might not know that his or her son downloaded a malware last night while downloading a hip-hop. When he gets authentication to enter the workplace network, he has unwittingly allowed the malware to propagate on the network. Amy is one of those IT professionals who advises against such practices and she is paid well for her wise advice by her own clients who look to her for pearls of knowledge and best practices. Meanwhile, the IT industry has been going through a paradigm shift lately as a result of the managed services business model. Instead of the old business model of "break/fix," wherein a client notifies an IT professional that something is not working and that his or her services are needed, the managed services business model is proactive and robust. Amy Luby, the CEO of MSPSN (MSP Services Network) also caters to IT professionals who are looking to get a piece of a $42 billion industry. That's correct. $42 billion. Luby helps bring IT consultants the ability to manage their own businesses as well as to integrate them into managed services for their own clients. Being able to fix network problems remotely, back up data, prevent unwanted intrusions and report on this for clients is something that I am keenly interested in for my clients. Also, being able to better manage my own company resources is something that is also a high priority for me. So, the two Amys have quite a number of followers who respect what they do and say. It's fascinating that two lovely ladies can attract so many because of the charm of their business applications in addition to their pulchritude. 

SMB Nation in Seattle

Jeff Middleton prepares his presentation as SMB Nation CEO Harry Brelsford introduces him

The sixth annual SMB Nation conference presided over by business support guru Harry Brelsford started up this morning in Seattle, the major city closest to the elephant of the computing industry, Microsoft. Previous SMB Nation conferences have been held in Indianapolis and in nearby Redmond, the real location of Microsoft world headquarters. This event is a "must do" for many of the small and medium support network of computer administrators and network engineers who are looking to find out the best way to support their clients and get themselves more business in the process. The first keynote presentation was by David Brown of Intel, who focuses on the concerns of businesses and computer support administrators who are interested in finding the cheapest, most energy efficient and easiest to maintain products available. Intel's Core 2 products were discussed as well as innovative new solutions that promise better integration for professional offices and businesses in the marketplace. ONe of their products supports as many as 14 2.5 inch hot-swapable hard drives with up to six server blade components. It was quite impressive, especially as Intel designed it to work with existing software solutions that make it a workable solution practically out of the box. New Orleans's own Jeff Middleton had a talk on "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" of server migration under the just-released 2008 Microsoft SBS (Small Business Server). Suffice it to say that much of what existed before has gone away and many of the best methods used to deploy servers in the marketplace have been replaced by new methods or no longer exist. It's a muddled field right now, but if anyone can figure it out, Jeff Middleton, whose stages its own annual conference, will definitely do it. Meanwhile, a great number of other speakers are heading to the conference over the course of the next few days in overcast and moist Seattle.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Death of Mortimer

When I was a kid, I was a voracious reader and I loved Walt Disney films. One of the earliest books I can recall was a small Disney volume named "Ben and Me," a preposterous tale about a church mouse named Amos, who was Benjamin Franklin's apprentice, replete with three-cornered hat and overcoat. In the 1953 film of the same title, the late Sterling Holloway played both the role of narrator and Amos. (Many will recall that Holloway's sweet voice was most notably used by Disney for the "Winnie the Pooh" movies.) As a young reader, I was very taken with the character of Amos, who, according to the tale, came up with the concepts of bifocals and the Franklin stove and proved that lightning and electricity were one and the same.  Amos did the work, but allowed Dr. Franklin to take credit for them. This was a very endearing mouse, who investigated corruption and reported it in the Pennsylvania Gazette for his master. Yes, mice were helpful, friendly creatures I reasoned as a lad. Years later, though, I read the true story about mice and their larger cousins. I learned about the Bubonic Plague and how these rodents and the fleas they bore killed off nearly half of the populace of Europe. I learned first hand about the numbers of mice and rats that frequented the finest eating establishments around the world, including many of them here in New Orleans. One of the lingering problems that Hurricane Katrina left in its wake was and still is abandoned properties. When humans no longer frequent an abode, mice or rats can move right in. That's apparently what happened in my nearly two-year absence following Katrina when I lived and worked in Cleveland. About a year ago I noticed that my front door had little shavings that seemed to be the work of a small creature and my suspicions were confirmed when I saw a small mouse run across my living room floor and into the front anteroom only to disappear under a floorboard. I was able to trap two of the little ones with sticky trays that hold them in place. I couldn't find it in me to kill them once I trapped them, so after I captured them, I placed them outside in the refuse bin. I'm sure they eventually died, but I couldn't deal with dispatching these cute little creatures. Then there was Mortimer. Mortimer was the name I had given to the bold rat that had been hanging out in my kitchen the last month or so, staring at me in the middle of the day or foraging for crumbs at night, scampering away through a hole underneath my dishwasher when the lights would go on. He seemed unfazed no matter how many epithets or brooms I hurled in his direction. He was bound and determined to stay and I was just as unswerving in my zeal to rid my home of him. I tried rat traps with peanut butter. Mortimer enjoyed the treat after unsetting the trap. Trays of poison would disappear, but Mortimer remained. I think he thrived on everything I could throw at him. All the while, I kept thinking of Amos and how smart he was and, of course, all those other friendly cartoon mice like Mickey, Minnie and Mighty. I didn't want to hurt Mortimer, but I sure didn't want him living in my house. Yesterday, as I was ready to leave the house, I noticed something on the sidewalk. My heart skipped a beat as i realized it was Mortimer! As near as I can figure it, he must have fallen off a wire that leads to the attic of my house from the street. Was it a misstep? Or was it an attack by my other uninvited house guests -- the pigeons? In any event I find I have mixed emotions. On the one hand, I'm glad he is gone and that my house is now rodent-free. Yet, on the other hand, I am somewhat sad that he has gone. Then again, Mortimer was no Amos.  Take a look for yourself: 

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Welcome to a new year

Apples and honey suggest a sweet year, while the ram's horn warns of the Day of Judgment

The last few days have involved quite a bit of religious activity and the question of "to blog or not to blog" has been preying on my mind. In the end I deemed it a good idea to let the spirit of 5769 overtake me as I pondered a new year and all that it may bring. The Jewish New Year (or Rosh Hashanah) is different each year on the Gregorian calendar, but it's the same day every year on the Hebrew calendar, 1 Tishri. It may surprise some non-Jews to learn that Tishri is not the first month in the Hebrew calendar, but is the seventh. Rosh Hashanah was designated a special day of observance in the Bible called Yom Teruah ("the day of the blowing of the horn"). Because of certain rules that must be observed, Rosh Hashanah can never fall on a Sunday, Wednesday or Friday. Very few Jews know that. Also, relative to the Gregorian calendar, the earliest it can take place is September 5 and the latest it can occur is October 5. Rosh Hashanah is the first day of the Ten Days of Penitence or, as some refer to them, "The Days of Awe." Jews are admonished to take stock of themselves during this period because the tenth day, Yom Kippur, is literally the Day of Judgment. Certain activities, such as sexual relations, are restricted during this time in the religious observant community as all Jews are asked to turn inward and resist temptations. In my case there have been few temptations lately, so I guess I am being pious in my religious practice. That's my story and I'm sticking with it. Can I get an amen?