Thursday, May 22, 2008

Concert Report - Bruce Cockburn @ Tupelo Music Hall

Patti and I saw Bruce Cockburn (see also here) last night at our favorite local venue, the Tupelo Music Hall. This was, I think, the second time Bruce has played at Tupelo - the previous time being in September, 2006.

I first saw Bruce in the late 1980s, and have seen him at least a half dozen times or more. Mostly in mid-size venues, like the Capitol Theater in Concord, NH, or the Somerville Theater in Davis Square, Somerville, MA. But seeing him in Tupelo is special, because it is such a small venue. Patti and I were fortunate enough to secure seats in the second row, close to the center of the stage. Because of the way the seats and stage are in Tupelo, we were literally no more than 15 feet away from Bruce. I love being close enough to see individual guitar strings vibrate!

Most typical descriptions of Bruce probably call him a Canadian singer-songwriter, but that description is wholly inadequate without adding the clause "and totally frickin amazing guitarist." I put Bruce up there with the late, great Michael Hedges and Leo Kottke when it comes to my personal short list of acoustic guitar gods; although all three have vastly different styles, mind you.

Last night was an intimate, relaxed show with an adoring crowd and occasional good humored back and forth between the audience and performer. After one particularly mind-blowing song with some gorgeous guitar playing, a voice called out "hey Bruce, when are you going to learn to play that thing?" Much laughter all around, followed by Bruce's reply, "I'm trying. Believe me, I'm trying."

There are so many Cockburn songs I'd love to hear, but I have no complaints about his chosen set:

World of Wonders
Last Night of the World
See You Tomorrow
Don't Feel Your Touch
Night Train
Life Short, Call Now
Beautiful Creatures
Tibetan Side of Town
This is Baghdad
Put It In Your Heart
Wondering Where the Lions Are
If A Tree Falls
The End of All Rivers
Pacing the Cage
Tie Me at the Crossroads

"Wondering Where the Lions Are" was a natural highlight - for Bruce as well as for the crowd - because of the easy sing along nature of the song, and Bruce's encouragement of us to participate. He was clearly pleased with hearing us. See this YouTube video from the May 15th show at the Iron Horse Music Hall to get a really good idea of what it was like. (Although, we sang a whole lot better, and there were certainly NO talkers in the Tupelo audience - Tupelo prides itself on being a listening hall.)

The instrumental "The End of All Rivers" was particularly stunning. The same YouTube contributor also posted the May 15th version of this song. Go watch it to see just what I mean about Bruce being in rare company on guitar. (The video gets a better look at Bruce around 1 minute in. Play the whole song.)

The opener was Catherine MacLellan, a singer-songwriter from Prince Edward Island. I really loved her voice, and will be on the lookout for her from now on in. Here's her setlist, although I'm not sure of some of the song titles:

Take a Break
Isabella's Song
At the Top of Those Hotel Stairs (?)
My Everything
It's Been a Long Time
Church Bell Blues

Saturday, May 17, 2008

In Memory of Cynthia Ice

Mary Beth reported on the passing of Cynthia Ice. Like MB, I want to take a moment to remember and honor our friend and colleague.

Cynthia Ice

Cynthia was one of a small handful of things that made working at the IBM/Lotus facility in Westford, MA something special. Cynthia was an accessibility expert and tester, but not just any accessibility expert. You realized this the moment you saw her walking down the hall with Cashmere, her seeing eye guide dog.

Having Cynthia on its staff said a lot about IBM/Lotus and its committment to accessibility. I can remember feeling fortunate on many occassions to be able to call or email Cynthia to get her input on design decisions.

I'm afraid that accessibility is a theoretical exercise in too many software development organizations. Those who manage, design, code, test, and write about software all too often have little, if any, interaction with users who need accessible accommodations. Seeing first-hand a user with a motor skill impairment, or a user who needs a screen reader to read her mail, brings the imperative to design and build accessible software home in a very real way. It's a moral imperative.

Cynthia was kind, and insightful, and yes humorous. In the comments on MB's blog post Brandon wrote this:

She never lost her sense of humor, even (especially?) when it came to disability. My favorite line of hers was while we were discussing how much people of various disabilities wanted a particular feature. At one point she said, "Quadriplegics would go to the mat for this issue...y'know, if they could."


Cynthia will be missed by many. Today I pause in her honor.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Elise Amendola, found here

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Light Switch Fail

I spotted this in the hallway at work. You can't make these things up.

Light Swtich Fail

Monday, May 12, 2008

Got Punctuation?

Like many, I delight in funny signs. These are often the result of misspellings or lack of punctuation. This example falls in the latter category, and was first spotted and admired by Paul. It is a handwritten sign on the second floor door for the handicapped elevator in the Colonial Inn in Edgartown, MA:

Do Not Slam Door Shut Gently
Do Not Slam Door Shut Gently
That sign is now three or four years old, and we delight in reading it literally every year: "Do not slam door shut gently." OK, we think, we will slam the door shut forcefully!

We by no means want to disparage the kind folks who run the Colonial Inn, for they are warm and wonderful and we go back there every year because they treat us so well. But we love the lack of punctuation on that little sign.

Zooming back a little, we can see a larger design issue:

Handicapped elevator

Notice the tennis ball on the string tether? No, that's not for some Golden Retriever's amusement. That's a door modification suggested by Paul when they first installed the handicapped elevator. See, if you are in a wheelchair and you need to open that door and get yourself into the elevator, the task is nearly impossible. You have to reach, pull the door, and back up all in a sequence that is easy for us able bodied people to not even think about. Paul's brilliant door modification allows him to pull the door open via the tennis ball, with his wheelchair already back out of the way of the opening door. Sorta makes me wonder if the elevator manufacturer did much user research.

I swear there is a consulting business to be had in handicapped access design in the hospitality industry. Traveling with Paul I've learned some of the most overlooked but important design points, like having clothes hanger rods in closets low enough for wheelchair access. Same with shower controls and shower heads. And light switch and phone access within easy reach of a handicapped person in bed, as they might not be able to reach over to the night stand like most of us can. All of these things are often overlooked in hotel room design for the handicapped. It's not just about adding a ramp and a wide door to the bathroom. I've learned all this only through Paul.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Concert Report - Steve Forbert @ Tupelo Music Hall

Patti and I returned to our normal spot (table #4 - front and center) at the Tupelo Music Hall for last night's Steve Forbert concert.

Steve played for a bit more than an hour, with a stripped down sound consisting of his well-worn Martin guitar, harmonica, and boots tapping out rhythm on a square of plywood. For the first few songs Steve had a little battle going on with Tupelo owner Scott over the house lights. Scott initially had the lights off, but Steve wanted to see the audience. It took two or three songs for Scott to bring the lights up enough to satisfy Steve - he clearly feeds off of seeing his audience, hearing his audience, and getting the audience to participate with rhythm and filling vocals.

Steve's sets have a very loose structure, and he eagerly asked for requests early in the set. "Wild as the Wind", "Good Planets", "Laurel", "Mexico", and "Romeo's Tune" were all called out and worked into the set at one point or another.

Steve also mixed in two Jimmie Rodgers tunes, "Years Ago", and "Miss the Mississippi." Steve and Jimmie Rodgers are both natives of Meridian, Mississippi, and Steve's Any Old Time album is a tribute to the songs of Jimmie Rodgers.

News to me last night is word that country artist (star?) Keith Urban has a cover of Steve's "Romeo's Tune" on his new Greatest Hits CD. I don't really know much about Keith Urban, although I have of course heard of him. But I hope Steve gets a big chunk of royalty payments from the CD sales. "Romeo's Tune" is one of those songs which I can hear over and over and over and never tire of:

Meet me in the middle of the day
Let me hear you say everything's okay
Bring me Southern kisses from your room
Meet me in the middle of the night
Let me hear you say everything's alright
Let me smell the moon in your perfume
Oh, gods and years will rise and fall and there's always something more
Lost in talk I waste my time and it's all been said before
While further down behind the masquerade the tears are there
I don't ask for all that much -- I just want someone to care

If you have never heard "Romeo's Tune", go check out this live version by Steve from a concert in New Hope, PA last November. You can also easily find Steve's original 1979 version, as well as Keith Urban's version.

The opening act was Kate Klim, a Berklee College of Music alum now transplanted to Philadelphia. We've seen her open at the Tupelo at least once before, although I don't remember for whom. Kate played a short six-song set on the Tupelo's baby grand piano. Her voice reminds me a little bit of Lori McKenna

Set list...

Years Ago (aka Fifteen Years Ago Today)
Wild as the Wind (a tribute to Rick Danko)
Real Live Love
Hang On Again Till The Sun Shines (?)
Good Planets Are Hard To Find
Goin' Down To Laurel
My Stolen Identity
The Baghdad Dream
I Just Work Here
Miss the Mississippi and You
Sing It Again (?)
Baby, Don't
The American In Me
About a Dream
What Kinda Guy
Romeo's Tune
Thirty More Years
You Cannot Win (If You Do Not Play)
Opening Act - Kate Klim:
The Day's Gonna Come
Ripple (no, not the Grateful Dead song)
Skin My Knees
Tracing The Lines
Blue Sky Love

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Ride Report: National MS Society "Ride the Vineyard"

This is a big thank you to all those who supported me in the National MS Society's "Ride the Vineyard" bike ride this past Saturday. Your support helped me exceed my goal and raise a total of $2,075 for MS research and local support programs. The event itself will likely top $300,000 once everything gets tallied up. Your support means a lot to me, and I cannot thank you enough.

Start of the ride
Start of the ride
"How was the ride?"

Picture a beautiful spring day on Martha's Vineyard. Deep blue skies. Bright sunshine warming your skin. A light breeze carrying the salty ocean smell. Nice image, isn't it? Keep that image in your mind, as that's the image I kept in mine while riding the 100-kilometers (62-miles) in the actual weather we had on Saturday: a steel gray sky, temperatures in the mid-40s, gusty winds, and on-and-off rain showers!

The weather kept the turnout smaller than normal. And I know that more than a few riders had had their share of cold and rain by the 40-mile mark, where they took a left to take them directly back to the finish line, rather than a right to take them to the final Katama-Edgartown-Oak Bluffs loop part of the ride. But I was riding for Paul, and I was riding because of your support, so I didn't cut any corners.

I was, though, happy to find Patti, and Paul and the warm van waiting for me at the finish line. Despite wanting to warm my feet up, we snapped a quick finish line photo. Paul's comment when he put his hand on my back was, "Oh, you're wetter than you look!"

Me and Paul after the ride
Me and Paul after the ride

Thanks again.

One more shot -- dirty bike:
Me and Paul after the ride