Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

Selling It But Good

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Mar 14, 2014 @ 11:24 am PDT

userpic=corporateHere’s another belated lunchtime post (can you tell I’m clearing out a backlog). This time, the subject is selling and marketing:



Solving Problems

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Mar 14, 2014 @ 11:24 am PDT

userpic=mad-scientistThis belated lunchtime news chum post looks at some recent (or at least new to me) articles about solving problems:

  • The Engineer Shortage. You hear everyone say there is a shortage of engineers, and we need fewer liberal arts majors and artists, and more technicians. Well that’s just wrong thinking. The world needs its artists as well.
  • Migraines. Headaches are a pain. I know. I get them. So I read with interest how the FDA has approved a TENS-headband to reduce the frequency of migraines. The device uses a self-adhesive electrode to apply electrical current to the skin, which can be felt as a tingling sensation. The current stimulates the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for facial sensations and has been linked to migraines. I do know that, at least for my headaches, one measure is the sensitivity of that nerve — I can just lightly touch the area where the top of my nose meets my eye socket, and if I’m headachy, it is much more sensitive. I’d be willing to give this device a try.
  • A Privilege to Pee. San Francisco is addressing a big problem at one of their parks with the pPod, which has no relation to the iPod. The pPod is a custom-made, open-air urinal that San Francisco is installing at Dolores Park to help deal with the hordes of male hipster inebriants that descend on the popular Mission spot on weekends. It is a 7-foot-tall, semi-cylinder mesh screen surrounding a concrete pad and drain that empties into the sewer system. The pPod will be open at the back for easy wheelchair access – with no doors or locks.


Getting Your Purim On

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Mar 13, 2014 @ 11:22 am PDT

userpic=cookingWhile I’m eating my lunch, I figure I should make you hungry by posting some links to interesting hamentaschen recipes. For those unfamiliar, hamentaschen are three-cornered pastries eaten on the Jewish holiday of Purim; the shape supposedly remembers Hamen’s three-cornered hat.


The Illuminati Did It (A Lunchtime Musing)

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Mar 12, 2014 @ 11:08 am PDT

userpic=star_trekI’ve been fascinated by the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, and the fact that there has been absolutely no evidence found from the aircraft. I mean, there are even crowdsourcing efforts to examine satellite photography! Malaysians are praying for a solution, and the Malaysian government “welcomes all help to trace the missing flight, including from “bomohs,” or shamans, as long as their methods conform to Islamic teachings”. Me? I’ve been just waiting for the conspiracy theories to pop up, and Time Magazine kindly obliged me. Their theories are:

  1. Ghosts. Relatives and friends of the plane’s passengers said they were able to find their loved ones on a Chinese instant messenger service called QQ, reports the Washington Post. Others tried calling the vanished passengers’ phones and heard ringtones even though the calls were not picked up. Many thought the phones might still be on, and more than 100 of them signed a petition to the Malaysian government to hurriedly investigate. That led more suspicious observers to fire off rounds of irrational theories. Did the mysterious ringing indicate the passengers had been kidnapped and are still alive somewhere? Or was it the supernatural at work?
  2. Aliens.“If we never find the debris, it means some entirely new, mysterious and powerful force is at work on our planet which can pluck airplanes out of the sky without leaving behind even a shred of evidence,” said one blogger. Was it an alien abduction? others ask.
  3. Predestined. Reddit is rife with commenters fixated on the numerical coincidences of the flight’s disappearance. “Interesting numerology,” said one Reddit user, RedditB. “Flight 370 disappears on 3/7 while reportedly traveling 3,700 km. Flight 370 flew at an altitude of 37,000 feet when it was last reported using flight tracking software. Luigi Maraldi, age 37, was one of the individuals whose passport was stolen. Malaysia Airlines is one of Asia’s largest, flying nearly 37,000 passengers daily. As of today, we are beginning the 37th month since the Fukushima tragedy, which is located on the 37th degree and initially caused 37 injuries at the plant.”
  4. North Koreans. Others have argued the jet was hijacked by North Koreans and flown to Pyongyang. One Reddit user, Nickryane, claims the plane had enough fuel to fly to North Korea and remain within cell phone range. The dictatorship hijacked a jet in 1969, so Kim Jong-un would be pulling an old card out of the deck.
  5. Illuminati. One guess points to the supposed vortex energy points on the earth’s surface that Illuminati “and/or ancient aliens” who can control the energy grid. Commenters and bloggers emerged to point to occultists and nefarious shadowy figures who helped down the plane.

You gotta love any theory that includes the Illuminati.

In reality, though, I’m surprised there hasn’t been any evidence. I would think that even with a mid-flight explosion, there would be some larger pieces that would survive and splash down, and there would be some components that would float. Even with a mid-flight explosion, the black box should survive. If they landed the plane whole in the ocean, there would be something that would be floating and visible. I just think they aren’t looking in the right places.

Then again, perhaps Amelia Earhart needed a new plane.

Sometimes, I Feel Like Roman Mars (A Lunchtime Musing)

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Mar 11, 2014 @ 11:59 am PDT

userpic=roadgeekingYesterday, I shared an article on Facebook about the submitted designs for the interstate highway marker shield, and why the design chosen was chosen. This is one of the many aspects of highways that fascinates me. I’m not the numbering purist who is miffed when a route is given an illogical number (cough, I-238), or the type that wants to see interstate highways extended willy-nilly to meet some logical goal that is a physical and economic impossibility (cough, extending I-40 to Santa Barbara). But I love to learn the history — why a particular shape was chosen for a state shield, why a route has a particular number (even if it is illogical), and why states do what they do.

As I noted before, the article I shared dealt with the design of the Interstate highway shield — a simple shield of red, white, and blue with numbers (green for business routes). There were loads of other designs, many incorporating an “I”. But what was chosen worked well. It was the result of a desire to have a different shield than that used for the US Highway system (think US 101), which was black and white (unless you were in Florida), and much more ornate.

State shields are more interesting, as this map or this map shows. For some, the meaning is obvious — Washington is a clear example. Others incorporate the shape of the state. A few others incorporate objects well known in the state — Utah, New Mexico, North Dakota, and even Alaska do this. Another one that does this is California, although it’s not as clear as it used to be. California used to have white shields, and the shape of the shield was chosen to look like a ’49s miner shovel stuck into the ground, post first. You don’t get that we the green. Lastly, a number of states are simply boring.

Oh, and in case you didn’t get the reference in the title of the post. Roman Mars is a host of an excellent podcast of out of Oakland called 99% Invisible… which is all about design. Who knows… one day you might even hear me on an episode (I’ve been interviewed; I have no idea if it will ever make it on the air). I found the recent episodes on the design of the handicapped access symbol (they are using the new one in Portland) and on the design of magazine covers to be fascinating.

Conversational Dynamics

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Mar 10, 2014 @ 6:05 pm PDT

userpic=oh-shitMany years ago, in a conversation with Larry Wall and the Biggars, the subject of conversational dynamics came up — specifically, of why people view other speakers as rude. Someone in the discussion posited the notion that it was a protocol mismatch. The theory was that there were three different speaking protocols: (1) Wait for a significant pause in the conversation to start; (2) Wait for any pause in the conversation to start; and (3) Just start (Ethernet style). The notion was that you are raised in a household with a particular style; when you get people of different styles together, the behavior is interpreted as rude. I grew up Ethernet style, because that was the only way I could get into the discussion.

Today, my friend Kat on Facebook posted a very interesting article that posited a different theory: “Interrupters? Linguist says it’s Jewish way“. This author believes that “high-involvement cooperative overlapping” is a typical Jewish conversation style. What is “Cooperative overlapping? Talking as another person continues to speak.

Evidently, the pattern of conversation found among many Jews from New York and its environs, especially those of Eastern European origin, differs in significant ways from that of most non-Jewish Americans from the South, Midwest and West. Along with cooperative overlap, Jewish-style conversational patterns include a “fast rate of speech, the avoidance of inter-turn pauses and faster turn-taking among speakers.” In a conversation among Jews, participants find the simultaneous talk and quick turn-taking unremarkable; they interpret silences and pauses as evidence of lack of rapport and/or interest. But those not accustomed to that style, according to the author, may see such active listening behaviors as rudeness, verbal hogging and lack of interest in the speaker. The very characteristics that promote good conversation among the in-group can create discomfort or hostility among mixed groups.

Other features of Jewish conversational style, according to the article, include a preference for personal topics, abrupt shifts of topics, unhesitating introduction of new topics and persistence in reintroducing a topic if others don’t immediately pick up on it. Jews also tend to tell more stories in their conversations, often in rounds; dramatize the point of a story instead of putting it into words; and focus on the emotional experience of it. People whose regional and ethnic background promotes a different way of conversing may not “get the point” of these rounds of story-sharing with no real plot. They also may find the expectation of personal revelation unnervingly intrusive.

In other words…. protocol clash.

OK. Umm, discuss?

I Got The Blues

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Mar 09, 2014 @ 8:05 am PDT

Biloxi Blues (REP East)userpic=repeastRecently, we lost one of the world’s great comics, Sid Caesar. Sid Caeser was known for “Your Show of Shows“, which is where some of the best comedy writers in the world got their start. One of these writers was Neil “Doc” Simon, who at one time was one of the most popular comedy playwrights writing for Broadway. Perhaps you’ve heard of “The Odd Couple“? But Neil Simon seems forgotten these days; you rarely hear of his plays and shows. Luckily, small theatre companies love his work because it is still funny and still speaks to people. Of course, I’m talking about this because last night we were at Repertory East Playhouse (FB) in Newhall (Santa Clarita) to see on of Neil’s plays, “Biloxi Blues“.

Biloxi Blues” is the middle play in Simon’s so-called Eugene Trilogy — a set of three plays all about Eugene Morris Jerome (who represents Neil Simon when he was younger). The plays are “Brighton Beach Memoirs“, “Biloxi Blues“, and “Broadway Bound“, and I originally saw all three of these plays when they were first produced at the Ahmanson Theatre here in Los Angeles. Trilogies, or even larger forms of multi-play groups (such as the August Wilson’s “Pittsburg Cycle”) are very rare in theatre; forced sequels to plays and musicals typically fail big time (cough, “Bring Back Birdie”, cough, “Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public”, cough, “Annie 2: Miss Hannigan’s Revenge”).  “Biloxi Blues“, in my eyes, suffers from a common trilogy problem — as the middle of the story, it has no beginning and end of its own per se; it seems to be engineered more to move the main character from one spot and story in his life to another spot and another story to be told. Indeed, if you look at the character arc for Eugene in Biloxi Blues, you’ll see very little change and growth in Eugene’s character through the story: at the beginning his is a writer observing and chronicling his world, and at the end of the story, Eugune is still a writer observing and chronicling his world. You want character growth for Eugene, you need to look at “Brighton Beach” and “Broadway Bound“. So what is Biloxi Blues really about?

“Biloxi Blues” tells the story of Eugene’s foray into the Armed Services — his stint of basic training at Keesler Field, now Keesler Air Force Base, in Biloxi, Mississippi. As the story opens, we meet Eugene and most of his squad-mates (Roy Slridge, Don Carney, Joseph Wykowski, and Arnold Epstein) on their way to Biloxi from in-processing at Ft. Dix in New Jersey. When the story ends, it is with these same squad-mates in the same rail-car on their way back to the east coast to be shipped to the battle theatre. The character growth in the story is not that of Eugene Jerome, or even that of most of the squad; Biloxi Blues is really about what basic training brought out in Arnold Epstein.

When the squad arrives in Biloxi, they first meet their training sergeant, Merwin J. Toomey. Toomey is cut from the character cloth of sadistic basic training  sgts. who mold their men from individuals into killing machines, and from day 1 (day 0 if you are a C programmer) he has met his challenge in Epstein. All of the other squad members eventually give into to Toomey’s discipline, but Epstein stands his ground and does things his own way. Through the play, you see the method in Epstein’s madness; by the end, you see the final showdown between Toomey and Epstein and learn the eventual victor in the battle. Along the way to this battle, Eugene is constantly commenting and quipping on the army. There are also various vignettes showing life in the squad, and we get to see how Eugene has some milestones in his life — his first forey with a professional prostitute (Rowena), and his first forey into love with a girl he meets at a USO dance (Daisy Hannigan).  But these events change Eugene very little — he remains the observer on the side. But they provide the humor that powers the play.  This play is really about Epstein and Toomey.

So, ultimately, is the story good and satisfying? That’s a hard question to answer. It certainly is funny, although some aspects that weren’t a problem in the mid-1980s when this was written seem archaic today (such as the attitude of the army towards homosexuals during WWII). The battle between Epstein and Toomey is interesting to watch (especially its eventual climax). The rest of it is more a series of incidents observed with humor and only partially filling. It’s a good comedy, but not one of Simon’s greatest comedies.

Director Mark Kaplan (FB) and co-director Kimbyrly M. Valis (FB) bring out some great performances in the acting team. Leading that team is Craig Jorczak (FB) as Eugene Morris Jerome. Jorczak has Eugene’s accent down, and has the observer disconnection well.  He reminded me quite a bit of the original performers in this role, and that’s a good thing.

The main focus of this show, however, is the battle between Bear Manescalchi (FB)’s Arnold Epstein and Daniel R. Wolfe (FB)’s Sgt. Merwin J. Toomey. Wolfe’s Toomey brought out the right level of sadism and dominance, and Manescalchi’s Epstein had the required inner strength of stubbornly oppose him. This was brought to a head in the final scene between the two of them, where you got to see how Toomey’s training seemingly won out, but how Epstein’s inner strength of character ultimately won in the end. Very well acted.

Rounding out the squad were Daniel Lupa-Chazan (Roy Selridge), Alex Genther (FB) (James Hennesey), Darryn Gibbons (FB) (Dan Carney), and Ben Hopkins/FB (Joseph Wykowski). Hopkins’ Wykowski was very strong — you could easily see how this man was more muscle than brain (in contrast to Eugene and Arnold) — and Hopkins’ played him quite well. Another squad standout was Genther’s Hennesey. We meet Hennesey at camp, and the incidents around him serve less to grow his character as to provide opportunities for Epstein to grow and surprise. Still, Genther captured the gentleness and nature of the character well. Lupa-Chazan’s Selridge and Gibbon’s Carney were a little less stand-out-y as characters, but I think that is more the nature of how they were written in the squad, as opposed to their performances.

The remaining cast members were Alli Kelly (FB) (Daisy Hannigan) and Kimberly Patterson (FB) (Rowena). Patterson’s chacter, the well-worn prostitute, Rowena, appeared only in one scene can captured her well. More touching was Kelly’s Hannigan as the girl Eugene falls in love with — she brought a delightful tenderness and sweetness to the role.

Turning to the technical side: No credit is provided for the set, which served its function well to establish the Army barracks nature. The costumes were designed by Tonya Nelson (FB), assisted by Beth Ann/FB; Phil Wey/FB served as Historical Military Consultant and Stylist. It is here that I noted the only problems with the show. Although Wey got the treatment of the ties correct and the military positioning correct, the uniforms struck me as wrong from when I first saw them. Why? They were lacking the normal accoutrements one sees in Army uniforms — US insignias, soldier’s names. I initially thought they were also missing rank insignias as well, but the lowest level does not have any. Sound and lighting were by REP regulars Steven “Nanook” Burkholder/FB (sound) and Tim Christianson/FB (lighting), and both were effective. J. T. Centonze (FB) was the stage manager. Biloxi Blues was produced by Mikee Schwinn/FB and Ovington Michael Owston (FB).

Biloxi Blues” continues at Repertory East Playhouse (FB) until April 5. Tickets are available through the REP Online Box office, as well as through Goldstar. As with all REP productions, it is well done and worth seeing. REP also announced a fundraising concert on April 18-19: “A Night At The Rock Opera”. For tickets, contact Repertory East Playhouse (FB).

[Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I've been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I've been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I'm a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.]

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:  The weekend of March 16 brings Purim Schpiels, with Sunday afternoon bringing “Inherit the Wind” at the Grove Theatre Center (FB) in Burbank. March 22 brings “Harmony” at The Ahmanson Theatre (FB), followed by “Author, Author: An Evening with Sholom Aleichem” at the Santa Monica Playhouse (FB) on March 23. The last weekend of March is open, and will likely stay that way as we’ll be exhausted. April starts with “In The Heights” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on April 5, and should also bring “Tallest Tree” at the Mark Taper Forum, as well as the Southern California Renaissance Faire. April may also bring “My Name is Asher Lev” at the Fountain Theatre (FB) (as this runs through April 19). Current planning for May shows “The Lion in Winter” at The Colony Theatre (FB), and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at REP East (FB). As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

Evolution in Action

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Mar 07, 2014 @ 8:23 pm PDT

userpic=caduceusToday’s lunchtime (well, I meant to post this at lunch, but the day got away from me) news chum post deals with evolution, in various forms and shapes:

  • Evolution of… a Musical. In a couple of weeks, I’m going to be seeing “Harmony“, the new Barry Manilow musical at the Ahmanson. The story of how this musical came about is quite interesting. You see, although Barry Manilow is involved with this musical (writing the music), it isn’t a pastiche of existing Manilow music. This musical goes back to when Manilow met Bruce Sussman at the 1972 BMI Musicals Workshop (before Manilow was a pop star), and it tells the the little-known true story of the Comedian Harmonists, a vaudevillian German sextet that rose to wild superstardom in the 1930s. But three of the group’s six members were Jewish, and by 1935 they had been forced to flee to the United States after the Nazis dissolved the sextet, destroyed all their albums and burned their 12 movies. It will be interesting to see how it turns out.
  • Evolution of… a Meme. Slashdot is reporting on a study about the way that memes evolve on Facebook, and it turns out they evolve in a manner similar to the ways genes evolve. Specifically, memes spread, mutate and evolve in ways that are mathematically identical to genes. However, there are important differences too. The authors of the study say that understanding this process can give deep insights into the way information spreads through cultures and the way individuals change it as it spreads. BTW, in other Facebook stuff, Wired looks at our obsession with online quizzes, and even includes their popularity back in the days of Livejournal.
  • Evolution of… the Vegas Marquee. When the Las Vegas strip started in the late 1940s, marquees were nothing. There might be a signboard announcing artists and a pool along US 91. Then the Flamingo added the champagne tower, and everything took off. In the 1960s and 1970s, it was neon everywhere. But go to the strip these days, and you’ll find very little neon. What’s replaced it? Gigantic LED high-def displays. The Las Vegas Weekly has a nice article looking at this evolution.
  • Evolution of… the Coffeemaker. First, you should know that I don’t like coffee. Coffee, to me, only belongs in ice cream or covered in dark chocolate. But there are those that like it. Growing up, my mother did… and she always had a percolator. You never see those any more. They were replaced by drip coffeemakers (“Mr. Coffee”), and then French Presses (or cold brew setups like my wife uses). Nowadays, we’re all into the waste of the K-Cup and the Keurig. Keurig wants to be the HP or Canon of coffeemakers… and by that I mean they want to make you captive to their cups (think cheap printers and expensive consumables). How are they going to do this? DRM in the K-Cup, meaning the coffeemaker will only work with Keurig-produced K-cups. I think I’ll stick with loose-leaf tea, thankyouverymuch.