Variability of Insurance

Today I had planned on doing laundry. But we’ve got a house full of teens who wanted a safe haven from the post-prom parties, and now the plumbing has backed up. So while I wait, I decided to shop auto insurance. The variability has me amazed.

As background: This year our daughter started driving. This drastically increased our policy. Her turning 16.5 took our policy from $1916 per year to $3688 per year. The transitional year was difficult to change, but this year I decided to look around. As background, she did have a chargable accident her second time out on her learners permit (under $2K in damage, just our car), and she’s been stellar ever since. Her driving has also upped the mileage on our cars this year as she went back and forth to high school; that will go away in the next policy year as she’ll be at UC Berkeley with no car. Based on that, I estimated using 2/3rd of this year’s monthly mileage.

So how varied were the quotes? Remember, our AAA number from last year was $1844 for six months. GEICO came in with an amazing $843.40 for six months (I don’t know how much that will change if Karen would be a homemaker vs. retired engineer). Esurance came in at $1,494 for six months. They also estimated some other companies–in particular, $1,333 for six months from Safeco, and $1,505 for six months from 21st Century… but it looks like they didn’t get deductable numbers right. Progressive, which advertises as saving money, came in at a whopping $2765 for six months, the bulk of that being just one car at $2189. I’ve still got to call State Farm.

For a few hour exercise, it was worth it. When I get this year’s information from AAA, I’ll call them and give them one chance–otherwise we may just switch back to GEICO (we were with them many many years ago).

Music: Till I Loved You (Barbra Streisand): Love Light


Lacking a Lass? You Couldn’t Go Wrong with Princess Winnifred

Cabrillo UserpicOnce upon a time in the musical theatre, stories were light and (with the exception of Rogers and Hammerstein) not filled with social commentary or import. These were the days you could lose yourself in the sillyness of the show, and just relish in beautiful music, wonderful lyrics, and great performances. Last night, we saw one of those shows when we went out to Thousand Oaks to see Cabrillo Music Theatre‘s perfect production of “Once Upon a Mattress“. There’s one more performance of the show today at 2pm: if you can do so, go go go — it is well worth seeing.

Once Upon a Mattress” (music by Mary Rogers, lyrics by Marshall Barer, with a book by Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller, and Marshall Barer) is a musical retelling of Hans Christian Andersen‘s “The Princess and the Pea“. But this isn’t your typical fairy tale. Sure, the story begins with the minstrel singing a traditional version, but as he quickly points out, that’s only the popularized version. He knows the true story because he was there! He then proceeds to tell you that story. It is a tale about a kingdom ruled by talkative Queen Aggravain, and mute King Sextimus (the king is mute due to a curse, and will remain mute until “the mouse devours the hawk”). Their 36-year old son, Prince Dauntless, wants to marry but cannot until a suitable queen is found. As the story begins, twelve have tried, and all twelve have been rejected by the Queen as ersatz princesses, having failed “fixed” princess-tests devised by the queen and the wizard. The Lady Larkin also wants to marry her suitor, Sir Harry — in fact, she needs to marry him within a few months before she starts to “show” — but cannot because of a rule in the Kingdom that no one can wed before Daultless shares his wedding bed. So Sir Harry goes out to find a princess, and brings back Princess Winnifred. Winnifred is so eager to meet the Prince that she swims the moat. Soon, she had charmed everyone with her energy and playfullness and joie de vivre. Everyone but the Queen, who is convinced she is not the princess. So she devises a new test: the princess will sleep that night on a bed of 20 matresses from the Sleep Shoppe (the show’s “mattress sponsor” :-)) with one pea at the bottom. If she stays awake: she passes the test. Just to ensure she will sleep, the Queen tuckers her out with a full-on dancing ball, sleeping potions, and a soothing songbird. But the Minstrel, Jester, and King have other ideas–they want this princess, and so they conspire to discover the test and make sure the princess passes.

A fairy story. A silly story. But one needs that sort of story now and then. Making this story better is the delightful music by Mary Rodgers (one of her few successful shows) and the lyrics by Barer, which I appreciate more and more everytime I hear them. Barer has a playfullness in his wordplay that  reminds me of Sondheim: internal rhymes, internal puns. An example of this is the second song — “An Opening For a Princess”, which includes the lines “Alas, a lass is what I lack / I lack a lass, alas alack.” It continues throughout the entire show with phrases like “I’m going fishing for a mate / I’m going to look in ev’ry brook / But how much longer must I wait / with baited breath and hook”. This playfulness, combined with double entendres (which were also implied in the original story), make the liberetto a pure joy.

So you take this wonderful show, and add astounding direction from Richard Israel (an extremely creative local musical director) and the perfect cast, and the result is magical. Israel’s direction is playful and inventive, and brings a joy and delight out of the actors that is communicated to the audience. The direction makes the performance seem effortless: nothing is forced, and nothing seems out of characters.

Adding to this, as I said before, is the perfect cast. As always, Cabrillo’s cast is a mix of locals and selected professionals. Leading this cast is Bets Malone* (Princess Winnifred), a wonderful performer we’ve seen numerous times. Bets embodies Winnifred with a joy and playfulness and energy and wonderful comic timing. She makes the show, and from her performance you can see why this role can make a comic actress famous (look what it did for the originator, Carol Burnett). One side note: As the Queen is getting Winnifred ready for bed, she talks about the sandman coming to put the princess to sleep. I was half expecting for Bets to suddenly drop into “Suzy” from Wonderettes and do a few bars from “Mr. Sandman”! Winnifred is also a very physical role, and Bets handles the physical comedy with aplomb and style. [Note: * denotes “Actors Equity” members]

But this cast is more than just Bets. The cast has the best minstrel, hands down, that I have ever heard. Danny Gurwin* has a wonderful singing voice that just makes you melt. He is also playful with his role (I’ll use that word a lot): having fun and inviting the audience in to share the fun. He particularly shines in the opening number and in “Normandy”. Also playful is Scott Reardon as Prince Dauntless. Reardon, who also has a great singing voice, captures Dautless’s cluelessness and eagerness, and you can just see Dauntless and Winnifred as a couple that are in love. Each has a childlike nature that complements the other.

The couple that is not in love are the King and Queen. As Queen Aggravain, Tracy Lore* brings vanity to a new level. She only has one song (the original actress, according to what I read, could not sing well), but brings a wonderful comic sensitivity to the role. Hers is not a physical role — it is character acting and is done well. As the King, David Newcomer brings no singing to the role — in fact, he has only a few lines. But his role brings something you don’t often see–playful pantomime. Newcomer is a master of comic movement and pantomime.

As the secondary couple (every musical of the era had one), we have Noelle Marion as Lady Larkin and Isaac James as Sir Harry. Both have delightful singing voices. They are believable as a couple, and are also having fun with their roles. They get many of the romantic Rounding out the featured positions are Timothy Stokel as the Jester (who does a great job with his number “Very Soft Shoes”) and David Gilchrist (who we saw in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” and numerous CMT shows) at the Wizard.

Supporting cast members are: Sam Ayoub (Lord Heathcliff), Jennifer Bainbridge (Lady Marian), John Paul Batista (Lord Purell), Sydney Blair (Lady Rowena), Kathryn Burns (Lady Babette), Emma Chandler (Lady Lucille), Courtney Cheatham (Lady Lola), Judy Domroy (Lady Merrill), Emily Goglia (Princess Nº 12/Lady Lestrange), Holly Long (Lady Beatrice), Michael Marchak (Lord Claudio), Brett McMahon (Lord Peter), Alex Mendoza (Lord Dashwood), Courtney Potter (Lady Vivien), Tanner Richins (Sir Harold), Tyler Scheef (Lord Virgo), Josh Smith (Lord Leopold), Brandon Stanford (Lord Mischievious), Veronica Stevens (Lady Gaga), Matt Wiley (Lord Phillip).

Rounding out the performance aspects are the underlying dance and music artists. The choreography by Cheryl Baxter is remarkable: from the clear dances such as the Spanish Panic number, to the soft shoe of the Jester, to the comic choreography of Princess Winnifred in numbers such as “Shy” or “Song of Love”, to the pantomime of the “Man to Man” talk — the movement in this show is just delightful. Richard Israel, the director, took the interesting tactic of putting the Orchestra onstage, in turrets, in costume, interacting with the actors. The large (17 piece!) orchestra — led by Daniel Thomas as musical director and conductor — handled this wonderfully, including when Bets Malone took over conducting duties!

Having the orchestra led to some interesting staging. The scenery and lighting design, by Jean-Yves Tessier, was inventive and playful. Many have written about how Tessier created a castle hallway by flying in a set of famous portraits all featuring Tracy Lore’s face as the Queen; these included “American Gothic,” “Whistler’s Mother”, the Mona Lisa, Pinkie, the Scream, Andy Warhol’s Marilyn, … and my favorite, Dogs Playing Poker. But that’s only part of the set inventiveness. I particularly noted the lighting projections and the mattress structure.. He even threw in the kitchen sink (don’t believe me — look what they pull out of the bed in the end). The wardrobe by Christine Gibson and hair and makeup by Mark Travis Hoyer complement the characters well, even if more cartoony than period. Jonathan Burke’s sound design made everything clear and audible (although our performance had a few minor mic problems, quickly corrected). Technical direction was by Tim Schroepfer. Allie Roy was the production stage manager, assisted by Jessica Standifer and Julia Pinhey.

Lewis Wilkenfeld is the artistic director of Cabrillo, and deserves a special note for coming out and shilling each show. He’ll even sell you the props from the stage to keep Cabrillo going–he believes in Cabrillo that much. Seriously: Wilkenfeld appears to work hard to keep Cabrillo involved with the community and to keep the doors open. It is a shame that more people don’t come to Cabrillo’s shows: we’ve always found them well done and professional — the equal to Ahmanson or the tours that hit the Pantages, but with local actors, great acoustics, and remarkable pricing. They are doing a special to get children to attend live theatre.

The last performance of “Once Upon a Mattress” is today at 2pm. You can get tickets at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza box office.

Upcoming Theatre, Concerts, and Dance: I’m still thinking about booking tickets for  “The Heiress” at the Pasadena Playhouse for next weekend (I heard it on LA Theatre Works and it sounds good). If we are going with what is ticketed, May begins with “Dames at Sea” at the Colony.  It also brings the senior dance show at Van Nuys HS, the Spring Railfest at Orange Empire, “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” at REP East, and it may also bring “Follies” at the Ahmanson. Oh, and May also has my daughter’s HS graduation. June is more open, but does feature both “Addams Family” and “Million Dollar Quartet” at the Pantages. As always, open dates are subject to be filled in with productions that have yet to appear on the RADAR of Goldstar or LA Stage Alliance.

Music: Drive Time (Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver): Gone at Last


Gaming for Good

Today, I visited my stepmother, and it got me thinking…. about gaming for good.

The backstory is that a few weeks ago (shortly before our trip to Berkeley), my stepmother had a small stroke. She’s going to have a full recovery, but is still in the hospital, hopefully being released next week. Today was the first chance I got to visit her. I’m pleased to see that she’s doing well: she’s talking — a bit slower than normal and its harder to find the words — and she’s moving — again, a bit slower than normal. We went with her to speech and cognitive therapy, and that’s where this post began to form in my head.

The exercises they had her doing were very similar to a lot of games. She was attempting to match shapes and fill spaces. She was completing sentences and writing words. I talked to the therapist a bit, and she agreed that a number of games could be very good for this. To my mind, games such as the ones in the Blokus family would be great, as might card games such as Coloretto or Set, as well as classics such as Scrabble  or Clue. I’m trying to think of accessible games–especially those that might be found at a Target or Barnes and Noble.

So I did some searching on Boardgame Geek and came up with other ideas, such as Rapid Recall, Apples to Apples, Qwirkle, Rummikube, or even classics like Boggle or Stratego.

This is why I love the boardgaming world. We’re not just the gigantic hex-grid games of old, or the dumb roll-and-move games. Boardgaming can provide games that will help people and challenge their brains. I welcome your suggestions in this thread of other games.

Music: tick… tick… Boom! (2001 Off-Broadway Cast): No More


Friday News Chum: Brain Destruction, School Shenanigans, Radio History, and Flops

Well, it is Friday at lunch, and you know what that means: clearing out of the links. So here are a few news articles that caught my eye this week:

  • Brain Destruction. Recently, This American Life did a program on how we can be our own worst enemy. Specifically, they touched upon baseball, and how when pitchers start to overthink the mechanics of how they pitch, they destroy their ability. Another article in the LA Times demonstrates this in another area: if you think too analytically about religion, you destroy your religious faith. If, on the other hand, you go more by gut response, you are more likely to be religious.
  • School Shenanigans. A small article in the Daily News notes that LAUSD won a furlough ruling, and can shorten the school year by 5 days. I mention this because it was the trigger for one of my annoyances at Van Nuys HS this year. They have a website, with a schedule on it. You might think that schedule would be maintained so that parents might know when to scheduling things. Wrong. Van Nuys anticipated this ruling, and moved up graduation from the traditional Thursday after finals to before finals (i.e., from 5/31 to 5/24)… but never bothered to send a notice home to parents or update the website. I learned about this only through the rumor mill. Similarly, they’ve never gotten the dates for performing arts events at the school on the website (especially dance shows). This is showing a lack of respect for parents and students that plan ahead. Surprising? No. Disappointing? Yes.
  • Radio History. Another article in the Daily News highlighted some aspects of radio history I never knew. Evidently, in the really early days of radio, multiple stations all shared the same frequency (360 meters==833 Khz), and just had their own time slots (early TDMA!). Today stations are in KHz in multiples of 10, so that’s not even a used frequency. The article gives some details on the changes:

    By the end of 1922, more than 500 radio stations were licensed throughout the country. Obviously, having all stations share their time on one frequency was not going to work. So the government opened up 750 AM in late 1922 for high-powered (500-watt) stations such as KHJ and KFI to share. It was not until May 1923 that a full band of stations was opened up, first from 550-1350. By 1924 it was 550-1500, then 540-1600 in 1941, and in the 1990s, 540-1700.

    “KFI moved to 640 in May 1923, where it has been ever since,” Hilliker said.

    KHJ, meanwhile, was on 833, 740, 750 and 760 in the early 1920s; on Nov. 11, 1928, it went to 900, and then finally on March 29, 1941, it moved to its present home at 930.

    KNX (1070 AM) is another of the broadcast pioneers, starting out as a ham radio station, switching to commercial licensing in December 1921 as KGC, then finally becoming KNX on May 4, 1922.

  • Gluttons for Punishment. Lastly, Playbill has a story about a theatre company that must consist of gluttons for punishment. Not only did they present the odd musical “A Dolls Life” (the Comden-Green musical sequel to Ibsen’s classic “A Doll’s House“), but now they will be presenting the infamous “Moose Murders“, a flop so bad it is is the standard against which all Broadway flops are judged. My prediction: Next up will be “Kelly“.

Music: Stoney End (Barbra Streisand): Stoney End


What I Hate About Funerals

Today, I went to the funeral for my cousin, Nick Faigin. Going to funerals always makes me sad, but not for the reason you might think. Yes, I’m going to miss the person who passed away, but I knew that going in. They are still going to live in my memories. No, the reason I get sad at funerals is that I listen to the eulogies, and then talk to friends afterwards and discover there were all these neat facets to the person that I never knew. For example, today I got to meet all these really need folks from the clubs that Nick promoted. Really neat people, really nice people, really talented people who my cousin touched, and who he did good for. I got to see a side of the person that I wish I had known so much better.

Why is it that we never really learn about all the stuff people do and love and care about until it is too late to do anything about it? If there is one thing that can come out of this, it is the desire to learn more: to reconnect: to realize that people have depths beyond the icebergs we see. There is a gigantic substructure of their life hidden beneath the surface that we never see. So learn about the people you love and care about. Talk to them. Learn what they love and what interests them. Who knows? You might make some new friends and integrate some of the greatness of them into you.

Even if that happens just a little, wouldn’t it be a good thing?

Music: The Perfect Crime (Magnolia Memoir): I Keep Falling*
(*: an artist I met today, thanks to Nick. Here’s a link to Nick’s write-up on the band)

ETA: I also learned one other thing today: In many ways, I’m like Nick. Nick regularly promoted the bands and people that he loved on his blog and on facebook.  I realized today I do the same thing with my theatre reviews and concert reviews. I must remember to dedicate Sunday’s review to Nick.


The Loan Arranger

Right now, student loans are a big campaign issue. Today’s lunchtime news chum brings together a few articles on the subject:

  • What We Owe. NPR’s Planet Money has an interesting blog entry on what we owe on student loans. It is an interesting example of how statistics can mislead*. For example, we all know that Americans now owe more on student loans than they owe on their credit cards, and that the amount is increasing every year. What isn’t mentioned is the “why”: more students are attending universities than ever before. Average debt per college graduate is rising — but not nearly as fast as total student debt. There are some interesting charts in the blog entry.
  • When We Pay. I was lucky enough not to have student loans, but many aren’t that lucky. President Obama went to Occidental. Erin applied there–they are over $68K/year! So it is not a surprise to read that President Obama didn’t finish off paying his student loans until 8 years ago!
  • What We Pay. The Huffington Post has a nice article on something college parents know: those financial aid letters lie! Specifically, when they are presenting how much aid “the college” is giving, they include in that aid both college-offered and federal loans. I’m sorry, but a loan (unless it is 0%) isn’t aid–it actually makes college cost more when you include the interest. How does this make college more affordable? We saw this with Erin’s aid letters: One university (it was either American or Occidental) indicated we had something like 40K in aid… $15 K in merit scholarships (good), and the rest in parent loans (bad). I’m pleased to see that work is being done on a standard, non-misleading form of aid letter.
  • What It Costs. USA Today has an interesting piece on how some universities are charging more for “harder” majors (translation: those that will earn more money). That’s just wrong. Given how students change majors and take minors and such, plus all the breadth requirements, the major shouldn’t affect the cost (with the exception of certain self-supporting programs).

*: Another example of misleading statistics. We’ve all been seeing the reports about how over half of college graduates are either unemployed or underemployed. People are taking this data, combining it with the student loan statistics, and saying that we don’t need as many people going to college. But that’s misleading. What they aren’t doing is comparing it to people with just high school educations or without high school diplomas. I couldn’t easily find current numbers, but in July 2009, the unemployment rate for high school dropouts was 15.4 percent, compared to 9.4 percent for high school graduates, 7.9 percent for individuals with some college credits or an associate’s degree, and 4.7 percent for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Extrapolate that out. Those without college degrees are doing far worse than half under- or un-employed. Further, they didn’t look at the salaries earned — I’d be willing to guess that, on average, those with college degrees earn more than those with high-school degrees. They may even earn enough to pay off their loans 🙂

Music: Drive Time (Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver): The Greenbrier Hop


Oh, My Aching Head

For a change, I have some lunchtime news chum to share–all relating to migraine headaches:

  • Preventing Migraines. New guidelines have been issued regarding using drugs as migraine preventatives. To my eye, there’s not much new here, except perhaps some new drugs. I’ve known for a while that Topamax, Depakote, and propranolol can work as preventatives; I’ve avoided the first two because they can also slow down your thinking processes (Topamax is nicknamed Dopamax for a reason). Still, the list appears to contain some new recommendations. It doesn’t mention that muscle relaxants may also be useful. I know, with respect to migraines, I’m one of the lucky ones: I don’t get aura (only rarely), I don’t have light sensitivity, and I don’t have to go hide in a dark room (well, only very rarely). However, mine are hemispherical (just on one side) and frequent (about every 2-3 weeks).
  • Brain Freeze. An interesting study has shown a connection between brain freeze and migraines. Brain freeze occurs as the blood vessels going to the brain dilate and constrict in order to prevent cold blood from going to the brain; this sensitivity to this is the reason that migraine sufferers are more likely to get brain freeze.
  • Migraines and Racism. Here’s another interesting study. As I noted above, one of the migraine preventatives is propranolol (it is also a common treatment for high blood pressure). A recent study has shown that people who take propranolol are less likely to be racist. A new Oxford University research study found that Propranolol, which works to combat high blood pressure, anxiety, migraines, and a number of heart ailments, affects the same part of the central nervous system that regulates subconscious attitudes on race.

Music: Presumed Innocent (Marcia Ball): You Make Me Happy


A Death Close to Home

Saturday, while I was judging the IEEE Ethics competition, I received a very unsettling phone call. My cousin, Nick Faigin had unexpectedly passed away on Friday morning. Nick was 47; 5 years younger than me. You don’t expect younger cousins to go before you.

Now, I didn’t know Nick closely, although we always got along when we saw each other. The age difference was part of it; I tended to associate more with his older sister. I did follow Nick, however. He had a wonderful poetry blog, and was very active in the club and music scene, doing a lot of promotion of bands. I hadn’t realized how much of an impact he had until I was reading all of the wonderful tributes and testimonials that had been posted on his Facebook page.

Being one of the more computer literate of the cousins, I’m the one fretting over the modern worry: how to preserve Nick’s wonderful digital legacy. The two domains he owns do not expire until October; I’ve already contacted the registrar to figure out how to transfer them to my ownership so I can keep them alive. But other areas are harder. What does one do about his Facebook presence? I’m guessing the account will stay there forever, but it would be nice to be able to post a closing message (I guess we could just write something to his wall). What about other places? His gmail account? Other email accounts? This is an area that is far too new and far too sensitive (another good article, another on turning facebook pages into memorials).

In any case, I’ll worry about that latter. For now, Nick, recognize that you touched the lives of a lot of people for good. This is a great legacy to leave behind, my cousin.