USA Hockey Needs to Reign In Apathetic Referees

by Dave Hamilton

I had to admonish a youth hockey referee today (I took his picture since he wouldn't give me his name). It's rare that this happens, but it happens probably once per year. It could be stopped, but USA Hockey is clearly not interested in solving this problem they have.

He just doesn't care about the kids. It's sad.

He just doesn't care about the kids. It's sad.

Youth hockey referees are out there to help keep our kids safe and help kids properly learn the game. In that order. That's it. No personal agendas, no goals of making the game more like the NHL. Not even a goal of "keep it balanced even if that means ignoring some infractions."

None of that. Safety and education are the priorities. That's it. 

Today's recipient of the Hamilton Treatment was a referee who has violated his responsibilities in front of me once earlier this year, letting kids fight without stopping it, later watching while a child used his skate to kick another child who was down on the ice. I said nothing to the referee (but I did document it and report it to the rink scheduler).

Today that same referee was intentionally ignoring head contact. The coach on the opposing team asked/argued with him about this and the referee said to him that head contact was not something he was worried about. Unbelievable.

Later in the game my own kid got shoved down in such a way that he hurt his head. The ref put both kids in the penalty box (I'm fine with a ref putting two kids in to calm a game down. That's smart). But when they got to the box the referee actually yelled at my son for getting hurt when my son asked him why he, too, was being put in the box. I was right there doing the score and corrected the referee that he shouldn't be ignoring when a kid tells him he has a head injury. He started to tell me I wasn't a coach and had no right to talk to him. I explained how my position as a parent trumps all. No one disagreed.

This referee should be relieved of his position. Frankly, he should be wise enough to realize it's time for him to quit. Apathy towards children's safety is a bad quality in a youth hockey referee.

But no one watches these referees. No one is there to see when there's a problem developing. And it seems like no one cares even when an issue like this is reported. Which it was. Earlier this year. If my son has a concussion I will probably sue this guy for medical expenses just to make a point. I've had it. The first question to ask the referee: did you check every player's helmet to ensure the stickers are all up to date? I can guarantee you he did not.

Until there is some regular referee oversight by USA Hockey we must continually pressure the referees to pay attention to our children's safety. Many of these guys forget that they are teachers out there, and if USA Hockey isn't going to put a system in place to point out when they miss that, it's up to us parents to do it. This sucks, too, because it creates an adversarial relationship where one should not exist, but it must be done.

PianoFiles Will Shut Down Because of Clueless Music Publishers

by Dave Hamilton in ,

I found out today that the sheet-music-oriented community site, PianoFiles, announced that they will shut down in December.

I'm new to PianoFiles, having only joined earlier this year, but it's been a huge resource for me already. As some of you may remember I got back into playing (drums, mostly) in musical theater pits this year, and PianoFiles was the resource that made it super simple for me to use my iPad in the pit instead of sheet music. 

Using my iPad means I can make as many notes as I want, back them all up, don't need a light on stage, and can turn pages far more easily than I can with a paper book. It made a huge difference for me.

As I said, I got back into playing in theater pits. It had been almost twenty years since I had done this, and here's how it used to work for all of us musicians:

  1. Get hired for show.
  2. Get book (sheet music) from the musical director.
  3. Go to copy shop and make a copy of sheet music.
  4. Go to rehearsals and mark up my copy with all the notes that are necessary for that particular production.
  5. Play the run of shows.
  6. Return pristine original book back to musical director (who then returns it to publishing company).
  7. Keep the copy. Sometimes it's fun to go back and revisit those parts. I've learned a lot doing that and it keeps my reading skills fresh.

Step 6 is mandatory. Regardless of how you organize yourself, that book is rented and needs to be returned in as mint condition as possible lest you get fined. If you make notes in it, you damned well better do them in pencil (or stuck-on post-it notes) that you can erase or remove. Someone else is going to use that book next week for a completely different production and wants to start with a clean book just like you did.

When I got hired for a show earlier this year, I got the book and went to Staples. I figured I'd either follow my exact method above (and use the paper copy during shows as I used to) or I would have them scan it into a PDF that I could use on my iPad, depending upon the cost. At that point I wasn't sure if my iPad would work for me (it does!).

What did Staples tell me? "We're sorry. This book is copyrighted. You need a release letter from the publisher in order for us to copy it." THAT never happened 20 years ago!

I had two options. Ok, well, three, but actually getting a bona-fide release letter (and doing so in time) was probably a long-shot. I could phony up a release letter (how would the rep at Staples know?) or I could find someone who already had the PDF and just use that. I suppose I could also scan it myself, though doing that with a 100+ page spiral bound book would be a disaster.

I went to the Googles while standing there in Staples and found PianoFiles. This site just allows folks like me to list what scores we have and what we want. The site doesn't host any files, and trades are arranged person-to-person. There's no mass distribution of files. I'm not sure, but it's possible what we're doing (sharing scores with each other) might even fall as legal under copyright law (similar to if I shared a copy of the new Phish album with you). Either way, the folks I've met through PianoFiles are all quite pleasant and aren't interested in screwing anyone. They're all mostly musicians just looking to make things easier for shows to which they already have the rights.

But no. ICMP organized a terrible letter-writing campaign to get this great resource shut down. Terrible. Just another example of an old business model hanging on and not changing with the times. We musicians don't get paid very much, either. But we want to be able to play the shows we're paid to do. Either distribute PDFs or let us share them when you give us paper books. 

It's not like anyone is going to get the PDFs of a show via someone they met at PianoFiles and then actually, you know, rent out a theater and put the show on without getting the rights. There's far more at risk there than would make it worth that, and the rights to shows (which come with the book rentals) are priced quite fairly from what I've seen. If you know what you're doing you can likely make your money back and then some, even in a small theater (because rights are priced based on number of seats capable of being sold).

ICMP should stop hanging on by a thread and instead start a letter-writing campaign pleading with their own publishers to provide PDF copies when someone licenses the rights to a show. Why that's not already happening is something that I find quite curious.

Hopefully this injustice can be reversed. Otherwise I think I have a new idea for a site to launch.

Regarding Google's Bamboozling of the Public

by Dave Hamilton in , ,

I wrote this to a friend today and figured it best to share with you all. Yes, I'm quoting myself. Live with it. Love it.

The best and worst thing Google has ever done is give people reports showing data that people think they want to see. In reality that data does nothing more than cement peoples reliance and addiction upon that data from Google, regardless of how flawed, inaccurate or misleading it is.

Swatch SISTEM51 USA Release July 1st and 8th in New York and San Francisco

by Dave Hamilton in

The wait for Swatch's new SISTEM51 here in the US is (almost) over!

The SISTEM51 is Swatch's fully-automatic, all-mechanical US$150 watch and on Tuesday (yes, this coming Tuesday!), July 1st, 2014, the SISTEM51 will make it's official USA debut at Swatch's Flagship Store in Times Square located at 1528 Broadway, New York City.

One week later on July 8th, a pop-up shop dedicated entirely to the SISTEM51 will launch in San Francisco, California at 101 Grant Street on the corner of Geary Avenue.

Swatch's SISTEM51: Multiple colors, fully-automatic movement, movement visible through back glass

Swatch's SISTEM51: Multiple colors, fully-automatic movement, movement visible through back glass

When asked about availability outside of those two stores, Swatch's Michael Zucconi says, "It will open to the rest of Swatch stores nationwide...I expect that to happen at the end of summer!"

Perhaps your watch-loving summer plans will take you to New York or San Francisco but, if not, the end of the summer will see these on more USA wrists. I'm looking forward to checking it out, for sure!

The Eye of the Storm - My First Trip in a Floatation Tank

by Dave Hamilton in ,

Life's always hectic for me. It's my natural state, I suppose. This month is a bit more hectic than normal, if there is such a thing. In addition to all my regular activities, I've just finished tech week and 3 shows of Next to Normal, my first foray into playing in a theater pit in over ten years. We have 8 more shows to go over the next two weekends, and then 18 hours after we finish the last show I'll get on a plane to head to San Francisco for Macworld/iWorld Expo.

And I have some planning to do for that last bit in the interim. 

So yes, life is crazy. A few weeks ago, though, a conversation with my mom prompted a discussion with my wife about how an experience in a floatation tank was a bucket list item for me. A few days later my wife had not only found a place locally (Float Maine in Portland, Maine), she gave me a gift certificate good for two floats.

I had my first float this afternoon and it was nothing like I expected, and everything I wanted. 

The Samadhi Tank I experienced.

I've always casually referred to floatation tanks as "sensory deprivation tanks" but that's really a misnomer. One's senses are fully engaged, you just have very little (or no) external stimuli. I chose to leave the light off and the door closed, so eyes open or closed made no difference — it was all pitch black... until it wasn't.

Upon entry into the tank it took me a few minutes to get situated. The water was all churned up from my entrance, and that meant once I started floating I was bouncing around a little bit against the walls. No big deal, but the experience really couldn't start until the bouncing stopped. Focusing on that, though, distracted me from just waiting and... I honestly don't even remember the bouncing stopping... during my hour in the tank I never slept (at least I don't think I did), but I certainly wasn't alert in the normal sense. 

Things got intense very quickly for me, and I lost the sense that I was on my back. Gravity really wasn't an issue, other than occasionally noticing it pulling on the skin on my face. For most of it I felt as if I were standing — or at least upright — but in a very relaxed way with no pressure anywhere. I saw visions in front of me, and even interacted with faces and people that I envisioned. 

It wasn't uncomfortable in any way — almost like a dream, it seemed absolutely normal to see these people and other visions, and was in no way jarring or scary. After all, it was just my head creating all of this.

Somewhere around what I would consider the halfway mark I got distracted by my own thoughts and focused on the tank itself for a while. Again, I couldn't see, feel, or hear anything — but I spent some time acutely aware of my state in the tank.

And then I started hearing music — my own music in my head. A lot of the tunes I'd been playing in the pit for the last week ran through my head (we did 6 straight days of running the show between tech week and opening weekend). I enjoyed watching the music go by, dissecting it without really worrying about it — just hearing it deconstruct and enjoyed going deeper and deeper with it. 

After that passed I again became aware of my surroundings... then I drifted into a clear-mind, meditative state for a while, after which I started hearing music. This time it was unfamiliar music and I realized that was my signal that my hour in the tank was up. 

I got up, dripped dry, then showered and headed home.

But not before booking my next appointment in the tank. I'm quite looking forward to my next experience in there.

Since August I've Lost One Pound Per Week ... Easily.

by Dave Hamilton in ,

During the last week of July 2013, Lisa noticed an article in Bottom Line Personal entitled, "I'm Kicking the Sugar Habit!" We receive BLP in print form every two weeks, but most of the articles make it online, this among them.

The article laid out a really simple, four-week plan that basically is geared to help folks build new eating habits that limit sugar intake. I'm always game for challenging and/or breaking habits, so when Lisa suggested we try this, I was right on board. I don't eat much sugar, so I figured it would be a pretty mild experience.

The plan starts out with a three-day sugar fast where we ate nothing that included any sugars whatsoever. That meant no starches, no fruit, no dairy ... and obviously no cookies before bed!

During those three days I ate plenty of food, but at the end of day two I was experiencing hunger pangs, headaches, and general physical resistance to this new concept. Much to my surprise I was addicted to sugar.

More than that, I had developed a very incorrect meter of what it felt like to truly be "full." Eating breads and other processed starches really twists your perception of hunger. There's a reason they call that stuff "comfort food," and like most folks I had easily fallen into that trap.

But I pushed through that and after three days I was on a good road. I followed the articles plan for another few weeks, slowly re-introducing foods (starting with red wine and cheese!), and continuing through to whole grains and all of that.

In that first three week period I lost about 8 pounds. Weight loss was not my goal with this (I've never been fat or even close to it) but I realized I was carrying some extra weight, so this was a nice thing to see. A good bit of that weight was likely water weight (carbohydrates cause us to store a ton of water), but some of it was truly weight loss.

By about week number four I had come up with a new eating routine for myself and abandoned the article's strict schedule. My goal was to challenge and re-evaluate my eating habits, and I had accomplished that.

Since August 1, 2013 I've lost an average of one pound per week, and I'm down almost 25 pounds since then. I don't really need to lose much more, so I may have to increase my intake of something at some point soon, or maybe my body will level out.

I basically still eat what I want, and if that means I want bread I eat it. But I do so with the knowledge that eating bread or grains or carbs at every meal is not something I need, nor is it good for me. So now instead of a sandwich for lunch I'll often have a salad if that's convenient (but I sometimes still have sandwiches). At night instead of having cookies I'll have a piece of dark chocolate and maybe some cheddar cheese (but sometimes I still have cookies!).

Breakfast is where the biggest and easiest change came for me. Instead of a quick bowl of cereal I now have an apple and a few slices of cheddar (and I still drink orange juice). Not only does that keep me from starting the day with processed carbs, but it also leaves me feeling full a LOT longer.

Oh... and I snack on nuts now. LOTS of nuts.

If you're looking for something to do in the new year, I highly recommend taking a look at this simple plan.

Swatch Sistem51: Now Available in Switzerland ... and in Multiple Colors!

by Dave Hamilton in ,

I've been interested in Swatch's new, mechanical, automatic and inexpensive Sistem51 since it was announced earlier this year. 

This week the Sistem51 (finally!) went on sale... in Switzerland. The US release is still planned for "early 2014," though they won't confirm a more specific time frame than that (at least not with me... and not yet).

But the exciting thing they did share with me this morning is ... it comes in more than just blue! Black, Red and White (with a multi-color skeleton back) are now all in the line-up.

The Sistem51 is currently selling for CHF 150 in Switzerland (approximately US$169 as of today's conversion), and while US pricing hasn't been announced, it will likely be in that same range.

For now... the pics. More when I know more.


Obama Un-Cancels non-ACA Plans ... But Will ACA Plans Still be Affordable?

by Dave Hamilton in

Ok, so on the surface this is good for me. It lets me keep my plan. (Edit: no, it won't. New Hampshire has opted not to extend the cancelation deadline, likely for the reasons I originally detailed below).

But... we're also still mandating that insurance companies must take people with pre-existing conditions. And now we're (effectively) saying that – in those states where the no-longer-canceled policies were cheaper – people who could previously get insurance are not going to be mandated into ObamaCare.

So the math then tells me that, in those aforementioned states (like New Hampshire, but not New York*), the ObamaCare plans will only be used by those who previously couldn't get insurance, effectively making those plans high-risk plans, and raising those premiums up to the roof (just like they were for pre-ObamaCare high risk plans). 


If correct, then what's the point? If we're going to do this, we can't split the baby and expect it to still be "affordable" for everyone. At least not according to my math. Am I wrong?

*The data I've seen shows that some states (New Hampshire, Florida, Texas) will see massive increases for previously-insured folks on individual plans while other states (like New York, where it was previously highly-regulated) will likely see rates drop with ObamaCare plans.


Swatch Sistem51 Not Due for USA Release until Early 2014

by Dave Hamilton in ,

Earlier this year Swatch made waves in the watch industry when they introduced the Sistem51, a watch with a mechanical movement whose assembly is fully-automated. This keeps costs down (think $150) while presumably preserving high quality (they say the watch is regulated by a laser at the factory and requires no further tuning).

Initially rumored for USA arrival in October, today Michael Zucconi, PR Manager for the Swatch Group USA confirmed to me that we won't see the watch here until 2014. According to Michael:

"The first four models will be available in Switzerland at selected stores on December 15, 2013. Due to the high demand, the worldwide launch is set for early 2014 and there is much more to explore... More information will be available on the US launch closer to the launch in Switzerland. Please keep an eye out for the announcement."

So... we wait. Longer.

Obama Apologizes to Those of us Losing Our Great Health Insurance Plans

by Dave Hamilton in

On Wednesday, President Obama sat down with NBC and issued what amounts to a blanket apology to people like me who had very good health insurance plans which will be canceled as a part of ACA/ObamaCare next year (plans that he has called "substandard"). Apology accepted. And Obama also deserves a heartfelt attaboy for stepping up and admitting that this thing isn't perfect and that it's gonna hurt some folks. This is a good start. 

He also goes on to say, effectively, that he and his staff working as hard and fast as they can to fix this. That's great to hear, too, though I'd be very curious to learn more about what he means by that.

As I best understand it, plans like mine have to go away so that my family can be put into a group with a variety of people, including those previously uninsurable. If they don't bring me, a "low risk" person (and family) into that plan then how do they expect to lower the premiums for the previously "high risk" people?

After all it's just math, not magic.

Still, I'll be following with a watchful eye and an open mind. I have nothing to lose — I'll find my best path through the new system as I always have, and right now that means starting sometime next year my premiums will nearly double. We'll see how that comes to pass. The next six weeks will be very interesting.

On Bloomberg TV After Last Week's Apple Event

by Dave Hamilton in , , ,

After last week's Apple Event in San Francisco I had a chance to chat with Bloomberg's Jon Erlichman on Pimm Fox's show. It was a fun chat, despite the treachery of the cars racing by just inches behind us! The thing that most impressed me at the event was the iPad Air. We got to handle them a bit in the hands-on room after the presentation, and that device really does earn its "Air" moniker. Amazingly light, and really easy to hold in one hand. That plus free OS X Mavericks made for a good showing. In any event, the segment I did is below.

Mr. Obama, I'm Not a "Substandard" Father

by Dave Hamilton in , ,

I don't hate Barack Obama. I wish the man no ill will and, honestly, I originally liked ObamaCare's high-level concepts.

Ensuring that everyone gets some basic level of healthcare is A-OK by me, and I have gone on record stating that I am OK paying a little more to ensure that happens. I also like the idea of simply changing something about the system so that we'd break out of the status quo. In addition to those talking points, though, I also liked the idea that I could keep my health insurance plan if it suited me. As I posted yesterday, that seems not to be the case, but that's yesterday's news.

Today, though, I read something that really bothered me more than any of the rest of this. Today I read that Mr. Obama called the health insurance plan I have "substandard." That took all manner of politics out of it and hit home in a very very personal way for me.

I am not a perfect man. I am not a perfect husband (despite repeated assertions by my wife to the contrary!), and I am not a perfect father (for the record, my kids make no assertions to the contrary). But I do try really hard, and I care so very much, and I realized today that calling anything I do for my kids and family "substandard" hits a nerve.

Yesterday, Mr. Obama called the type of health insurance plan that has served my family for 10+ years "substandard." This type of plan has served us through the birth of a child, several sets of broken bones, major invasive surgery and related hospitalization, a concussion, Lyme disease, Bell's Palsy, and all manner of everyday maladies that happen to a growing family.

Every year I take the previous three years' numbers and run them against all kinds of insurance plans. I, too, like the "pie in the sky" idea of a no-fuss, $30-copay, and every year I hope that my math will show me that in at least one of the previous three years that would have been the smart plan to get. But every single time I do the math it shows me that the only correct move for us is the one I have always chosen: a high-deductible plan that does nothing more than protect us from bankruptcy. True insurance.

With this type of plan we pay for our healthcare starting with dollar one, and the plan essentially only kicks in when we've spent more than about $5,000 on any one person in the family. Yes, that means our cash flow is sometimes unpredictably impacted, but it saves us thousands every year. 

It's never made any sense whatsoever for us to carry maternity coverage, either. Even in the year our son was born it made more financial sense to pay out-of-pocket for the pregnancy-related costs than it would have to add maternity to our plan. It's important to note that while our plan didn't cover routine maternity costs (by our choice, of course), it would have (and did) cover any pregnancy-related complications.  Again, our insurance was chosen by us to minimize our yearly out-of-pocket costs (and protect us from bankruptcy, of course), nothing more.

Every year I put a lot of responsible thought and effort into choosing exactly the right health insurance plan for my family, and for our President — someone to whom we're supposed to look up and respect — to call it "substandard"  says to me that he thinks I'm a substandard father for actively and repeatedly choosing this path for my family.

Screw you, buddy. To call any human "substandard" is not something I'll tolerate from anyone. Not from my kids, not from my coworkers, and certainly not from you.


ObamaCare's New Normal: The Healthy Self-Employed Now Pay For Their Sick Neighbors

by Dave Hamilton in ,

Finally the national discussion is beginning to address the big three-and-a-half year old elephant in the room regarding ObamaCare: many (most?) people with individual health care/insurance plans will lose these plans in 2014.

Note, for clarity: I'm not saying that we'll lose access to coverage. We'll simply lose the plans we have now and be forced to sign up for new plans.

This goes quite contrary to the talking point Mr. Obama liked to repeat, saying if we liked our health plan, we could keep our health plan. That's only true if you've had your health plan since before March 23, 2010 (when he signed ObamaCare into law) and if you haven't made any changes to your plan since then.

But we all know all this now. And knowledge is a good thing, though it's likely far too late to do anything about it for 2014. What's important is that we all understand why this must be so.

For Every Action There Must Be an Equal and Opposite Reaction

Perhaps the most popular bullet point of ObamaCare is the fact that it will allow people with pre-existing conditions to get coverage.

For the record, that's always been the case for people participating in group insurance, with their employer or other organization. For as long as I've been buying insurance (20+ years), group plans have had several mandates: they must cover everyone (even if that means raising the group's premiums to do so), they must cover maternity care, and there are minimum levels of coverage they must carry. These mandates were presumably put into place to protect unsuspecting employees from signing on with a company only to find out the company's health plan didn't carry something (or someone) they assumed would be covered. (I say shame on that employee for not researching before accepting the job offer, but ... I digress).

Prior to ObamaCare there were also such things as true "individual" health insurance plans: you'd apply and then go through an underwriting process where they blood tested you, drug tested you, and asked you a pant-load of questions after which they would come up with a rating. That rating would range from "preferred plus" with very low rates for people with no health issues at all to "no freakin' way" with very high rates (or a "no, thank you") for folks who were sick.

ObamaCare does away with this latter portion. No, I don't mean it does away with the latter portion of the last paragraph: it does away with the whole last paragraph. There are no more individual plans, no more underwriting, no more preferred rates for healthy people. In order to cover people with pre-existing conditions, we all will be placed into groups organized by locale: the healthy people will be put into groups with the sick people — and our rates are averaged out.

Individual plans were typically purchased by two groups of people: the self-employed and the unemployed (or retired). But since we all have to be in groups now it means that starting in 2014 healthy people will be subsidizing their sick neighbors' healthcare. If you, as a family, make more than $94k/year on paper you also don't qualify for any subsidies/discounts on your insurance, either. This paints a huge target on the self-employed as the source for funding this new provision of our national healthcare.

My family's insurance currently costs us $480 per month. We were (and still are, thankfully) quite healthy when we went through the underwriting process. Starting in August, 2014 (our plan's anniversary and now termination date) we will likely have to sign up for a plan that costs almost $1,000 per month. After all, I have to pay for my sick neighbors' health care now. It's how ObamaCare works.

You're welcome.


Kenwood Dennard with Phish: The Beat of a Different Drummer Isn't Always a Good Thing

by Dave Hamilton in

Let's get this part out of the way: Kenwood Dennard is an amazing drummer by anyone's standards, and he's one of my favorites. "Drummer" doesn't even begin to cover it... he's an amazing musician.  His list of credentials speaks for itself, but don't bother reading it. Just spend three minutes watching this guy play the drums... and keyboards ... and sing. SIMULTANEOUSLY.

OK, now that we're all on the same page with regards to Mr. Dennard's musical prowess we can move forward. On Saturday night in Worcester, Kenwood Dennard sat in with Phish. I've seen Phish a lot ... in fact, Saturday was my 50th show (it was my wife's 52nd, and she likes to rub that in). I love that these guys are unpredictable... usually.

The show followed its normal formula... two sets, and then the band came out for an encore. They took the stage and started up their cover of Stevie Wonder's,  "Boogie On Reggae Woman." I noticed that their drummer, Jon Fishman, called over a technician and said something to him, then the tech left the stage, pointing to something off to the side. My attention drifted until suddenly I was jarred by ... something. I looked on stage and saw that Fishman had left the stage and Kenwood Dennard was behind the kit. At first he was standing (I think Fishman's stool was too low for him) and then he finally sat down, playing the whole time.

What I observed next was very enlightening. Here's this drummer that, by most accounts, would be considered a better  drummer than Fishman, but the whole room stopped bouncing quite as much. Dennard played just fine, and his groove was fine, but it was also very different. And the crowd as a whole had trouble settling into this groove after three hours of being locked in with Fishman.  

They played a second encore, "Possum," for which Dennard stayed behind the kit. On this one he came up with a groove that wound up being a half-time version of what Fishman normally plays. This was clearly an unrehearsed situation, but the band adapted and went with it... still, the crowd — especially at this point of the show — never really locked in the way they normally would. 

Had Dennard been behind the kit all night I suppose things might have gone better, but even then... I'm not so sure. Again, he's a great drummer (one of the greatest alive today!), but perhaps not for that scenario.

A drummer myself, I've certainly been in gig-time situations that involved a spontaneous fill-in (with me either as the fill-in or as the guy relinquishing the throne for such an occasion), but I believe this was the first time I'd solely been a spectator at such an event. It was enlightening to witness, and I will very carefully consider future decisions to participate in a drummer fill-in scenario. If there's a happy crowd already up and moving, the best plan is likely to stick with whatever drummer they're already used to feeling.


Geeks and Sonos, The Windows v. Mac Problem All Over Again

by Dave Hamilton in ,

It’s interesting how misunderstood Sonos is by us geeks. I say “us” because I was firmly in this “Sonos doesn’t make sense to me” camp right up until the day I wasn’t. Kind of like how some computer geeks used to be (and some still are) about the Mac. “It’s too easy.” “It looks cheap but costs too much.” “It doesn’t have a zillion settings that make me feel comfortable knowing I’m getting full geek value out of it.”

It seems we geeks truly have trouble grokking just how easy and profound Sonos is. I did. Again, like the Windows/Mac thing I think it’s because we geeks become very comfortable rolling our own solutions. We take pride in them. Lots of moving parts, any one of which can malfunction, but that’s OK: we assembled it ourselves and we know how to make it all work. Heck, I take enjoyment out of every aspect of that: creating it, using it, and troubleshooting it. It’s truly a hobby for me.

And if it’s just us geeks, then that’s perhaps OK. I had one of those solutions so that I could bounce my music to any room (ok, well, 2 rooms) in the house. And when I wanted it to work, by golly it worked. But no one else in the house wanted to use it. They could … they’re all really smart and fairly technically savvy. But they didn’t want to.

Truth be told, I didn’t want to, either. Especially as I began rolling that solution to even more rooms. It always seemed to require a computer to be on to make it work right. And the right software running. And always something to tweak.

Right about that time one of our Mac Geek Gab listeners bugged me again about Sonos. So I went down and met with them and … the rest is history. I’m a full-on Sonos kool-aid drinker now, and not only am I happier for it, but my family is happier. We finally listen to music again. Sonos makes it easy to make music social. The playlist is stored ON the Sonos system… not only does that mean it can easily be bounced to any room with the tap of a button on any device (iOS, Android, Mac, Windows) in our house, but it also means that ANY of those devices can add to or modify the playlist as it’s playing.

Because of Sonos, listening to music has again become that thing that a family — our family — can do together. For me that hasn't existed since the invention of the iPod.

I’ll leave you all with one last thing that impressed me about Sonos when I first met with them several years ago. One of their VPs said to me, “listen… you’re a geek… both a music geek and a computer geek. We understand that you grok how this stuff works. And we love that. But we don’t want your feature requests. However… if your family has any feature requests, please pass them along to me immediately.”

Seemed like a very Apple way to handle things. ;) I’m still amazed no one else is out there truly competing with them.

 (thanks to my friend, Kirk McElhearn, for inspiring this post, which I originally posted as a comment on his, "Sonos: I Just Don't Get It" blog post)


Internet Advertising Will Suffer the Click of Death

by Dave Hamilton in , , ,

A friend of mine recently pointed me to this Salon article which cites the CEO of the company behind AdBlock Plus as saying that they're going to start charging advertisers to not  have their ads blocked. His reason is simple: 80% of AdBlock Plus's users aren't against all advertising... they're just against the irrelevant junk advertising that's become prevalent.

He's right. It's true. And I dare say it's all Google's fault. They've trained advertisers to focus on the one thing that makes Google money: the click. The thing is that clicks don't make anyone BUT Google money. And in order to get more clicks, you've got to have ads that are obtrusive and annoying.

Take the click away and people go back to the type of advertising that, you know... works. Branding advertising. The kind of thing that readers (i.e. humans) don't mind. Ads that are in some obvious way related to the content they accompany do quite well.

Podcast ads, sponsorships, and simply relevant banner ads all fit this model. The companies that use these methods see actual results. These results don't come right away, mind you, but over the course of one-to-three months these ads pay off in a huge way: towards the companies sales and, ultimately (if the company is managed properly), the bottom line.

But yes, we've got to get away from the click and, as the Salon piece says, eventually we will ... one way or another.



You Don't Have Health Insurance, But I Do

by Dave Hamilton in ,

I'll start by saying that I think Obamacare will wind up being seen similar to how No Child Left Behind is now: something that was a great idea at the start but through the political machine turned into a steaming pile of insert-your-favorite-noun-here. "Healthcare for the poor" and "all kids getting a good eduction" are talking points everyone can (mostly) get behind. In the end, they'll screw us all.

Ok, hopefully that keeps this from attracting all kinds of "you hate Obama" comments. I might hate him, but I don't hate him and his administration any more or less than I hated the last guy and his administration. And I might not hate any of them.

Now, on to my point: you don't have health insurance. At least you probably don't, and you almost certainly never have. I have health insurance, and it works quite well for me and my family. It's not perfect, but it allows us to really see what we're spending and where.

You have car insurance, or at least you probably do. You carry that insurance to do what insurance is meant to do: protect you from bankruptcy in the event something unexpectedly bad happens. If you get into an accident or mow down some children, insurance kicks in to save you from losing your house.  

But you don't pay a $10 co-pay every time you get an oil change. And if you go in for a tune-up you don't choose your spark plugs based on which ones your car insurance company covers. No, of course you don't. That's not what insurance is for, and you probably don't buy a third-party maintenance plan for your car.

When you go to the doctor, though, you do think about things like that. You probably don't know (or care, even worse) what an office visit costs. You just pay your co-pay and go on your way. You also may not know what your prescriptions cost for the same reason, but you darned sure make certain that the version of the drugs you're taking are on your plan's formulary.

That's a maintenance plan, not insurance. Yes, that maintenance plan includes an insurance-like component (because it also protects you from bankruptcy), but it does a lot more, doesn't it?

I have health insurance, nothing more. My family of four pays just shy of US$500 per month to ensure we don't go bankrupt in the event something catastrophically horrible happens. When we go to the doctor we pay for it. When we get a prescription, we pay for that, too. It all goes against a very high deductible.

I've done the math: it's cheaper for us to carry a plan like this and pay out of pocket than it is to have the comfort of a flat fee/co-pay for all of these things. It makes managing money a little more difficult, but that's OK by us. It's our choice. 

From the looks of it Obamacare is going to force us to lose this choice. We're going to be forced to carry all kinds of things we don't want or need (like maternity coverage, and maybe even sick doctor visits), and that's going to possibly double our premiums. It's terrible.

And yes, Obamacare will (hopefully?) solve the problem of "the uninsured" getting coverage.  

But why is it that the uninsured need coverage? Maybe they don't have coverage now because they don't have enough money to care about what happens if they're sued into bankruptcy by some hospital that has to treat them regardless. If I didn't care about that I wouldn't have coverage.

Regardless, Obamacare does absolutely zilch to solve the real problem: here in the USA we pay a fortune in medical costs (go ahead, watch the video. I'll wait).


Yup, you heard that right: we pay WAY more than any other country, regardless of their health care plans. And Obamacare isn't going to solve that. It's not even trying to solve that. It's solving a completely different problem, and what it results in is the medical industry making even more money from the rest of us.

If you really want to solve our "healthcare problem" in this country, do at least one of these two things: 

  • Reduce our actual costs for medical procedures and pharmaceuticals.
  • Reduce the doctors' time and costs incurred when processing insurance claims.

Do either of those things and you'll be my hero. Like this guy


My Pitch for Theory-Based Piano Lessons for All Musicians

by Dave in

We have this habit in FLING (one of the bands I play in) to get into protracted email conversations about a variety of subjects when we're not together rehearsing or playing. Recently, Mike, one of our guitar players, pointed us all towards this 15-minute YouTube video about learning music theory. Mike's an awesome guitar player who learned his craft with both some private lessons as well as just learn-it-yourself dedication (and if you haven't heard FLING play, you owe it to yourself to soak in one of Mike's killer leads). It was interesting to me that someone this accomplished wouldn't have been taught some theory along the way, but the more I thought about it, this actually makes sense.
As someone who's taken quite a few years of harmony and theory in school and also dabbled in piano and guitar enough to be incompetent and dangerous on those instruments, I've come to the following conclusion:
Key signatures and, indeed, sharps and flats, are a piano-rooted construct that has become the common language for our conversations and communication about music. When applied on guitar — when learned on guitar — they don't make a whole lot of sense because everything looks equal on the fretboard. On piano, of course, sharps and flats are (for the most part) the black keys, and provide a much simpler and quicker way to visualize and learn the basics. 
Because of this I highly recommend even just a year (or maybe even less) of theory-based piano lessons for all musicians simply to muck with and grok these concepts quickly and visually. It gets a lot of the legwork out of the way and then you can come back to guitar, etc., and understand how silly it is to try to learn these things there. On guitar, for example, going from an E to an F is one fret, but going from an F to a G is two frets. How in the world is that supposed to make sense to someone who doesn't first understand that this is a piano-based concept where going from an E to an F and an F to a G both mean that you're just going up "one white key." The only difference is that, oh yeah, between the F and the G there's this black key that doesn't exist between E and F. On guitar they're all treated equally in a visual sense.
Anyway, there's my pitch for some (theory-based) piano lessons for all musicians.