Friday, December 28, 2007

Favorite Holiday Music Albums

Post-Christmas, and this is usually when people retire their holiday music selections and playlists until next November. Not so fast for me.

Front-liners in the battle against the so-called "War on Christmas" would probably have my head for my use of "Holiday" over "Christmas," except that I intentionally lump music during this time of year into a well-rounded category that includes Christmas and what can only be described as Solstice (or freezing bloody cold) music. I haven't checked lately, but "Frosty" and "Jingle Bells" don't mention Christmas, and the latter was actually written for Thanksgiving!

I'm not a music critic, and we don't own a huge collection of holiday music, but I know what I like and what I don't like:
  • Traditional music done in non-traditional arrangements, but not so bizarre that you wouldn't play it with company around. M-Pact's version of the "Little Drummer Boy" on their "Carol Commission" album is a perfect example of "Wow, this is a cool arrangement!"
  • Artists who just mail in a Christmas album should be forced to listen to the Chipmunks on a loop. Clay Aiken's, although wildly popular and well-reviewed, was simply an exercise in rehashing the standards with nothing more than Clay's unique vocal styling. (Besides, the CD is DRM-locked!) Raul Malo came dangerously close with his Amazon exclusive CD this year, and N-Sync's "Home for Christmas" was banned from my stereo shortly after it arrived.
  • New-Age renditions (Windham Hill and Narada) of traditional music is always a winner for me, but again, it has to be pleasing to hear when company is over.
Here, then, are my favorite Holiday albums, many of which I'll be listening to until the grey skies go away in February:
  • "Raffi's Christmas Album" - A kid's album? Absolutely. Part of the joy of this time of year is children's wonder as we've brainwashed them into the Legend of Santa. This album has it all: accompanying children's voices, great tunes, and a happy but reflective tone. "Must Be Santa" always makes me chuckle, "Petit Papa Noel" and "Old Toy Trains" (a Roger Miller classic which is sadly overlooked) will flood anyone with nostalgia of Christmas' long ago.
  • "Christmas Island" by Jimmy Buffett, one of the most under-appreciated artists of the last twenty years. As usual, you should have a tropical drink in your hand when listening, and there's nothing too serious here, although his version of "I'll Be Home for Christmas" comes across with more sincerity than most artists'. "A Sailor's Christmas" and "Mele Kalikimaka" should be standards.
  • "Have Yourself a Tractor's Christmas" was an instant classic when it came out, primarily due to their self-cover with "Santa Claus Is Comin' (In a Boogie Woogie Choo-Choo Train)." But the recurring theme of the holidays viewed by those who are down, out, and alone (but still hope for better days) resonates with "Shelter," "Christmas is Comin'," "Baby Wanna Be By You," and the fine finale, "Silent Night, Christmas Blue." After all, we've all had a Christmas when we were stuck somewhere away from where we wanted to be?
  • "December" by George Winston. The perfect album for listening to on a cold, dreary day.
  • "A Winter's Solstice: Windham Hill Artists," the original, is apparently out of print, but it lacks the overstretching of the genre by the later installments in the series.
Back to listening....

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Most Stupid Idea Ever, or Marketing Genius?

So, you can now immortalize your WoW character. (The site has since been updated after some pain and grief.)

Wow! I'm sure that WoW players, after spending the majority of their waking discretionary time in WoW, can't deal with seeing their character represented in only 2-D on the monitor. Just think of all the possibilities:
  • When you're away from your game, you can take your character with you, introduce him/her to friends and coworkers, and show him/her your favorite hangouts. Great pickup line: "Why yes, that's my WoW character on the bar. Let me buy you a drink and boast of his courageous exploits!"
  • You can get together with your WoW friends who also have their character in plaster and play with them, just like you did when you were wee children, playing with your Barbie(tm) dolls.
  • You can splurge and buy models of your most worthy adversaries and slowly torture them, which is way better than getting your ass kicked by them in the actual game.
The possibilities are endless!

(Disclaimer: My son got me to try WoW awhile back, and although I found it compelling and intricate, my Real World is still more fascinating and amusing than WoW, any day.)

Monday, December 10, 2007

You Bought a Mixer, So How's About a Mediocre Sitcom With That?

I'm over my last nit with Amazon, but they still do some funny things I just can't pass up.

Debbi asked for a replacement for her hand mixer, so I ordered her the high-end Dualit model 88520 through Amazon. Either because of small sampling size, weird statistics, or wacky heuristics, I was informed that people like me who bought this particular mixer also bought:

Okay, so maybe I'm all right with the knowledge that buyers of this hand mixer also like the chick-flick Away from Her. But Laverne & Shirley - The Second Season?? Ladies, you have to move on from your Happy Days.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Hey, Amazon! "Shipping Soon" Does Not Belong in a Time Distortion Field

Amazon and I go back a long way, mainly because I like their service. The delivery is speedy; sometimes, so speedy that I receive an order of CDs before I receive the email shipping notice, which somehow defies logic.

Anyway, this year, as part of our company's Family Giving Tree holiday event, I went to Amazon to order some toys for local children. Knowing that delivery time would be close, I first opted for "Super Saver Shipping," and then I immediately checked order status to see if I needed to change the shipping method or cancel the order altogether.

This is where it gets really irritating. The two most expensive items I ordered, both handled by Amazon itself, were instantly in the "Shipping Soon" status, meaning I could not change the shipping method or cancel the order. The gotcha? The estimated ship date is December 4, five days from today. WTF? If you are talking about geology, the Age of the Universe, or the pace of climate change, then I would agree that five days is "really soon." If you are talking about the Holiday Shopping Season, then "soon" is more like two to eight hours, but certainly not days.

I'll be more careful next time....


Here it is, the next day, and:
  • I got a reply to my nastygram to Amazon, which to paraphrase said, "Sorry!"
  • All the items in my order have shipped!
This tells me that I should not believe any estimated shipping dates from Amazon, and instead trust the status. When they say "Shipping Soon," they seem to mean it.

Maybe the same folks that designed the shipping estimator for Amazon also designed the Windows Explorer progress meter.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Lowering My Doggie Bag Footprint

Debbi and I usually prefer to eat in when dining, even on the rare occasions we go to a classic fast food place. It bugs me that the food is served with disposable wrappers and utensils -- just another reason to avoid standard fast food.

But what about the classic Doggie Bag? After a nice meal at a restaurant with regular place settings, I feel guilty when the leftovers are boxed and bagged up in disposable containers.

So here's what I'll try to do from here on out: Keep a couple of those reusable plastic containers around when we go out and have the leftovers dumped into them. Saves on trash for one thing. For another, those reusable containers are more durable and leak-proof than the foam containers typically used.

Now, should I bring my own flatware and cloth napkins when going to a fast food joint?