One of my old photos gets Schmapped

In 2000, I visited the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto as part of a photo essay on minor league treasures in major halls of fame for minorleaguenews.com.  I took some photos of rare and unique minor league memorabilia, as well as a few shots with the Atlantic City Boardwalk Trophy (the championship chalice I found in 1984 and donated to the Hall).  During my visit to the Hall, I took a photograph of the Hall building itself, added it to my camera, did some other sightseeing, and caught a Greyhound back to Albany.

Hockey Hall of Fame, Toronto, Ont.  Photo by Chuck Miller.
Hockey Hall of Fame, Toronto, Ont. Photo by Chuck Miller.

Last year, I found these old photos (they were taken with my Nikon CoolPix 800, that’s how old they were) and put them up on flickr as part of a photo essay of shots taken with that old camera.

A few months ago, I received a very odd e-mail.  A company called Schamp.com wanted to use one of my photos (with photo credit) as part of their mappable online program.  In other words, if you’re using Schmap to find travel directions or tourist locations, Schamp will also provide a photograph of the items or locations to which you are interested.

I don’t know if they did a flickr search or a google search or whatnot, but apparently Schmap was very interested in adding this photograph of the Hockey Hall of Fame to their software. I gave permission, with the understanding that I would receive photo credit and that if anyone clicked on the photo it would bring them to my flickr site. They agreed.

http://www.schmap.com/templates/t011py.html?uid=toronto&sid=shopping_souvenirs&ultranarrow=true&si=SCHMAP-081109294541#mapview=Map&tab=map&topleft=43.6342936,-79.415083047&bottomright=43.6557084,-79.375463093&c=f6f6f600a7abA62122A62122FFF88FFAF5BBffffffFFF88Fd8d8d8A4A7A6A621226990ffECEBBD0000005C5A4E5C5A4E000000929292F0EFDA

This morning, I saw that the photograph had been included in their computer network, and was accessible through the Internet, or through an iPhone application.  That’s my photo on the upper left in the iPhone application, along with Creative Commons copyright protection.

And the nice thing about Schmap is – they did it the right way. They contacted me, asked my permissions, agreed to my requests for copyright protection. Too many times I’ve had people just “cut-and-paste” my work into their projects, without any sort of acknowledgment or accreditation. In fact, last year I caught two major companies using my old Patroons photographs for their own work, even to the point where my watermarked name at the bottom of one of the photos was blurred out. I contacted them about what they did, and eventually was able to receive checks from them for their copyright infringement.

As I said before, at least Schmap did it the right way. Which is why I was more willing to let them use my old photo for their project.

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A Prayer for a Flooded Record Collection

My friend Mark Pisani lost tons of records while he was on vacation.  His loss affected me as well.

Spin back to college.  Mark and I attended Hamilton College, and graduated together.  We were both part of the “Young Turks” who changed the college radio station, WHCL, from an afterthought to a broadcast powerhouse.

Mark’s musical tastes differed from mine – he was an aficionado of ska and reggae and rock steady and new wave; I preferred R&B and modern hits and imported stuff that could sound like it came off of a Top 40 station in Toronto or Melbourne or Auckland.  Still, there was mutual respect between us, he had his “Dead at the Controls” radio slot on Saturday nights, while I took care of the “Nightowl Radio Show” on Friday nights.

After graduation, we kept in touch once in a while, saw each other at college reunions and record shows and such, and even recently re-connected via Facebook.

But here’s what happend, and here’s where the tragedy occurred.  Mark was on vacation overseas.  His records were stored in a basement.  While he was gone, a torrential rainstorm dumped four inches of rain in one hour in his neighborhood.  His basement sump pumps were overwhelmed and essentially gave up.  Making matters worse – Mark’s house was next to a culvert, which essentially overflowed as well, with the runoff pouring into his basement.

When he returned from his vacation, a horrifying sight greeted him – hundreds of flood-damaged records, now being attacked by mold and mildew and rot.  His collection of rare vinyl – which apparently included a first edition Velvet Underground and Nico LP with an unpeeled banana sticker – were sadly relegated to a dumpster.

And somewhere in that dark night, all the record collectors who read this post are cringing in terror, thinking oh my God that could have been me.

You know what, it can happen to all of us.  Mark did nothing wrong or neglectful with his record collection; he just had a very unfortunate circumstance.  How many of us have lost our own treasures to a flooded basement?  It happens.

At one point in my life, my record collection numbered maybe 7,000 45’s and 2,000 LP’s.  Not to mention 78’s and Edison Diamond Discs and a whole slew of other musical formats.  And that does include 8-track tapes.

Several years ago, I started thinning out the herd, so to speak.  I wasn’t writing for Goldmine any more, and after two successful record collector’s guides, I wasn’t planning on authoring a third edition.  So as far as I was concerned, it was time to let the collection go.

Well, not everything.  But enough of it.

Some of my rare records, including my World War II V-Discs and my Edison Diamond Discs, were donated to Hamilton College’s music library.  I even gave the library my working Edison Diamond Disc phonograph.  Many of my vocal harmony records were shipped off to the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in Sharon, Pa.  I’ve held yard sales to thin out some more of the herd.  I’ve shipped some off through eBay.  And at least twice a month, I take a box of LP’s and/or 45’s over to Goodwill, so that the sale of those records can benefit Goodwill’s charity programs.

See… what happened to Mark almost happened to me.

It’s around 1997 or 1998, and I’m visiting my grandmother in Boston.  At the time, she lived near the VFW Parkway, in a nice sunny section of West Roxbury.  At the time my wife and I visited her, we took her to a nice restaurant and ran some errands for her.  While we were gone, a coastal storm tore through Massachusetts, dumping rain in sheets.

The VFW Parkway and its surrounding neighborhoods are on a flood plain.  Most of the homes have sump pumps and dehumidifiers to keep flooding at bay, but when a gully-washer tears through, well there’s nothing you can really do.

And we found that out quickly upon returning to my grandmother’s house.  The basement looked like an inground swimming pool.  I actually risked life and limb (and electrocution) trying to get to the dehumidifier and unplug it.  Dozens of antiques and collectibles that were stored in my grandmother’s basement – including boxes and boxes of my old sports trading cards – were destroyed.  Family carousel slides of photographs my grandmother took when she visited Europe were destroyed as well.  Insurance covered a lot of the damage, but you just can’t replace memories or collectibles with a check.

Let me say this.  The reason I’m clearing out my record collection – a collection that actually began in the 1970’s and continued up to today – is that I would rather that the treasures I held onto for so many years will eventually provide enjoyment for a new generation of music fans.

That, and I don’t want to go through the emotional wrench of taking the collection that I worked so hard to assemble, end up in a soggy dumpster.

Week 9 of the Elbo Room Trivia Tournament

Boy did I need this. Nothing like a Thursday night at the Elbo Room and a round of trivia as part of the $2000 money tournament being held there.

As of late, I had struggled at the tournament, and although my Street Academy team (which on Thursdays consists of my wife Vicki and me) were on the cusp of not being one of the top eight teams for the finals, I had hope that at some point the questions were going to come my way.

And last Thursday, they did. And for two of the questions, I was able to call on my experience as a writer for Goldmine magazine, the music collector’s biweekly.

The first question that cleared out the room was a six-pointer, “The product known as ‘Music Minus One’ is today better known as what?”

After much thought, I remembered that the “Music Minus One” series began as a collection of LP’s that contianed the top hits of the day – minus either the guitar parts, or the drum parts, or the vocals, so you could play or sing along with the band.  Hmm… You could sing along – must be related in some way to karaoke.

And it was.  And I picked up six points while the rest of the teams either skipped or guessed incorrectly.

Later in the night, there was a triple-bonus question, three answers good for eight points apiece.  “In the Tom Petty song ‘Free Falling,’ the first two lyrics of the song features a good girl who likes what three things?”

This was tougher than it sounds, especially when you’re trying to think of the song and go through the lyrics, while the jukebox is blasting the Derek and the Dominoes song “Bell Bottom Blues” throughout the bar.  I remembered that one of the three “likes” was Jesus, but with that other song blasting in my head I was thinking that she was a good girl, loves Eric Clapton, loves Jesus and bell bottoms, too…

Just then, our server Tamara came up to our table.  “Do you know this?” she asked.

I mentioned that we could use some help.

“I love Tom Petty, I know all his songs.  She’s a good girl, crazy about Elvis, loves horses and her boyfriend, too.”

I wrote those answers down on the answer slip.  Then I went back to my meal.

A few minutes later, I realized that waitaminnit – I hadn’t handed my slip to the host.  I was about to leave the table and hand my answers to the announcer, when Tamara returned to our table.  “Oh my God, I just realized I gave you the wrong lyrics.  Those were the second likes – it’s supposed to be that she loves her Mama, loves Jesus and America too.”

Quick scribble, quick cross-out of the old lyrics, a quick run-up with the answer, and a quick 24 points to the good for Street Academy.  And a larger tip on my bill for Tamara.

Final question, and I was in second place with 122 points.  Strategic bets were not an option, in that Big Red Machine were four points ahead with 126, Stern Fans were behind me in third place with 120 points, and Woo Hoo a Go Go had 118.  The category was museums.  I bet 120 points, crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

“The largest museum in the United States that is devoted to one person, the Andy Warhol Museum, is located in what American city?”

At which point my wife Vicki let out an ecstatic cheer that rivaled the first time she ever saw Barry Manilow in concert.  For she knew the exact location of the Andy Warhol Museum, as she had accompanied me there when, in 2002, I attended a museum function as part of a panel on music collecting and record album art.

Yep, that was the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  I nailed the answer, knowing that tonight Street Academy would pick up playoff points.

The Big Red Machine, who had the top score that night, also knew the answer was Pittsburgh, so they claimed the five playoff points and the overall lead, while Street Academy took three points for second.  A new team, Nasty Nate, came in third and got their first playoff point.

So after nine weeks, here are the standings, and remember – only the top eight squads get into the final round.

Elbo Room Trivia Standings – Week 9
Trivia Team Points Totals
1 Big Red Machine 5 15.3
2 Mayhem 14.3
3 Stern Fans 13
4 Street Academy 3 8
5 Touched by an Uncle 7
T-6 Brown Van Experience 5
T-6 Clay Aiken’s Skid Marks 5
T-8 The Third Wheel 3
T-8 Woo Hoo a Go Go 3
THE CUT LINE
9 Monkey Knife Fights 2.3
10 Dr. Occam’s Razor 2
T-11 Nasty Nate 1 1
T-11 The Wrong Guy 1
T-11 Overqualified and Unemployed 1

Three more points for Street Academy, and a more secure position in making it to the finals! WHOOO!!!!

Hewlett Packard’s HP customer service doesn’t care about me

An update.  I’ve already replaced and upgraded my wife’s computer laptop memory.  As for the hard drive, my Monday night trivia teammate Jeremy has graciously offered to give me his 80 gig EIDE 2.5″ hard drive, as he has no use for it any more now that his electronics setup is SATA-based.  Thanks, J-Mac.

But now, the final thing that must be addressed regarding the restoration and upgrade of my wife’s laptop is the defective lithium-ion battery.  I’m extremely concerned about the battery, especially since I looked on HP’s website and discovered, lo and behold, that he lithium-ion battery powering that laptop was recalled because of – yes indeed – a faulty design that would cause the battery to overheat and possibly melt the computer’s interior.

A phone call to HP ensued. At which point, I discovered that the only thing HP cares about, when it comes to customer service, is how to service a customer into buying a brand new laptop instead of servicing the old one.

After I asked the online phone support person about replacing the battery, I was first asked a series of questions – very few of which had to do with my wife’s laptop. I was asked my name, I was asked my address (both physical and e-mail), what the laptop model and serial number was, had I ever called HP before, was I interested in buying a new laptop instead of repairing this one, blah blah blah. I had to answer ALL these questions… before they would even answer one question for me.

And in the end, the only response I got was, “I’m sorry sir, but your product is over five years old, it is considered an obsolete product, and we are under no obligation any more to replace the laptop battery for you.”

Which I find absolutely incongruous.  Especially since HP’s own website says that the laptop in question (a model ze4500 edition) can still get the laptop battery replaced under recall.

So due to the increase in technology and the like, and the decrease in legacy support for products, my wife’s laptop is being given the equivalent treatment of “Down the chute you go, Grandma”?

After much going around and around the merry-go-round with HP technical support, they said they would send me some links regarding battery maintenance for the current battery.  This – and this – was what I received.  And trying to find any HP support online for this product only got me this.

After several tries with HP’s phone customer support (where one person suggested that the reason the battery was overheating was because I was actually using it), one tech support person suggested that I might want to purchase the battery directly from HP.  Which, at $141, was twice the price I would pay for a comparable third-party battery from a computer battery online store.

Last Monday night, before going off to trivia at Revolution Hall, I tried one more time.  I bounced from one HP 1-800 number to another HP 1-800 number.  I gave the serial number of the laptop to customer support so many times, I should consider using it as a password for my Times-Union blog account.   I’ve been on musical hold, I’ve been on silent hold, you name the hold, I’ve been on it.  And still, no success regarding replacing the battery.

After one last, futile, furtive effort to get HP to at least honor their obligations regarding the recall, I decided I had no choice.  I ordered an aftermarket laptop battery from an online store.

And if HP expects me to ever purchase another product of theirs – laptop, printer, ink cartridges – they can jump in the lake.

Now I know how Dave Carroll felt when his Taylor guitar was busted by baggage handlers at United Airlines.  Unfortunately, I can’t make a YouTube video about the HP technical support and battery recall department.

Instead… this blog post will have to suffice.

Saved by Langston Hughes, Amiri Baraka and Gil Scott-Heron!

It’s a cool spring day, April, 1985. It’s finals week at Hamilton College, and the students who were part of Hamilton’s on-campus radio station, WHCL, switched over from the playlists of alternative pop, new wave and R&B, going for a week-long “Classical Orgy” of finals study music. Yeah, nothing improves your grades more than hearing Pachalbel’s Kanon over and over again. Makes you want to recreate a scene from Ordinary People.

Anyways, things were going well for me. I was a senior and this would be my final semester at old Ham Tech. Three of my four finals were already completed, all I had left to take was my course in Public Reading (it’s a public speaking course that teaches such disciplines as emotive dissertation, conveyance of meaning with inflection of tone – it’s a holdover from the days when Hamilton students were required to take four years of public speaking courses). But that class was for tomorrow morning, so I chose to take a shift at WHCL’s Classical Orgy. I had my albums at the ready – I would start with the full libretto from George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess,” and follow it with both sides of Wendy Carlos’ “Switched-on Bach,” and then pull some classical albums out of the library that looked like they hadn’t been played in 20 years and give them a spin.

I was halfway through the first side of Gershwin’s epic opera, when I received a phone call on the  station request line.  Oh great, I thought.  Someone wants to hear Pachalbel’s Kanon.

“WHCL.”

“Chuck, is that you?”

“Yeah.”

“Dude, it’s Art Whittermore.  What are you doing at the radio station?”

“Playing Gershwin,” I replied.

“Dude, you’re going to miss your Public Reading final presentation.  It’s starting in 5 minutes!”

“Don’t joke with me, Art, that final is for the 7th.”

“Yeah,” he replied with a sneer, “and today’s the 7th.  You’re going to fail – oh man, I can’t wait to see you flunk out of this course!”

He laughed at me, and then hung up.

Oh crap.  I was in trouble.  Deep, deep trouble.  If I didn’t pass this course, I would be one credit shy of graduation.  The prospect of my family showing up for graduation, and then watching as the college president called out the names alphabetically, and then went from Bruce Miller to Carla Miraldi and completely skipped over my sorry self…  the prospect of receiving my diploma, not on the stage, but instead in a postmarked envelope…

I quickly engaged my options.  I could stay here, play the classical music as scheduled, and then beg for mercy from the Public Reading professor.  Doubtful and risky.  I thought about running out of the station, leaving it unmanned, and going to the Public Reading finals.  Problem was, part of me had this emotional attachment to the radio station, heck it was myself and several other classmates from the Class of ’85 who built the station up from a 2.5 watt monaural broadcast entity that couldn’t be heard on the Kirkland side of the campus, to a 270-watt stereo monster that could be picked up on the New York State Thruway.

One more minute to think.  I scrolled down the list of phone numbers of the various students who were part of the WHCL on-air staff, and gave my bud Mike Lent a call.  He agreed to come down and cover for me, but he wouldn’t be able to get there for about 10 minutes.  I looked at the record on the turntable.  If he made it to the station in 15 minutes, Porgy would still be singing to Bess.

With Mike’s agreement that he would help a buddy out, I left the station and sprinted to the college library, where the texts I had used for this project were at my college computer center work-study desk.  They were still there; nobody had restocked them back into the library.  I quickly signed out all three works, and then ran like the cops were chasing me to the other side of the campus.  From the Burke Library to the “Red Pit” at Kirner-Johnson Hall was about maybe a mile, I think I did Roger Bannister proud.

The finals had already begun.  I was 15 minutes late.  I entered the Red Pit, looking absolutely disheveled.  Professor Somer looked up at me, and said, “Welcome to the finals, Mr. Miller.  Glad you could join us.”

Art Whittermore, at the end of the stage, snickered.  As far as he was concerned, he was going to witness a car crash that would rival the Saturday night race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

I waited as every other student gave their Public Reading final dissertation – a comparison and contrast of three different poets from three different generations.  I sat through Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson and Robert Browning, as read with great eloquence and emotion by my classmates.  I didn’t get to see Art Whittermore’s finals – he must have had his reading before I got to the class.

At the end of the finals, there was only one person left who had not yet taken the stage.

Me.

Professor Somer announced, “And now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for.  Mr. Miller, please take the stage.”

I walked down to the stage.  Each book was placed on a small table; I could grab the book and read directly from its pages.

And at this point, I have to thank my high school English and history teachers – people like Bonnie Diefendorf, Dorinda Davis and Eileen Kawola – because the texts I selected were three prominent African-American poets, a genre that no other student in the Public Reading class had attempted. I rehearsed these poems for weeks.  If I couldn’t do this now – with the pressure on me – I didn’t deserve a diploma.

I started out with a poem from Langston Hughes, the scion of the Harlem Renaissance.  With my fingers trembling and my nerves on edge, I read aloud, with deep reverence and passion, the poem “The Negro Sings of Rivers.”  Here’s an excerpt.

I‘ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I danced in the Nile when I was old
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

Then it was time to go completely off the board.

Poem number two took me to the world of Gil Scott-Heron, as I tore through the classic “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.”  Here’s an excerpt.

You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip,
Skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised.

* * *

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of Whitney Young being run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process.
There will be no slow motion or still life of Roy Wilkens strolling through Watts in a Red, Black and Green liberation jumpsuit that he had been saving
For just the proper occasion.

* * *

The revolution will not be right back after a message about a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.
You will not have to worry about a dove in your bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.
The revolution will not go better with Coke.
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.
The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised, will not be televised, will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live.

I looked up for a second from my texts.  Nineteen students were staring at me – totally shocked.  A quick glance at Art Whittermore.  That clunk I heard was his jaw dropping on the floor.

Time for the final poet.  Out came “It’s Nation Time,” as written by Amiri Baraka.

In a reverent whisper, I began with excerpts as seen below …

Time to get
together
time to be one strong fast black energy space
one pulsating positive magnetism, rising
time to get up and
be
come
be
come, time to
be come
time to
get up be come
black genius rise in spirit muscle
sun man get up rise heart of universes to be
future of the world
the black man is the future of the world
be come
rise up

I continued, my voice growing louder and stronger with the words, deeper and harder and more vibrant and more stentorian.

it’s nation time ….
Boom
Booom
BOOOOM
dadadadadadadadadadadada
Boom
Boom
Boom
Boom
Dadadadadaad adadadad
Hey aheee (soft)
Hey Ahheee (loud)
Boom
Boom
Boom
Sing a get up time to nationfy
Sing a miracle fire light

Then it was time for the finish. I crammed in four years of college struggle, emotional battles, educational frustrations, and every ounce of energy I still had left in my body, into the final stanzas.

It’s nation time, get up Santa Claus
It’s nation time, GET UP SANTA CLAUS
Get up Roy Wilkins
Get up Diana Ross
Get up Jimmy Brown
It’s nation time, build it
Get up muffet dragger
Get up rastus for real to be rasta farari …

I slammed the book closed.

Come over here
Take a bow
It’s Nation TIME!!!!!

Silence.

Then a clap. Another clap. And another and another. And assorted finger snaps, which Hamilton students use, by tradition, in lieu of clapping. And the claps and snaps turned into a roar of applause.

As my classmates and I were leaving the Red Pit, Professor Somer called me back for a moment.

“Mr. Miller,” he said, “I was prepared to give you a failing grade for missing this final, and even after you arrived late, I still thought you didn’t have enough time to adequately prepare your final presentation.”

I grimaced.  All my work was for naught.

“However, I want you to know that based on your presentation a few moments ago, I am giving you an A for the course.  You have earned it.  Congratulations.”

Home run.  Success.  Graduation day, here I come.

A post script.  Later that afternoon, the sun was still blazing in the sky, and I decided to get a little sunshine.  So as I and several other classmates relaxed on a sunny knoll outside one of the Kirkland-side dormitories, Mark Pisani – the general manager of WHCL – walked by.  He saw me, and had already heard from Mike Lent that I had run out of the radio station like it was on fire.

I filled him in on the entire situation.

“Chuck,” he said to me, “I’ve heard of people blowing off tests.  I’ve heard of people blowing off midterms.  You are the first person I know who nearly blew off a final.”

I nodded.  “I still passed, though.”

And in the end – that’s all that matters.

Remembering Ruth Wallis and her naughty songs

It’s the late 1990’s.  I should be home watching the Super Bowl.  The Patriots are facing the Packers, and it promises to be a sterling matchup.

But instead, I’m driving to eastern Connecticut, with the hopes of interviewing a singer whose most popular songs never received a stitch of mainstream radio airplay.  A person who, at the height of her fame, chose to walk away from the stage and take care of her children.  A woman who rarely gave interviews – and who, for all intents and purposes, thought the world had forgotten about her.

Let me introduce you to Ruth Wallis.

In the 1940’s and 1950’s, Wallis recorded several big band tracks, with double-entendre titles like “The Dinghy Song” (as in, “He’s got the cutest little dinghy in the Navy…”) “Queer Things,” and “De Gay Young Lad from Trinidad,” among others.  The songs made her a star on the cabaret circuit, and she played supper clubs from Miami Beach to Las Vegas.  She toured Australia, and caused an international incident when her records were actually seized by government officials as she stepped off the airplane.

I actually knew of Ruth Wallis’ music by accident.  As a teenager, I was helping my grandmother clean the basement of her West Roxbury, Mass. home.  While hauling out boxes of this and that and assorted bric-a-brac, I came across a collection of record albums – albums with titles like Ruth Wallis: That Saucy Redhead and How To Stay Sexy Tho’ Married.  This from my grandmother, who barely listened to anything stronger than the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra?

Flash forward to the late 1990’s.  I’m trying to put together new article pitches for the record collecting magazine Goldmine, and came across the idea of articles on “party records” of the 1950’s and 1960’s.  By that time, I actually had some of the more common comedy records of that genre, including recordings by Rusty Warren, Woody Woodbury and Belle Barth, in addition to Ruth Wallis.  Although I could not find any contact information on the first three artists, I did receive word of Ruth Wallis’ last known address.  A formal letter request for an interview – and a few days later, a phone call from Ms. Wallis, inviting me to visit her for an interview.  Nice.

I arrived at her tiny Connecticut house, where she lived with her son and her two small dogs.  We talked for a very long time, my tape recorder rolling as our interview progressed.  She recalled all her great recordings, and even mentioned that the A&E Network had licensed one of her tracks, a parody of the Arthur Godfrey show called “Dear Mr. Godfrey,” for an episode of the television show Biography.

A few months later, Goldmine ran my story on the life and times of Ruth Wallis.  I got paid, and that was it.

Or so I thought.

During the interview, Wallis talked about the possibility of putting together a revue of her music, maybe having it produced in an off-Broadway setting.  Now, with an article about her songs and career, she was able to shop her musical to an agent.  And in 2003, I got to attend the off-Broadway premiere of Boobs: The Musical, The World According to Ruth Wallis at the Triad Theater in New York City.  The place was packed, and the audience loved every minute of Wallis’ campy classics.

I stayed in touch with Ruth Wallis for several years, and even penned a set of liner notes for a CD reissue of her greatest hits.  But sadly, her time on Earth was limited. By 2005, she was battling the onset of Alzheimer’s, and spent her last few years in a nursing home. On December 22, 2007, Wallis passed away at the age of 87.  A very gracious woman and a wicked satirist.

And on that day, dinghies around the world were at half-staff.  🙂

UPDATE:

After this piece ran this morning, I received a nice e-mail from Alan Pastman, Ruth Wallis’ son, who was able to shed some light on her final years.

“Just for the record: The State of Connecticut tried to gain conservatorship of my mother and put her in a nursing home. A wonderful law firm helped me to defeat their efforts and she was able to spend her last two years with me at home. My mother was in her own room when she passed very early in the am on December 22, 2007. I was at her bedside along with her nurse and another good friend who had come to help ‘see her out.'”

Upgrading my wife’s laptop computer

So here’s the deal.  My wife Vicki has used an HP Pavilion laptop for the past six years.  The laptop has some issues with it, but she still uses it for everything from genealogy to photograph storage, and occasional netsurfing. The laptop was state-of-the-art in 2003, but now it’s a dinosaur. The hard drive is tiny (30 gigs), the memory is puny (512 MB total), and when I went to use her laptop, the keyboard was almost molten hot – because the battery was defective.

And thus begins a new project. Yeah, I could run out and spend $500-$700 on a new laptop, and then have to spend another $500 on software – or, I could see whether her current laptop can be upgraded to continue to function properly for another few years.

I think it can be upgraded. And I’m going to address all three of the laptop’s problem issues – the memory, the hard drive and the battery.

The first thing I wanted to fix on Vicki’s laptop was its memory.  The machine had two 256mb DDR SDRAM SO-DIMM chips on it (sorry, I know we’re going into computergeekspeak), so I went on HP’s website and discovered that the laptop’s memory can handle a maximum of one gig – or, in computergeekspeak, two 512mb DDR SDRAM SO-DIMM chips.

Great.  I can at least boost the memory to twice its original store-bought power.  That’s a step in the right direction.

So off to find the necessary chips.

I stress “find.”  Because it wasn’t easy.

When it comes to computer memory, you can’t just slap in any old chip and suddenly you’re recreating Flowers for Algernon.  If you go over the recommended maximum computer memory requirement without knowing what you’re doing, you can do some nasty damage to your laptop.

I was, however, able to find the chips, after much detective work.  You need two 512mb DDR SDRAM chips to create the 1gb of memory, and since those chips aren’t manufactured any more, you can’t find them at Best Buy or Radio Shack – instead, you have to go to the local cadre of Capital District computer repair shops.

I first went to Computer Renaissance on New Loudon Road in Latham, where they had one of the chips.  On the way home, I stopped at another place, Computer Answers on Central Avenue in Albany, where the guy on duty sold me another 512mb memory chip.  Total cost for the two chips – approximately $85 with tax.

While Vicki was out visiting with her friends, I stayed home and prepared for the operation.  Not being 100% proficient when monkeying around with computers, I wanted to take every precaution necessary – short of putting on surgical gloves and a mask.

I disconnected all power to the computer and removed its battery, essentially giving it a general anesthetic.

A surgical incision with a Phillips screwdriver, and the laptop’s small baseplate was removed, exposing the computer’s original 256mb memory chips.  Each chip was held in place by two spring-loaded clips.  I carefully slid open the clips.  The memory chips came loose.  I extracted them, harkening back to my days of surgical training where I removed the wrenched ankle, the funny bone and the butterflies in the stomach from ol’ Cavity Sam.

I placed each vintage chip aside.  I unwrapped the 512mb chips from their protective plasticine sheaths, and transplanted them into the patient.  I replaced the backplate.  Plugged the unit in.  Crossed my fingers that the memory I bought was in decent order, that it hadn’t shorted out due to an unknown static shock, and that the computer wasn’t suddenly going to spout out pink smoke and die.

The laptop booted up.  The ubiquitous Windows XP logo glowed.

Then came the welcome screen.  Quickly, in fact.

The installation was a success.  The machine now had a more powerful memory.  Step one of my three-step process for upgrading Vicki’s computer is now complete.  Next up – finding an IDE hard drive and a replacement battery.