Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Chuck the Writer takes stock of Trivia Season 2008

Everyone who knows me understands that I have a jones for competitive trivia competitions. Maybe it goes back to 1981, when my Street Academy high school team annihilated three other high schools on a local television quiz show.

For the past three years, I've been playing trivia competitions at local bars, restaurants and taverns, playing as that one-man "Street Academy" team and winning my fair share of games. I've picked up victories this year at several bars in the Capital Region area, including Graney's, Old Chicago (several times), Elbo Room, Broadway Joe's, Brown's Brewing and Recovery Room.

How dominant was I at Recovery Room? After winning three times in six weeks, management told me I was ineligible to win there any more - because other people were complaining that it wasn't fair that I won all the time. Think about this for a second. This is like telling the New York Yankees that for the rest of the season, Derek Jeter has to wear a blindfold in the infield, Mariano Rivera has to spit the baseball over the plate, and Alex Rodriguez has to step in the batter's box with a table leg because someone on the Kansas City Royals squad whined too much that the Yankees were beating them too often. Frickin' crybabies.

This trivia season, however, has been a case of "just a few points short" in the major events. I missed the first $1000 Elbo Room tournament championship by one miserable point. I lost the 2008 Trivia Bowl on a question that nobody knew - and the only team that won put in a 3-point "safe bet" and took the trophy home. And after six weeks of hard-fought battle at the Saratoga Trackside Trivia Tournament, I missed one key question about the location of the first McDonald's and watched as Tres Hombres, for the second year in a row, got the end-of-track-season trackside barbeque and a race named after their team.

How frustrating was it? In July 2008 I tried out for "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," aced the written test, aced the interview, aced a second interview - and six weeks later, received the generic post card that informed me that I was not selected to be a contestant. I rationalized the snub by figuring I fit in the demographic of the white 40ish slightly balding, slightly paunchy glasses-wearing college-educated contestants that would have taken all their money. Believe me, game shows learned their lesson after watching Ken Jennings run the table on Jeopardy! for the better part of two months, they don't want me repeating the feat.

So the ultimate dream for me in 2009 would be the following:

1. Winning this year's Elbo Room Trivia Tournament.
2. Winning the Trivia Bowl and getting the championship chalice back.
3. Winning the Saratoga Trackside Trivia Tournament, and cheering on the winner of the first annual Street Academy Stakes.
4. Finally getting my shot on a competitive trivia television show like Jeopardy! or Millionaire or even that 5th Grader show.

Can I do it - if I can't, it won't be for lack of trying.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Chuck the Writer debuts his new RCA mech boards

Okay everybody, here they are. These are the newly repainted RCA Victor mech boards (what the turntable and tonearm sit on) that will be used for my first two restoration / "Chuck-i-fi-cation" projects.

First off is the "Petty" board, so named because the serial number on this RCA Victor 45-EY-2 phonograph has a "43" in it.

The board at one point looked like this...

Remember the rust stains and those annoying white paint specs? After a shot of Rustoleum primer and a couple of layers of blue spray paint... it now looks like this -

Now ain't that swank? You'll notice that some portions of the mech board weren't painted, those were because parts have to move or pivot on those points, and they can't be gunked up with paint. Those parts will be covered with tonearms and turntables and the like, so there's nothing to worry about.

Oh yeah, there's that other mech board, the one on my RCA Victor 45-J-2 non-amplifier player that I've called the "Sun" project...

When I first got the player, the board looked like this -

All together now ... EWWWWWWW

But, after some sanding, a shot of primer and some Rustoleum...

Now you know why it's called the "Sun" project!

And just to show you what it could look like as the project progresses, I "dry-fitted" the turntable, tonearm and brand badge back on this unit for a second, just to show a nice photograph of what this turntable might look like down the road...

Feel free to drool. :)

More to follow...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Chuck the Writer recalls those departed

As 2008 winds to a close, I want to take this moment to remember those who have lived their life to the fullest. These are people who, in one way or another, have made an impact on my life.

This nice lady is my sainted grandmother, Betty Miller. She passed away in March. For the years when I did not have the support or caring from my parents, I always knew I could count on her for support, understanding and care. This is a woman who, even in her 70's, would take me on the weekends to the Boston Museum of Science, the New England Aquarium, Larz Anderson auto museum, Paragon Park at Nantasket Beach, anywhere a family would go to spend some time. In addition to a tonload of wonderful memories, I still have that 1991 Pontiac 6000 that she bought - and barely drove - and by having that car, I still have a part of her in my life.

Next up is this young man here, Rich Mahady. What's funny is that I actually met Rich in 1992, while I was working on some research involving Albany-based sports teams. Apparently Rich was a season ticket holder for the departed Albany Choppers (International Hockey League), and we talked about the legacy of the Choppers - which I later turned into an article for Hockey Digest (his quotes are halfway through the article).

Fast forward to 2005, and I discover that Rich is "Trivia Rich," a former money-winner on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and a tough opponent on the "Lynch's Mob" team at the old Hooters Trivia nights. Eventually Rich left Lynch's Mob and joined my "Street Academy" team, and we won some considerable prizes together. This photo is the last time I saw Trivia Rich; I had acquired possession of the Trivia Bowl trophy, and wanted to make sure to take a picture of Rich with it. He is truly missed.

And finally...

I found Ruth Wallis' old LP's and 45's in my grandmother's basement. These records were my first introduction into "blue party" music, the songs that would NEVER get played on the radio because they were too risque. In 1997, I had the opportunity to interview Ms. Wallis for Goldmine magazine, and that article eventually led to an off-Broadway revue of her greatest songs and ballads, "Boobs: The Musical."

All these people will be missed. The Afterlife has three more angels in its population.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Chuck the Writer and Repainting RCA Mech Boards

It was a very snowy weekend in Albany, a perfect time for me to work on my RCA Victor 45 RPM phonographs. Right now I've got two dissected and disassembled players - a 45-J-2 phonograph which I'm currently referring to as the "Sun" player (for reasons I will explain later), and a 45-EY-2 phonograph with amplifier that I've nicknamed the "Petty" player (part of the serial number has a "43" in it, in honor of Richard Petty).

Yesteday I took several of the internal parts from both units downstairs, where I applied copious amounts of Gojo pumice on each part, then scrubbed them off. Later on I'll add some 3M rubbing compound to polish the parts up, because as I was taught by the Kieronspal DVD videos, clean parts make for solid, dependable parts.

You should have seen these parts beforehand. They were black and greasy and sticky and gunky. They don't look sticky and gunky now, do they?

Now, I need to show you the two mechanical boards, the metal plates upon which the turntable and tonearm rest.

Here's the "Petty" board, complete with rust and pitting and those annoying white paint marks.

And the "Sun" board, with rust and pitting and gungus - and look, the "Sun" board still has the RCA Victor brand on the lower right corner.

Usually these RCA Victor brands are held on by three metal pin clips, which was the case with the Petty board. However, this one had the RCA Victor brand applied with what looked like a weld. After further discovery, I found out that the brand was being held with a backing of wax, which loosened up after I heated the bolt points with a small butane lighter. Then after that, it was a simple step to remove the RCA Victor brand from the Sun board.

Once both units were debranded and stripped of almost all necessary points (I couldn't successfully remove the reject pivot point), I sanded each mech board with 100 grit sandpaper, removing as much of the dried paint and rust and puckering and pitting on each mech board.

Then I taped up the reject pivot point and a couple of other parts on the mech boards, and gave each mech board a nice light coating of Rustoleum primer.

Results - here's the "Petty" mech board -

And the "Sun" mech board -

I'll be adding a second primer coat, then later will repaint each mech board with an enamel-based Rustoleum spray. More fun stuff to follow...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Chuck the Writer and Three Weeks to Go in the Elbo Room Trivia Tournament

Well, I get a three-week break, actually.

Due to the holidays, the Elbo Room Trivia Tournament won't gear up again until the first week of 2009. There will be three more weeks of qualifying, and then the top eight teams go to the finals on January 29. That's where the $2,000 prize comes in.

As of now, here are the standings. Those teams in green (including my one-man Street Academy team) are "locked in" - in other words, we have enough points to get in the championship round, even if we just answer "Bob Saget" for the rest of the preliminaries. Teams in yellow are still on the bubble; teams in red are on the outside looking in.

So where are the scores? Here are the scores:

  1. Woo Hoo A Go Go - 23 points
  2. Big Red Machine - 22 points
  3. Street Academy - 22 points
  4. Stern Fans - 18 points
  5. Beer Addled Brains - 15 points
  6. Mayhem - 14 points
  7. Brown Van Experience - 6 points
  8. Tres Hombres - 5 points
  9. Liquor in the Front, Poker in the Rear - 3 points
  10. Donna Martin Graduates - 3 points
  11. Clay Aiken's Skidmarks - 3 points
  12. 40 oz. Bounce - 1 point
So I get a couple of Thursdays off. Good. I could use a breather.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Chuck the Writer and the RCA Victor Restoration Project

Okay, this is the start of the restoration project.

As you might recall, this is the unit in its original "purchased from eBay" condition. Note the copious amount of white paint droplets and rust pittings on the baseplate.

As you can see from the serial number and information here on the right, this is an RCA Victor 45 RPM player, model 45-EY-2 (turntable with built-in amplifier and speakers in the base), powered by 115 volts, 60 cycles and 50 watts of power. It takes three electron vacuum tubes, modesl 35W4, 50C5 and 12AV6, of which will get replaced later on. This unit was designated with a serial number X824347. For the moment, until I can come up with a better nickname, I'm going to call this one the "Petty Player" in honor of Richard Petty, one of the greatest race car drivers that ever lived. Besides, he drove that #43 STP car for so many years, and I see a #43 in the unit's serial number, so there you go.

Here's a shot of the inside guts of this player. Looks okay, but there's a lot of dust and gunk in here, especially around the motor and chassis mounts and springs. This will definitely need a bit of a cleaning.

This morning I went through the unit and began disassembling it, pulling parts and screws and washers and clips off left and right. This is what the baseplate looks like after it's been stripped of things like - oh, I don't know - the turntable, the tonearm, the reject knob...

One thing I forgot to strip from this bad boy - the nameplate. Out it comes, like removing an incisor from the gums of a meth addict.

More to follow...

Chuck the Writer and the RCA Victor Restoration Project

So I tore apart the first player I received through the mail, using it for spare parts.

What you see here is the first RCA Victor 45 RPM player I will attempt to restore. This is a 45-EY-2 player, with a built-in speaker and amplifier in its base. As you can see, the top plate is spotted with paint and rust, and I'm not even going to bother trying to plug it in - I was without power during the ice storm, I don't want to go back to that point.

On the positives, the bakelite chassis is in good shape, and that brown color won't be there for very long once I get finished "Chuck-i-fying" it. The volume knob is missing, but I'm going to poach a volume knob from another unit that's on its way to me. I have purchased replacement NOS vacuum tubes to replace the ones inside the unit now. I do not yet have a concrete idea as to what colors this bad boy will be painted or styled with, but I will come up with some ideas as the project evolves.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Chuck the Writer's Long National Freezing Nightmare Is Over

Power has been restored to the Miller household.

I would do the dance of joy, but I can't move my frozen muscles.

Damage assessment - all the food in the freezers and fridges must now be discarded. Also, my ViewSonic monitor got fried from the blackout and is now a piece of junk; I ended up going to Circuit City and picking up a Samsung T190 monitor and swapping it in.

I also discovered that at one point, I was sleeping in a house that was as cold as 45 degrees. Holy meat locker, Batman. The temperature's rising now, I've got the heating system in the house going at full blast, and we're up to at least the mid-50's.

I don't want to go through another week like this ever again. EVER.

If I had enough cash, I'd move to Miami right now. Until a hurricane hits - at which point I'll kvetch about moving back to Albany.

Chuck the Writer is still surviving the ice storm

It's Monday. I haven't had power in the house for four days. National Grid says that power should be restored to my neighborhood by Wednesday evening at the earliest. For the third straight night, I sleep under every cover I can find in the house, to make sure that someone is inside the house and taking care of things. I wake up and I'm colder than the rear end of the fifth man on the four-man bobsled team.

Before I leave for work, I turn on the water faucets to make sure they run. I make sure each toilet in the house flushes. I don't want the pipes to freeze. It's supposed to get into the 50-degree mark tonight, maybe I'll open a window and let the cold air out.

Last night I came home and my side of the street was pitch black. No street lights. Nothing. If and when the power goes back on, I'll have to throw out all the spoiled food - virtually everything in the fridges and freezers.

My wife and her father are in a motel downtown. I want them to stay there and stay warm. I'm willing to take the cold in the house if for no other reason than to protect my home.

I've been through these cold snaps before. I survived the Blizzard of '87. I survived the Blizzard of '78. I also survived those days when, as a kid, I lived in a mobile home trailer park. The wind would rattle through all that galvanized steel that most people call a mobile home. My mother would try to jigger the faulty radiating heating unit to get more heat in the house, and after a while the whole house would smell of kerosene. On the occasions when the heat actually did work, I would take the vent grid off the floor of my bedroom and stick my feet in the vent pipe, so that I could receive just a little more warmth on my toes.

That trailer burned down in I think 1979. Supposedly it was an electrical short that tore through the entire trailer and burned it to the ground in moments. I'm not sad to see it go. That trailer gave me a lot of horrible memories. It still does today.

And even though I'm freezing in my bed thinking about when National Grid's going to get my house back to the 21st century, I realize that even in the coldest night, I've got it better than I had as a kid.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Chuck the Writer is surviving the ice storm somehow

Friday morning, around 3am. My wife wakes me up.

"Chuck, the power went out."

Half awake. Figure it's a momentary blackout caused by all the crappy weather we had the night before. Nope. Lights are flickering on and off - then they die completely.

The Ice Storm of 2008 hit us right in the face.

I've been through this before - my neighborhood was clobbered in the Blizzard of '87, to the point where the only two entities that had power were my day job and my night job with radio station WWWD (I'll cover 3WD in another post). We lost power on Sunday and did not get it back until Thursday afternoon. I made my family stay with their relatives while I stayed in the house throughout the chilly week.

This has been no different.

We lost power Friday morning. I still came in to work, as there was power there and we were scheduled to have a holiday party that evening. The party was cancelled (the venue did not have power, nor did most of my co-workers).

I've been checking National Grid's storm page any chance I can get near a computer with internet access. Last time I looked, Albany County still had 33,000 houses without power, and the earliest estimate of power returning to us would be Wednesday.

For the past two days, I've had my wife and her father-in-law stay at a motel, while I stayed at home and made sure no crackheads looking for copper pipe to steal come busting through our house. I've taken breathers at the local shopping mall, sitting through "The Day The Earth Stood Still" (it was a warm theater, that's the only benefit that film had for me).

My whole neighborhood looks like a tornado tore through it. Tree branches ripped off their stumps. Downed power lines. The freezing rain making thin trees bend like they were bowing to the King of Nature. It's just horrible out.

I even went into my day job office this morning, if for no other reason than to shower up at the building's fitness center, charge up my cell phone, and check my e-mail.

I'm okay, and I check on my family every so often to make sure they're comfortable.

I've been through a storm like this 21 years ago. I wonder if this means that in 2029, I'll have to go through this all again. If that's the case, remind me that in 2028 I have to move to Florida.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Chuck the Writer and the RCA Victor Restoration Project

You are looking at what has got to be - and I'm being generous on this comment - a wreck. And I don't blame you for saying that.

This is an RCA Victor 45 RPM record player, specifically a model 45-J-2.It was manufactured in the 1950's at a time when the RCA Victor record company wanted to create a new proprietary phonograph speed, one that would allow RCA Victor to sell records without having to license patents from their rival Columbia. It was a gaudy gamble, but surprisingly it worked. The popularity of these players helped RCA usher in the 45 RPM record, arguably the perfect format for pop songs - more durable than a 78, and easier to store than a rack fo LP's.

This 45-J-2, along with several dozen other models, employed a turntable/motor system known as RP-190. This model actually has a connecting plug that allows the phonograph to connect with a radio, so it didn't need an internal amplifier. The spindle could hold 12-15 records at a time, all ready to drop, one by one, so that the top songs of the day could be heard in rapid succession.

However, as you can see from the picture above left, this phonograph has had better days. The cabinet is cracked, the tonearm practically fell off its post, and the power cord and phono plug look as if they were chewed by badgers. Therefore, this unit is about to be stripped of all workable pieces, gears, grommets, washers, clips, clamps, and internal ephemera. Whatever can be salvaged for parts WILL be salvaged; the Bakelite case will be used to test various cleaning and restoring solutions. And in an effort to practice electronic repair, this unit will be my test subject, where I can practice such things as soldering, component replacement and the like.

As this progresses, I hope to show you the progress of my work. I also recommend that if you are so inclined to work on a project like this, I wholeheartedly recommend eBay seller kieronspal's DVD instruction series on RCA Victor RP-190 repair and restoration.

So for now, it's time to tear this bad boy to bits. And just in case I have to answer to anyone of authority... RCA Victor unit Model 45-J-2, serial number K 394512, as seen here and as above, is now being gutted.

More to follow...

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Chuck the Writer's Not Fond of Holiday Customer Service

So I'm busy working on restoring my home office on what I call "Project Retro Nuevo," in essence, incorporating vintage materials to work with modern technology. With that in mind, I recently acquired on eBay a vintage 1970's Western Electric touch-tone desk phone. It's big, it's bulky, it's green and I could probably knock out Kimbo Slice if I hit him in the head with it. Oh wait, somebody beat me to the punch on that one.

The only problem I had with the phone was that if I wanted to plug it into my home phone system, I had to get the phone cord plug replaced. The previous person did put a modern phone plug on the phone itself, but the little latch that keeps the phone jammed into the jack broke off - meaning all it takes is one little pull and I'd be going "Hello? Hello?" and no one would hear me.

I figured, hey let me go to Radio Shack and let them put a new jack on it.

Yeah right.

What happened was I didn't step two feet into the store before some wet-nosed pimply-faced attendant named Matt walked up to me, and said "Hi welcome to Radio Shack, can I help you find something today?"

I showed him the phone and asked if someone in Radio Shack could just clip a new phone plug on the existing wire and I would pay for the time.

"Oh no sir, we can't do that," but then he dragged me to the back of the store, pulled a $40 wire stripper off the wall, put it in my hand, pulled some phone plugs off another wall, put those in my hand, then herded me to the register where he rang up my purchase (after trying to get me to buy batteries and asked if I wanted a subscription to one of the top magazines out there), and I was out the door and had no idea how to put this thing together.

The back of the wire stripper did have some directions to it, and between them and a link on eHow.com, I was able to get the clip put on by myself.

Then I had to go to the Apple Store, as I needed a new USB-to-iPod connector for my clear-faceplated iPod. Of course, do I get the cute-as-a-button emo girl who's more than willing to help me find the correct wire? No, I get what looks like someone who just rolled out of bed, strapped on his Apple Store T-Shirt of the day, and when I told him what I wanted, he kept trying to steer me over to the MacBooks and trying to convince me to buy a MacBook!

Ahhh.... no. No offense to Mac users, but I kinda like the idea of being able to use my technology without having to upgrade every six months because Apple's products aren't that forward-compatible (and I speak from experience, you ever try to convert Apple IIe programs into Macintosh software? It didn't work in 1985, and I don't see it working today).

All I needed was a frickin' USB-to-iPod transfer cable, and eventually I found it pinned on a store rack. $19 plus tax later, I'm out the door.

The worst, however, came yesterday when I had to deal with Verizon.

Years ago, my wife (whom I really really love, even if I didn't know that she reads these blogs - hi honey) signed the family up with Verizon for cell phones. It was one of those "buy one, get two phones free" deals. She got the one phone, my daughter Cassaundra got one phone and I got a phone. I got one of those blah Motorola phones that didn't even have the ability to turn on a GPS if you dialed 911. Drove me nuts.

But that's history. In 2007, I got a BlackBerry and I like it. However, when getting the BlackBerry, I was informed that my wife had to sign for it, as she was the "primary" on the account and that I was the "secondary" on the account. So... I had to get Vicki to come down to the mall and sign at the Verizon store to allow me to get the BlackBerry. At that time, I asked if the store could put me on the account as a "primary" as well, so that I wouldn't have to bring my wife down to the store every frickin' time something needed to be changed on my phone.

They said sure, no problem.

So yesterday, I go to the Verizon store because of an issue on my bill (I was paying $40 a month for a data plan that I didn't need), but they wouldn't talk to me about the plan - guess why - wait for it - because my wife is the primary on the account and they don't have any record of me having primary access.

That sound you just heard was my lid popping off.

So once again I had to wait until Vicki got done with her hair appointment (they did a really good job on her hair, btw), have her come back down to the Verizon store, and once again put me back on the account as a primary. We also got the bill knocked down $30 a month by my going to another data plan (apparently the one I had required corporate e-mails, which I really don't use).

Absolutely pitiful all around.

But at least my phone works, I've got the USB-to-iPod transfer cable, and I can talk on my cell phone for $30 less a month. I guess I'll take my small victories where I can find them.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Chuck the Writer makes one part from two

People know know me understand that I hate buying things right off the shelf - especially electronics. This goes back to probably the early 1990's, when I purchased a 386 Packard Bell laptop from Sears. Boy if I could go back in time right now I would have taken that laptop and thrown it in the Hudson River.

Think about this for a second - 386 processor. Monochromatic screen. Bulky like a Russian tank. Battery power that lasted about 30 minutes at best. A phone jack for an 8000 baud modem. And having to use dial-up to access America Online 1.5. Argh. And forget about upgrading the thing - the best Packard Bell could do for me was get me a "math coprocessor." Whoo pee. And when someone snapped off the power cord in the back of the computer, I was left with an expensive paperweight. Sending it to Packard Bell didn't get anything resolved, they lost the lapper and eventually sent me a desktop with a Pentium 1 processor and a monitor that had the equivalent weight of a Buick.

But I digress.

Last year I built my own computer system, complete with an ASUS P5W DH Deluxe motherboard, and a ton of bells and whistles. One of the things I wanted the computer to handle was the ability to import any data from any storage format - CF, SD, MMC, even 3 1/2 floppy (I wanted to add 5 1/4 floppy, but realistically... ).

Eventually my 3.5in bays held two devices - a generic Mitsumi floppy disc reader, and a generic CompUSA multicard reader capable of handling CompactFlash, SD/MMC's, MS and SM. I don't use MS or SM, so all they are are empty slots and reversible initials to me.

A few weeks ago, the multi-card reader didn't want to read my cards any more. I figured it was a cheap piece of shit and was just giving me trouble. So as a backup plan, and since CompUSA doesn't exist any more, I went to NewEgg, the online computer store, and purchased a Rosewill RCR-FD200 7-in-1 internal card reader with floppy drive.

Out came both the floppy drive and the multicard reader, in went the RCR-FD200. After a couple of adjustments (I had to find a different USB reader on my motherboard because the mobo didn't initially recognize the new equipment), everything is back to normal. I can access my floppy discs, CompactFlash and SD/MMC in one slot. Of course, this now means I've got a gaping 3.5in hole in my computer chassis... so if anybody has suggestions on what I can put in that slot (keep it clean, 'kay?), I'd appreciate it.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Chuck the Writer No Longer Endorses Starbury footwear

Just as I can give a seal of approval on products, I can also take that seal away.

Some time ago, I was actually impressed by basketball playe Stephon Marbury's promise to help create a low-cost sports footwear product so that families wouldn't have to play $75 (at the minimum) for a pair of sneakers. He endorsed the Starbury sneaker, which was sold exclusively at Steve & Barry's shops throughout the country at a base price of $14.95 per pair.

Personally, I have a problem with wearing sneakers like Nike, Reebok and the like, in that their shoes are manufactured in third world countries by people earning approximately 25 cents a week, while they're assembling the shoes by using toxic, poisonous glues and chemicals - just so kids can spend $100 for a pair of Air Jordans or the like.

For years, the only sneakers I would consider putting on my feet were Converse Chuck Taylor canvasback sneaks, because I knew they were manufactured in America by union men and women, who were earning a union wage. Plus, the sneaks looked cool - sort of that emo skateboarding thing. But Converse got bought by Nike, and the Chuck Taylors got moved to Vietnam with the rest of the shoe production market.

That's why, when Steve & Barry's started selling Starbury sneakers, I was intrigued. I purchased a few pair and wore them as my regular sneakers. Yeah, the quality wasn't the greatest (hey, they were at least better than going to Woolworth's and buying a pair of Bobos), but I figured at $14.98 a pair, they could last a year or two and I could buy another pair when the ones I owned wore out.

Unfortunately, that changed today.

One of my pair of Starburys was pretty much worn down to the sole, so I knew it was time for an new pair. I went over to Steve & Barry's, and surprisingly the shoes were nowhere to be found. Apparently the contract with Stephon Marbury was cancelled, the shoes were sold off, and all that was left were some godawful basketball jerseys with the Starbury logo and MARBURY 3 on the back. And those will only be there until the local Steve & Barry's shuts down for good.

So I thought to myself. Do I really want to wear something that would advertise one of the most selfish, self-centered basketball cancers in the NBA today, even though his shoes were cheap? And this from yours truly, who would eschew a LeBron James jersey or a Kevin Garnett Celtics mufti in favor of a retro Brooklyn High Flyers #8 Rucker League jersey in honor of the great Fly Williams, the man who once scored 55 points in the first half of a Rucker League all-star game and then switched sides and scored 45 points for the other team in the second half?

Pfft. Easy choice. Bye bye Starburys.

I went down to the other end of the mall to the Shoe Depot, bought a pair of dress shoes instead, and decided I would wear what was left of my three pair of Starburys until the shoes fell apart for good. Then I would worry about getting a new pair of sneaks at another time.

So Stephon Marbury, you have lost the Chuck Miller seal of approval. Ta ta to your cheapo shoes, at least until you sign up with another shoe company - because maybe, after all, kids can now wear those Starburys in game situations - sitting on the bench and getting paid to stay there.

Chuck the Writer Endorses Delkin ExpressCard CF Reader

For a photographer who needs to get his photographs transferred from camera to laptop, I've run into several obstacles. Mostly involving the transfer from my CompactFlash cards to a device that can be plugged into my laptop.

I own a Sony Vaio lapper, which already has slots for SD/MMC cards, so that's good. But CompactFlash cards, which fit in my Nikon D70 camera, are much bigger than SD/MMC slots, and today's standalone CF card readers are either bundled to accept 35 other minicard formats, or are so flimsy that the pins bend once you put a CF card in (rendering the reader useless). At one point during a project, I had to connect a USB cable directly from my camera to the computer, and even THAT took forever to transfer the photos.

However, I may have found an end-around that not only will get my photos tranferred, but will do so at a much faster speed.

My laptop has a slot for ExpressCard functions - i.e., a wireless network card. The computer accessory company Delkin (no I didn't mistype Belkin) has created an ExpressCard 34mm card reader that will accept CompactFlash card media.

Here's what it looks like:

The CF card fits in that large slot, and the whole unit gets slapped into the ExpressCard slot in my computer laptop. The transfer speed is like lightning compared to the USB ports on my lapper, and the device fits snug and safe in my laptop bag when not in use (as opposed to the bulky CF card readers I've used in the past).

The Delkin ExpressCard 34 UDMA CompactFlash Adapter gets the Chuck Miller seal of approval; I currently use this product and will continue to do so.

To order your own Delkin ExpressCard 34 UDMA CompactFlash Adapter for your laptop computer, click on this link.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Chuck the Writer and the Elbo Room Trivia Tournament - Week 10 or 11 or whatever week it is

Had a rough start Thursday night at the $2000 Trivia Tournament at Elbo Room - I ended up missing three of the first five questions, to finish the first quarter with a -18 score (I had the first Pro Football Hall of Fame game in the 1970's, it was the 1960's; I had the Sandwich Islands in New Zealand, a little south of their Hawai'i location; and the 1980's video game with the original name of Armageddon is actually Missile Command, not my original thought of Space Invaders). So after missing three tough questions, I was at negative 18 for the quarter - and, once that score was announced, I got a chorus of lusty boos from a team known as Clay Aiken's Skidmarks.

Clay Aiken's Skidmarks. That's the name of the team. I think their purpose in trivia is to boo teams like my one-man "Street Academy" team, as well as teams like "Lynch's Mob" and "Stern Fans," who like Street Academy have won the Trivia Bowl championship, giving us teams bragging rights as the champions of trivia in the Capital District. For years, Clay Aiken's Skidmarks have played trivia with little success, usually putting down "Bob Saget" for their team's final answer, no matter what the question was.

Well, this time they were ahead, I was behind, and they were feeling their oats. They booed me, they jeered me, they made hand waving motions in front of their faces a la wrestler John Cena's "You Can't See Me" gestures.

However, I fought back, correclty naming what year Mike Mussina first played for the Yankees (2001), what 80's rock group had an album called Creatures of the Night (Kiss), and what two sneaker companies were created by a feud between two brothers (Puma and adidas). By the end of the night, I was in 5th place, the Skidmarks were tied for third, and there was one question left on the docket.

SPACE TRAVEL was the final category.

I had nothing to lose, so I went all in with my 68 points. Skidmarks went all in as well. My feeling was, I could miss the next 60 or 70 questions, and my 18 points in the standings would still be enough to make the final round.

Final question was this - Between 1969 and 1972, how many Apollo missions successfully placed men on the moon?

I did my math and came up with six missions (Apollo XI, XII, XIV, XV, XVI and XVII - Apollo XIII didn't reach the moon, and Apollo XVII was the last of the Apollo series). Skidmarks said there were two missions, and every time the host mentioned their name, they cheered like they won the lottery.

Of course the answer was six. And the cheering stopped. Street Academy took second place (another team that had more points than me also went "all in" and had the right answer). So all is right with the world, Street Academy is back to being the #1 seed in the tournament. In fact...

Here are the updated standings:

  • STREET ACADEMY - 21 points (+3 for second place)
  • Woo Hoo a Go Go - 18 (+5 for first place)
  • Big Red Machine - 18 points
  • Mayhem - 14 points
  • Beer Addled Brains - 11
  • Brown Van Experience - 6
  • Stern Fans - 5 (+1 for third place)
  • Tres Hombres - 5
  • Liquor in the Front, Poker in the Rear - 3
  • Donna Martin Graduates - 3
  • Clay Aiken's Skidmarks - 3
  • 40 oz. Bounce 1
And as for Clay Aiken's Skidmarks... A little picture for ya...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Chuck the Writer is Reunited (and it feels so good)

My Pontiac 6000 and I were reunited this morning. I would have picked it from the dealership last night, but I had to work late and did not get out of the day job in time.

Essentially what happened was this - the car's two fuel injectors failed, and it blew out a fuse in the car. When the Pep Boys in Ohio (I was on vacation at the time) replaced the ECM, and it failed, they replaced it with another ECM but did not replace the failed fuse. That's why when I got back on the road - and stopped for a rest break halfway home - the car wouldn't start again. And when the Pep Boys in Utica replaced another ECM module, the car would start at first - and then failed again on the road.

Thankfully, since the Pontiac 6000 is eighteen years old, it can actually be repaired by any General Motors dealership, and my nearby dealership (DePaula Chevrolet Hummer) takes good care of my car. Got back in it this morning and it runs as good as the day it left the showroom floor.

My long national nightmare is finally over. The car is back to normal. All is right with the world once again.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Chuck The Writer Wants His Car Back

So here's the story. Those who know me know that outside of my wife and daughter, there's only one love in my life. That's my car. A 1991 Pontiac 6000 that I commandeered from my grandmother because there's no reason that a 92-year-old woman with cataracts and a valid Massachusetts driver's license should be behind the wheel of anything mobile.

So while I was at the Vocal Group Hall of Fame inductions last week, I had to drive one of the inductees (Gretchen Christopher of the Fleetwoods) from the hotel to the performance venue. First off, this was way cool for me, as I had always enjoyed the music of the Fleetwoods ("Come Softly To Me," "Mr. Blue", "Tragedy," etc.). After dropping Gretchen off at the venue, I returned to the hotel.

Or, more accurately, I was on my way back to the venue - when suddenly I lost power in the car. I could step on the gas, but the car was not receiving the signal to accelerate.

I coasted and parked safely to the side of the road, then called for a tow truck to drive me to the nearest Pep Boys. Meanwhile, on the way there, the tow truck driver heard my description of what happened, and immediately said "Alternator. It's the alternator."

Well, it wasn't the alternator. Pep Boys in Ohio spent 36 hours diagnosing the problem, and came up with this - the car's ignition module burned out, which in turn burned out the electronic control module (the car's internal computer). So after they got it all working again that Sunday (somehow I was able to continue photographing and hanging out with the inductees while my car was being repaired), I got in the car on Monday morning and drove back from Ohio to Albany.

After about 400 miles of driving, I stopped for a rest at Turning Stone Casino (hey, I turned $60 into $92 there), got back in the car - and it wouldn't turn over. This required tow truck call #2, to a Pep Boys in New Hartford, N.Y. (outside of Utica), where the car spent three more days until they replaced another electronic control unit.

Meanwhile, my wife had to come 100 miles to get me so that I could take care of my day job that next morning. Friday night, she and I drove back out to New Hartford to get the car. And sure enough, it started up again. We drove back on the New York State Thruway, then stopped at the Mohawk rest area for bathroom breaks.

I got back in my car.

Guess what happened. Same damn thing. Car wouldn't turn over.

Today the car's at least in Albany, at the Pep Boys on Central Avenue, where the guys there are now diagnosing the issue as NOT an electronic control module issue, but actually an issue with the fuel injectors. In other words, the first two Pep Boys' didn't solve the problem, they simply put in new parts and once the car turned over (which happened after the car was left to sit for a couple of days while the fuel injectors or fuel conduits cleared up via non-use), the car was repaired as far as they were concerned.

Now as you can imagine, this is turning into a heartbreak situation for me. To their credit, Pep Boys is now making sure to get this fixed, and because I wasn't 100% satisfied with the original repairs, I'm going to get a massive discount on the repair bills.

Hopefully at some point my car will be back to normal, and this can be put behind me. I've got 127,000 miles on this bad boy, which makes it halfway to my hopeful goal of reaching 240,000 miles - the distance from the earth to the Moon.

Chuck the Writer and the Elbo Room Trivia Tournament

Another week, another point for my Street Academy one man wrecking crew team. Things didn't start out well for me, I messed up on which patriot's statue stands in front of Faneuil Hall (I said Paul Revere, it was John Adams), and I didn't know the most populous city in the most populous nation (I said Beijing, it was actually Shanghai), but as the game progressed I was able to nail some other questions. and in the end, when the final category was "Halls of Fame," I played conservatively, heard the question, kicked myself because I knew the answer cold (who inducted Madonna into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), and eventually picked up a third-place finish and another standings point.

Currently this means I'm tied with the Big Red Machine for the #1 seed, and the top 8 teams get into the final championship trivia session.

So here are the standings, the top 8 teams in green:

  • Big Red Machine - 18 points
  • STREET ACADEMY - 18 points (+1 for third place)
  • Mayhem - 14 points
  • Woo Hoo a Go Go - 13 (+3 for second place)
  • Beer Addled Brains - 11 (+5 for 1st place)
  • Brown Van Experience - 6
  • Tres Hombres - 5
  • Stern Fans - 4
  • Liquor in the Front, Poker in the Rear - 3
  • Donna Martin Graduates - 3
  • Clay Aiken's Skidmarks - 3
  • 40 oz. Bounce 1

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Chuck the Writer hangs out with Bowzer

For those of you who might have watched the old "Sha Na Na" television series in the 1970's, you would have seen their charismatic front man, Jon "Bowzer" Bauman, flexing his muscles and shouting "Grease for Peace."

Today, Bauman is a tireless advocate for a project called 'Truth in Music," which attempts to curtail the various phony groups touring the country and pretending to be classic artists of yesteryear. Example - for a long time, there was a package tour advertising performers by the Drifters, the Coasters and the Platters, none of which had any original members that performed on the original recordings. Example - Herb Reed and Sonny Turner are the only living and touring members of the Platters who sang on the original recordings; Reed is the bass voice on the Platters' recordings, while Turner sang on their 1960's hits "With This Ring" and "I Love You 1000 Times." Other knockoff Platters groups, whose members are younger than the songs they sing, have previously flooded the market
and can confuse ticket-buyers. Today, those knockoff groups need to let ticket-buyers know that they are either "tribute" bands, or they risk violating truth-in-advertising laws.

This is a major victory for those performers whose income comes from touring - if you sang on those classic hits, you should be able to reap the benefits of doing so, and not watch as some copycat group sings your songs and charges a lowball price for tickets. It's unfair predatory marketing.

And it's great to see someone like Bowzer fighting the good fight for those artists.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Chuck the Writer and the Elbo Room Trivia Tournament

So here's the deal. I was at the Vocal Group Hall of Fame inductions, so I couldn't participate in the trivia tournament. However, my wife and her cousins did go to trivia - luckily for the Street Academy team, once you earn standings points, you can't lose them. Apparently without me, the Big Red Machine vaulted into first place in the standings, and Clay Aiken's Skidmarks actually put three points on the standings board.

So here's the standings as of today - the top 8 teams will make the final game, they are listed in green:
  • Big Red Machine - 18 points (+5 for first place)
  • STREET ACADEMY - 17 points
  • Mayhem - 14 points
  • Woo Hoo a Go Go - 10 points
  • Brown Van Experience - 6
  • Beer Addled Brains - 6 (+1 for 3rd place)
  • Tres Hombres - 5
  • Stern Fans - 4
  • Liquor in the Front, Poker in the Rear - 3
  • Donna Martin Graduates - 3
  • Clay Aiken's Skidmarks - 3 (+3 for second place)
  • 40 oz. Bounce 1

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Chuck the Writer at the Vocal Group Hall of Fame

So after driving 8 1/2 hours from Albany to Warren, Ohio, here I am at the Vocal Group Hall of Fame inductions. The inductions take place on Thursday (today), but last night at the pre-induction dinner, there were plenty of moments where artists got together, hugged, shared memories and the like.

What you're seeing in the photo at right are the original members of the Tymes, a 1960's doo-wop harmony group, a cappelling their biggest hit, "So Much In Love," in an impromptu jam session. In order to get this photograph, I had to climb up on a chair and shoot downward, but it's a great shot nonetheless.

The first of the four VGHF concerts will take place tonight in Youngstown OH at the Chevrolet Center. This ought to be lots of fun!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

NEW ARTICLE - Toy Collector Magazine, Electric Football (COVER STORY)

Ah, it's a beautiful day in the neighborhood. My third cover story for Toy Collector Magazine has just been published, this time on the vintage (and currently resurging) sport of Electric Football. You can read the article at the link above. Or you can click here.

Since I first started with TCM in the spring of 2007, they have been a wonderful magazine to work with. My editor is top-notch, the graphics design person can create visual masterpieces in nothing flat - it all works out. This is actually my third cover for TCM - in addition to my feature articles on Transformers, Guitar Hero, Wild Republic plush dolls, Revell model kits, the Luna City arcade and professional wrestling figurines, my two big cover stories have been the history of the Speed Racer series, and the 40th anniversary of Hot Wheels. Nice stuff.

This was a fun article to write - I was able to interview not only the current people involved with electric football, but also the creator of Buzzball figurines, members of the Connecticut New York Electric Football League, and a person who custom-paints his own figurines into classic teams and models.

I've got another article I'm working on right now for TCM, so keep an eye open for a January 2009 publishing date.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Chuck the Writer endorses Cameraworks

One of the drawbacks of a Nikon D70 is that if any dust gets into the CCD sensor, the pictures it takes will have spots on them. Noticeable spots. Spots that are too noticeable to use for quality photographs.

Normally, one would send their camera away to a specialty camera shoppe, where they might charge $200 and take three weeks to get the camera back to you. However, I have been fortunate to discover a store in Latham called Cameraworks. Three days a week, they have walk-in service where you can drop your camera off on Wednesday and it will be cleaned on Thursday - for $25 plus tax. And let me tell you, that camera when I get it back is minty fresh clean.

Today I picked up my D70, nicely cleaned, so that the photos I take at the Vocal Group Hall of Fame event will be crisp and sweet. I'm already packing all my camera equipment for this trip, and I hope to use all my lenses - my kit lens, my f/2.8 telephoto, my f/1.8 85mm, my E-series 50mm f/1.8, my Kenko 180 fisheye, even my Loreo 3D lens set.

One lens I'm not taking, however, is my Kiev Mir-24H wide-angle. There's an issue with the lens - if I try to focus out to infinity with this lens, it just won't give me a sharp picture. So Cameraworks is going to go over it and see if the lens needs cleaning or alignment or what. And maybe they can get rid of the foul cabbage smell that all Russian-made lenses seem to be infected with (someone told me the smell comes from the lubrication equipment used inside the lens).

Don't get me wrong, my Kiev lenses are great lenses. Lenses made for Kiev-17, Kiev-19 and Kiev-20 SLR cameras are interchangeable with Nikon F-mount cameras, which makes Kiev lenses a budget-based alternative to Nikon's stock equipment - especially when one considers that Kiev's glass is the same glass used for military-grade applications like bomb sights and binoculars. But the quality control in Russian camera equipment is seriously "hit or miss" - quality control is more of a suggestion than an application.

So if Cameraworks can get this Kiev lens working to proper specifications, I'll put it back in my arsenal. But for now, it's on injured reserve until it gets better, under the care of Dr. Cameraworks.

Chuck the Writer and the Elbo Room Trivia Tournament - Week 9

Ah, it feels good to be back on top. My "Street Academy" one-man wrecking crew (with my wife along as my personal rooting section) is now back on top in the Elbo Room $2000 Trivia Tournament. By nailing such questions as "Which US President threw out the most Baseball Opening Day first pitches?" (Franklin D Roosevelt), and "What is the current name of the island formerly known as Formosa?" (Taiwan), that put me in the lead. Then I was able to nail the 20th question, on "America at War" - "During World War II, the White House allowed two dozen of what animal to wander the White House lawn?" (it was sheep), so I was able to pick up the five first-place points, and am now back as the #1 seed in the tournament.

Here's the standings, the top eight teams will get into the finals, they're currently listed in green:
  • STREET ACADEMY - 17 points
  • Mayhem - 14 points
  • Big Red Machine - 13 points
  • Woo Hoo a Go Go - 10 points
  • Brown Van Experience - 6
  • Tres Hombres - 5
  • Beer Addled Brains - 5
  • Stern Fans - 4
  • Liquor in the Front, Poker in the Rear - 3
  • Donna Martin Graduates - 3
  • 40 oz. Bounce 1

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Chuck the Writer and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame

For those of you who want to see the lineup of concerts for the 2008 Vocal Group Hall of Fame - go to this link.

I'll give you more updates as the concerts and inductions get closer to showtime.

Chuck the Writer and the Elbo Room Tournament - Week 8

As I get ready for tonight's next round of trivia at Elbo Room (and its $2,000 prize for the winning team), I am reminded that last week I didn't do so well.

Memo to self - watch a few more John Hughes 80's teen films. I wasn't into them when they came out, so to me "Sixteen Candles" is a song by the Crests, "Breakfast Club" was a group that had a hit with "Right on Track," and "St. Elmo's Fire" is a song that was overplayed about two weeks after it came out. So last week, when the host asked the question about "In the Breakfast Club, what did the one girl give to the guy at the end of the movie," I had no clue and was about to write SKIP on my sheet.

Then I turned to my wife, who I take with me to the Elbo Room games. "Oh I've seen the Breakfast Club so many times," she said. "She gives him her underwear."


I handed it in.

Host said that she gave the guy an earring. Lost 8 points, everyone else gained 8 points, 16-point swing to the detriment for me.

Of course, after that Vicki said to me, "Oh wait, that was from 'St. Elmo's Fire.' I get those mixed up because Emilio Estevez was in both films."

That sound you heard was me banging my head against the table. I love my wife, believe me, but answers like that are one of the reasons I play as a solo squad.

Anyways, here's the standings up to date, with the top 8 teams going to the finals, whenever those are taking place (teams in red are outside the Top 8):

  • Mayhem - 14 points
  • STREET ACADEMY - 12 points
  • Big Red Machine - 12
  • Woo Hoo a Go Go - 7
  • Brown Van Experience - 6
  • Tres Hombres - 5
  • Beer Addled Brains - 5
  • Stern Fans - 4
  • Liquor in the Front, Poker in the Rear - 3 points
  • Donna Martin Graduates - 3
  • 40 oz. Bounce 1

Chuck the Writer Takes 3rd Place at Brown's

Normally I'm a creature of habit. If I like playing trivia at one bar or tavern or restaurant, I'll keep coming back.

That routine soured about a month ago when my Wednesday night trivia location, a sports bar called the Recovery Room, essentially told me I was not welcome there any more because I won too many times and that it was unfair to the other teams. Essentially I was winning their major prizes (choice NY Giants and NY Jets tickets) and other teams were whining that it wasn't fair to them that this one-man "Street Academy" team was coming in and kicking everybody's trivia tushy.

So I looked to see if there was another trivia location on Wednesday nights. And that's where I found Brown's Brewing in Troy. They have a different trivia setup than what I was used to - the host, Ryan West, asks 60 question (10 questions grouped around a specific theme, six different themes), and the prizes are given out after each round (mostly food and their home-brewed Brown's beers).

It's different than what I'm used to (20 questions on varying topics, different point values for tougher questions), but I'm kinda getting the hang of Brown's setup. The place is packed to the rafters every Wednesday night, and the questions do range from unbelievably easy (at which time the host requests that if you know the answer, you are to raise your glass and shout "SOCIAL!" so that he knows when to drink), to the unfathomably difficult (last night there were a lot of groans and moans over certain questions, but that's par for the course).

The top two teams win bar tabs of $50 and $25, respectively, and last night I had my best showing, third place (one point behind second), and had I actually known which Chinese animal was considered the New Year representative of 2006 (I said rat, it was dog), or what boy band veteran appeared in the Saw film franchise (no freakin' clue that it was Donnie Walhberg), I might have hit second place.

But that at least motivates me to continue the challenge.

Also, you gotta love the staff at Brown's. Unlike other trivia places, where almost everybody can play, Brown's has a special second floor level just for the trivia teams, and the maitre d' Shelby makes you actually reserve your table ahead of time (in some cases, you really need to reserve it for next week the minute you finish trivia for this week). They've always been able to squeeze in my one-man "Street Academy" squad, so for that I am thankful.

So it's still three trivia nights a week for me - Old Chicago on Tuesday nights (for some reason, ever since my original Trivia night at Hooters ended when our local Hooters shut down, Trivia on Tuesdays seems normal for me), Brown's on Wednesday and Elbo Room (and its $2000 tournament) on Thursday.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Chuck the Writer Prepares for the Vocal Group Hall of Fame

About ten years ago, when I first worked for Goldmine magazine, the editor of the publication asked if anyone would be interested in covering the inaugural inductions of the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in Sharon, Pennsylvania. I figured what the heck, eight hour drive, see a museum, write an article, no probbies.

Actually, the event was more impressive than I anticipated. I watched as surviving members of such bands as the Drifters, the Coasters, and others went up on stage and received honors for their long careers. This was great. I had a blast. And every year after that, I vowed that no matter what would happen in my life, I would be there to cover the inductions for the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.

The next inductions took place in 2001 - the original date of the inductions was September 12, but it was hastily rescheduled after the attacks of 9/11 to a late November induction. Once again, another wonderful time was held. This time I had my own camera - albeit it was my Nikon Coolpix 800 - but I got some great shots of the event.

This year the inductions will take place in Youngstown, Ohio, and will honor the 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 classes with four back-to-back-to-back-to-back concerts at the Chevrolet Center. I'm already making my plans to be there - including getting my camera all tuned up for the trip, packing plenty of batteries and digital film, etc.

As we get closer to the event, I'll pass along some stories about some of my favorite moments at the VGHF events.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Chuck the Writer Remembers Stacy Davis After 25 Years

I still can't believe she's been gone for 25 years. Even when one of the most wonderful, innocent, warm people ever could have their lives taken away like that - it still burns at me like heated barbed wire.

Stacy Davis died 25 years ago.

I'm kind of guessing you haven't heard of Stacy Davis. That or Rocshire Records, the company for whom she was both the "college promotions rep" (she made sure college stations like my WHCL at Hamilton College received product) and the "I'm just as enthusiastic about this music as you are" person who actually believed in the music her company tried to promote.

Flash back to the spring of 1983. Our radio station, WHCL, had been raided by graduating seniors every year, and the amount of records being sent to our little measly 2.5 watt station was barely a trickle. In fact, you couldn't pick up WHCL on the other side of campus, that's how puny the broadcast signal was. But in 1983, myself and a class of "Young Turks" did whatever we could to get that station fully up to speed - increasing the broadcast signal, increasing the station's visibility on campus, and - my personal goal - getting record companies to start sending us product once again.

With nothing but the addresses on the backs of the record albums, I was able in one day to snag mailing contracts with RCA, Warner Bros., Columbia, Elektra/Asylum, Motown, and a tiny Anaheim-based label called Rocshire. Of the six labels, the most enthusiastic response came from Rocshire Records, who had just sprung into business barely a year earlier and wanted to crack into the college "progressive new music" markets. To that end, I struck up a fast friendship with the promotions person at Rocshire, Stacy Davis.

Stacy told me her father, Gary Davis, was once president of three different record labels, and our conversations slowly drifted from record promotion to more esoteric matters that college-age people might discuss. She was cute, she was funny, and maybe I was fooling myself into thinking that this was actually more than it was - but we kept in touch during the summer, and had hoped to meet up in the fall when Rocshire would have a booth at the College Media Journal music promotion weekend in New York City in late October.

I arrived in New York, but she was not there. Originally I thought that she was either in the other part of the convention hotel or just was playing me for a fool - until another record company representative told me that she was on her way to the airport for the convention when a drunk driver sideswiped her car and plowed her into a telephone pole, killing her instantly.

Needless to say, I was devastated. I could not think clearly throughout the entire radio convention, and for months afterward I couldn't come to grips with what had happened to her - why did a wonderful young girl have to die like that?

As time went on, I was able to balance out my emotions, and was able to remember Stacy for all the fun conversations we had. I eventually acquired some Rocshire 45's for my own personal record collection, but acquiring that vintage vinyl wasn't easy. Barely a year after Stacy died, Rocshire was under investigation when the record company's owner [not Stacy's father] was caught in a check-embezzling scheme, using payroll checks from Hughes Aircraft to prop up his record company. He's probably still in jail now. The artists on that label lost everything - their master tapes, their recording equipment, the momentum of their careers - when Rocshire's doors were locked forever.

It's been 25 years. And it still takes the cold chill of an autumn wind to instantly remind me that she's gone.

Far too soon.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Chuck the Writer and the Elbo Room Tournament - Week 7

Just couldn't put anything together Thursday night at the Elbo Room tournament; used up both my skips within the first four questions, then wiped out on a 10-pointer (how the hell was I supposed to know that Ringo Starr has suddenly decided to curtail any autographs or fan mail?), and in the end I didn't have enough points to make the Top 3. Oh well, I'm still among the final eight, as can be seen below:
  • Mayhem - 14 points
  • STREET ACADEMY - 12 points
  • Big Red Machine - 12
  • Woo Hoo a Go Go - 7
  • Tres Hombres - 5
  • Liquor in the Front, Poker in the Rear - 3 points
  • Stern Fans - 3
  • Brown Van Experience - 3
  • Donna Martin Graduates - 3
  • 40 oz. Bounce 1

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Chuck the Writer Mourns the Loss of Chickie Williams

Although I didn't find out about it until today, I am saddened by the November 2007 passing of Chickie Williams.

Back in my days of writing for Goldmine magazine, I penned an article that eventually appeared in the Journal of Country Music on the history of radio station WWVA and its "Saturday Night Jamboree," a radio broadcast that could be picked up, on a clear Saturday night, from Newfoundland to Florida. Among the people I was able to interview included Doc Williams, who with his wife Chickie Williams became a Jamboree USA staple from 1937 to the 1990's.

The reason I even started working on such an article came about from finding vintage homemade recordings of Maxine and Eileen Newcomer, two blind singing sisters who had their own WWVA radio show in the mid-1940's. These records were engraved on old Webcor home disc cutters, and were recorded straight off the air at WWVA.

When talking with Doc Williams about the recordings, he told me that there was a special recording that Chickie made with the Newcomers, a mixture of "I Love You Truly" and a recitation of a poem called "Should You Go First And I Remain," but that that acetate had long disappeared. In an effort to gather more Newcomer Twins recordings, I drove to Jeannette, Pa., where I had originally purchased some of the orginal acetates on eBay. The estate dealer who had the recordings allowed me to go through the unsold discs, as they had not yet been offered for bid because he had to pay someone to transcribe the Braille printing on each record label so as to identify the disc.

Surprisingly, I was able to find a copy of that lost acetate. I purchased the acetate, along with about 100 other Newcomer Twins discs, and visited Doc Williams in his Wheeling, W.Va. home and presented him with the recording.

Back in the mid-1940's, when Doc received the record as a Valentine's Day gift from Chickie, he turned the homemade record into what would become his biggest hit, a medley of "Beyond the Sunset" combined with the recitation of "Should You Go First And I Remain." Doc's hit, with Chickie on vocals, hit #3 on the country music charts, and was later covered by hundreds of artists, including Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and Pat Boone.

The obituary for Chickie Williams can be found here.

The original poem, "Should You Go First And I Remain," was penned by A.K. Rowswell. I am reprinting it here, in Chickie's memory.

Should You Go First
By A.K. Rowswell

Should you go first and I remain
To walk the road alone,
I'll live in memory's garden, dear,
With happy days we've known.
In spring I'll wait for roses red,
When fades the lilac blue,
In early fall, when brown leaves call
I'll catch a glimpse of you.

Should you go first and I remain
For battles to be fought,
Each thing you've touched along the way
Will be a hallowed spot.
I'll hear your voice, I'll see you smile,
Though blindly I may grope,
The memory of your helping hand
Will buoy me on with hope.

Should you go first and I remain
To finish with the scroll,
No length'ning shadows shall creep in
To make this life seem droll.
We've known so much of happiness,
We've had our cup of joy,
And memory is one gift of God
That death can not destroy.

Should you go first and I remain,
One thing I'd have you to do:
Walk slowly down that long, lone path,
For soon I'll follow you.
I'll want to know each step you take,
That I may walk the same,
For someday down that lonely road
You'll hear me call your name.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Chuck the Writer and the Elbo Room Trivia Tournament - Week 6

Started off great at trivia, but I (along with everyone else) missed the final question - category was fast food, and it was about what sandwich was invented in 1972 by someone named Herb Johnson. The answers were split between the Whopper and the Big Mac - but it was the Egg McMuffin, which nobody got. So I moved from first place to second in the overall standings, which are now posted here (the top eight teams get into the tournament finals):

  • Mayhem - 14 points
  • STREET ACADEMY - 12 points
  • Big Red Machine - 7
  • Woo Hoo a Go Go - 6
  • Tres Hombres - 5
  • Stern Fans - 3
  • Brown Van Experience - 3
  • Donna Martin Graduates - 3
  • 40 oz. Bounce 1

Monday, October 6, 2008

Chuck the Writer and the Schaefer Beer Clock

Well, my plans on getting that Schaefer beer clock to light up and tell time has been halved. Apparently according to Lake Electronics, the people who are hopefully restoring my clock, I was told that it's not a malfunctioning switch that is preventing the clock from lighting up, it's something called "the ballast," which apparently they can't replace or repair. So they're giving me the clock back, only charging me my initial deposit plus NYS tax.

So for the moment I have a clock that tells time - but doesn't light up...

Yet. I'm just going to store the clock away until I can find a similar Schaefer beer clock and cannibalize the parts together - maybe the next clock I find has a working light and a malfunctioning clock. Hey, sometimes two halves can make a whole.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Chuck the Writer and the Elbo Room Trivia Tournament – Week 5

Had a nice solid run at the Elbo Room Thursday night. Really only missed one question (the band formed by Chris Cornell after he left Soundgarden, augmented with members of Rage Against the Machine – apparently it's Audioslave, I didn't really know that), and skipped two other questions (what did the caveman order at the restaurant in the GEICO commercial, and what horror film series has John Larroquette as a narrator), but pretty much ran the table with the rest of the questions.

Final question was American Business, and I was tied for second place (114 pts) with "Mayhem," while four points ahead were the leaders, a team called "Clay Aiken Skidmarks." Now usually the Skidmarks are in the lower regions of the scoresheet (okay, that was an awkward sentence to write), but they have improved of late and were poised to take 5 playoff points if they could get the final question right. I had 114 points, and since I was tied with Mayhem, I bet 113 – that way, if I got the question right, I would finish no worse than third if both Mayhem and the Skidmarks went "all in" and correctly answered the question.

Question was - In what East Coast State are the headquarters of the Campbell Soup Company?

Hokey smokes. You mean the Campbell Soup Company, right next to the warehouses and factories that once housed RCA Victor's world headquarters? You mean the Campbell Soup Company in downtown Camden, New Jersey? Oh that question was 'Mm! 'Mm! Good!

I wrote down New Jersey, and just to be a smartass, I wrote "Camden" as well. Host read my full answer, and there were some discouraged groans coming from the Skidmarks' table.

Mayhem also said New Jersey, and they went all in.

Skidmarks went all in – and said Pennsylvania.


So that means that Street Academy (my one-man wrecking crew team) took second place and 3 playoff points; Mayhem grabbed 5 points and the Big Red Machine snuck in for third.

Here's the standings after Week 5:

  • STREET ACADEMY - 12 points
  • Mayhem - 9
  • Woo Hoo a Go Go - 6
  • Big Red Machine - 6
  • Tres Hombres - 5
  • Stern Fans - 3
  • Donna Martin Graduates - 3
  • 40 oz. Bounce 1

Saturday I'm going to try to participate in trivia over at Octoberfest at Brown's Brewing in Troy. That trivia operation is run by a different company, and I've only played their "Bacchus Trivia" a couple of times. They ask 60 questions, broken down into six 10-question categories, each correct answer is worth one point, no skips, no deductions for wrong answers, and the big prize at Brown's is usually food or beer. Last Wednesday, I played at Brown's and won my first prize there – a coupon for free quesadillas and beer pretzels the next time I play trivia at Brown's. And judging from an incident earlier this week – in which I will go into much more detail at a later time – I may consider Brown's for my Wednesday night Trivia fix.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Chuck the Writer and the Elbo Room Trivia Touranment - Week 4

My one-man wrecking crew team, "Street Academy," picked up another point for finishing in third place in the Elbo Room Trivia Tournament, so Week 4 is in the books. Two other teams garnered first and second, so I actually gained a point on everybody else.

So here's the standings in Elbo Room's tournament as of today:
  • STREET ACADEMY - 9 points
  • Woo Hoo a Go Go - 6
  • Tres Hombres - 5
  • Big Red Machine - 5
  • Mayhem - 4
  • Stern Fans - 3
  • Donna Martin Graduates - 3
  • 40 oz. Bounce 1
Since the top eight teams get into the tournament, I'm aiming for a goal of 20 points in the preliminaries, that would certainly secure me a spot. Then all I have to do is go into the finals and do my best. That's all anyone can ask.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Chuck the Writer and the Schaefer Beer Clock

Replaced the light in the beer clock last night - but the light wouldn't go on. So now we've got some other issues with the beer clock light - and this will now involve a higher power than me.

That higher power would be Lake Electronics in nearby Colonie.

I took the beer clock over there this morning, they're going to replace the plug and cord (which really needs it, part of it is being held on by aging, brittle electrical tape), and they're also going to check out the power switch. If they can't get the light to activate after that, that's all they can do - they told me that they can't replace the power transformer, and it would be dangerous to put another type of light source in there, as a different type of heat or light would melt the plastic or start a fire.

So the Schaefer Beer Clock is now in the hands of Lake Electronics, I'll see what they can do to bring this baby back to life.

Chuck the Writer and the Elbo Room Trivia Tournament

I'm currently participating in a $2,000 trivia tournament against the top trivia teams in the Capital District. My one-man team, "Street Academy" (my wife comes along, everybody needs a rooting section) is currently in the lead in this season-long tournament. Each team gets 5 points for winning trivia for the night, with 3 points for second place and 1 point for third. The top eight teams go to the finals, for one night of intense trivia.

So what are the scores right now? Here are the scores right now.

STREET ACADEMY    8 points (5 points for winning Week 2, plus 3 points for a second-place finish last week)

Woo Hoo a Go Go    6

Tres Hombres    5

Mayhem    4

Stern Fans    3

40 oz. Bounce    1

Next trivia run is Thursday night at Elbo Room in Albany. Here we go!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Chuck the Writer and the Schaefer Beer Clock

Among the several items I bought at the recent beer and breweriana auction was a fine looking Schaefer bar clock. Schaefer, in case you're not familiar with the brand, was an extremely popular brew from the 1960's and early 1970's, and was best served ice cold for the best beer taste. It also had one of the most politically incorrect advertising slogans out there - "Schaefer is the one beer to have when you're having more than one." In other words, if you're going to get shit-faced, get shit-faced with Schaefer! In fact, here's a link to a vintage Schaefer Beer commercial on YouTube.


The bar clock is in halfway decent condition, but it needed a few things... Mostly TLC and a new internal light. The light inside was a 12-inch, 8-watt "T5" flourescent bulb, and luckily Home Depot had the same bulb available for purchase - I picked up two of 'em this morning, a regular flourescent and a "cool white" version to see which would work better in the clock.

I'll probably install them tonight, take pictures of the final project, and upload them in the next post. I also need to make sure the plug wire is up to code - Lord only knows what kind of condition that plug is in after 40+ years.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Chuck the Writer Repairs his Grandmother’s Photograph

It was a bittersweet day yesterday. My wife and I, along with my daughter Cassaundra (who had just come in to Albany the night before from Seattle) drove up to Boston to meet with my Aunt Elaine, for the specific purpose of visiting my grandmother's resting place.

My grandmother lived a solid, long life, but she passed away in March of this year. Without a doubt, she was one of the only older relatives I had that ever cared about me or supported me. So when she finally entered eternal peace after a long illness, I was devastated. I drove up immediately for the funeral, but there wasn't enough time to make arrangements for my wife and daughter to join me.

Eventually everything was taken care of, and we all drove off to Melrose, Mass. for a special remembrance. Elaine, who owns an antiques shop in New Hampshire, drove down to join us.

After our private ceremony, Elaine gave us some photographs of my grandmother, including a great one of her from the 1930's, just before she got married.

Unfortunately, the photo is marred by what looks like a red stained square. So what do I have to do to fix this up?

I scanned the photograph into my computer, and used my Corel PhotoPaint 9 to split the image into three separate color pictures (red green and blue) and then deleted the green and blue filters. I readjusted the color of the remaining filter to black and white… and got this:

Which I think looks much better. In a day or so I'll try to "clone out" the crease running down the middle of the photograph.

My grandmother was a good woman. It's nice to have a photograph of her like this, to always remember her by.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Chuck the Writer and the New York Eagles

I was thinking about this yesterday. Back when I was a teenager, around 1979 or so, Albany had no real professional sports franchises to speak of. We had the Albany Metro Mallers football team, but that was a "semi-professional" squad. There was the Albany Twilight League amateur baseball season, but how charged up can you get for a Sons of Italy / Oppenheimer Post matchup?

That's why I was surprised when it was announced that Albany would be getting an American Soccer League franchise, the New York Eagles, for the 1979 season. At first I thought, why in the world would Pele and Rodney Marsh and the NASL come to Albany? That was before I realized that there was the North American Soccer League, with all the international stars, and the American Soccer League, which was essentially Division II.

Don't get me wrong, the New York Eagles were fun to watch from 1979 to 1981 (they took the 1980 season off for financial reasons), and games against squads like the Cleveland Cobras, Detroit Express and New York Apollo were exciting matchups. Especially if Vogislav "Billy" Bolevic was in the lineup, the guy could score almost on will. He scored 25 goals in 1981, earning him the league's Most Valuable Player award. The Eagles made the playoffs each of their two seasons of play, but were knocked out of the first round each time.

The other thing I learned about the Eagles was that although the franchise at the time was populated almost completely with Yugoslavian nationals, the team suddenly developed internal factions once the team started playing in Albany. Suddenly the Eagles weren't Yugoslavians; they were Serbs and Croatians and Macedonians and five other ethnic nationalities. And the Serbs wouldn't pass to the Croats, and the Croats would not talk to the Macedonians, etc., etc.

Years later, after the Eagles dried up and moved away, Albany had some other professional soccer franchises, including the APSL's Albany Capitals (who I worked with during their final season, in which they made the APSL championship game), the NPSL's New York Kick (one of several sports teams in the Knickerbocker Arena's early years) and the USISL's Albany Alleycats (the less said about them, the better). About the only souvenir I still have of the Eagles is an enamel logo pin, which is parked on my home computer desk.

That, and about a dozen memories of Billy Bolevic turning goaltenders into crybabies.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Chuck the Writer Does Nice for his Wife

Let me state for the record that I'm just as guilty of being a pack rat as anybody else.

However, my wife Vicki is notorious for saving virtually everything. And that includes every photograph she has ever taken in her life. It can get extremely overwhelming, especially when one goes on a two-week vacation and brings home 36-48 reels of 35mm film that need to be developed, and then the prints need to be put in binders, and then the binders need to be stored somewhere. You got the time to do all that? Me neither.

So, in an effort to "streamline" our life (and that means getting rid of stuff we don't need), I have undertaken a few different things to help Vicki maintain and manage her photograph collection.

1. I bought her a digital camera. Being a proud Nikonian (I currently use a DSLR D70), I got Vicki a Nikon Coolpix camera and a 4G SDHC card. Now all her photos are digital – no more film processing costs. Yay!

I moved her digital-burned photos to a solid state disc. I really like these Simpletech solid state storage discs, and I got Vicki a 250GB disc of her own, with the expressed purpose of storing her photographs. Since most of her "un-filed" photographs were developed by Sam's Club, who also places a complimentary CD copy in the envelope with the 4x6 prints, I simply transferred the files from the disc onto the solid state media, in a directory that is named after the date the photograph is taken.

3. Her non-CD photos will be converted to CD. Ritz Camera offers a service where they will scan 250 photographs for $50. I haven't yet started to use that offer, but I may in the future.

Once Vicki has all the photographs on the solid state disc, she can then go through and organize which photos go where, rename, relabel, etc. And then all I have to do is transfer the files from her SDHC chip onto the Simpletech disc.

All in the effort of streamlining our lives. One small step. That's all it takes.

Chuck The Writer Buys Some Beer Gear

Over the weekend, I visited the Jon Lee Auction Gallery in Latham, N.Y.; they were having an auction of collectible breweriana and beer advertising. This person had amassed a nice collection by going into a bar, buying a round for everybody, then asking the tavern owner or barkeep if there was a figural advertisement or bar sign or bar light that he could take. And most times he got to take some choice pieces.

Unfortunately, after he passed on, most of these items were stored in a basement - and of course, basements in the Capital District are subject to humid and/or damp conditions.

A lot of dealers and collectors snapped up the choice pieces, including a reverse painted glass clock advertising Beverwyck Beer (one of the local brands), but I did pick up a few things - I mostly concentrated on advertising memorabilia of beers that the average Capital District drinker might purchase in the 1960's and 1970's - Ballantine, Utica Club, Schaefer and Hedrick's.

In the end, I walked away with some choice pieces, including an O'Keefe thermometer, a Ballantine Beer wall sconce (with two twinkle lights), a Schaefer "bubbling" beer mug (for those of you not familiar with Schaefer, it's the one beer to have if you're having more than one), a small collection of Utica Club beer coasters, a Beverwyck bakelite pull knob (for the bar tap), and some other electronic signs and advertising kinetics that were tossed in a "box lot."

I had checked out most of the items at the sale (I passed up a Utica Club lighted clock because the clock neither lit up nor told time), yet even though I did pick up some swank pieces, I know I'm going to have to replace the electrical cords on most of these - and swap out 40-year-old light bulbs for some LED lights or compact fluorescents.

I'll let you all know how things turn out. This might be a nice little project for me.