David Levitt Running for US Senate

From time to time I give a shout out to my friends’ (usually art or software) projects, but here is something much more important. My friend, colleague and former professor David Levitt is running for US Senate as a progressive candidate in the state of California. David is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, forward-thinking, outspoken, principled, charismatic and warm-hearted. He’s a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, and among his accomplishments are contributions to the development of virtual reality, interactive music and social media. He’s also activist, founding director of OccupyGovernment.org and founding member of BeYourGovernment.org. We need more people like him in government. Go David, good for you!

I no longer live in California, so I can’t vote for him, but if you do, you can! And no matter where you live, you can contribute to his campaign or to OccupyGovernment.org.

News article on David Levitt’s candidacy:

Interview with David:

Links to orgs:

And of course his campaign home page:


The days have been getting longer and the winter has remained mild. It’s now daylight again when I get up in the mornings for work. Still the night comes early and I’m really longing for spring to arrive. I’m off work this because the kids are home from school and I have some extra vacation days from last year that I need to use or loose. It’s a funny thing: we knew last fall that the kids get a week off in February at their new school, and at the time I was all like “we are so going on a ski trip, or to the Caribbean!” But all fall and winter we were pretty focused on day-to-day life, and when it came down to it, airfare to the islands for a whole family is crazy expensive, because everyone else who has kids is also taking the same week off. And there’s been be no snow to speak of.

So the plan is mainly to hang around the house. I’m actually pretty happy about this. It seems every time we have time of there’s travel involved, but it’s nice just to catch up on things, and have an opportunity to focus on writing my book and working on new songs. To be sure, we’re probably going skiing later in the week for a day trip overnight (if it doesn’t rain), but nothing epic. I’m guessing it’ll be the last chance for skiing this season.

Dancing thru the Decades

My kids’ school put on a musical show this weekend, and I played in the band. It was a lot of fun and another good opportunity to get involved and get to know more of the families as well as to make some music. The show included kids from first to eighth grade, and as the name implies, featured hits from the last decades of pop music. I thought it was a really well put together show, especially given the time constraint. The kids were at a mix of levels but there were quite a number of really good performers featured as soloists and in small groups, and the large group numbers gave everyone a chance to be a part of it.

I played pretty much an equal split of sax and keyboards. I got the set list a couple of weeks ago, but only got the music on Monday and had the first rehearsal Wednesday. So the music came together really fast. The band was led by Joanne B., teacher at the school and a classically trained pianist who also does church organ gigs. The drummer John and guitarist Mike were the same guys from the cabaret show last November.

Here’s a set list with commentary.

Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy – the show started out strong with three really talented singers from the 8th grade doing an Andrews Sister’s number. They really nailed it, with the harmonies, dancing, U.S.O. costumes and all. This was a fun one for me, since I got to open the show (tenor sax being the closest thing to a bugle available) and take a swing-style solo.

You Are My Sunshine – cute number for the little kids. Very sweet. I laid out.

Que Sera Sera – small group featuring some very good soloists on vocals. I laid out.

Yakety Yak – big group number. Great fun for me doing my King Curtis impression on the sax. Interestingly, this song and Boogie Woogie are both basically blues in C. We did an extended jam after each until the curtain opened again. Important to use genre-appropriate riffs and phrasing so as not to mash the two songs together.

Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head – big group; Michelle was part of this one. Burt Bacharach was indeed a philosopher of song. The band did a curtain jam on the coda, which was great fun. I remember as a kid that ending being the first thing I’d ever heard in an out time signature.

Walk Like a Man – small group number; the kid who sang the high part was really good. I played sax.

Let It Be – Michelle had a featured solo in this. She was very nervous about it ahead of time, but nailed it when the time came. This was my first keyboard song of the set, playing organ to back up the piano. Weird that a Beatles song would be in the 70’s, but there you go.

Thank You for the Music – the ABBA song performed by a group of girls from the middle grades. Nicely done. I laid out.

Dancing Queen – another ABBA number, performed by four girls from seventh grade, including Lizzy as featured soloist. They did quite well, especially the second show after the house adjusted the mics to pickup better. I played piano, basically backing up Joanne, using a Fender Rhodes sound and emphasizing the bass lines. I’d never studied this song before this week, but it’s really a gem of a pop number, with all kinds of great hooks woven in. I’m kind of fascinated by ABBA right now, how they out of nowhere (well, Sweden) and took over the pop music world and became one of the top five selling acts of all time.

Pre-show, intermission and exit music included instrumental takes of Lady Madonna, Martha My Dear, Only the Good Die Young, and several other extemporaneous selections performed mainly by me and John. I seem to know lots of dark and down songs and had to scratch my head to recall upbeat and happy songs.

Don’t Stop Believing – they did the Glee version which changed the key from E to G, which really confused Mike and me until we got used to it.

Uptown Girl – small group number. The boy who sang lead and the dancer who was the uptown girl were both really good. I played sax.

Footloose – big production number, including Lizzy. I played sax.

You’ve Got a Friend In Me – little kids did this one. A great song which I already knew on piano (big Randy Neuman fan) but learned on sax.

MMMBop – Michelle was part of the group that did this one. It’s a simple song, but really at their level and delivered with great enthusiasm.

Firework – Lizzy was in this number. Even though I admire Katy Perry’s fashion sense I can’t say I’m a really big fan of her voice or her music. Song-wise, this was just four-bar loop, something anyone could have thrown together in Garage Band in one evening. Still, the kids liked and it came across well.

Graduation (Friends Forever) – performed by the eighth graders. This was another musically simple number. I did the string section part on synthesizer, which rips off Pachabel’s Cannon quite directly. I was able to sneak in a bit of Whiter Shade of Pale.

I Gotta Feeling – everyone in band asked “The Beatles Song?” But that’s I’ve Got a Feeling. This was the Black Eyed Peas, another garage-band-loop kind of thing. And although the above two songs kinda grew on me, this one never did. Like the two previous two songs it has only one musical idea and is about too long by about two minutes. Luckily our arrangements for all of them were shortened. Joanne was a bit nervous for these last few songs because she likes to read the music and the amount of page turning was just ridiculous, not mention skipping over crossed out sections. I gave up and just jammed out. Anyway it was a good closer with all the kids on stage belting it out.

Party On

Our D&D campaign has really hit its stride lately. Our duo of Orphan Witches, Joy and Emma, accompanied by Zoe, a rogue with a heart of gold, arrived at the Keep on the Borderlands and joined forces with a trio of Dwarves (because Dwarves always travel in groups whose count is a prime number). They are Grimli, son of Groin, and his kinsfolk Glumli and Chumli, of the Redshirt clan. I added them to the party since they were light on fighters, and playing NPC’s it gives me a chance to fight on the side of the good guys and provide some (grim, Dwarvish) counsel to the players. I’m having fun with the NPC’s, and am planning on having them come and go as need warrants, to help the party on various stages of their quest. The party still needs a healer, since they’ve already used up most of their stock of healing potion after the first major combat. I’m going to provide some kind of Elvish Druid I think, maybe named Elvis.

In any even the combat went really well, with Zoe mixing it up in melee combat, Lizzy summoning a dire spider and Michelle wielding both acid and frost, and even stepping up to slay a goblin with her dagger.

I’m playing under 3.5 rules, and so far it’s worked fine just substituting the 3.5 version of the monsters in the Monster Manual for the ones in the. We’ve been fighting alot of Orcs and Goblins of lately, which is confusing for me as DM because I’m also reading the Lord of the Rings on the train these days (more on that in a separate post), and in Tolkien’s world “orc” is the Elvish word for “goblin”, from the orcish word “urak” which is what they call themselves. Meanwhile in Gygax’s world, Orcs and Goblins are two distinct creatures.

Also, we’ve now got proper minis for the party and a host of monster. We’re using lego minifigs, which are a bit larger than your standard mini, so I’m thinking of redrawing our battlemap at an inch and quarter per five foot square rather than an inch.