Thursday, November 30, 2006

Online Poker

I've been spending more and more of my free time playing poker online... I love it! At the moment I play in spurts of anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes and soon as I win a bit I leave the table. That means that at the end of any session I always go away ahead. A tiny bit each day...

A particularly wonderful combination is playing on my Tablet PC while hanging out on the couch in the living room. No wires, no keyboard, no mouse... just a stylus in one hand and the Tablet across my lap.

I've tried quite a few sites and I keep coming back to the same one which happened to be where I started.

I've tried the infamous Party Poker and even opened an account and made a deposit. That was silly. I should have tried the software first. I was overimpressed by the reputation of this site which is, as it declares, "The World's Largest Poker Room" and it also sponsors most of the poker tournaments or shows I see on television. Unfortunately it offers what has to be the worst software available for online poker. An extremely dull and dated interface. More importantly it lacks some of the functions I love such as remembering folded cards, and it doesn't show the chips and pot increasing until the end of each round. A boring interface just makes the game more boring. However they do have one very interesting, and dangerously enticing, Party Poker Anywhere feature which allows you to play poker with them without installing software. This means you can play on just about any computer. But it's still the same boring interface.

The other extreme is PKR which is almost like playing poker inside of Second Life or The Sims. Fully 3D avatars, full animation and sound, the ability to control the avatar's actions (swirl chips, thumbs up, ...) and facial expressions (sad, angry, happy, ...) with mouse clicks is pretty amazing. Although I enjoy playing with this one with "play money" I find the overly gamelike interface actually gets too much in the way of seroius gameplaying.

Along the same line is Full Tilt Poker which also has overly cute avatars and spacelike table settings. But again I find it really gets in the way of my playing when the guy across from the table is a shark and I'm sitting next to a monkey. Cute... but just not my idea of the poker experience.

The next one for me to try, maybe, is Poker Stars. But I doubt I will. I'm just too happy with my first choice that I'm no longer that interested in looking elsewhere. It's not an accident that the first place I looked for online poker was Betfair as that's where I do all the rest of my online gambling (horses mostly and a bit of big sports events (Super Bowl (of course), World Cup, ...)). What is pleasantly surprising is that Betfair Poker has turned out to be my favourite interface. It has all the features I want, including the aforementioned "remembering folded cards" which I had not even thought of as a possibility until I saw it there, and a great choice of tournaments and tables covering an extremely wide range of budgets which I definitely appreciate. For fun, and most of the time, you'll find me at the relatively cheap Texas Hold 'em No Limit Tables with a tiny average pot of about $5 or $7. I sit down, play a bit, win $5 or $10 and then leave and get back to whatever else was going on in the living. A bit of adrenaline rush with a few "all in" calls and I'm satisfied. The first time i played one of their tournaments I actually kicked ass and was in 6th place, out of about 90 players, before I finally just had to give up and go to bed. It was almost 2 o'clock in the morning (weekend night). I obviously need to try tournaments earlier in the day. But even going to bed I woke up $30 ahead. A lot of fun!

In addition to playing online every now and then I use's excellent site and their Poker Analyst for keeping track of my playing sessions. I'm slowly but surely recuperating the losses I incurred in one bad night back in September... I should break even in a week or so and maybe start making money again before Christmas. But that's almost irrelevant for the relatively small amounts of money I'm playing with. It's the overall sensation, excitement, risk and powerplay pleasure that keeps me coming back.

You know where to find me: Betfair Poker.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Christian McBride Band... Live!

Christian McBrideYet another bass player I have always wanted to see perform live!

I battled through Sunday evening traffic and was late when I met Robbie at the Gare de l'Est. We found parking relatively near by and I ran from the car to the New Morning. This was partially because I was excited to get to the concert and try and get some good seats but honestly it was mostly because I desperately needed their toilet more than anything else. The quantity of water, or other liquids, I drink constantly to keep my throat lubricated has the negative effect of requiring me to always know where the nearest toilet is as when I need it, which is often, the need is immediate.

Robbie and I got our seats, which were slightly better than those for the Ron Carter concert. We put our coats down and started on our first overpriced, but delicious, beer. About an hour later it was time...

What an incredible quartet this turned out to be! Terreon Gully on drums; Geoffrey Keezer on piano; Ron Blake on saxes (tenor and soprano) and flute and, of course, the one and only Christian McBride on bass and bass guitar. The concert was unusual in that it was one long set... no intermission. It moved from a smooth start with Christian's obvious classic jazz beginnings and just built and built in energy. It's incredible how modern Christian can make an upright bass sound. He also switches from plucking to bowing at unexpected places as the mood hits him. In addition to his obvious expertise (this man's got bass chops that most can bearly fathom!) he's a great showman. He's obviously having a great time and wants us to too. The show just kept getting hotter and hotter in mood and all the time without getting overly esotheric or just plain weird. The were whipping us slowly and surely in to a frenzy right up to their rendition of Joe Zawinul and Weather Report's "Boogie Woogie Waltz" which just brought the house down. It went on forever and we just kept wanting more. Finally it ended and we all caught our breath, yelled, screamed, applauded and begged for more. They finished up with Ron Blake's "Sonic Tonic" which actually got us all even more excited. We all applauded and it was over. We obviously begged for an encore. They came back, all with a glass of red wine in their hands, and gave us a quickie as they wanted to hurry to get "prepared for the after show" {vbg}.

Christian McBride

Thanks to the wonders of the Internet you can actually download a video of the band performing "Boogie Woogie Waltz" HERE. It's a relatively big file (30 MB) and appears to be shot by a filmaker with a bit of a foot fetish. Believe it or not this is a relatively tame and short version of the performance in comparison to what we saw. We were blessed! I recommend checking it out though as it gives a general feel for the end of the concert. It starts off slow so you have to stick with it...

We left the club feeling rejuvenated and full of energy and a bit of awe at what we had just saw. We went looking for food and wound up at an Indian restaurant where we finished the evening with a bit of curry. I drove Robbie home and headed back to my place for sleep and preparation... back to work tomorrow!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Salon du Vin ... What a difference a year makes!

Today was the day I've been waiting for throughout the past few months: The Salon du Vin des Vignerons Independants de France. Our cellar is running empty and it desperately needs filling. Jess now drinks wine often with a meal, and I can enjoy more and more, so we are up to a bottle and a half during family meals which makes it disappear quicker.

Today was the opening. I got there as quick as I could but still spent over an hour parking. For those of you who don't remember here is the ARTICLE I wrote once upon a time about the Salon. It was a great day and Desney and I truly enjoyed seeing our old friends. Many of them were very kind and said how great I looked. Wanna get me to buy more of your wine? Stroke my ego a bit? Does it work? Wel... it certainly can't hurt {g}. I was especially pleased at how much I could taste and enjoy. My taste buds and tongue certainly aren't 100% restored. But I believe they're up around 80% which is way beyond acceptable. We went back to our classic suppliers (Moreau Naudet - Chablis; Ehrhart & Fils - Alsace; Domaine de Fleurie - Beaujolais Cru; Le Fagé - Bergerac; Granoupiac - Languedoc-Roussillon and Michelas - Crozes-Hermitage/Cornas) and spent way too much money refilling the cellar. But we had a great time. The biggest challenge, as always, was getting everything to the car. We were home relatively early and ready for dinner...

Later in the evening I started contemplating Last Year's Salon du Vin which was towards the end of my treatments and the first time my mother had been. Eternally morbid as I am I went back to my blog entry for November 2005 and checked out what life was like a year ago. The first, slightly anecdotal, point I noticed was that the Salon started on Thanksgiving last year just like this year. The rest was slightly depressing and painful to remember. But the end result was the same: I've come a long way baby!!! Looking back I realise now that my present condition is actually far better than I ever thought it would be back then...

I can't wait to look back at this year's entry... next year!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Another break in...

I get home late night from another long 3-day business trip to London and I go down to pick up my car in the Gare du Nord parking lot... unpleasant surprise...

They broke the read driver-side window (again) and broke in to the car (again). Unfortunately for them there wasn't anything to steal this time. I now take my Tom Tom 910 with me when I travel and I had coincidentally just emptied out the music CDs the night before leaving. They must have been pissed off! Unfortunately for me however it's going to be another waste of time as I'll have to go get the window replaced tomorrow...

My next car (coming soon hopefully) will have an alarm {duh}!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Another test... another exam... I PASSED!

I had difficulty sleeping last night... yet another exam today that I can't study for...

I tried to get some work done in the morning but my head just wasn't in to it...

Back to see Dr. Hagège again for my quarterly checkup.

We went through my PET scan results first which we both knew were good.

Then on to the exam. I had taken a Xanax an hour and a half before to prepare. But he brought out a new "toy". In addition to the cameras which go up my nostrils and then down the back of my throat he now has a bigger one which goes right in the mouth and down the throat. I'm afraid that didn't work and we both knew it wasn't going to. He therefore shot the anesthesia up my nostrils and talked to me a bit while waiting for it to kick in. He asked me some questions about his old Mac computer which was acting up and I gave him a few tips as best I could with cotton shoved up my nose.

Finally he went in for the kill and I believe my innards were broadcast on an enormous screen he has on his wall. I say "I believe" as I keep my eyes closed throughout these things. I tend to be crying during and after so I wouldn't see anything anyway. He knows me well enough to give me tissues even before we get started. He was apparently pleased with what he saw. He tried to get the new camera down my throat again but my body just wasn't having it. One hand holding the tip of my tongue and pulling it towards him and the other hand trying to shove, excuse me "slide", this camera tube down my throat. My throat still considers that nothing should go back there that can not be chewed first or squeezed in to nothingness by my throat muscles. In other words "solid objects are forbidden". He saw what he wanted to see and had me do my "eeeee" and "uuuuuuu" and "ohohohoh" sounds while he checked out my vocal chords on the big screen.

Finally it was over. It must have lasted just a few minutes... maybe 10 or 20 all together... but for me it always feels like an eternity.

We sat down at his desk and went over the status and the future. He was pleased to announce that my entire throat area and upper chest are clear of cancer and have been for a while. He then came out with the first bit of really good news: as it's been more than a year now since the surgery he feels we can now see each other every 4 months rather than every 3 months. Most of you reading this are probably thinking: "big deal... one more month". But that means I will see him 3 times a year rather than 4 and that makes a big difference to me!

As we talked it was obvious that there are aspects, as I've always known, that I'm just "going to have to live with": the eternal lack of saliva (hyposalivation) and the "champignons" on the back of my tongue.

We plan on my next appointment for March 2007. I'm not holding my breath!

I went home and went to bed and slept with the comfort that, at least for today, I am (still) cancer free!

Friday, November 03, 2006

MSIE 7 and Vista

I've been "playing around" with Vista more and more on my Tablet PC and I have to admit I really like what I see. Microsoft have "been inspired" by some of the best functionality of the other OSes out there (Mac and LINUX especially) and have implemented some pretty nice new functions. A lot of the most interesting functions are actually "under the bonnet" motor type function (such as being able to go back to previous versions of files, offline document synchronising, ...). But the interface is a definite major change and going to require getting used to. I see training money coming in for many IT companies out there.

MSIE 7 is definitely a pleasure and I have a lot of trouble going back and forth between MSIE 6 on all of my other computers ans MSIE 7 on my Vista Tablet. Tabbing, "inspired" directly from Firefox, is probably the most noticeable improvement and definitely the one I use most. They got this one right and I now have difficulty remembering how to work without it. Their management of Favourites is also greatly improved and again I have difficulty going back to MSIE 6 and finding my Favourites through the "old" procedures.

I will not go in to Office 2007 at the moment... I am basically lost in the new interface. I am sure new users will find this much more "friendly". But I am losing lots of time trying to find how to do the same simple things I used to do within the new "ribbons" and "tabs"... This too is going to require major training around the world. IT companies should be raking it in next year (2007). Thank you Microsoft!

Rate Your Music or MusicThing

My loyal readers will remember I mentioned Library Thing a while ago for online cataloguing of our book collection.

I asked several times on their forums and such if they were planning anything similar for music which I referred to as "Music Thing". It appears that they are working hard on new functions for Library Thing and, although Music Thing is a thought in the back of a few developers' minds, they do not have time to work on such a product. However someone on the forum recommend I check out Rate Your Music.

On first glance I figured that he had not understood what I was looking for: online management of my CD collection. It looked as though this was just a site for everyone to put up their ratings (up to 5 stars) and personal reviews of music (CDs, vinyl, tapes, ...). Although that looked like fun, and a vital part of Library Thing, it was not what I was looking for.

Luckily the account creation was free and I gave it a try. I quickly found out that you can "also" include your own music and declare that you "own" the music and in what form it is owned. This is even better than I had hoped for. I can actually note which CDs I have as CDs, which vinyls and, most importantly, which music I have "only" as MP3 files. This allows me to have all of my music collection in one piece of software and online... and it's free!

Windows Media Player, or iTunes, allow me to catalogue and manage my MP3 files. But they do not include music which I have not put in to the computer. Some other software such as Music Collection Pro allow me to manage my CDs, vinyls and tapes and such but not my MP3 files. This is the first program I have found which nicely manages both in one place.

The functions similar to Library Thing such as tags and "compatability lists" are a lot of fun. I found someone else out there who has almost exactly the same jazz CDs I have. The statistics part is really fun as well.

I have entered about 150 of my CDs at the moment and will continue to do so as time permits. That's probably about one tenth of my total collection. I hope to finish cataloguing everything sometime before I die... then everyone else can have fun looking at what's I "had" and start fighting over who gets what!

I've added a link to my music collection in the Links section in the menu over there on the right.