The Storm’s Over — The Numbers Are In

The dry air was the wild card. Radar showed moderate snow over all of Connecticut for hours-and-hours before anything hit the ground.

snow-shovel-on-the-steps.jpgThe snow has come and gone. There’s never a bullseye, but the forecast was reasonably close. If success is judged by number of complaints, or lack thereof, I’m doing fine. Here are the final DOT numbers. I have also added the Boston and New York NWS snow totals, which include Connecticut, for the Dec 20-21, 2009 storm at the end of this entry.

Not everyone was as lucky. A friend who forecasts in Springfield sent a text message saying he’d received nothing! “Bust of the decade,” he said. Ouch. Been there. I know exactly what he’s going through.

I was right about Southeastern Connecticut getting the most snow followed by the shoreline in general. The snow was fluffy and windblown as predicted. Accumulations were generally in line with my numbers. My call for the Northwest Hills and most of the area directly adjacent to the Massachusetts line was a few inches higher than the actual totals.

I wrote about this last night, but it bears repeating the most unusual and interesting part of this storm was the exceptionally dry air. During the summer we sometimes see 30 grams of water content per square meter. Last night it was around 1 gram per cubic meter!

The dry air was the wild card. Radar showed moderate snow over all of Connecticut for hours-and-hours before anything hit the ground. Once the atmospheric column over any location became saturated light snow turned to heavy snow. I’d never seen a situation quite like this before. It cut inches off all the accumulations.

It’s a shame this storm will impact Christmas shopping. Otherwise we’re lucky it came on a Saturday night when travel is usually light.

And now the dig out begins.

(NWS totals after the jump)

Continue reading “The Storm’s Over — The Numbers Are In”

Google Maps Enhances Traffic Reporting While Scaring The Crap Out Of Me

They know where you are. And by they I mean Google and anyone holding a subpoena!

Have you ever checked out the traffic using Google? In the past few weeks a major change has totally transformed the experience making traffic reporting on Google so good I am petrified of the technology behind it!

When you choose to enable Google Maps with My Location, your phone sends anonymous bits of data back to Google describing how fast you’re moving. When we combine your speed with the speed of other phones on the road, across thousands of phones moving around a city at any given time, we can get a pretty good picture of live traffic conditions.

They’re reading the GPS on your cellphone. They know where you are. And by they I mean Google and anyone holding a subpoena!

google-maps-traffic.jpgThe cool part is being able to aggregate the GPS data from many phones. Right now Google shows some slowdowns on I-95 in Fairfield County, but they also show Whitney Avenue in Hamden running well with discrete green lines for north and south. There are some minor secondary roads you’d never expect to see tracked which are!

Sometime very soon technology like this will integrate with the data in your GPS to seamlessly route you around traffic in real time. The upside potential is great. Think of the savings in worker productivity and gas consumption.

The scary part is this is one more way we’ve lost any semblance of anonymity.

I’m not sure why I care, but I do. I’d like my thoughts to be my own. I’d like my route… my travels to be my choice without question or oversight.

Who am I kidding? That ship has sailed.

New Canaan

In New Canaan understatement rules.

There are two Connecticuts. There is Lower Fairfield County and there is everything else. Lower Fairfield County is what most out-of-staters think of when they think of Connecticut. Why not, it’s fabulous.

Saturday afternoon Helaine and I traveled to New Canaan, in the heart of Lower Fairfield County. The trip took less than an hour, but it’s a whole different world.

“According to the New Canaan Advertiser’s 2008 town answer book, in 2007, 254 single family homes were sold in New Canaan with a median sale price of $1.85 million and an average sale price of $2,301,608.”

Yeah, it’s all that. We saw some tidy homes along the main road into town. They’d fit in any community, except here they are impeccably maintained with beautiful lawns and mature plantings. It reminds me of “The Flats” neighborhood in Beverly Hills.

It’s tough to walk through New Canaan with high end sedans and SUVs diagonally parked in the center of town and not feel a little intimidated. I suspect Downtown New Canaan today is similar to what it was like 30-40 years ago. I spotted some of the original customers mixed in with newer money residents.

There are tidy stores selling expensive merchandise downtown. Some national chains have taken over where local merchants once operated. The local savings bank is now a Chase branch. The are no garish signs. In New Canaan understatement rules.

Helaine pointed to a store that sold baby clothes and pondered how people could spend hundreds of dollars for an outfit that would fit a child for a month or two.

I wonder how this area will be affected if Lehman Brothers or other huge financial institutions go under or shrink? A lot of Wall Street power commutes from this outpost at the end of its own branch of the Metro-North Railroad.






Talking Up New Haven

We’re getting some equipment installed at work. That means a support tech in from Madison, WI and lots of extra time on-the-job (for both of us). Tonight he and I and Gil Simmons took a walk from the TV station to get dinner.

I’ve been meaning to say this, because I’ve been noticing it a lot more, but New Haven is becoming a happening place, especially downtown. I’ve been here 23 years and the changes are amazing.

As we walked past the Green and down Temple Street there was plenty of activity at outdoor cafes. I’m going to have to take Gil’s word, but the bar scene is happening. More importantly, there are now dozens of nice places to eat downtown.

People are also moving into the downtown area with some very pricey condo conversions. An old girdle factory, phone company building, and other office space have become apartments and condos. When people live in a city, it will thrive.

Make no mistake, New Haven has plenty of problems. You can’t watch my station or read the New Haven Register for long without reading about a shooting – often gang related. And, New Haven is still a very poor city, with lots of unemployed or underemployed people.

Gentrification often displaces people of more limited incomes who are priced out of the neighborhood. At the moment that’s less likely to happen here because there were few living downtown.

Out-of-towner’s think of Connecticut and visualize lower Fairfield County. New Haven is not Greenwich! This part of the state has little in common with the Gold Coast, beginning with income and housing prices.

I don’t think there was a tipping point – a magic moment when everything began to change for New Haven. It just happened organically. Now the pace is picking up.

Like I said, after 23 years here it’s a very welcome change.

How Do You Deal With It?

I like Noah Finz, our sports guy at the TV station. I like his wife, Kendra, too. I’ve known her a lot longer than I’ve known Noah. They are both technophobes.

Actually, being a little skittish in the face of technology puts them in step with most everyone, which leads me to what happened today.

Noah’s laptop was old. He wanted to upgrade to faster hardware, especially with a two year old, infant and very nice camera for picture taking.

Most people would have unplugged the old machine, plugged in the new and then forgotten what was left on the laptop. Sure, they’re networked together, but how many people know how that works? Few!

I popped in the car and headed to Fairfield County.

His Dell desktop machine was the most quiet PC I’ve ever heard – startling, since the trend has been in the opposite direction. It needed a Firewire and wireless network card. No sweat, except it only had two slots, one of which was already filled by a dial-up modem.

“Put this away,” I told Noah as I handed it to him in an anti-static bag. Truthfully, it will never be used.

The Firewire card was effortlessly installed suing native Windows drivers. The wireless card was more trouble. It didn’t conform to Belkin’s instructions!

It finally installed because I ad libbed. How do they sell and support these things when the installation process isn’t remotely connected to what’s in the instructions?

As with Helaine’s computer, this Dell came loaded with ‘nagware.’ I don’t want programs bugging me. Some are difficult to remove. Others are confusingly described. Most have limited lifespans, meaning you’re later expected to shell out more money for the software that came on your PC!

Hats off to Cablevision, Noah’s ISP. Their Optonline cable modem service has an automated configuration tool which set up Outlook Express correctly on the first try.

We installed Picasa, MS Office, the new free AOL anti-virus suite and a few others. Then it was time to move photos and documents. I couldn’t get his computers to speak to each other. I have no idea why, nor do I know how I finally encouraged them to have limited access to each other.

It just happened.

You never accomplish 100% on a mission of mercy like this, but we came close. Again, I have no idea how Noah or Kendra could have done this themselves, and they can’t be alone.

What do most people do? Or do people like me just drive around on weekends helping out and playing with little kids – they couldn’t have been cuter.

Bye Bye Sydney

I woke up this morning, turned on the TV and saw New Years celebrations from Australia. At the bottom of the screen it said, “Happy New Year Sydney.”

It’s an omen!

Sydney is about to leave. Amy is downstairs with Helaine and Steffie. Sad moment – what can I say?

I started to come downstairs, but Helaine asked me not to. I was in pajamas and looked like a guy who had been rearranged after a night of sleep. On the other hand, Amy’s married. How much better can her husband Rob look when he gets up?

I came downstairs and took two quick shots. As usual Sydney is in the energy preservation mode.

In a little while Sydney will get into the car and drive home to Fairfield County. Our dog sitting&#185 will be done. Sydney was a good house guest.

&#185 – Make no mistake about it, I didn’t lift a finger! Though Helaine provided the bulk of support for Sydney, Stefanie was very helpful (kudos to her). I was pleased to see Steffie often taking the lead with Sydney’s trips outside.

My Wife And I Have Balls

It’s cold. It’s the winter. The countryside is covered in snow. This is not perfect weather for the Fox Family.

It’s also Saturday. We wanted to do something and not waste a perfectly good weekend day.

A quick check of the paper showed nothing at the movies we wanted to see. The Yale Rep and Yale Cabaret are both dark&#185.

I looked for a comedy club. The Treehouse, in Fairfield County, had listings for Wednesdays and Saturdays in November (update the website guys) and December, but is mysteriously empty this weekend.

Finally Helaine suggested we go bowling. She made the suggestion knowing full well I’d find an excuse to say no. I didn’t.

I called our local bowling alley (I’m sure they’d rather be called a bowling center… and they can, on their blog). There were lanes open, but they asked for my name, in case things got busy. No names – I had my info.

We went and had dinner at the local Chinese buffet. Overhead speakers blasted Christmas music from a local radio station. My favorite, Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” played.

The bowling alley was only a few minutes away. We walked in and found the place more empty than full.

Helaine and I have a history with bowling, and this seems as good a time as any to tell the story.

Back in Buffalo, among other duties, I was the weekend weatherman. Helaine, living and working in Philadelphia, would come and visit on weekends. We were the proverbial strangers in a strange land.

Saturday nights, after the late news, we would join a bunch of people from the station and go to “Moonlight Bowling.” There would be Phil Kavits and Mike Andrei, Rhona Shore (one of our reporters) and Jim Sherlock (assistant news director and her boyfriend).

I’m sure there were others, but this was nearly 25 years ago. Forgive me.

The concept of “Moonlight Bowling” is simple. You turn off most of the lights, light a few black lights, add a smattering of multicolored pins on each lane, and pay bowlers cash when certain pin arrangements come up and they make a strike.

It was a quarter here, fifty cents there. Not big money. It was a blast. And we had fun blowing off a little steam. Like all employees, we weren’t adverse to second guessing our bosses.

This group from the TV station would go nearly every Saturday night. Then, when it was over, we’d get breakfast. That was around 3:00 AM.

It should be noted, somehow in those years I had entered into a pack with the Devil, allowing me to eat anything and never gain a pound. The Devil and I have had a falling out since then.

None of us were ever good at bowling. But, we had a great time bowling.

Flash ahead to Connecticut. When we first moved here, Helaine met some people and ended up in a bowling league. When she bought a ball and shoes, I did too. So, as the title says, we both have balls. Even better, neither of us wear rented shoes – one of life’s stranger concepts.

Over time, we just haven’t bowled much. Steffie had a bowling birthday party while growing up and I’m sure we went to parties thrown for other kids, but that’s a long time ago.

12-10-05_1910Actually, there’s a better way to demonstrate how long it’s been since we bowled. When we went to unzip our bags to take out the balls and shoes, the zippers were rusted shut! Really. You could see a tinge of green around the immobile zipper.

The bowling bags ‘live’ in the garage, so the culprit is probably salt spray from our cars’ tires. Another reason to dislike winter.

Luckily, the guys behind the counter were happy to help… and much stronger than me. Before you knew it, the zipper was zipping and we were ready to bowl.

12-10-05_1915We moved to lane 11.

Just as we were about to begin, the lights went out and the music started blasting. It was “Moonlight Bowling” all over again! There was one addition, stage fog, and one subtraction, no cash payouts.

We started slowly. My first ball was a gutter ball. In the first game, I barely broke 100. Helaine wasn’t far behind.

The second game went a little smoother, but I was still out ahead. In fact, Helaine trailed by thirty pins in the seventh frame.

bowling1Then, she caught fire!

Helaine rolled a strike in the eight frame… and the ninth… and two in the tenth – four strikes in a row! By the time all was said and done, Helaine had beaten me 158 – 143. She will be tested for steroids later.

Did she want to bowl again? Hell yeah!

bowling2We started our third game, and this time it was my turn to get hot. I made marks in my first 8 frames, finishing with 175, my personal best.

Helaine probably won’t admit this, but she’s just as competitive as me. Now there’s incentive for us to go again.

I’m a lucky guy. Two decades and change since “Moonlight Bowling” and I still have fun with the girl I took back then… and I still beat her.

&#185 – I’m embarrassed to say we’ve been to neither. That’s a shame. As much as I enjoy theater (and I really do), I need to be taking advantage of local resources like that.

Why Wilma Scares Me

Just in case you’re counting, Hurricane Wilma is currently 1735 miles southwest of me. That’s ‘as the crow flies’ miles. Because this hurricane is ready to make a sweeping right hand turn, it would have to travel significantly farther.

How can I be worried about something 1735 miles away? It’s easy – I’ve seen this scenario before. I didn’t live it. It predates me. I’ve studied it because it is the benchmark for New England hurricane grief.

Before you feel my pain, let me talk a little about my parents. They’re ensconced in Boynton Beach, FL. Hurricane Wilma is 640 miles south-southwest of them.

As it stands now, the official Hurricane Center prediction takes Wilma right over… or reasonably close to them. Though the storm will be coming over land, it’s swampy land. There’s warm water and low friction in the Everglades. It’s not perfect for a hurricane but it won’t kill it either.

My folks have hurricane shutters and live in a substantial building. I think they’ll be OK, though I’ll revisit this with them later today.

Here’s the one bit of good news. Hurricane Wilma will be ‘booking’ as she passes through Florida. Coast-to-coast will be 10, maybe 12 hours. The faster Hurricane Wilma moves, the sooner the trouble is over.

Nature adapts to this kind of trouble. Palm trees have decidedly less wind resistance than the deciduous trees we have here in Connecticut.

The Hurricane Center forecasts 110 mph winds at landfall in Florida, dropping to 80 mph by the time the storm reemerges in the Atlantic&#185. Even 80 mph, a small hurricane, is substantial if it passes close by. Most of us have never experienced 80 mph winds… and we’ve all seen plenty of wind damage.

The Hurricane Center used to talk about 80 mph storms as minimal hurricanes. They don’t anymore. That’s a change for the better.

I am anticipating moderate to severe damage on the West Coast of Florida with minimal to scattered moderate damage on the East Coast. There will be a much smaller radius of damage in the east.

Once the storm leaves Florida the guessing game begins. It will really accelerate. This is the part that starts resembling the Hurricane of ’38.

From PBS’ American Experience: Within 24 hours, the storm ripped into the New England shore with enough fury to set off seismographs in Sitka, Alaska. Traveling at a shocking 60 miles per hour — three times faster than most tropical storms — it was astonishingly swift and powerful, with peak wind gusts up to 186 m.p.h. The storm without a name turned into one of the most devastating storms recorded in North America. Over 600 people were killed, most by drowning. Another hundred were never found. Property damage was estimated at $300 million — over 8,000 homes were destroyed, 6,000 boats wrecked or damaged.

Though the storm struck Connecticut’s coast in Fairfield County, the strongest damage was experienced at the opposite end of the state and into Rhode Island.

Here’s what’s most troubling. A storm barreling up the East Coast will leave minimal time for warning. Look at the map. Florida to New Jersey in 24 hours! I couldn’t drive it that quickly.

To get a Hurricane Warning out 24 hours in advance would mean alerting most of the Northeast. An error of a few degrees in course could mean Atlantic City versus Boston.

And where would all these people go? Imagine sending everyone in Coastal New England west on I-95!

This is the worst case scenario. A direct hit to New England would cause as much destruction, and possibly as many deaths, as the unpredicted storm in 1938!

The current projections bring Hurricane Wilma far enough east to spare New England. But there is very little margin for error over a five day forecast. I’m certainly not confident in it. Just a few degrees off…

So now we wait and watch. Like I said, there will be lots of phone calls to Florida tomorrow. I want to make sure my parents have every possible advantage. Then we’ll bring the worries closer to home.

Hurricane Wilma scares me to the bone.

&#185 – The Hurricane Center readily admits, of all the things it does, predicting intensity is the thing it does worst.

Hurricane Wilma On My Mind

I so wanted to make a joke about Wilma and Fred Flintstone. The window of opportunity to look at this as a funny little storm came and went in an instant. Wilma has me worried.

At the moment, the best view is from satellite, though I suspect the Mexican radar at Cancun will start seeing the structure of the storm later today.

This is not a good scenario for my folks who live in Southern Palm Beach County, Florida. In fact, it’s just not good for anyone in South Florida – and I believe they know it.

For many in Florida the first hurricane was an adventure. That romantic outlook is long gone. Hurricanes are terrifying and you don’t need a direct hit to bring grief, trouble, inconvenience and cost.

I’ll bet my folks put the hurricane shutters down a little quicker this time.

I was up, chatting with my friend Bob last night when the first signs of major trouble came in. Bob has his PhD in meteo, so it’s no stretch to say he’s much geekier and meteorologically adept than I am. He was reading the raw recon data from the Hurricane Hunter plane. I seldom do that when a storm is so far from land.

He tipped me of to the report of the 3 nautical mile eye&#185. We were both amazed. Then he caught the pressure fall. That was even more stunning.

This is my analogy, so Bob can distance himself if it’s not 100% on the mark: The pressure had dropped so much that being at a point the eye passed (impossible in real life, but stay with me here) would have been the equivalent of sitting on the wing of a twin engine prop plane as it took of and climbed to about 5,000 feet. The wind you’d feel and pressure drop you’d experience were pretty similar.

First the good news. Wilma will not stay at 175 mph. I’ve gone over this before, but it bears repeating. There is a ‘sweet spot’ for hurricanes where they can achieve symmetry and near physical perfection. As soon as one little parameter goes out of balance, that symmetry breaks down and the storm loses strength.

That being said, going from 175 mph to, let’s say 130 mph, isn’t much comfort.

Oh – did I mention Wilma could head for New England? My gut tells me it’s wide and to the right, but too close to dismiss at the moment.

If… again, that’s if… it does come north and does affect New England, the storm’s structure and forward speed (along with hurricane wind speed) will need to be closely watched. The Great New England Hurricane of ’38 hit Fairfield County, Connecticut, but its greatest hurricane force winds were felt 100 miles or more east of the center!

I’ll be writing more about Wilma later today. In the meantime, the hurricane links on the right side of this page are ‘live’ and will get you to the latest hurricane info, no matter when you read this.

&#185 – It might have gotten smaller today. I saw a reference to a 2 nautical mile eye on Dr. Jeff Masters blog.

I’m More Pessimistic About Hurricanes

Recently I was interviewed for an article in Business New Haven concerning hurricanes. I’ve linked to the text.

Over time I’ve become more pessimistic of what might happen in a repeat of the hurricane of ’38 scenario for Connecticut. There would be little time for warning and difficulty explaining where the damage might occur.

Even in 2005, a tragedy seems unavoidable. That’s not what I want to say, but it is a realistic expectation.

I’m glad to see, though Dr. Mel Goldstein and I were interviewed separately (I didn’t even know he had been interviewed), we are in agreement with our concern.

Unlike Katrina where good advice was ignored, I’m not sure what we could do today to help prepare us for a hurricane approaching us at 60 mph. The entire East Coast would need warning. What good would that do?

Continue reading “I’m More Pessimistic About Hurricanes”

Going On The Radio

Every once in a while I appear on a radio show. That’s always enjoyable. My roots, rotted as they are, are in radio.

Monday morning, however, will be different. Monday I’ll be on the radio as a sub as opposed to a guest. I’ll be attempting to do what Ray Dunaway does on WTIC.

Among the guests booked for the show are Senator Joe Lieberman, Attorney Gerry Spence (he’s the homespun guy from Wyoming who wear a suede leather vest all the time) and Barbara Walters (not yet confirmed).

I know I’m a weatherman, but I don’t want to be a pushover to those who are used to answering tough questions and have perfect the dart and weave.

I won’t be alone. I’ll be co-hosting with Ray’s regular co-host, Diane Smith.

I’ve known Diane since I came to Connecticut. Before radio, she was an anchor with us on the TV station. I have referred to her, with reverence, as the Ambassador from Gracious Living and our Ambassador to Fairfield County. Take your pick.

Diane is classy everywhere I’m crude – which is nearly everywhere.

Doing this early morning show; being at the radio station before 6:00 AM is actually better and easier than going somewhere for the midday shift. I know I can be home by 11:00 and catch a nap before my real work begins.

Radio’s in my blood.

Cherry Hill and Back

We had to make a rush trip to Cherry Hill, NJ earlier today. Google’s new maps program says the round trip was about 354 miles. That seems right. It’s about the limit for driving and getting anything accomplished before heading home.

Luckily for us traffic wasn’t too bad. We missed morning rush going into New York City and afternoon drive coming home. The only real snag on the trip was here in Connecticut, around 6:30 PM, traveling through Fairfield County.

I have no idea why went went slowly… but it did. It was worse than anything we saw on the Cross Bronx Expressway, if you can believe that.

I would guess a large park of our traffic free passage had to do with the advent of E-ZPass. Having this RFID tag in your car eliminates making the trip unnoticed, but it sure does speed things along.

The toll booths near Meadowlands Stadium were always a choke point. With E-ZPass we breezed through at highway speed. Same thing for the George Washington Bridge.

My only concern was a cryptic message at NJ Turnpike exit 4, when we saw a sign that told us to go – though our tag hadn’t been read. Honest officer, it was on the windshield.

It will be a surprise to find out what the toll actually is. I have no idea. It wasn’t posted anywhere.

This is a trip we used to make all the time while Helaine’s parents were alive.

I remember stopping on the Jersey Turnpike, driving our Mazda 929. When Steffie was an infant, the 929’s trunk made the perfect open air changing table.

The rest areas are still named after famous New Jersey residents like Joyce Kilmer, Vince Lombardi, Grover Cleveland and Thomas A. Edison.

Is Grover Cleveland’s family proud to know that this former president’s most conspicuous achievement in the 21st century is having people mention his name when they need to make a pit stop&#185? It would probably be defensible if he were still on the $1000 bill.

Speaking of the rest areas, it looks like they’ve been rebuilt, adding additional outward ugliness to what were ugly buildings to begin with. There are flowers near the sink (and loud music) in the mens room. The restaurant section is a medley of your favorite fast food joints in a food court arrangement.

New Jersey continues to lead the nation in “Full Service” gas stations. From a National Review commentary:

It is illegal to self-pump in New Jersey. You must have a gas-station professional pump your gas and ring up your purchase. This might have made some sense in 1949 when the law was passed and when most of the population still smoked and stupidity could conceivably kill at the gas station. But times have changed and pumping gas is a safe activity that almost everyone but the handicapped can perform with the greatest of ease. Pay-at-the-pump technology is standard at gas stations coast to coast. Motorists fly through stations with the breathtaking efficiency only Americans can take for granted. That is, except in New Jersey and Oregon


For the last six months to a year our television station has reported on the ‘soon-to-be’ Ikea store about thirty thousand times. Well, why not? It’s a big deal. The largest retail opening in New Haven in anyone’s memory.

About a week ago the store opened, and we reported again. This time it was the traffic and the impact on the businesses nearby.

Tonight, as Ann Nyberg (one of our lead anchors) and I were heading to dinner, we decided to take a detour and see Ikea. Ann, of Swedish ancestry, treated this a like a homecoming or a visit to a long lost relative.

The store is immense – not only in square footage but in its vertical reach. The concept is similar to warehouse stores, like BJ’s or Costco, in that the stock is adjacent to the selling floor, stacked to the very high ceiling. Judging by the signs, the idea is to walk through Ikea as if you’re on a trail, going from point ‘a’ to point ‘b’ and so on. Somehow we started at the end and walked against traffic for the rest of our visit.

On this Monday night, the parking lot was full and the store jammed. I have been told, and had seen on our news stories, that it was busier last week. That’s to be expected.

We turned first to the Swedish food section. Ann bought some sort of Scandinavian cookies which she later opened with her teeth as we drove back to work. I bought a small tin of herring&#185. Then we walked through the store.

The furniture and furnishings for sale are spartan but nicely designed… maybe aesthetically pleasing is a better phrase. Though the word Swedish is liberally thrown around when describing the place, I picked up a few items and they were all from China. I guess they were designed in Sweden. At least I hope they were.

As we waited to pay for our items, we ran into the Achilles heel of the organization – the checkout line. Though our items all had UPC stickers on them, the clerk had to look them up in a book and then scan those UPC codes.

For a store that’s so streamlined and efficient, the checkout was too long, too tedious.

As we waited to pay, two families from Fairfield County, shopping together for their, soon to be entering the workplace, daughters let us get ahead. This furniture is perfect for them. It’s also perfect for Ann’s daughter who will enter college in the fall. I could see it as the right thing for a spare room or a first house. It’s simple, functional and relatively inexpensive.

As long as you’ve got a way to carry it home, you’re set.

I’ll be curious to look back at this store in a year and see if the throngs are still here. I guess, since it scratches an itch unserved by others, it will do well. There are no others in New England, and the closest Ikea to our south is opposite Newark Airport.

I just wish everything wasn’t made in China.

&#185 – My tin of herring is 2.5 servings. Somewhere along the line the idea of nutritional information has become a scam with companies ‘gaming’ the serving size in order to post acceptable calorie, carbohydrate and other numbers.


We spent yesterday, and a significant part of today at Foxwoods. Helaine and Steffie both wanted to see Rick Springfield perform. I wanted to play poker with real people.

Though Foxwoods is only about 1:15 away, we decided to spend the night. The hotels on-premises are beautiful and quite pricey. This isn’t Vegas. Still, it was a good idea because we weren’t under the restrictions a drive home would require.

Check-in was a breeze and we ended up on the 21st floor of the Grand Pequot Tower, overlooking the woods of Eastern Connecticut. The room was spacious by hotel standards and the bathroom immense, with big towels and strong water pressure (the two criteria by which I judge all hotel rooms). There is no high speed Internet access and the dial-up connection wasn’t very good, and quickly disconnected.

Though Foxwoods is the largest casino in the world, it is in a part of Connecticut that had languished in obscurity for deades. If you think of Connecticut as the “Gold Coast” of Fairfield County, you are not thinking of Eastern Connecticut. If it weren’t for the casinos, Fairfield County residents wouldn’t know this area existed.

Near Bozrah and Occum, not far from Uncasville, Foxwoods is surrounded by the town of Ledyard (Foxwoods itself is in the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation) . Without Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, I’m not sure what the economic state of Eastern Connecticut would be. I do know, with these two casinos, people working in service industries can have jobs with benefits… including insurance. In Eastern Connecticut, a working family can own a home.

I headed to the poker room and got on a list to play, then joined Helaine and Stefanie in the coffee shop. Again, this is a beautiful place, but not Vegas. It was a little more expensive for similar food.

After lunch, while the girls schmoozed with the cult members (Rick’s fans), I went and played cards. I sat at a $5/$10 fixed limit Texas Hold’em table and bought in for $100. Unlike the tournaments I favor on the computer, I’d be playing live cash. Every bet was real money – win or lose.

Almost immediately, I faced one difference between online and brick and mortar poker – the dealer wasn’t perfect and the players weren’t saints. An older man at the opposite end had ripped into the dealer for a minor transgression which put her on tilt. For the next 15 minutes she was awful; once beginning a deal without shuffling!

Almost immediately I found an inner peace I had never experienced at a poker table before. Everything was crystal clear. I was totally confident. I watched as players went in and out, betting, checking, folding. I knew what they had… or was pretty sure.

My game is very tight. I only play ‘premium’ cards, and only play under specific circumstances. I had no trouble folding hand after hand after hand as the action went on around me. As tight as I was, the players at the table were the opposite. Of the 10 players, often 6 or 7, sometimes more, would see the ‘flop.’

Compared to my online games, things went slowly. But, I wasn’t bored. I had ample opportunity to take in the game and the players. This is something I had never been able to do in the past. I knew how I’d play my cards almost as soon as they were dealt, so I watched them play my opponents play theirs and started to form opinions about their style and technique.

I have been thumbing through poker books for years. The authors always talk about doing things like this, but I had never been savvy enough. At times, it was as if the other players were moving in slow motion with their cards exposed to me.

OK – Hold on a second. Let me stop patting myself on the back. I am going to tell you I won, but make no mistake about it. Just because I won tonight doesn’t mean I will be a consistent winner. But, as I wrote before I went, I thought I’d end up with a pretty good idea of my skill – win or lose. It was fun to realize all the computer games I’d played had sharpened my skills.

I played through the early evening at $5/$10 and won $112. I was beat on a very big hand when my pocket Kings didn’t hold to pocket Aces, or I’d haev won more. Poker players always remember their beats more than their wins.

When my cellphone rang around 10:15 I picked up my chips and cashed in. Steffie had called from the concert, asking me to bring more memory for the camera. She didn’t think the 200+ pictures available would hold her when we went backstage after the show.

I got the memory and headed to the theater. I was lucky enough to see someone who knew me and was let in for the last 20-30 minutes. Helaine and Steffie were out of their seats in the first row, pressed against the stage. Steffie had my camera against her eye and was snapping away.

I moved down to see them, then said hi to Mark Davis, our chief capitol correspondent, who was there with his wife Betsy. From there I moved to the back of the theater. I have seen Rick Springfield before. His fans really are cult-like in their fervor. It is fun to stand back and watch him perform and them react. And, it’s fun to see Steffie and Helaine having such a good time side-by-side.

After the show the three of us and the Davis’s went backstage to say hello and take some photos. It’s really a spectacular theater, with great acoustics and better lighting. Backstage was the perfect spot for the meet and great (last time it had been in a basement stairwell). As he had been in the past, Rick was gracious and took time with those who had come to see him.

It’s obvious he enjoys the adulation his fans give him. How many other rockers will have a career that spans four decades?

We took Steffie upstairs to the room, then joined Mark, Betsy and two friends of theirs in a very nice lounge on the 24th floor. They were driving home, so the night didn’t last long, and Helaine and I were soon back in the casino.

The $5/$10 table I favor wasn’t available, so I tried a weird no limit game with $1/$2 blinds and a buy in limit of $40-$100. If it sounds confusing now, I can assure you it was extremely confusing then!

It didn’t take long to give back $50, and I’m still not quite sure how. I stood up and walked away.

This table is obviously there to cater to folks who’ve watched poker on TV or played on the Internet. The math involved when one player goes all in against another player with less money makes the action unwieldy. On top of that, it’s slow. I could never get into the rhythm of the game, if there even was one.

There were still no seats at the $5/$10 table, so I sat down at $10/$20. This is way over my head. I had never played at stakes like this before. My thought was, even with the $50 I’d just dropped, I was up. I’d take my winnings and another $100. Whatever would happen, would happen.

The $10/$20 games was very similar to the $5/$10 – loose. It didn’t take long to win a pot and I recouped the $50 from no limit and a little more to boot.

This table was expensive to sit at. If you folded an entire round, not playing a card, it would still cost $15 for the blinds!

I held my ground and played tight. I gave back what I’d just won and a little more before winning again. The pots were large – often well over $200. My night was not spectacular. But, I felt really good about how I was playing.

Dealt two 4’s, and with little action before the flop and then a third four with the flop, I quietly sat back and watched my 3-4’s turn into 4-4’s! They had been played so silently, on a table where others could be depended on to do the raising, that when the river came, another player bet into my four of a kind. I gladly bet back.

On the hand I decided would be my last, I took an AK all the way to the river without pairing. The others at the table, having seen me fold hand after hand, respected my final bet enough to let me steal the pot.

Not every hand was played correctly. I slow played two Queens, even after I caught a third one. When I checked, it allowed a player to stay in and make his straight, taking me out. Had I bet the three Queens, he surely would have folded to me.

I cashed out $265 ahead, which with my earlier winnings put me up $377.

Was I lucky? Probably. Will I always win? No. Consistently? I’m not sure, but it’s certainly more likely than ever before.

Before I went to play, I had written in the blog that win or lose, my goal was to judge my competence at poker. I am confident in the fact that my skills have greatly improved thanks to the thousands of games I’ve played on the Internet. I think that will translate to profit… at least I hope it does.

I can’t wait for Vegas this summer.